I remember Winter's Tale
. I remember where I was when I heard about it.
Some things are supposed to be this way. There are icons around you. They are yours, only yours. They change the direction of your life. They are the inertia in your frame, and the power to the wheels. You're moving. You stop. They are bringers of acceleration. Bearers of traction. And they are everywhere.
They come to you whether you notice them or not like leaves falling from trees made of straw and light. It's up to you whether you choose them or let them go. You can't possibly save them all in the sieve you call attention. And your notebooks aren't nearly big enough to write them all. So you choose one. Grasp it in your shaking fist. Your life goes one way.
Open your hand, the breeze takes it away.
Open your hand, there was nothing all along. Just some dapple of clouded sunlight reflected by a passing car. Something a bird said. A sound you overheard. The echo in you of the last time you were touched. Did I really see that? Did that really happen? Does anyone feel this but me?
You get to choose.
That's the beautiful chore.
I was in Galligher's Pub with William Fox, the poet, the descendant of twenty-first century, of networks and films. He was there looking for something and we both got to walk through the Taylor Valley from camp to camp. It was a loop in time.
We both wrote something about that. I got a copy of the published book from him years later. It's in my bookcase. I was written in his book. I remembered things differently and got to publish my version. He's written in mine.
Over beers Bill handed me a shard of paper.
"This is your reading list."
Dear love, this is how life ripples:
I was unemployed at the time. My job back up in the real world had evaporated with 9/11 and so that disaster led me to a bar stool in a hut at McMurdo Station sitting between the poet laureate of the state of Nevada and the third man to summit Mount Everest.
The climber told me I was only to the base of the mountain, and that I would never make it to the top burdened as I was by what I thought was necessary. To achieve means risk. Safety after all, is relative, and ultimately an illusion.
"But I could be killed."
"Yes," he said, "And how is that any different?"
The poet told me I should use the occasion of my startup company's untimely demise to catch up on my reading. He told me I was an artist in engineer's clothes. Spending too much time hunting for things that evaporate.
Write more. Talk less. Read these books. Things will happen.
I folded the torn paper edge. Shoved it into my wallet. Said goodbye.
And then once back in North America, standing in the bookstore, figured I would just buy the whole list. They only had the first title on the list.
I really didn't need to read the others, but I did. They were like the instruction manuals to brick laying equipment.
Don't even remember what they were.
What I remember, what I still have in my fist - something thin and glowing, the fibre of a plant that starts at the earth's core and ends on a star nobody named.
Brilliant simple words in the opening chapter that make me want to cry and I don't know why. A brilliant icon that shifted things irreparably north. Everything was never the same.
"...a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music."
We ordered Chinese take out. It came with a couple of those pre-stale individually packaged fortune cookies.
My fortune said something. The blonde haired girl's said, "Fate Loves The Fearless," on a thin strip of white paper.
That was time ago. Years. Some many. I don't know how much.
The cookie fortune is on the window sill near the sink where I fill the pot to make my coffee. She put it there instead of tossing it out with the greasy egg roll bag.
I see it nearly every day.
A mountain climber measures the challenge and then throws away the result. He hopes that doing honor to the calculation was enough to appease the forces that oppose him, and brings as little as possible on the ascent.
When he comes down no one can see how he has enriched his soul. He confuses everyone with how he must find another climb.
Winter's Tale was written by a soldier. It's a tough guy love story, perhaps. Love of life. Love of adventure. Love that stops time and rips reality in bits.
In those brief moments when an existentialist's faith falters, that's what he thinks.
Maybe, just maybe, love could destroy time and gravity itself. There's life beyond the sky. There are worlds inside every pebble. Then men could build bridges from starlight and women could birth life from stones and river ice.
And then we'd have to believe in something.
Everyone else in New York drifts by wishing exactly that.
I told dannye about Winter's Tale. I think he liked the fact Mark Helprin was a warrior and that he abandoned his post at The New Yorker. I think he just loved good prose.
I think he liked how funny Freddie and Fredricka was, and trusted I wouldn't steer him wrong.
Read what he wrote here on e2. It's not a synopsis of the book. It's about an old guy sitting on a plane, crying.
This is how I know I wasn't imagining it.
I have suggested Winter's Tale to many people. Most of them can't get through it. To them, it's like reading the operator's manual to brick laying equipment.
It used to surprise me. But as I get older, I realize that these icons belong to us. And it's rare that the same one will work for more than just a couple of us.
They've made a movie about Winter's Tale. I wonder. The movie is never the same as the book. They don't know what music was in my head when I read it, or what those characters look like. We will see what was in the mind of one guy. And if he screws it up, it will be like watching someone toil away at a cinderblock wall instead of one of the answers to the ubitiquous "why?"
Why does time work this way? Why does gravity pull us at 32ft per second per second? Why do we feel alone in the universe? Why should any of us feel unloved?
Why do we have to build sports cars and make lightning in our driveway?
What are we looking for?
Can anyone find us way out here?
A poet goes through the same life as everyone else. But everything is different to him.
The teeth of everything mesh. The terrifying machine is clear as day. It annihilates good and bad alike leaving smoking ruins and wildfire, and snuggling children aglow in the warmth.
The thing that a warrior knows better than anyone is that there is no winning. In this world, there is only what happens this time. The end is temporary.
The ancients took heart in this. The poets dream and the parents lament. Is there no end to the suffering?
But no - there is ever a challenge. There is no "there" to get to.
There is only the music that helps you fight the fear, and the opportunity to be brave, over and over. There is only the needing to move and running as beautifully as you can.
I think of dannye alone in an airport bar, trying to hold back but unable to. Unloading the idea of Winter's Tale on the drinker next door knowing in fullness there will be no impact.
Maybe I've been there, done that. My answer was to stop. Write my own story.
Everyone is different.
Peter Lake needed an eternal enemy and a magic horse and love in ruins.
Maybe I've been there, and done that.
It took a while. Now I know we are all fighting, always. It takes only to wish and the companion will appear to battle beside you. It takes only to lay down your weapons, remove the armor, bear your chest to the onslaught. Drop it all. Be light as you climb. Take the opportunity to be courageous.
You get killed on that page.
But never abandon your poetry.
The one who loves you is coming for you.
Writing is magic so I wrote a story and it became my life. I don't know how to finish it. How does it end?
"At least until there are new lakes in the clouds that open upon living cities yet unknown, and perhaps forever, that is a question which you must answer in your own heart."
rest well, old friend