I am writing less (this dawned on me the other hot night) because writing is finding yourself and I am wholeheartedly trying to do just the opposite these days, am trying to lose myself, I think on the theory that if I can’t find myself, then neither can the cancer.
I lose myself in sanding wood (crude wood, two by fours, not caramel-colored golden oak or teak or planks of cherry with gorgeous swirling grain). I lose myself in trying to replace the tiny finicky parts of the wonderful old typewriters I have too many of lying about. My 1895 Blickensderfer (not making this up; there is such a machine) is made of solid bomb-proof metal parts, except for the thread-thin wires that connect its great hammer keys to its type cylinder. The wires are the things that fell off when I bumped into my typewriter tower and sent the Blickensderfer ass over tea-kettle onto the floor.
Ought to have a photo here of the look on my son’s face as he watched me sitting on the couch with the Blickensderfer overturned in my lap — the thing looks for all the world, and endearingly so, like a great metal insect in rigor mortis — with a long tweezer in my hand, trying to sew the machine together, as it were, with two-inch-long bits of stiff thread). Nick’s look clearly said, Poor Dad’s gone round the bend. And he is on the money too: I have gone round the bend, and down the path I found there, and through the hedgerow in which the path ended, and on through the rocky field on the other side of the hedgerow. And why not, I ask you? If I stay where I am, I make myself a sitting duck for fate, no?
Seems to me my plan is working tolerably well so far: I am not yet irretrievably lost, but I certainly am thoroughly confused about just exactly where the hell I am.
I lose myself too in righting old mechanical wrongs. The car’s cigarette lighter has been dead and useless for years now, ever since some fixture got stuck in it and I tried to horse the thing out with a pair of medieval-size pliers. I let that be for a decade, putting up with the absurdity of not being able to plug in an mp3 player or any other portable marvel because, essentially, the car was off the grid: no access to electricity in caravan-world. So the other night (more like morning, actually; it was coming light by the time I took it into my head to do what I am about to tell you I did), I squirmed under the dashboard with tin snips, to cut the old dead socket out and make things ready there for a new one. Had a cop come by in the gloaming and seen a shadowy figure with its head stuffed up where the ignition wires are, I would almost certainly be writing this dispatch from the hoosegow. I had no papers with me, so could not have proved that the vehicle I seemed to be stealing was in fact my own. Maybe the pokey is a good place to lose yourself, but I’d just as soon not go that route.
And then I lose myself on my silly circus-clown folding bike. The thing has 16 inch wheels, fercrissake. There are places in Chicago make bagels bigger than that. My son’s bike is a stunning thing that looks to be made of elegant black walking sticks. It is a racehorse. My bike is a burro. But then burros are better for venturing into strange territory. I went out on Chiquita the other day, along the path beside the Cancerland river (Rio Quimo, it’s called), in bright and breezy weather, with tugs and barges and grand don-corleone cruisers plying the waters, and joggers on the path with me, with asthmatic pug dogs trailing them, and got so lost I barely found my way back. By the end of the day, I could hardly feel the bullseye tatooed on my back.
There was a time, I guess I should say, that I lost myself in martinis, cold as surgical steel, drinks like liquid razor blades. Couple, three of those, and put some music on, and I’d be lost for a good long time. Trouble is the way you find yourself again after that kind of slipping out the back. You return to your skin shocked and sorry and sore, and feel yourself twice the target that you were before you left. Wouldn’t do in my current circumstances, given the cunning and persistence of what’s stalking me.
So, to keep my tracker guessing and off-balance, I go places even a hunter as mad-for-the-kill as he is wouldn’t think to look for any prey. What drooling red-lipped sumbitch with a bow and arrow expects to find a deer kneeling over a tiny electric train, or making a kind of music with a sanding block? On the other hand, however, with a computer on my lap, I am low-lying fruit.
Surely you can see that.