I’ve been attempting to articulate a particular feeling for several days now, and here Jeffrey Tayler has done it so well.
If you had 99 lives, what would you do with them? With the one life you have, what will you do that will be different and exciting, worthy of recounting in print? If you’re short on ideas, as I was, let the protagonists of novels and short stories show you how to live; let the great writers, with their imagined plots and characters, introduce you to new paths in real life. I don’t necessarily mean milquetoast paths, easy ways out. So, if you’ve read “A Bend in the River,” let Salim the Indian trader, who came up from the coast to open a shop on the Congo River, show you what you can do when you have nowhere else to go. Let Georges Duroy, the pitiless hero of Maupassant’s “Bel-Ami,” show you what you can do if you arrive penniless in Paris. “The Sheltering Sky” might serve as your guide to Morocco, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” to the U.S. The point is that great writers and their works can provide blueprints for changes in our lives. They can teach us about how many possible ways ahead there are, both good and bad. And bad is not as bad as all that. Remember, for a writer, adversity makes good subject material.
The protagonist of “The Death of Ivan Il’ich” died moaning, in agony, overcome with the realization that he had wasted his days on earth following social conventions. He lacked l’esprit frondeur, and he paid for it. Conventions now are hardly less pervasive than they were in Tolstoy’s day; we’re pressured to start a career, build our résumé, earn a certain amount of money, and so forth. But remember: None of us gets out of here alive. So don’t fear risks. Rebel. Be bold, try hard, and embrace adversity; let both success and failure provide you with unique material for your writing, let them give you a life different enough to be worth writing about.
Picture from my trip to China a few years ago–a charming round “hobbit door” that I discovered in a garden. What a wonderful adventure that was!