This afternoon after learning of my childhood friend Eddie’s death, I went through my emails from him and found this one which, ironically, is about,
here it is. I’ve edited for grammar and spelling (I hope), but everything else is exactly as I wrote it to him just over six years ago:
November 5, 2014
Why am I a writer?! Ha! I love these “question emails” we’ve got going here, but that’s a tough one. I think I prefer the ones along the “What kind of fruit do you never tire of?” Still, I’ll give it a shot. So, probably for the same reason you are a spot-on blues guitar player: it keeps me sane.
Because as you know I well know what a lunatic is! (in case your memory is slipping after four decades, we were working on the fort in the woods in my yard and it got dark and you said you had to go, and said, “Don’t let the lunatics get you!” and I told you I didn’t know what a lunatic was, but you just laughed and left. Then a few minutes later you jumped at me through a bush and scared the crap out of me and I called you crazy, and you said, “Yes! That’s a lunatic!” and went home)
Why am I a writer? Geez, Ed, the same reason I was when I was home sick in fifth grade and wrote that book (what, maybe ten pages?) called “Space”; because we’re going to die. I didn’t know it then (I didn’t know that’s why I wrote AND I didn’t know we were going to die) but I think I’ve finally figured out what I’m trying to say as a writer and what, in fact, every writer is trying to say: We’re all going to die. That’s it. Writers want everyone to know that in roughly one hundred years not a single person walking the earth will still be alive. We will all, the entire globe, be gone, replaced, returned to dust for the ever part of infinity, ever and ever…and ever…dust…ever.
And we want everyone to know that. You’re welcome.
We want everyone to know that when the rain hits the roof at night it sounds like childhood, Saturday afternoons with old westerns on the television and grilled cheese sandwiches, and we want everyone to know that because childhood dies too, and even old westerns. We write because I still have some faded image in my mind of a bunch of friends in a small town on a Long Island, sitting around laughing about baseball and nature and girls, about music, and about “the trail,”—Geez, remember the trail?, that mysterious path through the woods along the Southern State that led to a creek where things happened when teenagers wandered that way. Like the time you and I swung across the creek from a vine and then followed it to the far end and came upon the arboretum gate, and hopped it and walked through the grounds pretending the estate house was ours and we could do what we wanted. And we sang “The Long and Winding Road,” and now all these broken hearts later I can’t recall most people’s faces—yours is perfectly clear but I’ll be honest, I don’t know if that is because of memory or Facebook. When I see you on there, always laughing, I see you at twelve. Sometimes it’s as if I see it like I am thinking about a movie I saw once but can’t really recall it very well. I remember the character’s names and I remember what happened, but the details are fuzzy, and my God I would love to see it again. Like that scene when you and I walked to Timber Point Elementary and met Boomer there and the three of us sent up one of those rockets with the engine packs in it. It shot up so fast we didn’t really see it go as much as we saw the smoke line, and that’s why I write, because it all goes like that, life goes like that, like a rocket we don’t see it as much as we see the residual effects. Anyway, I remember that we followed it as it drifted into the trees and Boomer finally got it down and we all went home. And on the way we talked about building a bigger one of those, really big. I had a brown CPO jacket and my mom sewed patches on it for me of NASA and the American flag. I knew everything there was to know about the space program then, including the velocity necessary to exit the atmosphere, and the speed of drift in space while orbiting. Well, writers think like that, Eddie. We are overly conscious of velocity and drift. Those two depress the fuck out of us.
But even then I knew, I mean I just knew as well as I knew the names of all the streets in Great River, I knew we were all going to die! All of us, someday and some sooner than others, like my grandfather who died too soon; and some much later than others like my great Uncle Charlie who lived so long. And as I got older I didn’t think anyone knew but me, so I had to tell everyone; I just had to let them know we were all going to die, all of us. It isn’t a depressing thing for us (writers), it is a motivator, like barkers at a circus trying to get people in to see the show; we’re calling from our pedestal trying to get people to see the show. Remember when I said, I think we were in Heckscher, and I said I had proof everyone will die, and I said name one person who was still alive from the Civil War, which had ended about 107 years earlier. And you couldn’t. And I said, “See!” and you said, “You’re a lunatic.”
You said, “They were alive once, though.” And we stopped, somewhere toward that old abandoned beach cabana on the bay, we stopped and I said, “Exactly. They were so damned alive they bled, and they cried and they laughed and they lived. They had houses and farms and children and played games and had dogs and some of them, hell a lot of them probably, even had sex.” and then we talked about sex and forgot about dying—or living for that matter. Jesus, we were what, thirteen? Fourteen?
Anyway, that’s why I write. And I bet that’s why you play guitar, especially the blues. Because we’re not yet dead.
How’s Alice? How’s work? I’ll get up there, buddy. I will.
Until then I teach and I write; or, I should say, I teach SO I can write. And I write to remind myself that the bullshit I wade through on a daily basis is irrelevant. The constant crap dealt with by being alive these days is tempered by the night sky and a quiet jet filled with people traveling thirty thousand feet above my head, all of them very much alive until they aren’t.
Except the old prick at the hardware store who insists on telling me a log home won’t keep me warm unless I put mud between the logs, and even after I’m paid in full he talks anyway and tells me I should have bought a double-wide. This was yesterday, and I just laughed and thought to myself, yeah, just keep talking mofo, someday you’ll be dead too.
I guess I’m here to write about what happens before that happens.
So your turn: If you could only fill the fridge with one food item, what would it be?
Miss you Eddie. I swear I’ll get up there. It might not be very soon, but I’ll get up there.