It’s foggy this morning in Tartu, Estonia, where I am living at the moment, having moved here three weeks ago with my wife and kids. We’ll be here until next summer. Marika and I are both on sabbatical from Michigan Tech for the year, she has strong family ties with the little country (she and the kids are dual citizens, actually), we want the kids to speak Estonian, we were able to make connections with Tartu University… More on this later, I’m sure, but right now, suffice it to say, it’s just a relief to be away from an America I find increasingly difficult to handle: the insane fundamentalist religiosity, the insane love affair with guns and the overwhelming number of mass shootings that are its spawn, the undercurrent of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, the public disavowal of information and knowledge and perspective and the dismantling of intellectualism of all stripes, the insistence upon total and perennial war… It’s a big list befitting a big dysfunctional country. True, all times, places, and peoples have their problems. Yet for all that is right with the States, and for all the reasons I love it and will gladly return to it when this sabbatical year ends, I’ve been ready for a trial separation for a good long while. We need some time apart.
Next week I turn 40. To be honest, while I find neither aging nor mortality particularly thrilling, neither am I scared of nor even particularly interested in either. Not yet, anyway. Besides, I’m better now than I’ve ever been in my life previously, so what’s to groan over? Not to mention, growing older is an inescapable fact, and much like the weather, I find dwelling upon the subject to be mildly boring. Yes, Captain Obvious, there is weather; yes, we age. On the other hand, lingering overlong upon mortality has always struck me as futile at best and weak minded at worst, a malignant tumor sized failure of the human imagination. My money is on a particularly similar nothing at the end apropos to the eternity preceding our births. Not much to get jacked out of shape about. But let’s agree to disagree these points if it makes us get along better, and agree, instead, that I am happy to be alive, that I am happy you are alive here with me, that neither of us are what we once were, anymore than either of us is likely to remain as we are now. Then, let’s talk about music or food or poetry or sex or bicycles or birthday plans. This next one of mine will be spent with my family at a little Russian place down the street. I’ll be the big hairy dude eating blinis and caviar and getting drunk out on the patio. Everything else, my friends, is pointless noise.
It seems a good time, too, to mark a return to public writing. I’ve been absent from it for more than a year now. So much for my writing life! A friend once told me that in the absence of writing there is no such thing as being a Writer, that previous publications are no indication of present occupational status, that a person is only the thing when actively engaged in the doing of it. Unnecessarily pedantic, sure. I mean, one can still be a tennis player when they leave the court to take a shower, they can still be a lawyer when they leave the office to have dinner with their husband, right? But insofar as my friend’s claim hyper-privileges the place of process in the life of the artist… I guess I’m down with that, process trumping product and all. I suppose this is why writers always discuss current rather than past projects with one another. “What are you working on?” being more gang sign than project query. Are you one of us still, we are asking? Are you still in process? No, has been my answer to these queries these past months, at least in my head. No, I published my book of poems, I went on my little tour, and silence I was ill prepared for descended around me. No, I got tenure and checked the fuck out, broke my arm in a bicycling accident and checked the fuck out. No, I had a personal meltdown, was diagnosed with an obsessive anxiety disorder, and spent some very difficult , but fruitful months checking the fuck back in, as it were, pardon my language, and pushing my nastier demons out from the driver’s seat of my careening bus. No, I haven’t been working on much more than emails, texts, journal scribbles, the occasional rough sketchs of poems quickly miscarried. But I’d like to get back to it now, if for no other reason than to say I’m currently an American writer living abroad, something I’ve always kind of wanted to say about myself. How about you, what are you working on? More blinis, caviar, and vodka anyone?