Why is it when you decide to do what you want to do, when you turn your back on the accepted ways of getting and spending that make up many people’s lives, so few in your circle of friends and family will support that decision? It’s like Augie March says in the Saul Bellow novel: “I had yet to find out how little people want you to succeed in an extraordinary project, and what comfort some have that the negligible is upheld and all other greater effort falls on its face.”
Upholding the negligible. Most of your family, friends, lovers and co-workers, will feel a secret frisson, a cheap thrill when you fall flat on your face. Because when you fail, it confirms for them how ridiculous it is to take a risk. They will continue living what Norman Mailer called “a slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled.” You fail, the negligible is upheld, and all’s right with the ordinary world.
I once lived in Rome in a 19th century apartment building resting on medieval foundations that, in turn, rest upon Roman foundations just below the original cobbled Roman streets. From the fifth-floor terrace I looked out over the rooftops of Monti, the oldest continually inhabited neighborhood of the Eternal City. Three blocks down via degli Annibaldi was the Colosseum; 4 blocks down via Cavour, the Roman Forum. Michelangelo’s marble Moses was across the street, just up a flight of stairs to San Pietro in Vincoli. The Trevi fountain was a ten-minute walk, as were Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and Campo dei Fiori. And these were just the major tourist attractions. Around the corner on via dei Serpenti were two sushi bars, a wine bar, an Indian restaurant, the best gelato shop in the city and the Caffé Antica Brasilia, where the Pope used to drink his morning cappuccino when he was just a cardinal. And on the ground floor of the building was a brothel where, after four months, the Russian prostitutes finally stopped propositioning me (“amore, andiamo! Venti euro.”) and accepted that I really lived there.
Unlike a friend of mine, who emailed me and stated, with the authority of transparent jealousy, “you don’t live in Rome. Liar” When I wrote back that yes, I really did, I never heard back from him.
I guess that’s why I write: I don’t want to uphold the negligible, I don’t want to live in the ordinary world. I’ve lived all over the world since I decided to put metaphorical pen and ink to paper. I’ve failed and fallen flat more times than I can remember. I’ve lost friends and family. And yes, there are a few people in your life who will applaud any decision you make because it’s YOUR decision. These are the keepers. The rest are jackals.
If you’re a writer struggling, or you want to write, or you’re thinking about writing, take heart. If you’re stuck in a shithole town surrounded by shitheel friends, take heart. They may feed off your failure, but one day perhaps you’ll wake up too, stretch, throw open the metal shutters and look out over something like the cupola of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Yeah, Michelangelo designed that one, too, and the reason that you’re here at this very moment is to confirm that every once in a while the negligible fails and the extraordinary is born.
Screw the negligible world.