#MyBookFate: Tropic of Cancer

posted November 3, 2015

TropicOfCancerRead about Lisa Papademetriou’s #BookFate project and add your own to your blog.

When I was old enough to read about Ramona Quimby I devoured all the Cleary I could find. The same was true of Madeleine L’Engle and others. It wasn’t long though before I wanted to read what the adults were reading. I had a chip on my shoulder about “kids” books.

One book on my parent’s shelves that always appealed to me was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. It had a plain blue cover and I didn’t understand a word of it when I started writing fiction of my own at 13. There were phrases in French and the introduction was so long I couldn’t tell where the book began. It sat on the shelf for years until I was 18 and picked it up again before leaving to visit my high school girlfriend, who was studying dance a 5-hour drive away.

Staying in her dorm was against the rules so once I was secreted inside I couldn’t leave without being locked out. Before she left early in the morning, we arranged a place to meet so she could sneak me back in for the night. I had to wait though, for everyone else to leave to make my getaway. I picked up Tropic to fill the hours and this time it clicked. I never left the dorm.

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

I still wanted to be a writer, but now I wanted to find the exhilaration and abandon of writing. I didn’t want to be some miserable, troubled genius like James Joyce who wrote brilliant things no one actually enjoyed reading and that he himself couldn’t have conceivably enjoyed writing. I wanted bliss. I wanted to know what was unique to my process and the work that came out of it.

I still follow what’s trending in literature, still listen to opinions of my work, still edit my manuscripts in hopes of success. But more than all that I still believe that even the ugliest, clumsiest voice that a writer knows is their own is better and more beautiful than the most eloquent production of what they think will make everyone else happy. Tropic of Cancer taught me that without joy, not even success matters.

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