Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


So where have I been?

Right here. Of course. Where else?

Here, recently, has been Pittsburgh. Morgantown, West Virginia. New York-suburban New Jersey. Exurban New Jersey. Astoria, Queens. Harrisburg, PA. Points in between, not infrequently at criminal rates of speed.

I have been a shining Moon, a brooding Moon, a new Moon and a familiar one. I have been obscured in shadow, below the horizon, blinded by daylight and wide-eyed by night.

I have been, in a word, thinking. And though I have wandered, I have not gone away. Not really. Not entirely.

I have many personalities; of each, sometimes, I grow tired. I'm not the first one to grow weary of my blathering; I certainly won't be the last.

William Gass writes:

Sports, politics, and religion are the three passions of the badly educated. They are the Midwest's open sores. Ugly to see, a source of constant discontent, they sap the body's strength. Appalling quantities of money, time, and energy are wasted on them. The rural mind is narrow, passionate, and reckless on these matters. Greed, however shortsighted and direct, will not alone account for it. I have known men, for instance, who for years have voted squarely against their interests. Nor have I ever noticed that their surly Christian views prevented them from urging forward the smithereening, say, of Russia, China, Cuba, or Korea. And they tend to back their country like they back their local team: they have a fanatical desire to win; yelling is their forte; and if things go badly, they are inclined to sack the coach. All in all, then, Birch is a good name. It stands for the bigot's stick, the wild-child-tamer's cane.

Forgetfulness -- is that their object?

I offer this for color for than for its truth, although there is wisdom in it; tonight and recently, I am a wan Moon. I seldom write here of sports, and I am gentle about religion. But politics have been an open sore here, a source of constant discontent, and the topic has slowed my orbit. My mind, too, has proven narrow, pasionate, and reckless. Yelling has been my forte; I am a surly Moon. And I will not embarrass the framework of these observations by arrogantly setting forth the rectitude of my commitments as proof of their own legitimacy, as though the tone or content, or the tactics of those who disagree, excuses my stridence. Perhaps this is highminded. More likely it is a product of the abovementioned fatigue. The fact remains.

I didn't set out to focus on politics here. To do so is a professional liability, and it is a diversion. There are so many voices online, and the echo chamber grows deafening. This is not to denigrate those who do it well, who educate, who probe and who endeavor to an informed equanimity. That I have not been writing on politics does not signal that I have not been attending. No good citizen -- now, or ever, but especially now -- can afford not to attend. So much policy, now, is conducted in the shadows, at the periphery, that only a jealous astuteness can leave one reasonably confident of his information and hence his convictions.

But save for the occasional legal insight, and the even more occasional acerbic witticism, I have offered little that is new. At best, I have become another clearinghouse, a reliable supplier of ideologically informed links to sources of original content and analysis.

The only things I have ever wanted to do with all my person are to write and to play baseball professionally. At nearly 32 years of age, I still recall certain big base hits, key strikeouts or defensive plays, with a lush detail my memories seldom furnish. But with regard to baseball, I will have to satisfy myself with Bruce Springsteen's memories of "glory days," for my athletic career is on the wane, and my career with a bat and glove, save for the occasional pick-up softball game, has been over far longer than it lasted.

Professionally, I write to persuade, to prove a point. I stack and mortar, tamp into place, brick upon brick to imprison my adversary or to hem in onlookers' disbelief. Words are tools. Or weapons.

I do it well, or so the objective measure of professional opportunity and the subjective perceptions of my peers suggest. This can be gratifying, in the bland way that professional accomplishment tends to be. Faintly aromatic laurels to adorn a furrowed brow. In law, however, one does not create so much as fashion, mold, manipulate. For the practitioner, even the honest one, the game is misdirection, an illusionist's enterprise, while one's adversary's task is not to lunge for the magician's feints. And it's the nights that get to me.

A Writer, the real thing, is no illusionist but a magician. The former relies on cleverness and obscurity to ply his trade; the latter appeals to the dark Gods themselves. The former is content with salutary outcomes, the latter indifferent to all but the dark lord Process. Like most lines, however, this one is not bright, and individuals traverse, deviate. A great judge or attorney is no technician; neither is a writer of ersatz fictions a medium for esoteric forces, an artist. There is the garden path. And there is usually a shortcut.

It has taken five years of legal education, formal and in the breach, to observe this critical distinction. The distinction, moreover, vindicates the promise of legal education -- which I always heard as a threat or challenge, something to which one mustn't accede, but rather resist -- to transform the novice's percepton, to relocate the nexus of self and world.

I have always fancied that my legal education merely provided a new lens I might swap in from time to time, a new lexical template to order the universal grammar of thought. I dutifully shovel my walk in part for aesthetic purposes, but also because I see an incipient tort. I use words like "moreover" in my personal ruminations. Words like "tort." I have yoked myself to a deception borne of arrogance: that I, alone perhaps, will not be transformed.


In a year's short time, this site has become a forum for argument devoid of wit and insight. Words are my currency, whether I donate to charity or retain a whore. The mere use of them is as value-neutral and devoid of intrinsic merit as is the ebb and flow of my fortunes. Too often I have retreated to self-satisfaction in a word count rather than the nature of its service, like Croesus.

Thanksgiving was a transformative holiday. Full of love and family fellowship, it was epiphenomenally what it should be: a gathering of loved ones without expectation, unfreighted by the insipid obligations of gift-giving. Of this I have no complaint; indeed, it was the most satisfying holiday in this most critical regard in years, a time of rest and mutual regard.

But in reentering, for a time, the orbit of my former gravitational center, New York City, after my longest absence in years, perhaps ever, I found its centripatel impulsion nigh irresistible, something palpable, an inexorable quiver in my breast, an eastward list. Leaving at the descent of evening following my one afternoon in the City, returning to the familiar New Jersey home, it was all I could do not to turn around, remove myself from the line of exiles at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, enter the City's aid bloodstream for good. Something seemed wrong; my throat pulsed painfully, my respiration quickened, panic jerked my eyes over sooty stone, crumbling pavement patched but not repaired, note by note over the brakelight score to a suburban sonata.

Squeezing through the tunnel like an ingot in a molten river, I felt myself extruded from sheer anxiety from its New Jersey maw, pulled tightly into a coil around the inner lane of the helix ascending from the level of the Hudson's surface a hundred vertical feet to the threshold of the suburbs, the Cit's skyline a beacon too remote to seek across a filthy Rubicon I had but a moment ago -- impossibly -- crept beneath.

I made it back to the family home, of course, a new house in the familiar village that raised me. But the feeling lingered, implacable, that I had erred terribly, banishing myself heedlessly to the interior, away from the oceans, away from the seats of money and power, away from the company of innumerable artists in tireless congress, away from my family and my first friends. I hadn't felt so sick with displacement since the morning of 9-11, when I watched, as I might from the front walk barbarians burning my home and raping my family, the mountains of my youth transform, in short order, from monuments to symbols to memorials to dust.

This prompted questions I have weighed in the succeeding weeks. I have a wonderful job and am positioned excellently for my life here, in Pittsburgh. I have friends of many stripe, good people to a one. I have purchased a home, in part to quell the heedless questioning of Place -- as though, by the sweep of a pen, to announce, "This is home. Goddamn it."

I stayed here, after moving here on a lark, because I couldn't imagine leaving when, from time to time, the opportunity to do so presented itself, not infrequently with the promise of great reward. Now, I have spent nearly a quarter of my life, the adult quarter at that, in this place, which seems at once on the decline and yet ascendant, fighting furiously to escape the gravity of its storied youth and adolescence for rebirth flush with possibility. A place too jealous of its future to be as parochial to the good non-native in is midst as it sometimes seems, a converse proposition to New York City's notorious inclusiveness, which in practice is anything but, its currency lying in pecuniary fortune rather than national or regional origin.

Most of all, however, I have stayed here for the freedom it has afforded: money is optional here, and one can succeed here, by almost any measure, without guile or rampant ambition. New York promises opportunity for the brash and selfish, megalomania its stock in trade; its denizens, especially in law, wear their malady like syphilis. I never doubted my ability to succeed there, on the City's terms, I merely doubted my willingness to succumb to its mandates, or my ability to accept it on its terms, given that it won't or simply can't accept me on mine.

But if I chose not to be there, I asked, shouldn't I be living a life I can live only here, in Pittsburgh, in its freedom from want and its collegial familiarity?

I came here, in short, to write. To fashion myself a writer. To do so in a climate of welcome, where the burdens of merely providing for oneself do not expand to crowd out everything else. In New York, as I have said many times in response to the inevitable question of why I moved here, one cannot throw a stone without hearing the indignant cries of a hundred writers. Among those hundred, five will just be better than I can aspire to be, and twenty will have trust funds that enable them to plug along in publishing without regard to its unlivable wages. The rest will wake to their self-deception at thirty in a City that bleeds them dry just to live. In Pittsburgh, I typically continue, one has the option of preserving the self-deception far longer. And I have counted this a good thing.

Perhaps, then, I should have stayed, fought with those five for my share of a diminshing pie or disabused myself of my loftiest aspirations years ago and moved on. Perhaps I should move there now, become a lawyer, parcel out my time in six-minute increments. It's much easier to keep score, there, after all, and certainty is its own reward.

But I think not.

Instead, I will do here what I can do nowhere else given my proclivities and station: work humane hours; endeavor to excel in more rarefied company without abandoning those diversions that comprise my inviolate whole; resist the urge to simplify or narrow my focus when complexity furnishes intellectual wealth and spiritual health.

I may not be the writer I have always imagined I wanted to be, and my halting efforts to become that person betray some underlying equivocation, a separate matter. I will not, however, release his protean form from my clutches just yet. It's not time, and I am grateful that the relative leisure of life in Pittsburgh affords me the patience to allow these questions to resolve themselves only upon due consideration, rather than truncating the inquiry.

I won't be writing about politics anymore, however, not here, and elsewhere, if at all, only with the greatest reluctance. I leave that to my betters.

I must resist distraction, hew my attention to the bone of my most unlikely aspirations or abandon them entirely. As it originally was intended, this site will again become a shrine to that endeavor rather than an outlet for my frenzied blathering du jour.

As I have spilled enough Moonlight, I'll close with an a propos sentiment from a poet who persevered through his doubts, and let neither place nor necessity obtrude on his art.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke


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