Sunday, March 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt seven)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

A year later you’re married and there’s not much freedom for two decades except the driving that’s related to the miserable road between the married housing apartments and the university, the holiday drives homeward to visit parents and in-laws, the pathetically short vacation fishing trips, and a few longer drives to Key West and Montana to fish. A poet technically is supposed to be a “thief of fire” but as easily as anyone else he becomes a working stiff who drinks too much on late Friday afternoons. You begin to overcherish the memories of the freedom of earlier trips. You settle for bar pool and spectator sports. You begin to remind yourself of all of the men you know who speak of their golden days in the armed services, the singular exciting time of their lives. Clinical depressions become more frequent. I made far less money than it took to support my family, which required about twelve grand a year. I did seemingly countless poetry readings in public schools at a hundred bucks a crack for the National Endowment for the Arts, an experience that made me permanently loathe public appearances. I tried journalism which got me to Russia, Africa, South America, and France but the assignments paid for only the time it took to write the articles, leaving me little freedom to write what I wished, and the most obvious economic lesson of all became obvious: survival work requires your entire life. I tried university teaching for two years but the closest metaphor was life in a zoo. I had two years of grants, a release from the zoo but a little problematic. When you first release wild animals from cages they are unwilling to leave a known environment for a speculative future outside the cage. A man quite easily suppresses his long for freedom until this supposed longing becomes a cliché without energy. It appears that man is the only creature capable of tying and lying himself into interminable knots. I had met Jack Kerouac a couple of times and it mystified me that his recent success with On the Road meant only that he had freedom to become hopelessly drunk. Of course I was just nineteen at the time and there’s no one as abrasively judgmental as a nineteen-year-old.

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