This voice is borrowed. The first murmur of the voice was whispered to me through Douglas Coupland’s book, Life After God. The stories were short, the descriptions sweet, and there were even pictures - naturally I was seduced, and found something meaningful where I had initially sought idle distraction. It was to be my introduction to the Melancholic. With each story he told I felt involved more than I had with any book, his characters were wrestling with feelings I harbored beneath the surface of my awareness. Glibly fashioned in shape of a pocket bible, it became, in its own way, a path to personal revelation. I didn’t know what to do with this awareness, but it percolated irrespective of my ability to contain it. In the end, the fictional Coupland confesses he needs God and, in that stroke, subverts even the magnanimous identity owed the Melancholic of being the resister of all social mores. I never thought about God much before reading that book, and in years to come I would read from many soon-to-be heroes of mine, Wittgenstein, Dostoevsky, Dylan, this same resignation to the Almighty. This voice gives into that hesitation, to fall neither toward nor away entirely.
Probably too early in my development as a human being let alone as any kind of writing conduit, I fell upon Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. Maybe it was the right time precisely to let it fully bloom in my skull. It certainly left an impression. I was the corrosive rationalist then and bruised metaphysically by all that comes from such over-emphasis. The Underground Man was me, and his faults were mine, and therefore his lessons were mine. But it took awhile for that to settle in, I was twenty and I knew everything. I think at first I admired him, and my writing took a turn for the philosophically perverse. My first year in University, a TA chided me for being the resident rationalist, always ready to uproot a position. Not able to cope with other people, nor myself. Still the book held up more than a mirror to me, it got under the skin, particularly in the final chapter, On the Occasion of Wet Snow, it showed me how I must appear to be in the world, without hope of guile to conceal myself. A nervous tic of a man unable to hold the most basic conversation due to the paralysis of my mind and the raw fibers of feeling it pinched. I fisted out poetry that marveled over decadent words without the hindsight of knowing what decadence was. The voice gave into reason and wrote mostly to know, to know and know and know and know and know and know. My heart felt the con that Dostoevsky showed me but I couldn’t find a way to stop being that man.
I remember the first time I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and, specifically, Song of Myself. I was in my parent’s basement, my body weary from long hours working in a factory, still knotted in the chest, and reading it was like feeling every part of me just let go, soften and rejoice - a Whitmanesque word but damn it, rejoice it was! All at once in the way that only literature can entrap you with, I felt true joy, true happiness, I wanted to live like that poem said to live, I wanted to stop moping and give into the creative spark that I believe lies in all mankind. The voice found the will to write outside of knowing if only to pleasure in the sound of its own voice. The choice line: “Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me”.
I returned to Dostoevsky to understand what it is to be human, to understand right from wrong in an existential sense. Also it fueled my voice, his passion for rigmarole, allowing meaning to find its way in the loose bowels of one’s train of thought, and one tier higher, as characters interceding in each other’s lives without a cosmic message from the almighty writer, to let the meaning be in the telling not the prescription of thought. My first blog entries spilled this way.
With Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the rigmarole became autobiography, a sincerity that bashes its skull against irony to let something true bleed out. In this book in particular there is a noticeable lack of what usually is constituted as ‘sophistication’, he is writing against the grain of the literary. His sentences run on, but also do what I do, keep replaying the beginning of a sentence to carry the thought beyond the mandates of an idea, but just to see where you can take it - the thought process fossilized, you can look at it from all sides. Not to say there is no craft to what he does, there is, but he is not afraid to indulge and reveal himself. The craft does not edit that out but celebrates it. He is post-post-modern, for where at first there was the polished conceit, then the polished ironic conceit, both playing to a sophisticated audience, Eggers comes along and challenges the very importance of labels one way or the other by making something uncomfortably in-between, jamming their significance, until the only significance is his unvarnished voice. I feel like I know Eggers from this book, not because he talks about events in his life, but by the way he talks about them. Perhaps more than any of the other sources of inspiration, I find my voice in Eggers, in this courage to write oneself out.
This voice is familiar now, I don’t need to coddle it or regiment it, there are enough wheels turning of their own revolutions to get me through the second part of my life. It was not as straight a line as this post may lead one to believe, nor was there a teleological knowing at any point along the path, but for a myth, this will do.