Life & Living (Introit) [Second Try] No Scrap

“The IQ test results have come in.” In her cartoonishly intimidating German accent, the venerable psychoanalyst continued, “They place you in the second percentile of intelligence.” American intelligence, intelligence among Americans, I forget just how she put it, but the accent was very much on the second percentile. “This is not uncommon among college graduates,” she went on.

I pursed my lips in a gesture of modified satisfaction. Second percentile wasn’t so bad. I should have been surprised to hear that I was in the first, because I was terrible bad at arithmetic. Geometry, trigonometry: I did fine with them, but the moment I had to compute integers (much less fractions!) I broke down. My addition was whimsical; I often confused seven for nine and vice versa; and when it came to subtraction I had to write things down. Not uncommon among college graduates, though? That was ambiguous. What’s “uncommon”? Which college? It never occurred to me that most second-percentilers with scholarships or affluent parents would be college graduates.

“I’m telling you this because I think that it is time that you gave up pretending that you’re in the first percentile.” Which, as you can see, I hadn’t been doing; but I knew what the doctor meant. She had earlier remarked that, as I had not yet done anything remarkable by the age of twenty-five, it was unlikely that I would ever do anything remarkable. Knowing I might think that she was talking about science — no concern of mine — she mentioned her beloved Goethe.

Then, after a pause, “I think that it is time that you stopped pretending that you belong in the first percentile.”

A little slow, as usual, I was still dwelling on the commonness. Can such intelligence be common among college graduates? There are so many college graduates, and even the second percentile must be rather small. Of course, I might have been getting it all backwards, proof perhaps that I really wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I was hearing the doctor say that it was common for college graduates to belong to the second percentile. I wasn’t hearing that members of the second percentile were common among college graduates. It never occurred to me, for example, that members of the first percentile must be even more common among college graduates. Then again, I do think that I was hearing quite accurately what the doctor was trying to say.

Then I caught up. Stop pretending.

If I were a journalist, I’d look into the claim about how common second percentilers are among college graduates. But I’m not, and even as I sat there, over forty years ago, in what was masquerading as therapy, I was ever more persuaded that terms like “common” and “college graduate” didn’t mean anything very definite — and as for “intelligence” — ! I had undergone the two days of IQ testing, in a pleasant office overlooking River Oaks, with a kind of bountiful condescension, as though I had volunteered to share my specialness with the administrators of such tests and perhaps teach them a thing or two. Now, my good behavior was being rewarded with unpleasant news. Stop pretending. Did I pretend to have a high IQ? Never. I’d met a few people who did (although I never stopped to wonder how they knew, since it was a given that one could never be told one’s score), and most of them seemed to be brittle and humorless. I was very smart; I’d been told that all my life. But it meant more to me that I was special. “Special” meant that I was off the charts, not a point on the line from moron to genius.

When the therapist, Hilde Bruch, who was one of the first theorists of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, expressed doubts that I would ever do anything remarkable, she meant that, while I might get rich, I would never be Goethe. But I probably wouldn’t get rich, either, because, well, that was why — as we both knew without our saying anything too grossly candid — why she had taken me on. I was not the victim of an eating disorder. I was the son-in-law of one of her close friends on the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine, and it was Dr Bruch’s job, as a favor to her friend, not to make me feel better about myself, but, quite the reverse, to prod me into getting a real job and buying responsible insurance policies, so that her friend could stop subsidizing the lifestyle that her daughter and I were pursuing at the time, cheap though this may have been.

It was a reckoning. I had been weighed in the balance and found second rate. I didn’t know it, but my brief marriage was falling apart; my ties to Dr Bruch were about to evaporate. I was functionally broke, with no prospects. My ill-paid job was a continuation of something that I’d done in college, a way of putting off going to law school, as my father wanted me to do. It was, how you say, a low point, possibly the low point. I had never heard the saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m not sure that I would have found it very encouraging. Death looked pretty good, for a few weeks there.

When I told the IQ story to my sixth and last psychotherapist, he smiled and said, “And yet all of her theories turned out to be wrong.” I haven’t checked that out, either.

***

Let me tell you a little bit about myself — before I tell you a whole lot more.

An early Baby Boomer, I was born at the beginning of January 1948, in New York City. Almost immediately, I was adopted by a couple living in Westchester County, to the north of the city. In 1955, I flew with my parents to Bermuda in a Pan Am Stratocruiser — the second level was below the main cabin. I was a few months shy of ten when, in October 1957, Sputnik circled the earth. In 1963, when I was fifteen, the Beatles took off while I settled in at boarding school; weeks later, JFK was assassinated, right before Thanksgiving. In 1970, after graduating from Notre Dame, I found a job with a radio station in Houston. I was twenty-six when Nixon resigned. Three years later, I went back to Notre Dame for law school. In 1980, at the age of thirty-two, I passed New York State’s bar exam, and in the following year I was married a second time, to Kathleen Moriarty, at St Thomas More Church. In 1985, I bought a PCjunior, and eleven years later, when I was forty-eight, I joined an online listserv. Now you know everything.

***

My father, who was dear to me even if he wasn’t my father, once quipped, to a visitor who remarked on the impressive display of books in my room, that I had “more books than sense.” This was all too true.

“Sense” covers a lot of territory, but what my father probably had uppermost in mind was schoolwork. I read a great deal, yes, but not always what was on the reading lists. Instead, I read a lot of stuff that was not on the reading list. Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King, for example, sparked an interest in Louis XIV at Versailles that was shared by no one I knew. (More about that anon.) The books that I read indicated that I was not only an unusual person, but an unusual kind of unusual person. Unlike the run of weird kids, I had no interest in science fiction or fantasy. Except at the barber shop, I never touched comic books. What bothered my father was that I seemed allergic to prescribed reading. All it took to kill my interest in a book was its appearance in a syllabus.

Nor did I read the books that were popular with other smart kids. I stayed away from Catch-22, for some reason, and I still haven’t read it. I didn’t read Camus or Kerouac, or any of the other writers whose books predictably filled the shelves in others’ dorm rooms. What were these books? They were books by men who were thoughtful about real life and true justice, and who undertook adventures to harden themselves and sharpen their awareness of the world’s problems, which usually boiled down to materialism. Capital-m Materialism, I should say, not the philosophy. They were all books that a college student could grasp without effort, and they managed to be individual in the same way. They were very respectable books, and I sensed that they had nothing to tell me. That’s the kind of sense I had.

I became someone who wanted to have read many books. Well, don’t we all? The best way to simulate this impossible ambition — for the many books that one has not yet read is a very conscious and ever-growing multiple of the ones that one has — is to read the books that are mentioned in other books. This is how I assembled my shelf of English history books when I was studying the subject at boarding school. The library had just about nothing. So, when I read about Blackwells, the Oxford bookshop, in The New Yorker, I contrived to open an account. Don’t ask me how I paid for anything, but the books were duly shipped. I still have them all. I’ve managed to read them all, too, over the years. Most of them were about the Wars of the Roses — a term, I learned, that serious historians never use. What I learned from this batch of books was that if you read about the same events in a couple of history books, you get a perspective that makes the events far more present in the mind, so that just by reading key bits of books you will appear to be frighteningly knowledgeable, at least to anyone who isn’t a scholar. The only way to be a person who has read many books when you are young is to cheat like hell.

It was years before I could discipline myself to read books from beginning to end, and not to open them in the middle.

Although I’d have died had anyone accused me of consumerism, I was as attentive to brands as any fashionista. A row of Penguin Classics, all the spines conforming to a single design, packs a punch. In those days, the Penguins were even more austere than they are now; they hadn’t yet discovered basic black. Signet Classics were no less uniform. Washington Square Press books, which were very inexpensive, bore a family resemblance when lined up on the shelf. The simple truth is that an organized bookcase suggests an organized mind, and I took all the help I could get. I judged books by their covers all the time.

In any case, for most of my life, I really did have more books than sense. The world of experience was so unruly! The great thing about books was that everything happened in the book. If you closed the book, everything stopped, and stood still, right where it was, until you opened it up again. The other day, I was reading a story by William Trevor, and I reached a very uncomfortable point. A young and innocent Irishman was about to be assigned a terrorist bombing job. The title of the story was “The Mourning,” and I took it at face value. I put the book down for a while. You can do that, when you’ve had too much, when things are about to get too unpleasant. You can get used to the new situation. Then you can go back and read it. Who would prefer real experience to that? Not I.

Books are great companions; I always have one with me. But in public they are a kind of armor. Books make a lot of people uncomfortable. While still in my twenties, I began to notice that people who asked if I had really read all the books on the bookshelves in my living room were really asking something else. They might be asking if the books were a pose. They might be asking if I finished what I started. What they mostly seemed to be asking was what to do if you find yourself in the same room with someone who has read all those books. Where is the panic button?

You don’t read much about people who don’t like books, because there is no market for the reader who isn’t one. But I believe that people who don’t care for books are in the majority, and that this is not a cultural phenomenon but a somatic one. I have decided, on the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever, that the ability to read fluently is a talent, a gift like any other physical gift. We don’t think of it as physical, because we’re slugs stretched out on a sofa, but of course it is physical, utterly dependent upon functioning organs — eyes, nerves, and even hands. For people who like to read, the effortless transformation of inkblots into narrative has to be recognized as a gift, which, like any gift, can be improved into a skill with practice. But the person who is not born with the right eyes or the right nerves will probably never be a reader, and it’s incumbent upon readers to recognize this. I think that it’s the second hardest thing to do. (The hardest thing to do is to imagine not knowing something that you know.) Good readers rightly do not think of themselves as virtuosos. But they do have a skill that isn’t equally distributed. I don’t think that this is anything like sufficiently understood by people who wind up in the professional élite. We’ve been too prone to regard non-readers as lazy.

Here is a little test.

Basil: Seriously, Sybil, do you remember, when we were first … manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot.

Sybil: Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.

My bookishness, constructed as it is of language, leaks into everyday speech. I love talk. I don’t care for talk that is merely clever, any more than I like overly salted soup; but without cleverness talk is hard going. Unlike salt, my kind of cleverness is a rather local thing, limited, perhaps, to people who laugh at the exchange between Basil and Sybil not just because it scores yet another point for Sybil in their ongoing hostilities but because her riposte takes advantage of a vagueness in his memory. It also replaces the expected commonplace, “things,” with “time,” sharply underscoring that their laughter was not a manifestation of togetherness. In other words, it’s funny as language. Words, as some women say of their inexplicable boyfriends, make me laugh.

***

Distraction used to be a serious problem. My eye is drawn to the unusual, the piquant, the momentarily amusing. That’s why I never mark up books anymore. I’m too likely to underline the least important sentence in a paragraph, simply because it has an interesting turn of phrase, or it mentions something that has caught my attention elsewhere or the name of someone I know (from reading), no matter how ephemeral in the context. It’s not that I miss the important points as I read, necessarily; I just underline the other ones.

The movie Contact is a favorite of mine, not because I believe in extraterrestrial intelligence — I don’t, and yet at the same time I think it’s a bad idea to go looking for evidence of it (my conservatism in a nutshell) — but because my personal SETI arrays are always picking up interesting signals that make me set aside whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Parents, teachers, and employers scolded me for being incapable of focusing on the problems that they assigned, incapable on their part of understanding that for me those problems were lifeless, compared with the distractions. Worse happened when I re-understood their problems in my own terms, and tried to convince them to see things through the correct end of the telescope. [Poseidon? Walking toward the bow.]

And I had no ability to concentrate; I could not shut out the ambient world. This is why I could never get anything done in a library. Nor anywhere too brightly lighted. At boarding school, I began to understand that my mind worked best when I had a typewriter in front of me, and that I wrote better at a keyboard than with a pen. It wouldn’t be until personal computers came along, however, that I profited much from that.

But this was little more than the jitteriness of youth. All little boys have trouble sitting still. Physically indolent, I might sit still but I couldn’t keep my mind still. There was so much to learn, and every bit of learning took so long! It was a chronic panic that lasted all through college, where I ended up distracting myself further with LSD. My mind was a mystery to me, mercurial, inventive, capable of remarkable eloquence but thoroughly unreliable. It led its own life of the mind.

The truant that I became in school — showing up for class, perhaps, but reading something else — was the person I kept on being long after school was over. My course was set before I reached college. I had no idea where I was going — not then. Not for a long time. But I was still on a course.

***

My lack of control over my own intellect, my inability to give any clear idea of what I was looking for in all the books that I was reading, and my willingness to accept circumstances instead of shaping them to my liking — these were all offenses against manliness that must have repelled potential mentors, if there ever were any. In my twenties, I did encounter one older man who seemed to respect that I was stumbling along earnestly, and who seemed to understand that my confusion was genuine, and not evidence of a want of seriousness, and I shall sing his praises in due course. For the most part, however, I lived in disgrace, a manifest failure to make the most of ample gifts. Worse, I exhibited characteristics that were common among women. I was intuitive and compassionate. I avoided every kind of violence. I became an articulate defender of women’s issues. My father told me that he and my mother expected me to grow up homosexual.

I was always at odds with the consensus about masculinity; a lot of learned male behavior struck me as soul-killing, or at least anaesthetic. Why would men spend so much time and effort disciplining themselves not to feel? Was that something to look back on with pride — I spent my life keeping my feelings to myself? It seemed stupid and suffocating to me. My idea of cooperation was feminine from the beginning: let’s get something done, and it doesn’t matter how coordinated we look doing it. For all their silence and stoicism, men just seemed to be role-playing. My problem was, really, that I could not take being a man seriously.

Before Dr Bruch, I had been to two psychiatrists. I had even read Freud, and pondered the mechanics of how the ego, the id, and the superego interacted. I wondered how much of the unconscious could ever be revealed to the light of day, mildly aware that consciousness often makes us clumsy. I shared the general liberal view that individual maladjustment was the source of unhappiness. If we could only figure ourselves out, then we would be smiling all the time, and psychiatrists were there to help us with that. Only, psychiatrists did not appear to be tremendously helpful. We had to do all the work. Most of the time spent with them was devoted to talking about ourselves, not the most interesting of topics. We knew that psychotherapy took a long time, but it was hard to believe that anything at all was happening. It often felt like a terrible waste of time. Every once in a while, I walked out of the office feeling a little better; sometimes I was quite unnerved. But most of the time I was relieved that another boring session had come to an end.

If we could all get our little houses in order, society would be a wonderful thing, instead of the suffocation that it was often felt to be. There was never much thought given to the possibility that society might be altered in ways that would make it easier to be individually happy. That kind of thinking was frowned upon; it might provoke the authorities to complain of socialist tendencies. Long before Mrs Thatcher claimed that there was no such thing as “society,” Americans were taught that the community was nothing more than an amalgam of individuals. Individuals shaped the world, which is why they had to be in good shape to begin with. Most people had no need for psychiatry, of course; they just needed some clear rules and a bit of discipline. It was oddballs like me who needed their heads examined.

Things things felt wrong to me in Eisenhower America (Eisenhower was one of the few good things about it, but he kept that a secret). I don’t mean that I had any sense of the big picture, politically or otherwise. I just noticed that nobody was quite as happy as 1950s television said we were. I don’t want to overstate my perceptiveness; lots of young people were suspicious of the consumer culture. We had a powerful sense that deeper values were going untended, that the surface glitter was both unattractive and misleading. But what deeper values? And what did these values feel like in every day life? Were they monumental, parts of a grand philosophy (such as communism or existentialism) that had an answer for everything? Or were they small, tiny perhaps, and unique: moments of genuine contact with other people? Such moments were rare, at least for most of us, who didn’t know any better but to wait for them to happen; and too many of them involved mind-altering drugs. The hard question was whether to go forward or backward. Going backward meant “growing up” and doing all the adult things, whether we wanted to be parents and homeowners or not; going forward seemed more and more to be a matter of going inward, of pursuing states of consciousness to which various Asian philosophies were thought to hold the key. I wasn’t drawn in either direction, but I could imagine being a lawyer without being a parent or a homeowner — actually, I already was a parent by this time — and then, in law school, I fell in love. Living some kind of life with the woman I loved became an effective organizing principle. It still is.

But I retained a very Sixties skepticism about received wisdom and the institutions that benefit from them. Schools, businesses, churches, clubs; any entity that was supposed to go on existing no matter how often the faces of people who ran it changed — institutions were somehow not what they were cracked up to be. There was something about them that people didn’t understand. Later, when I found out what it was, I would see why they didn’t want to understand. For the time being, though, my skepticism about institutions meant that I was not a joiner.

Because I was not a joiner, and because my interests were so peculiarly difficult to mention, I did not have many lasting friends. Not shy, and rarely at a loss for words, I always had a good time at parties, but it was all something of an act, because I could never talk about what really mattered. My loneliness was intensified by a lack of sympathy for all the other bright young people who thought that there was something wrong with American society. They wanted to reform it, revolutionize it. They wanted to tear down old restraints. Hating destruction of any kind, I wanted at least to find out what those old restraints had been expected to accomplish, and why they were no longer a good fit. I never succumbed to the notion that the world used to be a better place, but it seemed obvious that we couldn’t understand what was going on until we understood what had happened before. And yet this put me at odds with nearly everyone. On the one hand, radical students regarded history as a distracting waste of time, a story about the abuse of power — period. On the other, traditionalists were affronted by my habit of analyzing things. And they were insulted when I suggested that most of their traditions were of fairly recent origin.

I expect that anyone who is lonely is going to consider suicide, as I did quite often when I was young. Once, I even gave it a try, although I made sure that I didn’t succeed. It was certainly not a play for attention; the attention that I got in aborting the attempt was embarrassing enough. Everyone wanted to know why, of course; I could only reply that I didn’t know but that I was very unhappy. I was a freshman in college at the time, the perfect age for such despair. As time went by, though, I had ever less reason to believe that I was in for a rosy future; despair ought to have increased. When I graduated with my all but useless bachelor of arts degree, I had no career plans of any kind. All I wanted to do was sit somewhere and read. I was always looking for people to talk to, and not finding them, because I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to talk about. Suicidal or not, there was clearly something wrong with me. And yet I never believed this for a second. There was nothing much wrong with me, and nothing much wrong with everybody else, either. But the language was screwed up.

Later, I would learn about the prophets. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible don’t play a big role in Catholic teaching, and like everyone else I assumed that prophets were men who could see the future. (Like everyone else, I made assumptions about things that I didn’t consciously think about.) The prophets foretold a grisly future for the Israelites, and that is what befell them, but prophecy as such was not involved. The prophets were simply exhorting their countrymen (especially the rich and powerful ones) to adhere with greater fidelity to the terms of their covenant with God. Their many derelictions would surely bring down divine punishments! From a more secular viewpoint, it might have been seen that that covenant defined a society in which the Israelites could live; experimenting with alternative lifestyles, which is what the prophets were on about, was probably a bad idea. It still is, I think, unless you are living where your lifestyle is at home.

Without being aware of it, I discovered that I was comfortable with complexity and that other people weren’t. I often wonder to what extent this comfort with complexity is an inborn feature of my brain. That’s a depressing conclusion, because it means that I might as well not bother to open my mouth. I like to figure things out as much as anybody, but I don’t like to solve problems. The difference is that problems vanish when they’re solved, while figuring things out always leads to expanded understanding. I learned that I was not competitive, genuinely uninterested in demonstrating my superiority to anyone else. To say that sport of any kind bored me to sobs is to say everything there is to say on that subject — although, if taken to a baseball game, especially a night game in a small park, I will pay attention (but I will not remember who won).

There was a great deal about real-world sexuality that I never imagined, because it could only be hinted at with words. I truly did not understand desire. Perhaps because my prevailing desire is really little more than curiosity — I want to know things — I did not imagine how powerful desire could be. I associated desire with crime, and crime with mental affliction, and mental affliction with therapy. If you wanted something too badly, you went to a doctor, and the doctor would talk you out of it. Because — as I knew all too well from books — intense desires, given enough air, always burn themselves out, so what’s the point?

My phlegmatic constitution, even more than having been the youngest kid in the class, may explain why it took me so long to understand why sex was such a big deal. I am not going to have very much to say about my sex life, for general (not personal) reasons that I’ll go into later, but one very uncomplicated little fact about me is that my curiosity about what books called wet dreams was never satisfied. That’s a delicate thing to confess, I know, but I feel obliged to acknowledge the fact, which I take to be an abnormality.

At the age of thirteen or thereabouts, I was overcome not by sex but by art. Overnight, I developed a passion for Mozart and a thirst for English history. It was now that I became a real reader. As a child, I had read Hardy Boys mysteries, partly because they were mildly thrilling but mostly so that I could boast of the speed with which I got through them. I never had any interest in children’s books. As for music, I listened to WQXR, the classical radio station then owned by the Times whenever I was home sick from school. I also liked dance music from the Thirties and Forties but not the up-to-date stuff that my father listened to on WNEW. If I’d known his name, I should have been able to tell you that I loathed Nelson Riddle. (I don’t anymore.) One thing led another, and then I was knocked over by a tidal wave of Mozart and anybody who wrote before he did. It would take me a very long time to approve of anything connected with or dating to the Nineteenth Century, even Jane Austen, whom I thought I liked, and Tchaikovsky, who was gorgeous. My thoughts about sex remained those of a child until I was in college, when considerations of status rather than desire finally got the motor running.

***

For years, I thought that I would one day write a book about my terrible relationship with my mother. It seemed obvious that the conflict between us must have shaped my personality. But when I got round to starting on this exposé, the relationship between the fights that she and I had all the time and the person I grew up to began to look less causal and more occasional. I came into the world with a character of my own, just as I saw my grandson do a few years ago. Of course I was socialized by my parents, housebroken if you like. But I’m quite sure that they didn’t change me. They just slowed me down a bit.

One of the last things that I remember happening in Bronxville occurred midday one Sunday. We would be moving to Houston soon, although I’m not sure that I knew that at this time. I was home from college, where, by now, I had fallen in love with Wagner’s Ring cycle. It took a long time to acquire the recordings, because they were so expensive. Finally, I had Die Walküre, the best-known and -loved of the bunch. While my parents and my sister were at Mass, I took the advantage of being alone in the house to turn up the volume. The music was so loud that I didn’t hear the car pull into the garage or the door open and close. When at last the music died away from natural causes, all I heard sobbing. It was my mother, sitting at the kitchen table downstairs. She had burst into tears upon walking into the house. She simply couldn’t stand the noise. She was overwhelmed by a sense of having gone wrong with me.

That’s probably where I got the idea that things would have been different me had I grown up in another house. I associated myself with my mother’s very explicit sense of failure. I bought into the possibility that I could have been the athletic corporate star that was really the only future that she could imagine for me. I knew that I had let her down, and it certainly seemed to be my fault. But then, a week or so before I received the first of several letters of acceptance from law schools, she died. Law school was a pivotal experience for me, not because it enabled me to become a corporate star, or really to change my life in any serious way, but because it taught me who I was. I learned how to work hard and with focus, but I also learned that I was quite smart enough in the right way to win a spot on the law review — Dr Bruch was on to something with her percentiles.

I also fell in love with the woman to whom I’ve been married for thirty-five years. And what made this even more delightful was the fact that I was no longer fighting with my mother. I went through several stages of judgment about this. At first, I was imply relieved. Then I was angry. Why hadn’t she liked me? Over time, the emotion drained away, leaving a clear but blameless case of bad fit, and when the publication of a book about what I came to call “the adoption racket” forced me to think everything through from scratch, I saw that she had been sold a bill of goods. I forgave her.

***

In my book room, there are many primers on foreign languages. I speak no language but English. I can read French quite well and Italian passably, but I can’t understand anything with my ears. I have spent a lot of time memorizing words and speech patterns in Chinese and Nederlands, not to mention the German that I have learned from opera librettos. All to no avail, if proficiency were the objective. But it never was. My time in foreign parts has been brief, never long enough to call for speaking the language. Instead, I have used the other languages of the world to deepen my sense of English. It was a great gift, never having had to learn the basics of English. I don’t know how anybody does it. But to speak a language without being aware of how it works is a limitation. The only way to find out how your language works is to study another.

It took me a long time to understand why I studied foreign languages; I was always afraid that it was yet more snobbery. (I am ashamed of the Latin that I have taught myself.) It took me a long time understand a lot of things, because the ostensible reasons were always so plausible. Take writing. I knew that I liked to write — but about what? Did I want to write fiction? No — although that took a long time to admit. Did I want to be a journalist? Too much risk of formulaic thinking! I was not going to be an academic. So, what then? It never occurred to me that I like to write was itself the springboard. I learned it very slowly, from writing on the Internet, writing about anything that I thought I could make interesting. As the years went by, I wrote more and more every time that I wrote at all, until, just about a year ago, I began to sense that what I was writing was telling me what to write about. And now we are here.

A shorter way of putting it is that I wrote my way out of a cloud.