But as I have been thinking about writing, and whether I am actually doing it or not, I remembered Henry Miller’s voice from Tropic of Cancer in 1934: “Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.” Of course it didn’t stop him, and it certainly hasn’t stopped the rest of us! He wrote the book of the present, of the complete and total appreciation of the moment of life he happened to be in. Of walking beside the Seine in the evening, he writes “For the moment I can think of nothing - except that I am a sentient being stabbed by the miracle of these waters that reflect a forgotten world. All along the banks the trees lean heavily over the tarnished mirror; when the wind rises and fills them with a rustling murmur they will shed a few tears and shiver as the water swirls by. I am suffocated by it. No one to whom I can communicate even a fraction of my feelings …”
None of us can compete with the book of the present. And no writer would want to. If anyone is sitting in the eye of the present, he needs nothing. What a writer can do, and Miller certainly did, is help peal back the layers and crusts that we put between ourselves and the present so we can stand it. Many of the things that allow us to cut through them are tough. For Miller, the poverty and uncertainty of his Paris years helped him break on through, though I doubt if he would have chosen them.
I believe it is a contemporary fallacy though, that only if you are an individual, embattled, poor, alone, can you feel the present. In the lives of my kids, as they grow, it will be possible to sense many moments when they are gripped by the hand of the present, often in choruses of people, in beautiful woods and fields or beautiful buildings, sometimes in meeting terrible demands, sometimes in tragic circumstances. The present speaks to us as individuals, whispers to us or shouts, and we are never the same. But the ways in which we sense it are without limit.