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Monday, February 2, 2009

A Cool February Night

Tonight inspires me. It is the first Monday in February, and the weather has turned suddenly mild. Winter, for a brief day, seems all so suddenly in the past in Manhattan, and spring whispers from this cool breeze off the Hudson River. I have been sheltered against the bitter cold for too long; I have drunk, like a magic elixir, this comely breeze on the sidewalk at night. I love the night. I love a night like tonight. I wish the world were made of only nights like these.

I was wondering how living in crazy, expensive Manhattan has affected me as a writer, as an investor, as a father, as a husband. I was wondering about John Updike, and how he really didn’t like New York City that much, even as he wrote hundreds of stories and essays and reviews for the New Yorker. Updike preferred rural Massachusetts, and I can understand why. It is difficult to keep the City at bay, to gather that peace, simply to stop all the business of the city, its pressures, and its people from dominating your psyche. A night like tonight, however, reminds you that it is possible to find that special time to work even in this City.

I remember when I lived in Ysleta, less than a mile from the Mexican-American border, that I would sneak out of the bed, as a child, to roam at night. I mean at night night, when it’s three in the morning, and not a car is on the street, not a whisper can be heard behind closed doors, not a single dog is awake to bark at the moon. Just like tonight, I would listen. I didn’t expect ghosts. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t jump at odd sounds. I just listened, and my mind would feel a presence (this mirror of the self?), and I was enthralled.

The nature in front of me, known and not quite known in the dark, elicited my attention, invoked its mystery, and called me to it. In the harshness of the day, the rooms in Ysleta, just like in Manhattan, seemed all so boring. But at night, suddenly, the chairs, a river’s glimmer through a window, the sky darkly gray, with stars, all of it had life. What do we lose when everything is all too clear in our heads, all too understood? Where is imagination when we are seduced to think that all there is is only what can we can see?

I love the night, because it brings me back to my self. I love this Manhattan night, because it allows me to soar, and to work, and to try something I could never do during the day, something I might keep to myself as that which is unknown, yet still alluring. This night is full of wonder.

I almost feel as if I’m in another favorite place, the middle of the forest of the Litchfield hills. In another night night, amid hundreds of miles of maples and oaks and mountain laurel, with these breezes that slice like razors at your skin. We go there, too, to amble along country roads, but not nearly enough as I want, and perhaps Updike was right about living away from what is all-too-obvious, all-too-loud.

The night night brings me back to a recurrent dream, a dream I have not had for years, but which would rarely leave me in Ysleta. I am sitting on a beam, something that perhaps feels like a beam, yet I cannot see it. Clouds surround me. Clouds or a mist. And I am falling. First one way. Then the other. It is the falling, that thrills me. I am falling into the night, and I am there to feel the darkness as it touches my skin.


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