I feel the breeze blow through what’s left of my hair and remember my vow to enjoy it. It’s not actually wind, it’s the rush of air that come from falling into the void and waiting for the net, the catching hands, the sproing, thunk! of your opening parachute. You can gnaw through your bonds one by one, and feel only tremors, but then you sever that one pivotal strand and you suddenly fall free, released on your own recognizance. Now you own it.
I own every day, dawn to dark. I alone will decide whether I lie on the couch, or sweat at this keyboard, or wander the streets or sob or cavort. But of course this isn’t really anything new. I have been the boss of my life since I began this job of being human. It’s just that I had forgotten to look at my business cards, hadn’t read my employment contract. I have aways been in the driver’s seat. I just hadn’t turned the ignition key till last Wednesday.
When I graduated from Princeton, I bought this book.
The South Pacific Handbook was to be the manual for the next stage in my life. I was going to move to Truk in Micronesia. The handbook told me that the women still wore grass skirts and went around bare-breasted and that they used gigantic round stones as money. I would be a 20th century Gauguin, except for the painting bit. I wouldn’t need a real job, I would just build a hut and fish and eat bread fruit and coconuts. I still had a few hundred dollars in the bank from my job at McDonalds the previous summer.
By the end of the summer, however, I was living in the East Village in a 4th floor walk up. Only the local drag queens wore grass skirts.
The South Pacific Handbook has been on the shelf of every apartment I’ve lived in since, a reminder that one can postpone one’s dreams but needn’t forget them. I take it down every year and am grateful that I didn’t risk death by boredom or some horrible tropical disease or scurvy and remind myself that Gauguin died of syphilis. Then I put the book back on the shelf. I never take it to the used bookstore, however, because deep inside me I know that one day that youthful romantic ember deep in the lower basement of my soul will glow bright again and I will book a flight or a slow boat and live that crazy dream.
I’ve been on a metaphoric tropical island for six days now. The sun is shining, I am wearing shorts and flip-flops, and I am just beginning to wander the endless stretch of beach. It’s the island called Greater Dannyiana, a long flight from the mainland on which I’ve been dwelling since I bought the South Pacific Handbook. This place is probably vast, I don’t know yet. It contains a lot of empty real estate on which I can build huts and workshops and landing strips and office buildings. I could turn it into a modern-day Tahiti, filled with chain hotels and alcoholic natives, or I could keep it lean and pure and idyllic. Or, most likely, something in between.
There are monkeys here. I hear them calling from the trees. They tell me I must make a business plan, must take on lots of freelance work, must keep in touch with people who run ad agencies who will hire me back once I abandon this folly. I should write to all the people who run weekend workshops, build a slick commerce website, sign a half dozen book contracts simultaneously. They tell me to stay out of the sun, that I’ll catch some thing from the mosquitoes, that there are lots of wild animals in the jungle. They remind me that freedom isn’t free.
I did make a list of things. And it’s on this computer somewhere. But I haven’t looked at it yet. Instead I made one commitment. I will try to go to a life drawing class every day. I will draw a three-hour long pose. I will draw on a large piece of paper that’s not in a book. I will write nothing on the page except the date. And I will do it with a pencil. The monkey reminds me: I am not used to doing such long drawings, I am not used to drawing with a pencil, I always draw in a book, and I am not a huge fan of drawing strangers, even if they are bare-breasted. The monkey asks me if I quit my job to do this. And I do not answer the monkey. Instead, I pack up my awkwardly large bag with my drawing pad and my pencil and my iPod and my bottle of water and I ride a CitiBike to SoHo and I sit in the basement and I draw.
And then I discover that the reason I feel a breeze in my hair isn’t because I am falling. I am flying.