Happy New Year to all of my readers.
When I was in the forth grade I read a biography of Thomas Paine. Actually, I gobbled it down in one sitting. For those who remember Tom Paine, he was the patriot from Philadelphia during the American Revolution who wrote the pamphlets Common Sense that laid out the arguments for disassociating with England in clear terms and helped create consensus among the people of the British Colonies that they deserved independence. Since I red that book, I have always told anyone interested that my hero is Thomas Paine. I like how he fomented change with his pen and appreciate that he wrote for his fellow citizens in the here and now. Thomas Paine played counterpoint to his more poetic peer, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote for the ages.
For all that I admired Thomas Paine I never considered emulating him; my dream of being an architect was deeply entrenched even by age ten. But nearly twenty years ago, when I was at my limit of understanding a deep personal crisis, I sat down at a picnic table in Provincetown and began to write. A novel. Simple as that, starting on page one. The writing helped me escape my present and simultaneously understand it better.
Sing Out Loud is not very good novel, but it’s not all that bad either. For three years it kept me saner than work or therapy or family. Before I finished it, another plot seeped into my head; for the next five years I worked on Weekends in Holy Land, a much better effort. That led to Men of a Certain Age (before the TV show of the same name). About seventy pages into Men I can to a full stop. I’d run out of juice. There was no more fiction in me. So I started writing stories, very bad poems, and essays. I developed a rhythm that cadenced at about 750 words. Whenever life tossed me something I couldn’t quite frame, I sought clarity in writing about it. I began my devotion to yoga, keyed into the awkward pose, and that term became the metaphor for my search.
Meanwhile life as an architect grew less engaging. The projects got bigger, my role less direct. Being the master facilitator does not offer the same satisfactions as being the master builder. Then I went to Haiti where I was the master builder once more, and after that, I lost all interest in being a cog in the American Healthcare Industrial complex.
Fifty years after I first met Thomas Paine, I’ve decided to follow in his footsteps. Of course I’ll never exert the influence he did; heroes are to be emulated, not equaled. I’ve quit my job, I’ve enrolled in some journalism courses, I plan to write full time about whatever I see that deserves more attention that it’s getting. Not for posterity but for the present.
So far I’ve enjoyed some beginner’s luck. I’ve written a memoir about my time in Haiti, which University of Missouri Press will publish in fall of 2014. WBUR’s Cognoscenti has accepted me as a contributor. It is a refreshing forum for interesting voices from the Boston area. I hope to write for other print and online publications, and of course I will continue posting to my blog, at least weekly.
I am energized by the prospects before me in 2014. I appreciate all of my readers and your comments. Writing is its own reward; having readers is sheer ambrosia. I wish you all equally exciting prospects to brighten your new year.
Paul, a very interesting story about the journey of your life and your latest decision — all the best with that!! I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your party last night, I had no energy to go anywhere and also friends from out of town were visiting, but I hope you had a wonderful gathering. I find transitions very exhilarating, so I wish you a wonderful 2014 in this new direction you’re taking. Happy New Year!
Thank you Barbara –
We missed you last night. We had a lively group, although at our age most folks leave well before midnight tolls. Maybe next year you will be able to join us.
Good luck with more writing! Glad you’re home safe and sound…
About time for common sense to set your new course. Your story-telling powers are obvious, witnessed by the Haiti postings and now The Wallet. Having a love/knowledge of Mexico and Oaxaca, I found your fluency with Mexican culture to be impressive. And thanks for a pleasurable New Year’s Eve party.
Good for you Paul!! So glad you are following (once again) your passions from the heart. I hope to hear more about your new direction, and always hope to learn from you! Enjoy.
Paul, I found your blog maybe a year ago, and check in from time to time. We were at MIT together, architecture grad school. You probably do not remember me because I was/am a bit of an introvert. At any rate, I agree that architecture is not terribly fulfilling. I, too, have gone back to school, and although I think your addressing present problems is much more useful, I am immersed in history. It is satisfying. But not wholly so. I still need to dip into architecture and art and my adult children and so on. Life is so multi-layered and scattered and only when taken through the arc of time, will it seem (I hope) complete and satisfyingly useful. Congratulations on publishing a book and your articles! And best of luck, too. Also…I loved your recent Haiti needs to be Haiti post. That is so true for so many places, and for people, too!
Thank you so much for reading and sending me a comment. I went to your website. I love your paintings. They are full of mystery and life. I look forward to seeing them in person sometime, and reconnecting with you after so many years.