Lately I’ve been spending my lunch break on the steps of the town’s abandoned church, hunched over the subway sandwich in my lap and book of poetry in my hand. St. Stans has been emptied of real services for years, the length of city block it sits on staying mostly quiet as trucks and trailers whir down highway 8 towards main street just four blocks down. Behind me, the double white doors framed in red brick sit locked, and the arced glass window swirls with swampy green stain, a hot and weighty wind rustling around my ears, causing the aged evergreen’s flat boughs to bob like a ship on water. Besides the occasional wedding or craft show, the church, its clock tower, the saintly white busts carved into its sides have been left alone, and I am relieved to be left alone with it.
Somewhere along the course of my life, perhaps as soon as I first sucked breath, I became a worshiper of beauty, and I have been stricken with the pursuit of it ever since. I feel how easily it drives me, how inextricably drawn I am to whatever anchors my stomach with awe. I’ve been spending more time in cathedrals and libraries, sliding my palms down the cool railings of marble staircases, gazing open-mouthed at gold mosaic ceilings and chandeliers dripping light, curving upward like diamond-draped tree limbs. I’ve fastened my eyes to the work of poets, inscribing line after line onto the sticky notes pressed against my office computer, by closet, my writing desk. They hang there, make me question the quality of life I’m living, the satisfaction I’ve never been able to grasp.
I pull my fiancé through the white arches of the St. Paul James J. Hill Library, stopping and spinning round for a moment to read the names etched into the perimeter of the ceiling—Da Vince, Socrates, Shakespeare, Dante. I ask him whether everyone dreams of being inscribed into history, and he says no, not everyone. I wonder whether they don’t dream or whether they simply resign themselves to the unremarkable in order to refuse the pressure of doing otherwise.
Before penning a word, Fitzgerald declared himself to be the next great American novelist, and Zelda would write how ”she quietly expected great things to happen to her and no doubt that’s one of the reasons why they did.” I wish it were possible to claim a legacy before knowing whether or not I had earned one. And I wish I knew whether all artists and the poets knew they had been selected for remarkable things even if the world never suggested it—whether they knew it but were still disappointed in the end.
Charles Bukowski wrote that he had no time for things that have no soul, and perhaps that’s why the idea of money and wealth and social status make me feel nothing, and why poetry and point shoes and paint brushes bring me alive and defeat me all at the same time—like the feeling of the ocean and sand swishing through my fingers before effortlessly slipping away. The deflation of such temporary bliss.
This is what I’ve been longing for more than anything else: to become significant by creating something that is even more so. For my name to be remembered with the beautiful and the troubled and the very real things of the world. I’m not supposed to care about the temporary nature of this place but I do. And I don’t want to leave it without truly seeing it as it is.
C.S. Lewis protests that if he and I have desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, the only explanation is that we were made for another world. So I keep on hungry and relentless, hoping that I’m doing all I can, that I’m leaving behind what I am meant to. I keep emptying pens onto paper and keep turning the pages of books and keep praying this madness of realizing how short I fall of knowing and seeing and loving will eventually collapse into eternity, will bring me rest.