I was up late on the night of the Fourth. Illicit fireworks continued to crackle around the neighborhood like small-arms fire. Perhaps some of it actually was small-arms fire. There were definitely a few times when what I heard sounded more like a gunshot than an M-80. I’ve lived in the city for more than twenty years now. As a seasoned Mission dweller, I like to believe I tell the difference between the two. Then again, I like to believe a lot of things.
My cat stayed under the bed. I imagined her wearing a Civil Defense helmet. or whatever the English equivalent in the tube stations was while the Germans rained death down on London. I’m certain she had no idea what holiday it was, didn’t care, and just wanted the noise to go away.
I didn’t mind the noise. Whether fireworks or gunfire, it sounded far enough away that I felt like I was listening to someone else’s war, someone else’s problem. I did have one thing in common with my cat though. I didn’t swell with pride over the fact that it was Independence Day.
Earlier in the day, I did try to make the holiday resonate on a personal level. As I sat in a cafe sipping my coffee, I thought of the long hours Thomas Jefferson must have put in drafting the Declaration of Independence. To ease his drudgery, I imagined that he had Sally Hemings under his desk while he worked and I began to write a story about it called “The Spurt of 76.” What stopped me was when I took out my iPhone and looked up Sally Hemings on Wikipedia. It said she was born ca. 1773, making her about three years old at the time. There are some topics that are just too fucked up, even for me.
What kept awake till one, a mattress and box spring above my shell-shocked kitty, was that I was reading a very good book. It had reached the point where exciting things were happening and there was no way I was going to put it down until I was finished now matter how long it took.
In my case, that meant taking twice the normal amount of time you’d expect someone to read the last 100 pages of a novel and multiplying it by two. I’m a slow reader. I fancy myself a writer so I take time to make mental notes of how the author is telling the story, assessing what works and what doesn’t. It’s a good way to laugh at the mistakes of bad writers and pick up pointers from the good ones. You see, stealing a story line is considered bad form, but stealing technique is essential.
This works very well until you run across a writer who is so good, the exercise becomes depressing. In my case, I was reading Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and the exercise was depressing as hell. He’s a lot better than I am, but I’m OK with that. He’s better and 10 years younger, but I can deal with that as well. He’s a professional and I am not. What really bothered me was that he is good enough so no matter how hard I try, I will never be as good as he is.
It almost makes me feel glad I’ve never tried very hard at anything.