It was 1990, two years after my divorce. I had made a swing from Florida to Connecticut to Northern California to Southern California and back to Florida. I was lost. No relationship, no assets, no plan. On top of that, I was living with my parents.
I read an article about the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Awards with a prize of $500,000 and a publishing contract. My background of study was in screenwriting and I had dabbled in poetry. But, sure, yeah, why not write a novel with grandiose themes? At least it was a plan.
At that time, I came across a lovely second edition hardback copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”. I was only vaguely familiar with the author and was aware of the Academy Award winning 1946 film version. Perhaps it was the inscription from the Katha-Upanishad that caught my attention:
The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.
Perhaps I was feeling melodramatic with my own circumstances, or maybe I wasn’t. At that moment in time, I had zero prospects and no idea how to get to that particular place called Nowhere. I began writing a long poetical work, somewhat akin to Byron or Milton or Alexander Pope. A well-read writer is not necessarily a good writer. I still have it buried away somewhere and simply smile at its pretentiousness.
However, as I read Maugham’s work, I was captivated by Larry Darrell’s journey from the trauma of World War I, the Roaring 20’s, and through the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Through the highs and lows, he is seeking something his friends and acquaintances are unaware of, a kind of peace or, just maybe, that release from a cycle of human suffering.
What I found fascinating was how steadfast Larry was in determining he would gain knowledge and find a path. All pretensions aside, that is all I wanted at that point in time. Twenty-eight years old, divorced, and an uncertain future. What else was there to want?
I had a leather bookmark from the Home Testing Institute (a now obsolete entity) that I figured was perfect for the volume I had. It has been in that book for 32 years and is there still. I re-read the book perhaps two more times when I got to my thirties but I had set about following the template of Larry Darrell.
My thirties and forties were periods where I did read and learned as much as I could. It was in my fifties and, now sixties, that I have learned to process that knowledge and live in a particular manner indicated by that knowledge. Strangely enough, it is the same manner instilled in me by my parents. It seems I have come full circle.