Novel-writing is a supremely arrogant business.
Not everyone has the requisite degree of self-delusion to shun the world at large until they’ve managed to produce a several hundred page manuscript that they then expect the world at large to drop everything in order to read, and, it goes without saying, glowingly review. (How else will the book make it to the number six spot on the New York Times Bestseller list?)
Only a select few have what it takes.
Today I officially join their number.
My novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, is in stores. It’s on-sale. You can buy it for your nook, for your kindle—hell, you can buy a hardcopy and use it as kindling, if that’s your inclination.
My book is out, and I feel—well, I’m not sure what I feel. But I would like to try to tell you what Paradox means to me.
When people learn you’re a writer, they ask you where your ideas come from.
But you don’t get an idea for an entire novel. Not really.
What you get—what you start with, is usually just a flash, one moment in time. Like a half-second dream.
Paradox started like this: Jack, the main character, is thinking about suicide on his eighteenth birthday. He doesn’t really want to die—what he wants is to draw attention to himself. He wants to remind the world that he exists. A world that is, ironically, at that very moment, bombarding him with happy-birthday facebook messages.
Though connected, he feels isolated, alone.
Though supposedly an adult, he’s afraid of what it will mean to leave his childhood behind.
At the time that I began writing Paradox, I felt a lot like Jack. I went through a not-altogether brief phase during which, whenever I was inebriated, I would bombard friends with text messages of the “do you think we’ll still be friends in 10 years” variety. Writing, for me, was a way to channel into all the angst, all the fear I was feeling. The fear of a parting of ways, of leaving the people who are important to you behind.
But Jack is not a writer. He needs another way to deal with such fears. He needs a different escape.
This escape comes in the form of a phone-call from his ex-girlfriend.
She tells him she’s about to have his baby.
Will he come see the baby, before she gives it up for adoption?
This sets Jack off on a philosophic quest.
He steals his newborn son from the hospital, not because he wants to keep him, but because he wants to say goodbye. And in the process of saying goodbye, he wants to impart to his son some sense of why life is worth living—what the point of it all is.
There’s a reason why Jack steals a baby, why he has a baby at all.
It has, perhaps, less to do with him than it does with me.
I can’t tell you why I’ve always wanted to have kids, only that I’ve wanted them for as long I can remember.
Well, okay, that’s not really true.
I want kids, because I believe, perhaps naively, that no matter what happens, you’ll always be in their lives, and they’ll always be in yours.
Friends—like Jack’s best friend, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend—are different. Relationships that feel absolutely vital, absolutely essential, somehow find a way to end. As a college student, I had already experienced this gradual growing-apart with many of my former high school friends. One such friend was a girl named Kristina. She was the first person who ever asked me if I was gay, because I’d been dating her friend Hannah for a couple years, yet didn’t feel any particular inclination to kiss her.
I, of course, told Kristina, quite categorically, “No.”
I haven’t spoken to Kristina in years (though Facebook gives me brief spurts of insight into her now-married life), and as for being gay. . .
Part of the reason, I think, that it took me so long to see myself clearly was my desire to have kids. My desire to have someone in my life who would always be there, a constant.
It takes Jack a long time to realize this, but that’s what he wants most too. And if he cannot guarantee that his son, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend will be permanent features of his life, then, at the very least, he needs a way of saying goodbye to them.
Jack’s goodbye is my goodbye.
Goodbye to Pokemon cards and losing at Goldeneye, Medal of Honor and ceaseless Star Wars references, to intimate conversations within the hallowed yellow walls of a school bus, to summers spent with my grandparents in Saratoga Springs, New York. . .
Goodbye to poems about the relativity of truth, chessboards named Jake, sushi dinners and bento boxes, baking very bad chocolate pancakes, losing debate tournaments, discovering the meaning of life while riding a camel, smoking hookah after a long day shelving books at the Vassar Library, breakfast at 5 p.m., adventuring through snowy Prague nights, arguing about whether or not to steal a couch while severely intoxicated. . .
Goodbye to the mental image of that magic “honey, I’m pregnant” moment—instead, there will be visits to fertility clinics, interviews with surrogate mothers, adoption agencies to research, countries like Russia to strike off the list. . .
And, finally, it’s a goodbye to the belief—as horribly selfish as it sounds—that I will be the one and only person in this world that my kids will call Dad.
The Paradox of Vertical Flight is the best goodbye I can manage.