I badly wanted to escape my unwritten city for a time and place already developed by words, for Paris or London or Berlin and a particular epoch as it existed in my books. I wanted Culture, the uppercase sort . . . Books, more than any plane ticket, offered a way out. Admittedly it was a lonely prescription, an Rx that might better have been replaced by 100mg of whatever tricyclic was cutting-edge back in the seventies. But who knew about such things? Instead I’d hide out in the basement in Elliot Bay or in the top floor of the Athenian and in my sporadic blue notebook track a reading list–Joyce, Pound, Eliot, et al.–that was really little more than a syllabus for a course on exile. You could probably dismiss this as one of those charming agonies of late adolescence, but let me suggest that it’s also a logical first step in developing an aesthetic, a reach toward historical beauty, the desire to join yourself to what’s already been appreciated and admired. You want to find yourself in the flow of time, miraculously relieved of your irrelevance. For reasons both sensible and suspect, folks today are uneasy with the idea of tradition, but the intellectual luxury of this stance wasn’t available to me, and I saw the pursuit of historical beauty, the yearning for those higher essences other people have staked their lives on, as the hope for some kind of voice, a chance to join the chorus. I was mad for relevance, connection, some hint that I was not alone.
Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering