I've always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, stuffed the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. Program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston. When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I'd known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town.
Writing is a habit, an addiction, as powerful and overmastering an urge as putting a bottle to your lips or a spike in your arm. Call it the impulse to make something out of nothing, call it an obsessive-compulsive disorder, call it logorrhea. Have you been in a bookstore lately? Have you seen what these authors are doing, the mountainous piles of the flakes of themselves they're leaving behind, like the neatly labeled jars of shit, piss, and toenail clippings one of John Barth's characters bequeathed to his wife, the ultimate expression of his deepest self?
I was reading, absorbed in an assault on K2 by a team of Japanese mountaineers, my lungs constricting in the thin burning air, the deadly sting of wind-lashed ice in my face, when the record -- Le Sacre du Printemps -- caught in the groove with a gnashing squeal as if a stageful of naiads, dryads and spandex satyrs had simultaneously gone lame.
I introduced Nora as my wife, though that was a lie. Old people, that's what they wanted to hear. If you were married, you were mature, reliable, exactly like them, because in their day men and women didn't just live together--they made a commitment, they had children and went on cruises and built big houses on lakes and filled them with all the precious trinkets and manufactured artifacts they'd collected along the way.