It’s axiomatic that the things one could do in youth (with that natural aplomb that comes with a conviction of personal invulnerability) do not happily extend into that period of middle age where desire and capacity no longer meet. No, I’m not talking about sex.
Scaling cliffs free-style, wandering through jungles for days at time, shooting rapids, even hitting the gas in an ancient Westphalia to surge across a washed-out road (of unknown depth) in the Mogollon Mountains of Arizona – these are among the manic stupidities of my younger days, and I seem to have come through relatively unscathed.
As a veteran archaeologist and occasional explorer of unpleasant and inhospitable places, I viewed my upcoming return to the field with natural confidence. A crew of Russian and local archaeologists were preparing to revisit a site to resume excavating Late Paleolithic remains, in Northern Mongolia.
From my home in Victoria, B.C., we were all preparing for a chaotic summer. Selling our house, moving to Cornwall in the UK, our son entering university in Durham. And me? I was going to spend six weeks in Mongolia, back on a dig, revisiting my first profession and, in the eyes of my wife – indulging in a midlife crisis. Well, I was still in decent shape. Regular sessions with the weights, fencing twice a week. And I was just finishing up the ninth novel in my series, giving me the opportunity to take a brief break from writing, refueling before tackling the tenth and last novel of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. In cold retrospection, the timing sucked.
When invited to write for Life As A Human, I mulled for a time; I have never written a blog, and even my author site was a ghostly shell I’d yet to truly inhabit. Outside of my fiction, my only engagement with the public was with readings and signings during book-tours, and with numerous online interviews.
It eventually occurred to me, following a brief stint teaching creative writing, that I could make use of my experience of writing the last novel in a series that has professionally occupied me for over ten years (and unprofessionally for twice that time); to fashion a kind of writer’s journal, exploring such things as craft, process, and whatever other salient musings I could come up with.
And this is precisely what I intend to do. The problem then is: where to start? Well, it has to be Mongolia, for reasons I hope will become clearer as this journal proceeds. But I would advise to my readers here: be patient. I take my time to get around to things. And since I am already running overlength for this post, I will close with this:
The goat was butchered and hung by the neck from a tree. It was then scorched with a hand-held blowtorch, until all the hair had burned away and the skin was black. Then the head was cut off and left lying on the grass beside the fire. For three days. On the morning of the fourth day, the head vanished, only to reappear in the soup we had for breakfast.
By mid-afternoon my stomach felt a little … odd.
The real crisis of middle age arrives when the body fails, and in failing, then fails to recover with the vigor and bolster so readily taken for granted in one’s youth. This is a crisis we who end up surviving our earlier follies will all face. As I did this past summer. And for me, it’s also where my tenth novel began.
What will follow here, over the next year or so, are my Notes on a Crisis, and the way in which my fiction is both guiding me through that crisis – and feeding it. Is this all nothing more than an indulgence? Probably, but what the hell. For this once, I won’t sit back and let my fiction speak for me. For this once, I’ll tear away the veil, to reveal the underside. Could be it ain’t pretty. But I’ll do my best to ensure it’s not dull.
After the goat’s head soup, there was the spider bite….
“Funny Goat” © 2009, 2010 chrisholtphotos
Recent Steven Erikson Articles:
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (8)
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- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (6)
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