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Five Writers and One Theme: Sanctuary : Cover Story

The Dream You Deserve

February 11, 2001|HARLAN ELLISON | Harlan Ellison has had 74 books published; he is a novelist, screenwriter, critic and the recipient of numerous writing awards

It happened maybe sixty years ago, but I remember it as ice-sharp as if it had happened this morning. I was standing on the sidewalk outside our house, 89 Harmon Drive, Painesville, Ohio; it was sometime in the '40s, and I was probably five or six or seven. I looked around at everything, and I said to myself, in one of those blissfully, naively arrogant moments that come only to youngsters for whom the concept of death is as mimetic as a John Woo movie, "All this is mine, all I have to do is go get it."

Without knowing its shape or parameters, I meant, of course, "the world." The world was all mine. All I had to do was go get it. At the time that was a bit of a problem, because I wasn't allowed by my parents to cross the street.

But now it is six decades later, and I have a lot less of the race ahead of me than when I was thunderbolted by my epiphany in Ohio. Now I am, I'm told, "a famous person." Well, at least famous enough to get my picture in the paper. And I am here to pass on the totality of all worldly wisdom I've accrued. You could do worse; I win most every night on Jeopardy.

(Here's the best truth I know for certain. Never attribute to "evil" that which you can chalk up to ineptitude.)

Look at the photo. That's where I live. It is a great house filled with my wife Susan and books and music and Susan and toys and comics and Susan. It is precisely and exactly where I am supposed to be. Because I have spent my life treasuring the magic of individualism. No mealy-mouthed desires to fit in, to be one of the crowd, to dress and speak and live like whatever is considered Acceptable at that given moment. When I was a kid they called such people "characters." Eccentrics, freaks, weirdos, iconoclasts, curmudgeons, pains in the ass. Yeah, I can get down with that, alla that.

I am right where I'm supposed to be, and just who I made myself. (I'm fond of telling college audiences that what they see before them is a "self-made man," thereby demonstrating the horrors of unskilled labor.) I have no fall-back position of whining and denial and rathole rationalizations, in these ugly times, when, if you watch Judge Judy, you discover that no one is responsible for having done any of the crummy things they've been brought to the bar to explicate. Everything is always somebody else's fault these days.

Well, dawg, I am here to tell you that I am not only responsible for every second of my life--no bad breaks, no tough luck, no intervention of gods, no bad genes, no inimical forces arrayed against me--I am just exactly who I wanted to wind up being.

Spare us both the use of the word "arrogant," I'm light-years past that pale opprobrium, and as an Artist I accept "self-indulgent" with the remonstration of Quentin Crisp, who said, "Artists in any medium are nothing more than a bunch of hooligans who cannot live within their income of admiration."

My home is my Xanadu. It is San Simeon without all the tacky religious objects. Shangri-La, Atlantis, Camelot, the best playground I could imagine. Success (he said somberly) is achieving in adult terms that which you desired as a child. If you wanted to be a cowboy, and you now run a cattle ranch, you're a success. If you liked playing doctor and nurse, and now you're a brain surgeon, you're a success. I always wanted a house full of secret passages and toys and books and music, and I wanted to make a living as a Professional Liar.

Look at the photo. You see a man as happy in this painful, E.mail voice-mail deregulated nickel&dime George Dubya world as he deserves to be. You don't necessarily get the dream you hungered after, kiddo. But you always get the one that you earned, the one you deserve.

Why does that knowledge make me smile, huh, whaddaya think?

*

Copyright 2001 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved.

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