This blog is my diary, the only one I’ve ever managed to keep for more than a couple of months. It is, to be sure, a specifically public diary: there are any number of important aspects of my life about which I’ve chosen to say nothing here. On the other hand, I’ve posted more than 12,000 entries since I opened up shop fourteen years ago today, and among them are a fair number of miniature essays that I think have been passably revealing, including some of the entries to which I linked when “About Last Night” turned ten in 2003.
On occasion—not often, but once in a while—I flip randomly through the “pages” of my electronic diary, and whenever I do, I’m often reminded of things about which I’d either forgotten or hadn’t recalled for ages. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I stumbled across this 2009 account of my improvised climb to the summit of Oregon’s 7,533-foot-high Mount Ashland, and marveled at the wonderful foolhardiness that inspired me to walk to the top alone and without preparation of any kind. (Yes, I’m glad I did it. No, I wouldn’t do it again.)
The great thing about keeping a diary, be it public or private, is the way in which it reminds you of such adventures, which have a way of slipping through the cracks of a crowded life, especially if you’re the kind of person who, like me, tends as a matter of course to look forward rather than backward.
Whenever I do have occasion to think about my life, I’m struck by how it’s been a succession of surprises, never more so than in the decade and a half that I’ve been chronicling it day by day. Among many other things, I never expected to become a drama critic, to live in a sunlit Upper Manhattan apartment full of modern art, to fall in love at first sight and marry, to write biographies of George Balanchine, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, to win a Guggenheim Fellowship and go to the MacDowell Colony, or to become an opera librettist and playwright and, most recently, a stage director.
That most of these surprises came after my fiftieth birthday is very probably the biggest surprise of all. Most fifty-year-olds are content to play the hand that life has dealt them. That was what my parents did, and I always assumed that I’d do the same. Instead, I ended up drawing a handful of new cards, and writing in this space about how I played them. I won’t say that I regret nothing—no honest person, not even a saint, regrets nothing—but truth to tell, there’s damned little that I do regret.
If the past fourteen years have taught me anything, it’s not to try to predict what will happen in the next fourteen minutes, much less the next fourteen years. Perhaps I’ve run out my string of surprises. I suspect not. I still have several unsatisfied ambitions, and I’m determined to make at least a few of them come true. But if it’s my destiny to coast downhill from here to the dark encounter that awaits us all, then my plan is to enjoy the rest of the trip insofar as possible, and to revel in my blog-enriched memories of all the wonderful things that I’ve gotten to do so far.
I can’t say it often enough: I’m a lucky guy.
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Louis Armstrong and the All Stars perform “What a Wonderful World” on the BBC in 1967: