Many years ago, when I was 16 or 17, as I stood in front of the “Literature” shelf at the bookstore at the local mall, my friend Charles handed me a book to check out. I read the first page:

I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.
Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.
Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.

It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom.
I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen away from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

Everything changed. I knew immediately that I was holding and reading a kind of book like no other that I had read before. I bought the book, took it home, where it lived for a month or so, on the top of the stack of books on my floor. I had recently gotten back into reading. I didn’t read the new book immediately, because I was in the middle of On The Road, and that was supposed to be an important book. Everyday I looked at my new book. I opened it, read snippets, admired the cover. Somehow, even though I had really only read the first page, and had no idea what the actual book was like, I felt like I was connected to this object. Finally, I was able to read it.

The book was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. An infamous book, and for good reason, but there’s a great deal more to it than all of the scandalous and/or offensive parts. And it did change my life. It’s helpful sometimes, necessary often, to remember the reading of that first page. To infuse this white morning, every morning, with the possibility of that first page. Waiting for everything to fall away.

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