Six years ago around this time, when I was 38, I visited Europe for the first time. I flew from Miami to Düsseldorf, stayed three nights in Cologne, three in Paris, four in Amsterdam, and one back in Düsseldorf. I don’t know how many poems and short stories I wrote about that trip – a lot – but one thing was for sure, I fell in love with Europe. Germany in particular. I knew I wanted to live here the moment I got off the plane. And I knew if I saved up enough money, I could live here for at a year, maybe two. It was all just a fantasy though. I never really thought it would happen, having been stuck in the same town, working the same job, living in the same house, and seeing the same tired faces of my customers again and again, and again, for so many years, decaying right along with them. Finally, on May 14th, 2011, I stuffed my backpack with clothes and books and took a plane to Berlin, meine Traumstadt. It was the great turning-point in my life. It was like when a cocoon turns into a butterfly or a crayfish casts off its carapace. There was nothing heroic about it at all. In fact, it was probably just another form of cowardice. Anyone can run away. And every turtle hatched on shore is drawn back into the sea for reasons unknown to itself.
There’s a line at the end of Voltaire’s great book Candide that says, “Let us cultivate our garden.” And then there’s the famous line by Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.” They both mean the same thing I think: find the place where you belong, and work, and work, and you will bear your rightful fruit. I just never felt I belonged in Florida. I felt like it was a place my parents chose for me to live at a very young age, and I was too lazy and too cowardly and finally too attached to do anything about it. Now that I’ve been living far away for four years though, I am beginning to see things in it that I never did before. Mainly, it’s a great place to write about. I never would’ve imagined. I am now cultivating 25 years of material for my next novel which I’m more than half-finished with, and it makes me think of Joyce, who wrote best about Dublin when he was in Trieste and Zürich and Paris. It just goes to show, the garden is in the mind. You just have to figure out where to go – if anywhere – to give it the best light, and soil, and weather conditions.
Jean-Francois Millet ~ Hunting Birds at Night (1874)