Truth be told, Stephen had been looking for a way out for quite some time. His friends, seeing him apparently mired in the sort of midlife crisis they could comprehend, eagerly and repeatedly shared with him the self-help tips they’d latched onto for getting themselves on track toward a more desirable future. Invariably these tips converged on the same basic scheme. Listen to your True Self. Discover your Passion. Become childlike. Believe in yourself. Be present and live in the moment. Visualize the future you want, make a plan, and relentlessly pursue your plan until you arrive at the desired destination. These were not the sort of tips that inspired Stephen.
“What if my True Self turns out to be an asshole?”
“Well in your case…”
“What if it turns out my Passion is to be the object of worship for everyone around me?”
“Well that’s pretty shallow, Stephen. You need to look deeper.”
“How do you know that’s not the deepest, truest me? Maybe if you looked deeper you’d realize that you really want to be a serial killer.”
“Look, nobody’s forcing you to read the damn book.”
“No really. The inner voice that’s telling you it wants six million dollars and a nice vacation villa in Tuscany – how do you know it’s really your True Self, and not just another imposter taking his turn at the microphone? Besides, aren’t you a little suspicious that everyone’s True Self wants pretty much the same things: chronic happiness, lots of money, good weather, universal admiration? Maybe everyone’s gone too deep. Maybe we’re all delving somewhere down below unique individuality into the universal unconscious, where everything is pure narcissism, will to power, and the longing for fabulousness.”
“Okay fine. So what are you offering up that’s better? Not to get too critical here, Stephen, but what I see is a guy who hasn’t made a dime in I don’t know how long, who’s probably going to have to sell his house, who if anything seems even less happy than the rest of us. Man, sign me up for what you’re selling.”
After awhile Stephen started avoiding these conversations. It was true: he had a fairly strong sense of what was wrong with the good life, but not much to offer by way of an alternative. That he was expected to elaborate some optimistic new game plan of his own he regarded as symptomatic of the cultural tyranny he was trying to resist. What’s wrong with a little pessimistic fatalism as the basis for a friendly chat among neighbors?
He wanted to perpetrate his own escape. Not only that: he wanted a language for describing the way out. He wanted something else to do, something else to think about. And so it was that Stephen Hanley became the new Proprietor of the Salon Postisme.
Stephen Hanley is one of my fictional alter-egos. I wanted what he wanted. Making-of: I wanted to write my own escape, the act of writing being the means of escape. Made: I wanted that which I wrote to constitute a language describing the way out, for myself and for my “clients.” Twelve years later, I’m not sure whether Stephen and I have tunneled our way under the wall or dug ourselves into a hole.
Stephen’s wife? She was fine about it.
“What have you been up to? You look like you just had about four espressos.”
“Yeah, well.” Stephen took his shoes off and set them on the mat by the door. “I got a job.”
“A job? I didn’t know you were looking.”
“I wasn’t. As of today I’m the Proprietor of the Salon Postisme.”
“You cut hair now?”
“No, it’s not that. There’s no pay, and I didn’t have to quit any other job, so I figured what the hell?”
“I’ll open the champagne.”
Thus ends chapter 1 of book 1. We try always to have a bottle a champagne in the fridge. There’s one in there now.