Ups & Downs Require Ups & Downs

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin is my favorite book. That I envy the singularity of purpose in his character Corrigan, a radical Irish monk with vague religious affiliations who shares a Bronx slum with pimps, drug pushers, prostitutes, and otherwise dying souls, is a story for another day. Or another life to have been chosen, but that’s not the point of this post.

In June, I read McCann’s latest novel, Transatlantic, a story of people and interconnected families spanning four centuries and two continents. I brought my copy to read at breakfast one Saturday morning at a local Cleveland restaurant. At the table next to me, residents from the nearby hospital sipped the end of another night shift through red aluminum Tecate cans. Their gray-blue scrubs looked as worn as their faces. Get some sleep, I thought, or at least have another beer.

A cute girl who wore funky, square-rimmed aqua glasses and a cute, half-smile that slanted up on the rights side nodded at the pinky-width blue sticky tags waving from inside Transatlantic. Hmm, her eyes eyed as she rang up my bill. If you could only see the margin notes, then you’d really shake your head, I thought.

“Any good?” She asked.

“I like the writing, but not the book,” I said.

“How so?” She tapped at the tip of her glasses with a fingernail splattered, not painted, with green polish.

“Well,” I started, “it’s sparse but descriptive. If that makes sense. His verbs make me pause and think. They’re original and surprising. The text has an easy rhythm. I like the pace and language. But the stories lack punch. They don’t interest me. It’s not as good to me as his other stuff.”

I wondered where in my brain that description came from.

The waitress shifted her weight off both legs and leaned to her right side away from a young man with a wispy mustache who balanced a tray of tortilla-wrapped scrambled eggs and balsamic dressed greens.

“Well, I guess to have ups and downs there need to be ups and downs,” she said after a few seconds of thinking.

“You’re right,” I said. “That’s wonderful. Thank you.”

And she is right.

Ups and downs are normal. Tomorrow might be better than today, which might be worse than yesterday. One story resonates less than another does, or a new project at work goes better or worse than the ones before and after it. Basketball players make shots in bunches as if they might never miss again only to hit a drought where everything they shoot bangs against an iron rim and falls to the hardwood court.

Daniel Day-Lewis sandwiched Nine between Oscar wins in There Will be Blood and Lincoln. Emma Stone dated Kieran Culkin (Fuller, grrr) and Andrew Garfield before she found me (oh wait, I guess I’m still waiting for her phone call).

Deion Sanders made “Must be the Money” in the same year he did this and won NFL defensive player of the year.

The point is that nothing can be perfect. We’re never as good as we want to believe during the ‘ups,’ and we’re never as bad as we might think during the ‘downs.’ The challenge is to continue working and producing. The challenge is to accept that the only way to have ups is to endure some of the downs that come along for the ride.


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