The Seven Lives of a Grumpy Old Writer
My First life:
Hawaii is a small town surrounded by the Pacific.
Though I was born in Washington State, Hawaii was where I was raised, a block from the beach of Lanikai, and I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate it until much longer. But now, looking back, I see not only what a true paradise it is, but how much it made me into who I am, without me really noticing it.
While my big brother surfed, I lay on my bed and read fantasy novels and dreamed of going to Europe and discovering the true Middle Ages and becoming an intellectual.
So I did.
My Second Life:
I was raised a Mormon, and I knew I was going to go on a mission. When you go on a mission for the Mormon church, you pay for it yourself, but the church tells you where to go. But you can work the system: If you know a foreign language, the chances are good you will be sent wherever that language is spoken. That ruled out Japanese and Spanish, and the only thing I knew about German was that German was in Europe and had a Middle Ages, so I took it.
I loved it in Germany, in five cities in the area around Düsseldorf, but I learned that the Germans area hard people to get along with – and my encounter with one German in particular was the beginning of the end of my faith in the Mormon church – a story I later told in my book Losing My Religion: Why I Love and Left My Mormon Faith.
My Third Life:
That book also tells the story of the woman I fell in love with in the small German town of Krefeld. She’s the reason I returned to Germany after my mission and moved with her and our cat Disraeli to Munich, where I studied the Literature of Medieval Germany at the LMU.
My Fourth Life:
Love collapsed, my faith in God did too, and in the midst of the worst crisis of my life I realized I don’t have the spirit for academia – there I was in Munich with my Master’s in my pocket but no will to go for my Doctor’s and nowhere to turn. Worst of all, Munich is a small town surrounded by mountains and smothered in money, so I moved to dirty and sexy Berlin, where I turned to journalism, writing for American papers like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and the Washington Post, then for German papers like Süddeutsche Zeitung, Cicero and Die Zeit.
My Fifth Life:
In Berlin a mid-life crisis hit hard – I should have been used to crises by now, as this was probably the fifth or sixth mid-life crisis of my life, the first having come upon me when I was a kid. I realized that if I did not fulfill my childhood dream of driving around Europe in search of the real Middle Ages now, I never would.
So I did.
My year-long voyage from castle to ruin to monastery to battlefield to medieval town, following always the life stations of my real-life heroes of the Middle Ages, gave me a perspective that made me see our modern world differently. In the history of the world, mankind has never had more rights, privileges, freedom, opportunities, security, prosperity and sheer happiness than in the western world today. And even now, it’s always getting better. Since then, it’s become hard for me to take political discussions that revolve around how terrible life is seriously.
My search for the Middle Ages resulted in my first book, in German: Die Nibelungenreise, or, Driving Through the Dark Ages.
A series of German-language books followed that took a hard look at German and American culture: At first I perceived both countries very much like every else did, but the more research I did, the more I realized that truth is very different: Germany is nothing at all like the perfect state that many Germans believe they live in, and America, with all its faults, is nothing like the horrible disaster on the brink of self-destruction that many politicians would have you believe. On the contrary: Germany is an excellent and prosperous nation, but it shirks its duties in the international community for the sake of profit, and America is eternally torn by self-doubts, but is still the essential nation that the world cannot do without. So I wrote that, too, in my books, in German, and if all goes well, these observations will also culminate in an English-language book entitled What I Learned About America.
My Sixth Life:
Growing tired of playing the know-it-all in political books and newspaper columns and on German TV, I returned to my original love of literature: novels, and wrote, with my new love and writing partner Astrid Ule, a trilogy of thriller in Berlin: Neuntöter, Blutbuche and Wassertöchter, under the joint pseudonym Ule Hansen.
Then the next crisis – the mother of all crises – when I turned 60.
My Very Last Life:
With death staring me in the face, I took stock.
I realized I probably had another 20 good years – that’s like standing at 20 and looking at forty. 20 years, I realized is a whole life. I am not as young as I was then, that’s a disadvantage, but I am wiser, I know what I want – more or less – and I know how to get it. I decided to take the next 20 years and make of it a project – the project of living a life the way I want to live it.
So that’s what I am doing now.
I am still writing – writing always has between and always will be my purpose in life, and I have a list of half a dozen very ambitious and very different novels I will finish in the next twenty years – but on top of that I am looking consciously and intentionally for a major change, and as I plan and ruminate and research, I see a new life coming ever closer.
Part of this is reflected in the books I write now:
Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a book I am using intensely to change myself, make myself into the person I want to be – by reworking the text and publishing it, I hope I can give others the same chance I am taking.
And what is the most important thing in life? That, I already know: the soul.
And so I wrote the twin books The Soul and Do Cats Have Souls? as a kind of guidebook to fulfilling your own (and my own) soul. (The two books are basically the same – one version is with, the other without cats, that’s all. I happen to like cats.)
Something is happening – I don’t know where this will lead, but it will lead me somewhere. I hope to make it possible for others to accompany me on my journey – my last journey through my last life – by publishing as I go – on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and in a podcast dedicated to journaling the last leg of my journey, entitled My Very Last Life.
I am making it easy to contact me and to speak with me – especially if any of this resonates with you, if my journey through life and the way I think about it is similar to the way you live and think about life – I would be pleased if you contact me and tell me about it.
In a small way, we can go a part of the journey together.
– Eric T. Hansen