Things are possible.
It's possible to be funny. Harlan is funny. Harlan is funny in what, to me, has always seemed a heavy-lifting way. Much as J.R.R. Tolkien had to work at storytelling, Harlan seems to me to have had to work at being funny. There's a kind of heaviness to his humor, like with his fake biographies, which I love. Like his short story "Ecowareness," which I also love. (Last two lines: "Now isn't that a nice story. And fuck you, too.") Like his metaphor "All the grace and charm of a heavy object falling down stairs." Somehow, it works. Sometimes, as I've talked about before, I feel I have to work at being funny. It honestly bothered me that I could not joke in the dog show company office last year because my sense of humor did not match up at all with anyone else's there. I'm still learning how to joke in my current office. But whatever effort I make to make it -- like whatever effort Harlan makes -- it's worth it. Funny is good.
It's possible to Keep Trying. I think of his relationships, especially his marriages: he's had five of them. Only one, his fifth, took, to the wonderful Susan Toth Ellison. (I know people who know her. They vouch for her. I had a nice meeting with her, too, in 1995 as well.) Of Harlan's other four marriages, two lasted four years, and one of those was only technically so because they were often separated; one lasted one year; one lasted forty-five days. (And right after that divorce, he wrote his lovely, love-filled script for Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever." I've read the original. Knocked me out. Even the often goofy rewrite by D.C. Fontana that actually aired still has such a sense of love to it. But I digress.) As burned as Harlan often was by his relationships -- I'm thinking of his essay "Valerie: A True Memoir" -- he kept seeking them out, kept trying to make them work. Without that, he wouldn't have found Susan. Or many of his friends, who are legion. Again, one can keep trying to find someone with whom you click. It's wonderful that he did.
And, perhaps most importantly, it's possible to be deeply honest. With others and with oneself. He makes it clear how brutal and difficult that can be, but he also makes it clear how needed it is. In his movie review collection Harlan Ellison's Watching, he included his badly-written but never previously published review of Francis Ford Coppola's 1966 film You're a Big Boy Now!, and admitted in a long, long footnote I saw no hints of the filmmaking talent Coppola had. I was stupidly dismissive. Later I became a huge fan of his and said such as "I have loved every foot of film Coppola's shot," but that was a lie. A lie I could get away with, but still a lie, and I'm not going to do that. And, more expansively, he added this in the footnote: If you're not honest with yourself, you can be blackmailed. People can control you and your life by threatening to reveal anything uncomfortable. They can't if you admit what's uncomfortable. An essayist must be able to admit what's uncomfortable, whether about oneself or about the world. If there's any chance you're being dishonest, you're potentially kneecapping yourself and your message. Sometimes I fail at being honest, but I try to succeed. And it's important to try.
How honest can I be? I think I've been more honest with myself the past couple of years; I've had to be. If I'm more honest with others, I try to not be as confrontational as Harlan can be -- "It's been rightly said of me that anything that gets in my way gets a Harlan-sized hole in it," he once said -- plus it's just not my personality type to be so confrontational. But I need to be able to Call Bullshit. On others and on myself. To do so with love, because I care about people, as Harlan does. I also need to be able to say what's good, without being saccharine or rose-colored-glass-esque; so much of this world is AMAZING, and it is so important to be able to admit what is, to not let the cynical view be the only view. Being more honest keeps me more open to all of that.
Harlan Ellison has made great friends, has made great enemies, has been active in so many movements and with so much work, has tried. Has strived. Not the correct verb tense, it should be "striven," but I'm not going to let that bother or stop me. He's lived through much, and said much about it. He's fought when needed. He's enraged people, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. He's lived much, loved much, hated much, felt many things strongly. It's all possible in one person. It's all possible in me. To have, I think, a hundredth of the impact Harlan Ellison has had would be a worthy feat.
What is possible? Having as good and strong a life as one can.
And if that is a lesson I can take from Harlan, I need to take it.