Hold on tightly, let go lightly. — Proverb
This fatherhood thing.
Is it me, or everyone who has a child? Lately all I am is sad, and it’s all I seem to think about.
James Hillman used to rail against autobiography. Bly had a personal grudge against all confessional poetry.
Sooner or later every writer must come to grips with this adamantine injunction:
If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.
If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.
If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.
— Thomas Merton
There are ways around autobiography in writing, but sinner that I am, there is no way round my son. I can’t look at Nick without going back in time. Back to his earlier years, back to mine.
I think it’s a condition of having a child, to be taken back.
Because children are fresh from God. They are hope and community and love, which amalgam is irresistible because it’s everything.
IN THE YARD
Last week at Fern Hill, a spring celebration in the yard. Children from every class, nursery through upper-elementary, climbed a makeshift stage, sang and danced.
The yard filled with parents, their hands filled with cameras. I too succumbed.
Here’s the report: Magic. Heaven. A Spalding-Grey, perfect moment.
Through the windless wells of wonder
By the throbbing light machine
In a tea leaf trance or under
Orders from the king and queen
Songs to aging children come
Aging children, I am one
— Joni Mitchell
It’s so tricky, presence. You want to be in a moment, not thinking. And part of you, the part holding the camera, is already grieving its loss and trying to hold on. This is the part Hillman and Bly are wary of.
I thought, how many more gatherings like these before we have to move on? Before we have to leave this place, entirely? Then I thought, wrong thought. Don’t think.
Then one more thought: It’s so easy to turn be here now into one more thing to beat myself up with.
And I snapped the shutter.
The self is so full of traps, leading away from things that are. You don’t see things as they are, the Talmud says, you see things as you are.
My hope when I write of personal things is to drill down to the place where self becomes selves. When I fail, I fail badly. I find third person much safer in writing. Plays are safer.
I’ve got a play for you. Our Town.
I won’t apologize for thinking that no American playwright has ever surpassed Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece. At the end, Emily Webb dies in childbirth and is allowed to go back to a time she remembers. Nobody can hear her.
The words are Wilder’s of course, but they’re truer coming from Emily. This is what she says:
I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I can’t look at everything hard enough. Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.
She says more than that, but a blog post won’t bear it, I’ve left some lines out. Read the play, if you haven’t.
So little is bearable, really, and we ask too much of words.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager begins the Lincoln Center production of Our Town:
When I googled “Emily” and “Our Town,” I found dozens of videos of young actresses performing Emily’s monologue from the end of the play. Here is a video of the Lincoln Center production of the scene.
Well. What have you left behind? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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