Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Trip Around the Sun

Hi, there!

How are you? It's been a while since I've heard from you directly, but your posts on Facebook imply that you are well. I expect you're happy about the election--I know you were concerned about it, as was I. Another cycle completes and begins again, happily as it turns out. Or, happy according to you and I, anyway. I am aware that some people do not like the results, of course, but my expectation is that this is for the best for them, too...a statement that sounds somewhat condescending, but it not meant to be. After all, if I did not think this would be the best for everyone, I would not have voted as I did.

Another kind cycle has completed and begun as well, for this week was my little nephew's first birthday. I drove up for the party alone, since Chris had to work, but that, too is an interesting symmetry, for I drove up by myself when he was born, too. I remember I had a really horrible ear-ache the whole time my sister was in labor, which meant both that I was in pain for three and a half days and that I could get no sympathy for it whatever. And of course I did not try to get any. It has been a year since then, a year since that strange little being, a newborn baby, the first baby in our family in thirty years, lay under a sun-lamp in the hospital and cried. It's been a year, "a candle and a trip around the sun," as Jimmy Buffet says.

My nephew is now walking, though not talking yet. He had straight blond hair, rather like Christopher Robin and, more to the point, like his great-grandfather did at the same age (we have pictures). I expect it will darken as he gets older. I started out blonde, too, after all. It will be interesting to see if he goes bald, like his great-grandfather as well. He's got a one quarter chance, by my calculation.

He's a delightful little boy, outgoing and personable and sweet. On the night of the party he did not make many speach-sounds, he did not babble much, but he did laugh and when he noticed everybody watching him and smiling he squealed and giggled. He loves music. His favorite presents all made noise, including a pair of tiny maracas. He can dance, in a way, by bending his knees slightly several times in a row. He likes chocolate cake, also. He's never had it before, and did not want to sit in his high chair anymore, so he was crying and pushing and squirming until his Dad put some cake in his mouth. The cries, interrupted, were replaced by a small sound of surprise and appreciation and the boy ate the rest of his cake in silence, carefully picking up each crumb with his tiny fingers so as not to waste any. A year ago I wrote of him "he does not know about birthday cake." Well, now he does.

He still does not know I write about him, nor do his parents know, I think. I'm not going to use any of their names, nor will I say anything particularly private about them, though of course I could disclose something without realizing that it is private. Not everyone has the same understanding of what should be private, after all. But being the subject of someone else's writing is a very mixed thing. I myself do not mind it. I've been the subject of a number of my Dad's poems, and he never asked my permission, either to write them or to share them publicly. He may have published some of them, I'm not sure. But for me, this was always one part proof that he thinks about me, and one part simply what daddies do. In my experience the quality of "daddy-ness" includes the composition of poetry, as for your daughter the same word must instead signify birds. Or maybe it also means poetry for her, I don't know. I don't know that you don't write poetry, after all. Not observing something is not the same as observing its absence, a lesson I could have learned from you, except that I already knew it.

But not all children of writers react the way I did. The real Christopher Robin reportedly felt very used by his father, who had of course built a literary career on the most private thing of all; someone else's childhood. I can understand Christopher Robin Miln feeling violated, but I can also understand how and why A.A. Miln could have so violated the boy and done so in all innocence. The fictional Christopher Robin is not the same as the real one, but he is no less the son of his father; the real boy was the son of A.A. Miln's body, while the fictional boy and all the other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and its environs constitute the son of A.A. Miln's soul and mind. How could he not love his children equally? Once the mind-child was conceived, how could Miln not bring the boy to birth by publishing him?

This is a line that all writers must tread, and many write about it, often with some discomfort. David Sedaris does so most touchingly, reporting that his sister once confided in him about something and then, tear-streaked, told him that if he ever wrote about it, she would never talk to him again. He actually responded "why? You're not using it!" before wondering to himself "am I the brother I was, or the brother I have become?" The story ends with Sedaris, bizarrely, up in the middle of the night teaching a parrot to say "I'm sorry." The line between generosity and selfishness is thin and subtle and easy, far too easy, to lose.

Should I then stop writing about people I know? What then would I write about? I never minded being written about, and my Dad actually wrote quite deliberately about my sister after realizing he'd written about me more (I am older). He didn't want her to feel left out.

So in a few years, my nephew will discover that people he has never met, including some people no one he knows has met, know that he likes chocolate birthday cake. He will discover that although he is his mother's child, he has a counterpart who is the child of his aunt. And he will take this discovery and turn to me with whatever thoughts and feelings he has about the matter. And I will bear them.

-best, C.

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