Waiting For My Epiphany
"I am in a never-ending relationship with interruption, if not the reality of it, then the potential or aftermath."
By Jason Dubow
Here’s an idea, but caveats first: it’s nothing new and stating it only goes so far. Ready? Only a few things really matter.
And it’s on those things that I must focus my energy. What falls by the wayside falls by the wayside. What’s extraneous is extraneous. What doesn’t get done doesn’t get done. Tautology, in its place, is a beautiful thing, true as it gets.
Family is first and foremost, and by family I mean more broadly “people I care about,” though of course I care more about some people than others. I love you all, but you get the idea.
And then there’s writing. I will no longer consider not writing reasonable; it is essential to who I am, to who I want to be, to how I engage with the world, to my happiness.
Teaching is a distant third, but it bears mentioning. It’s not that I don’t care, I do, but it’s clear to me that my performance in the classroom, what I do or don’t do for my students, will not be a source of deathbed regret.
I simply cannot attend to everything. A sounder life style, less and healthier food, more exercise; developing new and old friendships and connections; cleaning out the basement; reading everything Thomas Bernhard ever wrote: these things will be collateral benefits, if anything, of my “Priorities First” initiative and its fraternal but less friendly twin “I Can’t Be Bothered With That Shit.”
I would love, some day many, many years from now, to be a physically exemplary corpse, to die amongst friends and family numerous as the stars, in my spotless basement, my last words muttered by memory from Bernhard (“perfidious society masturbators” or some such), but all this is not strictly necessary.
I didn’t get going on this post on Thursday night as
planned hoped, instead allowed myself to be pulled into the TV vortex: Scientologists on the loose, famous football players with fake girlfriends who die tragic deaths, the big lies that are Lance Armstrong and some once-declared-self-evident truths that seem now, and perhaps always, to have eluded our grasps.
Nor did I get going early enough the next morning. I got out of bed around 6:45 as usual, and by the time I’d gotten the boys moving (SmallerMan: “Hearing your footsteps on the stairs is the worst moment of my day.”), packed a school lunch, chatted about “idiot eggs” and the logistics of the day, waited for and put away the Fresh Direct order, fabricated a Famous Chocolate Wafers cake, showered, checked e-mails, Celtics trade rumors, and my fantasy team (Kevin Love, crossing my fingers about his finger), it was damn near 11 AM.
And even then, my mind at some ease, settling in to my home office, that sad optimist (or is he a happy pessimist?) Neil Young blasting from the Awesome Place (aka SchoolLess’s room, don’t ask), I find myself planning things that don’t need to be planned, ruminating on indigestible matters of little or no consequence. I contemplate my navel, literally and figuratively. I spend more time worrying about the Mike Napoli situation than does Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. I re-reconsider the list of stories on my Advanced Fiction Writing syllabus. Too many dead Russians?
The doorbell buzzes, a text comes in, an e-mail requires a response, the phone rings and must either be answered or ignored. I feel like I can’t catch a break. I feel helpless, despairing, frustrated and furious. These feelings, whatever their relation to reality, matter. All the therapists say so (of course, if they didn’t, they’d be out of work). Like the idea of God, which even an atheist can’t deny, my feelings exist undeniably, even as they are almost certainly misguided, self-induced, and delusional.
“Take something for that,” you may helpfully suggest, and maybe I should, but I muddle on, slave to a “normal” of errant origin.
I am in a never-ending relationship with interruption, if not the reality of it, then the potential or aftermath. I fantasize about the sign Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher used to hang on their front door in Syracuse, N.Y., sometimes for days at a time: No Visitors.
That sign could change my life. I want one. And, as long as I’m dreaming, why not throw in a few signifying accessories more suited to our kinetic age: a hat or tee shirt, a perpetual Vacation Responder on my e-mail accounts, an unmistakable pheromone.
Of course, often those visitors are members of my first-and-foremost family: what now?
And here I go again, easing into my comfort zone, reaching, as an alcoholic for his whiskey, for a nip of writing about not writing, a gulp of rhetorical courage. I have promised myself I’d do less of this.
I have promised myself a lot of things.
I have always had a complicated relationship with the concept of resolve, never quite mastered the art of self-incentivizing. I give in to myself too easily. I am overly abstract. I tend toward the oddly quantitative, except when I lean toward the indefinitely qualitative. If it’s not a dissociative plan to write six days a week, four hours a day, at seventy-five percent efficiency, with a thirty-three percent “publish” rate, for forty-two weeks a year, it’s “be a better person.”
Before not getting going, I suggested to a friend that if I was able at long last to finish a post, we should meet for lunch and drinks on Friday, on me. He agreed, purposefully replacing if with when. I confirmed, and while doing so purposefully reestablished my conditional state, pointing out that, sadly, “My purpose trumps.”
As a mandated reporter of my own failures, I must confess that, all conjunctive word play aside, I did not finish the post. And yet I went to lunch, drinking, eating, and socializing not in celebration but in a familiar and not wholly unpleasant fugue of undeserved indulgence.
What of all this have I passed on, nature and nurture, to my boys?
Squeeze asks rhetorically in “Another Nail in My Heart”: I want to be good, is that not enough?
After New Year’s Eve dinner, as we digested kudu steaks and sipped Amarula, one of our safari guides (Kruger National Park, another Skeptic Family junket) asked a few of us if we had any resolutions for the upcoming year. Nobody spoke and so he filled the silence with these two clear, reasonable, and manageable plans for the year ahead:
1. Take a class, study something.
2. Take his wife of some years on a much-delayed and much-deserved honeymoon.
With Andre as my guide to more than big game and the bush, here are three clear, reasonable, and manageable goals for my year:
1. Write a book proposal; this blog is that book, by the way; how hard can it be to write a proposal for something that’s already half done?
2. Spend a week by myself, anywhere but here: a writing retreat, a road trip, a pilgrimage, a voluntary commitment of one sort or another.
3. Read one book out loud to SmallerMan every month; Skeptic and SchoolLess are more than welcome to sit in; perhaps we’ll start by re-reading an all-time favorite: Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH.
And how about a couple of short-term goals? Although my spring semester starts on Wednesday, the week ahead is light—no reading to prepare, no grading, classes I’ve taught before—and so I’ve got some time. Let’s say this, by the end of the week I will see a movie in a theater (daytime, alone, maybe 56 Up), write another post, finish George Saunders’ new collection of stories Tenth of December, and take one substantial walk.
I’d like to add a meal in Queens to that list, as “eat more in Queens” has long been an annual resolution, but discretion being the better part of valor (is it really?), I will reign in my ambitious nature and save dinner in Flushing for February.
In the five months since I last wrote here, I have made seemingly innumerable notes to self, started and abandoned dozens of posts, ignored good advice and best practices with uncanny consistency. It’s as if I understood the story of Wilt Chamberlain and his alleged 20,000 women to be a cautionary tale about profligacy and prolificacy in general. My natural inclination, one I must fight, is to hold back too much in reserve, a self-defeating prophecy of (here comes the irony) epic proportions.
So then comes this innocuously catalytic reach-out from a Twitter Follower not of my acquaintance: “We need updates! How is he? Do you miss him?” She’s referring to SchoolLess, of course, who has now been schooled for a trimester and a half.
It couldn’t be any simpler really, and if, as I have resolved, this is to be The Year of Keeping It Simple, Stupid, then, I suppose, there’s no time like the present. (In case it’s not clear, and before anybody takes offense,“stupid” is me.)
The obvious place to start back in—I knew this, really I did—is with a quick update, a touch of preliminary assessment, nothing fancy. Honest, informational, and a little bit interesting will be good enough and done.
Give me a moment—it doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t have to be brilliant, it doesn’t have to change the world—okay: good to go. Like talking to a child about eating vegetables, cleaning up toys, or nose blowing as an acceptable alternative to picking: “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
The year started with a three day, all-ninth-grade retreat, something SchoolLess had been wary of, but he came back in good spirits with the news that he had “sort of, maybe, accidently” joined the cross-country team. I mentioned to him—one of the goals of home school being empowerment—that he should feel free to fully, certainly, and intentionally un-join the team.
He chose to stick with it, enjoyed the challenge, even had fun. And, proud father quoting school website, “On a crisp, clear [October] day at Van Cortland Park. . . the race of the day belonged to [SchoolLess) . . . a new personal record time . . . the team savored the hard-earned fruits of their labor, an ISAL Cross Country Championship.”
These first few weeks of contentment, if not quite euphoria, were followed by a not unpredictable period of disillusionment and discontent. His dissatisfaction culminated one November evening in a rant, a mode of discourse to which he and I are both prone, about his disappointment in the intellectual curiosity of his peers: “clueless about jazz”; “don’t pay attention to the news”; “nobody reads Kafka.” It could be worse, no?
His classmates are generally serious, bright, and engaged. They are also stretched, stressed, and, what’s the word I’m looking for? Kids.
SchoolLess is not a typical teen, though he sometimes aspires to be one. In his interests, constitution, and maturity level, he is a number of simultaneous ages. He is still a kid when it comes to adolescent hedonisms, at least I think he is, and he is still open to an occasional shnuggle. He’s middle aged, consumed by responsibility and an impending sense of shit-or-get-off-the-pot, flying through one consuming day after another on automatic pilot. He’s an ornery old man, dismayed and disappointed in what the world has become, but yet still able to appreciate a good book, killer jazz, and a comfortable chair.
I, too, feel a similar sense of chronological disjointedness. I am, at moments, an eleven-year-old boy playing touch football at dusk in the neighbors’ yard, running, sweating, not a care in the world. I am a college student, swilling coffee and French theory, talking big ideas and beautiful women. I am an old geezer, reading the news and grumbling about the collapse of civilization, aching to spend more time with my grown and gone boys, their children, their lives. [Ed. Note: see also “middle aged,” above].
In general, SchoolLess is settling in: increasingly excited about what he’s learning, figuring out with whom to pursue friendships, managing his time with increasing aplomb.
It’s that last issue, the old familiar lament of not enough time, that needs to be most emphatically addressed. He was too busy before and now he’s gotten busier. Home around 7 PM on weekdays, a quick family dinner, and then he’s off to push himself through homework and music, often not getting to sleep until after midnight (not to mention, after his parents). Part of this is that he likes being busy, maybe as a means of keeping demons away, maybe because it seems right or necessary, maybe because it just makes him feel satisfied, productive, and happy. I insist, for what that’s worth, on finding a solution to this problem, but have not yet been able to get my mind around one. One problem with the problem is that SchoolLess likes and wants to be good at all the things he does.
In addition to track and field, SchoolLess accepted an invitation to join a “new music” group. He now regrets giving up his Sunday evenings, his only free day, but explains the decision this way: “It was a good opportunity.” And it was, it is; he is becoming quite the well-rounded musician. But perhaps “opportunity” needs to be rethought. Everything, or almost everything, is relative and contextual: one boy’s opportunity might be another’s burden. And every opportunity has a cost. Sunday night with nothing to do might very well be as good an opportunity as any.
It is so easy to get caught up in the ways of world.
I see this blog as a “Letter to a Young SchoolLess and a Young SmallerMan,” something to remember me by in the unfortunate event(uality) of my death, a guide to living—take it or leave it—as my remove from their lives increases.
The story began, at least in some sense, with the decision to home school, as that was a point of departure not only for what we did these past two years—“the experiment”—but for my (and SchoolLess’s) reflections on those things. But, of course, the story goes “beyond” that. It goes, or will go, backwards into my, into our, personal histories. It will go forward, too, as the results—what becomes of us and how that what may be, at least in part, attributable to things that happened over the past two years—cannot yet, and may never, be clearly understood.
From the beginning, I described the LearnMeProject as “ostensibly about home school,” knowing that it would be about so much else. But what I didn’t know, and I now humbly suggest, is that in both action and reflection it has become about, basically, everything.
The Project grew out of necessity—SchoolLess languishing in school—but also out of desperation, the four of us, at least in my estimation (and nobody was arguing the point), not living our lives quite as we wanted to.
Learn us, yes, but more than that, help us, save us, show us the way! My ultimate intention: a search for meaning in a fucked up world.
Where, then, goddamnit, is my epiphany?
I’m waiting for it, though perhaps a less passive stance—anticipating? seeking? making? fighting? claiming? demanding?—might increase my chances of reaching the Promised Land of Revelation or, at least, my sense that I gave it my best shot.
As for missing SchoolLess: I do, dearly, though he hasn’t exactly gone anywhere. I miss the sheer amount of time we spent together. I miss our shared agenda, our chats over tacos or tea, the intensity of our daily interactions. I miss the potential of home school. I miss the fleeting innocence of my son’s childhood.
SchoolLess is now as much a man as a boy. He is here, all 14 plus years, 5 feet 8 ½ inches, and 115 pounds of him, but he is also on his way elsewhere, leaving me behind a little bit more every day. It’s a good thing, I know, it’s what he should be doing.
In any case, it’s the way it’s going to be.
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