Friday, March 31, 2006

On children

Last night in Nip/Tuck, which Mrs Zen watches and I mostly ignore, a woman had a child and the guy, the father, a white man, was surprised to find that it was black. I won't walk away, he said. I loved it in the womb and I'm going to keep on loving it.

This posed some questions for me. Could I love someone else's child? What does loving a child consist of? The former question used to crop up from time to time when I was younger, when I would think about whether I would form a serious relationship with someone who already had children and, more importantly, whether I could come to love them. Then I thought I could, now I am not so sure. Certainly, if I were to separate from Mrs Zen, I could have a relationship with a woman who had children. It wouldn't be a problem. But loving the children would. How could I? My love for my children is fuelled by their being mine. In the shoes of the guy in Nip/Tuck, maybe I could care for the child, maybe I would feel a form of love, but it would not be what I feel for Zenella, Zenita and Naughtyman. They are integral to me, not just part of my life but part of me, who I am, what I hope for (which is little enough), what my deeper self hopes for (I suppose I mean by that what the reptile that does the driving wants, what my genes want, what the spinning points of nothing that make me want).

An acquaintance wrote to me, talking about something I had written. She has lost a child. It made me think, that is what love for your children consists in. The knowing that nothing can hurt more than their dying. I don't need to lose a child to know how it feels. It haunts a parent all the time. This morning I found Zenita drinking face cleanser. There are plenty of things in our house that could poison her but that isn't one of them. I had a sudden glimpse into an abyss, a profound grief that I know awaits if she ever drinks one of the things that will. Just the thought is disturbing enough to make me slightly nauseous. Sh, my acquaintance, is haunted by her missing child. There is a space where the child should be, a shadow across the moments of her day. When her other children are laughing, there is one voice missing, the sound of the child she dreamed her baby would grow to be. All parents, I should think, imagine futures for their children, ways they could be, how they might look. In this sense, children are like books, laying down their histories a page at a time. We imagine sometimes that the rest of the book has already been written but we do not know how to read it. And so it is revealed, delighting us, surprising us. But the lost child--their book has its pages torn out, from the point of their death on. Torn out and burned. If we believe in a god, fate, whatever, we pray to it not to spoil this beautiful thing that is unravelling for us. Even when your expectation is rather misty, an uncertain future, a who knows?, even then you know how painful it would be not to have the rest of the book to enjoy.

Monday, March 20, 2006

At Peregian Beach

Dad is looking good but he is in the zone. I've always thought, as a rough approximation, that 60 on is the zone for dying. The years begin in which if you die, it's no big surprise. Before then, you feel that the person died young, was robbed, it's just not right. But from 60 on, it becomes fitting.

Nothing brings home to me more that life is temporary than knowing my parents will die. They are a fixed point in my life and always have been. I know it is mundane to say so, because of course they have always been part of it, but it's the sort of truism that only strikes home from time to time, and when it does, you feel already bereft.

It is a tragedy for us that we know we will die. It sometimes crushes you into a tiny cube, knowing that everything has a limit. Better to be a cat, unaware, unfeeling, uncaring.

I love my dad. I always have. Not for anything he's done or been to me but just because. I do not know how it would be possible not to love him. I can't imagine what he could do that would make me stop. He's done some shit things. He's a difficult man to know, to be with, sometimes.

When I think about my dad, I can't help thinking about myself, because I think about how he was with me and how I am with my kids. He was not a great dad. He didn't have a clue and he still doesn't. I am not a great dad either but I still have time and I am never leaving them in doubt that I love them. That was a mistake my dad made that I won't repeat.

My dad was away a lot when I was a kid. Or, I should say, it felt like a lot. I'm not sure how much of the time he actually was away. It was up to six months at a stretch sometimes. (He was not a career criminal but a sailor; still, they are similar in their way, both man's worlds in which men find a way to cut themselves off from having to deal honestly with their emotions and, in particular, how they feel about women.) I don't think that was a good thing but I'm not sure it did any damage. It has led me to want to be an enduring presence in my children's lives, which is not easy, because I sometimes just want to sit in my cave for hours, untouched by the world. I think about his being away a lot these days because I am not sure I can stay married and if I don't, I do not know how I can be here. It's a desolate, cruel choice: to have to consider whether I can live in a place that makes me unhappy so that I can be near my children. I do not want to be one of those men who disappear from their children's lives. How can you bear that? But when I know how close I am getting to the zone, how can I bear living in a place that is so empty of opportunity for me, so deeply unattractive?

Life does that to you. You are never wholly the captain of your own ship. The life in which that would be possible would be worse for me or would require me to be someone else. You have to negotiate with what there is, not what you wish there was. Age just makes the negotiations more urgent, the outcome more important (it feels that way, even though it surely isn't true) and the stakes higher (again, they seem that way, even though they probably do not change: a life is a life -- but now I say that, I have to think, well, how do I explain the sorrow I feel when I see a fucked-up life? The waste that I feel it is when someone is enslaved, hurt, crippled, unable to cope? How do I explain that feeling? Because I know I feel it. Am I just feeling it to create a route to feeling sorry for myself? Because if I can empathise with broken lives, and convince myself I have a broken life too, then I can empathise with myself? The worst outcome of my life has been how self-absorbed I am. It makes it entirely impossible to unravel, to spread out, to allow life to enter my dead core.).

We were talking, me and my dad, about the Greeks. He is studying for a masters in Classics at the Open University. He is saying that he must write an assignment on Thucydides' narratology. It's a long time since I read the History of the Pelopennesian War and I certainly can't remember the details, but Dad is telling me how speeches made by Alcibiades and Nicias early in the book prefigure the text that describes the events of the war. Nicias, in particular, is made to look prescient. Thucydides is subtle enough never to have anyone, least of all Nicias, say "that Nicias was right", but the book yells it out. We talk for a bit about the Greek way of war and how history is represented in films. We haven't talked like this for years.

I am struck by the thought that we might never again, my dad and I, talk like this. He is not a talker and we are rarely together. I am thinking, I want back the times we fought, the times he hated me and I hated him. I want back the hours that we were not big enough men to save from destruction. And I know that I need to love my boy fiercely, enough that he will not have a moment that he does not know, with absolute, crystalline certainty, that I love him with the same undying, unquestionable love that I have for my dad, and he in turn, my son, will have for me.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Rice and beans

Freedom means having choices. You cannot be free if you cannot choose. This does mean that our freedom is fundamentally limited. Often people say "you don't choose your family". That is true. And as young men often wail at their mothers, you don't choose to be born.

I am compelled to be here. I could choose to leave. Would that free me? It's curious. I don't ever have suicidal thoughts but I do not know how to escape that conclusion.

Why does it matter to be free? Isn't happiness better? I suppose it would be but I don't feel happy when I feel compelled. There is some part of me that runs amuck, yelling "bring it on", asking what the world has for me to rebel against. The strange thing is, I am more restricted, my choices more limited, by that than by anything else.

I don't have an answer to that because I cannot subdue that part of me.

I hate that I feel limited by others. I am not saying that I resent the restrictions on my freedom brought by having a wife and kids. Of course, like anyone I have moments when I think, if I didn't... but I don't curse my choices. However, it is hard sometimes to accept that others want to restrict you because they cannot see what you see, and you cannot help them see it. I am ever frustrated by that. I get to that point at which reason has broken down and I have nowhere left to go. Sometimes being free requires being freed.


Did I really choose to sit in a darkened room, correcting someone who thinks "the appliance group had enhanced its critical mass" means something in English? I suppose I must have done. I suppose it's worth trying to figure out how it happened because that should inform my future choices but the problem is, I've lost the ability even to see myself as someone who makes choices. I have become almost entirely passive. I have a burst of enthusiasm, a bit of belief that I can make a change, and then it's crushed.

Naturally, nothing crushes it. The crushing happens entirely internally. I become convinced that I am compelled. Sometimes, what I want is only going to be possible if I walk a long road. If I can ignore that and start walking, I'm okay. But when I get a glimpse of the mountain, I feel immensely saddened. I feel it shouldn't happen to me.

Most of the time, I don't take myself seriously enough to feel sorry for myself. But when I catch sight of the small boy whose future I have mangled, I do. I feel sorry for him because he is still living in here, still hoping.


I know. It is all wrong. I know it. I spend too much time thinking about the choices I don't have and not enough on those I do. I am hurting myself with it and those around me. I know. I know it but what can I do about it? No one will let you just stop and say, this is what I'm going to be about.

I am not feeling articulate. I want someone else to be articulate for me. I want to say simple things and not be misunderstood. I could promise to live on rice and beans if I could eat it in any place I chose.