Friday, August 27, 2010
Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer prize winning author (wonder boys, a model world, gentlemen of the road, the screenlay for spiderman 2, among others) and a father of four who lives in Berkeley, California with his wife (the author Ayelet Waldman) whose column 4 years ago about loving her husband more than her children sparked a shit storm of what-kind-of-mother-are-you controversy (I'd argue a good mother but I do not want to get into it).
I am struck by Chabon.
Here is an imaginary interview I have conducted with him. The questions are mine - the answers are his (with small embellishments on my part) quoted from his collection of essays: "The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son - Manhood for Amateurs"
REGRET SEEMS TO BE NECESSARY GRIST FOR THE MILL OF LITERATURE - ANY ADVICE ON HOW TO GAIN THIS NEEDED EXPERIENCE?
By diligently taking full advantage of all of your opportunities to make mistakes. In my case the thought process went like this: "I must put my trust in unreliable people, take on responsibilities I could not hope to discharge, count on impossible outcomes, ignore blessings that were right under my nose while expending my youth and energy in pursuit of dubious pleasure. I must court disappointment, miscalculate, lie when the truth would serve better and tell the truth when the kindest thing would be to tell a lie. Above all, I would have to stick to a course of action long after it was clearly revealed to be wrong."
SO, DID YOUR STRATEGY TO EXPERIENCE TRISTESE WORK?
If we are conducting our lives in the usual fashion, each of us serves as a constant source of embarrassment to his or her future self. I am as embarrassed as the next guy.
WHAT'S UP WITH MEN?
This is an essential element of the business of being a man: to flood everyone around you in a great radiant arc of bullshit, one whose source and object of greatest intensity is yourself. To behave as if you have everything firmly under control even when you have just sailed your boat over the falls.
PICKING UP ON THE LAST TWO QUESTIONS, WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AT 20?
I was, in a word, callow. I believed then that life was made up of mastering the particulars, memorizing the line ups, accumulating the trivia and lore, in knowing how to trace the career of drummer Aynsley Dunbar or get a girl to go bed with you and your best friend, as an expression of your existential freedom and complete disregard for the fact that she is a person, and she likes you or him, and you're actually kind of breaking her heart.
Misogyny comes naturally to a young man in his late teens - it is a part of the impulse that flowers along Fraternity Road - it is what drove the mod movements of the mid sixties and late seventies, that lie at the heart of every rock band formed by men of that age. My own misogyny wore a beret, as it were, and quoted Nietzsche but it was just that, of the garden variety practiced by young men all over the world. It was a phase, a plankton bloom in the brain, a developmental stage, albeit one that found ample reinforcement, if not glorification, in culture both popular and highbrow, in the Rolling Stone's "Stupid Girl" and Woody Allen's best movies, in Jorge Luis Borges, in William Shakespeare.
YOU KNEW DAVID FOSTER WALLACE - WHAT WAS HE LIKE?
Actually, I met him only once at UCLA in October 2004. If you had read his formidable work, Infinite Jest (which I had failed twice to finish) then it was hard, at least for me, not to feel that Wallace easily could have made more out of you, found more to say on your behalf and by way of explanation of you, than you had so far managed to do for yourself.
YOUR WIFE IS ALSO AN ACCOMPLISHED WRITER. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT HER?
My wife suffers from bi-polar disorder, which from time to time has given her ready access to the pain and hopelessness required to cast a comparative luster on the prospect of oblivion. When she gets low, I always imagine her mind as a child folding itself inside on of those three- panel department store mirrors, past and future reaching off in an endless, dim, identical prospect of days, with her own head always right smack there in the way.
Who knows what it is - serotonin, hormones, neurons, the light. Childhood, puberty, childbirth, the heavy passing of time. All explanations are cliche, as is the assertion that there can finally be no explanation. In the end I can only try to make sense of my wife's depression and the death of David Foster Wallace on my own terms, for my own purposes.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE Of WATCHING YOUR KIDS GROW UP?
Despite every effort to the contrary - it is the experience of squandered treasure. Almost every hour I spend with my children is burned through like money by a man on a spree. The sum total of my clear memories of them - of their unintended aphorisms, gnomic jokes, and the plain sad truths they have expressed about the world; of incidents of precociousness, Gothic madness, sleepwalking, mythomania, and vomiting; of the way light has struck their hair or eyelashes on vanished afternoons; of the stupefying tedium of games we have played on rainy Sundays; of highlights and horrors from their encyclopedic history of odorousness; of the 297,000 minor kvetchings and heart felt pleas i have responded to over the past eleven years with fury, tenderness, utter lack of interest, or a heartless and automatic compassion - those memories, when combined with the sum total of photographs, that we have managed to take, probably add up, in all four of my children, to under 1 percent of everything that we have undergone, lived through, and taken pleasure in together.