Upstairs the young people are baking chocolate cake and reading picture books out loud. A mixed group from Middlest's French class. On a kind of field trip to their disappearing childhood, I gather, revisiting a protected pocket of that endangered habitat.
Honestly. I'm surprised they would entertain themselves this way. Aren't you? Did young people when I was young ever gather like this, so innocently? It was all videos and practicing dance moves when I was young. One house had a foosball table. Sometimes we would go skating - roller (Xanadu anyone?) and ice. Sometimes we would get a pizza. In other circles, according to reports that were common property at school, there were the keggers and drug partying and the cops showing up. That kind of fun. But boys and girls baking together belonged to the realm of grandmas and Christmas storybooks and the childhoods we all were fleeing.
I wouldn't have imagined this cozy homeyness when I imagined the social goings and comings that went on beyond me. When I opened a page later, in the library stacks at the university, Frank O'Hara's "Autobiographia Literaria" spoke to me like a post card from my past, a promise from a future self:
When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Though I have not ended up in that future. Instead here I am, not the center, but the encircling perimeter.
From the other room, their voices, the intermittent sound of piano, laughing, the smell of baking - all this warmth that happens with no doing on my part. A sense of wholeness, of things coming right for this moment.
I have only ever been the empty stage my daughters' plays have been produced upon. I am the closet of properties, the light crew. They are the maestros, director and cast, musicians and dancers - the costumes of hospitality inhabited. And I love it. Being part of the performance from the privacy of the sidelines. I talk to their friends. I come down to my work. But am still here at the edges of happiness and conviviality. And it is this, hugely, that I fear I will miss with my daughters' departures, coming and come.
I should be writing. Is this writing? Not really. I'm slipping out to talk to you, my Imaginary friends. But I am up against a sudden realization: it is this, my shyness as a young person, a loneliness that is still the truest truth about my inward me (If anyone was looking / for me I hid behind a / tree and cried out "I am / an orphan.") It is this, I think, that draws me to Lanier's story. His ache for connection, the lonely child. But it is this that makes it hard to write. I have hiked so far, climbed so many hills, forced myself again and again to talk, to listen, to make connection, to get over timidity, to work my way out to civilization and the light of other people's houses that it is diificult to go back there. To re-imagine a childhood even lonelier than mine.
But this is getting me nowhere. Not filling my sails. Let me bring myself back to an image I've had playing in my mind while working on Chapter 2 "Wind and Strings - the Most Eloquent Machines" - a brief encapsulation of what is the human endeavor:
And I will go and write.