To set the stage in order to, we hope, achieve some insight into the similarity between the inner lives of adults and children, we must first observe a brief glimpse of my outer life from the perspective of my children. Before we go to the pool, I take the laundry from the dryer and throw it on the living room floor. I shove the clothes from the washer into the dryer and fill the washer with another load. Then I fold the clothes on the living room floor and put them away. I sit down at my desk, quickly proof some introductory copy, and email it to Marie. I write a check, stick it in an envelope, and mutter thieves. I scan the room. I grab a book from the floor and put it on the shelf. I see the sunscreen on the table, grab it, and snag 3 towels from the closet.
You get the picture. I’m doing things, in order, the way you do things. And my children are watching me do things, waiting to go to the pool, not knowing what to do with themselves. The difference here is that I’m this big person and I’m doing various things, these bare minimum things that people do to stay alive and the children are watching, suffering from the illusion that I know what I’m doing. I say “suffering” because they’re little people and, because they watch me doing things and think I know what I’m doing, it amplifies to them how they have no idea what they’re doing and casts a spotlight on the fact that they’re just standing there looking stupid. Seriously. Their eyes are glazed over and they’re not standing right. They’re not standing in a way that’s poised to do something that looks informed by knowing what they’re doing. They’re not in the world in a proper way. They’re just there, tossed into those bodies with the weird elbows, wondering unutterably about what might happen next and other fabulous things.
Though I can indeed fold laundry and write a check, the jig is up. I have no idea what I’m doing.
So much for outward appearances, which are never what they appear to be. The pool, for instance—you know how being at the pool appears. There are people in bathing suits and reclining plastic chairs, brightly colored towels lying about, music, it smells like sunscreen and chlorine, and then there’s the pool itself—blue and cool—it’s the thing around which, and inside of, all the activity called “being at the pool” occurs. But it isn’t that at all. On either side of each moment at the pool—the immediate past and the immediate future—there are endless nights teeming with innumerable monsters and irrational equations that have no solutions. It’s as if any given moment at the pool depends on the uncertain support of 3 or 4 rickety stilts that hold us all together just above the unknown muck of death and nothingness. It’s scary shit. And it’s the reason why all of us, adults and children alike, feel the way we do. No one’s grown-up on the inside.
The kids and I, knowledgeable about the ways people tend to outwardly behave in and around pools, behave in accordance with these tendencies while, inwardly, we wander around aimlessly in complete and utter lostness. We don’t know what to do. We’re afraid that what we do will be wrong. The people at the pool won’t like us. My daughter will be outcasted from her group of friends. My son will never kiss a girl. I will look away for 8 seconds and the kids will either drown or be abducted by a pedophile. I will be fired from my job, quickly run out of money, and starve in the desert, flesh picked slowly from my ribs by ornery vultures. All of these horrors, and more, will occur as a result of our original quandary of not knowing what to do. We don’t understand the rules. The world is big and scary. It probably wants to kill us. This parade of worries is in their essential substance a parade of metaphors for those original monsters and irrational equations that surround us in the myths that are the past and future.
The refuge from this plunge into the muck of death and nothingness does not consist in the futile attempt to become grown-up or by definitively figuring out what to do. Rather, it can only be found in staying little and remaining a perpetual beginner, so much of a novice that you begin each moment anew with fresh eyes at the pool balanced on the uncertain support of 3 or 4 rickety stilts. This stealthy maneuver points the way to a radical shift from fear to dumbstruck awe.
At the pool, truly at the pool, there is no question whatsoever regarding what to do. You jump in! The water is perfect. My daughter plays and laughs with a host of happy friends. My son is making out with a nice girl named Amy Wabindato in the shade of a courteous palm. It’s impossible, all this, but how immensely fabulous. What a strange and wonderful thing to be a man swimming underwater. And then to stretch out in the sun and traverse that inexplicable path from being wet to being dry, only to jump in again. I smile and talk to strangers. We discuss what a beautiful day it is, the age of our kids, and what we do (as if we knew). But behind our conversation, all conversations, there’s a weird and constant thing that craves expression but stubbornly resists being said. How could we? How could we even begin to say? My daughter runs full throttle to the edge of the pool: CANNONBALL!
It’s time to go when it’s time to go and the kids follow my lead. I don’t know what to make for dinner. I don’t know what we’ll do tonight. No one’s grown-up on the inside. The kids falsely assume that the day will arrive when they feel the way they mistakenly take me for feeling: like the world is knowable and safe and there is no such thing as monsters. But the dark is deep and its supply of monsters is inexhaustible in just the same way that the present constantly erupts into world after world of fabulous and unutterable things.
Read more from me at Black Hockey Jesus.
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