Still Life: Children and WritingThomas Beller
Pictures make you long for what they depict. At least the pictures of my beautiful children make me long for them, even when they themselves are in the house, sleeping. I say sleeping because if they were in the house awake it’s unlikely that I would be looking at pictures of them. They would be right there, demanding my attention.
I Come home. The pitter pat of the little boy’s feet running to greet me. Little footsteps, like a dog. His calling out my name, or his name for me. Evangeline, who has been blase about these comings home for years, has gotten into the act, running out to meet me less out of love than competition. Or maybe her own sense of nostalgia has been stirred by her younger brother. I try and pick her up and swing her through the air. I can do it, still, though she is no longer weightless. She is a substantial person. A whole person. Her own person. It was ever thus, but the reality must be reassimilated every few weeks.
In pictures they do not scream and cry and demand. I force myself to remember this as a preemptive attack on future nostalgia–it’s my argument in favor of looking over recent photographs when the reality of that moment, so perfect in its still form, is still with me in all its loud, messy, exhausting fluidity.
This capacity for revisionist history applies to the act of writing, as well. Writers have certain fantasies about writing. About places to write. A cafe. A room with a view, or a room without one. An artist’s colony. Those pastoral moments which, in the writer’s imagination, they are both alive to the pleasures of the world and have access to their own thoughts and memories, and, somehow, at the same time, are actually writing. Putting it on the page. “Getting it out of me,” as one writer put it, regarding the time he would spend in hotels.
But that is similar to enjoying steak and completely forgetting that it comes from a cow. Which we all do. But it’s not a truth. In truth the getting it out of you is gruesome, mostly because it is surrounded, on all sides, by not getting it out of you. By wondering if there is anything in you to get out. By searching around in yourself like someone who has opened a jewel box to discover that all the jewels are gone. You ransack the box. Then the room. Then the house. You wander into the street like a crazy person looking at the ground, searching.
This is an absurd little lullaby to sooth myself: to remind myself that everything is not as lovely as it looks in the pictures, both the real ones of children and the ones we carry in our minds, those lovely archetypes of sitting amidst people at cafe’s with a street lamp outside and the little demitasse of espresso on the table, the sound of clicking keys like a burbling brook of productivity, your productivity.
It’s the emotional version of hedging, of selling short; it’s John Lennon, responding to Paul McCartney singing, “It’s getting better all the time!” with, “It couldn’t get much worse!”
Ok, enough of this, back to the jewel box. Maybe the contents will have magically reappeared.
(P.S. A diary entry is now a blog post. The jewel box is a garden, a garden that has a webcam aimed at it. Some tremulous creature remains just out of sight, covered in the undergrowth, off-screen. It is allergic to exposure, to publicity. How long can it stay hidden before it expires?)