Dense, dreary and boring, one Amazon reviewer calls WG Sebold’s book, Austerlitz, like it doesn’t occur to him that he might simply be the wrong reader. Like maybe he doesn’t get it.
Man Ray says if you don’t like something, turn away, go find something else. Which is hard to do but good to keep in mind.
I was walking with Harrison yesterday at dusk, my favorite time of day. He stopped and pointed at the swallows flying high overhead. Look! Birds! He is almost three. I can tell he’s been practicing his “ir” sound. b-irr-ds. They are catching bugs, he tells me. Mosquitoes, he explains. He holds up his arm and pinches it. He tells me that mosquitoes bite us. He is concerned with injuries right now, with scabs, cuts, scars, burns and bites. He looks back up, watching for a long time. He whispers, “Thank you, birds.”
Harrison tells me he doesn’t love me. He only loves his other grandmother. He says I can only love him. I cannot love his baby sister. I tell him love is really big, but he says it’s not.
No! He’s not even three yet.
There was a dead deer in the river. Why? Why did it die? Why is its head in the water? What happened? Why did it die? He always comes back to that, that fundamental, heartbreaking human question. His mom tells him we don’t know. We die and our bodies go back into the earth and things grow and so we’re part of the life cycle. I don’t want to die! You won’t die for a long time. First you’ll get old and your hair will turn gray. You don’t have to worry about that now. It’s so far away. I don’t want to get old. I don’t want to get big. Later, when we’re alone, working in the garden, he asks again: why did that deer die? I want to tell him that nothing dies, but really this is up to his mama, and anyway, what do I know? I say I think some part of us always lives. I tell him it’s a mystery. And then I say it’s a big surprise. And then we turn back to the garden. Maybe he figures mortality is something that will make sense later, but it isn’t.
My yoga teacher moved to Florida. Every few days she posts a photograph on Facebook. While most of my friends post updates on Gaza or Ferguson, on labor efforts, climate change, police brutality, Monsanto, or economics, she posts the image of a bird, flying over the ocean; the sunset; a tree. It’s messy, being alive. It’s never all one way or another. It’s Gaza and Ferguson, and it’s also a sandhill crane, silhouetted against a pink sky.
My daughter helped with the cover for my self-published, erotic eBook. She put on red lipstick and curled a section of her hair. She stood against the kitchen wall and had me hold her camera. She picked up one of the baby’s toys, a plastic strawberry, and held it to her open mouth. So there it is. The cover art to my erotic story. If you back up from the lips and the strawberry, you will see women in sweatpants, dinner on the stove, a baby on the floor, toys everywhere.
We arrived on Bloomsday and went to the pub. The sun shining and warm and all the girls were in their summer dresses. There is something automatically familiar about Ireland, although I might be imagining that. I like to say I’m Irish but I’m German, French, English and Scottish, too. Also Dutch. Americans pick their favorite nationalities and claim them. I always say Irish and French.
I see why this place has made so many writers. Something about it makes you want to.
Yesterday I heard about a man who stole a can of beer from a convenient store in Georgia and went to jail for a year. I heard the story of the shootings in Santa Barbara. I heard a school official saying we just can’t do anything. Australia did, you know, but no one talks about that. I heard the story of a girl and her family who couldn’t afford housing and lived in the woods. I heard about a mentally disturbed man who was scalded to death by his prison guards in Florida. I heard some state official from Georgia or South Carolina talking about using firing squads for executions. I heard someone say we can’t release the men from Guantanamo, and I wondered where are those guys who are so fired up about the Constitution? I feel like I’m hearing stories from the Middle Ages, but it’s just NPR reporting on the United States.
I told Sherry I had a theory that everything was happening at the same time. We were driving through the countryside in Illinois at night and we were maybe 24 years old. We think what comes later has more weight, that it cancels out or helps us forgive or understand or lose credit for what happened earlier. But what if there is no later? What if it’s all the same? Like a flat surface, I said. And then she started crying and said she had sex with my boyfriend. We didn’t care so much about fidelity then, but we did have standards. Like you couldn’t sneak and it shouldn’t involve your best friend. Later I asked the boyfriend about it. Did you have sex with Sherry? He said, yeah but it only lasted a second. Like the unsatisfactory nature of it had some bearing on its meaning. Like it didn’t count as much. He was also a philosopher, see, but more self-serving.