Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Reader's Lament

I am a book junkie.

If there were a 12-step program for reading addiction, I'm sure I would begin weekly meetings with that statement.  As it is, J is consistently making fun of me for the number of books that share our bed.  Quite often, weekly housecleaning turns up books in unexpected places.  J will sweep under a piece of furniture and turn up a half-read novel.  "I've been looking for that!" I'll cry delightedly.

It used to be that I exclusively read fiction.  I'm still a huge fan of novels--some of my best friends are fictional.  But in the past few years, I've branched out into other realms of the written word.  I've explored enough modern sociology that I've started to recognize all the experiments described in the books.  I've found I'm a fan of the humorous essay (ahem) and have devoured authors in one fell trip to the library.  I love reading advice of any kind, and that's translated into many trips to the etiquette, career planning and nutrition aisles of my local library.  In short, it's rare to see me without a book in my hands.

I have worried for some time that I don't live my life but read about it.  (You'll notice this worry has not put a dent in my reading.)  But no experience seems complete without a thorough description of it.  I read Roger Ebert's review immediately after I see a film.  I seek out fiction that reflects my life at the time--right now I love reading about new mothers.  When LO does something particularly cute or out of the ordinary, I'll spend an afternoon reading about what I can expect from him according to my growing pile of parenting books.

I guess I'm always looking for storytelling to make sense of the world.  That, after all, is the whole point of writing and telling stories.  The problem is that language is flawed.  (My favorite example of this is the fact that French does not have a word for home.  "Chez moi" just ain't the same.  If that's the case with French, who knows what important concepts English is missing.)  The perfect moments that life sometimes delivers can't be captured with words, despite my faith in them.

This basic failure of language has been plaguing me recently.  I want so badly to have the words to capture how I feel for LO and how I feel about being a new mother, but they simply don't exist.  And thank G-d they don't exist.  Nothing a human being has devised can navigate the few moments of pure grace that life sees fit to bestow on us.  Unfortunately, knowing this does not stop me from trying.

I am currently throwing myself into the pursuit of freelance writing.  It's something I've always wanted to do, and now I am seeing if I can.  One of the first opportunities I found was the chance to write poetry for Blue Mountain greeting cards.  According to their promotional literature, they provide the poetry and prose that puts into words what people feel for each other.  I, as a once and future poet, thought I could do this.  I have the most perfect emotional inspiration kicking off his socks in the swing right next to my computer.  And yet, I couldn't find any words to describe how I feel.  Nothing was good enough.  After three weeks of mental blockage, I gave up on the poem idea and moved onto other writing avenues.

Since then, I've been keeping an eye out for works written by others that might describe the joys of new motherhood.  The two closest contenders are a Beatles song and a poem by e.e. cummings.  I first became aware of both of these through films.  "Bye Bye Love," a really terrible movie from the 90s about three divorced fathers, features a cover of the Beatles song "I Will."  Though I'm sure Paul McCartney intended the lyrics to be about romantic love, I cannot help but find the sweet and simple words to be things I want to say to LO.  The poor child has to endure my off-key voice singing this song to him on a daily basis.  (I do find it ironic that the lyricist who came up with both the clunker of "In this ever-changing world in which we live in" and the unbelievably banal "Someone's knocking at the door/Do me a favor, open the door and let 'em in" was the author of a song that I feel sums up an indescribable feeling.)

Yesterday, I watched the film "In Her Shoes" starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Colette as sisters.  At the end, Cameron Diaz recites the e.e. cummings poem "i carry your heart with me" to her sister.  I found myself welling up while watching it.  cummings has put into words how I feel for my son.  There is really nothing more to say about this beautiful poem.

Ultimately, though, even these two lovely works don't exactly describe how I feel.  Nothing can.  I am sure that both Paul and e.e. were satisfied by the art they created, but not satisfied that these poems conveyed exactly what was in their hearts.  Because language is flawed and human, and the kinds of love they are describing (at least as I see it) is perfect and divine.

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