I went this weekend to our soon-to-be new college town home. New group of potential friends, new set of anxieties. Who shall I be there? The wife of the new hire in a prestigious position, along for the ride, adjuncting fall term and ostensibly hoping for something better when the chance arises. I am oh-so-very fine with that.
I am actually hoping this year to be free, to release the bindings I’ve felt tightening around me since December 26th 2006. JJ’s new colleagues, my sort-of new colleagues, keep reassuring me that I’m welcome in the new academic community, that coming along for the ride might mean a bit of a ridiculously low paycheck, but that nevertheless everyone’s interested in me, in my work, and in my professional success. Which leads to the eddy in my brain.
I keep first stridently asserting, then timidly trying to explain that I am happy to have this chance. The “voices which [I] hear in solitude” tell me this is an opportunity to become the literary artist, the writer, I have always wanted to be but that claim “grows faint and inaudible as [I] enter into the world.”* Of course I worry about my career. Of course I worry that, after years of graduate school, I could lose my chance to make my work matter. What I worry most about, though, is confessing my hopes to those around me, who barely know me. First, because I could fail to write anything anyone else will read. Second, because if I don’t care and they believe me, they might stop considering me a worthwhile member of the academic community.
Which leads more closely to the eddy in my brain, and this is where it gets strange. The site in my left eye is bad, very fuzzy. Technically, it’s an astigmatism. Emotionally and intellectually, the lack of focus which constantly plagues that eye is a veil. When I look through the veil, my mind wanders. It’s like jumping into a river. My mind wanders and bumps through my thoughts, and the further left I go, the more emotional and personal the thoughts. If I don’t fight it, I can feel my focus, my thoughts, my brain veer to the left, sharply, quickly. When I was in grade school, high school, college, this veering to the left would mean I stopped paying attention to the teacher or professor, or to my friends if they were talking. Only when I read a book could I look straight forward. If I gave into the leftward pull, I’d be writing or imagining a story, or drawing the infinite (and bad, there’s no Van Gogh in my fine motor skills) portraits of the characters and their worlds that used to populate my childhood desk at home. Now, if I want to teach well, or speak with intelligence and creativity to colleagues, I also have to give in to the leftward pull a bit.
In the past 3.5 years, the leftward pull has been populated by so many feelings, largely oscillating between intense joy and pain and grief. I’m sad. Not clinically so, but simply in an undercurrent. If Baby Man is around, the tide of my emotions feels turbulent, but clear and joyful. If I’m around friends and family who know about Natan, it feels a bit muddied, but calm and comforting. If I’m around students, I’m learning to float above. But if I’m talking to friends or colleagues who don’t know about Natan, I’m constantly feeling yanked towards it, yet pushing myself away. It traps me, and I can’t think or speak. Natan’s death feels like a binding on me, and I want to break out of it.
Why? Natan’s death is no longer the most significant event of my life. Baby Man’s life is. But Natan’s death is there, always always trailing me. He’s always in my conversations, but most of the people I now talk to don’t know that. There’s always something missing in the dialog as I narrate my life and my self. Normally, this doesn’t matter. But when I discuss my career and my plans, it does. I’m not sure if that makes sense. But it seems to relate to my identity, my career, as an intellectual. And not just any kind of intellectual, but an intellectual whose project is about the intellectual, emotional and relational lives of historical others.
I write about imaginary relationships between people–between celebrities and their admirers. And I spend a whole lot of my time in what is essentially an imaginary relationship myself. I think this is why the pull of that eddy remains so strong. I still haven’t figured out how to resist it, or when and where to give in to it, and who to bring with me.
* Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance” (1841)