There are things easier to write than to read, certainly to read out loud. Which isn’t to say that what I’ll be reading tonight was altogether easy to write. Leonard Bernstein, of all people, said that “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Well, by that definition, if no other, I am then a writer. For me it’s always been easy to talk. I do entirely too much of it, talk, chat, chatter. To a certain extent it is what I do for a living. I read. I talk about what I read. I talk about what you should read, or what you might buy, at least. I’ve written about that, a bit. And other than talking, I draw. Done that all my life. I don’t know why. I just do. Unlike talking, drawing has earned me praise, attention, time away from talk. Drawing I think I understand, or at least understand better the more of it I do. Writing I do, have done, nearly as long if not nearly so well.
In an essay I read recently by the great Marguerite Duras, writing about writing about her mother, she describes her mother as “a great character,” tells a bit of her mother’s biography to explain why, but then closes the paragraph in a rather startling way by saying that ultimately the person about whom the writer writes is always herself. She, Marguerite, not her mother, is her true subject.
Well! And -- yes.
The pieces collected in this little book are about my father, and they aren’t, or rather they are to the extent that he was my father, not my sister’s or my brother’s father, not my mother’s husband, or his mother’s son. Really, these little essays then are about me.
How very embarrassing that is to admit.
I made this book for my mother, in memory of my father, and that seems to me an honorable thing to have done, but it occurs to me only now that what I’ve written about here is me.
Another discovery only recently made, when choosing what to read tonight, was selfish as well; I’ve written things about my father I will have to leave for others to read because somehow, now, come the moment, I can’t, at least not aloud.
There are things that are easier to write than to read. Forgive me for what I might not tonight read to you. I will do as best I can.
This is a little book not about memory, but my memories. It is not about nostalgia. I despise nostalgia. Nostalgia, after racism, genocide, slavery, etc., is the original sin of this country. The moment white men set foot on this continent they were already looking back: to the places they left, to their Bibles, their new Jerusalem to be made from an almost entirely false ideal of the old. To be nostalgic is to willfully misremember the past so as not to address the present, and Hell take the hind most for the future. Nostalgia is, by its very nature vulgar, insipid, grubby, mean. Wasn’t yesterday better? Well, no. To be honest, the past is a place it may be harder to go than anywhere else of which I can think. To be honest is the problem.
I’ve tried to honest here, I’m trying still. The past, mine anyway, is something I’ve had to forgive, and me in it, not because my life has been hard, it hasn’t, but because that is what remembering is; the means by which we might seek, and offer forgiveness.
My father was a good man, not always an easy one. I’m trying to be easier myself. Writing is hard, but it’s a way. I hope you’ll like what I’ve written. My Mum does. She told me so. All that matters, or mostly.
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