Every time I think I’m out, He pulls me in again
Some days the words come, some days they don’t. Some days you can’t stop putting word after word after word and then there’s a sentence and then a paragraph and it’s beautiful because it is you and because it is true, and some days you can’t stop downloading porn. And some days, like the days earlier this month, the work seems so clear and vivid in your mind, and your blood rises and the levee breaks and nothing but rage and fury bleeds so beautifully from the tips of your fingers, the sacred and the profane, the tragic and the comic, and there is a calm silence in your mind and there is only one voice there and it is your own, and you hear yourself laugh, not at what you are writing but that you are writing, that you are watching yourself being born, holding your life in your hand and turning it this way and that—Oh, wait…I never realized…what about—and it’s yours now, you are your own Creator, writing your own Bible, and this is your Exodus, and it’s okay, and those are the days, I promise you, those are the days that God looks down from heaven above and He strokes his mighty beard, and He puts on His mighty brass knuckles and He says, “Not so fast, buddy boy. Not so fucking fast.”
He’s been pulling out the stops lately, God has. I’ve seen my manuscript; I don’t blame Him.
“You’re paranoid,” says one friend. “God doesn’t care what you write.”
“I call Him a prick in the Preface.”
“You’ve got a persecution complex,” says another.
“God?” says a third (at $250 an hour). “You’re transferring.”
“I’m what?” I ask him.
He clicks the top of his pen, leans back in his leather office chair. “Let’s talk about your mother,” he says.
She e-mailed me.
My mother has a son named Shalom whom she loves dearly, but he isn’t me, or more accurately, I’m not him. He is married with many properly Day-Eight-With-A-Rabbi circumcised children, none of this Doctor-in-the-Delivery-Room narishkeit. He lives next door to her, in a proper Yiddishe community, and he keeps the Sabbath and he calls it Shabbos, and he phones her before Shabbos and wishes her a good Shabbos and he meets her in synagogue on Shabbos and they walk home together on Shabbos, and he phones her after Shabbos and wishes her a good week and he calls it a gut vuch, and all the myriad conditions of her love are blissfully met (he also wrote a book, this son, and it was also called Beware of God, but it wasn’t short stories, it was mussar, chastisement, rebuke. “I loved it,” his mother said). She has been the victim of some cosmic bait-and-switch, and she has spent most of my life looking for the receipt. “This,” she says as she pats her pockets and looks through her coat, “is not what I purchased.”
Her e-mail came the day after I told my wife how well the writing had been going. She wrote asking to see pictures of “the baby”—we didn’t give my son a Hebrew name and she has yet to address him by his name. God, on a mission to stop me from writing, helped her out with ending:
I’d like to hold him, too, in my arms. Maybe one day.
PS: Fuck you.
You see, He knows that contact with my family—any contact—used to shut me down. I couldn’t write a word—I was too angry. William Stafford once said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.” William Stafford never met my mother.
But that didn’t happen this time. And I think I know why. I rode motorcycles for a while—sportbikes—on different racetracks around the country.
“It’s safer than on the streets,” we would say.
Not as safe, though, as leaving the thing parked in the garage. There’s something addictive about all that power in the palm of your hand. My neighbor, who hunts, says the same thing of his gun. It seems to me that a pen—or pencil, or keyboard, or paintbrush—feels the same way. Once you give in to it, and just give it some gas—that power can be hard to give up.
So I didn’t.
I replied to her e-mail, and I attached a small picture of our son. Then I unattached the picture of our son, and attached a picture of an African-American baby. Then I unattached the picture of the African-American baby, and re-attached the picture of our son. Then I attached a picture of a violin. Then I unattached the picture of the violin, and hit “send,” and then I went back to writing.
* * *
A few days later, my in-laws came from London.
“We’re staying a week,” said my mother-in-law.
“That oughta do it,” said God.
If you happened to walk by us sitting at a café at the Central Park Zoo two weeks ago, you might have thought we were a family of meteorologists.
“Is it always so cold here in May?” my mother-in-law asked.
“Not so cold, but cold.”
“It’s not so cold like this in England.”
“But you have a lot of rain there, no?”
“Yes, yes. A lot of rain.”
“Here it’s dry but cold.”
“There it’s warm.”
Now, here’s Sal with sports.
God also gave my father-in-law Parkinson’s, taunting me with the idea of my own parents’ inevitable aging and death. “Do you really want to write this book about them?” God asks (I don’t think God gave my father-in-law Parkinson’s just to keep me from writing, but I do think that having given my father-in-law Parkinson’s, He figured He might as well put the guy on a plane to New York to get me to stop writing. I’m not crazy).
My father-in-law’s disease had progressed some since I last saw him, his motor functions had become robotic and awkward. Watching him trying to eat reminded me first of an insect, then of a machine on an assembly line, his arm mechanical, bending this way and that as he tried to bring his fork to his mouth. My heart broke for him. Then it broke for my mother-in-law. Then my heart broke for my wife. Then it broke for my own father. And then my heart broke for my mother, and it broke for my sisters. It shattered for my aunt, collapsed for my brother, went belly-up for my uncle. My heart was kaput. My heart was on the fritz. My heart was a lemon.
There’s a happy ending, though—he’s still a prick! I did what they always say you should do: “Look beyond the disease and see the person.” And as horrified and remorseful as I had been to first witness his infirmity, within the hour I could no longer see it. I looked beyond the disease, and when I did, I saw the man who continues to tyrannize his daughter, to ignore her dreams, who to this very day refuses to hear of the pain he causes her. Pricks might want to revise that old shibboleth: “Stop looking at me. Look at my disease. I’m disabled, for God’s sake.”
Three long hours later, we drove home, a hundred and eighty miles up the Thruway, belting out songs with our son—”The Wheels On The Bus,” “Five Little Monkeys”—eatin’ ca-cas (crackers) and chuggin’ ba-bas (bottles).
It rained while we were gone. Our son is 18 months old now, and he has a big blonde ‘fro, and big blue eyes and little Keen sandals, and I lifted him out of the truck and steadied him on the ground and he ran down the driveway, stomping in the rain puddles and squatting down besides overturned newts.
“Newt,” he said. “Uh oh.”
I went inside and tried to get a little writing done before dinner. If I miss a day it’s that much more difficult to get started the following morning.
“Dada!” he called.
I ignored him.
“Dada!” he called again.
“DADA!” he called.
He’d made his way into the bedroom and was standing beside my chair, his head cocked to get my attention. This is a game we play—he calls my name and I lean over in his face and pretend to shout “WHAAAAT?” as loudly as I can. Then he runs away and I chase him. He’ll claim credit for it, but I totally made it up.
“Dada!” he said.
He laughed—”Ahhhh!”—and ran away, and I closed my laptop, slid it under the bed and took off after him, his head of crazy curls disappearing into the kitchen.
God’s dirtiest trick yet.