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A summer

Friday 8/18/23

Spending some time with my nephew recently, I thought about childhood and summer. This boy that he is as he comes up on the age of ten and the boy that I was don't have much overlap, which might have been one reason I was thinking as I did. Each day for me is a challenge to do what I've never done before, to do everything better than I ever have, and to get closer to where I am going. That's why I am beginning my day now here before one o'clock in the morning. I am oriented around the ideas of now and what is next. "Now" matters as it does to me insofar as what I am creating. My work requires me to be fully present in its creation. Total presence. But I believe that it is what follows that must be one's paramount concern, rather than on what has passed. When one lives this way--and creates this way--the present is also always the future, and the past may be so, too. A tone is set. A way is found. Work is created. These things are not perishable. They continue. Especially the kind of work I mean. That takes all forms. I see a time coming when the work I made that I view as very old indeed is trumpeted as brand new because people who haven't known it will then know it. My past work and current work constitute future work, in addition to all of the work I will create in the future. And there is just so much work. The corpus is staggering in quantity and scope. Even in an ideal world with everything going my way and no war in which I'm embroiled and maximum demand and facilitation, it's going to take time for what I've already created to come out. And there is also going to have to be some way--a new business model--than what is in place presently, because the latter is not suited nor equipped to handle the likes of me.

My nephew likes sports. Baseball is his favorite. He doesn't have much interest in other sports, it seems, beyond playing football with his friends, which is an illicit pursuit of his, as this is not parentally approved. Backyard games. I delighted in those games in autumn as a boy. Coming home from school and repairing to someone's backyard. Tackle football. I remember pretending in my mind that I was Dan Marino if I was the quarterback, or Alan Page if it was my team's turn on defense. I knew about Page because I'd read much about him. The leaves had changed colors, many had fallen; lawns were still cut, so you'd have sliced and diced leaves on the ground. Down you went into that autumnal mixture, or down you threw some else, or down you went together. That was the stuff. The acorns hurt more than the ground.

Lately I've been thinking about what was the perfect boyhood summer for me, when my interests--passions--intersected and there were days that I can now describe as ideal so far as such summers go. I think I would say the summer of 1983. I didn't just play baseball. Hockey, of course, and soccer, at the organized levels, to go along with basketball and football at the neighborhood one. Baseball was also the sport that interested me most historically. That summer was the last of Carl Yastrzemski's career. I was really into him. My dad and I were going to see his last game at Fenway in the fall, and that was something to look forward to. But that was also the summer I really came to know a lot about Carlton Fisk. I was seven. And Fisk fascinated me. He played catcher, obviously, and as I recently wrote in that essay, the catcher position was for me; it aligned with my imagination, I mean. It was romantic in that it contained--so far as I viewed it--elements of the important aspects of life. These things depend on how you see them and who you are. That doesn't mean you're manipulating anything, or projecting a would-be truth onto something that isn't about that truth. I think it is more like a way we come to see.

I read everything to do with baseball history. Devoured book after book after book. I knew every stat. I knew the careers of players from 1892. And as I said, I was seven. I played sports, it seemed, almost non-stop. With my friends, on teams with coaches and new friends I made. This is ironic, because it seemed that I also read non-stop. Sports books, yes. But also Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Dickens, Agatha Christie, books about Universal monster films from the 1930s and 1940s.

A trip to the library was magical. I could spend hours there both reading and picking out what I'd be taking home. The level of excitement for me had no precedent. It was like coming to better know myself and what was in me. What I was here for.

I watched plenty of horror films apart from my reading that summer. I loved Bela Lugosi. 1931's Dracula entranced me. You couldn't just watch it; it had to come on. You had to get lucky. TV Guide was perused with great care and a real degree of hope. I gawked at stills of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) in a musty-smelling book in the basement of the library next to my elementary school, wanting so badly to be able to see it. I studied old coins, fell in love with the design and mystery of Walking Liberty half dollars that were made in the period from one World War to the other.

I could have told you every single Carlton Fisk stat that was available at the time. I could have told you about the 1934 Cardinals. If you had a question about Christy Mathewson, I was your little man. I could have told you about Jack Pierce, the ultimate monster make up man. I could have told you every plot detail of the Little House on the Prairie books. Ben Franklin's relationship with his brother James. And I could have told you every kind of animal that lived in the woods that went way back beyond our house. Because for all of the sports, all of the reading, it also seemed like I was in nature non-stop. I explored. I found snakes and salamanders, toads, frogs, turtles, spiders, birds, birds nests. I made my way through nature book after nature book. I knew everything out there. Except how it would feel the next time I was in those woods. It was always different. The woods are always different. I learned about the things you could see under a microscope, amoebas and diatoms. I learned the constellations, and looked up at the night sky to see the North Star--the stalwart Polaris--doing what it did at the bottom of the Little Dipper. I'd follow the pointer stars from Ursa Major sometimes, like I was taking a little celestial journey to get to that guiding point that itself had aided in innumerable journeys.

All was life. A super-abundance of life. Friends, nature, stories, characters, worlds both inside of me and outside calling out to me, sports, games, bike riding and doing jumps and attempting tricks that everyone tried at the time. Tree climbing. Lots of swimming. Games of pickle. Not a lot of football--wasn't a summer thing. Oiling the baseball glove. Getting up in the morning and checkin the box scores to see how Fisk--who was having a career resurgence in his age-35 season--had done. It mattered much to me when he went 2-for-4 with a home run. But Fisk also wouldn't have been Fisk to me--and Fisk wouldn't have been Fisk--if he came from Florida or Texas or California. He was from the same place, or a place not hugely different from this place where I was from. I wasn't just from where that immediately, directly was at that time. I was also from the Cape, and we went there, and that was part of that summer, too. And in that spot I was equally at home and equally myself. I just felt like myself there. It was right. I was where I should be. The same as when we went into Boston. The understanding, the knowledge, as if they had always been there. They didn't arrive; they existed. I could feel them. With such a calm, inevitable certainty.

It was a form of self-awareness suggestive of other things. Place is a very big thing, but there are bigger. Internal places, for instance, are among them.


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