There was a very ugly episode at the dog park yesterday--two, actually.
There are two dog parks in the North End. One is this bootleg, sketchy park over a tunnel that takes you to the airport. The other is very nice, right by where the Brink's job occurred, what was, at the time--it may still be, actually--the biggest robbery in American history. There is a film about the heist. The place that was robbed, which looks exactly the same now, is presently a parking garage. There is a playground adjacent to it, which is also in the film. This playground has a terrace above it; you climb up what's kind of an urban rock face, and at the top is Copp's Hill Burying Ground.
Emma and I were at Cafe Dello sport discussing the Who and pirate radio, and how New Order transitioned from Joy Division after Ian Curtis's suicide, with their very early setlist being a hodgepodge of JD and NO and all of the members of the band taking turns singing. I have so much to do, things keep getting worse, every week is literally life or death at this point--life and death hang in the balance. I climbed the Monument ten times on Saturday, and ten times again on Sunday. I have met a smart, quite beautiful, documentary filmmaker, who is more interesting than anyone I've met in a while, so while I'm not sanguine, necessarily, in these instances--uncommon though they are--I am curious, and something great would be great. I will share a very frustrating encounter I had with someone else later. An encounter which encapsulates a central problem--one of the main problems--in my career, life, and personal life.
But back to our story.
Emma texted me and asked if I wanted to go somewhere. I had been planning to walk seven more miles (I had walked three, in addition to the ten climbs), and I could do that with Emma. Certain walks have different purposes. I have so much work going right now, I could afford to take a walk without composing a great deal in my head, though just because I'm walking with someone doesn't mean I'm not composing.
Emma, though, likes to bail on walks. She walks quickly and has an impressive pace considering she's five foot tall, but we scarcely go a mile and she's done. We were walking along the harbor, so I said, "okay, let's just sit for a bit," because I was not in the mood for querulousness, and I can tell when it's about to mount, so we did that with our feet dangling over a pier. Then she wanted to go to the cafe, so back we went. We were walking again after, when we got to the nice dog park, where Emma's mom, Susan, was with Benny.
The dog park is elevated--it's up on that terrace. Prior to it being installed here--there are fences with keypad locks to keep people out after hours--it was a bad place. Broken glass, needles. Lord knows how many drug deals went down here. (It's around the corner from where a very famous mob bust went down, which is itself around the corner from a place where mob hits were carried out, and where I worked when that space became a vintage movie poster store; I'd be there late night, by myself, filling orders of James Bond and E.T. one sheets, in this place where all of these people were executed.) This is a fancy dog park, with ridges and metal slides for dogs to climb. Susan would be the first to admit--she'll just tell you--that she and her husband have no clue what they are doing as parents. She's a math teacher. Smart. But let's say eccentric. Not really a planner. Flighty, but witty. They have the one child. It's a good thing that child is Emma, and at the same time, their, let's say, creative, parenting style has helped foster her individuality. So it has worked out well. Maybe wouldn't have gone so well if Emma had a sibling. Throw in the fact that Emma is smarter than everyone. When a kid is smarter than everyone, in can be a case of, "What do we do with this kid?" You're not on the kid's wavelength. As a kid, I was this way, as you would imagine. Much more so than Emma is, but I get what it's like for her, with a scaled-down, but real, version.
The dog is not neutered. Which is why he's aggressive with other dogs, and, as I jokingly said in another post, tries to hump everything. You might recall the letter I wrote when the building board was suing Emma's parents, and a therapist was involved, about this whole emotional support dog thing for Emma's depression and anxiety. They wanted the dog out of the building because protocol was not followed, I wrote the letter, the lawsuit was dropped, the dog has to be trained. He's about halfway through that training course, as I understand. Realize, if you don't already, that what I'm almost always doing is writing work for the ages and also hopefully the short term future, battling to get somewhere in a system where I am hated and suppressed, trying to remain alive, and climbing the Monument. I do nothing else. Well, I go to films, museums, concerts, ballets, but that's also art-related. In those moments of walking from this horrible apartment to the store, or when I'm working at the cafe, I'll encounter Emma then. Or when I'm going to take a walk around the block at night, instead of just doing that, I'll go with her to the dog park. I feel like I can help her in those brief moments, and that is something I can do for someone right now.
I ask Susan every time I see her if the dog has his appointment to get fixed yet, because this is going to be a problem. Well, the problem hit yesterday. Emma and I walked up the terrace to say hello to her mom. We were sitting in lawn chairs, a ways from where the dogs were playing, when a scene from White Fang busted out. Benny was literally trying to kill this bulldog, and the bulldog, in self-defense, was trying to kill him back. I'd never seen dogs go at it like this in person. Or anywhere, really. In movies? I guess in movies. Actually, that would be dogs attacking people, not other dogs. They got stuck together--they were trying to rip out each other's necks. Some guy reached in and tried to get them apart. This took a while, because they would not give up the death battle. Emma was laughing. I turned to her, and said, "You can't be laughing right now. This is serious. This is dangerous." It's her family's fault. Dogs are in danger, owners are in danger. This was bad enough that one dog could have clipped a vein in another dog's throat, and killed it, or a dog might have swiped at a human and taken out an eye. It was bad.
Susan should have taken the dog home after this, made the appointment, but I guess she figured it was a one-off, and then it happened again with a different dog, and Emma started to laugh once more, and I told her to knock it off. Then I said to Susan that the dog had to go, he was a danger, he couldn't come back to this dog park until he was neutered. I was going to go up to Copp's Hill to walk around the old cemetery--one of the oldest in the country, and quite beautiful--and I asked Emma if she wanted to come, but she wanted no part of that.
Cut to a few hours later. I'm at the Starbucks working, and I discover that I have one of Emma's drawing pens in my pocket. I cannot believe that I am this guy now, albeit temporarily, in a substitute-y, informal way, but she'll ask me to hold stuff when we are out. Her phone, her pens, her colored pencils. She always has a writing or drawing notebook with her, and she always carries that herself. So I tell her that I will bring it by later, when I'm back in the building. And she texts me saying, "You can just keep it."
Oh dear. You know where this is going.
She sent me a few other texts, being very gingerly, and then after about an hour, I get this:
E: are you mad at me?
Someone once said to me that I write about children better than anyone ever has, in their view. I'm confident in that assessment. Consider, if you've bought the book already, "The Cape Path," the first story in Buried on the Beaches. Or "First Responder" from the VQR. "Hold Until Relieved" from Boulevard. Or "Find the Edges" from Harper's, or "Pikes and Pickerels" from Commentary. "Last Light Out" in Glimmer Train. "Country Miles" in Between Cloud and Horizon. The way I do things, the volume I do them in, being equally comfortable with characters of all ages, genders, backgrounds, I of course write works with every kind of person in them, and maybe you could say every kind of ghost, too.
But I don't have kids, and I likely never will. I want to devote every existing moment to art, the creation of and the immersion in, and the person I am with, when I am out of this situation that is worse than hell, if I get out of it. Then my friends, if I have any, all my interests. The studying of Stone Roses bootlegs. The Get Back sessions. All of the Pepys journals. Every last Van Gogh letter. The entirety of Orson Welles's radio output. I just wouldn't be interested in having a kid. It wouldn't crack my top one million passions. And if that's the case, it wouldn't be right to have one. I think a lot of times people have them because they have nothing else and they don't know what to do. People don't know what purpose is. Kids provide the instant coffee version of purpose. I know that sounds harsh. But I think people don't know how to bring a lot of meaning into their lives, and kids are a readymade fix. To be honest, I don't know if I know more than a few people, if that, who had kids for any other reason.
I don't doubt, for some of these people, what their children mean to them. But I also don't know what they would have done for any semblance of purpose without having had them. I also know that when you find purpose in so many areas, let alone one giant, massive, life-calling purpose that you devote your entire being to, for which you have been given seemingly unique, potentially world-changing abilities, people can be threatened by that.
So often we measure ourselves not through that which we are, but how we view ourselves in comparison to others. When people do this with me, that form of mensuration can induce resentment. Which is ironic, given that I am so miserable right now, and these people are infinitely less so. Even if they have not attained true happiness. Who does? It's rare. But I know I am so primed and ready and set-up to know the fullest, truest happiness, given who I have become, given what I can do, given what I have to give, given what I can receive, when I am out of this situation.
I told my friend Heather--who is thirty-one, with two kids of her own--about this little exchange, and I thought I would share it here after seeing her response.
C: No, of course not Emma. I know you laugh sometimes when you’re anxious as a defense mechanism.
E: nOw im cheerful again
C: I don’t get angry at you. But sometimes I have to say things so you can keep them in mind and work on them for the next time. Okay? You know I love you. You can just ask me next time. I know you thought I was upset with you. These are separate things. And I’m always going to be your friend. I promise.
E: I LOVE YOU TOO
E: promises dont work unless you pinkie promise
E: tomorrow you need to pinkie promise
People gun for me. Toxic people gun for me. Envious people gun for me. People consumed by self-loathing gun for me. People with no ability gun for me. People who talk about writing but never write gun for me. People who have everything handed to them without having earned any of it gun for me when I legitimately earn things that a lot of people are also trying to keep me from. They gun for me in various ways.
A few years ago I was engaged to a violinist. I made a dreadful mistake. She was a remorseless, emotionally vacant, user of her fellow human beings who was most comfortable with being used herself, a person of no character. I made a mistake. She was smarter than other people in terms of the language she could deploy. And in the past, that made me take chances on people I knew, in all actuality, I should not be taking chances on. Because I was so starved for intelligence. Intelligence enough for me. Not on my level. Not near my level. But above a certain level. We all have our baselines, for various things. But I did care for her. That was certainly true. Anyway, someone--and I found out who; it was not hard--wrote her parents a note saying that I was a misogynist. My character is self-evident. Do I have my flaws? Yes. I am not good at indulging fools. I will not last long pretending you are smart, if you're not. I just don't put myself in those positions. I couldn't be at the bar every night with the gang, unless it was a rarified gang. I can go into any party, with any kind of group of people, and be funny and charming. But that's just words. I can do anything I want with words, instantly. I just have to decide to. I can flip the word switch, I can flip the art switch, any single time I wish. But I couldn't repeat that party very often. (I like the idea of being in a world where me, Socrates, Dylan, Shakespeare, Maupassant, John Clare, Billie Holiday, Orson Welles, Cezanne, gather at the end of the work day at our local tavern, and compare what we each created that day, and then "chill," as they say, for an hour or two, then go back home to rest up to create more tomorrow. That's my paradise. Well, part of it. My paradise is also getting what I deserve with my work, meeting the right person, and seeing her each morning in Rockport in that particular one of my houses, and creating more work, knowing it is going to have a direct pipeline to the world I am altering through it.) What an evil thing that was to do. I had means to avenge this. I didn't act on them. I will if it happens again.
And the mother of this person I was engaged to--who didn't know she was a drinking during the morning, and doing various things she was doing which I will not go into here, things that came to an end, as she entered a better place with me--said to her daughter that yes, that's what I was. And I have no doubt this woman went back to everything she'd been doing before, in what was tantamount to a double life, and is in a worse way than ever before now. Not because of the absence of my salutary presence; but because that's how things were going, that's how she was. No real friends, because of no real outward identity. I think about that remark, though, from time to time. People see who I am on here, or in the large-heartedness of my vast body of work, in my spirit, my compassion, my strength, my will, my purpose, my empathy, what I'm about, how I live my life in the hardest of periods, a protracted period. Thus far, because there is a lot to me, there's been, I don't know, less than a fraction of a percent of me visible on here. I will write these pages--and hopefully they will reflect how much my life and fortunes have changed--until the day I die, whenever that may be. And more and more of me will come through.
To wrap up this little tale...as I have said, Emma is bi. She wants to go to the Pride Parade next weekend. None of her friends are gay or bi, so they won't go with her, though I am sure plenty of straight people go. Next Saturday at the Brattle, Citizen Kane is playing in 35mm. I have never seen it on the big screen on real film, and I told Emma that she should not miss this, it's a rare chance to experience one of the greatest works of art in the way you were meant to. She's been excited about this--we had a talk about deep focus and blocking and perspective, and how that pertains to her drawings. So guess who is taking his little neighbor to both the Pride Parade and Citizen Kane on Saturday?
We live in a small neighborhood. It was the first neighborhood in America. 100 yards away from our building, is Paul Revere's house. Even closer is a church--a bethel--little changed in a couple hundred years, where Herman Melville sat at a service and came up with the idea for Father Mapple in Moby-Dick, where Dickens attended mass, and Poe, and Thackeray, and where one Colin Fleming, on March 21, 2012, happened to write the first story of Dark March, his first book, which was also the first story he wrote entirely in his head. I feel like a lot changed in my life that day, and a lot changed in the course of art. And hopefully the world gets to find out about it. The Starbucks is a spot everyone passes through in a neighborhood like this. Emma's teachers come in. You know a lot of people here, they know you, everyone knows the local characters. The eighty-year-old woman with her faced covered in tattoos (a bootleg dog park regular, and also a very nice lady). The woman who, if the temperature is above sixty, is tanning at the wading pool smoking a Marlboro and has turned herself the color of a spoiled avocado.
Emma's principle came in, I guess, and saw Emma sitting with me one day. Now, picture what my set-up looks like. There are stacks of books, in two or three columns; papers everywhere, notes everywhere. The principle later asked Susan who was that man with her daughter. Wonderful. That's all I need, Larry Law turning up and asking, "What's your relation to this girl, sir?" We were all together over the weekend, and I asked Susan what she said when she was sharing this anecdote. "I said you were a famous author, a member of our family, and Emma's mentor, and you have helped get her in a place that we have not seen her in for a long time. She's happy." That actually meant a lot to me. Which prompts the sly look I was anticipating from Emma, who then says, "When you are very famous, and everyone in the world knows your name, if you have made me look bad, I am going to find you, and you'll probably be lying out on a beach in Hawaii, and I will track you down, and I will throw hands."
I told her that I would expect nothing less.