The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Naptime with Mrs. Melville

July 30, 2015 | by

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A portrait of Maria Gansevoort Melville by Ezra Ames, ca. 1815.

Yesterday we posted Rick Moody’s introduction to Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, a searching 1965 novel by Paul Metcalf in which he grapples with the influence of his great-grandfather, who so happened to be Herman Melville.

Metcalf makes liberal use of Melville throughout the novel, often quoting his work for paragraphs or pages at a stretch. He also inserts his own asides, and one of these in particular I’ve found striking. “I think, for a moment,” he writes,

of Maria Melville, Herman Melville’s mother, who, it is reliably reported, would require her eight children to sit on little stools around her bed, motionless, while she took her daily nap, that she might keep track of them.

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No Bad Things

July 15, 2015 | by

Growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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Illustration: Thomas Tait

From the ages of twelve to fifteen, I went through an obsessive-compulsive rigmarole before bed every night. The process demanded a minimum of two hours filled with concentrated touching, blinking, gulping, repetitive thinking, and chanting. If I botched any part of this strict routine, or if I was interrupted, I’d have to start the whole ordeal again, often tacking on an extra hour.

When I finished, I’d tuck myself into a sleeping bag under my covers, even during the most humid summer nights. I did all this out of fear: if I didn’t adhere to my compulsions, I thought, I would be brutally murdered in the middle of the night by a nonspecific being, or snakes would slither up my bedpost from beneath the frame and bite the soft spots between my toes. I used the heatstroke-friendly sleeping bag to “protect” my vulnerable digits.

Even then, I understood that my compulsions didn’t make sense. Many people with OCD are aware of the irrationality of their compulsions. But our behavior and our habits are governed by an internal system, a logic engineered to quell fear and anxiety so we can operate within our skulls and in the outside world. These rules, mind games, and habits are reinforced through practice. They become a way of life. Read More »

Mister Sun

June 19, 2015 | by

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Albert Anker, Portrait of a Boy, nineteenth century.

Like many small children, my brother was an accomplished con artist. And as is often the case with little boys, his manipulations were most effective when applied to his mother. I can particularly recall one bit of business he’d pull between the ages of about three and five, when we were at the market and he didn’t feel like walking. He’d gaze up at her beseechingly, bat his eyelashes, and simper, “I’ll carry your bundles if you carry me!”

By this point, I had decisively lost my looks: at seven I was a scrawny, buck-toothed gnome with a waxen complexion and a mullet, usually stalking around in pantaloons and a sunbonnet. Charlie, on the other hand, was still cherubic. Read More »

Say Your Prayers

June 18, 2015 | by

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Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie the Pooh in 1928.

Christopher Robin Milne’s first two memoirs, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees, are in the canon of great ambivalence books. Perhaps you’ve read that Christopher Robin, as A. A. Milne’s son and muse, grew to loathe his fame and the hordes of Pooh fanatics who stalked him even as an adult. (Milne fils supported himself as a successful bookseller; all the royalties went into a trust fund for his disabled daughter.) “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders,” he wrote, “that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

But the books don’t read as an angry indictment so much as an attempt to grapple with his condition. Yes, there’s some record straightening—but the author’s sense of frank exploration is sympathetic, and it feels honest. Although he’d ultimately detach from his remote parents, his feelings are complex, and he describes his experiences with sensitivity and nuance. Milne died in 1996; in later life, he’d even come to embrace his father’s legacy, gamely showing up at the occasional official event coming to appreciate the love of nature bestowed by his Sussex childhood. Read More »

Queen o’ the May

May 1, 2015 | by

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The Elfin May-Pole, a Mardi Gras float design for Krewe of Proteus, New Orleans, 1887.

The other day, I received the sweetest note from an old neighbor of my family’s commenting on the beauty of spring in the town where I grew up. She recalled something I’d done many years ago: “The first year I lived here, you walked up and down the street, perhaps alone, perhaps with a friend, on May 1, to celebrate May Day. Perhaps you left a little bunch of flowers by my door?”

Perhaps I did. In any case, I’m going to guess that I was alone. I can’t imagine anyone joining me in this practice. I’d like to say it was rooted in some precocious notion of workers’ solidarity, but in fact my touchstone was more Kate Greenaway than International Socialism. (Especially given the maypole and hurdy-gurdy I requested for my eighth birthday.) Read More »

Shying

January 27, 2015 | by

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Hermann von Kaulbach, Die Schuchterne, 1909.

One of the great sacrifices of adulthood is giving up shyness. Even if it’s been a defining characteristic since childhood, a constant companion through early life, at a certain point it is a luxury we cannot afford. So far as the world is concerned, we are all outgoing, delighted to be here, happy to see you. We can’t run away when we get to the door.

There are moments that change our lives. Sometimes big, conscious decisions, other times a word, a missed train, the last five minutes of a party. I can only remember one such, consciously. It was reading a quote by Penelope Keith: “Shyness is just egoism out of its depth.” Read More »