Posts Tagged ‘parents’
January 16, 2015 | by Javier Marías
The perils of growing up surrounded by books.
This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Threepenny Review. They’re celebrating with Table Talk from the Threepenny Review, a new book collecting a hundred essays from their Table Talk column—a casual, intellectually curious series first launched by Leonard Michaels in 1990, with subjects ranging from Emily Dickinson and rats to prominent holes in Kansas. This piece, by Javier Marías, appeared in their Winter 2011 issue.
Like all the other apartments I’ve ever lived in, the apartment in which I spent my childhood was full of books. However, the word full doesn’t really come near the truth; neither do the words crammed or crowded, because not only was every wall covered with shelves (each of which was packed with volumes from every imaginable century), but the books also sometimes served as rugs, tables, sofas, chairs, and even, almost, beds. I don’t mean that there was no furniture in the apartment and that we sat on piles of books or ate from other still taller piles—with a consequent disquieting sensation of constant instability—but that the rugs, tables, sofas, seats, and even beds were often buried beneath vast tomes: for example, the complete and very abundant works of the late-Renaissance philosopher Francisco Suárez. I remember those in particular because, on one occasion, I had to wrestle for hours with the philosophers Suárez and Condillac in order to make a large enough space on the floor to play with my toy soldiers. Bear in mind that my size at the time (I was seven or eight) didn’t really equip me for the easy removal of those large seventeenth- or eighteenth-century volumes obstructing my innocent games.
In fact, for myself and my three brothers, the house was one long obstacle course, almost two hundred yards long, the obstacles always taking the form of books. That is why, from an early age, I became used to negotiating the words of the great philosophers and writers, with the inevitable result that I have a deep-rooted lack of respect for anyone who writes, myself included. It still surprises me when I see how other people (especially politicians and commentators) kowtow to writers or else fight to appear in photos accompanied by some scribe or other, or when the state rushes to give succor to ailing, ruined poets, privileging them with a treatment that only heaps humiliation on equally ruined or ailing street cleaners, businessmen, waiters, lawyers, and cobblers. My scant respect for the trade to which I belong (from the most ancient of academicians to the most youthful of libelists) derives from a childhood home in which, as I have said, I grew used to mistreating and misusing almost all the seminal texts from the history of culture. Having too much respect for the kind of individuals who partially soured my childhood and invaded the territory occupied by my thrilling games of bottle-top soccer would seem to me masochistic in the extreme. Read More »
November 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Some of the poems in The Cheer revolve around a single, central, and somewhat mysterious idea. I’m thinking of poems like “Parents”…
I’d love to tell you the story about “Parents” because it occurred one time after I’d gone to a Thanksgiving dinner where a couple I’m very fond of had three surviving parents. The three parents seemed to me valid, charming, interesting people, about my own age, and to their children they seemed, as parents normally do, embarrassing, stupid, tedious, albeit lovable. I saw my friends suffering and I remembered such suffering. The poem says essentially, “It is in the nature of things that one’s own parents are tacky, and this should give you compassion because your children will find you tacky.” The poem came out of that particular experience.
—William Meredith, the Art of Poetry No. 34, 1985
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.
The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.
They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.
Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.
They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.
It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them
The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.
Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.
This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,
they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,
how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,
taking the last link
of that chain with them.
Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.
June 9, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Not long ago, I happened to pop into a candy store to buy a bag of Dutch licorice shaped like wooden shoes. “That’s a big bag,” said the girl who works there, indicating my burdens. “What’s in it?”
“Oh,” I said, “some antidepressants and a Snuggie.”
I think it was the saddest sentence I’ve ever uttered. The Snuggie was for my dad, but even so.
The next weekend, I went home to visit my parents. We went to some concert they wanted me to see. It was a rainy, blustery day, and I was dressed in my favorite pair of high-waisted windowpane-check wool trousers, which I got at a thrift store about five years ago. My dad met me at the train station. “What interesting pants, Sade,” he said. “They look like something from a nineteenth-century minstrel show.”
The concert in question was part of a free series at a local mansion, endowed by an elderly eccentric. My parents are regulars, but this was my first time. The mansion was liberally sprinkled with oil landscapes and filled with old people. The loner who’s always shooting hoops at the local playground was there. The pianist, who was quite the consummate entertainer, entered in white tie and tails and played some very bravura Liszt. Then he exited and returned in a red velveteen jacket—he played popular tunes, Liberace fashion, in a variety of jazzy styles. He cracked wise and delighted the assembled company. Read More »
December 27, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!
“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.
“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”
“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”
“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”
“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”
“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”
“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.
“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!
I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances. Read More »
August 14, 2012 | by Nica Strunk
When I was twelve and my parents’ marriage was falling apart, my dad explained to me that he never actually wanted to get married and have kids. The only reason he did it, he said, was because it would make him less likely to be drafted into the Vietnam War. It never occurred to him that telling me this might hurt me. He was a successful musician and an esteemed jazz scholar, but he had virtually no ability to sense another person’s feelings. If he were growing up today, his diagnosis would have been obvious: Asperger’s syndrome.
I shrugged this moment off as another instance of my dad’s profound insensitivity, which was so much a part of my foundational world that it didn’t feel shocking. I knew he was clueless about the emotional bonds that connected us, but they were real to me anyway, and reacting would have been pointless. I had watched my mother pour her heart out to him, and he never once heard her. She could never make him understand how the things he did affected her—his charts analyzing how much money she spent on different categories of groceries at the Safeway, his refusal to break his routine when she needed to talk. “Make an appointment,” he told her, and the emotional response that followed didn’t even pass his notice. He didn’t get that channel.