I never quite understood basing your estimation of art, Wuck, on its ability to surprise. I thought I started to when you began coaching me into watching Twin Peaks, especially when holding my hand through Lynch’s extra-Lynchian The Return, 25 years later. You were thrilled not so much by coherence, meaning, but the pure experience of leaning forward on the couch and saying, What the . . . ?! For all your high-mindedness, I wonder if the greatest delight for you is something that undercuts your dispassionate expertise.
Maybe it’s the context of this conversation we’re all having here, but I can’t help but think of a younger part of you, a—I know you’re gonna hate this—purer and simpler, perhaps childish part of you that’s simply tickled by surprises. Whoa! Cool! I suspect your brain rushes to create a neat theory about an artist’s sophistication and intuition breaking normal patterns and innovating or something. But I’m more interested in the uncomplicated delight it brings you.
Murph, for years, has lovingly but sharply poked fun at how out of touch you sometimes appear with simple goodness—or with yourself—due to a distance you keep between your present self and your childhood. You usually respond in irritated but sophisticated fashion, “What IS the true self? I question—” and we’re already off track. So I’ll put it this way: I have never really heard you talk about your childhood.
Murph has shared and reflected on the bliss, loneliness, and mystery of death in his own childhood with a depth that gives me the body bends. Before we started these letters, last year, I shared with you both a very fumbling series of drafts for what I thought was my next project: writing to my toddler son in order to trace the pathway of my life through prisoners, violence, theology, all the way back to my conflicted suburban childhood—how my best friend hung himself in his closet, how my family kept secret my dad’s scalding wrath. My mom’s comic hysteria was easier for people—friends like you both—to see, both a symptom of my family issues and a match that set it off. What I’m saying is that I too need to return to my childhood, to find part of me back there. I need friends, I think, to help me get there.
Much of my healing the past few years has been, essentially, turning towards the little boy that I was—seeing him—both back then and still begging to be known now, here inside me, a balding thirty-eight-year-old man. I think most of my life I’ve tried to protect that little boy by being good—in school, in relationships, in church, whatever. But that’s also been cruel: I don’t allow him to be weak or scared, to fail, drop out, or not have answers. And yet I show infinite embrace to the less-covertly fucked-up peers I find in the local jail, those in gangs, on meth, and in prison. It’s taken years for me to see how I’m giving these reflections of my messier inner self the kind of embrace I don’t know how to give myself. It’s hard work to return to my childhood self, to smile at the little guy inside me I’ve been running from, trying to outpace and lose. I’ve found this blossoming inner kindness to come very close to my <quote-01>brightest moments of prayer<quote-01>.
So that’s some of my work.
The more I think about this, I see that you, Murph, never turned on your inner boy. You <quote-02>never turned away<quote-02>, tried to be someone different. You kept your fucking choochoo-train wallpaper, never hid your nail-biting or board games or bobbleheads. You still play video games and host HeroQuest geek fests at your mother’s dining room table. Basically, I see in you, Murph, the total contrast to guys like Wuck and me. Is this why we love you so much, why you’ve been the natural ring-leader of our fraternity of men-children who keep returning from our adult lives to a space where it’s okay to play games like handball, okay to re-watch Home Alone with mac n’ cheese, to enjoy the glow of Christmas decorations in December? When we get together at your childhood home come summer, we don’t sunbathe or chill with beers; instead we opt for full-contact powerball in the chlorinated pool for hours. You created the space we have all needed to be both boys and men-in-the-making—at the same time.
I’ve never talked about this with any of you.
The closest has been with you, actually, Wuck. On Guy Nights some Christmases, when I sit next to you at the long table, you’ve surprised me with your zealous statements about how important this group of friends is. It’s always made me pause. For most of us, I usually think, this group of high school buddies getting together is just the casual re-living of our suburban boyhoods. Even in high school we stormed elementary school playgrounds at night to play handball while our teenage peers tried to find ways to score alcohol. But I wonder if for you, Wuck, this group was your first childhood, starting in high school. You <quote-03>sing its praises<quote-03> the way Murph does his boyhood.
I could be way off on all this. But what a gift to be corrected by even greater stories.
Can you, then, tell us more about Little Nick Webber before we met him? We know the fun stuff to pantomime, the tame fundamentalism of your parents, <quote-04>mellow and vanilla<quote-04>, the American religion that soon drove you bonkers. But I don’t know much else about that little guy: what he loved, who he was expected to be, who his friends were, how he passed the time.
Pastimes. What a term. This gets me seeing baseball in a new light, as I interrogate you Wuck. The sport, the fandom, the geekery and enthusiasm and complexity—is baseball the ultimate integration of both boyhood and adulthood? Is that why it’s a national pastime? Does it render us children again, marveling wide-eyed at the endless green of the outfield, while simultaneously enabling our beer-drinking, stat-crunching, ever-cussing adulthood? No wonder baseball has such religious power. That’s one hell of an integration, a feeling of healing and holiness every time. The best prayer creates precisely that.
How’s that for a surprise, Wuck?