<quote-01>I can hear something like disdain in your voice, Hoke, when you write above, “I wasn’t waiting my turn to cut and paste something I was crafting on my own all week.”<quote-01>
“Cut and paste,” of course, is the particularly uncomplimentary part, a compound verb meaning in context something like “snub and crowbar.”
And yet, I’ve always likened the polished and presented written word to a marathon run by cut and paste. I can run seventeen marathons, take the best stretch from each, and piece them together for a personal best unachievable on any one day. If I cared less about the two of you as receivers, I’d be content to send off a single day’s race.
Recent global developments have also reminded me how fragile my creative self is. I not only require nearly ideal conditions to be able to sit down and productively write, but I benefit tremendously from momentum, as well. The last ten days of my life—imagine a frantic but tedious montage of me scrolling through Twitter; trying my best not to overreact to every moment’s news; designing and administering a protocol of safety and sanitation to keep the outside world from my elderly mother and asthmatic wife; running, therefore, all of our family’s errands; keeping Kristen from strangling our son who already triggers her anxiety but who is now home indefinitely from preschool; scampering from building to building late Thursday night draining my campus of hand sanitizer before it closed for the semester; setting in place an endless stream of Amazon deliveries; watching Grammar, outrageously bored without preschool, in between or during the classes I’m now teaching from my laptop; curating an online experience for a hundred freshman composition, critical thinking, or introduction to literature students in hopes of still preparing them for their next academic steps forward; learning and implementing new distance education software at mandatory online meetings; grading and corresponding without office hours; diligently eating leftovers and wiping my ass with ingeniously multi-folded squares of toilet paper—simply haven’t allowed me the luxury of such a window until now.
I am reminded also how extraordinarily selfish any creative or intellectual endeavor is. Did I lend to you, Wuck, Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence? That depicts it perfectly. There are also the legendary stories about Proust shutting himself away from the rest of the world during the end of his life. Even as the inevitability of his demise loomed, he cared only for finishing his masterpiece. When called upon for a visit from his closest friends, he remarked simply that he required no further material.
This selfishness exists deep and inflexibly within me, kept at bay only by a rigorously installed dedication to responsibility. Is this dilemma the True Self versus the False Self? I don’t think so. <quote-02>But I also don’t want you, Hoke, to feel like I’m not responding to you in my actual letters<quote-02>.
I think often of Langston Hughes’ “Dream Boogie.” It’s usually read historically, as a poem about the inequality of opportunity for Black folks at the turn of the twentieth century. But I think it works—like most great literature—beyond the boundaries of time and place, as a poem about resentment, about what happens when a person defers his dreams in the name of expectation or obligation. It begins, coincidentally, with the line: “Good morning, daddy!”
Most will tell you how happy they are that you’re becoming a father, Wuck. I’ll say it too eventually, I imagine. But I’m also sad.
Love you guys. My day’s race is run.