Something Heard at Thelma’s Skateland

Has this ever happened to you? You associate a song or a band with a particular era in your life, and so forthwith, whenever that songs is played (and it’s almost always unexpectedly, finding you in the dentist’s chair, for example, with some old 80s ballad falling softly from the overhead speakers, reminding you of a pre-adolescent crush—something you used to hear at Thelma’s Skateland during the ritualized and awkward hand-in-hand skating segment known as “Snowball Couples,” whatever that means), you’re filled with a nostalgia so potent it drives you to seek it out. And now that we have the technology to find exactly what we want and can listen to a band’s entire discography just by paying a small monthly fee, it’s become easy to find any and all songs we might want to hear at any time.

So say you put in the minimal effort of typing a song title into your Spotify app, and then there it is. You listen, and it’s great—it takes you right back to junior high, and memories of those girls or boys you thought you couldn’t live without. You can almost feel yourself slam into the skating rink’s carpeted walls.

But then something else happens: about two-thirds of the way through, the experience falls flat. That potent nostalgia that earlier threatened to floor you completely becomes a little too sweet, a little too artificial. Like a soda made with aspartame, it just isn’t the same. It’s like the song collapses under the weight of the associations you’ve placed on it; like the memory of the song now means more than the song itself. The song has become its own obstacle. Only in the human mind can such transformations occur: old songs defeat themselves, and we remain our own biggest mystery.

Nevertheless, I still find Peter Cetera’s voice compelling, though you’ll never catch me listening to him.

24 November 2017 (about Thanksgiving night)

In one corner of the large, rectangular room, cousins in their twenties reconnect, while in another, the parents of those same young adults slip into the easy familiarity–brothers, sisters, and in-laws, all privy to the old jokes and family stories; thoughts of those who’ve gone on but whose presence remains, bittersweetly.

Even if I was a blood relation, however, I’m not sure the easy familiarity would come, or rather, when it does come, it never stays for long. I’m rarely at ease anywhere outside my house or the few coffee places I haunt. Over the course of my thirties, solitude became the preferred milieu, despite a fairly sociable  teenage and young adult life. I suppose it was the growth of the writer inside. You can roll your eyes at that if you want–it’s fine. I’d rather you not let me see you do it, though, for civility’s sake. Yet this is something that any artist understands: the necessary loneliness. You reach a point where you either give up the call or accept that if you’re going to accomplish anything of value, artistically speaking, then you’re going to be trudging that path alone.

It’s Thanksgiving night, and I’ve found a comfortable chair with a full view of the room.  A few settle nearby–wife, brother-in-laws, father-in-law–those who are naturally close. But across the way is an energetic demographic with whom I won’t share a word the whole night. Some of them, I won’t even make eye contact with. I wonder if they see me as the misanthrope in the corner, which is kind of amusing, but also not exactly how I want to come across. Nevertheless, we can’t control what others think, right? Everyone is friendly; everyone is thoughtful and warm–paragons of virtue, in fact. And I am content to be a spectator, thinking about my various projects, thankful for those I love and for those who love me. I am often alone, but I am never lonely.

Fatherhood: Impressions from Year One

Upon word of our impending addition to the family, many an experienced parent set about assuring me of the joys of fatherhood.  I was grateful for all the well-wishing and good-natured advice, but nothing could have prepared me for the way it actually would feel to welcome my son into the world.  Here was this little person that I knew I would always love, no matter what situations may arise.  I knew this immediately.


I also knew that my perspective had been forever shifted.  Within my orbit, there was now a true dependent–not in the sense that a family member may be listed as a dependent on a tax form, but in the literal sense.  Someone was trusting in me for their security, for mobility, for shelter, for nourishment.  In no way do I intend to downplay my wife’s role in providing these things alongside me–she is the consummate mother, as far as I can tell–but to communicate that this type of necessary provision was a new expectation for me.  On paper, to someone outside the situation, this advanced level of responsibility may be lacking in appeal, but a year of practice has taught me there is a deep satisfaction to be found in the act of providing so much for someone who is capable of so little, and the satisfaction is all the deeper when that someone is your own.


In the initial days of Arthur’s life, there was a barely perceptible quiver at the end of each long cry, a tremulous shudder of sound that would have been easy to miss had I not been in a state of hyper awareness, as I imagine new fathers often are.  His newborn lungs were giving it all the volume they could muster.  It is a mystery as to why this became a point of pride for me, but it did.  There was an identification with this desperate, infantile wail–a heart connection–that apparently was based in nothing more than the fact that he was mine.


Several of his actions would create mysterious heart connections that year:  the spirited shouts of made-up words when he discovered his voice (many of which sounded to me like various forms of “daddy”); the ecstatic smiles he would give from his crib first thing in the morning; the upright angle of his back after he learned to sit on his own; the way his brow would furrow at the serious business of eating a cookie; even the downturned corners of his mouth, sunken deep into his chubby cheeks, as a pout was about to materialize into a full-blown tantrum (so traumatic to him, yet so endearing to me).


At this early stage, it is difficult to resist imagining what Arthur will look like or what he will find interesting when he is older, but I am careful not to let those musings overshadow what a miracle he is right now, at one year of age.  His face brightens when I come home, and sometimes he squeals.  To think that this little boy will soon be calling me Dad, and to think he may even want to be like me one day, fills me with a joy I can hardly contain.  And in case he happens to stumble across this post at a point in the unknowable future, I just want to say, “Arthur, you have made me proud just by being born, and I love you.”