Thursday, December 08, 2011

Writing About Not Writing: The Empty Set

This is a post about not writing. It is not a post about writer's block. Enough has been written about that already. It is a post about people saying to me, "Hey, you should write about this, or you should write about that," and me saying, "Meh, I really don't want to," or "Maybe later," and this happening often enough that I begin to wonder why I'm not wanting to write so much and then deciding a good way to answer that question, which is a legitimate one, is to write about it.

So the basic question is, why the hell am I not writing about being a dad and stuff? I look back and see my last solid post, about Jr. and a balloon, was almost six months ago. I say solid, meaning not some kind of polemical thing intended to touch a cultural nerve and get people all pissed off and leave a million comments and maybe get the attention of the New York Times, or some random deposit of verbiage excreted by whatever onanistic satyr happened to frolic in my head that day, but a piece about life with children from a man's point of view that really reaches for some kind of truth.

A few reasons come to mind. Practical considerations can get in the way. I've been sick. In and out of the hospital. That will sap you of the will and ability to write more completely than anything I know. A couple of times when I was on really high-end morphine to kill the pain I started having really disturbing dreams and thought, "Hey, you should write about that." Then I came out of it and thought, "I'm not Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs or William Blake or Thomas de Quincy, who the hell needs to know about what my brain decided to do after four days on morphine when the anesthesiologist told me I had "mild hospital psychosis" because the walls were talking to me? I went days without seeing my kids and that sucked, so what was there to write about if this is a blog about life with children from a man's point of view? Etc. etc.

But if you really have something to say, as all real writers do, you overcome shit like this. You write your unfinished symphony as you expire from tuberculosis knowing that your literary and musical friends will celebrate the publication of your score or verses or novel in the blazing light of the funeral pyre upon which your corpse is cremated on the beach at Viareggio. That's just the way it is. So there has to be a deeper reason. Hospital psychosis is not sufficient.

So when we get down to the deeper reasons, the emotional, existential, psychological ones, two seem most prominent. The first is the way the blogosphere, and maybe even the culture, is changing. The second is the way my family has changed.

How the blogosphere has changed: When I started doing this, I was alone in the house with an infant feeling overwhelmed and isolated the way every new parent does. I also felt a tad self-conscious about being a father who was staying home to take care of the kids. For all these reasons, plus the fact that I just tend to write about stuff, Daddy Dialectic was the perfect outlet. So I started telling these little stories that are variations on themes that, in some ways, are as old as the pyramids, or the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Were there other dads out there doing the same thing? Sure. You get a little community feeling from chatting with them. Some write stuff I like, some is not to my taste - no matter, let a thousand flowers bloom, I say - but I wasn't writing for other bloggers. I was writing for myself and for some unspecified lector or lectrice who kind of knew what I was talking about. Maybe this world wide web thing could bring us together in the anonymous, Platonic act of reading. That was, and still is, enough.

But a little while ago I looked around and thought wow, this has become an industry. It's a niche, the way there are niches for model rocket builders and stamp collectors and mercenaries and bondage fetishists. There are a million blogs by dads about life with children from a man's point of view. There are conferences in convention hotels, there are short films and documentaries and YouTube videos and rock songs and interviews on news shows; there are websites that rank the best websites, the blogs with the most hits, the funniest ones, the most progressive or the most Christian; there are debates about how to make dad blogs as popular as mom blogs (ex.: "How can we get men to leave more comments?") or about how to sell shit on your dad blog; there are blogs that are beautifully produced and customized like glossy lifestyle magazines featuring only three or four people; there are blogs by some famous dude who happens to have a kid and then instantly begins to write famously for the New Yorker or Rolling Stone about all the things everyone else has written about in a less famous way.

I look at this and think, Jesus Christ, how many times can someone write about changing diapers? Though this consideration does not seem to affect the general output of mom bloggers, which is like some kind of eternal, geological geyser, I admit that the geometric explosion of the dad-o-sphere leaves me wondering whether or not it is all rather trivial, and whether I have myself helped to perpetuate the triviality. There's a solution to that, which is to get more and more niche, to write about being a parent from more and more particular angles - black, Asian, gay, infertile, whatever - and that's all good but still at some point you run into the problems listed above, or the fact that, being none of the above, I should shut up. The world is going to hell, as you may have noticed; maybe we should start thinking more consistently about some of the reasons for why that is? Why are we spending so much time writing about being parents? Because we are not writing about Revolution? About God? About the conquest of Nature through science? Or self-liberation in the the endless play of Eros? Or because, in reality, we have control over so little else in out-of-joint world?

Don't feel like you have to answer those questions. They're the same ones I've been asking myself for a while now. 

How my family has changed: The truth of the matter is, this is probably the biggest reason for not writing, and everything above is just grumpiness. We've adopted a daughter. I shared this impending development with Daddy Dialectic readers a while ago, and thought at the time that I would keep readers apprised of the entire experience as it unfolded, as many adoptive parents do. What happened is just the opposite.

For whatever reason, going through the adoption process has made me much more protective, much more circumspect, about the narration of my family life. When Spot was born, I wanted to talk about it, and people wanted to hear about it. When we adopted Squeaky, it became much more problematic. People still want to hear about it, but I'm not sure I want to tell them. Why not? I'm not sure. But it's a different ball game with Squeaky. She had a life before us, albeit not a terribly long one. She has biological parents out there somewhere. There are things about her situation that I feel should be disclosed at her discretion only, when she is mature enough to be aware of them, something which I feel is less of an issue for Jr. I knew Jr. when he was a zygote, I saw him come out of the womb, I helped to keep him alive from the very first hours. There is less of a blank space between us, we are more closely entwined, I exercise the right to speak for him with more confidence.

Not so, with Squeaky. I don't own her experience the way I own Jr.'s. Not that I actually say much about Jr, really; most of it is about what I think about Jr.'s experience. It's all about me. So he's safe. But I have yet to figure out a way to feel that way about Squeaky and her story. It certainly is a story that deserves to be told, but the learning curve of being father to a girl, an orphan, and an institutionalized child from another country with moderate special needs - all at the same time - is rather steep.

There, I wrote something.