We were listening to a couple Garrison Keillor rambles from Lake Wobegon on YouTube awhile back. I used to listen to him pretty regularly on Prairie Home Companion, though I held back some because I felt that he wouldn’t have existed without Jean Shepherd as predecessor, the man who established that kind of storytelling on radio, out of New York, in the ’50s.
But these newer segments of Keillor’s set me off on a different thought direction. He was talking about his childhood, early teenhood mostly, and I found myself wondering why his generalizations sounded “off.” Fine stories, certainly, quiet rumbles of humor, but they didn’t resonate with me.
Then I realized that it was because nothing I’ve read, heard or been told about growing up reflects how I lived my childhood.
In these silly conglomerations that I’ve been sending out over the last few years, I’ve said much – maybe too much – about growing up, about my family. Do I think it all means something, goes somewhere, explains anything?
Mostly I’ve just been cleaning my internal attic.
What I really think is that, at the most basic level, my childhood was empty, almost without incident, that it included nothing memorable – neither good nor bad. It was a vacancy so personal I can’t relate to what anyone else extols as the essence of “growing up.”
My childhood had no essence. As a kid, I was never mistreated, yet enjoyed little. I didn’t love or hate my parents (did love my big brothers), had no friends, was terrified of the world because everything in it was foreign to me, masturbated heavily before I had any knowledge of sex, listened incessantly to the radio (the source of all drama and romance in those far-away days) but read little, had no creative urge. I existed, if you’d call it that, abstracted from the world.
I was not someone or thing that could be identified, labeled or placed. I was a lone non-embodiment outside life. I’m making no complaint, just amazed that the Keillor aftermath may have been the first time I’d put my finger on what I experienced so differently from any tale of childhood I’ve seen rendered in print or exemplified in film.
Mot likely, someone has written something that would resonate if I should happen to run across it (I avoid most memoirs, precisely because they read like a foreign language). Or those who have known something similar may have had better sense: Is it worthwhile to publicly extirpate yourself from common existence? What does such deep solipsism add to the sum of what’s workable in the world?
After my childhood, what changed? When I graduated from Penn, I had no idea of work, no idea of society, no idea how anything in the supposed human realm fit together. I didn’t understand any of it. I was a temporally elongated waif.
And how much have I changed in these receding (not declining) years?
I still, still want to know if my child hood was something inexplicable, something so extraordinary, in outlook, that it can never be conveyed. And I certainly don’t feel part of today’s piss-poor, boring excuse of a world, this pseudo-armageddon, the Earth become T.S. Eliot’s whimper personified.
Should I stand trembling in my socks because people will die? News Flash: All people will die. If some of us die sooner… I’m 82, with clogged arteries and four stents, good for another decade if I eat the right food and carefully avoid enjoying anything. My back hurts if I walk too far, sit too long, lie down too long or stand up too long. If I get this current blundering imitation plague, I have a roughly 6% chance of dying from it. But hey, that leaves me a rollicking 94% chance of not dying from it! I’d take those odds to the racetrack and put my money down.
But shouldn’t I be serious about this present universal catastrophe, this temptation at oblivion?
I refuse. As I type I’m listening to a station playing jazz and they interrupt to tell me that a live stream about this fucking virus will air in 15 minutes. Can there be anyone alive who hasn’t already had this dissociating bullshit ladled over their heads from waking to sleep?
So perhaps I can point to an obvious connection between my non-comprehending youth and my dissipated dissolution. But I still can’t describe it. I can only say that I don’t now feel – don’t want to feel– part of what humanity looks like to me.
Maybe in my old age that crushing state of discombobulated confused has been turned on its head. I fear silly little things as much as I ever did (“why didn’t the cat come in?”), but I don’t share the worldwide terror of a mediocre plague. Go ahead, shake my hand, stand next to my shoulder in line, breathe your noxious vapors on me, cough on my banknotes as I hand them to the cashier (whom I really do worry about), wish me to the devil (“ha ha, Mr. Satan, I don’t believe in you, your bad luck”).
What I most fear is humanity’s own pointless, well-stoked fear turned not only against immigrants and aliens, but against our neighbors and prodigy, who carry the seeds of our species’ destruction.
I really, really don’t want my friends to die. But as for my own almost existence – so what? For the last half-century, I’ve wanted to be the greatest writer in all of history – not expecting to be, not hoping to be, but wanting to be, with all my evil heart. That was the aim – but one I have not done a single deliberate thing to advance.
Instead, I’ve produced a few self-published books that no one reads, and now I wonder why I should contribute a jot, tittle or humping camel’s effusions to the human race.
My only hope – a decreasingly narrow one – is that our species, beleaguered by the constraints of evolution, might learn enough to stave off this current mild-mannered calamity – and avoid the far larger one waiting to exterminate us while we wee-wee ourselves.
Note: all of the above is a reflection of my galloping negativity. None of it is directed, dear friend, at you.
Harf, snord, spriggle, giffuniegash, slefferfungus…
Sorry, it’s difficult to type seriously while laughing up my sleeve.