A jewel in the head of a toad
Cultivating an inner life when you have small children
Guion is a much more careful reader than I am.
He thinks through every line he reads, which is also why he is a much slower reader than I am. In this, I praise him. I try to slow down, because in my haste, I often miss a lot. He catches everything. He notices everything. He mulls over everything. He’s a poet, after all. What should I expect? Me, on the other hand: I’m a shell of a journalist. I read dispassionately, like an information hoarder. There are always a thousand more books to be read; I make no time for treasuring something up and pondering it in my heart.
Thus, as you can see, Guion is a far more emotionally rich and compelling human than I am.
However. The consequence of Guion’s thoughtful reading manner is that I hear a lot about what he is reading. I often have to tell him that he must not talk to me when we are both reading. Or that he’s only allowed to interrupt me once every half hour to read me a passage. (A nice threat that I am now able to make is to say that I’m just going to take out my hearing aids. Problem solved!)
When I recommend a book to him, a question I must first ask myself is, “Am I ready to talk about this book for the next six to twelve months?”
Because he is going to read it much more deeply than I ever did, and he is going to find all kinds of mystical resonances in it that I never noticed, and he is going to make me feel like a dunce and a robot at the same time, and these are all things that I am going to have to be OK with.
I tease, lightly, but assigning Guion a book is deeply enjoyable. I then get to experience a beloved book again—and experience it as if I were a smart, emotionally literate person. It’s almost as if he were my translator. He takes the book and says, “Now this is what you would think about this passage if you had more than four feelings,” or, “And here we have a character who is making an emotional connection because of everything that happened in his childhood.”
And I say, “Huh. Wow. Interesting. Now stop talking to me; I’m reading.”
I really like using the phrase cultivating an inner life, because I believe that I will magically have one if I keep talking about it all the time.
What am I talking about when I talk about “the inner life”? At this phase of my existence, in which I cannot eat for more than five seconds at a time without being asked for a cup of milk or a different fork or more baby carrots and hummus, I think I really just mean the ability to have thoughts.
Early motherhood seems to be mostly a suffusion of urges and instincts—the baby needs this, the child wants that, the house needs cleaning or we’ll all die—and there is no time, really, to consider ideas. Of course not; I don’t even think much about my needs; I barely floss my teeth more than once a week. What parent of young children has time for ideas?
I don’t say this in a pitiable, martyr-y way. This is just the work. But I look forward to blank time one day, the time to think again. I get it in snippets, when the boys are napping. On Monday, when offices were closed and it was disquietingly warm, we sat on the back deck and shared a glass of Txakolina and read books while the boys napped and I felt like one million dollars because my brain had a thought in it. A single thought!
Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer
The Infatuations, Javier Marías
Parenting, Paul David Tripp
I Like You, Amy Sedaris