The best part about reading fiction, maybe any book, is the way a wonderful writer stays in your head. For a few days after finishing a book, it feels like I have some special goggles on, still half in the world of the novel.
This weekend it was Miranda July’s The First Bad Man, and let me tell you, these are some goggles. People either love or hate July. You may know her film Me and You and Everyone We Know, or her book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You. Like Lena Dunham’s Girls, July presents such a quirky, vulnerable perspective, the normally filtered out right there on the page, pushed to incredible extremes that nevertheless hit home. The protagonist of the book, Cheryl, is full of anxieties and delusions, but works hard to maintain a polite veneer. The situations keep escalating, yet ultimately it’s a comedy—an excruciating one, but nobody’s irreparably hurt.
In a more realistic plotline, the narrator Cheryl is suddenly caring for a new baby, overwhelmed and exhausted by the child’s feeding schedule. She realizes she’s spent 20 years in narrow, constrained routine when she didn’t have to, but now she has no choice and panics, wallows, rants. July writes:
“But as the sun rose I crested the mountain of my self-pity and remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway. What did it really matter if I spent it like this—caring for this boy—as opposed to some other way? I would always be earthbound; he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or to liver forever… If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have? These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt.”
Of course this passage I felt directly—I am being shaped into a new person parenting my kids. But much of The First Bad Man was not biographically close at all and still felt real. It is outrageous, smutty, shocking, and hilarious. Reading it is uncomfortable, scorching, funny. I can’t help but love Miranda July’s kooky, sad characters and feel that some part of me I might not wish people to see has been laid open on the page.
In other words, it’s a weird weekend to try to switch to being a Superbowl-watching family.
I thought it would be easy. We saw the World Series by accident, but the kids really got into it. And Shayla’s been loving basketball at school so much, we went to see the Cal Women’s team play Arizona a few weeks ago. With the help of an interpreter, I understood a lot of what was going on. I guess I imagined we were sports fans now.
I stocked up on trashy game food, telling Shayla about the ritual of decadent snacks during the game. “Oh,” she said, “it’s like the Oscars of Football?” I was startled to hear that, but of course I shouldn’t have been, we’re the ones who taught her about the importance of the Oscars.
You know what’s coming now. Jay fell asleep, and couldn’t be roused as the game started. The cable went on and off in weird bursts, dropping the sound. Jaden decided he wanted to see a video of a concert Grandma Mary and Grandpa Ted sent him for Christmas, so he was out. By the time the first pickup truck appeared in an ad, I knew I was faking it. I stayed in there until Katy Perry’s halftime (I liked the sharks and palm trees), but none of us cared enough to keep watching. I don’t get the game. I worry about brain injuries. I didn’t even like the team logos very much.
We finished the chicken wings and shrimp cocktail and turned the TV off. I took the dog for a walk. The moon was gorgeous.
I might have completely transformed my life in the last few years, but I’m still me. Being a parent is nonstop, overwhelming, fun, exhausting, you’re never alone; yet life can still be lonely. We’re the only 2-dad family at our school, true, awash in a whole new culture. But I can still sing the complete soundtrack of Hello Dolly, Cats, Les Mis, Rent, and Caroline or Change half asleep. Did I really imagine I could switch to “hut, hut, hut?”
As Miranda July would say, much of our time will be spent letting go of things we thought we wanted.