Wednesday, July 23, 2008

my hero


I'm not sure why I never read David Copperfield. Blame professors eager to shake up the Victorian canon. Sure, I knew the hackneyed first chapter title "I am born," and dutifully laughed alongside teachers who made fun of a narrator first person-izing his own birth. But David Copperfield was another generation's "Dickens novel," as Hamlet was another generation's "Shakespeare play." My Shakespeare was Lear, over and over, and my Dickensian narrator was Pip, over and over. At some point public opinion shifted to Great Expectations as THE Dickens to teach, probably because it is shorter, no doubt because Miss Havisham provides such a Sexual Revolution-era cautionary fable about the down side of letting your girl parts get too melancholic and cobwebby. Imagine my delight, then, to first encounter, in my mid-forties, the mannered yet modest cadences of young Copperfield, left alone in the world without parents, property, or prospects. Pennyless but for the unconditional love of his good nurse Peggoty and the gift of his own generous and self-improving heart.

I think I love him for his optimism. While the serialization of the novel means there are too many quirky-yet-heartwarming moments for my taste (the characterization and verbal tic equivalent of Disney's rolly-poly animals and birds with long lashes), there are enough brutal patriarchs and brutalized women that I appreciate David's faith that things will--must--get better. I thought when I opened the pages of the novel and began reading during my morning commute that I would sink into the rhythms of Victorian London, forgetting the sway and squeal of the train, the smell of the bodies of my fellow passengers, how tired and unready for the day I often feel. Instead the present and the past tumble together, and I am riding in a carriage through the dark passages of my own life, following the thread of a voice whose story leads ever upwards into a place of arrival, like the escalator I ride every day up, up from underground into the wide white bustle of the urban morning. I wonder, as David does, whether I will be the hero of my own life, even now, every day in the story where I find myself. And I can't help hoping, as I hear that wonderful narrative voice turning and rolling in my head, word piled on word, confident of a reader out there who can hear and be delighted by it still, that I will be.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

waiting game

Midsummer blooms like a tigerlily, and with it come the longest afternoons of the year. Our livingroom is cool, our windows caressed by bright and dark leaf shadows. Outside a lawnmower drones like an insect, and the UPS man buzzes the front door. Today our diaper bags arrive. Mine is a green messenger bag with purple flames. Hers is a Chinese red with orange flowers. The cats eye them with interest, as new scratching pads.

We are waiting, waiting for the Little Nipper. Margo's belly is huge, jutting out in front of her at a right angle. Now it sails before her, its fleshy prow impossible to minimize. Even the largest maternity top makes it look as if she is wearing a tablecloth, because the the distance between the bottom of the shirt and her body is so great. Yesterday she ran away from the neighbor across the street whose garage we rent, because he is an old man, and Margo doesn't feel like answering questions about being pregnant. Last night I laid a fork on her belly at the top of it, where it plateaus, and she asked me tartly whether I was trying to be funny.

Sometimes she wants soft serve at 9pm. Sometimes I come home and she is in tears. This afternoon I found her happily working on her book, lying on the couch, her shirt pulled up to expose a vast, undulating dome. Her torso is a crystal ball inverted, its clouds and shadows pushing from within. We sit and gaze at it, resting our hands on its sides, asking the baby in there our ouija questions.

When I am at work she text messages me her ideas about labor and delivery. Today she asked whether I thought "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" would be a good distraction movie. I thought it was an inspired choice. In the movie the childless academic couple who terrorize new faculty after a late-night party by drinking themselves to viciousness and playing Hump the Host refer to their imaginary son as the Little Nipper. I sometimes think we decided to have a baby so as not to become this older academic couple, drinking too much, nagging each other, creating bitterly destructive parodies of heteronormativity in order to re-animate the dying embers of our relationship. Other times I think we just wanted something more simple and joyous than work in our lives, because children make you remember feeling hopeful.

For now, we wait. The air is cool as the early evening comes in. I type at the keyboard, wondering when the baby will come, and how it will change our lives. I think about the drowsiness of middle age, and the peace we know now, and the clamor and noise and activity that our lives will take on soon. The cats crouch at my elbows, eager to be fed. Margo dozes on the couch, her head drooping on the pillow, dreaming of grace.