What I Know
The first real, long term girlfriend relationship I ever had began inauspiciously. It was 1980. Remember that year. Our date consisted of hanging around Thayer Street, the strip of retail stores and restaurants that cuts through Brown University in Providence, RI. We decided to browse Goldie Records. “I could use a Beatles album,” I said. “The Beatles . . .?” she replied. “Aren’t they the ones who use all those sound effects?”
Remember this is 1980. The Beatles had only been broken up for ten years. John Lennon had died only few months before.
“No,” I said. “They’re The Beatles. The Beatles.”
That didn’t help, and she didn’t care that she didn’t know who they were. And why should she have cared? Everyone has to learn everything for the first time at some point, and that was the night she learned who The Beatles were. Plus, they did use sound effects.
Perhaps this is why we stayed together. I had always been very shy about what I knew and didn’t know, a debilitating condition that can turn conversations into mine fields. I can’t remember when I decided it was a crime to not know something I was supposed to already know, but I am guessing it began around age twelve, the year the veil of childhood was lifted and I looked about at all the other children and thought, “I wonder what they think of me?”
That question remained unanswered for thirty-plus years. It is still unanswered, though it is less frequently asked. It is part of writing’s great appeal. It is so much easier to forget to wonder what other people think of me when they aren’t around. Sometimes the ghosts of their opinions hover over my desk when I am working, and that is what in technical terms is called a bad day of writing. But more often I feel as if I am on a private search for something and it is not until I have found it does it occur to me that someone else might be interested in it too.
I would like to live all of my life this way, and perhaps someday I will. As I write this, it seems entirely possible. Sometimes writing can seem like a retreat from real life, but I wonder if it’s the other way around? It seems more likely that I stand on the street and dream a cruel circus world where I live and die by ten thousand thumbs of ten thousand emperors, whereas at my desk I remain safe within the very real search for what interests me most—the only thing I have ever known for sure.
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