Monday, November 1, 2010

story time

Rhea, a student at Smith College, came promptly at 8 a.m. today to interview me for a documentary she wants to do about my mother, the author of "The Horizontal Man" and one-time wife to my father. It was not entirely clear to me how she could do a documentary on someone she had not interviewed, but we talked for about 40 minutes. Most of her questions left me saying, "I really don't know."

Question: Do you remember a time when your parents were together and the three of you were together? Answer: They were divorced before I was really conscious? Question: When were they married? Answer: I'm not exactly sure. Question: Did either have much to say about the other? My father seldom if ever spoke about my mother; my mother had a few acid remarks which, as a child, I was inclined to put aside and forget since every child wants to think well of both parents. Question: Do you think your parents' relationship was an intellectual thing? Answer: I really don't know, but I do know that the intellect is seductive and that both of them found in it a means of escaping other parts of the world.

I really was largely at a loss. The Disney-esque world in which children remember their parents fondly or with rare anger, both in general and in specifics, is not the kind of world I lived in or could recall. Perhaps that is some measure of the dysfunction of my upbringing.

I felt sort of embarrassed by it all. I was not embarrassed because my upbringing was something less than idyllic -- and who, at whatever age, would not wish for some idyll -- but rather that I could not find much meat on the memory bone ... specifics that would support and illustrate my somewhat amorphous conclusions. On the other hand, for my own purposes, perhaps there is something to be said for gently (I feel no particular rancor or dis-ease) setting aside that which was often unhealthy.

And there was something refreshing about reviewing the past at the hands of another. It was like turning the earth before spring planting.

Anyway, I lent Rhea, who has an extended family at home in Bombay, an old photo album that may or may not advance her project. How wonderful -- or should I say "foolish?" -- to think that we might adequately depict another human being. On the other hand, how wonderful and even necessary to tell stories ... even when those stories are incomplete or just plain wrong. Stories make the world go 'round.

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