In the middle of this podcast, the three hosts discuss a GQ article entitled “The Cooler Me” by Eric Puchner in which the author, a domesticated parent, compares his life to a bohemian doppelgänger. The female host reports that she was a bit disappointed by the ending, in which the author “of course” has to insinuate that his kids make all his compromises worth it. All three hosts are childless, so it was interesting to hear their take:
And here’s the essay, with some highlights:
“It was like being winked into a secret world,” Kyle said. “I sort of realized I didn’t have to be a busy ant. People get so caught up in ending up somewhere specific, in chasing a certain kind of life, but it’s like that Alan Watts quote: Every point on the surface of the sphere is the center of the surface. You’re at the center already.”
What about kids? I asked. A family? Did he ever worry he was missing out on something?
He stared at the bed sitting in the middle of the yard. “I haven’t knocked it off the list. It might be fun to be one of those freaky old dads. But I’m too attached to my freedom, I guess—waking up at 10 a.m. and hopping on my skateboard to check out the surf. I like watching all the bandwagoners hustling off to work. If I’m feeling good, I’m the king of the world.”
“And if you’re feeling bad?”
“I’m the scum of the earth.”
I told him that children would help with that. If I’d had a bad day of writing or teaching and I was generally feeling like a worthless piece of shit, there was nothing like being greeted by your kids back at home to snap things into perspective. I was bragging a bit—I wanted to squeeze some jealousy from him—but it was also, I felt, one of the unconditional rewards of fatherhood.
“But it’s important to feel like scum sometimes, isn’t it?” Kyle said. “To get down in that dark place and dwell awhile?”
I looked up at the house, surprised to see stars twinkling in the empty window frame. It was one of the hardest parts of family life, actually, the thing maybe I missed the most: the loss of that lonely place I used to dwell. As a young man drunk on books, I used to walk the streets for hours, feeling like an alien creature, following the darkening detours of my mind. People tend to talk about self-absorption as if it were a bad thing, but I missed those walks very much.
There was his amazing popularity in the neighborhood, for instance. It seemed like everyone who walked by burst out smiling or yelled his name or asked him if he wanted to hit the surf. “My buddies,” he called them. It was like sitting next to the groom at a wedding reception. When we went to buy beer at the corner, the Korean convenience-store owner embraced him like a son. In L.A., my life was consumed by family—I knew almost none of my neighbors, and the ones I did know I actively avoided. I had a balcony, but I never used it. If I wasn’t inside the tortoiseshell of our beautiful apartment, I was in our low-emission station wagon driving the kids somewhere or getting myself to work. Here was a man who lived three blocks from the beach, one block from Golden Gate Park, whose life—as far as I could tell—was spent on porches. He even went outside to piss.
Recently I went to see a famous old poet read at the college where I teach. His poems were about death, yet they were hopeful and elegiac. Between poems, he rambled on about not being afraid of the unknown. He talked about his friends in Hawaii who were astronomers, how they understood that time was a fiction. He discussed the last line of his most famous poem, how it is important to bow “not knowing to what.” Then something terrible happened. He began to trip over his words. He seemed lost and disoriented. Eventually he said he felt too weak to go on, and when he sat back down his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he lay there motionless, gaping at the ceiling. I thought he’d had a stroke. The look on his face—its yawn of frozen terror—seemed like a perfect rebuttal of everything he’d been talking about, of his life’s work. Time, it seemed to say, was definitely not a fiction.
They shepherded us out of the room while sirens wailed in the distance. Strangely, when I got outside, my first thought was: Did he have children? It seemed like a very important question. As it turned out, it wasn’t a stroke, he’d be okay—but I didn’t know that yet. When I got home, my daughter was still awake, and I kissed her good night and sat on her bed longer than usual. I told her a story from my childhood, one of her favorites, and she corrected me when I got a detail wrong. She knew the story better than I did. Miniature plastic planets hung from her ceiling, meant to mimic the geography of the solar system. A few of them—like Saturn—had fallen off, but the earth still dangled above us, hanging literally by a thread. If someone told me I was going to die tomorrow, I thought, I would still want to be sitting right here. Because it was going to happen someday—very soon, in fact, in cosmological time—and it mattered immensely where I was. There was no time not to waste.