A reader asked where I’ve gone lately, after engaging in a dialogue with you all about the wisdom of continued blogging. The answer, I guess, is into a world of transitions. One of our children has just given us a first grandchild and is preparing to be the first to move away from the general area of Minnesota; another has left a long term relationship; a third has just moved into his first apartment; and a fourth is preparing to graduate from high school and go off to either college or Americorps.
As you watch your children grow and change and make decisions in their lives, the sense of your own passage through life becomes more acute. The paths are diverging; the home fires are becoming both more precious and less frequently visited. What is asked of my wife and I as parents changes daily. One of the kids needs physical assistance, another needs emotional support, a third needs greater personal freedom and space. Assaying these needs, and meeting them honestly, is a task that requires a fine attention to emotional detail.
You want to send your children into the world fully formed and fully prepared, but none of us is ever fully prepared for life. It is, as the metaphor would have it, a journey, and there is discovery all along the way.
What we are discovering is the bittersweet joy of letting go; what they are discovering is the fact that choices made limit choices possible. While each of their lives is still in the flowering, they also are setting their feet upon paths that will, in some ways, determine the course of direction of their individual journeys. And that requires them to examine the road not taken.
We want to be there for each of them. In some instances, this means letting go; in others, it means reasserting and reinserting ourselves in their lives. But in each case it means aiding them on a journey that will take them ever further from us, even as it has them valuing the times when they return to us for a moment of respite and rest.
For us, it puts our own experience of passage in high relief. There is something resolved about our stage in life — we have accomplished what we have accomplished and now must refine our skills, use our experience, and commit ourselves to passing on the gifts and wisdom we have attained. It is not that we do not seek to do more. But my wife will not suddenly be plucked out of her small northern Minnesota university to teach at Harvard; I will not suddenly be tapped on the shoulder and handed a Pulitzer Prize. We are who we are, and the scale of our dreams, if not the scale our accomplishments, is somewhat circumscribed. We look for a new phase, a new jump to make, a chance to do something different that builds upon our skills — maybe new jobs, new careers, new places to live.
But we do not look to remake ourselves. It is enough to refine ourselves and to take pleasure in the great, joyful, exciting, and sometimes painful growth of the children.
As a writer, I have always tried to value the near as well as the far. These days, the pleasures and value of the near are outweighing the lure of the far. This is only a phase, and it, too, shall pass. But, for now, it is real. A four year journey of absolute aloneness and literary loneliness in search of Joseph and the Nez Perce left me hungry for the relational and the interactive. I have still not sufficiently fed that hunger.
So, to answer the question of the caring reader about where I’ve gone — I guess I’ve gone home to take pleasure in the domestic while quietly packing for the next great intellectual journey, whatever it may be. I’ve been doing a lot of speaking, a lot of smaller writing, a lot of footwork for the still-possible and ever more probable film of Neither Wolf nor Dog, and a fair amount of partnering and parenting.
Changes are in the wind, and I am listening quietly to their sound.
Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows; sometimes you have to be your own weatherman, and sit quietly and passively until the direction of that wind declares itself. Then you can set your sail and trim it correctly, and embark upon the next journey.
Right now I am watching other journeys and preparing for a new one of my own. It is a good place to be.