On the difficulties of owning your heritage and simultaneously moving forward.
Early one Sunday morning, about two weeks ago, my dad called me to ask if I would come over to my grandma’s house to help him, my uncle, and my cousin tear down her old shed. I was tired because I had stayed up late the night before, but agreed to show up.
It was hard and sweaty work. Apparently I was a bulldozer. The thanks I got for making short work of the floor boards and walls—I lifted them off their nails and snapped them in half with brute force--made me feel good in the kind of clean way that sticks with you.
I don’t know how to reconcile the idea that I belong to a family that I didn’t choose with…I’m not sure what; something restless inside of me. There’s a belief I have that I can only own things I do with my own two hands. Like that shed. I tore down that shed. That destruction is mine. The family I was born into? I suppose I have to own it, because of genes and different levels of involvement, but I’m highly skeptical of the kind of familial jingoism that goes without saying.
I own this writing. I do this daily, sometimes feverishly early in the morning. I’m not writing for fame, I know that, although at one point I thought I was. I’m also not writing for money, because I don’t pursue payment in anything but the laziest way. I write out of compulsion. Now for instance, it’s 2:30 in the morning and here I am pecking away at the keyboard while my wife and kids—the family I consented to—is sleeping like a bunch of reasonable people should be. I own this writing. It’s part of who I am. But I do it compulsively. When it comes to writing, I’m a masturbating bear; I can’t stop. I get anxious if I don’t do it. I feel good and whole when I finish a piece; not like I’ve done something extraordinary that should be praised, but that I’ve done something that I should do. When I finish a piece of writing, my ledgers are balanced. I am blameless as a writer. I am saintly in purpose. Much like when I helped my grandmother tear down her shed.
Because of this feeling I have about writing—I am a writer—I know that I have to own my extended family. I didn’t buy into this contract, but I can’t own one genetic proclivity and not the other. The genes affect everyone in different ways. I have my family’s poor impulse control. I, like my parents, am a recluse. I distrust the main current of family connection. I would rather stay in my house and watch a movie, or read a book, or write something, or have sex with my wife, or play action figures with my kids than go to a cookout or a cocktail party with anyone. I am anxious and impatient. I bite my nails until they bleed sometime because there are only a few behaviors that I am completely suited for, and I can’t always engage in them. These are family traits. I have to take them.
I hate sayings like this, but ‘I come by them honestly’ is a good way to describe it. My immediate family is my wife and kids .They are members of the tribe that I am co-architect of. This tribe is a joy to claim. The other tribe is harder for me because I didn’t build it. It’s shadowy. It would’ve been much less pleasant for me to tear down a shed that I myself erected.