Gotham Diary:
11 October 2011

Yesterday, I considered burning all of my notebooks. Not the ones that I was sorting, during the afternoon, but the other, older ones, the ones that are piled up in the storage unit. They cover, roughly, a fifteen year period, between the beginning of college and the middle of law school. I cannot imagine re-reading them, and, like Dominique Browning, who gave me this idea, I cannot bear the idea of anybody else’s looking at them. Not for a thousand years, anyway.

That was yesterday. This morning, a link from Google Reader inspired me to open this Sunday’s Times Magazine, where I read excerpts fromSpalding Gray’s diary. Oh dear oh dear. For all the my experiences of late adolescence and young manhood in South Bend and Houston were superficially very different from Gray’s, their affect was so much the same that the good people at Levenger could have made a fortune, and saved us all no end of time, by filling the pages of their readers’-porn notebooks with pre-printed diary entries. “What should I do with myself? Should I run for president or join the sanitation department? What is this feeling of — I can’t even describe it!” Blanks could be provided here and there, for a personalizing note — purely decorative, of course; the whole point of the diary would be to teach its owner that he or she is just another reasonably bright, semi-articulate young person. It’s a later adolescence: “What is happening to my body?” becomes “Where does my mind fit in the world?” Eventually, your body stops changing (for a while), and, just as eventually, you get a job, find a partner (or don’t); you settle down. And the minute you settle down, the existentialist crisis evaporates.

Poor Spalding Gray never really settled down, although he tried, I think, very hard. (It is not entirely a matter of getting older.) I just learned the other day that, about a year before he took his life, he was in an automobile accident in Ireland and suffered skull as well as leg injuries. Already bipolar, Gray apparently felt doomed by the aftermath of the accident, precluded from ever attaining a steady balance. Also, he may have been one of those mad Yankees. The diary entries appearing in the Magazine sound two notes, and the one that isn’t boilerplate young-artist despair sounds a rather cool and comfortable distance from other people and things; the telltale word is “rather.” The ariosos of self-hatred/disappointed narcissism reminded me of entries in John Cheever’s diaries.

I have begun keeping a journal of sorts. I write in it only when I feel terrible, something that I would never do here. Here, I’ll go so far as to confess that, every now and then, I feel terrible; sometimes the terribleness clumps together in month-long clouds. Then it passes. Now, everybody feels bad now and then. That may not be strictly true, but anecdotal evidence convinces me that my black moods are not exactly  freakish. I do think, however, that they have a peculiar cast, one that was shaped by the way in which I was brought up as an adopted child. Some parts of that peculiarity are in turn peculiar to the way adoption was regarded between World War II and the mid-Seventies. Others, I’m quite sure, are peculiar to my adoptive mother’s bewilderment by my, to her, pervasively alien character. (Never having known anything else, and being a pretty quick study, I wasn’t bewildered by hers.) When I feel terrible, I find, more often than not, that I can explain the experience in terms of things that happened or that didn’t happen because I was impressed into life as an impostor, as the biological child of strangers. (This aspect of “passing” was crucial; great care had been taken to choose an infant who would physically resemble one of it not both of my adoptive parents.) There is a great deal about this impostorship that I did not understand until I watched my daughter and her son together. Neither of them is an impostor.

What I’d like to draw from the adoption journal is a way to exchange feeling like an imposter for a simpler recognition that, on the whole, I was amazingly fortunate. No matter how late in the day.

I will also be writing for publication, and notebooks won’t be involved.