West wants me to write the Beckett out in my own handwriting. More tears from me. She already had me write out some lyrics to a song of mine that she then had etched on the back of her neck, where the fall of her hair obscures them: “Stay on the train, the scenery will change.” The fact that my daughter wants my words indelible on her person fills me with more deep joy than the four novels I’ve written, more than I can say, and makes me believe in eternity. I will go on, written on my daughter’s skin. I write for my daughter and my son because I have this belief/fantasy that when I am gone, if my kids could pulp my novels, make a kind of mulch of them—much as I imagine researchers do to spin out the DNA of pulverized ancient dinosaur fossils—they could get my DNA. From the pulpy mulch. That my kids, if they ran that book DNA in the lab, could see me there clearly: the footprint, the fingerprint, Dad/David. The mysterious, spiraled math of my heart and soul that hid part of itself from the light and casually spoken words. And maybe this will free them of something. These books are my way of talking once I’m dead, of speaking truth to the future.
Thinking of my kids and what is nameable and unnameable between the generations makes me think of my parents. It’s funny how time leapfrogs like that. My mother, Meg, will be 91 next month, and my father, Ami, died nearly 20 years ago. When I was a child and complained about anything—the food, the weather, the world—my mother would say in a kind of pidgin Gaelic: “It’s right better then a steen ahin the lug.” She’s Scottish, an immigrant, from a small fishing village where many of their men died in the boats coaxing a life out of the dangerous North Sea. This roughly translates to “It’s a lot better than a stone behind the ear.” What she meant was that whatever I was bitching about on 11th Street in Manhattan in the ’70s was better than getting hit over the head with a stone back in Scotland. Hard to argue with that. I’ve had a bunch of accidents in my life, knocked out teeth and nearly lost an eye, but I’ve never been hit over the head with a rock. So my mom was onto something. I still have no right to complain. Yet. She was keeping my expectations low, which was sound parenting in the 20th century. None of that “sky’s the limit” new-age hokum. As darkly funny as Beckett all the way.
My dad, a Jew born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Poland and Ukraine, when I would bellyache about school, my life, or how I needed some special item to make it all better—a new baseball glove, say—would mutter, “You need that like a moose needs a hat rack.” (This story makes me seem as if I did nothing but complain as a child, and I don’t believe that’s true, but it’s possible; you can ask my brother.) I didn’t, at the time, know what a hat rack was, and you don’t see them around much anymore, but I think now he also meant to keep my expectations low. Brooklyn Jew and Scottish Lutheran, my father and mother were in sync on this, perhaps one of the only things they were in sync on: Life hurts. Though I never got the tattoo, their sage words are written on me.