End of 2008. I was reading through obituaries today and realized that many people I thought had died last year in fact died in 2008. If I can’t remember the simple things how am I supposed to remember the big things? Like pomegranate seeds when I go shopping. My daughter loves pomegranate seeds. And olives. And capers. She will inevitably grow into someone who likes her martini shaken and not stirred. Pinter is the biggest loss. From a purely practical view he was finished writing and directing and seemed only to be a happy husband, a singular achievement in itself. It seems he was a less happy father. Not for any of us equally inadequate fathers to judge, of course, but we feel that pain more strongly than for other attachments. There would have been no more plays and no more productions but it is the absence that hurts regardless of productivity. My father and mother are decades past any kind of providing for their children but their inevitable loss looms ever greater as the days pass. That is the great absence for all of us. Paul Newman is gone, though not Hud or Cool Hand Luke – What we have here is a failure to communicate – or the great good he did. I realize that somewhere an architect is mourning the passing of some practitioner of his or her trade while I mourn those of mine. Oddly, I was sitting having coffee with an English director the day before Pinter’s funeral, which he was attending the next day after his long flight home, and we were joined by the granddaughter of Robert Shaw. The toilet of the house where my friend was staying blocked up while I was there and I ended my visit with a plunger in my hand. Los Angeles is a strange place.
One of my last memories of 2008 is of a visit to a bookstore with my daughter. We had been at the pictures as we old fogeys call films, an entertaining piece of fluff that will sit with me for about a nanosecond. To my great joy my daughter had asked before the film if we could go to the bookstore afterwards. The cinema is in an outdoor mall of faux splendor though its very outdooriness puts it above the great gaggle of indoor concrete monsters which generally send me into a mild catatonia in seconds. And it has a decent enough bookstore though they are all giant warehouses these days. My daughter knows the mall and the bookstore and she ran – yes, ran – to the bookstore after the film and scrambled up the escalators and straight to the kids’ department. I found myself leafing through an Esquire magazine reading an interview with Clint Eastwood where he dropped pearls of wisdom about self reliance and how the US has become a place where everybody sues because they fell down or burned their finger or got caught in the rain and I found myself agreeing with him. I looked up to find my daughter – she’s seven – sitting on the floor reading from several books in turn and I realized that I had succeeded in the one thing that I believed I needed to achieve for my daughter. Well, to help my daughter achieve. She can read. I always knew she would walk and, unlike most of the other proud parents who hover as their children take their first tentative steps and glow with unearned pride, I found that whole walking thing tedious. They fall over, you pick them up. They fall over, you pick them up. I admit that her first steps – I remember them well, they were to the accompaniment of India Arie’s “Brown Skin” and I howled with love and enthusiasm – were glorious but I find most of the developmental stages are more of a relief than anything else. You fear they will never sit up, eat solid food, walk, talk and so on and the overarching emotion for me is relief when they do. But reading, oh, that’s something else entirely. Because they have to work at it, it’s not instinctive. Our house, particularly when she was little, was engulfed in books. (We did some “work” on the house and now a lot of the books are out of sight, which is lovely in many ways but I miss them sometimes. I often visit them in the room downstairs). We read to her, we read when in her vicinity, we took her to the bookstore so she could see where books came from and that we took great care in selecting books for her and let her choose her own books from very early on. Reading is the key to the world. I genuinely believed – and believe still – that even if my child comes to ignore me (which she will, but only for a decade or so if I am lucky) or even to dislike me and blame me for whatever ills befall her and refuses to acknowledge anything good I have done for her, I have given her the world. She can now learn anything she needs to learn. Worlds have opened for her and she can disappear from this one and reappear in someone else’s. In Narnia. In Middle Earth. In Tsarist Russia. In deepest Africa. In shallowest California. And so, in this year that brought us one of the great moments in American History, that, almost, sees the end of one of the most disastrous eras in that history; in this uncertain economic time, this era of shrinking, my daughter can read. For her, now, there is the possibility of expansion, of growing, of becoming more. She can read. She has genuine autonomy and she really can know more than her parents. I cannot think of anything that has given me greater joy.