by J J Cohen
So I'm on this blogging panel -- the first ever! -- for NCS Siena. (More information and pre-conference discussion at Humanities Researcher; Stephanie Trigg organized the session). My paper, or at least notes toward my presentation, needs to be sent to the panel respondent tomorrow. So here I sit in the screened in porch, a few birds chirping, an illegal sprinkler whirring, Katherine and Alex at the piano, fashioning tunes of their own devising. Now it's the theme from Howl's Moving Castle, or some tentative steps towards that complicated song. Though the temperature will approach 100 today, at this moment with its songs and its sounds and its house full of life it is difficult to imagine a moment more beautiful.
Except perhaps for last night. We had friends over for wine and conversation after Katherine went to bed. Alex called my cell at 10 and asked if I'd walk halfway through the neighborhood to meet him as he returned from a friend's: he gets a little nervous as he cuts through the schoolyard field, because there is no light. I set off, a little lightheaded, and listened to the booming of the fireworks on the National Mall. They must be almost over, I thought, it sounds like the grand finale. I'd forgotten it was the Fourth of July.
Alex returned the previous day after two weeks of camp in rural West Virginia. He loves the mountains, lakes, camping, fishing. In one of his letters, though, he complained that he was always hungry, and could we please take him out for noodles and dumplings when he returned? We did that on July 4, lunching at a storefront restaurant in Rockville (an interesting fact about DC is that much of its cultural diversity thrives outside the small city limits; the least pretentious, most authentic "ethnic" food is found in downtrodden shopping plazas in Arlington, Rockville, Germantown, Silver Spring, Wheaton). On an impulse right after lunch we went to Toy Story 3. It was one of those days when the world conspires to assist even the least developed of plans. The restaurant was new to us, and boasted a separate vegetarian menu that was extensive and filled with dishes we'd never eaten; the film was beginning just as we arrived; the day was sunny; our moods were light. We were happy to be together as a family after this break with more breaks to come (I leave for Italy a week from Tuesday; upon my return Wendy leaves immediately for Quebec).
I spotted Alex darting across the dark field because he had his cell phone open, its wan light a small comfort. He was eager to tell me about what a great time he'd had watching a Godzilla movie, and infiltrating his friend's parents' dinner party, where everyone was speaking Spanish and he kept nodding as if he understood. As we passed the creek that meanders near our shortcut home, we stopped. Though the fireworks in DC had ended, the ground, the tree branches and the sky were pulsing with tiny lights.We suddenly felt as if we were in a commercial for some kind of product that tricks you into thinking you'll purchase the experience of a magical moment if you lather with the soap or eat the energy bar. Or maybe that we were in a special effects heavy sequence from a 3D film like, say, Toy Story 3. But it was just fireflies, going about in their hundreds their nightly business of display. Mating is part of the show, but so is (I am certain) an extraneous beauty that is simply art. The insects blinked, every corner of the woods and sky filled with animate stars. We paused in silence and then walked home, resuming our talk of Mechagodzilla.
What does this moment (corny, saccharine, sentimental, but no less true for its sweetness and cliché) have to do with blogging? For me, a great deal. Toy Story 3 is a film about leaving childhood behind. I watched it with a six year old who already understands that she will outgrow her loves (Dora the Explorer stickers were ripped from her bicycle this morning), and a thirteen year old who was so hungry at camp not because they couldn't accommodate his diet, but because he is growing so quickly that he consumes food constantly. While away he sprouted an inch. Soon he will be my height. I was thinking as I walked through the night to meet him how much of the boy remains, and wondering how long that would be true (My heart will break when he doesn't call my cell phone and ask me to meet him on his walk home). I know I am slowly losing him, and that the loss is hard but good.
So much of this blog has recorded key moments in Alex's life, because for a long time it narrated a confluence of the personal and the professional. It doesn't do that so much any more. I write mostly about academic subjects; I quietly enact a quarantine that I instigated the blog in order to overcome. I'm not sure why this should be true. Perhaps because ITM reaches a wider audience than I could have imagined in 2006, and is becoming just another medium in the media landscape. Perhaps because I've reached a point in my life where it is easier to be professional, and that's become my default persona. No doubt it's also because I had a blog-related problem with an obsessional reader, and that experience taught me the vulnerability that revealing too much that is personal engenders. I certainly closed down for a while. Or maybe I just don't have the time I once did to be so self-reflective. And I've also begun to doubt that I know why readers come to this blog (though believe me, I am grateful that they do. I don't say it enough: thank you for reading ITM).
Yet I can't help thinking that I lost something by enacting this partition. I never blogged, for example, about Alex's becoming bar mitzvah, and the ways in which the intensive year leading up to that day profoundly changed my relation to Judaism. I didn't write about Katherine's kindergarten struggles to discover and assert the person she wants to be, the price she has paid among some of the girls in her class for her gender-busting rambunctiousness. These are life events that have touched profoundly my thinking, my feeling, and therefore my scholarship. Yet you won't find any mention here at ITM about them.
I spent much of last fall writing about medieval blogging, and feel like I covered most of the professional portions. What I'm having trouble with, now, is the personal.