Monday, November 7, 2011

The Way We Live Now -Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag.
What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said about her? This is perhaps the second or third work I have read by her. The first short story from her for sure. I think the other two works were commentaries or essays and honestly, I think I remember having trouble reading them.
During my early years at the paper, I had a co-worker in the library who was also the editor of the Book Page section. I remember her preparing quite extensively for a phone interview that she was granted with Sontag. I hadn’t the slightest clue at this point in my life who Susan Sontag was and I really didn’t feel the need to discover her. From what I remember, the interview was nothing spectacular…meaning that my co-worker didn’t stumble over her questions and Sontag must have gone through the motions of giving answers.
It was perhaps a year later that my co-worker was invited to a local university dinner and Sontag was a guest of the university president. The dinner was held that the president’s house so the affair would be somewhat intimate. My co-worker was very excited about the chance to meet Susan in person and to remind her of the interview and to pick her brain on “who knows what”.
As it often happens, the anticipation and build up to an event or meeting is far greater than the actual event. This was the case with meeting Sontag. For some reason, Sontag wasn’t in the best of moods that evening and that mood also projected out into creating an atmosphere that made her almost unapproachable. My co-worker left the meeting feeling upset and let down at her brush with celebrity and with future mentions of Sontag’s name, a wrinkled nose and disgusted face always seemed to make their way into whatever conversation involved the author.
I actually enjoyed this story. Perhaps I can lay its subject (AIDS and those suffering from it as well as those surrounding the suffering individual) beside what my father is going through now and how we are all attempting to deal with his Alzheimer’s.
My father and his wife came for a visit a week ago to celebrate my son’s birthday. As I’ve written before, each meeting we have opens a new door of enlightenment for me in terms of our past relationship and the one that we will have as his disease progresses.
We will visit him in another couple of weeks…on his home turf and I’m sure all sorts of new feelings will emerge and some of the current ones I carry will be solidified or discounted. I told M the other night that I feel that because he wasn’t present in my life on a regular basis after the age of 8, that his slow degeneration now isn’t hitting me as hard as is possibly could.
Yesterday, as I watched my son crawl, tumble and stumble around the room, a thought that had never entered my head before, surface and caused me to hesitate and pause the normal stream of consciousness that flows at a steady clip though my brain. I thought about my son and his future in this world as a grown man. As a man, my age, as a man who will exist someday without me looking over him (as I will always do while I am alive), and I began to wonder what he will remember and think of me, just as I am having these thoughts about my own father. I thought about my father’s mental state, and the fear that a nasty little Alzheimer’s gene is lurking in my brain waiting to attack.
I look at my son, and wonder if that gene is swimming around in his little brain waiting to destroy it someday.
I’m afraid of that for me and for him. My son isn’t even two, and it doesn’t seem fair that he is growing up with this sword of Damocles hovering above him. And furthermore, as to my own mental makeup, I’m afraid, as to what sort of father I will be. I’m afraid of embarrassing him of not being strong enough for him, of letting him down, of disappointing him and I wonder if my father ever had those thoughts about me…did he ever wonder about my future as I was crawling around on the floor?
It’s a huge charge to be a father, and I am afraid. But, I also realize that I cannot let that fear cripple me or cause me not to even accept the challenge of fatherhood.


  1. What an honest piece of writing. Thank you. I guess we're all made up of these fears of never being good enough.

  2. A splendid piece of rumination about the joys and difficulties of being a father---challenging, at times frustrating, yet also rewarding.