Tuesday, June 3, 2008

About Me, Part II: A Tomato and the World of Words

The day Grandpa convinced me, against my better twelve-year-old judgment, to eat a cherry tomato smothered in sugar, I never imagined his prodding would someday call me into the world of words. But roughly fourteen years later in a writing class, I encountered Peter Sharpe’s Benji, a disabled man whose “sweet tomato face annealed to itself / in all directions.”[1] Because my thoughts were reaching for Grandpa, who lay in a hospital bed preparing for a quadruple valve bypass, I connected with Sharpe’s description and remembered that forgotten moment in a Village Inn when I’d almost lost my lunch forcing down a fruit I’ve never liked. With this moment raw in my mind, I composed a poem (included in the next post) that has since become the first in a larger sequence exploring Grandpa’s brush with death, a confrontation and subsequent negotiation through which I’ve learned much about life.

In that classroom, I made the demanding commitment, as James Baldwin describes it, “to the clear impossibility of becoming a writer, and attempting to save my family that way.”[2] This “leap,” to use Baldwin’s word, has landed me squarely in the sphere of human possibility, passion, frailty, strength, darkness, and light—the space in which all are bound in the story of family. As husband and at-home dad, one who has been responsible for the primary care of our three daughters since birth (now they're four, two, and four months old) and for the making of our home, and as a son, a grandson, and a brother, my academic and professional focus has gravitated toward issues central to family life, as represented in social life and literary culture: gender and gender roles, sexuality, the body, marriage, and intergenerational relationships (to name only a few). As my interest in these ideas expands through study and experience, I find an intensified desire to create, to carry on, to illuminate, and to revise the story of the Human Family.

And because my personal negotiation of this human passage into understanding has essentially come through literature and composition, I’m also deeply interested in finding ways to inspire others (through the act of teaching) into reading and writing. As such, I’m continually searching for new ideas to explore in words and for innovative ways in which to explore old ideas, all to end of helping others see themselves and their world through the expansive lens gained through making intertextual connections.

So here I am, blogging to whoever wants to read (I’m sure it won’t be many), chasing a deeper understanding of myself and my place in the human family through the dynamic world of words, a world I ultimately entered through a fruit I still can't stand.

[2] Quoted in Suzan-Lori Parks’ essay “Possession”