November 22nd, 2004


I'm writing this in the incredibly bumpy back seat of the Arizona Shuttle conveying me from Sky Harbor -- the world's fifth busiest airport, believe it or not -- to Ina and I-10. Conditions are not optimal. But I'm listening to New Order's "Ceremony," one of my favorite songs ever and I'm writing this. One thing I've learned about myself in the year plus of keeping this journal is that I love to write. Seems obvious, right? Why else would I go into the profession I chose? For me, though, that sort of "obvious" insight comes as infrequently as rain in the desert. It's raining today in Tucson -- not to mention that it was colder there today than it was in Baltimore -- so self-knowledge must be in store.

Now I've moved on from New Order's "Ceremony" to Big Star's "Thirteen." It doesn't get more sublime than that in my world. Anyway, on the trip out I was frantically writing in the slim black journal I picked up at Antigone and realized that I've finally reached the point where, were all existing outlets cut off, I'd have to seek out new ones or implode. This has been a strange year, outlet-wise. I think I may have underestimated how traumatic it would be to lose my Punk Planet connection and Phoenix New Times connection simultaneously. It made me bitter, not towards any particular person necessarily, but in the way that people grow bitter when they can't release the toxins inside them.

You would think that the loss of those venues would have driven me back to Bad Subjects sooner. But I couldn't cope with the combination of A) my sense that there was no place for the writing I want to do most in the magazine; and B) the extreme unpleasantness surrounding the departure of Production Team members. I don't think it's any accident that I'm starting to regain my composure now that I once again feel like I belong there.

The current selection is Jussi Bjoerling and Robert Merrill singing the superlative duet from Act I of Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers. If Pete Seeger was for my mom, this one's for my dad. Part of the difficulty with going home for me is that I feel utterly and totally constrained. I can't do anything that falls outside the narrow parameters of my previous existence as a resident of my parents' house. I'm sure most people have a similar problem when they return. Mine may be exacerbated by the fact that I can't breathe, but the claustrophobia goes a lot deeper than that. For all that, though, I'm filled with warm thoughts as I listen to this record that exemplifies my childhood. I once wrote, in that piece on The Eagles' "Hotel California," about breaking free of my father's classical yoke. I meant it. But sometimes I just want to slip back into the harness and plough through some opera.

I know, I know: I'm rambling. That's my point, though, so it's alright if the form matches the content. I like writing for the sake of writing. And, like many of my intellectual heroes, it doesn't matter to me whether I'm writing in an "appropriate" place or not, so long as I'm writing something that others will read, something that I myself will read as an other. Pretentious, perhaps, but not in a superficial way. While I was at the after party for my sister's wedding, I went through a single malt-inspired reverie in which I reflected on how hard she has worked to create a life for herself that bears no relation to the one that she and I shared as children. She is comfortable moving in circles that my parents wouldn't even enter under a yellow flag.

I envy her. My own attachment to the idea of attachment makes it impossible for me to take the bold leaps she has made standard practice. Laura always says that the most amazing thing about having two children is that everything you learned the first time around has little bearing during the second go-round. I tend to resist the, "It's genetic," argument. But, watching my sister do her thing in the impossibly hip lounge of a hip Manhattan hotel, I realized that resistance may be futile. Although Kim and I won't get to see what a second Nicolini Bertsch offspring would be like -- "Thank goodness," she says -- I can see glimmers, observing siblings in action, of the ways in which the sequel to Skylar could have been a perfect combination of her or his parents' traits while being nothing like Skylar. Take my cousins Robert and Donny, for example. It's hard to imagine more outwardly different personalities. Yet they are both totally and wholly their parents' children. The same goes for me and Miriam.

The point of departure for these musings was the time I spent over the past few days going through the family photos and memorabilia now stored in her former room. My old room is now my mother's office, so I sleep next to the walls Miriam decorated in 1987 and never saw fit to change. The room -- I still call it, "Miriam's room" -- is an island of order amid the clutter in my parent's house. It's easy to find things. And my mother, during one of her periodic organizational manias, has helpfully sorted important items from her children's youth into boxes. I had already raided much of the material last December. There was still some stuff left to go through, though, so I opened up each box in search of something to bring back with me. Most of what I found was Miriam's. Because a few of my things were interspersed with hers, however, I leafed through it all. And I realized, with a shiver of melancholy, that she would probably never take the time to do what I was doing. It's not her way.

I can live with that intellectually. I talk to Eric about the contrast between my compulsive saving and his compulsive not saving all the time. Nevertheless, I wish the divide could be bridged somehow. Maybe things will change if Miriam has a child or two. For my part, I've learned to delegate the memory function to my daughter in a number of areas. I know she'll remember, so I let myself forget. Will the inverse phenomenon one day manifest itself in my sister?

Neutral Milk Hotel, "King of Carrot Flowers, Part II" is now blaring through my headphones. Sometimes you just need comfort music. At any rate, I wish I'd brought a scanner with me on my trip. I discovered all these amazing photographs from both sides of the family, but particularly my dad's. His father worked in an optical factory -- I originally wrote, "optical family," in an excellent Freudian slip -- in Germany, then ran a camera store in the States. For that reason, there are lots of high-quality photos, some dating back to the 1920s. Among them are many shots of my father's older sister Marian, who often looks startlingly like Skylar. The amazing part is that Skylar also looks startlingly like her mother, her mother's older brother, her nana and various other members of her family tree. That's the miracle of genes, I suppose: they return.

We're getting close to Tucson. Teenage Fanclub's "Don't Look Back" is the tune of the moment. I've written myself all the way back from Phoenix. I've written myself back home. Kim talks about how she's finally reached the point where she can truly let the past stay in the past and love her family for what it is in the present. Because my past is nothing like hers, I haven't felt the need to directly confront the past over the years. I recognize, though, that we all have to do a version of what she describes. As much as I dreaded the prospect of seeing New York -- trips to New York in my childhood were defined more by funerals than weddings, which helps explain my reluctance -- I'm glad that I didn't cancel. Reconnecting with relatives, not as I'd imagined them to be, but as they are, right now, made the experience deeply moving for me. For that and for the delight of seeing the two of you so happy, I thank you Miriam and Jay. May your marriage be as strong and good as my own.

The rain is coming down very hard now, the freeway glowing under the mercury vapor lamps. I'm glad I'm not driving. Wilco's "Box Full of Letters" is the perfect song to end on. "Can't find the time/To write my mind/The way I want it to read," Jeff Tweedy sings. None of us can. But as long as we find the time to write, the rest will take care of itself. I'm so, so grateful that I've found a way to make that time. I'm even more blessed to have readers to share it with me. Peace.
  • Current Music
    Box Full of Letters - Wilco - B Sides & Rare Collections