Thursday, May 10, 2012

Writing on Raising Kids: by Buzz Bissinger, John Jeremiah Sullivan, & Eric Puchner

There's a few pieces of writing I've seen lately that are great individually and which share the connection of having fascinating insight on raising children.

The first was "You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!" by John Jeremiah Sullivan for the New York Times. Sullivan is a ridiculously talented writer (who wrote the book Pulphead that I reviewed here) and this piece on going to Disney World with his family was one of five nominees for Best Feature Writing at the 2012 National Magazine Awards.

Since I brought it up... the category winner was Luke Dittrich for his amazing Esquire Magazine piece on survivors of the Joplin, MO tornado and I probably would have picked the Dittrich story as well with the subject of his exceptionally written piece having more inherent drama than that in Sullivan's exceptionally written piece.

Anyhoo, back to Disney World... the story is highly entertaining, but what really got me from it were two specific anecdotes towards the end. The first was about a huge storm that hit during Sullivan's time at the Park and it reminded me of the fascinating apocalyptic reference he made in the essay "At a Shelter (After Katrina)" from Pulphead. The other anecdote (which was the connection to the other pieces in this post) was the following...

"We don’t need to go crazy with guilt and worry about our children. We’re not responsible for them. For their upbringing, yes, but not for their existence. Destiny wants them here. It uses us to put them here."


Tremendously interesting few sentences that I thought of after subsequently reading "Buzz Bissinger on Raising a Special Needs Child", excerpted from his forthcoming book Father’s Day: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son. The part from Bissinger that seemed to parallel Sullivan on kids was his ending to the excerpt...

"But whatever happens with Zach, I know I cannot think in terms of my best interests, even if I think they are also in his best interests. Zach will be where and who he will be. Because he needs to be. Because he wants to be. Because as famed physician Oliver Sacks said, all children, whatever the impairment, are propelled by the need to make themselves whole. They may not get there, and they may need massive guidance, but they must forever try."

Bissinger may or may not be making the same point as Sullivan, but in the vein of "once the words are written, readers will do with them what they may", both concepts seemed to traffic in the idea that (while parents can and should still... you know, parent), children are their own people with their own path for life.


The final piece related to this concept was one I read a few weeks ago, but just recently saw a link to it posted online. The May issue of GQ Magazine featured "The Cooler Me" by Eric Puchner on time spent with his own doppelganger... the guy he might have become if not for taking on a life of family and associated responsibilities. It's really interesting writing with Puchner (his website here) comparing his life as a teacher, husband and father of two young kids to that of musician Kyle Field. The piece neither bemoans what Field has that he doesn't, nor props himself up in comparison to the singer, but rather takes an almost anthropological view of choices made.

Since the first two pieces had wisdom pulled out for this post, the following two quotes were first from Field in response to Puchner speaking of whether he should have taken a different path in life, and then Puchner concluding his story with an anecdote about time with his daughter...

"There's always something else you could be doing," he said. "We're wasting a life as we speak."

"If someone told me I was going to die tomorrow, I thought, I would still want to be sitting right here. Because it was going to happen someday—very soon, in fact, in cosmological time—and it mattered immensely where I was. There was no time not to waste."

Really great writing in all three pieces and definitely an interesting common thread between them.