The Interview

September 17, 2004

1. What is your earliest memory?
2. How do you feel about your own death?
3. Why did you want me to interview you?
4. In a world before you met your wife, what was your “tick list”?
5. What is the question you most long to be asked?

What is your earliest memory?

I fell off a tricycle in front of the apartment building where we lived before I was five. My babysitter was there, and after I fell off the trike and cried, I heard my mom calling to me from the open window of our apartment. In my memory, the building is like a hi-rise and I see my mom looking out from way up high. Then she runs down to the ground level and picks me up. I have no idea if any of this actually happened.

How do you feel about your own death?

When I was in college, I used to hear a car approaching behind me and strongly consider the possibility that the car would swerve and take me out, and that would be the end of me. And I would ask myself, “How do I feel about that?” I never seemed to feel strongly afraid, which surprised me. On the one hand, I think, having been raised in a church, I have a deep expectation of God’s love and death being nothing to fear. On the other hand, having suffered from depression for many years but generally without the kind of initiative that leads one to plan a suicide, I find the idea of death a relief. I frequently have fantasies of being shot and dying, although they morph very quickly – through a kind of rewind function – into “fantasies” about making the decision which puts me in the path of a bullet, which is really a kind of reflection on ethics. What right have I to risk getting killed? Especially having a wife and a daughter. Maybe to save someone else’s spouse and kid – would that merit risking my own death? Dunno. Overall, I would say death is an escapist notion for me – I find life burdensome.

It was interesting, on the Outward Bound course I took last summer, just before Georgia was born, when I jumped off the platform into the water – ten? twenty? feet below – and injured myself. I kind of landed wrong, in a backflop as it were, and my back seized up. It was like having the wind knocked out of me, with the added wrinkle that my back was in extreme pain. Outward Bound staff immediately could see that something was wrong and jumped in and helped me out onto the dock. I lay down and immediately curled up into a fetal position. My instructor ran his finger along my spine and confirmed that I still had feeling throughout my body, and concluded that I would be all right. Eventually he left me there to see how the rest of the group was doing. As I lay there, I became convinced that I was going to die. Intellectually, I could see that most likely nothing fatal had happened to me, but emotionally, I was certain. The funny thing was, first I thought of God, and that I would be meeting him soon, and I had no doubt whatsoever about that. That’s interesting because, in my normal everyday life, I doubt God’s existence all the time. But the second thought was that I would never get to see Marlene again and would never meet my daughter, and that made me incredibly sad. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t say this out loud, because it seemed unbearably silly, but I thought it over and over again. I don’t want to die. I said it to God, somewhat apologetically – because as Paul wrote, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” And I didn’t feel that way at all.

Why did you want me to interview you?

You never know the answers until someone asks you the questions. Also, it would be so cool to see what questions you would ask me. One of my favorite stories (in movie and novel form) is John LeCarre’s The Russia House. The CIA thinks they may have a source deep inside the USSR’s nuclear research program, and they compose a list of questions they want to ask him. The head of British intelligence is troubled by this – because the list of questions itself would reveal an enormous amount about what the West does and does not know – the questions would themselves provide a lot of answers if they fell into the wrong hands. I think that’s so clever, and so true.

In a world before you met your wife, what was your “tick list”? Please include deal-breakers.

Before I met Marlene, I had a lot of luck with women – that is, I stumbled into relationships with some really wonderful people, mostly because they took the initiative – but I had no strategy whatsoever. I certainly wasn’t anticipating marriage. I kind of worked this stuff out as I went along. What should have come later in the list – the issue of sexual attraction – tended to come up sooner than it should. What should have come first in the list – religious beliefs – was often not considered at all. I wouldn’t advise anyone to follow this path – but it sure worked out great for me.

In retrospect, which I know was not what you asked for, here’s a reconstructed list:
*She had to want kids, but not want to stay home with them – that would be my job.
*She had to want to make money, because I certainly had no flair for that.
*She had to want to live in Boston. (I didn’t get this, and I don’t really mind now, but I kind of did back then.)
*She had to take the commitment aspect of marriage very seriously, because I really didn’t ever want to get a divorce.
*She had to be comfortable with my religious faith. (Probably – it occurs to me now – the reason I never really formed the goal of finding someone who shared my religious faith, was because – given my rich, shifting tapestry of doubt – who on earth would really fit? I imagine a lot of Christian women would have found me exasperating in the extreme.)
*She had to be hot. (This wasn’t such a stupid condition as it seems, since I’ve demonstrated a BROAD capacity to be attracted to women, so a woman to whom I wasn’t attracted would be anomalous.)

*She had to demonstrate a willingness and ability to call me on my shit and cause me trouble where I needed it caused.

What is the question you most long to be asked?

I’m weak on evangelism, so my dream is for people to just ask me, “Why would anyone believe in God?” and leave me a wide opening.

I have also often longed for various women to ask me, “Do you think I’m pretty?” so I could tell them without seeming like a masher or a skeeze.

“What’s your favorite movie?” though unanswerable in that form, is also a lot of fun to try and answer.

Finally, the best question of all would be one I couldn’t answer. That just left me stumped and humbled.

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