Friday, January 23, 2009
"Anything new?" my father asked on the other end of the phone. I could hear him shuffling papers as he sat in his cozy office in the county courthouse on the other side of Pennsylvania.
"Well, I've been writing a lot, keeping my New Year's Resolution to write something other than journaling every day. I'm working on a series in my blog right now that I'm thinking of maybe trying to expand into a book. A lot of people seem really interested in the topic, and it seems like I have a lot to say about it..."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. As I turned the corner into the wind, my scarf slapped gently against my shoulder and a piece of hair escaped from under my knit hat and found its way down between my eye and the lens of my glasses. I hate when that happens. I fumbled at the tiny cell phone with my clumsy gloved hands.
"Is that that Druid stuff?"
"Yeah, one of the blog's readers is the author of that book I lent you a while back, remember? The 'one with the funny name.' And he says he might be able to help me find a publisher for a manuscript if I put one together. I'm actually kind of excited about it."
"Yeah, well, that sounds nice." My father's tone reminded me of Dane Cook's dad being interviewed about his son's success. ("Yeah, well, I guess he makes a living, anyway, for just fooling around," was Mr. Cook's deadpan response. Not that I'm as wildly awesome as Dane Cook, of course.)
"I could have a book published. That's kind of a big deal, Dad," I said into the phone. "Sound more excited." My parents--my mother especially--are hugely proud of my younger brother, who recently landed a position with a small but major marketing research company. For them, it's all about who you know and what they're willing to pay you, not really what it is you actually do.... They're still not entirely sure what my brother does. On the other hand, they grasp the concept of "waiting tables" and "spouting off on some webpage that anybody could just read" fairly well.
"O, no, of course that's nice, yeah," my father said in an entirely unconvincing, but still endearing voice. "So," he said, "what is this, like, just basically taking environmental and nature stuff and having it be your religion?"
I rolled my eyes and huffed a cloud of warm breath out into the wind. I don't ask him things like, "So, this Christianity stuff, it's like human cannibalism and magic virgins and all that?" Of course I know better, I was raised to know better. Over my Christmas vacation when I visited home, we even had an extended conversation about Druidry and why I'd decided to officially leave the Catholic Church and stop taking communion at Mass (it'd be a violation of the community's trust in the whole 'one body in Christ' thing, I'd explained). I teased him about how I only get frustrated with politics and money-grubbing because I take Jesus more seriously than he does (and that if Jesus were living today, he'd probably be a Druid, too).
"Did you read the book I lent you, Dad?"
"Which one, the one about the oak tree, or the one about crows?"
Of all the books I've lent him over the years, he remembers these two: the latter, a semi-scientific naturalist book on corvids he borrowed almost two years ago; the former, a kind of sociological "history of the oak tree and human civilization" I lent him a year and a half earlier. So let's hear it for Pagany stereotypes!
"No, Dad, the one about Druidry. All the 'Celtic metaphysic' stuff and how it relates to modern Druidic spirituality and philosophy..."
"I never really got around to it."
"Well, anyway, the point is, I could get something actually published. So... not wasting my life over here. Good, right?" This was just me fishing for compliments. Usually it provoked an all-your-mother-and-I-want-is-for-you-to-be-happy-and-healthy response.
"Good, that's good," my dad said. For a moment, the wind on my end died down and I could hear in the background the general-office-noise murmuring on his end of the line. I remember visiting the courthouse when I was little, the huge echoing marble halls, that led into unexpectedly small, modest, dare I say even cheap-looking offices of cubicles and bulletin boards and messy desks. The realm of the twenty-five-years-loyal-service county juvenile probation officer. "So, what is this stuff about then?"
"See, if you'd read the book, you'd know, wouldn't you?" That got a laugh and he knew I was teasing him again. "But really, what I'm getting into right now," I went on, "what I want to focus on, is this whole relationship between aesthetics and spirituality, and what role art can play in religion. It's basically the kind of stuff I did for my honors thesis in college. Remember? The ritual theory and creative writing interdisciplinary distinguished honors stuff. Remember that? Nathan said, at the time, that if I wanted to work at expanding my paper, he thought I could turn it into a publishable article, a scholarly one, to submit to an academic journal in religious studies, I mean, which is pretty good for an undergraduate paper. I didn't pursue it because by then I'd moved out here... But I've always wanted to get back to those ideas. Maybe not in an academic sense, but in a more direct, personal way. So I've been writing about that a lot recently, and I think I might have some good material."
"Uh-huh.... So how was the dentist?"
I grinned. The brittle air shuddered against my freshly cleaned teeth (and the Sensodyne my dentist had recommended bumped against my thigh, nestled along with the free toothbrush in the bottom of my shoulder bag). Classic change in subject. I love my dad. Last week he sent me an email with the subject "Brrrr!" that was only two sentences long: "Boy is it cold outside today! Make sure you wear a scarf."
"O, you know how the dentist always is. Metal Versus Enamel, and all that scraping and prodding... But it was good, it was good. I'm healthy and happy, just like you want."
"Good," my father replied, "Good. Well, make sure you call your mother."