Everyday is the Renaissance for Adam – everyday it is a new world of words and thoughts. I’ve noticed that it isn’t only Adam – so far, at least, my adoring parental eyes can see. I used to bring Adam to school and deposit him in his classroom and his classmates, when they noticed me, would confine themselves to saying Daddy – this being a generic name for any adult male with infant. Now they all say things, among which is the name Adam.
This is rich talk too, among the richest Adam’s tongue will ever hoist, since each new word is a new coast, which one needs to approach with some respect for crosscurrents and possible native arrows – even if if the best strategy is maximum bluster, as if you have been here before. That’s the ticket for impressing the lurking natives, those grownups who made up this world. For instance, a couple of days ago I was doing what I must love to do, since I do it so often – looking for my fucking cell phone. I am a real talented cell phone loser, a pro, so there I was, putting my hand under the cushions on the sofa, going through the toys in the toybox, etc. While doing this, I asked Adam where my phone was. I wasn’t really asking him for an answer, but more just voicing my frustration. Much to my surprise, he seemed to say behind you, Daddy. And since then, he has used the word behind several times.
Until that moment, I thought Adam’s sole directional concept was up. Up is used a lot around here. Up in the chair, up in the bed, up in the sky is the moon! Look up, see the plane! Down doesn’t figure as often, although get down from the table! Has been uttered on ocassion. However, up and down are still more verb-related than direction-related. Behind, on the other hand, is a leap towards front, back, on the side, over there, here, North South East West left right – our lords and masters, which march us endlessly around as adults. Human adults can be defined not so much as thinking but as sorting animals, and directional words are great and necessary helps.
Being in the true grip of inspiration (whether this comes from his neurons or his neighbors around the table in the classroom is an exercise I leave up to the neuroscientist), Adam doesn’t like being left out of adult conversation, which, in spite of all odds (Adam’s bedtime schedule, our bedtime schedule) still occurs around here, and so, after watching his parents exchange polysyllabic utterance, he will sometimes launch himself into his part of the dialogue. Mostly, this is a simulacra of what his parents have been doing, which contains some eighty percent filler in terms of sounds, a defensive measure to keep from being interrupted. This, of course, he will do, as we all do, for the rest of his um like yeah verbal life, but not so blatantly. In this spill of sounds certain words will stick out, most notably basketball, basketball court, basketball shirt and noisy dinosaurs.
I can see myself in my son. I, too, have never been a minimalist. I’m in the talking game for the glory. I get it.
Andrew Field, in his biography of Djuna Barnes, writes of the discontent of American modernist writers in the 20s with American (read white, upper middle class) talk. It was so flat! I can see where they are coming from. It is still the case that our factories of WASPitude, schools and colleges and universities, teach their products to channel any excess of speech into acceptable channels: feeling speak, uplift, business and political talk, and parties. Later parties will be replaced by other extracurricular material, like babies and vacation. When I am in line at the Whole foods in Santa Monica, here, eavesdropping on what is being said by the presumably well off and educated young folks who are in the line ahead of me, it is amazing how little is said,and with what economy. Compared to the language of the street people, rich (often rancidly so, admittedly, as so much is stewed in the liquor of schizophrenia or addiction), there is a startling lack of color. The modernists were undoubtedly comparing the American custom to the Brits. The first time I ever visited London and, looking for an address I’d been given, asked help from a passerby, the woman pointed to a building and said go in the direction of that building with the unsightly row of chimney pots. I couldn’t imagine an American throwing in the “unsightly”. It just wouldn’t occur. If it did occur, it is a good bet that the American to whom this was said would think: what a weirdo.
I guess in some ways I want Adam to be more rhetorically florid than is the norm in America. But then – I imagine most of his verbal life will be in french. Which is a whole other thing…