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the letter reader

It is the third time I sit down to record The Letter Reader. The laundry rack has been pushed back, the lights dimmed. There is a flat grey sky outside the windows. The song has changed key three times. I even tried it a capella, the guitar just resting on my knee. The words felt hollow and empty when I heard them playing back. Unlistenable. The struggle is a familiar one - between the glowing idea of something butting up against the reality is presents as it enters the world. We are all famous in our own minds - heroes, geniuses, rock stars and saints. In the real world, we are flabby, and fallible. We are painfully human, and no angels. How to align all of this? How to put yourself in front of a microphone, or an empty piece of paper, an open road, a classroom full of children, an office?

Maybe there are glimpses of greatness. Maybe there are little cracks of something magical, if you wait for them, if you nurture them, if you struggle for them. I often find myself yelling at tv sc…

the Abraham Lincoln summer

I remember the summer when I was ten, the same age E is now. We were poor, living off of food stamps and the garden. Summer was an epic stretch of time, one and a half lives removed from the last ride on the long yellow school bus, the weeks spent shirtless in a pair of cutoffs exploring the forest and turning over rocks in the creek. There was the smell of the lopsided barbecue, watermelon, fresh corn. 

We took rides to the local pool, the water so amped up on chlorine that our eyes burned after we got out. The car was the old pale blue Dodge Dart with the AM radio that came in loud and strong, cranking out Glen Campbell singing Wichita Lineman. There were a handful of pretty girls that flopped across towels on the grass, letting their hair dry, girls that wore polka dot bikinis, with pink toenails in their flip-flops. We oggled them from the deep end, our chins on the surface of the cold water. My brother never made a move, and neither did I. We just held back, treading water, satisfied all the same.


When school started again, and I entered the fourth grade I told everyone I had been in Florida all summer with my grandfather. In truth he died some years before and I had only met him twice. I told everyone we picked oranges and went to the beach every day. Then I told them that Abraham Lincoln was with us the whole time, that he had not died and he was living well in the outskirts of Miami.

The thing is, I really believed what I was telling them. It was real to me. I saw it all, the wet trees in the mornings, Abraham's big laugh, my grandfather with a cigar (or maybe it was a pipe). The kids gave me plenty of trouble, names, insults and the occasional gut punch. Later I understood I would do anything to avoid the fact that we never went anywhere, during summer or anytime else.


E has navigated another one of her summers, cooped up in Moscow drawing pictures, pointing cameras at leaves and trees and sunrises. She read some long books. She slept in. She stayed up late watching movies with me, with plenty of chocolate by her side. She has grown taller. She has lost more baby teeth, and she still gets visits from the Tooth Fairy (who is generous in a different currency every time she visits).

We made more of a film together, a part I wrote for her, a part she is proud of. I think this surrogate summer plan we cook up each year is getting better, but there are nights when I wish she was enjoying a gelato in Rome, or the salty ocean water on her lips at the end of a day in the sun.

 











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