What We Wish For, What We Think Is True, Part 1

Guest Post

By Isaac Anderson

We are always reasoning from the seen to the unseen.  – Emerson

The dissolution of a marriage is holographic, legible from many angles.

This I remind myself two winters ago in January 2012, while eating dinner at a college in western North Carolina with a philosophy professor whose wife of eleven years has recently left him. It’s only our second real conversation, but we’ve hit it off. We sit in a booth in the dining hall, empty except for a couple white-uniformed kitchen staff. Pop music, something forgettable, plays overhead.

He explains: While she was in Bosnia last fall researching for her PhD, she seemed detached, hard to read. A trick of geography, he thought, maybe stress. Until October, when she called to say she’s having an affair with a married man, a man he’s never met. Now she lives in Sarajevo and he lives here.

I, meanwhile, have never met her. I arrived on campus a few weeks ago to teach a nonfiction class for the spring semester, after which I’ll return home to Kansas City. I’m here to listen, I remind myself, not to apportion blame. Blame is none of my business.

Her parents, with whom he speaks often, just came through town on their way to a time-share on the coast. They’re heartbroken, he says, but not resigned. They express hope in their daughter’s eventual return, hope that she’ll wake up one morning to a kind of epiphany, decide her marriage is worth salvaging.

He wants to believe their prediction—he’d move to Bosnia if he thought it would matter. But their optimism has not rubbed off.

[Read more…]

A Story About Beauty

I have my father’s hands
I have my mother’s tongue
I look for redemption in everyone

—Over the Rhine

This is a story about beauty, about living in the ruins of something you could never name, but which came to you like an inheritance, like skin or hair or freckles, unbidden, immovable. My hair was a tangle of red from the moment I was born, and with that came everything else.

I was born into a circuit, into a grid of roads that stretched from eastern Indiana to western Illinois. You could live anywhere in the square of Route 30, Sauk Trail, Harlem and 394 and not realize how fenced in you were. The south suburbs of Chicago were a fence, a locked door, a vast overhang of muddled ambitions that fooled me, my siblings, and my parents to think that we could leave whenever we wanted.

My father served drinks and sold weed to keep occupied, to blur the sharp edges of boredom and restlessness that had followed him his whole life. And my mother just tried to move along, tried to do what she could with what lingered in the back of her mind—a dead father, a mother who disappeared when she was ten, her first husband’s thick red fists. [Read more…]

Parenting 101

The latest fashionable parenting wisdom is that a parent’s wisdom doesn’t matter.

Some public intellectuals have staked out the claim that genes and circumstance vastly predominate any effect parenting might have on a child. They base this on studies indicating that identical twins raised by different parents become adults with similar health, wealth, and happiness—suggesting that nature far outweighs nurture as a determinant of life outcomes.

The results aren’t predetermined; if your kid is hard-wired to have self-restraint, foresight, and a reasonable capacity for calculation, he may become a law-abiding actuary, or a chess-player, or a geneticist, but he could also end up a high-stakes card player. The range of outcomes is wide, but the die is cast with parameters. [Read more…]