I spent a part of the day working on an essay in preparation for my trip, this coming week, to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where I'm booked to give a lecture at Texas Christian University and a book-signing event of some kind at an artists' organization known as "The MAC." The essay is called "Nurturing the Artist Within"--the title of the lecture at TCU. I was using the occasion to explore the idea of "nurturing," and using the analogy of child-rearing to think a bit about how best to treat that "artist within" who so often gets abandoned or neglected by creative people of all kinds in the contingencies of life--a common phenomenon which leads to a great deal of unhappiness and frustration.
More of this later. In the meantime I have been noting with some bemusement to what extent I am becoming my own father. Every time I stand in front of an audience, I think of my father in his pulpit, or sanding at his lectern to read from the Bible. As I think I have said before in these pages, he was essentially a performer. He had wanted to be an actor before going into the church, and his acting instincts remained strong--in both his personal and professional life. Even as a child, there was a part of me that saw through his act: beneath the belief he needed to project in the work of his ministry, there was a deeply doubting man. And, in a curious but profoundly human contradiction, beneath the familiar act of Harry, the "humble parish priest" there was a man of a certain vanity--the one I recall as the "show-off."
Like most of us, I guess, at the earlier moments in our lives, I would never have believed that I could be anything like my father. Now, though, I find the preacher in myself as I go out to share my "wisdom" with various groups of people; and, as I have noted before, I have begun to discover the pleasures of the "show-off," too. I wonder. Here's a poem I wrote about this several years ago. It's called...
Sometimes I hear his voice
in mine: my father's turn
of phrase, a sudden, plaintive
note, a particular tonality,
a hint of affected modesty.
I hear it when I read a line
aloud, or start to preach
my version of the gospel.
Sometimes, more startling,
I hear my own voice in my son's:
a raising of the timbre to sound
a note of protest, indignation,
the anger carefully concealed
behind a conventional politeness
or a charming smile, the quick,
ingratiating deference of tone.
And thinking this, I wish now
I had heard my grandfather,
who died before I could recall
his voice. From his stern picture
I imagine it firm, but gentle,
the master copy of the voice
from which my father's
was imprinted, and my own.
And I hope now, too, to live
for long enough to hear in Joe,
my grandson's voice that echo
of the generations, father down
to son; and perhaps not least
for him to recognize in his,
when he is grown to manhood,
some echo of the sound of mine.