Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I posted an old photo on Facebook today, one from when I was probably no more than a couple of weeks old. My father, Hanno Fuchs, about 35, looks unshaven and a little rumpled. Maybe it's been a rough night in their Washington Square Village apartment, where, until recently, he and Carol had been living in relative quiet.

His expression is one of warmth and love, not an unusual one for him to have. He appears to be amused by my toothless smile, as though he had figured out, for the first time, how to make me laugh -- with a noise, perhaps, or a sudden bounce on his knee. "Honey, get the camera," he may have called out to my mother.

The post elicited the kinds of responses you'd expect it to get -- variations on "Awww, isn't that adorable?" But as one of its subjects, I experience this photograph differently. Unlike some, I make no claims to have memories dating back to my infancy (if I'm not mistaken, my earliest memory is of tripping over a hose and deadening my front tooth, around age four); so I have that usual odd sensation one has when looking at an image of one's precognitive self. On top of that, there's the pang of seeing my old man and missing him so.

And then there's this whole notion of "potential" that has popped up as an early theme of this blog. In fact, this image, of a young man and his infant son gazing at each other, works on an iconic level as the embodiment of this idea. As parents, we find ourselves observing our children and wondering what will become of them. We imagine life's twists and turns that lay ahead for them, and we pray to God the journey will be a merciful one. When they laugh, or express happiness in other ways (my brother Mike tells a lovely story of the time his daughter, Hannah, looked up at him, unprompted, and proclaimed, "I love my life, Daddy"), we want to hold onto that moment, to that emotion; we want to "bottle" it, so that when those inevitable instances of pain befall them, our kids will possess a reservoir of joy and love that will sustain them, and guide them through the rapids, to a calmer place.

I wonder, too, what he wished for me in that instant. My parents were of that class and generation who allowed their children to "make their own paths," and offered very little in the way of direct guidance. If someone had asked him in that room, at that time, just after that photo was shot, he probably would have said something like, "I just want him to be happy." Of course that word is a complicated one, with myriad, moveable meanings. He'd say that he'd want me to be whatever I chose to be, and not to let anyone or anything get in the way of my doing that.

Beyond all of this, however, there is a potential I feel I have reached, and I credit my father for helping me to do so. And I'd even go as far as to say that if you look closely at the photograph, you can see that he is already beginning to help me with it in that early moment in my life. As people, we have the unique potential to give love. As I mentioned, my father's eyes were often filled with love -- for me, for my siblings, my mother, but also for humanity as a whole, for the community of people on this planet, trying to make sense of our lives. As his son, I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of my father's capacity for love on such a grand scale; obviously, this is a potential I wish for my own sons to reach, as well.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Whole Guilt Thing...

So I guess what I'm getting at is that I had come to embrace the idea of being a writer by seeing myself through the eyes of others. And not just anyone, but people whose opinions I respected -- like Ruben Howard, Gayle Saks, Tobias Wolff, Kathleen Kirby, James Savoca, Jem Aswad and Stephanie Oakley, to name a handful. But there was always that cloying, clawing self-doubt, whispering to me about how wrong these good people were about me and my so-called "talents." I was a poser, according to this whispering presence, and if I had any talent to speak of it was in the area of being an adept impostor.

Don't get concerned; I'm not saying I heard actual "voices," per se. But when I'd sit down to the "work" of writing, I invariably experienced this conversation with myself.

Probably the most profound example of my guilt at being a pretender came some time in the late 1990's, when Toby Wolff came through New York City to promote The Night in Question, a collection of stories. He was doing a reading at a SoHo bookstore, and I took Jeanette there to meet my mentor. When it was our turn at the signing table, he gave me a warm hug, and another to Jeanette, and then immediately asked me, "And how's your work going?" I was a little stunned by the question, probably because I hadn't remembered discussing my teaching career, then in its fifth year, in the letters we'd been writing since I graduated. "Um, good. I'm actually teaching This Boy's Life this semester." Almost before I got the sentence out, he said, "No, I mean your work."

I explained that despite a few abortive attempts at some longer pieces I had not been writing much these past couple of years. "Well you're too good not to do it," he smiled, and that was the last we talked of it. We had a pleasant Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant, during which Toby filled us in on his two sons and asked Jeanette questions about her own life and work. It was a great evening. But that whispering self-doubt was snickering at me the entire time.

All of this comes down to one simple fact: Like most things in life, writing is about work, which makes Toby's word choice particularly interesting (and characteristically accurate). There are those of us who allow the circumstances of our lives to prevent us from finding the time to do the work of writing. There are countless "becauses" when I ask myself why I'm not writing. But then there are the people whose work ethic I admire so much; my friend the filmmaker James Savoca comes immediately to mind. He has steadfastly produced work, often making significant sacrifices in the process. Music journalist Jem Aswad,, too. And Toby Wolff, of course.

All of this boils down, I suppose, to the annual New Years resolution: Work, work, WORK. It's not about what others think or feel. It's not about whispering self-doubt. It's about the work.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Impulse to Write

Every year at this time, I have the urge to write. Usually what will happen in that regard is I'll begin a journal whose first entry is something like, "Every year at this time, I have the urge to write."

I then spend a few pages on general introspection before boring myself to the point of giving up on my journal until the next holiday season.

So here I am again. Only this time I'm blogging. It will be interesting to see whether or not having an immediate audience (presumably) will change the pattern. Will I write a few of these entries before petering out as I always do? Or will this become the kind of exciting interaction that I'm told blogs can be?

I guess we'll find out. Together.

I carry around some guilt about my writing. Years ago, teachers began identifying me as a "budding writer," first in high school, where I wrote a couple of articles for the school paper, and wowed the faculty with a modern version of Hamlet called "To Suffer the Slings and Arrows." Ittook place in Waco, Texas where I apparently believed the oil industry was located. (The Montagues and Capulets were now oil barons, in my retelling.) There was some talk of trying to mount a production of it, but mercifully that never came to pass. Still, though, it set something in motion in my mind, and I began to wonder what it would be like to be a "writer."

Aside from the teachers mentioned above, I'd be silly not to mention my parents, as well -- both writers in their own right. My father was a copywriter in advertising, and my mother wrote poems throughout her life.

Once I got to Syracuse, I discovered the writers who were teaching and studying there at the time: Raymond Carver, who would be my literary idol, Tess Gallagher, Douglas Unger, Jay McInerney, and Tobias Wolff, who became a mentor and friend. As a young writer, there really was no better place to be in the early to mid-1980's, and I do think now, as I look back, that I took full advantage. Thanks to my association with these people, I got to meet Edward Albee, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Richard Ford, among others.

I wrote a few short stories while at Syracuse, most of them awful, I'm sure. There were a couple that were well received by people whose opinion I valued, one of which was published in the university's literary magazine. I had enough "success" to continue writing as an expatriate living in Madrid, Spain, where I taught English classes, sat and journal-wrote in the beautiful cafes of that city, and met other self-proclaimed expatriate writers with whom I shared my work and whose work I read and carefully critiqued.

In the midst of all this excitement my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My heart was broken when my mother died, but I had no way of knowing (let alone expressing) that at age 25. In retrospect, the heartbreak came from all that we'd miss experiencing together. In November of 1988, however, all it was was the feeling of a carnival sledge hammer slamming into the center of my chest. Repeatedly.

It was the act of writing about the loss that eventually got me back on track and enthusiastic about life. I wrote a short story called "The Favorite Nurse" which told of the death of a woman from multiple points of view -- those of her husband, her two sons, and the nurse who watches over her as she dies. People told me they were moved by the story, but I remember being embarrassed by having turned something so personal into something so "literary." I also wrote my first longer piece about this time in my life, and I believe it was called "Family Matters," although this has faded into obscurity now.

And now here I am, a few lifetimes removed from 1988, finding I still have things to say. But I am aware of this new medium -- that this is a blog post, and, as such, is running on a bit long. I know I began with the mention of feeling guilty about my writing, and I promise to get to that. For now, though, I'll stop here, and continue on another day...