the greatest failure or lack thereof

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I was wondering earlier if I could write a story from the pov of a newborn.  I keep thinking of Zora, who is now ten days old. She’s still adjusting to life outside the womb, and I wish I could remember what that was like. I wish any of us could remember our lives in utero and during and after birth so that we could have at least one story to share, one way of knowing what it is like to live inside someone and then, suddenly, be outside that person in a space that feels intensely large, cold and terribly unsafe.

I’m reading Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things. The protagonist makes the choice to enter a world in which she is forced to give up all comforts and learn a new set of rules for living. Her reasons for entering this world remain unclear to me, or at least I cannot find a rational explanation for her choice. And we are not told what life was like in the world she came from. We only know that it was better, and much more safe.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still thinking of Zora and her sudden appearance, or if I’m really understanding Auster’s intent, but (at this point, anyway) the book stands as an interesting metaphor for birth and our life after we are born, how we are forced to learn, and obey, a set of rules. How we are taught to interact differently with disparate groups. How nearly everything can change suddenly and without reason. How the one constant is that we are living and breathing and moving and that we know these things are true and we have to find ways to live and breathe and move with as little conflict as possible.

I’m really interested in Auster’s work lately. A few weeks ago I referenced his autobiography in relation to failure, and I see now that failure is a familiar theme in his work. I see that his characters are aware of their failure and though I wouldn’t say they resign themselves to it, I do think they settle into their worlds knowing that it is not where they are supposed to be, in the grand scheme of things.

I was thinking of bringing all of this back to notions of early childhood—very early childhood. I was thinking about how birth is the ultimate failure. There’s a really bad movie called Look Who’s Talking. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since Zora arrived. And I’ve been thinking of this quote:

It’s weird, isn’t it? You spend the first nine months trying to get out and the rest of your life trying to get back in.

And while that quote doesn’t say quite what I’m thinking, and it certainly doesn’t convey my thoughts with any profundity, it does at least capture the gist of what I’m trying to get at. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. I guess citing a quote from a movie in which a taxi driver gets existential with a baby is not the best way to go about this explanation.

What I’m trying to say, what I think I am trying to say, is that we fail when we are born. We are meant to stay in the womb and we fail when we are no longer able to hold ourselves there. Or perhaps we are meant to exit the womb, as the taxi driver suggests, and it is because of our lack of awareness of the world that we fail when we exit the womb. I wonder if that is what Auster is suggesting. The way he depicts the great sense of loneliness, isolation, and fear certainly seems to align with what I can only imagine Zora is feeling. I am anxious to finish the book tonight and think about what his intent really is.

I am also anxious to see Zora again and ask her some questions she is not yet able to answer.


Author: Kim Sharp

more later

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