This morning my 2-year-old daughter, Alison, pointed to this picture of Allen Ginsberg hanging in our apartment and said, “Mommy, I don’t know his name!”
“His name is Allen Ginsberg,” I said. “He’s a poet mommy likes. Poems are like small stories.” Then, to simplify: “He’s a writer.”
She thought about it a minute, then came over, hugged me, and said, “I like THIS writer.”
One day I’ll introduce you to the beat poets, baby. Maybe, like me, you’ll look like a proper and compliant teenage girl, but on the inside you’ll be dying to break out of the box, and the language of the beats will help you get there. Maybe one day you’ll meet an artist you admire, like I met Ginsberg, and they will totally disappoint you, and you will realize the gap that can exist between the artist and the art. Or hey, if I’m just imagining possibilities, here, maybe you’ll meet an artist you love, and they will be everything you ever dreamed. Maybe everything about your life will be better than mine, and what an amazing life that would be, Ali.
And then maybe, one day, you’ll be browsing in a bookstore on vacation and you’ll see a photograph of that artist, and the story from the photographer on the back of the print will make you realize that this artist continues to symbolize deep and meaningful things to you about how you want to live your life. And maybe you’ll buy it, and carry it like a talisman from home to home, a visual reminder of your deep, true teenage self and the threads that connect that girl to who you are today.
And then maybe one day you’ll have a little girl of your own, and she’ll ask you about the picture, and she’ll tell you, “Mommy, I like you more,” and even though you know it’s biology, for a little girl to love her mother…even though she is not offering an astute, critical assessment…maybe, if you’re lucky, hearing those words will be like the first moment you ever read poetry, the connection you felt then…the gratitude…at being seen.
And maybe you will realize all the ways this little girl is helping you find new, deep parts of yourself, and how amazing it is that there is still more there to uncover.
Or maybe all of this is my story — yes. And you will write your own — yes.
For now: Sorry, (ghost of) Allen Ginsberg. You can’t win ’em all.