Look Out!

Burt Lancaster pours a drink in The Swimmer, based on a Cheever short story. http://www.thisrecording.com

Antibiotics and eye drops are helping, although my mother-in-law tells me that I still look terrible. I admit, I am not going to be ready for my close-up any time soon.

There is an upside to feeling like poop, though, and it is this: if you are fortunate to have someone looking after your midgets, you can actually lie down and read in the middle of the day without feeling like you should be taking the Christmas tree down. And so that’s what I did. I read Home Before Dark, nonfiction writer and novelist Susan Cheever‘s 1984 biographical memoir of her dad, the Pulitzer-winning, National Book Award-winning novelist and short story writer John Cheever (whose memory bears the distinction of being called to life in Seinfeld and Madmen episodes). I like to see how a complex and nearly lifelong relationship can be reduced to two hundred and fifty pages or less. I wonder, as I always do, about the mountains and mountains of facts and moments and characters and stories that were there, in the lives, but that were left out to make the story.

Intent on finding a copy of Cheever senior’s 1977 novel Falconer, I turned to my old friend, Amazon. And there I quickly learned that, fifteen years after publishing the chronicle of her father’s life–which dealt largely with his alcoholism and how it affected his work and relationships (and vice-versa)–his daughter published her own memoir. It’s called Note Found in a Bottle: My Life as a Drinker.

Knock me over with a feather. Should I have had an inkling? In the story of her father, there was no hint that she shared his disease. And I think: What an extraordinary feat, to tell his story without letting her own get in the way. She was, for a long time, an editor at Newsweek, which no doubt strengthened a natural inclination to look outward instead of inward. But sometimes it’s not so easy to separate the two.

I appreciate the reminder to keep looking out, out, out, even if my eyes might be crusted shut with goop. Better that than crusted shut with egocentric self-indulgence. Antibiotics cannot get rid of that. Unless of course you are bacteria.

What did you look out and see today?

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