The Tin Drum Diaries, Part 10
Most people live on a lonely island
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea
Most people long for another island
One where they know they would like to be
That speaks to her, she’s told me. It speaks to me, too. I’ve been feeling this way lately. I mean, I guess more or less for the past 36 years, but more acutely lately. Here’s my version of “Bali Ha’i,” which maybe would resonate with my mother, too, a quote by absolute unstoppable poetry queen Elizabeth Bishop:
I was made at right angles to the world and I see it so. I can only see it so.
This stuff is a little hard to talk about, not so much because it’s about a feeling that can be painful, but it can feel self-aggrandizing — Woe is me, I’m so extraordinary and special that I find it difficult to walk amongst the philistines of the mortal world. So I hope it doesn’t come off that way; it feels more like the opposite, actually. It goes back to what the Hasids say: “For my sake, the world was born/I am but dust and ashes.” They get it.
But listen, my mom is weird, there’s just absolutely no two ways about it, and so am I. A mean boss I had once said to me, and definitely intended it in an unkind way, “It must be very interesting to be Raphaela Weissman.”
So it makes a lot of sense to me that my mom and Oskar and I felt compelled to hang out together for a while in this little project.
I’m also thinking about this stuff because I recently discovered that the book I’m currently reading is another one of my mother’s favorites. I was really excited by this discovery, and may or may not have used the term “psychic connection” a couple times when I was talking to her about it, because here’s the deal: at some point some years ago I Googled something along the lines of “speculative fiction for people who don’t normally like speculative fiction” or “excellent literary fantasy” or something like that, and The Gormenghast Trilogy popped up. I spent a while looking for the first in the series, Titus Groan, and found it to be relatively obscure and hard to find. I found a copy at some point and started reading it about a month ago, and immediately thought, this is like The Tin Drum as a castle-y dragon-y fantasy (there actually haven’t been any dragons so far but you know what I mean). It’s dark and weird and European and there are little drawings by the author scattered throughout the book; so I told my mom and lo and behold, she’s read the entire trilogy, and loves these books. She has (or had, she apparently can’t find them right now) really cool old hardcover copies of all of them, and even has a biography of the author, Mervyn Peake (who’s giving me hot priest from Fleabag vibes in that Wikipedia photo, but I digress).
I thought that was so cool and exciting, this weird little series I arrived at on my own while unbeknownst to me, my mom’s been all Tin Drum about it the entire time. I also feel like some families have this Lord of the Rings thing where they’re real into it and pass it down to their kids, and I’m just tickled that our family’s version of that is with this weird morbid obscure hipster Lord of the Rings.
So, dear reader, if you’re feeling at right angles to the world, I’m right there with you. It seems pretty cute and all from a distance, and it makes for acclaimed novels and prestige television, but in the moment, it can be very, very lonely. I have little to no advice on what to do about that, but I do think the answer lies somewhere in art. If you’re an artist of some kind, people may — I mean let’s be real, they will — tell you to take negative experiences and make them into art. That’s valid, and can be great, but people also like to fix problems and have positive things to say, and making art sometimes just isn’t in you, especially during a rough time, so I’d amend that to say that consuming art can help too. For me, it’s one of the only things I know can’t be taken away from me, no matter how dark things get — I can always read and watch and look and listen to other people’s dispatches from their lonely islands in the foggy sea.
Take care, everyone. What are you doing this weekend? Watching The Tin Drum on the Criterion channel and writing a Medium post about it? Hey, me too!