Introducing The Tin Drum Diaries
Day 1–January 25, 2021
I don’t know that I have a huge amount to say yet, but I wanted to get something down. Like Oskar. Oskar is writing with his drum, or to his drum, something along those lines, we haven’t really learned the second half of the metaphor yet, but I’m reading The Tin Drum and writing along with it. I’m doing that because I’m a writer but I’m not writing; and because we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Quarantine/COVID/Pandemic Life/whatever other terminology history will decide for this period of time, and the thing to do these days is to have a Project; and because, since this is The Age of Quarantine, I haven’t seen my parents in over a year and I’m not sure when I’ll see them again, and The Tin Drum is my mother’s favorite book, so I’m doing this as sort of a metaphysical closeness exercise.
My mother is alive and well — she got her COVID vaccine just today, actually — so maybe I’m not using the term “metaphysical” right, because she’s around, just on the other side of the country. But she’s not going to read along with me or anything like that (she thought about it, she told me on the phone the other day, but she found the copy that she has of The Tin Drum and she thinks it’s probably the same one she first read, so might fall apart if she tried to read it again). That’s okay. This exercise is for me, really. About my mother, maybe, a little, but for me. At least that’s the idea. The other main idea, though, is not to have too many plans about what this is and isn’t, and just to let myself find out as I go.
Here, already, is something I haven’t thought of until just now: my mother actually did do a sort of metaphysical closeness exercise with me already, when I was a baby. She had cancer (for the first time; she had breast cancer twice, at 38 and then again at 46; then bladder cancer at I want to say 67 and salivary gland cancer at 71, which now, at 73, she’s still getting radiation for every two weeks, as some of those cancerous cells traveled to her lungs; and a couple skin carcinomas removed in there, and type 2 diabetes since she was in her late thirties — but as I say, other than all that, she’s doing just fine) and started a diary for her baby daughter whom she thought she might not get to meet. She told me about the diary when I graduated from high school but ultimately decided she didn’t want to show it to me yet, because it was too intense; instead, she brought it to me in the much less ceremonious setting of a Thanksgiving when I was home visiting in my late twenties, and guess what: it was still really fucking intense to read and made me cry a lot.
Will this be less intense than that? Probably, but who knows. Here are two variables to consider:
1. The Tin Drum is not light reading. It’s readable enough, so far, but it’s not like, a light romp. Maybe parts of it will be, I can kind of picture that from what I’ve seen so far, but you know: it’s set in an asylum, the author is German, the type face in the edition I’m reading is kind of proudly old-fashioned, like the publisher is showing off its allegiance to a now-extinct printing press, it’s a Weighty Book.
2. The very parameters of this exercise are sort of set up with an eye towards intensity, no? Channeling a communion with my mother whom I can’t see because of a global pandemic by reading a beloved German novel set in an asylum.
I’ve read I think 43 pages and I’m getting pretty tired. I may read some more tonight, but I figured, write the intro, get something down, make it more difficult to welsh on the promise of this project. I’ll read a little more tonight and I’ll definitely read my break book, which is the light(er), (more) fun book I’m going to read alongside The Tin Drum — there will likely be a few of these — so that if my brain doesn’t feel sharp enough to venture into the German asylum and write about it for a few days, I won’t go all that time without reading at all. I just now decided that I’m going to call those books, all of them, Breaking Drum, which will be a fun little euphemism for the enormous universe of fans of this running Tin Drum book report that I will undoubtedly amass because this is content gold and now I understand how Joe Rogan must have felt as he sat down to record his podcast for the very first time. My super cool savvy fan base (who I may or may not decide to call Drummers or Tin Drummers) will know not only that Breaking Drum refers to all the non-Tin Drum books I read alongside The Tin Drum, but that they are more than welcome to consider it a Breaking Bad reference or a Twilight: Breaking Dawn reference, according to their personal preference. Diehard fans who have been with us since the very first entry, where I officially set the record straight, will know that I originally conceived of it, when it popped into my head five minutes ago as I was writing, as a Twilight thing, and only later realized that Breaking Bad was also a possibility, one people would be likely to avail themselves of as it is (rightly) generally considered a Very High Quality and Important TV Show, whereas the Twilight franchise is generally considered trash, which is also accurate. I have not read the books and don’t plan to, but the terrible movies are pretty fun and I will happily watch all of those again, several times.
Anyway, the current Breaking Drum is an Icelandic mystery. I was about to type that that’s also not exactly what people would consider a beach read, but that’s completely untrue, that’s exactly what a beach read is.
So I didn’t really say anything about The Tin Drum this time. But I did get something down. And you know what? That totally parallels the part of The Tin Drum that I’ve read so far. So yeah, I have some thoughts! Just because I don’t spell them out doesn’t mean they’re not there, everybody. Just give me a minute and we’ll get there.