I had never felt more face-to-face with the male psyche than I did watching my son sit hunched over a red piece of paper, pencil idle, brow furrowed, staring with total writer's block. He'd gotten down the framework. “To Hugo.” Very nice. “From Aviv.” But what to put in the middle?
As I saw him struggle and stare and reach for information that was clearly beyond him, I saw the larval state of tongue-tied men who pay ghostwriters to write their dating web-site profiles1,
who open and close their mouths like hapless well-intentioned codfish when asked to “talk about their feelings,” and who bollocks up any number of personal relationships because they're over here and their feelings are over there in a jar on Neptune and the notion of looking into the jar is beyond alien to them.
Future lovers of the world, tonight I plant a seed for you. You can thank me later.
Isuggested a few sentences. “Happy Valentine's Day.” “I'm glad we're friends.” “I like playing with you.” I had another (now forgotten) priceless gem in there. Aviv puzzled over these in concentrated silence, and then, after a great pause, perked up and said, “...can I combine some of them?”
I said he could and the deed was almost done! But then writer's block fell upon my erstwhile charmer. None of my suggestions were quite le mot juste.
We hunkered down. "What would make you happy if you saw it in a Valentine someone gave you?" (Silence.) "What words would you like to see if this were a Valentine for you, from someone?" (Silence.) “Is Hugo your friend?” —Yes. “Do you like being friends with Hugo?” Yes. “What's so great about Hugo? Why do you like him?” —Because...we have so much in common; he's like a copy of me. [Pause for editorial smirk.] “What's one thing you have in common?” —We have the same hairstyle, except he doesn't have this curl right here. ….And we both like hamsters. “What's something else you have in common?” —We both like to play tag.
Aha! How about, “I like playing tag with you and I'm glad we're friends.”
I thought the case was closed but this still did not quite hit the literary sweet spot. But I think we did quite a bit of important work. The Boy finally caved and had dinner, his elegy abandoned for
the nonce. I do the same thing often myself. But I was proud of him, because every minute he spent furrowing that little brow and uncomfortably directing his attention toward this strange,
uncustomary world called “his feelings,” and every word he struggled to spit out that gave shape and focus to this mysterious thing called Friendship with Hugo, was a baby root he practiced putting down into the world of knowing what the heck is going on inside him. After a lifetime of consistent practice, it may still not come naturally, but eventually there will be well-worn tracks and an understanding of the concept that this is a direction one can put one's attention. That there are things inside that mysterious jar on Neptune, and it is possible and sometimes advisable to look at that jar, and maybe even open it up and identify what's inside. And as a coup de grâce, some day he might even be able to stick a word-label on something he finds inside the jar.
Great job, little guy! Adelante!