An Interview With Paul Wachtel
When I look back on the Sixties, I realize it would have been absolutely and utterly inconceivable to me then that the world would be the way it is: that Ronald Reagan would be President, that our society would be so increasingly acquisitive, that the growth of the underclass would have proceeded the way it has. I really thought twenty years ago that today we would look back on the kind of race relations we had in the Sixties as a remnant of some dark age — like slavery and the era of Jim Crow — and that full integration and equality would have been achieved. Obviously, I was extremely wrong, which can be grounds for pessimism. But I do think that something radical and powerful and extraordinary happened in the Sixties. We just didn’t know how to consolidate it, to keep it going.
Writing is like psychotherapy, or a spiritual discipline. It is a way of encountering reality. It teaches me about myself and the world around me. I’m not sure how it does that, just as I’m not sure how the revelations of religion and psychotherapy happen. People who don’t “believe” in writing don’t know what I’m talking about. To them I call it my work, putting it in a context they can understand.
When my mother screamed into the phone for me to get over there, “Daddy’s dead,” a long waiting period ended. My father’s failing health over several years had left him almost helpless; he had demanded and received from my mother as much care and supervision as a infant.
Though several members of my childhood family have died, the passing of all but two of them took place unexpectedly and at a distance, and I was not able to say goodbye. On two occasions I was there, the dying spoke to me, and their conversation was memorable. Their last words to me seemed a summary of their lives and a way of giving me a part of themselves that would remain in the world after they had left it.
Loggers are notorious hard-asses. Hard labor, danger, long hours, and constant, male-only intimate companionship almost guarantee a hardening of the heart. Work gloves can protect soft hands but psyches protect themselves with calluses. It seems simple enough when seen from a distance, but up close, like everything in life, it gets more complicated.