Inflating Slightly

by jkatejohnston

18 October 2013

Dear Max,

I’ve written before about the affectionate superiority that I feel toward my parents—a teenagerish feeling that, as far as I can tell, never goes away. And Enzo has pretty much the same feeling toward me, when he says, “Mom, don’t try to rock out this time” or (a note from last night) “Can I have a minute? To myself?” And I leave the kitchen to him and his dinosaurs—I didn’t want to clean up anyway.

It has nothing to do with relative merits. It’s just every person’s natural feeling that kids inherit the earth. They do. It’s their world.

A few days ago Teresa asked me, “Do you think Enzo’s spoiled?” This brought on by the fact that we’ve tried to cure the bloody noses he gets at night by purchasing a humidifier that’s pretty much the nicest thing we own. It’s so smart and sensitive and expensive that we’re all in awe of it. Our old one, with only two settings and a filthy old filter, we now regard with horrified distaste. How did we live like that? And Enzo likes that you can see and feel the fine mist the new one puts out, despite which he got another bloody nose last night. Oh well.

And yesterday morning Teresa asked me, “Do you think most moms iron their kids’ shorts?” as she ironed away on a towel on the kitchen table. I said I thought not. I, for one, don’t, and she explained that she only does it on this one pair that have some problem with the hem bunching up. Also, the flaps on the back pockets must be made to lie flat. We wouldn’t want anyone to think he has a big butt—as if that were possible.

So maybe he is a little spoiled. Not that he gives a rat’s ass about the hem of his shorts or how his butt looks. And anyway, he’s not a spoiled brat.

What I’m trying to get to is how natural and even rather sweet it is that kids look down on their parents with, we hope, affectionate regard. This doesn’t mean they think they’re in charge. Enzo’s biddable enough, especially if it’s Teresa’s bidding. But they know it’s their world.

And what I’m still trying to get to is that doing this Mudrick project, I’ve been in touch with his daughters, and it occurred to me that it would be much, much easier to be Mudrick’s student than his kid. Because they regard him with huge love, huge sadness (he died young in his sixties), huge admiration—even awe—and (I think in at least one case) huge ambivalence. What a privilege and also what a complete pain in the ass to have a parent who also happens to be a genius. It completely upsets the natural order of things that I’ve been trying to describe, where children—very reasonably—regard their parents as a minor annoyance most of the time.

Genius, what a thing to say, but I’m afraid Mudrick was almost instantly recognizable at that. I never met the guy, but I’m pretty sure it’s like Johnson said about Burke—You could meet him for the first time and know after five minutes, this is an extraordinary man. (I love how everything you even faintly remember is instantly findable on the internet, see Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, Sunday, 15 August.)


For quite a while I’ve been meaning to write about how I weigh my shit and how wonderful it is. I start the day with a feeling of purpose, order and accomplishment—things are moving in the right direction. (Maybe I’ll set up a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.) I hasten to add that I don’t weigh the shit itself. I weigh myself; shit; weigh myself again; subtract. The habit perfectly combines my shit obsession with my low-grade eating disorder. And a few evenings ago the whole family got into a discussion over dinner about what would happen if you weighed yourself; farted; weighed yourself again. Would you weigh more (having lost the hot-air-rising effect of the fart) or less because even though farts don’t weigh much surely they weigh something. Of course you’d need a terribly sensitive scale to do the experiment. (This reminds me of Feynman’s thought-experiment about putting a rotary-type sprinkler under water and sucking water though the hose—which direction would the sprinkler turn? Or would it turn at all?) Anyway, for the time being, we’re all at exactly the right level of maturity to enjoy this sort of inquiry. Long may it last.

I want to quickly add that the only other writer I know who adores this subject as it deserves is Anna Schott.


I was thinking more about farts and how much I love them and how we read in Parade that strong families know their family stories and that one story of mine whose splendor never fades is about when I was at a dinner party at Max and Elaine’s (the Max of this diary, parents of Anna Schott, above) and two things occurred at the same time: I had to pee and I had to fart. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.

I knew that if I relaxed and let go to pee there would be no holding back the fart, which was in the launch position. And the dining room in their house is right next to the bathroom and both are fairly small rooms, so that even without my special problem one couldn’t help feeling, here I am, and there they are, all quite intimate. (And here I like to pause in the story to describe the wonderful food, the good talk, the simple, warm feeling of it all, so classy—and all about five feet away.) So, I had no choice. I put my finger firmly on my butthole and peed.

Enzo loves this story—and so do we. I wish I could find what I wrote about all this at the time. I know for sure I did write about it. I’m pretty sure that even as my finger was on my butthole I was thinking, this is going to be so great for my diary. I love it when life simply presents you with a gift. You do not reject it. That’s the law.

But to find what I wrote at the time I’d have to open every old diary and word-search it for what? Fart? Butthole? Max? Those are words I use a lot. So it would be a project.

I wish I could remember what eventually happened with the fart. After peeing did I let it out with a gentle sigh, spreading my butt-cheeks a bit to minimize the vibrations? Or did I order it back to its source (inflating slightly)?