I mean honestly, I just saw some real deterioration and ruination in my family, in my childhood. My dad was an alcoholic. He died at 44.1 All his brothers — none of his brothers made it to 50. And when I went to Ireland, it turned out the last Myles in the area, where we were from, was found dead in what they called the wee house, a little thatched — I mean it wasn’t thatched anymore, but one of those little Irish houses. His body was found several days after his death and he was an alcoholic in his 40s. And I thought, “Oh my God.” So, I just have a kind of annihilation in my blood by means of alcohol for sure, but I think the whole kit, mental illness and then poverty and all — the whole cocktail.

 

But I think that my parents were actually really great, really smart, really beautiful, very kind of wistful. And my mother is very vital. She’s very strong, and was just the kind of woman who, in a deep depression, would be wallpapering. And she’s alive, she’s in her 90s, and until a few years ago, she was like walking several miles a day, just like prided herself and her strength. So, she’s Polish — she’s very — but there’s despair there too. And I feel like both my parents had huge capabilities, but no capacity. Like they had all of these gifts and all these skills, but I think it’s like that generation. I mean it’s like the myth of exceptionalism in America is, that you’re supposed to be able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But what if both your parents are dead by the time you’re eight? What if your dad is a brutal alcoholic who beats you up and your mother goes into a mental hospital when you’re in your 20s, and just when you’re coming of age, everybody around you — what if your sister dies?2

 

I mean my parents both sustained an enormous amount of loss at an early age, and so they retained their romanticism of a beautiful intelligent person who wants a lot of life, but they didn’t know how to do. And I struggle with this as that thing that makes you reach. It’s sort of like, okay, I want that cookie, but can I put my paw out and take it? It’s like do I dare? Will I be stopped? Will I be slapped? And I think I was so moved by their pathos. I mean I’m the child of their pathos, and so I think I had a very steely thing from very early on, that I was not going to be like that, that I was not going to be disappointed in my life, that I was going to do what it was that I wanted to do.3

  1. Rigorous Education, The Mind-Body Problem
  2. Foolish Assumption, Poker Iron
  3. Family Relations
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