Lord Byron Dared Me to Be Me
A trauma in the life of a Romantic poet spurred me to begin my writing autobiography
How do you feel about your own writing autobiography if you compare it to the biography of a famous writer? One person I asked said “it makes me feel small.” But when I did it, I discovered just the opposite. While reading Lord Byron’s biography I discovered things about myself I’d never known before. The process had its dark sides, but it also turned me into a more self-aware, a more contented, a less embarrassed writer. I found I was prouder of myself than when I started. I will add to this writing autobiography over the next several days and weeks. You can dip in wherever you like. The parts can be read on their own and don’t need to be read in sequence.
My story begins in a library, my father’s library. This was eight years ago. My father had just died. He was in his mid-eighties. His death wasn’t painless, but it was relatively short. It took three weeks. He died from the complications of an unexpected surgery. He died in the teaching hospital of a large Midwestern university where he’d spent his career as a professor of English literature. He’d also served as provost for nearly a decade. One or two of the doctors and nurses knew this, but most of them didn’t. For much of the time he was in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube down his throat so he couldn’t tell them. My father didn’t like it when the nurses called him “buddy,” but I’m pretty sure he did like it when they held his hand and stroked his hair. When the breathing tube was at last removed, his speech was impaired. My brother and I didn’t want his life medically prolonged when there was little hope of a full recovery. He wouldn’t have enjoyed living on without language or acuity. We were both relieved when he died rather than surviving, as at one point it seemed he might, into a half light between life and death.
Our problem was that we both lived in different states. Our father’s house, where we’d both grown up, sold quickly. We had to clear it out in a short period. What to do with his thousands of books? Neither of us had space for them all. That was one of the things that was on my mind that night. Alone after dinner, on one of the first hot, light nights of early summer, I sat in a black leather armchair…