David Rakoff


I’m kind of crushed that David Rakoff went and died. Fresh Air played a couple of interviews with him yesterday. They’re good.

On whether or not he had a happy childhood.

I had a beautiful childhood and a lovely childhood. I just didn’t like being a child. I didn’t like the rank injustice of not being listened to. I didn’t like the lack of autonomy. I didn’t like my chubby little hands that couldn’t manipulate the world of objects in the way that I wanted them to. Being a child, for me, was an exercise in impotent powerlessness.

Oh yes. That’s why youth is wasted on the young, as Shaw pointed out. (Was it Shaw? I think so.) I hated the lack of autonomy. I hated that and loved every new little increment of it that I got. I think that’s why I always missed living in the country during the five years that we lived in town (when I was between 3 and 8) – a small child can’t just wander around in town. Mind you, I overestimated how much of that I could do in the country, and wandered away at age 3 to be picked up and returned by some adult in a car. I also tried to make a break for it in town, but I got caught pretty quickly. I was a wandering child – I loved wandering more than most things.

This plays into my adult feminism: one of the oppressions of women I hate most is the array of obstacles to women wandering freely and unmolested. I don’t want to be locked up in a house or a burqa, and I don’t want people telling me what to do with my face when I’m wandering. I want my freedom.

I just wasn’t — and I was never terribly good at that kind of no-holds-barred fun. … I’ve essentially made a career on not being good at no-holds-barred fun. But, you know, I [was] just never sort of like, hey, yes, let’s go play. I was always more sort of like, does everybody know where the fire exit is? And let’s make sure there’s enough oxygen in this elevator. … As a grownup it’s much easier to work — to navigate the world with that, because then you can just go home to your own apartment.

Hahahahaha yes exactly. That was another bad thing about being a child: not having your own apartment.

And I was never like, hey, yes, let’s go play either. I had four boy cousins and I would play roughly with them but then I would be all wiped out and crabby. It didn’t suit me. My way of “playing” was to pretend to be someone else – usually someone who was wandering around the countryside, or else building versions of “my own apartment” in the barn or the bushes or under a tree.

This was supposed to be about David Rakoff and it’s turned out to be about my childhood. Ah well.

Comments

  1. Josh Slocum says

    I think we had the same mind in childhood, Ophelia. It’s just exactly what you said. Fantasy, autonomy, other kids usually not welcome.

    Oh, how I hated being a child too.

  2. Stacy says

    I was a wandering child – I loved wandering more than most things.

    This plays into my adult feminism: one of the oppressions of women I hate most is the array of obstacles to women wandering freely and unmolested. I don’t want to be locked up in a house or a burqa, and I don’t want people telling me what to do with my face when I’m wandering. I want my freedom

    Me too.

    I was an obedient child in most things (too obedient, I now think, and too quick to feel guilty over misdemeanors,) but the one rule I ignored and never felt guilty about breaking was the one that decreed I was not to go walking in the hills alone.

  3. says

    The funny thing is, though – because of the pretending and the wandering I can’t say I hated being a child. I hated the impotence of it but I loved the wandering and pretending. If we hadn’t moved back to the country when I was 8, maybe I could say I hated being a child, but we did, so I can’t. I got the years of Wordsworthian bliss, and I knew they were bliss at the time.

    The attic to play in, the basement to play in (own apartment), the barn, the fields, the brook, the bigger brook it emptied into, the little 18th century cemetery in the middle of the field across the road; the corn, the alfalfa, the cows; the strawberries, the graps, the pears, the tiny sour apples.

    The good thing about being a child is you’re allowed to be a child: you’re allowed to pretend and imagine.

  4. earwig says

    Yes, yes, yes! And the way the child was mocked for being a child, and shushed and ignored. But yes, too – the beneath-regard of the child afforded a freedom only dreamt of by middle-class children today. And, seriously, it’s a class thing, whatever continent you’re on. Working class children will have more autonomy and more responsibility, and less childhood.

  5. says

    I was a wanderer too and I think that’s part of what led me to become a scientist. I was alone a lot of the time so I *looked* at things and wondered how they worked. Whenever I could, I’d spend whole days roaming about across the fields. On one of these expeditions I found a perfect ammonite fossil that I later realised someone must have dropped (it was just lying in some mud) and I went to the library to get a book about fossils…

    Some of the best memories of my childhood (and there aren’t all that many, there were reasons I spent all my time wandering about alone) involved finding places nobody else knew about. In my part of the English countryside there are occasional little areas that have been fenced off from all sides and pretty much forgotten about. There’s a special kind of solitude that you can only get in places like that.

  6. Claire Ramsey says

    I am really sad that David Rakoff died. He was not aged sufficiently beyond his childhood to die.

    I think wandering in the woods pretending to be someone else was good preparation for doing ethnographic fieldwork.

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