The Idea of Permanence

Summer Block
3 min readJan 1

A few weeks ago and with absolutely no context, Beatrice (who goes by Apollo now) ran up to me and said, “I can’t believe you threw me into the pool!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I read it in your essay!”

And so it begins. The children have discovered my writing.

She then proceeded to quote back to me several lines from an essay I wrote about enrolling her in swimming lessons ten years ago.

“You know, people have used that essay in classes to teach writing,” I said neither subtly nor humbly, but she graciously ignored me. Instead she proceeded to ask many very specific questions about many other essays I had written five, ten, or even twenty years ago. “Did I like the stick?” “Whatever happened to Marguerite?”

“What stick?” “Who is Marguerite?”

I had been expecting this day. Everything I ever wrote about the kids, I wrote knowing they would someday read it, and I feel okay about what I said and what I didn’t. Nonetheless, I felt obscurely annoyed, and it wasn’t just because Apollo and Arthur were not sufficiently impressed by my illustrious career (Apollo did later say her friend Mia is a fan of mine, so that’s something).

Instead, I felt suddenly and painfully reminded of all the other lives I had lived, lives as remote now as if they had belonged to someone else. I wanted the kids to already know, somehow, all these things I had never told them, or maybe I wanted those things never to be brought to mind again. I was mad at myself for forgetting so much, and felt in the instant Apollo asked me about her swimming class or my Paris apartment every loss again.

Ever since I was a child myself, I have been in love with the idea of permanence. I romanticize the family that has lived in one house for four generations, the craftsman who has practiced his art for forty years. I love listening to anyone who has lived in one city for a long time talk about the gas station that used to be a pet store, the new condos on the site of the old elementary school. I want that sort of long history with something or somewhere.

In fact, I am completely unsuited to permanence, by habit, circumstance, or temperament. The problem is that I don’t want to be permanent at any one thing, I want to be permanent at everything, I want to live the life where I never leave Chicago, the life where I never leave Shanghai. I want to spend every day working…

Summer Block

Writer for Catapult, Longreads, The Awl, The Toast, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, and so on. Owner of After-Party Taxidermy. Working on a book about Halloween.