"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
I’m heartbroken and frightened and it would all go away if I did nothing.
A year ago I met and fell in love with a man I met online after eight years of terrible loneliness. We were immediately attracted to each other but we decided to stop seeing each other almost right away. He didn’t want any more kids and I was desperate to be a mom. We kept in touch and dated and broke up a few more times. I’d only known him a few months and I was already trying to convince him to have a child with me. That’s something I never would have done in my easy-breezy youth, but I’m turning 41 and all my friends have kids (boy, do they ever, this peer pressure is worse than anything I ever felt in high school). He ‘d just gone through a terrible divorce where his ex-wife used legal tricks to screw him good. Most horribly, she tried to keep him away from their 5-year-old daughter and he had to fight in court, deal with her calling the police, and move his life and his job so he could see his little girl again. So he’s burnt. But he also says he never wanted kids in the first place. His ex-wife pressured him. He also never wanted to get married but she pressured him into that.
So now he’s determined to keep from being pressured by me.
The thing is we moved in together (Yes, I’m an idiot, why did I do that?) and I’m in love with his little girl too. It’s a good life. He really does love me and wants to be with me, if only I won’t ask this of him. I offered to broker a deal where I get a donor and have a child that I’m solely responsible for. But he knows that living with a child would make him the de facto dad regardless. So do I leave him for the glamour and excitement of single motherhood on a tight salary? Or do I stay and hate him a little for what he’s doing to me? My mother used to say, “Life isn’t fair.”
But why can’t I have this basic thing that other people have?
Dear Childless Mother,
You ask, “Why can’t I have this basic thing that other people have?”
If I were to say to my psychotherapist, “Why can’t I have this basic thing that other people have?” she might ask me what I think the reason might be. That’s a way of getting me to think about my own situation and do some problem solving.
So, not that I’m a psychotherapist, but maybe I could ask you the same thing: What possible reasons could there be that you can’t have this thing that other people have? I don’t presume to know. But within you somewhere are some answers. You probably know some of the answers to that question. They have to do with opportunities you have had and choices you have made. It turns out that having the answers may be relatively easy but speaking them is difficult.
In looking over your past you could examine all kinds of things related to your current situation: people with whom you had relationships but where children were not the goal; people you wanted to have children with but who weren’t available at the time; ideal mates who might have appeared but didn’t; decisions you made during this eight years of terrible loneliness to not get pregnant; times you might have tried to get pregnant but it didn’t happen; any abortions you might have had; your history of using birth control; your fertility; the things you might have said to men in the past regarding whether you wanted to have children or did not want to have children; how your desire for children affected the relationships you had; how your attitude has changed over the years; how you viewed motherhood as a child; how your own mother viewed motherhood, etc.
All these things have brought you to this moment. They are all the things that make up who you are.
I suggest in order to find some peace with yourself that you take stock. Find time to sit and write out answers to these questions: When did I first want a child? Have I always wanted a child? Were there men whose children I wanted to bear? What happened? Was there a great disappointment in a prior relationship? What are my fears about having children? What do I think would happen to me if I had a child? What would happen to me if I didn’t have a child? Is it possible to be happy not having a child?
The point here is not to achieve a goal but to find out what your genuine attitudes and feelings are. Some of these may make sense and some may not make sense. For instance, there may be a deep aching for a child that seems, at first, to have nothing to do with any cultural attitudes or self-concept. And when you sit with that longing to have a child it may at first seem that it indeed really is nothing but a biological urge. But how does that biological urge express itself? What do you imagine? Do you imagine childbirth and breast-feeding? Do you imagine taking your child to school for the first time? Do you imagine buying baby clothes? Do you imagine having a lawyer for a son-in-law? Do you imagine being friends with other mothers?
This may seem exhaustive yet it is only the beginning of the exploration you can do. This exploration will not necessarily result in your having a child but it will help you live with yourself. It may be painful at times to think of the past. There may be times you were mistreated or misunderstood. There may be memories you start to remember and then recoil from. There may be losses that feel unbearable to recall. That’s OK. That’s what life is. At 41, you’ve had a life.
If you are in a situation where you can explore these questions under the guidance of a counselor or therapist or 12-step sponsor, great. If not, you can pursue this on your own. The important thing is to ask yourself these questions and write about them.
If you keep writing and keep asking yourself these questions, answers will come.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)