Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 22 2001 6:30 PM

Jennifer Egan

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It is a measure of how little I knew about being a parent that I thought I would attend the premiere of The Invisible Circus, a film adaptation of my first novel, at the Sundance Film Festival this Wednesday, although I was due to give birth to my first child on Dec. 25. I'm not sure exactly how I imagined doing this—leaving my son at home, I guess (after all, it would just be one night) or wearing him around my neck at 3 weeks old to the premiere. Or finding a baby sitter in Park City, Utah ... I can't remember what I thought, because all of it seems so preposterous now.

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Not only will I not be at the premiere, but I've barely left our apartment since Emmanuel was born on Dec. 28. For years I've listened to new parents describe the strange, fraught, sleepless existence of those first baby weeks, a part of me shuttering over in boredom and alienation. I think I secretly regarded parenting as a kind of weakness, an inexplicable compromise that left people unable to do most of the things that made life interesting: go to museums and movies; work for hours uninterrupted; stay out late and drink martinis; travel spontaneously. Now I'm ashamed of that opinion—it was a disservice to the rich lives of the parents I know. And it lends an eerie, bifurcated quality to my new existence; I keep glimpsing myself through the eyes of my footloose and judgmental non-parent self, with whom I parted ways so recently. It makes me reluctant to talk about my life as a mother except to say that the organizing principle of my days is a tiny creature who is fragile, whom I don't understand but love very much, and who I continually and neurotically fear is on the brink of death.

My attendance at the premiere is in no way mandatory; my involvement with the movie has been purely as an interested spectator. The writer-director, Adam Brooks, is a warm and welcoming guy, and two summers ago I went to Portugal with my mother to watch him shoot. I was shocked by the amount of hard work that goes into every millisecond of screen time: the people, the planning, the vast apparata. And I couldn't fathom how the actors brought any conviction to their parts—my husband directs plays, so I'm used to stage actors, who have an emotional experience of some sort each night in the theater. But acting in a movie is so atomized and achronological that it's hard to know how the actors can feel anything. One afternoon I watched Cameron Diaz leap good naturedly into the freezing and choppy Atlantic Ocean eight or nine times, swim out some distance, then plow her way back through sodden waves only to be belted across the face by Patrick Burgin (playing her father) as soon as she hit the beach. And after all that, Adam cut the scene.

The strangest moments were those when I heard actors say words that I myself had written; I would be overwhelmed, then, by the memory of working in my apartment years ago, without air conditioning or much hope of success, and it all felt freaky and irreconcilable. Being at the premiere would be a bit like that, I guess.

My one significant absence from our apartment since Emmanuel was born occurred last night, when I went to the opening of Dido, Queen of Carthage, by Christopher Marlowe, which my husband, David Herskovits, has directed. We left Emmanuel in the company of Amy Baird, baby-nurse extraordinaire, who has been with us this week while I finish the revisions on my new novel. I actually looked forward to taking the subway into SoHo; the pleasure of walking to the station, reading during the brief train ride, then tripping along Wooster Street to the Ohio Theater, beckoned me throughout the day, even as my non-parent self, with whom I parted ways so recently, shook her head in pity.

The show was one of David's best, I think, and afterward there was a cast party. An hour into it, I began to grow tense; I had to get home by midnight to relieve Amy. I left a few minutes later than I should have, with Nicole Halmos, who plays Dido. It had started to snow, and the streets were slippery. As we skittered around, looking for a cab, I began to panic; if I didn't get home in time ... then what? At last we found a cab driven by a devotee of crystal meth. When I asked him to turn down the volume on his pounding house music, he booted us out in a fury.

We found another cab eventually, and I blew through the door to our apartment feeling like I'd been to Antarctica and back. I sat beside the bassinet for a good 45 minutes, just staring at him, while my non-parenting self looked on in bewilderment.