My name came down through seven generations of men with the same name each naming the first son the same name as the father then the mothers nicknaming the sons so as not to confuse them with the fathers when hearing their names called in the open air while working side by side in the waist-high wheat.
The sons came to believe their names were the nicknames they heard floating across these fields and answered to these names building ideas of who they were around the sound never dreaming their real legal name was lying in wait for them written on some paper in Chicago and that name would be the name they’d prefix with “Mr.” and that name would be the name they’d die with.
Homestead Valley, Ca
—from Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles
i’ve been playing with names, for myself, for my unborn (and as yet unconceived) children, for characters in the book i’m writing, as nicknames for people i love. i’ve been playing with names for as long as i can remember, naming monsters and ghosts and imaginary friends. although the monsters and ghosts and imaginary friends told me their names; i didn’t name them. i played with the sound of their names in the echoes of the tunnel that connects my heart and mind and wove their names into conversations with myself (or with them, depending on one’s perspective). the names for my unborn children and characters in my books come to me as if they are being told to me, rather than me deciding who should be called what. there have been many unconceived children and characters who spoke to me, introduced themselves, told me their names and asked me to give birth to them. i didn’t. i resisted. i’ve resisted giving birth to children and books since i was 23. some of those characters wouldn’t let me rest, would speak as soon as i closed my eyes and shooed away my sleep. eventually i wrote those books and burned them. i conceived none of the children who called to me, who spoke to me, who asked me to be their mother. part of me wonders now if it is too late for me to conceive children, as i wait for my period to begin again after suppressing it with birth control pills since i was 16. because of the kind of pill i was taking, i haven’t menstruated in over a decade, although my body has begun to bleed for other reasons at other times, which causes me more concern than i allow myself to acknowledge. with children and with books, i wonder if it is too late or too soon, if i’ve run out of time or if the time for them hasn’t yet arrived. the book i’m writing keeps stalling. the child i haven’t yet conceived, i keep putting off. all the while, the names of these characters and children come to me. they speak. i listen. i listen cautiously, not quite trusting and not quite doubting if they are real enough for me to believe in. i call them by their names. they answer. they answer that they are real and they are mine and they are meant for me to bring them to life.