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From why in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with Fresh Air Weekend today, Natasha Trethewey, a former U.S. poet laureate and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of her mother's murder two bullets. The man who shot her was Tretheway stepfather who'd beaten and threatened to kill her mother before Trethewey has a new memoir.
Also, we talk with comic, actor, filmmaker and writer Mike Birbiglia and poet John Stein. When they got married, they agreed they didn't want to have children. But several years later, she changed her mind.
Mike's new memoir, The New One, is about reluctantly becoming a father. His wife, Jan, gives her point of view in a series of poems interspersed through the book. Later, Kevin Whitehead reviews a newly unearthed 1959 session by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. That's coming up on Fresh Air Weekend. Support for this podcast and the following message come from the Glenn Levitt's new Caribbean Reserve expression, a new single malt with a bold tropical twist that is selectively finished in barrels that previously held Caribbean rum, offering a sweet and smooth taste.
Learn more at the Glenlivet Dotcom, the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, single malt Scotch whisky. Enjoy our quality responsibly. 40 percent alcohol by volume 80 proof 20-20 imported by the Glenlivet Distilling Company, New York, New York.
My guest, former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, says the landscape of her childhood was overwritten with monuments to and symbols of the Confederacy. She was born in Mississippi in 1966 on Confederate Memorial Day with Confederate flags waving in the streets as Klansmen celebrated. The last home she lived in with her mother was in a suburb of Atlanta, a memorial drive where from their home they could see Stone Mountain, the largest Confederate monument in America that's been described as a Confederate Mount Rushmore, with sculpted images of Jefferson Davis, Robert E.
Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Trethewey. His mother was black. Her father was white when they married in 1965. Interracial marriage was illegal in Mississippi where they lived. So they eloped in Cincinnati. They returned to Mississippi, although it was even illegal there to have married interracially in another state. After Tretheway parents divorced, her mother married a man who ended up tormenting Tretheway and beating her mother, threatening her with death. He followed through on that threat 35 years ago and murdered her with two bullets, one in the neck, one in the head.
Tretheway was 19. Over the years, Tretheway has written poems about her mother, but now she tells the story in a memoir titled Memorial Drive. Trethewey is now the board of trustees, professor of English at Northwestern University, Natasha Trethewey. Welcome back to Fresh Air. It's a pleasure to have you back again. It's a really beautiful, very sad book.
It's so beautifully written and I'm glad to have the occasion to talk with you again.
I'm sorry that the occasion for the book is such a is such a sad one. You know, you had written poems about your mother in the past and you were on before on our show and we'd spoken about her murder. But this book has documents that were saved by the police and one document that the police found in your mother's briefcase, and that was, you know, that was used as evidence.
Tell us the story of how you came to have these documents 20 years after the fact. It was such a a chance encounter, I had moved back to Atlanta in 2001 to take a job at Emory University, and in 2005 my husband and I were walking downtown Decatur to a restaurant that we frequented and a man saw us and came over and asked if we had been walking from the hotel. And I said no, because we'd been walking from our home, not thinking that he might have meant in the vicinity of the hotel.
It turns out that he was the first officer on the scene the morning my mother was murdered and recognized me. And so he struck up a conversation with us and told me that the police department's usually expunge the records. They clean out their files after 20 years. And so they would be getting rid of this file of my mother's case. And he offered to get it and give it to me.
And if you hadn't gotten it, those documents would have been destroyed. That's right. And I would not have ever had the opportunity to read my mother's last words in which she is describing her life and getting away and how she understood the effect of being with her former husband on me, the document that she left in her briefcase.
Would you mind reading an excerpt of that? I know it must be a little bit hard to do that because it is your mother's last message. But there's an excerpt I'd like you to read.
And and there's there's a reference in this excerpt to your half brother, your brother, who your mother had with your stepfather.
The beginning of the end started in the fall of 1978 when I changed jobs, not to imply that there had not been trouble during the other nine years. I was thankful when it was a hole punched in the wall or beaten into a cabinet with a hammer. My physical damage over the years ranged from black eyes, a hairline fracture of the jaw to bruised kidneys and a sprained arm. All four things he thought about. I quickly learned to gauge his moods and became a master at diffusing him.
One of our problems was my successful employment. While he enjoyed the things my income allowed us to purchase, he was jealous of my success. The new job came about as a surprise to me, I discussed thoroughly with him that my new duties would entail travel, some overnights and occasionally long hours, and we decided that I should take it. The other major problem was my daughter from a previous marriage, he insisted that I loved her more than our son, and while he was not overtly cruel to her, he managed to do little things to keep her upset if I attempted to intervene.
It only made matters worse. She spent most of her pre-teen years in her room. At work, I became a master at scheduling that would keep me out of town as little as possible, my co-workers soon learned not to invite me to happy hours or any activities after office hours because I always had an excuse. I had an excuse for myself to my children needed me. There would be time for activities later. While this wasn't 100 percent true, I knew I could never depend on my husband to be there when I needed him.
Finally, in the summer of 1983, I started doing things after 10 years. Each time I did, my husband's reaction grew worse. His accusations and threats increased. And for the first time, he had a gun. Did you know he had a gun?
I did not. She was able to keep most of what was happening in that house from us. But for me, waking in the night and hearing him abusing her. She kept a very stoic facade and kept me from knowing that his threats included us, the children. You know, in this passage that you read, he threatened her in part because he thinks she loves you, her child, from her first marriage more than she loves her son that she had with your stepfather.
Did you have any idea that that was an issue for him in the marriage, for your stepfather? I thought that the issue was that my father was my white parent and that he was somehow angry about that. My father was also like my mother, educated. And I thought perhaps he was more he was jealous also of the level of education that they both had that he with a technical college degree, did not have.
But you didn't know that he was jealous of.
You know, I didn't know that he thought my mother loved me more than my brother because she never did anything that made that seem possible. She seemed to love us equally.
You learn from the transcripts that he had considered killing you and that he'd actually been following you so he could shoot you. Can you read into an excerpt of the 12 page message that she wrote in which you learned that? Sure.
This is a part of the statement that my mother gave to police on Valentine's Day of 1984, the first time he tried to kill her. He drove down memorial as we near to 285, I told him it would be quicker to take me to work to go straight down memorial. He took 285 south to Covington Highway, exited, then turned around to get back on 285 North and exited at memorial. We drove down Memorial to the Cinema five theater. He turned in there and drove back to my apartment.
He told me to go in and call my office and tell them I would be in. But in a half an hour he listened with his hand on the cord to disconnect. If I said anything else, then he told me to sit down. I did on the couch and to remove my coat. During all of this time it was now seven fifty. He had to make sure my kids had gone to school before we came back. He was talking about hurting someone close to me.
He named my daughter, not his daughter and my mother. He said he had been following her. My daughter. He had previously told me he was following me too, and could shoot her any time. What was your reaction when you read that? Um, I had known for a while that even before we escaped from him, that he had followed me if I had to leave home to go to school for a practice of some kind gymnastics practice or cheerleading practice or even to meet a friend to go to the movies together, he would often follow me and I would see him frequently like that.
And I just learned to ignore it so that the friends I was with wouldn't realize that this strange person was actually following me. So it wasn't completely surprising to know that he, in the aftermath of us getting away, was following me also. I mean, in fact, the week we left, the first thing he did was find me because she was at a shelter and he couldn't find the location of the shelter. But he knew I'd be at the high school football game on a Friday night with the other cheerleaders.
And describe what you did when you saw him.
Well, I was down there on the track with the rest of the cheerleaders, and he came in and walked all the way down to the front of the bleachers and sat there right in front of me. And when it was impossible for me to ignore him anymore, I looked at him and smiled and waved and spoke a little greeting. And he stayed there for a while. And then finally he left. But he told a psychiatrist or psychologist at the VA hospital later that he had shown up at the football stadium to kill me, to punish my mother, but hadn't done so because I had waved and spoke in a greeting to him.
Do you think he might have shot you had you not waved and smiled?
I've lived with. The survivor's guilt of that moment ever since, because I I think that had he killed me, then he would have been arrested for that and she'd be the one alive today.
Would you like to take a break here? No, no love, OK? It must be so hard for you to have written this book and read those documents. I mean, it sounds from your book like you really tried to forget a lot of this because it was just too painful to remember. And now, like, you've totally immersed yourself in the story, in the transcripts, and now I'm asking you to retell it and other people are asking you that to.
So I apologize for, you know, putting you through it again. Oh, you know, I.
It it feels like an. Strangely, a mixed blessing, because, as you say, yes, I I tried to forget so much of it because it was just. A life I wanted to leave behind. I wanted to forge a new life for myself that didn't include that past, but of course that was impossible in trying to forget. I realized that I forgot or let go of a lot of her parts of our lives together in those years that I would love to be able to remember.
And so when I talk about her now, as painful as it is to go back to that place of world amnesia, to try to recover it, I do find.
Some happiness in bringing back, what, few parts of her that I can and forgetting, you probably also lost a part of yourself.
I suppose that must be true. I think perhaps the person I was before her death might be somewhat unrecognizable to me, at least parts of that person. My guest is former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. Her new memoir about her mother is called Memorial Drive. We'll hear more of our conversation after a short break. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review a newly unearthed 1959 session by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
This is Fresh Air Weekend. This message comes from NPR sponsor Teladoc. Teladoc gives those dealing with stress, anxiety, personal or family issues access to licensed therapists by phone or video. Teladoc is committed to quality confidential therapy from the comfort of your home available seven days a week, matching members to therapists, counselors and psychiatrists. Therapy is available through most insurance or employers. Download the app or visit Teladoc Dotcom to fresh air today to get started. Let's get back to my interview with former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Her new memoir, Memorial Drive, is about her mother and how she was murdered by Tretheway stepfather with two bullets. That was 35 years ago. And Trethewey was 19. He'd beaten her mother before and threatened to kill her. Her mother left him. He wanted her back. She refused.
When you found out that your mother was murdered, you went back to her home. You were in college at this point and living out of town and on TV, you saw footage of you entering your home with a caption underneath saying, daughter of the murdered woman from your memoir. It sounds like that was a really upsetting and haunting experience for you to see that.
Oh, yeah. It felt, you know, I needed him to be beside oneself because there I was in a hotel room. That the police put us up in to hide because they hadn't captured Joel yet and we turn on the TV and I can see the moment that my grandmother, father and I arrived at the apartment to take some of her her things to to get the clothes she'd be buried in. We got there and there was a news van and police tape over the the door.
I think people have seen this again and again, this sort of kind of looping footage of the people either giving an interview, grieving right there for the TV cameras or walking into their home. We did not talk to them, but they captured that scene of me going into the apartment and shutting the door behind me, looking at it felt like I was watching somebody else. And I think that that's probably the the the moment that I had decided somehow, consciously or unconsciously, to separate myself from the person to whom this horrible thing had just happened, as if I could move forward in my life without that part coming with me to.
That refers to what you were saying before about trying to forget the whole thing. I mean, you couldn't really forget it, but to try to not think about it, try to just move forward.
When when I was at the police station that morning.
The assistant district attorney, Bob, who gave me the file, the man who had been the first police officer on the scene, he told me that he saw me there. And that I looked as if I were already far away from this, and when he told me that, I thought it was the strangest thing because certainly I was in shock. And what he was witnessing was. The look of shock on my face, but then I thought maybe he was right, too, that I was already putting as much distance as I could between that and my future.
He was sentenced to life, but he was recently released after 34 years in prison.
He actually had two consecutive life sentences eligible for parole after 20 years. So he started going up for parole the first time in 2005.
So he's out on parole now? Yes, he is. You don't live in the same state that he did?
No. Fortunately, I moved away from Atlanta in 2017.
You taught at Emory University in Atlanta for a year? That's right. Yeah. So do you feel at all threatened now knowing that he is out of prison?
Um. I think I would feel much differently about this if I lived in Atlanta because he would be in the same world that I. Inhabit, I feel far away from that here. It's hard to answer, but, you know, I have a poem called Letter to Inmate and it says inmate number that I wrote when I first found out he was. Going to get out and I asked the question at the end of the poem, what does it mean to be safe in the world?
Everywhere I go, she is with me, my long dead mother is there nowhere I might go and not find you there to. So even if he's not physically here, there is a way that the past enters my life, all of it. And I carry it with me and you carried it with you when you were when you won the Pulitzer Prize and you carried it with you when you were named the U.S. poet laureate.
So to extremes, this incredible recognition and success, your gift, your talent and also this tragedy that you carry with you all the time.
Well, I think it is what made me, um, you know, I think about Lakas idea to one day the wound that never heals. And in trying to heal the wound that never heals, he wrote lies the strangeness in an artist's work. This is a wound I carry that never heals. But it is the very thing that kind of awareness of death, of that possibility.
That undergirds everything I do, has it prevented you from experiencing joy?
No, no, actually, I think it makes me experience joy at a much more intense level. To no such grief means that when you experience joy, you know the depths that's opposite and that makes it that much sweeter.
Well, Natasha Trethewey, I want to thank you so much for talking with us and thank you for sharing some of your life with us. I wish you good health during the pandemic and peace of mind. Thank you.
I wish you the same. Terry, it's been lovely to talk to you as always, even if it's difficult material. Yeah. Thank you.
Natasha Trethewey, whose new book is called Memorial Drive A Daughter's Memoir.
Drummer Art Blakey led his band, the Jazz Messengers, for almost 40 years, making many classic recordings with top musicians, a newly unearthed 1959 blocky session has been released. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead likes it a lot.
But. Trumpeter Morgan on the Fast Blues Gimcrack, that's from the album Just Coolen belated new music from drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
This 1959 session, one unreleased till now, because a couple of months later, the same quintet recorded most of the same tunes for live albums issued instead both spirited volumes of the live Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the jazz corner of the world.
Let the band flex and stretch. But this compact, more crisply recorded studio session is a gem.
The band's front line paired two players who already got along, 20 year old trumpet phenom Lee Morgan and rock tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, Mobley wrote three of the six tunes, including Hip Sipi Blues.
And. Art Blakey's band epitomized so-called hard bop, a hard drive and heavily swinging style drenched in the blues. The drive mostly came from the drummer in his prime. Blakey was a great, innovative and aggressive accompanist. Listen to him lead on Lee Morgan.
Blakey draws out the trumpeter's cocky phrasing with all manner of percolating punctuation, including his signature press roll, quick, forceful role on snare drum.
The Jazz Messengers blues singers owes a lot to pianist Bobby Timmons, one of the architects of the band's style.
He'd recently written Blakey's bread and butter song Moanin the nimble pianist, mixed earthy phrasing with a bell like tone.
His admirers included even Piki Thelonious Monk, one of two new tunes here as Timmons is quick trick on his solo. The horns chime in with a little encouragement.
In the late 1950s was a golden age for buoyant jazz rhythm sections. One reason was the state of jazz bass playing.
By 1959, bassists like this band's Jimmy Merritt could really get around the fingerboard, but they weren't using amplifiers yet, so they had to whack those strings to make them sing. Merit's percussive pulse grounds the band rhythmically and harmonically. Bassist Jimmy Merrett, who passed away in April, thousands of jazz musicians have tried to recapture this magic.
Art Blakey included when he made just Coolen in 1959, he'd been honing this approach for years and by now had attained a sort of stylistic perfection, even as the band was still developing. And now to have new material by this explosive and Short-Lived quintet, that'd be good news in any year, let alone now when we could all use some cheering up.
And Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book Play The Way You Feel The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories on Film. He reviewed Just Coolen, the newly unearthed 1959 session by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Coming up, comic, writer, filmmaker and actor Mike Birbiglia and poet Jann Stein talk about becoming parents, although they had agreed not to have children when they got married. He's written a memoir called The New One Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad.
She tells her side of the story in a series of poems in the book about pregnancy and motherhood. This is Fresh Air Weekend. Until recently, Edwin Hong says he didn't speak out against racism because he was scared.
My parents told me not to speak up. I was. I'm part of this listen now on the Code Switch podcast from NPR.
Everyone loves pistachios and pistachios, love water, and California doesn't have enough water. So how do farmers figure out who gets to grow which nuts? Economics, of course, on the next episode of Planet Money Summer School.
We explain how we all get along classes every Wednesday on Planet Money from NPR.
My guest, Mike Birbiglia, is a comic, writer, actor and filmmaker and a contributor to This American Life who tells personal stories about the kind of experiences and thoughts many people would not want to reveal out of fear of being embarrassed or judged harshly. Birbiglia has done it again in his new book, The New One Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad. It's about all the reasons he did not want to become a father, how he became a father in spite of that, and all the reasons why he felt he wasn't connecting to his baby daughter and feared his marriage was falling apart, it didn't fall apart.
His wife, Ginny Stein, who writes under the name Jacob Stein, collaborated on his new memoir, contributing her side of the story through poems interspersed through the book. Their daughter, Oona, is now five years old. The book ends when she's around 14 months. Mike Birbiglia also made and starred in the films Sleepwalk With Me and Don't Think Twice. He had a recurring role in Orange is the New Black and is now in the Showtime series Billions.
His new memoir, The New One, is expanded from his stage show of the same name. Mike Birbiglia. Jen Stein, welcome to Fresh Air. Congratulations on the new book. I really I think it's great. So, Mike, how did you fear your life would change if you had children?
Well, one of the interesting things about putting this material on stage is and a lot of authors say this is that it's when you write that you understand how you feel.
And so I had this resistance from day one with Jan and really and before that of, you know, I'm never going to have a child.
I remember one of my first jokes that ever worked on stage was I'm not going to have kids until I'm sure that nothing else good can happen in my life. And and and then I when I expounded on that in the show, in the book, I broke it down to seven reasons why I never want to have a child. I you know, things that include like I love my marriage, I love my cat. You know, the earth is sinking into the ocean, all these things.
And I just felt so logically, I felt so correct about all of my reasoning that it really took my wife putting it, I would say in more emotional terms for me to understand it, which is to say.
She heard me out on all those reasons and she said, I I know all of that and I think you'd be a good dad. And that was sort of a thing that really melted me because maybe I don't know if this is true.
Maybe underneath all of that was a fear that I wouldn't be a good dad.
When you realized that you wanted to have a baby. Did you rehearse how to bring it up to Mike, knowing that he might be resistant to the idea?
I didn't rehearse it, but I just know him so well, so I knew he didn't want to. So I guess, you know, the conversation was like, I know you don't want to have a kid. I totally get it. You're right to feel this way, but I see something different for us. And it was kind of that kind of dialogue.
Mike, did you feel betrayed like we had an agreement where we weren't going to have children? What do you what are you pulling on me now?
Well, I make the point that when she first brought it up, I said to her I was very clear when we got married that I never wanted to have a kid.
And I said, which, by the way, gets you nothing. Apparently being very clear is useless. But it's true. Like, I think it ended up being a series of conversations that I'd say over months and months.
You know, I think I say in the book, like, there was never a moment there's never a moment in life that creates one big decision.
I think it's a series of moments that form an evolution. And I think that's what happened is over time, I just felt like, well, this is my life partner. This is this person who I love and trust and who I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. And this is really what she wants to do. And I know she'd be a great mom.
And so the idea of holding her back at a certain point felt, uh, almost, uh, I don't know, it felt very selfish to hold her back from that.
And it was a dilemma.
But then just to come full circle, it's so funny, like is five now. And, you know, sometimes people ask, what about when she gets older and she reads this book?
Oh, and Genoways laughs at that question because Una is so doted on by both me and Jen that I think for her it would be inconceivable that we would ever have anything less than a thousand percent enthusiasm for having a child.
And and and the other thing is that ultimately where the book lands is at this, you know, I don't want to give this away. Spoiler alert. If people really want to experience the book exactly. In order. But the end is a letter to to my daughter.
Saying to her, like, I you know, this book is for you, like I want you to read this book because ultimately it's about being honest, like I'm being I'm being, you know, painfully and darkly honest in a way that I think that we should all be to each other, because I think that when you're honest with people who you love, ultimately, even if it's painful in the short term, in the long term, it makes you even closer.
And so I don't know if John wants to speak to that.
Yeah. I would also say that, you know, Mike voicing all of his concerns for me in the way our relationship works, it actually calms me down. And I don't have to wonder what he's thinking. And I think in relationships, sometimes people keep those kinds of fears to themselves. And you have to have wonder. And the you know, the feeling is still in the air, but you can't quite put your finger on it. I don't have to worry about quite putting my finger on it.
It's completely like vocalised on a daily basis, you know, so I don't have to wonder where I stand or where things stand. And there's some comfort to that for me, because I feel like I'm actually not not much of a talker. And so for me, it's I don't know. It helps it helps me sort of it helps comfort me somehow. And so I don't feel so overwhelmed by Mike saying I don't want to do something and knowing that I would do want to do it, I don't feel like we're that far apart because he's so vocal and we can actually talk about it.
And we're not I'm not wondering about it.
There's a joke in the book where I say Jen is an introvert and I'm an extrovert, an extrovert as someone who gets energy from being around other people and an introvert doesn't like you or she might like you, but she's going to need me to explain why we're leaving the party.
But that's I mean, the introvert extrovert thing that Jan is alluding to is like in some ways our dynamic. And what she's saying, I think is true, like in and it's building on what I'm saying, which is like I grew up in like a Catholic, like a conservative Catholic upbringing in Massachusetts. That was very much the opposite of the way that I write, which is it was very sort of like.
But don't you know very much don't say how you feel and it leads, you know, that kind of.
Oh, that kind of behavior leads to repression, and I feel like I try to reverse that and maybe I go too far oversharing.
Yeah, exactly. Jen, you had a difficult pregnancy.
You were so thrilled to be pregnant, but you had in your second trimester, you had a bleeding placenta, which at first you thought was a miscarriage. So I know you were very concerned through the pregnancy that something could go wrong. And then you found out you had hyper mobile hips, which meant that during childbirth you could possibly dislocate or even break a hip. So I want you to read a poem about the pregnancy.
And this is a poem called Magic Trick, Magic Trick Eye, Blood and Blood. I thought of friends who have gone through much worse. And I bled. I thought of women across the world and in our own country who have no medical care and blood. I thought of blood and it's magic trick flowing cell by cell through time without ever leaving the body. How differently it performs another liquid's. Girl, I whispered to my belly before they tell me she's a girl, my body may fail you.
Sorry, but no, this your life belongs to you and our time together, it has already begun. Thanks for reading that.
And that's one of the poems in Mike Birbiglia, his memoir. Mike, were you afraid not only of being a father, but afraid of losing the baby and a fear, fear that Jan might be injured in the process of pregnancy or childbirth?
Yeah, I think that the pregnancy was very nerve wracking throughout all of it was.
I know getting pregnant was challenging. I think Jen can speak to this better than I can, but I feel like the first and second trimester were so challenging.
And then there was a point in the in the third trimester where Jen started, there was a period of time where she she was enjoying it and she started eating like a college freshman, just like hot dogs and ice cream and mayonnaise. And at one point she's eating like three hot dogs. And she looks up to me and she says, I feel like I understand you now.
And I said, I think that's a little bit offensive. You like the most offensive thing you've ever said to me. But but we really did have like a bonding period in the third trimester.
But, uh, where where I feel like in some ways Jen's pointed this out before.
In some ways we were as close in that third trimester as we've ever been. And yeah, but it was scary.
I mean, the whole thing was scary.
And I was really scared for her. I was scared for UNOS. You know, it was it was terrifying.
The baby had trouble sleeping at first. And Jen, you're an insomniac. And Mike, you have a really serious sleepwalking problem. You nearly killed yourself a couple of times. And so you were concerned that you could hurt the baby while sleepwalking. So describe what you had to do to protect the baby from your sleepwalking.
This is something that Jen and I spent a lot of time gaming out because. Yeah, I mean, I my last book, Sleepwalk with Me, I talk about how I sleepwalked through to be clear to the listeners through a second story window of a Laquinta in in Walla Walla, Washington, almost 15 years ago.
And and so since then, I take medication. I sleep in a sleeping bag. And with and with Huna coming, we decided that I should just sleep in a separate bedroom and and and sleep in a sleeping bag and then to make it even more secure. I invented, I invented.
I mean it's not trademarked, but it's, uh, it's a sleep sheet that has a hole in it for my head and then and then one for Jen though she never used it. And and then I would lock the door and I actually put a chain lock on the inside so that I couldn't get out because I was, you know, uh and then Massee our cat would sleep in that room with me and occasionally she would pee in the bedroom that I was locked in in a sleeping bag.
So it was not it wasn't the best surroundings that that period of time.
I also wanted to add to that that before and it was born, my sleepwalking was really sort of a big issue in our relationship. And it's it's hard to explain to people how dangerous it is that he actually jumped through a glass window, that he's capable of what he's capable of doing in his sleep is very different than what he's like in his waking life. Um, and it's really scary. And I was kind of the person not in charge of it, but I was like his partner in that.
And being so connected to Una, I think took me away from that for a little while. And I usually had such strong, um, like tabs on what's going on with my sleepwalking. And it was just very much a part of my day to day and I was stretched so thin I kind of let that go. So Jim, what was it like for you?
My Cadillac himself in the bedroom to protect the baby from his sleepwalking, which meant if the baby woke up, it's all on you.
Yeah, and we had agreed on that because of Mike's sleepwalking issues and because he takes medication. We had agreed that I would be in charge of everything at night, and so, yeah, I was exhausted and, you know, as a terrible sleeper and I didn't really see that coming, you know, in my head, I sort of had this idea. I didn't have a lot of fantasies about having a child. I tried not to, like, put anything on her, you know, before she's born.
But one idea I had is that she would sleep eventually, like she would like I would be able to put her down and do a little work while she's asleep. And it didn't feel like that. It was like she I had to hold her all the time. And if I ever put her down, she would scream. So she would just sleep on top of me for a long time.
And so that I mean, that definitely created a lot of distance between Mike and I. And then, you know, he was shooting a film. So during the day he was gone all day. And so I feel like in those in those months, Euna and I, you know, got very close and Mike hadn't really caught up to the sort of basics of how to sort of raise a baby, you know, so I was really doing most of the things at that point, um, diapers, baths, nighttime, everything.
So and, you know, and it was it's not a huge surprise given how he felt about it and sort of all the discussions we had before it. But the actuality of it, you know, create a distance between us for sure, because we were growing in different directions. Mike, how did you start to connect to your baby daughter, what changed things for you?
I feel so silly when I think about this because it's so simple is that when she started to talk, I started to understand how she felt. I mean, it's so silly. Like like I there's this chapter in the book where I take Oonagh for pizza on the corner and says pee pee, which which I think means pizza.
And also. Yes. And I would say, do you want I say, you know, do you want some pizza?
And she would say, pee pee.
And and I'm such a verbal person. And so I and I think I'm a decent listener. And so I could really listen and understand her. And I still can like she and I are so close now. We just talk and talk and talk. And the verbal communication for me was really profound.
And I think for Jan it was the physical relationship. Was was their version of talking so they can talk now, too? No, no, I've cut it off. Yeah, I know now now that I have the upper hand, I've I've really taken over.
Well, I'm so glad you collaborated on this book. I want to thank you both so much for talking with us and for being so open. And I wish you good luck during this covid crisis and good luck with parenting. And Mike, with all the work that's on hold right now, that will hopefully resume in the not too distant future. Thank you both so much for talking with us. Thanks, Terry.
Stay safe. Thanks so much, Terry. We really appreciate it. Mike Birbiglia, his new memoir, The New One, includes poems by his wife, Jen Stein, who writes under the name Jacob Stein.
Fresh Air Weekend is produced by Teresa Ma'aden Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering from Charlie Kyon.
Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Thiokol owner Seth Kelly and Jill Wolfram Molly. Stephen Esper is our associate producer of Digital Media. I'm Terry Gross.