(lol not a pregnancy announcement)
On my way out to Los Angeles on Friday I was reading To the Lighthouse (as I mentioned), during which I got hit with a terrible, but blessedly quick to pass, cold. Cut to me in the spare bedroom of my friend’s mother’s weekend cabin at Lake Arrowhead, lying there, wanting to die, ostensibly going to get into my pajamas before we all drank margaritas and watched WALL-E by the fire. My friend’s mom eventually came upstairs and put a blanket over me (she’s a real mom’s mom) and told me I didn’t have to come back down. Have kinder words e’er been spoken? And so there I was with little to no internet service, lying in the dark in a tiny twin bed, staring at my phone. Fortuitously (fortuitous in the way that if you are on vacation, in the mountains, in a sunny warm place, you start to think that everything really is going to be okay) I had the Emily Books book Nine Months, by Paula Bomer, waiting in an email. *cue angels of feminist vulnerabilty singing*
The premise of this book is a woman (a lapsed/frustrated painter / sort of frustrated/exhausted housewife / feminist cool mom woman type person) gets accidentally pregnant with her third child just as she was gratefully and gloriously exiting the baby-having phase of her life, and she basically freaks out about losing more of her life, debates having an abortion, and runs out on her family. And so from that I might not have to tell you that it is riveting, but it is. And I recommend you read it!
Long story short I am really enjoying it, and somewhat begrudgingly enjoying reading on my phone (I guess I begrudge this because I stare at my phone so much already? And feel like I am living in a Chris Ware comic. But ya know, it is convenient and I am most of the time already holding my phone in one of my hands anyway), and found this passage hilarious and perfect, considering I am at the same time reading (and worshipping) Virginia Woolf (you can bookmark things in your phone! Wow!):
And then there are the childless women who for some reason Sonia despises as well. The whiney, self-absorbed ones who remain perpetual children. Who still fucking blame it all on their mothers. Who have no idea. Who reads Virginia Woolf without smelling her forever-a-maiden status? Interior dialogue? Sounds great, if you don’t have kids, which thankfully keeps you from such self-absorption.
Ha! I mean: fair.
Oh, I also bookmarked this.
He’s home so late. It’s nine thirty. He looks ruined and Sonia feels very sorry for him. This job, sometimes, seems as if it’s sucking his very soul out. It seems like he goes to an office where they stick a vacuum cleaner on his chest and turn it on, without any nozzle, no, just the round metal pole, one of those kind of vacuum cleaners, where the body of it is attached to a long tubular thing, and they put it in right where his heart and soul is and suck out its very life essence.
Woo! I am really, really into this book. If you read a lot of mom blogs and are kind of obsessed but horrified all at the same time. And/or you just like really urgent, honest, funny writing: I think you will like it! And if neither of those apply to you, I am unsure what we have in common but thank you for reading.
10:43 pm • 20 February 2013 • 34 notes
“There is a code of behavior, she knew, whose seventh article (it may be) says that on occasions of this sort it behooves the woman, whatever her occupation may be, to go to the help of the young man opposite so that he may expose and relieve the thigh bones, the ribs of his vanity, or his urgent desire to assert himself; as indeed it is their duty, she reflected, in her old, maidenly fairness, to help us, suppose the Tube were to burst into flames. Then she thought, I should certainly expect Mr. Tansley to get me out. But how would it be, she thought, if neither of us did these things? So she sat there smiling.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
How would it be, indeed. I am reading this book for the first time, and I am glad I am only reading it now. It seems, halfway in, to be all about ego and social pressures and insecurity and loneliness and regret and failure and bitterness, and our choices in the face of other peoples’ choices. And how finding a bit of time to think to yourself, and a stubborn insistence upon your own happiness amid all of that, is an ongoing battle. I’m not sure I could have fully appreciated all that until fairly recently. (Ha?)
Or maybe that’s not at all what it’s about but I’d see that in every book I read.
In any case, above all it feels wonderfully rebellious in its long sentences and refusal to make any sacrifices at the altar of absolute clarity of communication. Reading this after spending my days writing clear, concise, economical, defensible sentences day in and day out — it’s sort of like how I felt watching this 60’s-ish woman in the airport security line this morning. They told her her bag was to big too carry on and she flung it around the snaking line, slammed it on its side, yanked out her pearls, and yelled at the poor airport employee. All of us were a little embarrassed for her, wanting to say, hey, you can’t behave this way. You can’t do that. But also a little bit thrilled. She did look great. Her husband remained stoic, picking her purse up off the ground and staring straight head, moving forward in the line.
A few minutes later they called final boarding for my flight - I was still taking my shoes off, putting my laptop in a bin — and I paced nervously, whispering c’mon c’mon c’mon under my breath, panicking, wishing I could fling my bag onto the ground and scream at someone.
But Virginia Woolf: she gets to do it. She can write the long winding sentences that are hard to follow, and we follow her. Or some of us do. And I like that.
1:40 pm • 15 February 2013 • 73 notes
I don’t read much writing by men these days. I guess I am pretty unapologetic about that fact, considering I dunno, the CANON and what have you, but I don’t even do it on purpose. I am a woman writer and I write like a woman and look up to women writers and are fascinated by how they do it. And this is very gender essentialist and so pretty problematic, not to mention limits my point of view fairly significantly. So no. Try again: what I try to do in my reading is follow a thread. Trying too hard to follow it is a mistake, too, so I won’t attempt to articulate it here. But given the kinds of books I tend to gravitate towards, deliberately or no, I don’t often read books that are so primarily concerned with, or concerned at all with, um…
If I had to call this book anything, that’s what I would call it. A dad book. Not in its intended audience but in who it breathes life into, sheds light onto, spends time with, thinks inside of, moves in, etc etc. I mean, it’s all about feelings and language and interiority so in sensibility, not a dad book — hi! sorry! problematic again! — so much as reckoning of dads book. Revisiting your childhood through the eyes of a man who has his own children. Revisiting your young father self through the eyes of your older father self. You having-not through your having. All that trying and how much it meant, and what you couldn’t admit then, gone back and admitted. Pathos all painted over people who we thought just had no time for pathos, but it turns out were fucking swimming in it, were busy treading water and had no time to stop and write about it in their daily dad journals or whatever.
Duty, dignity, status anxiety, striving, looming failure, then super looming failure, then failure in real time, then the after-effects thereof. Inability to please wife, make wife proud, make wife safe — understand wife seemed to be there, which was nice — make kids feel loved, inability to fucking cope, to be okay, to feel good about how things are and were and will be.
From the story, “Puppy” (which: fuuuuuuck):
“And then, because she hadn’t made his life harder by being a smart-ass, they had lain there making plans, like why not sell this place and move to Arizona and buy a car wash, why not buy the kids Hooked On Phonics, why not plant tomatoes, and then they’d get to wrestling around and *she had no idea why she remembered this) he’d done this thing of, while holding her close, bursting this sudden laugh/despair-snort into her hair, like a sneeze, or like he was about to start crying.
Which had made her feel special, him trusting her with that.”
(Which made ME feel special, George Saunders, you trusting me with that.)
That story is a devastating one and they all are in their way, so baldly open and urgent yet banal — often written in the most familiar, trite voices (oh my god), filled with likes and funny turns of phrase and sounding often like reality television, or high school. But it’s not a distraction somehow. Or ever too cruel (to me at least, though my tolerance for cruelty in pretty, uh, high (catholic school, ya’ll)).
I read this book very slowly, as my psyche seemed to demand, only able to take in so much fucking pathos and bitter reality at once. I read a little bit each train ride, then every night before bed (laughing quietly, remarking out loud, driving my essentially male partner crazy — I haven’t read a book that’s this funny in a really long time), and then, I read it once at lunch, alone. I sat by myself at a restaurant for an hour during the work day for the first time in my life, thinking, Oh, so this how people get by.
Long lunches and then reading books by people also concerned with getting by and how we do it — people who write sentences like this,
“Coatless bald-headed man. Super skinny. In what looked like pajamas. Climbing plodfully, with tortoise patience, bare white arms sticking out of his p.j. shirt like two bare white branches sticking out of a p.j. shirt. Or grave.”
Or conjure images like this, that are so on point they’re still with me weeks later,
“When Eva tiny, had big head of black curls. Would stand on couch, eating cereal from coffee mug, dancing to sound in head, flicking around cord from window blinds.”
[Mostly because YES: aren’t kids always flicking around the cord from window blinds? How much time did you spend with that cord and the plastic thing at the bottom of it when you were a kid? The straight up MAJORITY of your time? Exactly.]
Death-renderingly hilarious and accurate turns of phrase aside, the final story (and by far the best, anyone who disagrees is wrong and needs to learn how to READ, obviously) transforms from a confusing experiment in fucking Virginia Woolf-type of switching POV, stream of consciousnesses, into fucking “This is why we have art” levels of brilliance (IMHO!!). I haven’t been wrecked so, uh, significantly (??) by a story, nay, book since WILD (page 29ish of Wild is now the barometer for crying-while-reading).
And yes I would like this guy to write me a novel, as if that were how art works, as if we were owed anything. It’s not and we aren’t, but yes a novel would be cool. THAT SAID, George Saunders could print out a packet of beautiful, exacting sentences he’s written and I would pay $28.00 for it*.
Take this little passage, for example, which I read out loud to my boyfriend as he got ready for bed, prefaced with the fact that it’s a scene with a guy cleaning out the dregs of a pond with a shovel and accidentally killing a bunch of almost-frog tadpoles, flinging them about the yard. Soon he becomes complicit in it, and so:
“It was like either: (A) I was a terrible guy who was knowingly doing this rotten thing over and over, or (B) it wasn’t so rotten, really, just normal, and the way to confirm it was normal was to keep doing it, over and over.”
I read that out loud to Dustin and he was like BOOM and I was like, “And there it is. The secret of the universe. What underlies everything, revealed.” And he’s like, yep, and wow and I’m like, “The reason why you ate the entire bag of cookies while I was at work today!” And he was like, “Actually I was thinking more of the Holocaust!”
So think about THAT.
* Actually, come to think of it, maybe ideally George Saunders would have a talk show, and there would be a live audience, and we could go to it (too much energy / fear involved in actually talking to him one-on-one). It would just be him sitting there and thinking really hard with a white board and maybe his wife (I mean, this is my fantasy ok let me go there) and they cry and talk about their lives and show pictures of their kids and talk about all the hard decisions they’ve made and we could just sit there and watch him and maybe submit a question every once in awhile.
Guilt! Shame! Duty! Failure! Dad stuff!
8:27 pm • 27 January 2013 • 92 notes
2012 through books.
I’ve never taken a step back from my life and said, “I need to spend more of my life sitting indoors reading books.” Instead I want to wake up earlier, to run more, to write more, to cook more, to go on dates, to see my friends more, to call my mom. All of these things make me feel like I am taking initiative and control of my life and my happiness and all other sorts of deluded things. The thing is though I do want to read more, but when I say that and am really meaning it, I mean that I want more to be transported and feel known and have my conception of how people move in the world expanded, or at least I want to put cracks in it, more. Reading is basically just the easiest way of doing that, and it’s very important to me. It buoys. And this year it kinda sucked.
Dustin stopped working at a bookstore halfway through the summer and I only like books that I pick out MYSELF and you see, there all these baby blogs out there of women talking about their lives in this hopeful, alien way, and sometimes great tragedies befall them and it’s all very compelling. Anyway I fear I’ve lost my mojo. I think my book-Saturn is returning. Something.
Luckily the good thing with the book thing still happened a few times, for which I’m very grateful. Here is what stopped me this year, what made things feel right and preordained or just were a great comfort/distraction:
- I inhaled Sarah Manguso’s Two Kinds of Decay and felt swept up in it and needed more. Luckily she had a new book out this year, The Guardians. The first one I liked better, because it is more deeply terrifying and personal, and affecting (at least according to my brain). The death is closer! Though rest assured they are both about death. Everything is about death, people. Everything I care about. But I read both of these immediately, and felt lucky to have them. Decay on Saturday and The Guardians on Saturday night. Life had meaning!
- Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home I also read quickly, and I was ecstatic the whole time but also somehow at peace, on my work retreat (just to take a minute to clarify: “work retreat” is actually an oxymoron and some sort of childhood nightmare come to being). Everyone tie-dyed shirts and did yoga and paddled in paddle boats and I sat in a corner reading this, relishing it. It was the kind of book where you are off doing other things and remember you have it off in your room, just waiting for you to get back to, and you feel great comfort. “I may hate myself and not know how to play ping pong or talk to people but I have this book!” You have your life then you have this other life, one which makes the first one easier (the book is the other one, the consolation). Her new book is not as good (what a cruel sentence, as if I’m some sort of agent or hollywood producer). An echo of the first one. Which is really, I think, what it sets out to be. And so it’s still really interesting, and I wasn’t ready to leave Alison Bechdel and there you go. I am happy to hang out in her brain.
- I read the Grace Paley book I hadn’t read yet, Later the Same Day, and I think there may be one more, but all of her titles sound the same. Anyway I am utterly convinced this woman is brilliant, a cut above, and her voice and her writing feels so utterly familiar, as if it were in itself part of what writing is — central to it. I just adore her. I do. If you haven’t read much of her, do it, and know you will be schooled. I am afraid to really pin down what I have read of hers and what I haven’t for fear there is nothing more.
- I read a Jo Ann Beard book and a Bobbie Ann Mason book — both short stories, too — and they sort of blend together for me. Not because they both have these three-word southern names, which, okay yes, probably that is why. But they are both deeply feminine voices in a way that is familiar to me and in a way that I love. Bobbie Ann Mason is the very southern poor, a little quirky, domestic one. Really fucking on point. And Jo Ann Beard is also trenchant, but more urgent, crying out. Maybe I want them to fuse into one. They both carried me, though, and I want more of both of them. And more like them.
- Also Laurie Colwin, Laurie Colwin, Laurie Colwin. Growing up I didn’t let my mother teach me anything, at least not explicitly. In fact I would lose my shit when she tried to tell me how to do anything or offer me help in any way. I’m sure this does not reflect accurately on my character in any way whatsoever. Ha! Anyway now that I understand my own inherent weakness and mortality, I actively seek help and crave wisdom and know-how and I want women to teach me things, I inhale books like this. I read Home Cooking and went back to Word the next weekend for More Home Cooking, feeling so happy and filled with purpose. Maybe soon I will swallow my pride enough to ask my own mother for advice, cooking and otherwise.
- And in the interest of admitting when I am wrong, I started out really mad about and annoyed by D.T. Max’s David Foster Wallace biography (do I just hate biography? The jury is still out), I got totally sucked in and really loved it. This happens to me all the time with reading, actually. I start out hating it and then by about 50 pages I have “met the writing on its own terms” (I put quotes on it not because someone else said it but because I know I sound shitty when I say it) and accepted it for what it is and really enjoyed it. Not every book needs to be the book I would write. Right? Agh.
- I need to chill the fuck out this year.
- You’re all wrong about How Should a Person Be.
10:11 pm • 3 January 2013 • 103 notes