I recently finished Maria Semple’s fun novel This One is Mine, and it threw me for a bit of a loop. At first it read like typical plot-driven fiction, with blow jobs and heroin-shooting and infidelity jam-packed into the first few pages. You know, the kind of book you can’t put down. The plot moves quickly, the vapid LA landscape is perfectly rendered–but I kept thinking to myself, do I actually like any of these characters? And the answer was: no.
Ah, but the loop: by the end, I did. Semple somehow casually inserted enough humanizing details that she began to make us like and pity the self-professed asshole, the valley girl, the cheating wife, the drug-addicted lover. I felt like I’d somehow gotten the wrong first impression and, sheepish, had decided to look again.
Tricky, maybe, but a welcome and refreshing change to what I’ve been thinking of as the Anti-Hero Problem. Lately it feels like everything I read–and certainly, everything I watch–is filled with anti-heroes. My hubs B and I are talking about it. He couldn’t stomach the entire season of Breaking Bad because he despised everyone too much after a while (I didn’t even try). We’re onto House of Cards now, and, while I have to confess I’m pretty into it, there’s a part of me that’s wondering which characters I’m rooting for. I’ve felt this way about so many TV series I’ve tried to get into, and so many books, too. I read a Carl Hiaasen novel a while back and disliked everyone. And I’ve talked before about my issues with excellent writers like Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen, writers whose work I so admire but whose characters I have trouble respecting. It seems to me it’s become very cool to be…unlikeable.
Am I crazy? Is anyone else noticing this penchant for the anti-hero?
Back to Semple; I did really admire the subtle way she shifted the landscape in This One is Mine. I don’t know her work very well (though Susan Szafir interviewed her over on Popcorn a while back, which you should read!), but I think I’d like to read more.
I went to a wonderful workshop over the weekend. It had nothing to do with writing, besides the fact that we journaled twice. It was, cue the didgeridoo and the candles, a workshop about getting over birth trauma. At one point we were asked to think of a power that we have. Some women chose capability, or strength; I chose resilience.
Ducks on a frozen pond, Vigelands Park, Oslo, Norway
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I chose resilience because in the context of my son’s birth the prevailing feeling is one of having bounced back, robustly, from the most difficult experience of my life. For a minute, after I chose “resilience,” I second-guessed myself: am I resilient? Really? And decided that yes, I was, and am.
When I gave birth to L things got very dark and very scary very quickly, but by the time I was being sewn up I was joking with the doctor about “the husband stitch” (I know, it’s sick) and the next day, bruised and exhausted, I was nonetheless myself again.
I’ve been thinking about resilience in a writer’s context, too. Don’t kid yourselves, people: this work can be really thankless. You can work at something for years and never get it published. You can feel amazingly accomplished one day, and the next, you suck. But if, like me, you choose to have faith in the process, you get back on the horse and keep writing, even when you’re incredibly discouraged. You choose resilience.
Last week I emailed a writer friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Sadly, she told me that she’s not doing very well. “I’m enraged with myself that I have been writing for ten years with very little to show for it,” she said. I had one of those moments when I thought, okay, I can relate; but I can’t get too far into this discussion or I will start to take that on myself. I just can’t count the years. I mean, I do, all the time; but really, it’s counterproductive. Sometimes I wonder whether my family and friends think I’ll never amount to anything, because I haven’t yet, right? And I have to gently tell that voice to shut up.
Maybe, in another ten years, if I’m still chipping away at a memoir and playing with poetry and trying to publish a couple of short stories–and none of it is going well–I will throw in the towel and go get a degree in art therapy or social work. But for now, I’m choosing to bounce back.
Check out Karen McHeggs’s latest over on popcorn, Establishing a Writing Habit. It’s a good reminder that the most important thing–in life, really!–is just showing up.
I just wanted to make a plug for what’s happening over on popcorntheblog these days. Last week Tara Conklin posted a beautiful essay called Keep Writing that you’ve got to check out. And today I am blogging about Magical Realism and the History of Fiction (which is wayyyy more interesting than it sounds!). Reading recommendations included (George Saunders and Karen Russell, anyone?).
Early morning, the breeze has purled; purled itself into a net of wind.
(Nevermind that this sounds more like a gale-force wind than breeze, but hey, I was eight. And did you catch the knitting reference?)
2. I am an epic sleeper. I can’t really sleep on planes or buses or in cars or through excessive noise, unfortunately, but I can close my eyes at 10:30 p.m. and not open them until 9 the next morning, given the right circumstance. My family calls me “Snoozin.”
3. I am a true ophidophobe. This means that I don’t just fear snakes, but I really really really don’t like them. According to Wikipedia, “A typical ophidiophobic would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures.” I looked this up a while ago, when, watching a snake program on TV while eating dinner, I became physically ill and had to turn it off.
4. I adore this e.e. cummings poem, especially the last line: nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
5. When I first visited California, I felt like I had been there in a past life. When I actually moved here, I stopped feeling it altogether. About twice a year I feel it again, in places like Big Sur or Monterey.
Now, onto the nominees! I am giving the Liebster Award to three fantastic blogs.
1. I’d be remiss if I didn’t nominate all the fine ladies over at popcorntheblog (including myself). I was so fortunate to be asked to join this collection of writers and blog once a month on topics writerly. I’m not really giving this award to myself; I dedicate it to the other seven talented writers who make up the popcorn collective.
2. bussokuseki. bussokuseki may not even know I’m reading, but I am: he (?) writes beautiful haiku and blogs about “the buddha’s footprints in an everyday life.” As someone new to meditation, I seek out wisdom from places like this quiet, contemplative, beautiful blog.
3. Momaste. “The mom in me bows to the mom in you”–so clever! I just discovered this very honest blog about parenting. Since I’m no longer writing my Momming blog, I need to get a fix somewhere and Momaste gives it to me.
I thought it was really interesting that two blog posts today were about the immersive (I think I just made up a word) world of fiction. The Living Notebook writes about Absorption today, about fiction that “brings us further into [a] dream, overwhelming our senses until the dream seems real.”
And over on popcorn, Karen McHegg discusses books that “create a world different from the one [she] lives in.” You can read about those books here.
It made me think: which books have most absorbed me in recent years? My first thought was Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel Room. I also felt immersed in the strange world of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia and the more-real-yet-also-quite-strange one of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.
Which books have absorbed you lately? Head on over to popcorn and tell Karen McHegg.
And me? Today I’m immersed in three-year-old land. L. had a touch of pinkeye, and I knew I’d get the stink eye if I sent him to school.