FEED: I’ll be feeding for a week off the energy from the Women’s March. The organizers in Austin were expecting 22,000 people but there were between 50,000 and 60,000. I marched with my dear friend Deb and my wonderful daughter Katie, who was able to come after all thanks to her husband’s work schedule. We were near the front of the [alleged] starting point, but there were so many people already on Congress Avenue, in front of the capitol, that it was almost an hour before we started moving.
People like to say that Austin is a big city, but it isn’t, really. Chicago, LA, NY, Boston, those are big cities. Austin is a large town with a WHOLE LOT of people in it. So this was amazing. People came in buses from all around the state, they drove in this morning, just to march here, in front of our regressive state government. It was peaceful. Beautiful. I wanted to hug every single person I saw.
SEED: I’ll tell you this: trolls have zero sense of irony. Yesterday a nasty little troll who lives near Roswell, Georgia left an anonymous comment on my blog that said this:
why don’t you and your radical friends move to Russia!!!!! (subject line: “sick of your bs”)
HAHAHAHAHA! Gosh. Where even to begin. I think it’s a safe bet that this troll is a Trumpeter. Right? That she (for I have figured out who she is) voted for Putin’s puppet. What is it about people like this that always makes them tell us to move to Russia, anyway? Also: trolls love exclamation points. !!!!!
And these extra “patriotic” trolls have their little feelings hurt so badly when an American exercises her First Amendment rights. Choose-your-own-patriotism, I guess.
Also, if you are “sick of [my] bs” I have a simple little fix for you: don’t read it! No one is forcing you. Please, feel free to never read my blog again, I’m serious! Do me and yourself a favor, please. Because I’m not going to be silent so you can be comfortable (and especially not on my own damn blog! Sheesh!).
This is something I really do not understand. I know a couple of people who voted for Trump, and I never bring up politics with them. Never. (Similarly, I never comment on (or read) their political FB posts, ever, but they will slap a comment on mine, what??) Because there is no point, the abyss is too deep. I never bring up politics, and if a conversation by others starts drifting in that direction, I do my best to shift it into a safer zone. But they inevitably bring up politics with me, and you can tell that I have opinions, dammit. (And not only that, I’m super angry about this, which they also know from previous times they’ve brought up politics. What is that about?) So if they do, I don’t hold back. I say exactly what I think, and I’m not delicate about it. They brought up the conversation, and they know my position. I get very upset and shaky inside, because one friend especially I care about so much, I love her dearly, and I don’t want to unleash my anger at her, but I am angry. So it’s completely unpleasant for me, I don’t like it, I don’t wish to talk about it, but THEY BRING IT UP. Again and again. One has said things to me like, “Don’t you agree, liberals don’t think for themselves?” WITH FOX NEWS BLARING IN THE BACKGROUND.
Oh, I’m angry. I’m so angry. It’s not pleasant to have these intense feelings, and I am trying to figure out why my fury is this huge. I really hate unfairness, especially when people who have power wield it over those who don’t — that’s something that always makes me see red. So maybe it’s that, I don’t know, but I’d like to get a handle on it so I don’t stroke out, because I have a lot of political work to do.
Trolls? If you don’t like what I write here, on my own tiny little corner of the Internet, just leave me alone. Please.
READ: So I finished reading A Man Called Ove, which took me so long because I’ve been on a great run of sleeping. Here’s my GoodReads review, in case you’re interested in reading the book:
When I was deciding whether to read this book, I noticed that the most common word in all the Amazon and GoodReads reviews was “charming.” And honestly, I couldn’t write a review without that word either! It’s not just that the man called Ove was curmudgeonly charming, it’s that the approach of the book was charming, too. From the funny chapter titles to the way the story is fed out, to the glorious characters, to Ove’s endless stumbling blocks to joining Sonja, every last bit was charming. The general plot was a bit predictable — exuberant new neighbor saves sad old curmudgeon who finds no use for life until she explodes into his life — but honestly? That didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I spotted the plot arc the moment they met. I didn’t care that the various subplots were predictable. In large part that’s because of the good storytelling, the lovely writing, and the moments of big truth, and in the remaining part it’s because I really cared about Ove, a lot. Really good book, I enjoyed reading it a lot, and always regretted that my time to read is too brief. [View all my reviews]
Now I’m reading another Scandinavian book (Ove was Swedish, this one’s Norwegian) one called Land of Hidden Fires, which I am reading for NetGalley. More on that later. New book club in the house tonight, to discuss Underground Railroad oh heck yeah.
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1) I think a lot about the truthiness of things, and of course I have my historical, personal reasons for it. I read this passage in Fall on Your Knees, a powerful book by Anne-Marie MacDonald, and it has stayed with me:
“It’s a sin for Lily to let Mercedes think it was Daddy who beat up Frances. But he has done it in the past. Surely truth can be borrowed across time without perishing. Shelf life, so to speak.”
“Surely truth can be borrowed across time….” That. And the shelf life of truth, that too. Freud talked about ‘screen memories,’ one that may in itself be false but that masks a deeper, true memory of great emotional significance. And in Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch said,
“The more a person recalls a memory, the more they change it. Each time they put it into language, it shifts. The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It’s what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things. According to neuroscience, the safest memories are locked in the brains of people who can’t remember. Their memories remain the closest replica of actual events. Underwater. Forever.”
And so, as I continue this extremely difficult process of writing my two memoirs, and as I myself am not always absolutely certain about the truth of my memories in certain aspects, the truth of my own experiences even when my body knows the fact of them, the question of the unreliable narrator haunts me. I’m unreliable in so very many ways — including the mere fact of having told my stories a number of times — and yet I insist on the deep truth of all my memories, of all my experiences. Did this experience happen like this in the moment I am writing about, in this specific scene? Can I borrow truth across time without losing its truth? I insist that I can. Owning, telling, remembering, writing the truth of your life is not the same as being on a witness stand accusing another person of a specific crime, for which they can be judged and punished.
And in a funny twist, this quote was in my quote widget (in the right sidebar) when I was writing:
“A common feature of many theories of trauma is the idea that the causative—the wounding—event is not remembered but relived, as it is in the flashbacks of combat veterans, experienced anew with a visceral immediacy that affords no critical distance. To remember something, you have to consign it to the past—put it behind you—but trauma remains in the present; it fills that present entirely. You are inside it. Your mouth is always filled with the taste of blood. The killers are always crashing through the brush behind you. Some researchers believe that trauma bypasses the normal mechanisms of memory and engraves itself directly on some portion of the brain, like a brand. Cattle are branded to signify that they are someone’s property, and so, too, were slaves. The brand of trauma signifies that henceforth you yourself are property, the property of that which has injured you. The psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi believed that trauma is characterized by the victim’s helpless identification with the perpetrator, and elsewhere in the literature one often comes across the word “possession.” The moment of trauma marks an event horizon after which memory ceases. Or else memory breaks down, so that the victim can reconstruct the event but not the feeling that accompanied it, or alternatively only the feeling.” —Peter Trachtenberg
2) Here’s a poem I really love, and hope you like it, too:
REALISM (Beth Bachmann)
God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
you can’t make a hut out of it,
and when I said dust to dust,
that’s not what I meant.
3)I read a collection of short stories by a new (to me!) writer named Carl MacDougall — Someone Always Robs the Poor. He’s a very well-established Scottish writer, and the stories are set almost entirely in Scotland and most are about alcohol in some way, and frequently violence.
The stories often left me stunned, like the powerful story “Korsakoff’s Psychosis” that took me right into the experience of a late-stage alcoholic, with all the horrors of that life. It was hard to read that story, and hard to look away even though I wanted to, because the prose slipped me right into the terrible, tragic remnants of mind. The story “William John MacDonald” broke the narrative form to tell a terrible sad story (one of many stories related to drunk men) of a young man’s tragic encounter with violence and drinking. On occasion I had to read a page a few times — in part because of cultural references that weren’t familiar to me, and in part because of the style of storytelling. I was always glad to read and re-read.
On the whole, the stories were sad and tragic, although they were never told with melodrama. Instead, they were quiet and deeply emotional, and I sometimes paused when one ended, and held it for a long while before I slipped into the next. What a powerful collection of stories that will haunt me. I read and ARC, and the book won’t be published until February 23, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a quick read; I read the bulk of it on the flight from New York to Austin, about 3.5 hours.
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This post is a two-for-one. I thought about simply writing two different posts, but the good bit is too insubstantial, and I don’t want to give the worst bit enough importance to have its own post. I’m small and petty that way. 🙂
So here’s the best, for starters. Taking away nothing at all from the deep pleasures of living with someone you love (having someone to sleep against at night, having someone to share wonderful things with and scary stuff, being touched, having your feet or back rubbed), I have to say there are some fantastic things about living alone — especially if you’re like me, and very happy with your own company and in good health. Let me tell you about my Sunday, because it encompasses the glorious pleasures of living alone.
Saturday night I went to a wonderful little party in a beautiful backyard. On the way there, I drove underneath a big rainbow — it had rained in south Austin, but not at my house. I sat at a table under the stars and trees with some wonderful conversationalists, drank a bit of wine, did some dancing when Gloria Gaynor came on, tried a hula hoop but it was too small and light and wouldn’t stay up, and headed home exactly when I wanted to. Removed my party-girl make-up, brushed my teeth, climbed into my wonderful bed and read myself to sleep, happily. Sunday I woke up late, around 9am, and just picked up my phone and started reading the book I hoped to finish. And I read, and read, and read. Got up and made my coffee and brought the French press pot back to bed with me. Kept reading, as much as I wanted. Finished the pot of coffee, kept reading. Oh, need to pee! No need to turn on the bathroom light because the seat will be down. Because it always is down. Because there’s no one lifting it and leaving it up. Ever. I cannot tell you how glorious that is, because when I have to go to the bathroom I’m always in a rush, having put it off for too long, and dancing around for that extra second it takes to put the seat down is sometimes a second too far, not to give you too much information. Then back to bed to read for another glorious hour. Then a hot bath, to read some more, than back into my cool-sheeted bed, my glorious cozy bed, surrounded by pillows and quiet and no one getting irritated because I’ve now been reading for four hours. Along the way I’d gotten up to make my green smoothie, which I also enjoyed in bed while I was reading. When I finished the book, I put on music — whatever I felt like listening to, at the volume I felt like listening, and I danced around my house, so happily. I sat and wrote for a while, uninterrupted. Wandered out to my patio. It was a beautiful several hours, and they were all and entirely mine. And the toilet seat was always down. I really love that.
But now to the worst, and it’s a book I will anti-recommend to you. The author, Marisha Pessl, made a huge splash with her first book Special Topics in Calamity Physics. She was said to be brilliant, crazy brilliant, pulling off everything that sounded so great to me, so I bought that first book but somehow never got around to reading it. I do that a lot. So when this book, her second, was published to acclaim, I decided I’d read it. It’s a relatively large book and I posted a little note on facebook asking if anyone wanted to read it with me and Cyndi said yes. She finished it pretty quickly, and though I was extremely disappointed by it early on, the fact that I’d gotten her to read it (and she had) made me feel like I had to finish it. I also kept reading because I hoped like hell there would be some kind of pay-off for the howling misery I felt reading it. Surely. Surely it couldn’t really be this bad. I felt like that kid at the parade, looking around in disbelief saying, “But wait . . . the emperor has no clothes on!”
The gist of the story is that a NYC reporter and two young adult side-kicks are investigating the apparent suicide of a mysterious young woman, the daughter of a famous director of underground horror movies (named Cordova) — snuff films, from the sound of it. Although maybe they aren’t, maybe it was all just acting, he’s so super top-secret that a whole universe of his obsessive fans create and maintain this underworld world. You know, that’s an OK premise for a book. But nothing worked, in my opinion. Not one thing. I realize that I am a demanding reader, since I critique others’ novels all day long and have learned how to not only see what doesn’t work, but to see exactly why it doesn’t work. Plots, dialogue, character development, pacing, all I can see now is the man behind the curtain and I know he’s no wizard. (Although I can be taken away — and I go willingly — when writers pull it off, and I’m always begging and hoping and praying that they do. I want nothing more than to go there, to be taken away, to go into a world of any kind, even one that is mysterious and other-worldly. Buddy, I will go there with you and love you forever.)
So, in no particular order, because it was all so awful, here are my complaints:
Plotting — I’ll begin with an aside. I once read and evaluated a novel written by a 15-year-old boy, filled with vampires and dragons and werewolves, and Dracula in a prairie schooner. It was terrible, but he was 15! He’d written a very long novel, and I was so impressed by that fact alone. But one big problem out of all the big problems was that everything always happened perfectly for the protagonist. He dodged every single bullet (or arrow or slave rebellion) and all his bullets and arrows always found their mark. In this book, every person the main character Scott needs to talk to somehow just sits there and fills him in on EVERYTHING. One, at the end, fills him in but it’s a dodge (and Jesus, he really just went with it, at that point??). Characters who never speak, ever, mysteriously just sit and talk to him for hours — and serve him tea! A professor interrupted in mid-lecture, furious at being interrupted, just mysteriously stands in the hallway and tells him everything! Always! Bad things do happen to him — he walks into his apartment as someone is robbing him — but too many things just happen too perfectly, especially in terms of people just giving him huge chunks of what he needs to know.
The main character Scott is an investigative reporter with a nasty history investigating the film director. As he starts off here, he encounters these two young people, complete strangers, a young man named Hopper and a young woman named Nora, and presto! They are part of the investigation with him — and Nora even moves in with him, and sits on his bed talking to him in the middle of the night! The flimsiest of explanations is given for their sudden and complete participation in the investigation, but I didn’t buy a word of it. There are so many pieces of the plot that are nonsensical (but not in a way of creating a world I’ll buy into), storylines abandoned, oversized details too unrealistic but meant to be realistic.
Insulting me — Pessl seems to think her readers are morons (given the way she is described in interviews and reviews, as something of a young genius, she probably does). She doesn’t trust me to know any damn thing. And worse, she’ll explain it to me in a parenthetical comment, not even working it into the passage, or in dialogue. She’ll say something and then explain it in parentheses. I really hate that.
Bizarre dialogue and absence of unique voices — the main character constantly says “Thank Christ.” First, I have never heard anyone say Thank Christ, have you? I’ve heard Thank God, or Thank heavens, but I’ve never heard Thank Christ. And she uses it like a tic of her own rather than letting it be something integral to the character’s voice. And no one sounds any different than anyone else; surely a seasoned reporter’s voice (a 44-year-old man, I think that was his age) would sound different from a very young woman (who was far too old-voiced, mature) and a young man with a troubled past. If she hadn’t given me attributions, I couldn’t have told anyone’s dialogue apart from anyone else’s. And their dialogue was just false, anyway. Super annoying.
Here’s my guess. Pessl loved (or loves) Ayn Rand. You know in Rand’s books, the “good guys” are described in these absolute, unbelievable, nearly Platonic forms, like gods of some ridiculous oversized kind. It is the extremity, the inhuman depiction of them that I’m thinking of here, because Cordova and his whole group (and his fans, Cordovites) live in such an extreme way — “diving for mermaids,” only living on the most extreme edge burned by terror so that ordinary life is meaningless, once you have lived there, like that, with them, you are set free from ordinary existence! You must be free! You must now live only in the extreme, because the rest is pale! I call BULLSHIT. Every single time I encountered this breathless enamored glamorization of the results of living in constant and total terror on the edge of existence, it just pissed me off in the same way Rand’s glamorization of her god-like heroes and heroines pissed me off.
Language. I love books that make me turn the pages quickly because I can’t wait to see what’s next in the plot, I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I love books that I don’t give a crap about how it turns out because the sentences are so beautiful, the insights are so stunning, the figurative language so original and gasp-inducing. This book is more the former (but without the “loving it” part), but she does try to use figurative language and it’s clunky and awful. I see this a lot in my first-time writer clients who want to use figurative language, metaphors, similes, and those who are trying to be original with it will sometimes reach pretty far. But as I tell them, the comparison has to illuminate the thing being illuminated in an important way, in a way that helps the reader understand SO MUCH. It has to add, it can’t just be something jarring because it’s not a cliche. On occasion she’d add something illuminating, but so much more often the language stopped me cold because it was simply wrong. Not only didn’t it add, it stopped me cold. I hate that. Also: She italicized words all over the place. Nearly every line of dialogue had a couple (or more) italicized words, to the point of distraction. What was that about?!
Resolution. I care so very much about how novels end, and like excellent TV, a bad ending (I’m thinking of the Sopranos, the ending of which still leaves me so dissatisfied) ruins what came before. I don’t think Philip Roth has ever ended a book to my satisfaction, though I keep reading his books in the hopes that just once he’ll make me happy. This book takes the reader to an apparent ending 90% in, but of course we know there is still too much of the book remaining so this cannot be the ending. Sometimes that can work, I guess, but too much was made of it here, and it didn’t work. But then the real ending, the last 10%, was too little too fast and just so disappointing. Since the main reason I kept forcing myself to grit my teeth and read was the hope that there would be a satisfying ending, I read the last word with pure bitterness. I finished reading with a feeling akin to hate for Marisha Pessl, whose books I will never again read. She seems too impressed by her own cleverness, so I hope she has a lot of fun with herself but I won’t play with her ever again.
Sheesh. See what I mean by the worst? I’d have quit reading ~15% in if I were reading on my own; life is far too short to spend an hour of it reading such crap. I enjoyed spending my Sunday the way I did, but I hated that it was such terrible stuff I was reading. The best part: I’m finished! Yay! I’m deleting it from my kindle completely, because I hope to forget it completely, and I’d hate to run across it in my complete-forgetting state and spend even 5 minutes reading it again.
It’s going to be a busy week for me — I hope it’s a great week for you and that Monday is an easy start into it. And I hope you haven’t read anything so awful lately. 🙂
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