Jennifer Spiegel's Blog

November 18, 2016

Check out more recent blog posts at www.boscosgoingdown.com! (Older posts are still here.)
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Published on November 18, 2016 09:21 • 15 views

July 18, 2015

Well, half of my friends are boycotting the book, and half are ripping through it. I���m in the latter half. I just finished it. This is my review. There will be spoilers.

First, the back-story. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee���s one and only novel up until this point, was published in 1960. The book is fabulous. We all (mostly) agree. Atticus Finch, the dad, became our hero. I had daughters, but I wanted to name my baby ���Atticus,��� if it were a boy. It didn���t happen.

Go Set A Watchman, hailed as the sequel���but published just now in 2015���was actually the first draft of Mockingbird. Purchased in 1957, the book was deemed as not-up-to-par, basically. It needed work. Lee revised and revised. It morphed into To Kill A Mockingbird. Now, five million years later, the first draft of Mockingbird is released as its own book, Go Set A Watchman.

Which, incidentally, might scare any writer. I wrote a very lousy book called So I Slept With Mickey Rourke that eventually became a fifteen-page short story called ���The Mickey Rourke Saga��� and can be found in The Freak Chronicles. I also have earlier drafts of both of my books in my closet that I have not taken the time to burn. But maybe I should. I���m not sure why I cart them around.

The back-story is even more nuanced, though. There���s some question as to whether or not Harper Lee was or is mentally with it enough to know what���s going on with this book. Her sister, who looked after Lee���s interests, died two months before the manuscript mysteriously appeared, or was ���discovered.��� Lee had often been quoted saying she had no plans to publish again. Others do report that Lee totally knows what���s going on.

And here we are. Go Set A Watchman is out.

Second, the spoilers. Jem is dead. And Atticus, the bastion of justice and equality, turns out to be a racist.

Now, the book. Well, it���s kinda dull, frankly. A little too ���talky.��� Besides the fact that we really don���t want to mess with the final product, we also don���t want to hear all the weird things Uncle Jack has to say, and we���re a bit bored by this content. Guys, it���s not very interesting.

Scout remains heroic. So, if you named your cat Scout (mom), you���re okay.

Dill isn���t around, so that���s good.

I did find the premise interesting, though Lee wasn���t successful in realizing it���nor did we want it for this book. For another, different book, maybe. What does happen when a girl, now a woman, comes home and realizes that her only true hero is not heroic at all? How does an individual handle the disappointment? The failure of humanity? The lack of goodness in others?

Let me ask you this, reader: have you ever felt so betrayed that you can���t even stand on your own two feet? Have you ever lost all hope in everything, and you were just really at a loss for what to do?

That���s Scout���s predicament when she realizes her father is a freakin��� racist. Lee writes, ���The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, ���He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,��� had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.���

Wow. There���s a novel, right there. Let���s just not have it be about Atticus.

I do want to say that, in all fairness to Harper Lee, Scout lets Atticus have it. Scout tells him, ���I���ll never forgive you for what you did to me. You cheated me, you���ve driven me out of my home and now I���m in a no-man���s-land but good���there���s no place for me any more in Maycomb, and I���ll never be entirely at home anywhere else.��� Ah, this homelessness is a universal, is it not?

Again, let���s just not have this connected with Atticus, okay?

And, Scout, the girl who flees to New York, made me think some pleasant thoughts about New York: ������Well,��� said Jean Louise, ���it takes considerable getting used to. I hated it for two years. It intimidated me daily until one morning when someone pushed me on a bus and I pushed back. After I pushed back I realized I���d become a part of it.������

Yeah, it���s like that.

The other thing I wanted to say that is possibly writer-specific is that I don���t think it���s so necessary for people to boycott this book out of respect for Lee or love of Mockingbird. I personally don���t think this needs to tarnish the better book. This can be read as a distinct work, a historical record���not a sequel or prequel or whatever. Writers write a lot, and some of it isn���t very good. This doesn���t mean, in any way, that To Kill A Mockingbird is not an outstanding work of art. This is just history.

Lee attempts���and fails���to show the uniqueness of the Southerner, and I personally need to admit my own deficiencies here. I don���t get the South. I���ve never been there. My husband routinely tells me I���m a Yankee. I���d like to understand it better, the motivations behind Atticus that Lee tries to explore. But really: I���m with Scout.

Get the hell out of Dodge.

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Published on July 18, 2015 17:12 • 59 views

July 13, 2015

The language is pretty rough in this, friends.

I���ve debated how much to tell publicly, how much to hide. I didn���t want people to stare at my boobs, to contemplate their shape and size. I didn���t want pity. Most of all, I didn���t want���and I still don���t want���the identity. I didn���t want to be identified with cancer. I didn���t want cancer to take-over the rest of my identity. Who was I? Who am I? A woman? A wife? A mother? A creature?

I���m many things, and writer is but one of them.

My husband���who, unequivocally, is my best friend���instantly balked at my preoccupation with ���identity.��� Is this identity with which I���m so concerned something I choose, I construct, or I am given? Sometimes, in the paragraphs that follow, I���m all defensive: I���m a writer, no matter what you say. Sometimes, I���m in charge. I picked writer, and there���s nothing anyone can do about it. Sometimes, others are in charge. Don���t make me write about that disease. Don���t make me.

Is identity so fluid? Who am I, really?

And, then, on top of his pointing out that I���m obviously in the midst of an identity crisis that, as always, has to do with my writing (how the fuck much longer are we going to have to go through this?)���now we���re adding my physique, which has also always, over the years, been problematic for me (talk to my female friends, note Sybil in Love Slave has an eating disorder, check out how often physical beauty is an issue in my writing). I guess I���m thinking this: At least, after all these years, I knew a few things. I knew, at last, I was a writer with boobs. I HAD BREASTS.

But I don���t want to be a cancer writer. And I don���t really know, then, if I���m acknowledging some weakness in me, some vulnerability to public opinion. I���m thinking how I freaked out a little when it looked like some people might label Love Slave ���chick lit.��� Behind only a slightly closed door, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child and shouted, I write literary fiction! I write literary fiction! I write literary fiction! And you better damn well bet that I spent the next few years writing a book only accessible to the most highfalutin English Ph.D.-types around. Look out, Pynchon! (I���m joking, okay?) The truth is that I totally care what people think of me. Shit.

I guess I���m telling you I���m scared. I don���t want to be the one who writes all about surviving cancer, or surviving cancer till I eventually die from it. I don���t want to write about how I started eating all healthy and I took control of my future and I stopped trusting doctors and went all paleo or vegan or whatever-the-hell.

That is not the kind of writer I want to be.

Yes, of course, cancer is now part of me, never to be ignored, but���fluid, constructed, bestowed upon me, whatever���I see my own writerly palate, my own identity as writer as larger than this crazy disease, which, like some kind of black smoke monster, wants to take up the whole of me. And maybe that is where my plea resides. Let my palate be larger than this.

I want to write about humans doing human things. Having cancer is just one part of that.

Two things come to mind. I just finished, prior to all of this, writing a novel (unpublished!) on marriage and drug addiction. I���ll tell you this: I am very, very much in favor of getting help and treatment, but the drug addicts I spoke to all attested to the necessity of living a life apart from being known as the drug addict. The healthiest people, post-recovery, were the ones who didn���t constantly bear the persona of recovered drug addict. They recognized that they would forever deal with the consequences of that life, but who they were now went beyond drug addiction. I keep thinking about that.

I also keep thinking about the plethora of books on my table, our ad hoc cancer library���How To Tell Your Kids You May Die, What To Eat Now That You May Die, How To Love Your Spouse Now That He or She May Die���and I don���t want to have too much to do with that. I can think of a few cancer survivors who have made lives out of great diets, out of alternative medicine. They might be reading this. I promise you: I���ll work on my diet. I also want those diet-goddesses to know that I really do respect them, but it���s their vocation. It���s not mine. I will eat better. I will exercise more. I never smoke or drink (What the fuck is up with this?) I will still eat Five Guys with my kids every once in a while. My vocation, my freakin��� higher calling���if you will���is all about writing and my kids, who I will speak about shortly. And I���m going to say this one loudly and clearly: I do believe in modern medicine. I do! My belief is not religious or blind, but the advances in the medical field blow me away, and I���m pro them.

So, this identity that I am both constructing and assuming . . .

Here���s my statement on my fluid identity: I worked hard to be a writer disassociated from undisclosed illnesses, and I want to be a good writer because I���m a fucking good writer and not because I���m a pretty good writer with undisclosed illnesses.

You should be asking this: What ���undisclosed illnesses���?

I was in a very bad car accident in 1998 when I was living in South Africa and, for a very long time, I was that car accident. The car accident left me severely messed up, and I���m not willing to divulge how. All I did, for at least two to four years, was survive. We���re talking therapy, the Mayo Clinic, support groups. I reluctantly joined a group of survivors, who lived out their survival for the rest of their lives. And I got very bitter. Very, very bitter. Eventually, I was just a bitter survivor.

There came a point, a very decisive and still secret point, at which I just walked away from it. I had wanted to be a writer before South Africa, but I only got my MFA afterwards. I really consciously stepped away from the role of survivor. You may think bravery, but it might be cowardice or shame too���so let���s not go there.

Frankly, I think back on that time, and I don���t want to have anything to do with it. It took me a long time to re-build a post-accident life. I stopped talking about it. I did not write about it. Ever. People think I write autobiographically often; you will not find this accident in my stories.

One consequence has been that I���ve acquired, though, a pretty dry wit, for which I���m actually grateful, but I���ll tell you this: I can be dark. I can out-dark your darkness any old day, and cheery people flee from me���as they should.

However, I do want to say that I finally got over the ���accident��� when I began to seriously write. I got over myself when I stopped living like I���d been in this horrific life-stopping crisis. Like the recovered drug addict, I got away from defining my existence in terms of drug addiction. I got out of the abyss when I defined myself apart from the abyss. This took years and years, but it happened.

But, still, that car accident in South Africa is part of me. I really do believe everything happens for a reason. I do believe life is meaningful. I believe in story, in narrative arcs, in resolution, in grand schemes. So I got an MFA after South Africa, wrote the books after South Africa, got married after South Africa, had kids after South Africa. I consciously decided on my identity, which would be that of a writer. I constructed it?

And I buried that goddamn accident. Only then, I did I actually write about it. I did finally write something about it. It shows up in my next novel, fictionalized but there nonetheless���almost twenty years later.

And now: motherfucking cancer?

Should I apologize for the mouth on me?

I feel like it took me a long time to get here, to where I am now. I just want to be a writer, guys. I want to be the kind of writer who peddles in fiction about Truth, because I believe in ���Truth.��� I���m not going to resort to evangelism or proselytizing because I���m not that kind of writer either, but I���ve always loved the line in Roger Rosenblatt���s essay, I Am Writing Blindly, in which he says, ���I sometimes think one writes to find God in every sentence. But God (the ironist) always lives in the next sentence.��� Yes, that���s what I want to do. I want to write fiction that is redemptive because I believe in redemption, and I don���t want to sugarcoat reality, which means I may write about disgrace and shame and bitches. I will definitely use the f-word, and I will turn off plenty of nice people who will find me over-the-top. I get myself in all kinds of awkward situations, singing the praises of Philip Roth while condemning Fifty Shades. I read the literature of the godless, lingering on their word choice. I love the literary finesse of the metaphysically bankrupt. I am not with them philosophically, but I am a writer and I will share their love of language.

A couple years ago, due to money, I stepped down from college-teaching to try teaching middle school and high school. I had to stop saying fuck, I had to justify my decision to teach James Baldwin (James Baldwin!), and I had to wear nylons more than I care to. I also had to stop being a writer���because, well, my stuff is inappropriate for kids. I had to sublimate the part of my identity that felt like the most authentic part of me.

It didn���t work out. Actually, I sucked. Back to college, where I could say fuck and teach James Baldwin!

Then this. Cancer! First and foremost, cancer threatened my kids. This post is writer-centric, but I primarily saw this as a threat to my children. Second, cancer threatened my identity as a writer. Third, cancer threatened my identity as a woman.

Well, let me discuss these out of order, and with the details many of my friends want.

Women, I found what felt like two lumps���but turned out to be three���by myself on a Friday night. Something felt funny. I was not doing any exam. I just felt something, maybe one week after a routine OB/GYN exam in which nothing was detected. I literally just felt lumps. I went in for a mammogram and ultrasound the following Monday. I had two biopsies on the following Friday, and I was diagnosed with cancer by Tuesday���twelve days after finding the lumps. Plain and simple.

The Breast Cancer community is mobilized, friends. They act. As clich��d as it may sound, the survivors who stepped forward were the best. I do want to stress this, because���sadly���one in eight women are going to go through this. The survivors were the ones who offered the real information. By the day after the diagnosis, I had five doctor appointments. I only made it to two of them.

And this is all the private stuff. There are things you might want to know. I���m forty-five, and breast cancer isn���t really a part of my history. My kids are little, and this affected all of my decisions. I had already made plans to go back to teaching college for the sake of my own probably-screwed-up-sense-of-self. I had just completed a faux-writing sabbatical in which I taught part time and finished a novel about marriage and drugs, which had taxed us financially but had done me a world of good in terms of my writing. My marriage was in good shape, and I can���t dismiss the importance of this. Women, I���m talking to you, my own choices were largely determined���I���m sure���by the fact that my kids are young and my marriage is good. We had just moved into a new house. We had a trip to Disneyworld planned for late July.

Wait a minute. Motherfucking cancer?

The first doctor was great. A regular boobologist, Tim called her. All about the boob. She didn���t mince words. A single mastectomy was called for, no question.

This was something we knew pretty quickly. We were not talking lumpectomy. We were talking about cutting it entirely off.

And here it is, guys. I knew, going in, I wanted a double mastectomy. My kids. That���s it. Forget the writing thing, which I���m only willing to forget for two minutes. I have two babies, and I���ll cut off my breasts so I can stay alive for them. I went into the appointment knowing this. I had to stay alive, because I have little kids.

This doctor thought waiting till after Disneyworld was fine. Statistically, it was fine. End of story. Double mastectomy in the beginning of August.

We liked her. I���d recommend her. Really, I have nothing bad to say about her, so let me know if you need to see someone.

We still went to see the second doctor that afternoon, just because the appointment was already made. He, too, said a single mastectomy was needed; a double was what many women my age opted for; Disney could come first, no problem.

But here was the thing. This guy would, if I wanted, do the double mastectomy the following week.

Tim liked the first doctor and her cushy, feminine, boob-centric ways better. He felt comforted by her thoroughness, her deliberation, her expertise.

And I said, ���We���re going with the second guy.��� Tim jokingly suggested I just wanted a Jewish doctor from New York, and I don���t think I can fairly deny it, but what I really wanted is this: get the fucking cancer out as soon as possible.

But the Jewish New Yorker thing doesn���t hurt, either.

So I had a double mastectomy, friends. Last Wednesday. At record speeds. People can���t believe it.

I know there are other questions. Reconstruction. I didn���t know this going into this hell-hole, but reconstruction is covered by insurance. We���re talking fake boobs. Like really fake boobs. It���s a long, painful process. They stick this thing in you���hopefully at the time of the mastectomy but sometimes later, stretch your skin gradually like a balloon, and fill it up with silicon.

In the days between diagnosis and surgery, I saw two things. One breast cancer survivor showed me her unreconstructed chest. I���ll tell you this. It looks different, but not grotesque���and you should hold onto this, women. Because reconstruction isn���t always possible. The sight was reassuring. I also saw some reconstructed breasts. I saw them, and, okay, I gasped. They looked fucking awesome!

I surprised myself on this front, folks. I was a little surprised at my own desire for reconstruction. I actually got this pretty top-notch plastic surgeon, and we started the process on the operating table���which means that while the Jewish New Yorker doctor was cutting them off, the top-notch plastic surgeon was inserting freakin��� deflated balloons in my flat chest to be gradually filled in a process that will take months, and hurt more than the double mastectomy. But I surprised myself here. I thought I���d be a no-reconstruction kind of girl. When I saw them and realized they were okay, I thought, Yeah. I can do this.

But then: surgery was scheduled for Wednesday. That was not up for debate. With or without the fake boobs, I was cutting them off.

Could I schedule the plastic surgeon too?

Let me dwell momentarily on this fake boob issue. I���ve always been a little judgmental of women with implants. I have, and I���m still dealing with myself here. How to reconcile my own moral judgment with my snap-decision for implants���I hustled to get the doctor on board in such a short time. I really did. I saw him two times in one day. Tim raced around. We did lab work. We signed papers. By the end of the day, I was begging for fake boobs.

Really? Hypocrisy? What���s with me? With my judgmental attitude? With a woman���s desire for breasts? What do plastic surgeons tell their children they do for a living? What do I say?

Why are breasts so important?

There are other things happening right now. Chemo is 95% likely for me, because of my young age���which means I���ll probably lose my hair. Losing my eyebrows freaked me out a little. I had just decided to go all Melissa Etheridge or Sinead O���Connor, and skip the wig���when I noticed the fear in my daughters��� faces. I may need to do wigs for them.

At this point, they think the cancer was limited to one breast���but my age really is problematic. Radiation may happen, which is another reason we rushed to get the fake boobs going. The success rate for reconstruction is better when they start prior to radiation. Women, note this too. Radiation���not chemo���is the issue affecting reconstruction.

I���ve also been tested genetically because���lo and behold���though I was totally raised Christian, I���m a full-blooded Ashkenazi Jew! I may end up having a hysterectomy. Which���back to the threat this has for my kids���I���ll do immediately, without hesitation. You see, I am a writer. And I want to be clear about that. But I really don���t want for my children to lose their mother.

Which makes me wonder about this other aspect of identity. What makes me a woman? Will I still be a woman? Without breasts and uterus, is there a shadow of a doubt? Does my womanhood reside in my soul, in my brain, where? What makes a woman a woman?

We���re still going to Disneyworld, by the way. There���s no way in hell I could���ve waited to remove it till August, but we did it now so I could go too. I may not be up and running, but I should be able to walk around with a faux-smile on my face.

The surgery went well. In truth, I liked my doctor, because urgency was really important to me. I woke up. I got to see Tim right away. We actually laughed a lot. My sister had flown into town, and she and my mom were taking care of the kids. I���m not yet drug-free, but I probably will be by tomorrow night. Basically, it was a pretty good experience, considering I���ll never have real breasts again.

I���ll end with my husband. I���m not going to say too much, but he���s been amazing. I don���t fully understand his goodness. We joke that we���ll take the skin off his butt and put them on my boobs, and���in this way���we���ll really be one flesh. I���d be lying if I said I���m not worried he���s going to be sexually repelled by me. He seems immune to such thoughts, though my own dark cynicism keeps me thinking he���s faking it for my sake.

During the last few days, he���s taken me to the bathroom (I can wipe my own butt!), regularly drained some kind of disgusting bloody fluid out of bulbs attached to where my breasts once were, propped me up on pillows and slept next to me waking if I say a word. He���s fed the kids, kept them busy, taken care of the cats which he hates (their food is ���worse than cancer���). I can���t imagine being without him, and I���m so sad he���s had to do this for me.

So here we are. I decided to disclose all of this because I need to get over it, and I need to go back to being just a writer. I can be a good writer or a bad writer���you can love it or hate it���but I can���t be a cancer writer. This isn���t my subject. It just isn���t. It���s part of it, but it���s not the whole thing, okay?
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Published on July 13, 2015 00:00 • 74 views

July 1, 2015

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Tuesday around two p.m. And what can I say to you? Of course, I started writing something by six���after Tim rushed home from work, after tears and confused kids, after my kid���s friend was picked up early by her gracious mom from the failed playdate, after Tim and I showed up at my ob/gyn unannounced and asked to see the doctor in person.

This must be Day One. Not another cancer journal!

No, not that. My friend posted Florence and the Machine���s ���Shake It Out��� on my facebook wall. Isn���t that what I do when I write? Shake it out.

Well, this is the first cancer post. Oh, yes, it is. Let���s get a few things out there.

��� At this point, I have no clue what stage it is, if I���m going to die, if I���ll have a breast or both breasts cut off, or anything at all. I have another doctor���s appointment soon. I will tell you that there is instantly the feeling that one���s body is one���s enemy.
��� Suddenly, unprecedentedly, I feel an affection���I���m not joking���for Angelina Jolie. Hero seems an okay word now.
��� On that hero note, though, my very initial impression is that, when people speak out or go public, heroism has very little to do with it. I���ll tell people anything. I���ve done obnoxious self-promo that proved personally costly. I like to divulge my own shit���because I do find it cathartic, and I see candor and intimacy as especially key in my own style of writing. But you know what? I don���t care about being heroic or courageous in the least bit. Mostly, if not exclusively, I just want my kids to be okay. Not exclusively. I want Tim to be okay too. There are others. I feel horrible that my mom has to go through this. I bet Angelina wanted something similar for her people.
��� I���m not afraid of death, okay? I���m okay (if we���re talking about okay-ness). I believe in God, really, truly. I believe in life after death. I���ll just go all-Chris Pratt on you. Some of my writer friends are staring into this black hole of meaningless and trying to make sense of their lives���and I���m not there. I am, in all honesty, very upset that my kids may suffer. But I���m okay.
��� My husband has told me, ���You need to get rid of that darkness.��� My mom pretty much says the same thing. Cynicism is my first inclination. Oh, wow, so I���m going to die. After the first half hour, I wanted to discuss a plan for the kids. And Tim wanted to talk about fighting cancer. But I���m all, like, ���Why? If I���m going to die, I���m going to die.��� Why do I need this positive attitude? You really think there are curative properties in a faux-sense of victory over a disease that shows no mercy? For my kids???? Okay, okay. We���ll beat this.
��� Is this my own black hole of meaningless? I suppose it is, but I still don���t entirely get the value of a fight.
��� My children, my children. What will they do?
��� On my cynicism. And my beliefs. I guess I believe in story, in narrative arc, in beginnings and endings. What if I have lived the life I was meant to live? What if I accomplished what I was meant to accomplish? What if it really is done now? I know people don���t want to hear this. Tim didn���t want to. Right now, I really am not the person I would want to be. There���s a lot of failure there. But things have resolved in other areas. I���m thinking a lot about Tim. I���m sorry for the totally personal stuff here. We���re in the process of selling our first and only home together, and it���s a constant trip down memory lane���which was pretty rocky. Like, really rocky. Amazingly, we got through it. What if the purpose of my life was so that Tim might emerge on the other side of that rocky road, now equipped for the hard work of being a single dad���my own emergence beside the point? Is that too awful to say? My own life aspirations were always pretty simplistic: I���ve always wanted to be in love like some dumbass girl in a whirlwind romance, and I���ve always wanted to be a writer. The kids were part of the love part. To be honest, I got those things! Yeah, they���re not all they���re cracked up to be���resorting to clich��s now���but so be it. Tim didn���t want me to say this stuff, to succumb to my sense that this might be the end of my road. He wanted me to have a positive attitude. He asked, ���Didn���t you picture us growing old together?��� I wanted that. That���s true. I really, really wanted that. I still do.
��� I don���t foresee writing a book around this. Strangely, there���s a breast cancer scare in Love Slave, and death pretty much haunts Freak. I also completely finished another novel before this���totally done, not about this topic one bit. I���m glad about that. I had plans���nothing written���for a fourth on another subject, and we���ll see what happens. I don���t really want to write a book on cancer. I don���t want to be the cancer writer. I can be the writer on warped love. That one���s me. No cancer book legacy.
��� Though I will cut off my breasts, if that���s what it takes.
��� Look, it���s Day One. As of this moment, it seems to be one breast. I���ll fight. For my kids. They���re the ones, you know?
��� My children, my children. Please, Dear God, take care of my babies. And, Tim, you be the fighter. You get through this.
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Published on July 01, 2015 07:22 • 22 views

May 20, 2015

This Mad Men moment is about to pass and most of my thoughts are recycled, thoughts already thought by others. Yeah, Don made the commercial. Of course Don made the commercial!

But before I move on, turning perhaps obsessively���unless it���s dumb and ruins everything���to Fear the Walking Dead, I did want to say a big goodbye and congrats to Matthew Weiner for his accomplishment. He pulled it off! The Great American Novel on TV!

Yeah, I wanted Don to have an amazing redemptive moment that resulted in lasting peace and harmony.

But Don Draper was too complex. For such a well-drawn character, the sudden happy ending would���ve rendered the show sappy, silly, like Lost or something (which I still get sad about). Ending a story right is about the toughest writer-job around, in my opinion. So kudos to Weiner, who did it very well! Can you believe it? Even if you wanted different particulars, Weiner left us with universals���pointing to Gatsby���s green lights, showing the possibilities there are for TV storytelling, painting rich characters with literary themes and complications, and even ending with some genuine joy for others.

I���ll forever remember the scene in which Pete Campbell watches Peggy dance in season one and, afterwards, hisses at her, ���I don���t like you like this.��� (I���m paraphrasing.) I think that episode ended with Pete bringing a gun to work. But that was my personal hook. I was sucked in then.

And there are so many haters, but don���t forget Betty and the birds.

Congratulations to Matthew Weiner for Mad Men!
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Published on May 20, 2015 06:38 • 19 views

March 14, 2015

At the end of season four and on the verge of catching up with the world . . .

This one is for Tracey, who got me into this zombie mess. It���s no Mad Men, but we obviously like it. Zombie thoughts at this pivotal moment:

1. Why it works. This show works so well���and it freakin��� works well, skeptics/snobs/I-Am-One-Of-You/mom���because of a few things: the tone (seriousness/contemplativeness without cheese, nearly existential), the use of really cool music (please check out Shawn James immediately and then Ben Howard and Fink), and our human preoccupation with the meaning of life. Yeah, that. Forget the zombie crap, which gets the teenagers interested. They���re messing up my shit. This show is really about the meaning of life.

2. Character. Well, is this plot or character-driven? Is this The Hunger Games of TV? I won���t make a case that it���s ���literary TV,��� but it���s pretty good. And we���re past this, right? We know plot matters now, right? Though Michonne is my personal favorite, the death that bothered me the most was Hershel���s. The Gandalf of WD.

3. Who���s hot? All my friends���like, my good friends���said Daryl, just you wait. They took into account my proclivity for bad boys with hearts of gold. They mentioned my affection for Sweet Sawyer from ���Lost��� (who, please remember, read a lot of books). Even though I love Daryl, it���s Rick for my money. I probably would���ve had a thing for Shane who had that special combo I dig: buff and crazy.

Plus, Jewish.

Obviously that would���ve ended poorly. MY BAD.

So, yes, Rick. Even though he used his mouth to bite that one guy���s throat out, which was pretty gross. One friend said, No, not Rick. But I say to her, yes, Rick. A man does what he���s gotta do. (I wouldn���t have turned my head ever for The Governor, that lesser Liam Neeson. I���d look at Darryl, sure.)

4. What bugs me. There would be, I���m thinking, way more survivors in a zombie apocalypse. There really is just a ridiculous amount of empty space. Wouldn���t there be more cats and dogs around too? (I can suspend my disbelief about toilet paper and tampons. Carol���s hair is bothersome.)

5. Some of it I love. Among other things, one of the tremendous parts of this dumbass show is its rendering of humanity. For instance, I really am impressed by the way it reveals our adaptability, our capacity for endurance, our compulsion to survive. Besides some of the more obvious stuff, I find it interesting how unlikely companions forge out new ���families.��� Like Daryl and Beth, for instance. This is really revelatory about humanity, you know???? I also like its overall drive, its eschatology of hope, its gospel of perseverance. And I like the idea of people faced with massive moral choices. One of the more interesting conundrums, if you will, was how Tyreese handled Carol. In one instance, she was a murderer. In another, she killed because it was the right thing to do? The stripped morality, the way justice and mercy sometimes depend on an infrastructure to make it all possible, the place for judgment and forgiveness, the universality of right and wrong: these things are at stake here!

6. Romance. Rick and Michonne should get together. They���d be like the George and Amal Clooney of ���The Walking Dead.���

7. Spin-off. I was originally excited about this spin-off, set in L.A., I���m feeling a little cynical now. This is a writer-thing, so I apologize if it sounds insignificant. My interest in this show is primarily two-fold: the overall narrative arc (I like me some resolution and I���m waiting for it, fully vested) and the fate of individual characters. So, while a spin-off may provide us with a new set of characters, it will not���I hope?���altar the narrative arc. The zombie apocalypse should be consistent throughout both shows, right? Well, then, they need to end together, simultaneously, consistently?



There you have it. We���ll begin five soon. Let���s hope it doesn���t get dumb.

And, remember, the end of the world changes everything. Consider this conversation with my husband.

Me, on Daryl and Beth getting together: "He's too old for her! He's, like, 35 or 36���and she's 17!"���Tim: "It's okay in the apocalypse."

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Published on March 14, 2015 17:07 • 10 views
At the end of season four and on the verge of catching up with the world . . .

This one is for Tracey, who got me into this zombie mess. It’s no Mad Men, but we obviously like it. Zombie thoughts at this pivotal moment:

1. Why it works. This show works so well—and it freakin’ works well, skeptics/snobs/I-Am-One-Of-You/mom—because of a few things: the tone (seriousness/contemplativeness without cheese, nearly existential), the use of really cool music (please check out Shawn James immediately and then Ben Howard and Fink), and our human preoccupation with the meaning of life. Yeah, that. Forget the zombie crap, which gets the teenagers interested. They’re messing up my shit. This show is really about the meaning of life.

2. Character. Well, is this plot or character-driven? Is this The Hunger Games of TV? I won’t make a case that it’s “literary TV,” but it’s pretty good. And we’re past this, right? We know plot matters now, right? Though Michonne is my personal favorite, the death that bothered me the most was Hershel’s. The Gandalf of WD.

3. Who’s hot? All my friends—like, my good friends—said Daryl, just you wait. They took into account my proclivity for bad boys with hearts of gold. They mentioned my affection for Sweet Sawyer from “Lost” (who, please remember, read a lot of books). Even though I love Daryl, it’s Rick for my money. I probably would’ve had a thing for Shane who had that special combo I dig: buff and crazy.

Plus, Jewish.

Obviously that would’ve ended poorly. MY BAD.

So, yes, Rick. Even though he used his mouth to bite that one guy’s throat out, which was pretty gross. One friend said, No, not Rick. But I say to her, yes, Rick. A man does what he’s gotta do. (I wouldn’t have turned my head ever for The Governor, that lesser Liam Neeson. I’d look at Darryl, sure.)

4. What bugs me. There would be, I’m thinking, way more survivors in a zombie apocalypse. There really is just a ridiculous amount of empty space. Wouldn’t there be more cats and dogs around too? (I can suspend my disbelief about toilet paper and tampons. Carol’s hair is bothersome.)

5. Some of it I love. Among other things, one of the tremendous parts of this dumbass show is its rendering of humanity. For instance, I really am impressed by the way it reveals our adaptability, our capacity for endurance, our compulsion to survive. Besides some of the more obvious stuff, I find it interesting how unlikely companions forge out new “families.” Like Daryl and Beth, for instance. This is really revelatory about humanity, you know???? I also like it’s overall drive, its eschatology of hope, its gospel of perseverance. And I like the idea of people faced with massive moral choices. One of the more interesting conundrums, if you will, was how Tyreese handled Carol. In one instance, she was a murderer. In another, she killed because it was the right thing to do? The stripped morality, the way justice and mercy sometimes depend on an infrastructure to make it all possible, the place for judgment and forgiveness, the universality of right and wrong: these things are at stake here!

6. Romance. Rick and Michonne should get together. They’d be like the George and Amal Clooney of “The Walking Dead.”

7. Spin-off. I was originally excited about this spin-off, set in L.A., I’m feeling a little cynical now. This is a writer-thing, so I apologize if it sounds insignificant. My interest in this show is primarily two-fold: the overall narrative arc (I like me some resolution and I’m waiting for it, fully vested) and the fate of individual characters. So, while a spin-off may provide us with a new set of characters, it will not—I hope?—altar the narrative arc. The zombie apocalypse should be consistent throughout both shows, right? Well, then, they need to end together, simultaneously, consistently?



There you have it. We’ll begin five soon. Let’s hope it doesn’t get dumb.

And, remember, the end of the world changes everything. Consider this conversation with my husband.

Me, on Daryl and Beth getting together: "He's too old for her! He's, like, 35 or 36—and she's 17!"
Tim: "It's okay in the apocalypse."

If you respond to this blog, no spoilers please.
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Published on March 14, 2015 17:07 • 64 views

February 27, 2015

This book is not for everyone. Or maybe it is.

It���s a kids��� book, so there���s that. Though this is by the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall���and MacLachlan can write so nicely.

But this book is for the children of writers. If your child is already trying to figure out your oddities, why you exhale deeply and solemnly over random bits of dialogue or why you scramble frantically���downright embarrassingly���for post-it notes to jot down nonsense or song lyrics by Prince or Dusty Springfield, or why you get moony over dead writers or happy over non-dangling modifiers: If your kid is already thinking about these things, then this book is for your child.

Similarly, if your child is already saying, ���I want to be a writer,��� well, then, try this one on him or her.

One of my daughters is already saying this. I���m not trying to stop her, though maybe I should. I feel like I should. I���m not all Philip Roth, lamenting the hard, bitter writing life, warning her, telling her to be a lawyer instead. I���d probably need to be a better writer for that.

Still: shouldn���t I try to stop her? I mean, really, I don���t know how it is for other writer-types, but there are issues. Money is a big and obvious one. I���ve lost���I���m serious about this���jobs because of writing. I���ve suffered from chronic delusional thinking, which is possibly the engine of creativity, the propeller necessary for the wicked leap of faith involved in poetry or prose, or a death wish, a suicidal tendency I both deny and embrace. I haven���t lost my marriage, but it���s really because of him, not me.

Should I try to stop her?

Or, maybe, I���ll just give her this book instead.

Yeah. I���m going to give her this book instead.

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Published on February 27, 2015 13:01 • 13 views
This book is not for everyone. Or maybe it is.

It’s a kids’ book, so there’s that. Though this is by the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall—and MacLachlan can write so nicely.

But this book is for the children of writers. If your child is already trying to figure out your oddities, why you exhale deeply and solemnly over random bits of dialogue or why you scramble frantically—downright embarrassingly—for post-it notes to jot down nonsense or song lyrics by Prince or Dusty Springfield, or why you get moony over dead writers or happy over non-dangling modifiers: If your kid is already thinking about these things, then this book is for your child.

Similarly, if your child is already saying, “I want to be a writer,” well, then, try this one on him or her.

One of my daughters is already saying this. I’m not trying to stop her, though maybe I should. I feel like I should. I’m not all Philip Roth, lamenting the hard, bitter writing life, warning her, telling her to be a lawyer instead. I’d probably need to be a better writer for that.

Still: shouldn’t I try to stop her? I mean, really, I don’t know how it is for other writer-types, but there are issues. Money is a big and obvious one. I’ve lost—I’m serious about this—jobs because of writing. I’ve suffered from chronic delusional thinking, which is possibly the engine of creativity, the propeller necessary for the wicked leap of faith involved in poetry or prose, or a death wish, a suicidal tendency I both deny and embrace. I haven’t lost my marriage, but it’s really because of him, not me.

Should I try to stop her?

Or, maybe, I’ll just give her this book instead.

Yeah. I’m going to give her this book instead.

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Published on February 27, 2015 13:01 • 15 views

January 21, 2015

Though I’ve toyed—okay, “obsessed over”—the idea of writing about TV, I’ve held back because who really wants to hear about my family’s experience watching all nine seasons of “Little House on the Prairie”? Still, pop culture lures me. And you know, low-brow is all high-brow these days.

Well, this post is for you, my select TV friends. Just a little something for those into binging on this art form, if art form it is.

First, a confession: I’m one of those people who, once upon a time (see further down for pun-potential), said crap like, “Kill your television.” I did so half-heartedly, of course, because I was also secretly watching “Seinfeld” and “Friends” – and even, for a short shameful period of my life, “The Bachelor,” when it first began. That almost killed me as a single woman longing for a lasting, committed relationship with a hot, rich guy who told me how fabulous I was and never went to work. I have multiple friends who do not own TVs, and, yes, I think they’re better parents than I am. Actually, I know they are.

That said, I love me a good TV show.

My TV habits are tied very intimately with my pursuit of something else, something lofty, snobby, non-obtuse. I have somehow or other managed to make TV into an artistic endeavor. And I mean this. I am, I tell people, after art, in pursuit of narrative.

This is mostly true.

The other thing is that I am strictly into the corporate act of television-watching. Watching alone is anathema to me! This may sound all relational and everything, but really I think I’m admitting to neediness and insecurity. The funny thing is that I’ve only articulated this togetherness-principle within the last three or four years, beginning with our tragic dip into “Lost,” but I guess I’ve instinctively held this belief for a long, long time.

In 1996, I actually went on a business trip to Minneapolis. I had a real job, if you can believe it—it’s hard for me to believe too—and someone sent me to Minneapolis, where I did take a side trip to the Mall of America. I remember very little about that business trip besides the Mall of America and the event that follows: I watched TV alone in my hotel room, lounging on the bed. I seem to remember “Saturday Night Live,” though I might be wrong. I remember laughing out loud.

Right there. In bed. Alone. Laughing!

I heard the sound of my own laughter.

And you know what? I sounded so dumb!

Many thoughts, all of them italicized, ran through my mind:

This sucks!

I am alone! I’m so lonely!

Oh, no! I’m about to have an existentialist crisis!

Where’s Godot, because I’m waiting for him!

Though I seem to hear the sound of my own laughter, am I really making a sound—like, if a tree falls in the forest, blah blah blah?

Being alone laughing is obviously like trying to find the meaning of life.

WHAT is the meaning of life?

Yeah, that’s how my mind works.

So, well, I obviously continued to watch my favorite shows, though I tried to cut back on the laughing aloud part. Which is probably why I’m such a downer.

Years later, I realized that—for me, at least—I can’t do it alone. I’m not looking down on you if you watch alone; I’m saying that I’m too psycho to handle the experience. If you’re more stable than I and more in touch with your inner whatever, then rock on. Believe me, we still haven’t watched “Arrested Development” because my husband doesn’t want to, and I can’t watch it alone, so I’m in the doghouse. Forever in the dark.

So here are some recent TV thoughts, which you may skip and read a book instead, if you’d like. I’d prefer if you read my books, but War and Peace is okay too.

My Artful TV Watching days began with “Lost.” Tim and I were at the library, like proper intellectuals who scorn television, looking for the Classics and shit, when we saw season one on the shelf. It was me, okay? I wanted it! I gave him the proper authoritative line: “I’ve heard it’s good.” I’m not really sure I had heard it or not, but I liked the idea of being stuck on an island. Always have.

We took it home and—crap on a stick—we were hooked immediately. With “Lost,” I ventured into faux-TV criticism, which definitely served my faux-artistic agenda. It is not without shame that I admit to rushing to zip up my kid’s footed pajamas during season four, and catching her tummy in the zipper, thereby hurting my own child to see a show that, ultimately, went nowhere. That show hurt, actually—and we stopped watching all television for about a year after that goofy finale, so disappointed were we in the failure of narrative.

And you also see how I suck as a mother.

But then, then: “The Office.” You don’t understand! This is my show. Let me prove my love. While “Lost” destroyed my emerging faith in the television narrative, “The Office” restored it. I still think that was some perfect comedy-writing.

We moved onto “Parks and Recreation,” which I’m sad to say is over this year. It doesn’t get much better than Ron and MouseRat and Jean-Ralphio Saperstein.

The first time I saw “30 Rock” was when I was in the hospital, having given birth to my first child. I was kinda alone—I guess she was there, in the glass trolley, next to me, radiating need and want. There I was, all anxiety-ridden, wondering how to make one of those little voodoo dolls of my husband so I could poke it with pins, when Tina Fey came on. And you might guess the rest of the story: I watched it. I laughed aloud. The sound of my own laughter filled me with angst and despair. I turned off the show, albeit harboring a treasured memory of some awesome comedy writing that was smart and smarmy and daring, and I didn’t turn it back on for about nine years.

A few “30 Rock” notes: I learned a lot from this show. I love Tina Fey. Love her. I think that shows like “The Office” and “Parks” were more successful in creating loveable characters. We felt for Michael. We were involved in Jim and Pam’s love story. We were even vested in Dwight and Angela. Same thing with “Parks.” I’m not so sure “30 Rock” did that, but I’d argue this was the smartest comedy-writing around! The others may have been more accessible, but this one was brainy—and cutting-edge. This show handled race, I think, incredibly well—fearlessly, honestly. We speak of postmodernism; Fey seemed to have a post-racism thing going. Here, finally, was a show that did it right. There was no color-blind delusional weirdness; there was no subtle devaluation either. This impressed me so much!

We decided to watch “Little House on the Prairie” with our kids. Wholesome TV, right? This was really an awesome experience up until the last season, which jumps the shark higher than the Fonz ever jumped any old shark. Albert becomes a druggee and dies? Mr. Edwards takes in a monkey? The show ends so poorly that my whole family kept asking, “Is this the last disc?” I don’t know how many times I lied and told them it was, but we kept watching. Because I really truly am a narrative freak, I could not positively stomach missing an episode or abandoning the show when we had gone so far, so I accepted the lame outcome of this one-time glorious show. Really, Michael Landon launched some great conversations in our family on diverse topics, ranging from adoption to racism, from romance to virtue. Unfortunately, there was also that weird episode featuring a rapist who wore a clown mask, which probably scarred my children for life and contributes to the mounting evidence against me on mothering. But, really, do you want to trash that show? Do you?

But what about race here? This is my big statement, you-know-who. My friend, you-know-who, doesn’t let her daughter watch this show because of racism. Okay, so I watched the entire show on the lookout. I’ll tell you what I think: it’s not racist. It’s dated, yes. But there’s a difference. There was one very lousy episode which entirely rendered Native Americans as absurd stereotypes. For the most part, however, the series attempted to be progressive. Actually, I’d say kudos to Michael Landon! My husband and I did note, however, that—with the exception of Hester Sue, who even Mrs. Olson embraced—all black people mysteriously disappeared. For instance, Walnut Grove deals with racism when a new black doctor and his wife arrive on the scene to help good old Doc Baker. But where are they on the next episode? Gone!

Of course, the Reverend gets married on one episode, and his wife also disappears—so there’s that. That wife is never seen again.

“Once Upon A Time” should really be called “Are You Serious?” We’re watching this one with the girls, too, and we’re not quite caught up, so don’t say anything. I’m not doing this one for Art. My kids just like it, and we’re allowing it, despite some problematic princess hook-ups and that hot pirate. I guess the show was created by the same people who brought us “Lost,” which explains a lot. There’s always a portal (read: hatch) to help us escape, and I swear the old “Lost” scene in which Sawyer loses Juliet in a miry pit after declaring his undying love for her is totally repeated in “Once Upon a Time” when Emma loses Neil in a portal after declaring her own undying love for him. ALTHOUGH THE SCENE WITH SAWYER IS WAAAAAAAYYY BETTER BECAUSE SAWYER WAS THE BEST EVER.

As a side note, Neil looks like a guy I once dated. I whispered this to my husband, who’s never been jealous of anyone or anything in my past, other than my Bono poster. “I dated a guy who looks like him.”

Tim quipped, “Who? Rumpelstiltskin?”

Thank you for that.

Tim did once ask me to stop calling the cat Boyfriend.

Though we are now avid fans of “Once Upon A Time,” my husband and I are constantly winking at each other, jabbing one another in the ribs, and telling the kids that it’ll be okay because there’s a portal around the corner, and though magic comes with a price, there’s always a way around paying. Tim and I are jaded. (You see, we took “Lost” very seriously.) I am no longer looking for plot cohesion and, yes, I’m a little bitter about it. “Lost” taught us that TV serials may not really be about the writing. So I am wary.

And I have to admit that I felt a tad defensive when they brought Oz into the storyline. Shouldn’t we leave Oz alone? Is nothing sacred?

The princesses who put out have also been an issue. We were in the purview of Judeo-Christian morality in early America with “Little House.” My kids did start to wonder a little when Laura and Almanzo gave each other the eye, but how do I explain when Snow White and Prince Charming are caught in bed in the middle of the afternoon in “Once Upon A Time”?

Oh, that. Yeah, married people sometimes do that. Sometimes. Not often. Not usually. Maybe if they haven’t been married very long. I know Snow and Charming have been married for five-hundred years or something, but, well, this was a special occasion. I mean, your father and I don’t do that. How could we? You’re always around! And, really, we have things we’d rather do. Like paying the bills. So I don’t know. Charming is pretty dumb, if you haven’t noticed. And Snow? I’m not sure. She’s a people-pleaser. So, yeah, she’s probably always sexually available. You know how it goes.

Don’t worry. I didn’t say any of this. I said, “They’re looking for the cat.” My boyfriend.

But I still have hope. From the very first episode of “Mad Men,” I was smitten. My mouth may have dropped open. I know many of my friends found the show slow. They couldn’t freakin’ take the pacing. Some of them told me that nothing happened.

But we were instantly seduced.

I personally felt like I had opened up a novel, an epic.

Here was a show that hit me with an enticing sugary Southern drawl, except it was a New York drawl—a slow, subtle, urban gesture. A character study, a facial twitch. Really, I watched and felt—maybe for the first time—like I got the sexual revolution. I understood the Sixties. I felt for the women, for Betty and for Peggy. Hell, for Joanie, too, with that body that I had to mention every single time she showed up because I just couldn’t believe she was real. This was a complicated, underspoken portrayal of America, of that time into which my parents were born. When the series spoke about gender or the death of MLK, I sensed significance.

Though Don apparently breaks hearts, I mostly seethe when he gets all suave and sophisticated (which is, like, all the time). I think my husband is into him; he’s studying Don, this womanizing bastard. I regularly hit Tim while we’re watching—punch him right in the bicep—and I tell him that I hate men. I hate freakin’ men. All of them. With their stinking egos and ridiculous penises and ulterior motives.

You might see this as a problem. I do not.

But this is a writer’s show. I’ll admit it. I’m fully absorbed in the writing.

I still think about that weird scene—I can’t find a video clip—in which Pete tells Peggy he doesn’t like her when she’s dancing.

I still mull over Don’s Hershey Bar story. (HOLLY, DON’T WATCH THIS.)

Betty’s fifty’s housewife routine kills me, because her days are numbered, and the world will change, and what will become of her? The Beautiful Betty Drapers of the Past will die out, leaving behind their repression, their pills, their lonely marriages. What is in store for the Betty Drapers?

Do you not know this show called “Mad Men” is really about women?

I’ve read in other places that TV’s writerly landscape is changing, and shows like “Mad Men” are changing it. I’ve seen “Mad Men” compared to Cheever—which is pretty accurate, I think. It’s all country-husband, commuter train, Manhattan. If TV-writing is getting better, getting more literary, this one is the Great American Novel. It’s the American Dream. It’s Gatsby. Don is a protagonist in a bulky novel. This is the show we’ve been waiting for.

So, I’m wondering how it’ll end—we still need to watch part one of season seven, so don’t give me any spoilers. For me, this is a moment of truth. This will be a statement on TV. Will Art be possible? Will the ending be brilliant?

In short, what do any of us want from our TV? Are you longing for a break, for communion with another, the intimacy of watching with someone? I admit it. I want those things. Are you craving Art, narrative structure, resolution, redemption, character development? Is this too much to ask of the medium?

Don might be a dead man. This is how I’m ending. I think Don is going to die.
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Published on January 21, 2015 13:00 • 31 views