The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural, The Wicked Child, The Self Promoter, The Neurotic: which one are you? These are the fi
An Instant Shrink for Writers
The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural, The Wicked Child, The Self Promoter, The Neurotic: which one are you? These are the first five chapter titles of Betsy Lerner’s (agent, writer, editor) book, The Forest for the Trees. It was published in 2000, and I’ve probably read it yearly since I buying it. (Note picture of worn book reflecting clutching, bathtub reading, and talismanic lifting to heart, kissing, and offering to God)
Lerner’s book will always be on top of my constantly changing TOP TEN WRITING BOOKS list. Not because it teaches one better ways to write, not because it teaches one how to navigate the shoals of publishing, and not because it will teach you a guaranteed way to get an agent (though it will help with all the above) but because it takes you to the other side of the desk and holds up a mirror. An unflinching mirror held in a sympathetically lit room.
Lerner holds your hand; she interprets your dreams (and the meaning of query responses) and scolds when needed. In other words, you’ll get a writer’s shrink for the cost of a trade paperback.
Most notable, is Lerner’s writing. Clear as water, cool as the same, and welcome as a brownie to a food addict, her words entertain, teach, and soothe. For this writer, it’s self-prescribed two ways: 1) take as needed. 2) Read minimum once per year. ...more
10 Ways I Killed My Daughter Within Her First 72 Hour Of Life
I rarely even chuckle aloud while reading, and almost never cry at the written word, but 10 Ways I Killed My Daughter Within Her First 72 Hour Of Life
I rarely even chuckle aloud while reading, and almost never cry at the written word, but while lying in bed, 11:30 Saturday night, alone (which my husband—who was away—will be happy to know,) I smiled, laughed, and then almost cried, as I read this Steve Almond essay from his book titled (Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions.
My family tends toward a bent sense of humor. From an early age, my sister, Jill, and I coped with our twisted lives (drug-daddy! klepto-grandma!) by developing twisted comedic sensibilities. Together, we’re willing to turn almost anything into a punch line. It’s how we manage emotions. Or maybe, we’re just warped.
Almond, letting loose on the intense and usually private fears all new parents have of screwing up, hurting, misreading, miscalculating, forgetting, accidently killing their vulnerable newborns, presents the topic in a particularly (and seemingly- deliberate) comedic, male, extreme, I’m-not-gonna-admit-my-vulnerabilty-without-a-fight style.
And it made me laugh.
And that made me wonder. Why? What tickled me so, reading this piece? First, some examples, so you can judge for yourself (and if you find his essay Disgusting-and-Not-Funny, please know that Almond stole my website sign-in and my password, and he actually ghostwrote this blog.)
From the essay: Death # 2 Broken Vertebrae Age of Deceased: 4 Hours
“In the maternity ward, the nurses tell us not to worry. They tell us to get some rest. We are both totally in awe of the nurses. If the nurses told us the bathe the baby in lye, our only question would be, “Should we heat the lye?
. . . I am for the first time alone with Baby, whom I was supposed to swaddle into a tight little burrito, though she looks more like a defective veggie wrap As I set her down to sleep, she throws her arms up in the air and waves them like she just doesn’t care. Later on, it will be explained to me that this is normal, something called the Moro Reflex. For now, I am briefly convinced baby has a future in hip-hop.”
Almond goes on to describe how he accidently tips his daughter from her side, onto her stomach into what he calls the “Position of Death” and how he tries to fix it:
“Gravity—that first cruel joke—sends her tumbling off my hands and onto her shoulder. Her muscleless neck twists at a grisly angle. “Baby,” I whisper. “Baby!” I give baby a light shove. But Baby does not move.
“Baby, I plead. “ Please don’t be dead.” Baby, curled up like a brine shrimp, remains dead.
I poke her in the tummy, probably harder than is appropriate.
Baby spits up in my hand.
Okay, I got it. I know why I loved this essay. Typing it out helped me think.
What made me laugh at Almond’s words—laugh in that terrified, oh, God, I-hate- those-fears manner—was the same literary ingredient enraptured me in the very different SUICIDE INDEX by Joan Wickersham.
For me, the best books, the best essays, the best poems, make me say oh God, me too about things we can barely admit to ourselves. Things that when we read them, remind us that we are not alone, not even in our crazy-times. As Almond was not alone, because the fear of doing one incredibly stupid thing and then losing my baby had me by the throat from the moment that pregnancy test confirmed my future.
That’s the thing about being a parent. It’s not the diapers, the midnight feedings, driving around at three in the morning to get her to sleep. It’s this: In the time it takes for the baby to enter this world, every bit of serenity you have disappears. All equanimity rests on Baby being alive. Please God, healthy. And one more thing, please, God. Bring her contentment.
Re-reading . . . how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the guaranteed happiness (how often does one get that?); I love meeting old friends Re-reading . . . how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the guaranteed happiness (how often does one get that?); I love meeting old friends and familiar enemies; and oh, how I love the anticipation of coloring in the faintly remembered.
Truly-addicted readers have books to which they repeatedly return; we become so entranced by an author’s words we even hope (in bouts of the truest example of suspension of disbelief) that perhaps this time, if we read very slowly, or very carefully, or with one eye squinted half shut, events may change. (Don’t leave her, Rhett!)
First published in 1982, MOSQUITO COAST is on the highest rung of books to which I return (even buying a second copy when the first hid and I couldn’t find it quickly enough to satisfy my urge.) Upon finishing it for the second, third, fourth time, I’ll begin anticipating the day I’ve forgotten enough plot details to sink into it once again. MOSQUITO COAST created by Paul Theroux satisfies every bit of my readerly soul with young Charlie, a watchful narrator who captures one’s heart with his push-pull toward his larger-than-life father, Allie, a villain who terrifies by his good intentions gone wild. Charlie’s family is in thrall to this growing madman, including Charlie’s mother, who we watch, waiting, praying she will speak the truth. Minor characters pop off the page and into our imagination like toothsome treats both wholesome and delicious, satisfying both our mouths and cellular matter.
You’ll know Allie Fox immediately. He could be the current day environmentalist gone many steps cracked, the one who upbraids and lectures employers, neighbors (he has no friends) his wife, children, anyone crossing him on his mission to redeem a greedy world. Using both enforced simplicity and brilliant inventions, Allie attempts to convince an unwilling world of his ability to see what no other man can, while Charlie, his fourteen-year-old son, a watcher, and narrator of the book, brings the reader with him as he moves down the uncomfortable road of a son moving from admiration to horror.
Theroux manages to provide a magnificent balance of Scheherazade-worthy story-telling and deceptively work-man-like prose upon which you could balance a Pulitzer. Allie Fox drags his family from Massachusetts to the jungles of Central America, intent on rescuing the steaming encampment in which they settle into a new world on the shoulders of a giant ice-making machine in the midst of the tropical jungle.
As Allie moves deeper into a mission turned folly, his family, most especially his son, Charlie, wrestle with their loyalty to the bully who rules their shrinking world. The demons they must fight up to the dramatic end—how does one say no to a parent, a husband who’s towered over them forever? —make THE MOSQUITO COAST the most thrilling and unusual of coming-of-age stories.
I count the days until I’ve forgotten it, and can read it once more.