Friday, January 22, 2016

Dogs And Doggedness

Over Christmas vacation, I listened, perhaps not surprisingly, to Elizabeth Gilbert's book-on-cd, Big Magic. The verdict?  Just okay.  I say this knowing how much work goes into writing a book, how much generation and then, if you're lucky, how much blessed editing.  I'm not sorry at all that I listened to Big Magic, but I also didn't feel like I learned very much, either.

I don't mean that as an insult.  I appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert's voice in the world.  (Obviously?)  I find it essential to the times we are living in, when women's choices and independence in the Western world seem, on the surface, to be wide-open.  In many ways, she is the voice of creativity, a newscaster from the front lines of "making."

She also seems incurably optimistic, dogged - chipper even - and that can be annoying.  I know this because I am all of those things and while so many people just get me in snippets, the people who live with me and are related to me have to deal with the ins-and-outs of this kind of mental makeup, and I've heard from those close to me that it can be exasperating. 

Happy Birthday, Tim!

This isn't an apology, exactly.  Besides, if it were one to the people closest to me, that would be an awkward use of the internet, wouldn't it?  Tim jokes that I'm actually the bigger cynic in the house, and that my optimism is a shield against the dark pits of life.  I think he's right.  I'm also happy to be me.  I never promised anyone I would be cat-like: broody, slinky, or subtle.  My advice, like my heart, has a lot of Labrador at its core: big, friendly loping along, slobbering on lots of ideas without much consequence.  Or, rather, the consequences are that I sometimes appear a little chipper, and my masks sometimes freeze in a smile. 

Therefore, I listened to Big Magic despite my occasional resistance, because I know from personal experience that the woman's can-do spirit serves her for whatever reason, and it's her job to know that reason, not mine.  I also listened because I like her plucky insistence, and her message that seems to be: Speak up and rant or dance and have your fun.  You'll be gone before you know it so you might as well be here while you are.

With that, I give you my two favorite excerpts from Big Magic.  These are transcribed from my iPod listening, so if they don't match the punctuation in the text exactly, that's why: 

The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.  We are all the chosen few.  We are all makers by design.  Even if you grew up watching cartoons in a sugar stupor from dawn to dusk, creativity still lurks within you.

And, perhaps the more useful quote, one I completely relate to:

Possessing a creative mind is something like having a border collie for a pet.  It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble.  Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do.  And you might not like the job it invents: eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc. 

It has taken me years to learn this but it does seem to be the case, that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something - myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.  I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch.

So there.  I don't necessarily recommend the book but I don't un-recommend it either, you know?  For whatever reason, that seems to be worth something, too. 

On a different note, I recently hammered out Purity, Jonathan Franzen's latest novel about masturbation.  Woops!  I mean his latest novel, period.  It's about Germany and the internet and bad (sometimes illegal) sex.  I made myself read it, after aborting my first effort, because my friend Amelia told me Roxane Gay wasn't impressed by it and I was dying to know what Roxane said.  The only way I was ever going to get through a book with so much disturbing psychology in it, besides sheer reams of time (which I do not have) was to dangle the carrot of Roxane Gay at the end of it.  My ploy worked and, as usual, I floated along the river of Franzen's prose (don't say!!).  Though I disagree with many of his social theories and felt pretty sad about what his childhood must have looked like while reading the book, I'm starting to think his prose is almost always worth reading. 

I had a couple of thoughts while reading Purity: 1) Thank goodness he didn't write too much about birds!  PHEW.  That was hard to get through in Freedom, even for someone who loves birds

2) When he compared a Bolivian man who works in domestic service to the goat in the front yard who also seemed happy enough with his job, I worried.  A lot.  

3) I don't write weather well myself, so maybe it's the envy talking, but when Franzen writes "Scraps of morning cloud and mist were shredding themselves on the sandstone pinnacles, the sun gaining the upper hand," the schoolmarm in me starts fumbling for my red pencil.  If I were a fourth-grade teacher, I might discourage this kind of writing gymnastics, so it's probably best that I'm not, because he's obviously having a good time of it and that kind of unabashed love for your work is, perhaps, admirable in itself, no?

I noticed something similar in Lauren Groff's latest novel, Fates and Furies, when I read it over Christmas.  It's a lovely, consuming book and I definitely lose my mind with envy each time she writes a new one.  Mom of two!  Go girl. 

Lozenges of moon dissolving in the sky notwithstanding (I swear that's how Franzen described one cloudy evening), here's a passage from Purity that, to me, distills the pure pleasure of Franzen on the page:

As soon as they were on a court, she discovered that he was bad at tennis, even worse than she was.  He tried to crush every shot, sometimes missing the ball altogether, more often sending it into the net or over her head, and his good shots were unreturnable bullets.  After ten minutes, she called a time-out.  Choco, leashed to the outside of the fence, stood up hopefully.

I don't know why everything in this post is about dogs.  I used to love dogs, and love them still on some distant planet, the planet where life resumes once my daughter is older and I consider other facets of life without suddenly feeling a hundred years old. 

Until then, I continue on with life which goes a little like: coffee, breathe, coffee, breathe.  In the middle of all that is a little yoga, lots of books, some writing, and plenty of snow to keep things fresh.

Happy 2016!


Art in this post courtesy of Tim and Samantha.

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