Friday, December 20, 2019

Demi Moore, Saeed Jones, Sharon Olds, and Le Divorce

Hello there.  C'est moi, the lady of the house, who marks days by the number of Costco pizzas we've heated.  It's nearing The Big Day, by which I mean Christmas, of course, a day we normally spend traveling and/or exchanging gifts with my in-laws whilst wrapped in fleece blankets.  Enrobed in them, if you will (see last post's picture of Ellis and I reading under one). 

True story: when Tim and I first started dating, we spent a Christmas with his family, and his parents thought there was something wrong with my health because I wore a blanket around the house like a toga.  Writing that sentence makes me see that it is a weird thing to do and reminds me of a grad school professor who made fun of me - lovingly - for wearing a hat and down coat in class, at a school on the coast of North Carolina, in the spring.  And while a former babysitter coined a phrase for this habit of mine, calling it our "blanket culture" and taking up the, ha, mantle herself in our home, my point stands.  Tim's parents worried the first time they spent a week with me, wondering if I was hearty enough as a person.

Well, I am and I'm not, it turns out. For reasons I can't quite identify, I feel like I can't catch my breath lately.  Oh wait, I live with a two-year-old, which is like sharing a small apartment with a roommate who's on drugs.  There have been few reprieves this fall, but one was reading Demi Moore's memoir, Inside Out.  Was I surprised by how much I liked it?  I was.  I kept wanting to google things like, ghost writer demi moore, because the voice was so consistent and clear, something that's hard for even a seasoned writer to accomplish, but something that felt super impressive for someone who never mentioned liking or reading books, although I'm sure she does and, also, it's not like you have to be trained in literature to understand your own story. 

Anyway, I was genuinely curious about different facets of Moore's life.  I wanted to know how she met and married Bruce Willis (who is a Pisces! never would have guessed that) and how the heck she ended up with Ashton Kutcher, who doesn't come out looking so great in this book (shocker).  Organized chronologically - with a weird frame about Moore falling apart after the dissolution of her second marriage - a lot of Inside Out was spent on Moore's childhood, which was anything but ideal.  The narrative sort of sped up once she started getting acting roles, and I found myself almost mourning as we left the slow pacing of her early years.  

I appreciated her ability to examine why she and Willis broke apart as partners, something she identified, on her end, as an inability to really open up to him.  He had his own flaws in the marriage (as we all do?) but Moore doesn't go into them, which feels both appropriate and maybe a reflection of the health of their relationship, even after divorce.  When she said that one of the things she's most proud of is their divorce, by which she meant their devotion to their children and their efforts to keep acrimony out of the mix, I genuinely teared up.

In fact, I teared up a lot reading this book, and I think that's one of the things I enjoy most about memoirs, how they sneak up on me and burst my hear open.

I devoured Saeed Jones's beautiful memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives.  I've been a fan of him for awhile (who doesn't admire someone who goes by The Ferocity as a twitter handle?!).  I mean, he seems very smart and also has good hair.  Kidding!  I don't follow people based on hairstyles - Pauly Shore would be my hero if I did - but I do, secretly, admire Jones's hair. 

Anyway, he writes like a mother and his second book is awesome. 

I read My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, by Ben Ryder Howe, a former editor of the Paris Review, about opening a deli with his wife's family, and it was hilarious and smart and full of heart.  It's also about in-laws, a topic I love to see handled well.  I love mine, of course, but let's face it.  Families are an endless source of humor.  I know someone, in fact, who was asked to swing by a random farm and pick up a dead goat on the way to Thanksgiving this year.  (They declined.)    

Finally, and perhaps dovetailing with themes of family and divorce, I checked out Sharon Olds's book of poetry called Stag's Leap, which she wrote after her husband left her, after thirty years of marriage.  Owee.  Just typing that sentence blows a hole in my chest.  These poems are as moving, unnerving, and wondrous as any meditation on loss I've read in awhile.  I found myself reading them biographically, that is, to find out the story behind the divorce, but of course what's more important is how beautiful the poems are themselves, how masterful a poet Olds truly is. 

I have to admit, sometimes I'm irritated by some of her older poems.  She writes about sex a lot and, historically, her husband's body featured in them heavily.  Reading this collection about losing the man she worshiped her whole life - at least that's how it felt to me on the page, in my memory of reading her work as a younger woman - was sort of a fascinating experiment.  I kept ping-ponging between my own relationship with how-much-to-tell and how-much-to-keep-private, my own separations of art and life.  I found myself wondering, at times, if the blurred lines in Olds's work caused any of her current predicament.  It's a very human question - did I cause this pain and suffering? - and also, I think, not the right one.  I mean, who cares what caused her current situation?  It's none of my business.  Also, sometimes some things just happen. 

As a writer, though, someone who wants to convey the truth of my life while also respecting the people in it, I found this exploration somewhat potent.  And so, this poem from the collection blew my mind.       

The Easel
by Sharon Olds

When I build a fire, I feel purposeful -
proud I can unscrew the wing nuts
from off the rusted bolts, dis-
assembling one of the things my ex
left when he left right left. And laying its
narrow, polished, maple angles
across the kindling, providing for updraft -
good. Then by flame-light I see: I am burning
his old easel. How can that be,
after the hours and hours - all told, maybe
weeks, a month of stillness - modeling
for him, our first years together,
odor of acrylic, stretch of treated
canvas. I am burning his left-behind craft,
he who was the first to turn
our family, naked, into art.
What if someone had told me, thirty
years ago: If you give up, now,
wanting to be an artist, he might
love you all your life - what would I
have said? I didn't even have an art,
it would- come from out of our family's life -
what could I have said: nothing will stop me.

Mic drop from Sharon Olds. 

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