Sunday, May 17, 2020

Stung by a Bee

A few days ago I got stung by a bee and it was the most exciting thing that's happened in months. I was slightly allergic to bees as a kid, so I ran to the kitchen and clutched an EpiPen, uncertain whether my rapid breathing was some kind of chemical reaction or merely from the shock of the sting. Turns out, I have a great imagination. I was fine and tried to model how cool you can be when an insect stings you. Samantha was my companion through the whole ordeal, and after we knew I was okay she pointed out where I was and wasn't allowed to garden. "I don't want you to get hurt," she said, a dreamy thing for your kid to say, or maybe just self-interest at work. If something happened to mama, wth would the rest of her day look like?

I've been wanting to write, but also, like, not, because who needs more "content" right now? We're flooded with it. One of the most disturbing parts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been watching my email inbox shift from normal garbage to pandemic garbage. I don't mean to criticize. It just reminded me how strong the grasp of capitalism is in our country. As the coronavirus worms its way into every community, marketing finds new host bodies, maintaining its strength in the guise of offering information or connection.

I know, how cheery can I be? Tim is one of the funniest people I know. He makes me belly laugh several times a day and I also sometimes accuse him of being too dark. Ha! His response is that I'm the cynical one, that I don't tolerate dark humor because it hits too many nerves. (Things aren't always mud-slingy in our house, and anyway, the mud is slung with a very light touch. It's more of a mud spritz.) In the end, I think he's probably right, and things like my paragraph above make me see it clearly.

Now, with confessions of darkness behind us, do we begin with the absolute rot I've been enjoying on Netflix, or with the books that have been bathing my soul?  At the risk of sounding high and mighty, I'll start with the books. Just know that my foray into Love Is Blind was the tip of the iceberg and, if you opened the top of my children's heads right now, you'd find Kwazii and Shellington from The Octonauts staring up at you. I'm not proud of this, but I'm also not ashamed. Quarantine is driving the bus, after all.

It feels like a year ago that I read The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, by Jana Casale, but it was probably back in March. First of all, I'm jealous of Casale's name. I'm sure it's her real name, but still. It's a good one.

I really loved this book. It was girly, literary, warm, funny, and really really smart. I love the way it combines normal life with thoughts about art and literature, and how the books in the heroine's life are almost their own characters. Sometimes I worry that I like books written for other writers - my love for Less, for example, had me wondering if others less acquainted with the farces of literary circles would find it as delicious and heartwarming. But then I think about a character in Less, a rich author, who shows up wearing billowing linen pants and I think, well, who doesn't like a good roast of linen-wearers? This from a woman who can't WAIT for warmer weather in Michigan so I can don my white linen pants.

Another book I loved, that is way dark and dangerously well-written, was Molly Bit, which I spied at our local bookstore, a store I'm proud of because they closed their doors voluntarily, before the governor's stay-at-home order. A satire of Hollywood's savagery, Molly Bit had me flipping to Dan Bevacqua's author photo in the back frequently, staring at it, whispering, Where did you come from? How did you get so good?

I waited a minute before diving into Sally Rooney's Normal People, waiting, I suppose, for the oxygen needed to combust inside the pages of another one of her gorgeous books. I wrote about Conversations with Friends here, and while I still love that book, it's possible I liked Normal People even more. I also liked thinking about Rooney's habits as a writer, how both books center around secrets, and explore the intimacy that blooms within them. Both books are just so well done, and I have such respect for Rooney's ability to explore all the angles of real, physical, emotional intimacy. Friends keep mentioning the newly dropped Normal People on Hulu. Pardon my disbelief, but I'm skeptical that anything on screen could touch the richness and anticipatory anguish Rooney creates on the page. Curmudgeon alert!

I made it to Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land, which I realized I had read parts of before. It's still exquisite, and I appreciate being inside the world of such a fascinating observer and, if I may say, stylist. I hadn't realized before how much Biss worships at Didion's altar. Revisiting Notes from No Man's Land felt like sitting next to a scholar of Didion, or a younger relative, a joke I'm sure I reach for because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder if I'll watch The Center Will Not Hold, the documentary about Joan Didion on Netflix right now, produced by her nephew, Griffin Dunne.

I've been re-reading some lately, mostly short stories, and when I have the courage to sit for longer periods, I've got Seating Arrangements on my shelf, which will be a revisit of a favorite Maggie Shipstead book, an author I revere and mentioned in this joint gift guide with Amelia. Talk about sweet author names, re: Shipstead. Why didn't I get something nautical in my name? Thinking how to work whale or cephalopod into mine now . . . .

I just ordered my friend Corinne's book and am still swooning after reading her beautiful interview with them, found here. I also ordered Laura Munson's new novel, Willa's Grove, because I truly adore Munson's spirit and flow-y prose. Flow-y is a word, right?  I also can't wait for Molly Wizenberg's newest memoir, The Fixed Stars, about the major shifts that occurred when she discovered, while married to a man with whom she co-owned two businesses and as a mom to a toddler, that she needed to drastically rearrange her life. I adore Molly's writing (so much so that I pretend we're on a first-name basis) and I'm curious how she will write without the structure of a recipe-laden book. I have total faith in her ability to do so, but, I dunno, the new book sounds pretty thrilling. Wizenberg is one of those authors I'm probably always going to look forward to reading, because she seems embrace the examination of her life so fully, and I'm sort of fascinated by her ability to do so.

Did your dad stuff a doughnut hole full of candles for your birthday, when you were a kid?

Speaking of fascination, do I dare tell you that Tim and I watched all of Too Hot to Handle on Netflix? It's TRUE. I'd like to blame quarantine (and Tim will, in a heartbeat) but I have to say that watching cheesy settings and people offering up their souls to reality TV is strangely compelling. Is this how fans of The Bachelor feel? I think I finally understand. This is like the summer I realized I wanted to order Oprah's magazine and went from subscribing to Shambhala Sun, a magazine about Buddhism, to happily reading reviews of vacuums and A-line skirts, my legs kicking behind me as I read on my belly, in a backyard on the coast of North Carolina, in grad school. And isn't that what life is all about - finding who you really are, at the bottom of all your ideas?