Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing, Procrastinating: A Thursday Update

Holy 2009. So far, not so good. Well-- that's not entirely true. There's a lot going on right now, most of it in my head, and I am making some strange progress on a few projects. The problem is, I'm going about my writing projects with incredible ADD, so even if I'm slowly coming to understand certain aspects of my work, these revelations come so randomly that I can't appreciate them, nestled as they are between long bouts of facebooking and instant messaging and blog reading and doing anything around the house I can do just to avoid sitting at my desk and looking my work in the eye. I find myself wishing I could walk the cat, for instance. That would give me something productive to do a few times a day . . . 

Reading: I had a rather curious reading experience over Christmas. First, I was struck with a fit of nostalgia in Washington, DC, and bought a copy of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women for my flight home. I finished it just before Christmas, and that very day, my mind and heart so uplifted with the goodness and sincerity of the March family that I genuinely considered becoming a Transcendentalist, I picked up James Baldwin's novel, Giovanni's Room. Which is not even remotely about Transcendentalism.

Both are wonderful books, but they couldn't be more different. I might as well have finished Little Women and then picked up Henry and June or something. To go from a novel so innocent and earnest and, er-- Protestant, to the story of an expat American man having affairs with a man and a woman at the same time gave me a bit of literary whiplash. 

And I liked it. 

Re-reading Little Women after probably twenty years, at least, was an absolute joy. I loved this book when I was a kid, and I especially loved the George Cukor movie starring Kate Hepburn as Jo. My sister and I must have watched that movie dozens of times. 

The story is so innocent it makes me feel like my own life is a Marquis de Sade story by comparison. But there's something I love about the whole Transcendentalist notion of conquering oneself; that as Americans-- and being American is important in this book-- our life isn't just about pleasing God and being a good person but actually about acknowledging that we are at war with ourselves, and that we must fight each battle to win. That we must conquer ourselves. I like that idea, and in this story I don't mind the Christianity, either-- it actually makes me yearn a little for a life in which the answers are laid out in front of me, simple and clear as Marmie's advice. I found myself doing laundry and painting trim and making beds as if I were a March girl, keeping my hands busy so the devil wouldn't find a use for them. Because the devil just loves my hands. 

It was also fun to revisit Jo's attempts at writing. I especially enjoyed this passage, about the aftermath of Jo's first published novel:

"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said stoutly, "and I've got the joke on my side, after all, for the parts that were taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossible and absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head are pronounced 'charmingly natural, tender, and true.' So I'll comfort myself with that, and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take another."

Giovanni's Room was a very different American book to turn to after Ms. Alcott's sweet family story. It was like being slapped in the face with the twentieth century. The style is self-aware, poetic, flowing, the paragraphs long and rippling and full of commas. There are no messages. God and America are full of question marks, and sex is everything. You might say that, in this tale, the devil's busy with all hands, working or idle. 

The overall effect of the story can be summed up in a conversation the narrator, David, has with Giovanni the night they meet. It's almost as if Giovanni has just finished reading Little Women and is giving the narrator a book report on it:

Giovanni placed himself before me again and began wiping the bar with a damp cloth. "The Americans are funny. You have a funny sense of time-- or perhaps you have no sense of time at all, I can't tell. Time always sounds like a parade chez vous, a triumphant parade, like armies with banners entering a town. As though, with enough time, and that would not need to be so very much for Americans, n'est-ce pas?" and he smiled, giving me a mocking look, but I said nothing. "Well then," he continued, "as though with enough time and all that fearful energy and virtue you people have, everything will be settled, solved, put in its place. And when I say everything," he added, grimly, "I mean all the serious, dreadful things, like pain and death and love, in which you Americans do not believe."

"What makes you think we don't? And what do you believe?"

"I don't believe in this nonsense about time. Time is just common, it's like water for fish. Everybody's in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That's all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn't care."


Ugh. Forget it.


Still preparing for Your Own Personal Alcatraz, mostly brainstorming, although tonight I had the pleasure of talking Jean-Michele's ears off about my latest ideas and terrors. But other than that, I've been rehearsing the following:

1. start writing something.
2. stop. space out. 
3. make more coffee.
4. facebook! so many status updates to comment on! 
5. check all blogs in existence to see if anyone's updated in the last three hours.
6. take computer to bedroom to write, for reals. write for like, fifteen minutes. stop.
7. take computer back to office to double check facebook and blogs. consider updating my own status to: Suzanne is getting motivated! or Suzanne is on it! or Suzanne is a writing machine!
8. instant messaging! fun for hours!
9. write in journal about how much i suck
10. rinse, repeat.

Tomorrow I will be a working machine. I will impress all the invisible judges in my room, they won't believe the output, the energy, the discipline and dedication. Tomorrow I will be in the groove, and 2009 will begin at last. If I write "2009 has begun at last" as my status update, you'll know what I'm talking about.

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