|I love you, Mr. Gorey.|
Lies. It's a snarl of lies. Or worse. It's excuses.
I'm cranky is what I am. Cranky. CRANKY. And it's not so much about what I'm writing, but what I'm reading. See, I started working on a nonfiction piece because having two fiction manuscripts in progress wasn't enough fun for this chick. So I decided I'd better check out a few books in the genre or at least related to see if I was doing it right because I'm so tired of doing things half-assed and half-cocked. Man, imagine that guy. Half-assed and half-cocked. Hang on, I've got to go gaze lovingly at my inventory for a second to get my mind to focus. BRB.
Okay - so I'm reading this stack of books and I'm getting cranky because I'm feeling:
A) Shallow, insensitive and unobservant
B) Talentless with the written word and/or simply talentless
C) Provincial and frowsy
D) All of the above
Soooo easy, right?
Let's just take Mary Karr's The Liar's Club. This book is amazing. I tell you that with a straight face even though I'm stuck at page 119. But here's the thing. Here's why I'm stuck. I keep making this book about me. As I read, I wonder what's wrong with me that I don't remember so much detail from when I was nine years old. Anyone who's read this book will tell you that Karr's writing is fabulous. Hell, the paperback has four pages of sparkling blurbs from very important publications before you even get to the title page! It's that good.
But I'm flicking away at the pages engrossed and feeling bad because I had a childhood - albeit not nearly the kind of childhood experienced by Karr - but I was a kid with a dad who was a union guy and a mom and a sister and even a brother in a small town. I had a grandma. Two, in fact. But I'm telling you here and now that I could not conjure the kind of mind-blowing detail of those days when I used to make up songs on the swingset or melted crayons in my sister's Easy Bake Oven. I think the crayons were those fat ones. I seem to remember orange, green and brown. But could I give you 320 pages of rich, colorful descriptions and authentic dialog from my life circa 1972? Hell no.
"Why in the world did I think I could write nonfiction?" I fussed at MathMan. "I can't do this. I bumble through my life and never consider the color of the clouds at 2 p.m. versus 2:40 p.m. I don't remember what I had for lunch last week much less what our family had for dinner on May 18th 2008. And that was a significant date. I can't remember a thing about it. I have no business trying to write this. I give up."
MathMan looked at me over his glasses but said nothing. Not that there was anything he could say. I was too far into my drama to allow any of his potentially wise words to seep through the wall of self-doubt and loathing.
I cast around for villians and all I can come up with is vanilla, as in boring, lacking interest, ho hum. I'd blame my parents for being quietly judgmental and overly concerned with public opinion instead of drunken, crazy and loud, but that way of thinking only serves to highlight the chicken and the egg part of this.
Do I not have a story to tell in the first place or do I not remember the story because I was far more concerned with playing Barbies than learning the names of grass growing in the ditch next to the road? And then it hits me - what if playing Barbies is my story? You see the problem, right?
Skimming forward in the book, I'm brought up short because there's a passage at the beginning of Chapter 12 that is so familiar, it makes my neck feel all tingly like someone touched my back, but no one is there. Karr writes about how her mother starts taking diet pills. I'll let her take it from here:
They also shot of sliver of pissed-off into Mother's voice. Even my asking for lunch money - if it struck her as off the subject somehow - could send her tearing around in search of a misplaced wallet, slamming doors behind her, or lead her to scream at the always sleeping form of Hector that he was a lazy sonofabitch. Don't get me wrong. Mother didn't go off every time you asked for something, and she had always been prone to temper fits. But on the diet pills a smaller spark could set her off. And the rages could carry her further...Whoa. It's like looking in a mirror. Except it's not Karr looking back. It's her mother. Karr's description is every bit what my kids, Chloe in particular, have labeled Raging Around. It's what I do when I'm taking amphetamines to shed pounds the easy way.
So maybe I'm not the one with the story, but my kids will have one. You've heard about the times I ran away from home, no? Their therapists are gonna have a field day.
So anyway, I'm reading Karr with a maniacal streak of literalism coursing through my veins, cracking my knuckles out of stress and snorting things like "She remembers that she was squeezing Cheez Whiz onto crackers right at that very moment of her daddy's story?" I become so unbearable that MathMan gathers up his papers and graphing calculator and flees the room, warning the kids to stay out in case I start raging around because I'm in a fury over Karr's beautifully detailed description of the shadows on the wall behind her mother as she reads to her from Camus.
Maybe it's time for me to switch to another book.
To be continued.