My Issue With Sylvia Plath

June 11, 2015 at 3:48 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , )

412FYKPYEWLDisclaimer: If I was a coward or a sensible human, I’d post this as some sort of fictional work.  I am neither.  But if you know me and would rather pretend this post isn’t real, for the sake of our friendship, that’s cool.

I’ve been trying for days to figure out how to write this post without sounding like a bitter, unfeeling hag.  Then, I realized, more than that, I have to find a way to say what I mean to say without sounding like a pitiable, whiny, woe-is-me turd.  Finally, I came to the conclusion that I just need to say what I’m going to say, post this “review” and let it sound however it will sound; because ultimately, though I am a writer and can be precise or flowery with my words, I cannot control how you hear/ read them.  I am not that powerful.  Maybe that just means I’m a terrible writer, but we’ll let those insecurities ride for another day…

I finally read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  It was my dead friend’s birthday and I thought he deserved a proper wallow, what better way to have a healthy wallow than to read a classic novel written by a woman who put her head in an oven?

So I took a bath, all appropriately scalding hot, and settled down into this:

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.  Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

This, of course, made me giggle at the wisdom of my selection.

Mostly, though, I felt a familiarity about the book, the characters, and all the feelings, that just outright angered me.  She talks about things that make her sad and tired, and then how thinking about being sad and tired makes her more sad and tired.  I found one of my own personal college friends in Doreen, the party girl from the deep south.  I found myself in the narrator’s alter ego, inspired by an outing with Doreen, the party girl.

As I read, I got deeper and deeper into the narrator’s not-so-dark and twisty brain and followed her around as she thought about killing herself and received shock therapy while being hospitalized with the other crazies.  I thought of Girl, Interrupted and Susannah Keyson and realized why, exactly, this book was familiar, and enjoyable, but ultimately a deep itch under my skin.

Everyone feels that way – the way Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical character feels.  Everyone struggles to live, and if they don’t then I’m shocked.  Reading The Bell Jar I just wanted to scream at a very dead Sylvia Plath, and every other depressed person I’ve known, and even the depressed person I’ve been and sometimes still am:

WHAT MAKES YOU SO SPECIAL? What makes you so special that you get to bask in your insanity?  Nothing.  That’s what.  You’re just taking advantage of living in a world that works harder than you to exist.

That’s probably unfair, and shows an utter lack of compassion, but it’s how I feel.

Because it is hard work.  Getting out of bed every morning is a mental exercise.  Keeping yourself from crawling back in – or worse being a drunk slob for the hours you’re awake – is a physical exercise.  Every day you have to create and maintain specific habits to keep yourself from sliding into the glorious abyss of a terrible wallow… a wallow of anxieties, simultaneously deep and restless sleep, an attitude called The Mean Reds (thanks, Holly Golightly), and a conflicting desire to both eat yourself into obesity or starve yourself to death – it could go either way.

Every day is a challenge to make the counting in your head stop.  And with all this counting, it’s a struggle to actually sit down and count the things you’re supposed to.  My drawer was ten cents off at work the other day, which naturally (and I would have said the same thing to anyone else), they teased me about not being able to count – because it wasn’t actually off, I had just documented it as off.  Want to know what that sounds like?  If your brain is anything like mine, which for the sake of this entire post I’m going to assume that for many people it is, my brain processed the comments a bit like this…

A Rising Panic Attack

Recognition that this was a joke

Panic Attack Subsides, only to start up again wondering if they think you’re stupid, or, worse…

Did they catch on to the fact that you were counting dimes over top of the counting already happening in your head – the one that finds itself ticking in time with any and every clock on the wall, the one that falls in tune to your steps as you walk across tile floors, still looking at your feet when you walk even though you are now in your thirties.  The rhythm that helps you get your work done fast when you’re methodically shelving and alphabetizing, but might trip you on the street if you encounter a crack in the sidewalk – because you’re never sure if that day is a no crack day or a step ON the crack day… not until you do one or the other and the part of you begins to panic.  Did they notice this?

While all this is happening in your head, you realize your rhythm is gone.  Your heart was racing, but now it suddenly stopped altogether and you find yourself both mentally and physically trying to catch your breath, but you play it cool when you remind yourself that even though you *feel* like your head has bubble wrap duct taped around it and that you’ve been thrown into a swimming pool – that’s not what you look like.  No one sees your bubble wrap face.  They also don’t realize, hopefully, that you can’t hear them right now.

Your left pinky finger starts to tingle and you crack the knuckle to make it stop, to regain feeling.  Only this time it hurts and you look down and see it is more bent than usual.  Long ago it was broken, right now it simultaneously feels numb and broken.  You wonder if you re-broke it sometime this week and didn’t notice.

The Heart Flutters.

Post-it notes are raining on your head, but they are in teals and oranges and easily arranged and filed into your handy-dandy mental filing cabinets – alphabetized and roughly dated.  (Yes, I have those.  If I’m too terribly distracted, the notes turn yellow and green, they’re only their orange and teal shades when I’m looking directly at them.  The filing cabinets are the old metal kind, the ones you find on the side of the road or in ancient school building, rickety and decidedly thrown away by someone more sane than me.)

During all of this, life goals and contingency plans are running in the background.  What if my husband dies? I could come back to work full time here.  We’ve accomplished x,y,z so it’s probable.  But I can’t count dimes, that might be a problem.  If he died by car crash, I go _____.  If he dies by _____, I go ______.  If I die, he does not die…. If this than that.  It takes me 30 seconds to map out a life plan from a newly presented scenario.  It takes another 30 seconds for me to make a list of resources I think I need to implement this life plan effectively.  Life Plan 3,069 logged away in filing cabinet 192, June 2015.

Your ears pop – as though you’ve ACTUALLY been under water, which briefly makes you wonder.  Wonder about what?  The Matrix, of course, are you in The Matrix?  Or God’s brain?  My husband thinks we are all synapses in a giant God-head’s brain.  I ponder the biology of that while I – or you –  think about The Matrix and how Neo didn’t realize he was stuck, naked, in a bubble of goo while his brain was plugged in to what he thought was real.

Suddenly, you’re cold all over and briefly wonder if you might be in goo too.  Then you realize that for some inexplicable reason (the smell of old books? the comfort of the books? the smell of the person who just passed you by?) you’re not in goo, you’re just horny and why haven’t you ever had sex in a library or a bookstore?  Oh, because the NSA is watching, yes, that’s why.

Less than a minute has passed since you were teased about the dimes and your inability to count.  People have been talking around you, and you’ve even piped in – whether sensibly or not, you can’t be sure – and finally a customer asks you a question.  This part is easier.  The question is a book title, or an author.  (I honestly don’t remember now.)  But when someone asks something like this, it’s easier to get around all the warehouse like noise in the mind.  The color coded post-it notes of fragmented thoughts are discarded, the flow-charts of contingency plans for life are swept momentarily aside and you consult your filing cabinets and bookshelves for the answer to their question.  Maybe they asked you about dystopian fiction and you’re walking them through a list of your favorites. Maybe they just want a book that reminds them of red fields of grass, which they have to read for sophomore English – naturally you pluck up Catcher in the Rye by Salinger and they marvel at how you knew, or (depending on the customer) take it for granted that of course you knew exactly what they were talking about because they described the book so well.

The point is, this is constant and every day.  Everyone has a thousand things happening in their heads that no one knows about.  And frankly, not everyone needs to know about.  When I’m having a hard time quieting the characters for my fiction, who like to gather around my filing cabinets and gab at me, or making the what if flow charts stop, when I can’t seem to stay out of the damn bubble wrap pool party – I chatter.  I get clammy and chatter to whoever will listen.  Because if my mouth is running, then I don’t have to listen to the chatter in my brain as much… I can ever so briefly shut them the hell up.  The point is, I’m not sticking my head in any ovens.  I make do.

It’s not fun.  It’s not easy.  It’s down right exhausting.  It’s noisy, and it’s lonely.  It is an effort to remember to feed myself and to feed others, and when I eat – not to eat too much.  I am held together by the fact that I must sweep and mop this floor every day, that the things happening in my husband’s head are far worse than mine so someone has to keep it together.  That some people out there have worse problems – like being raped and or being torn from limb to limb as they refuse to renounce Christ.

Yet, this twat, who was an amazing writer and artist, who had two kids that needed her… stuck her head in a freaking oven.  Would that be easier?  Yes.  Was she crazy?  Yes.  But no more or less than anyone else, in my self-admittedly judgmental opinion.

Despite all that, I checked out her Bed-Book and read it to my daughter – it’s a lovely children’s picture book, and am currently reading both her diaries and her letters to her mother.  Because I like her, I do.  I feel like I know her and have been her.  I feel like if I am not careful, I could be her again – but at least I’ll have the sense to keep my head out of ovens.  (Although, when I was a kid, I used to bend over in the laundry room, holding a button down, to dry my hair in the clothes dryer – very effective…)

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Little Tiny Novels

January 30, 2014 at 5:17 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Newton LetterTitle: The Newton Letter

Author: John Banville

Publisher: David R. Godine

Genre: Fiction

Length: 81 pages

After publishing my novella (roughly 130 pages long), my editor and I decided to make the sequel to my novella much longer.  The publisher wants a full length novel, but in our attempt for length we started to believe that length would equate higher quality.

Reading through drafts we found that for the sake of propelling the story and actually achieving the higher quality work we were looking for, large chunks of filler might have to be scrapped.  So I set out to read some great short work, to make myself feel better about not being Kate Morton.  And though I am no where near ever going to have the talent of John Banville, Panlo De Santis, John Steinbeck, or William Kennedy, there’s something to be said about reading these and knowing that a finished product is all about quality over quantity.

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King, “The Horror Writer Market and the Ten Bears,” November 1973 WD

 

John Banville makes me crazy jealous.  I want his brain in my brain ever so briefly… just long enough to write something amazing.  Because everything he touches is amazing.  Even just an 80 page bit of story written before I was born reads like his full length prize winners.

The lesson in this for me (because almost every book I read teaches me something) is that while doing these edits for the second edition of my novella, I also need to edit in some breaks between paragraphs.  Visually there are some things that don’t flow.  I can thank my first edition readers for pointing this out.  Even if I pout a little bit, I am so grateful for all the criticism on my first work.  I’m pouting that I wasn’t more diligent about catching these things before you read it, not that you caught these things.  Anything any reader of mine tells me is something I truly do ponder in great detail.

“The worst advice? ‘Don’t listen to the critics.’ I think that you really ought to listen to the critics, because sometimes they’re telling you something is broken that you can fix.” – Stephen King

I want even my first work to be better.  I want my second work to be even better than the first.  Whether I achieve the length of a traditional novel or not, I hope the second book achieves the complete story arch of a traditional novel.  Hopefully, one day, when I’m old and gray, I can write something I’m happy with.  It won’t be John Banville, because I’m not him, but in the meantime I can adore him a lot and work a lot harder.

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How I Waste My Time

November 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am supposed to be reading The Old Curiosity Shop for HPB Humble’s December Book Club meeting.  I love and adore Dickens so I’m actually very excited about this.  Plus, the weather is perfect for it.  But every time I sit down I find something else has made it into my hands and reading time.  Yesterday I breezed through Unrecounted by W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp before starting and completing Sarah N. Harvey’s The Lit Report.  Both were short, breezy books, but neither were on my immediate TBR pile.

Unrecounted is a coffee table book shrunk down to the size of a trade paper back, in my opinion.  Housed in poetry, yet I find myself more captivated by the art.  The book is a series of Tripp’s art and Sebald’s verse married together very simply in a manner you might see at an art gallery rather than in a poetry book.  I enjoyed it immensely, but I would have preferred to walk through a perfectly lit hall with the images taking up half the wall, the verse on a plaque nearby, rather than flip through the pages of a book.  Although it would be far less accessible that way, the emotional impact would be far greater.

The Lit Report is a fabulous young adult piece for older teens.  In the style of So Many Books, So Little Time, the story follows a year in the life of Julia questioning the beliefs of those around her and defining her own world view while reading and walking her best friend through a secret teen pregnancy.  Christians are not shown in the greatest light.  In fact I doubt that the ‘Christians’ presented in this book actually are Christians as they tend to be people more focused on beating religion into others or attempting to save themselves from the wrath of God by burying themselves into activities of a highly questionable church, instead of simply believing in the Truth and love of Jesus Christ.  The book is also pretty consistent with how most modern teens live and has its fair share of swearing , misbehavior, and (obviously) sexual activity (after all, one girl is pregnant).  But the novel rings true as a supposed memoir of a girl’s life… while reading it you feel as though this could be someone’s experience somewhere – this could happen.

The Lit Report is something I wouldn’t mind re-reading with the kiddo when she is older and we can discuss the thoughts and opinions of the girls, their actions, and the actions of their parents.  It has valid and necessary topics to discuss: the cruel dogmatic ways of some people who call themselves ‘Christians’ and how they influence the public’s view on what being a Christian means, sexual activity as a teenager, and of course how literature can be a part of your daily life.  It is important to see what someone who ‘walks the walk’ looks like in comparison to somewhat who has hardened their heart and spouts biblical references at people out of context.  It is important to know where you stand as a sexual being and what your expectations and standards are, and finally, how your decisions affect those around you.  The novel really makes you stop to think what the author’s own life experiences with so-called Christians have been.

As for The Old Curiosity Shop, I am a few chapters in and it waits patiently for me on my night stand.  Maybe tonight will be the night… or, maybe I’ll find myself wasting more time.

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A Piece of Steinbeck

June 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Click on the Book Cover to visit the National Steinbeck Center website.

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin

Length: 103 pages

A friend asked me if Of Mice and Men was a good representation of Steinbeck’s work.  Not having read it, but being a die hard fan of East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, I decided to sit down for an afternoon read.

Of Mice and Men was written as an experiment, so says the inside jacket of my beautiful Penguin Centennial Edition.  Steinbeck himself called it, “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.”  Its true, it is a playable novel.  And as complete as a lone standing novella, it could also be a brief chapter in a full length Steinbeck saga that I’ve grown to expect.

My favorites by Steinbeck are long sweeping story lines of depression, written with perfection, where Of Mice and Men is a short stint featuring a relationship between two men as one struggles with the lines between gentility and brute force.  When I think of Steinbeck, its for his onion layers of generational secrets, sins, and passions.  If given this in hand written form, not knowing what it was from, I think I would guess Steinbeck, but ask where the rest of the book is, thinking this was a bit of back story to something much more epic.  I wouldn’t call this a short representation of his work though, its so unique and different.  It feels more like a small little corner of his brain, a little tiny piece of the puzzle that makes up Steinbeck’s genius.

For starters, there’s much more dialogue than I usually see in Steinbeck’s pieces, true to the form of a play.  There are far less propelling descriptions that push you along a timeline, instead of equating my reading experience to a landscape often seen in those large European antiquarian homes and museums, I feel like I’m looking at one scene or portrait on an average sized canvas.  I wasn’t left with a deep sense of having been, step for step, in the same place the characters had walked, like I did with East of Eden.  I closed the book saddened at Lennie’s plight, but did not feel the overwhelming gush of reality being poured upon me by a starving man seeking nourishment from the breast milk of a woman who had just delivered a stillborn baby in a barn.

Steinbeck succeeded in his play-novel experiment, and its quite good – I feel like I’m watching a play.  But I don’t feel like I’m nose deep in story, reluctant to come up for air even to eat, or drink, or use the restroom; which is usually the case when I read Steinbeck.  Who do I recommend Of Mice and Men for?  Anyone attempting to guide their reading habits from one genre to another.  If you usually read novels and want to try plays, pick this up as a stepping stone.  If you are a theatre buff, actor, or director who usually reads plays or screenplays and are in the mood to get your literature on, Of Mice and Men would be a good starting point.  It would be a great crossover piece for younger literature students as they are led from one unit to the next, and I think I may use it as such for my daughter, an afternoon project.  Although, I wouldn’t spend more time than a afternoon on it, and I will probably never read it myself again.

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Ramses: The Son of Light by Christian Jacq

May 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

This is a great kick start to the life of Ramses the Great. We are introduced to his throne hungry brother Shaanar, his father Seti, mother Tuya, obnoxious sister Dolora, and his two wives Iset the Fair and Nefartari. Moses is also introduced, which is slightly irksome because the book is written off the old school of thought that Moses was during the time of Ramses the Great due to the mention of the city of Ramses in the scriptures. I believe its highly likely that the name of the city mentioned in the bible was updated by an eager scribe and that the proper date of Moses’ lifespan would place him during the 15th century/18th dynasty about 200 years before Ramses. Generally, I enjoyed the book although I feel much is lost in the translation from the French (Jacq’s writing seems too simplistic and listy), but I am still excited about reading the four remaining books in the series to see how it all plays out from Jacq’s perspective.

Series Available on Amazon

A fabulous article on Moses and his placement in history: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/02/27/Moses-and-Hatshepsut.aspx

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The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

May 3, 2010 at 12:48 am (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Ruiz revisits the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books first introduced in Shadow of the Wind and presents us with a strangely philosophical mystery of life, death, love, and literature.  Uniquely captivating from start to finish, the story unravels in such a way that in the end, like the narrator, I was still wondering who exactly had died and who had survived.  I highly recommend The Angel’s Game (and The Shadow of the Wind) to any book lover.

Buy Books Here

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Unexpected Gem

December 18, 2009 at 4:31 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader is a touching coming of age novel that reads like a  memoir.  Reminiscent of McEwan’s Atonement in its themes of shame and intense raw humanity, Schlink constantly begs the question from his characters and his readers: “What would you have done?”  The humility of illiteracy, ignorance, and confinement brought tears to my eyes.  I found The Reader to be an unexpected gem.

Purchase The Reader

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Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

December 17, 2009 at 7:10 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


Book One of the Black Sun’s Daughter Series

Unclean Spirits is a  fun adventure filled fantasy to veg out with your favorite snack and a comfy pillow.  Hanover did a good job of taking an overused theme (vampires and metaphysical ghosties verses the good guys fighting evil) and turning it into something fresh and fun and not too plot heavy with romance.  Jayne Heller makes for a great escape fiction heroine and I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the trilogy turns out.

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