. . . How Much Have You Let Yourself Go?
This is a Family Feud [TV game show] question, asked by Steve Harvey last week.
(Top Cat and I flip channels to watch The Family Feud when Jeopardy! goes to commercial, that’s how I know.)
I forget what the #1 answer to that question was; I was laughing too hard to pay attention to the contestants.
I want you to ask yourself this question: “On a scale of one to ten, how much how you let yourself go?”
Is that not the most perfect, most succinct way to get real about how you’re doing in life? To smack yourself in the head and go, Duh! I’m just a 4! And I wasted all that money on therapy!
Because “4” is fixable. It’s a very short To Do List, now that your vague but persistent and gnawing feelings of inadequacy have been quantified by such a harmless little number. Nobody is afraid of a “4”! You can be back on track, lickety-split, if all you have to right-size is a “4”!
But Vivian, (I hear you ask): Suppose my answer is “10” and it fills me with despair?
My answer is: It’s still just a number! It’s still just a To Do List, albeit a longer one than if you were at “4”, but it’s a number that you can handle! One digit at a time!
Start by knocking it down to a “9” for a start.
Only then do you do what you gotta do to take it to “8”.
Keep chipping away until you’re at “7”.
Before you know it, you’ll be rounding it off to a “4”, and that’s Kelly Clarkson territory!
But there’s this, too: suppose your answer to that question is, “10”, but suppose you can hear yourself say that to yourself and you get a charge out of how liberated that makes you feel — unburdened by society’s expectations and free to set your own notions of propriety and attractiveness and to hell with your stupid “2s” and “4s”!
Well, then, Go For It.
Taffy is a “10”, too, and his favorite T-shirt says:
Know your number, is all I’m saying; and be good with it or not, but know your number.
And if your number is “0”, then you should write a Guide to Gracious Living and get stinking rich. Everybody wants to be a “0”.
Top Cat, if he is reading this, is wishing I would stop here (he thinks my blog posts are too long), but I have more:
I went to a writer friend’s book event last week, in Manhattan of all places. You see, even though I live a mere 15 miles from Times Square, I think it’s been over year since I have ventured into The Big Apple.
New York City is a trip. When your daily life is all about managing a used book store and riding herd on 8 house cats, NYC is bigger, busier, weirder, and gaudier than anything you are used to laying your eyes on.
I gave myself a few extra hours to walk around and get a good look at city life.
I saw this on the downtown C train:
Also on the subway:
Not pictured: I saw a middle-aged African-American guy, conservatively dressed in a shirt and tie and khakis, walk down Greenwich Avenue carrying a surf board.
Not pictured: I had a cup of tea at the Starbucks on West 4th Street win The Village and the place was packed with NYU students on laptops, and I did not overhear anything the least bit interesting. Kids these days. They are boring. And they all have hideous vocal fry.
Any way. My writer friend’s book event was held in a gorgeous brownstone on Washington Square, in the heart of the NYU campus. There were a lot of arty types in attendance, but it never fails. There’s always one person in the audience who uses the Q&A to talk about her own (unpublished) work, and how she can’t figure out if it’s memoir or if it’s a novel.
I’ve run into this person many times, in my own book events and at the writer workshops I am often asked to lead. There’s always one person who does not know what he/she is writing, because they do not read (books, that is; or book reviews, ever, in their life) and are not up to speed with the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
This person always asks, If I use a real event — say, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 — but my story about my characters experience of 9/11 is made up, does that make it real? Or fiction?
Sometimes the confusion is over real people: If I use my mother as a character, but I make up her life…is that memoir? Or not?
And there’s this: What is it, if I write about Coney Island, because I’ve been to Coney Island, and I write about the people on the beach, because I’ve watched the people on the beach at Coney Island, and I’m the main character but I make up the other characters, is that fiction?
Before I get the chance to tear my hair out, there is usually an enabler in attendance who will elaborate upon this person’s ignorance of writing’s fundamentals by claiming that there is a new literary genre that combines fact and fiction, so therefore it’s possible to blend then together to write a nonfiction novel.
No. NO. NO NO NO NONONONONONONOnoononononono.
I do not have enough life left in me to educate these kind of people, who should not be writing books in the first place. Thankfully, my friend is an experienced enough author to not let an audience member de-rail his book event, so we quickly moved on. . . but this lady bugged me so when I got home I did a little digging.
The confusion over the nonfiction novel began with Truman Capote.
When he wrote In Cold Blood in 1966 it was the first time that a first-class creative writer had stooped so low to use his skills as a storyteller to produce long-form (novel-length) journalism. Journalism — the mere reporting of facts — was “hack” and “low-brow”, but In Cold Blood was an enthralling nonfiction reading experience in the style of a novel, in that it fleshed-out the killers and the victims of the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.
Nobody knew what to call this new kind of writing.
George Plimpton, famous journalist, wrote about the book in January 1966, and introduced In Cold Blood to readers of the New York Times as a work that was
“remarkable for its objectivity–nowhere, despite his involvement, does the author intrude. In the following interview, done a few weeks ago, Truman Capote presents his own views on the case, its principals, and in particular he discusses the new literary art form which he calls the nonfiction novel.”
Plimpton wasn’t stupid, and neither was Capote, but they were stuck in their times and they were inventing a new voice for American literature. Nonfiction novel was the best they could do, under the circumstances. Since then, however, this style of writing has caught on fire and we now call it narrative nonfiction.
Some people call it creative nonfiction but that only makes things worse.
Finally (the end is almost near) we had our May board meeting of the Friends of Bryant Library two days ago. It did not go well, in that Old Wednesday Volunteer did not say a word so I didn’t have to unleash the flying monkeys. Damn. I was itching’ for a fight.
So instead I got shitty with the president of the Friends because her latest fund-raising idea is to sell $10 book plates to put in library books in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Month (which is May, so, as usual, it’s too little too late), which is something a damn Girl Scout could do, and do better than a bunch of old fart white ladies, and she emailed afterwards that she was insulted and that we have to talk. I doubt this will ever happen.
Can I tell you all about this? Next week? The stupidity of the world has worn me out today, so I need to find a quiet place to sit with my cats and watch the clock until it’s 5 o’clock, here or somewhere.
Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Whatever your number is, I hope you make it prime.