On A Scale of One to Ten . . .

. . .  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!

All she needs to do is get rid of those sleeves and she’d be at “2”.

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.

Sidewalk outside Penn Station, with Madison Square Garden (the round building) in the background). And yes, some guy is getting a hair cut on the sidewalk.

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.

Film crew on 36th Street.


Everybody’s favorite film crew member.


Throw me the ball! Throw me the ball!

I gave myself a few extra hours to walk around and get a good look at city life.

This isn’t a dry cleaner any more; it’s a dress shop. But that sign is SO COOL that I wouldn’t get rid of it either.

I saw this on the downtown C train:

I think he’s got a QUIDDITCH trophy.

Also on the subway:

This is how they advertise dry shampoo in NYC. It made me nostalgic for when I lived in NYC and my Happy Hours would turn into All Nighters, which they never did, so I must have lived all wrong.

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.


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.

I LOVE this look!

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.



14 Comments, RSS

  1. I lived in Manhattan for ten years. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that I never saw that fabulous French cleaners shopfront? Or did I see it and just forget about it? I definitely would photograph that now.

    Love your tales of peculiar people in the city. The guy getting a haircut on the sidewalk cracks me up. What is going on there?!

    Have you ever thought of writing shorter posts more frequently — like posting twice a week but with half-sized posts? Just a thought! (I’m not suggesting it, necessarily — just thinking about what might make one of your most important readers happy.) 🙂

    • Vivian

      Well, I have to admit, I went to Brooklyn for lunch and found that Eiffel Tower. I included it in my Manhattan narrative simply to eliminate wordy digressions and, in this case, I thought my edit did not have any negative impact on the truthfulness of my post but you caught me. Hmmmm…I might have to re-think the parameters of my definition of “facts” when it comes to autobiography.

      I don’t know how you do it, Steve; post every day. I don’t / can’t just blog — I have to compose, as if it were for a hard-copy publication. I’m not spontaneous enough to just write. I keep a daily log for that, which I will probably use as fodder for future compositions. I’m so lucky to be a Capricorn, or else I’d have no excuse for being so uptight.

    • Vivian

      Thanks, catgirl. I’ll be writing for as long as the herd comes up with a cute pose. All my cats are middle age now but they don’t know it, and are still as cute as kittens.

  2. Casey

    Young Truman looks fabulous. His bow tie kills. You’re right about Johny Depp, he’s a 10 not because he got older, but because he got creepier. If he’d wash his hair, he’d be at 9. Then maybe he could take bath, and be at 8. I like this method of accounting.

    Thinking hard, I think I’m a 3, I need to pay less attention to making COMFORT my only priority when I put clothes on and maybe put more effort into STYLE, like a young Truman Capote. I should also move more.

    So interesting about the history of the nonfiction novel, thanks for that.

    Taffy is a zero, he’s perfection. He’s got cat class and he’s got cat style.

    • Vivian

      When you are 55 years old, you have to be careful. You can’t think that you can still pull off the tattoos and eye liner that made you cool when you were 20, and that’s not me being ageist, I don’t think. Cher does it right; Madonna does it all wrong.

  3. Susan

    Some people just like to hear themselves speak. Writers (especially experienced writers) asking questions like the ones you list drive me bonkers. Ideally, they are cut off. Let’s not waste everyone’s time. (Historically, I have usually responded to these individuals with: ” thank you for your thoughts, but we must move to…, alternatively, if they still go on, I state: we will take that up at the end of the talk, if we have time”.) Usually the person sits down in shock and silenced. Perfect. How funny about old Wednesday volunteer! What’s with the President? Shouldn’t she be asking you and the other volunteers to design future programs? You might have little to no time available for the President. Just saying.

    Your fur kids look very comfy. They do love that new cozy couch.

    Love the city sights!

    • Vivian

      I am going to steal that, if I ever claw my way out of the mid-list and have a book that draws lots of people to an event : “Let’s take that up at the end of the talk if we have time.” Very classy.

      The president of the Friends is unredeemable. I would put her in charge of lemonade stand, but not $40,000 in the Friends bank account. Oh, lordy, this is what I deserve for trying to do good.

  4. Kirra

    Those people at book events!!!! I am a reader do get totally pissed off when I go to hear a writer talk and someone in the audience chooses to ask the writer about their writing (unpublished of course). I haven’t come to listen to them! Hence I don’t go to that many writers events, just stay at home reading books.

    I agree, be whatever number you want and don’t let society pressure you. That link dress is pretty amazing, so much hot pink.

    Thanks for the trip to New York! And of course the lovely cat herd photos.

    Pity but not too surprised the old Wednesday volunteer didn’t say anything. Though your President sounds pretty hopeless too (it’s May already and who wants to pay $10 for a bookplate?!).

    Thank you for always making the weekend more enjoyable via your blog posts!

    • Vivian

      Kirra, I hope your Austrian Spring is better than our Long Island one. It’s still cold and wet and I’m still wearing my Winter duds.

      I can’t help but be a little envious of people who are so thrilled with themselves that they prioritize their needs over everyone else in the room, including the Guest of Honor (the author at the event). I wonder, How did that person get through life? Why has not someone killed them before now??

      I was at a Elizabeth Gilbert event, and there was a guy waving his hand, begging to be picked so he could ask her a question; so she called on him, and all he wanted to say was: “Remember me from that time in Brooklyn when I asked you a question about my book? Remember me?? You picked me then, too — so do you remember me?” She had to cut him off by saying, Yes, I remember you, glad you’re here.

      Mind you, this was after she had prefaced her Q7A with the caveat: “If you are crazy, please don’t raise your hand.” She got that from Ann Patchett.

  5. Marg-o

    That is a deep question for a game show. I’ll have to ask myself that question over tonight’s happy hour.

    I’m trying to remember if I ever had a happy hour that turned into an all-nighter and I can’t recall, and I think that if that had ever happened to me that I would remember, so if it happened and I don’t remember then it must have been dull and if I can’t remember because it never happened then that’s even sadder. (Not really, I think that advertisement wants to make you feel inferior, to sell dry shampoo or Big Macs, it doesn’t matter.)

    Oh my, who knew that a bunch of old library ladies could be so riled up? I’m glad that I’m not on a Friends committee in my town but I’m very glad that you are, and I am eager to read the latest chapter in this drama!

  6. It may not be the best name but it is indeed creative non-fiction. (Although, sometimes not so creative, but not so narrative,either.) I always get mad when I pick up a book I expect to be somewhat ‘real” and find it’s even less than “somewhat.” Books about real people but spun into narrative almost like a fiction work. I know it’s fiction but then why don’t they come up with their own characters. UGH. And then you never know what’s true and spend eons on google searching something you probably don’t even care about that much. I’ll stop now.

    Bummer about the flying monkeys, or lack thereof. And loved the cat clan!

  7. OK you never leave me without a smile. I love your explanations for what ever it is. I have always called it historic fiction. Maybe that is something else all together, but it is what I most like reading. And Yes, DT is just plain shit wrapped in skin.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *