Today it took three presses of the sleep button combined with Roscoe’s cold nose on my shoulder to motivate myself to throw off the duvet and put my bare feet on the floor. I was forty minutes late to my regular Friday morning writing session, and even after employing “the Klonsky method”–my friend Dave swears by a precise combination of caffeine and sugar (the mocha) to kick-start the brain–I still couldn’t direct my thoughts enough to put together a proper blog post. So I’ve given up. I’ve accepted that my mind, like most of downtown Vancouver, is going to be occupied by low-altitude haze today.
With that said, I have some assorted thoughts:
Number one, I got a nice e-mail from the folks at Folio last week, and I thought I’d pass it along to interested writers. Folio is a literary journal published at my alma mater, American University. Last year, in addition to poetry and fiction, they started publishing nonfiction, including a short essay I wrote called “On Love and Naming”. Now they’re looking for more nonfiction, so if you’re interested, submit. The staff is fantastic: supportive and easy to work with. They’re also running their first-ever fiction contest this year. So if you’re a fiction writer, enter! If you’re interested in reading, rather than writing, subscribe! It’s a steal.
In other–totally unrelated–news, I stumbled across an intriguing concept today: The Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum is a touring exhibition of donated items: artifacts that remained after romantic love ended, what the curators call “the ruins of relationship.” From their website:
Whatever the motivation for donating personal belongings – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their love legacy as a sort of a ritual, a solemn ceremony. Our societies oblige us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect. In the words of Roland Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse: “Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator… (there is) no amorous oblation without a final theater.”
I’ve been reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s new book The Marriage Plot which quotes extensively from Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse. And now that Barthes’s book is on my radar it seems to be popping up everywhere. The idea of love–and particularly the breaking of a relationship–as something that contains an element of theater makes sense to me. One item from the online exhibition is an old Nokia cell phone with the caption, “He gave me his cell phone so I couldn’t call him any more.”
In my first year composition classes, I ask my students to write an analysis of an artifact somehow related to their education. The students who really invest in the assignment inevitably return good results: what the red engineer’s jackets suggest about the role of gender in the engineering faculty, how the ads the university uses to attract new students sell a lifestyle rather than an education, the conflicting messages student dining facilities convey about health and eating. I suspect my students would be pretty terrible at writing about artifacts related to love–they are a smart but often sentimental lot–but I love the idea of performing a similar analysis of love’s artifacts.
My favorite artifact from the online exhibition is a Slovenian bread bowl. The jilted lover writes,
You wanted me to bake bread. Because a woman kneading dough is so erotic, isn’t she? You probably thought I’d work up such a sweat that it would drip from my breasts directly into the bowl.
On yet another unrelated note, this excerpt of a conversation between an intern fact-checker (Jim Fingal) and a writer (John D’Agata) about the essay’s (in this case the lyric essay’s) obligation to fact is worth reading. The entire e-mail conversation–based on an essay D’Agata published in the excellent magazine The Believer–has been published as a book which raises a lot of questions about the role of truth (and Truth) in non-journalistic nonfiction writing and people are justifiably worked up about it.
The last thing that I want to say, the thing that currently constitutes the bulk of my brain-fog, is actually about my own writing. Thomas King says, “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.” Joan Didion says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I think there are two arguments here: 1- Stories give us definition; our sense of self is composed almost entirely of stories. 2- Stories are a kind of survival technique; we tell ourselves stories–which may or may not be accurate–in order to manage the business of living.
Or maybe those are the same argument. I’m not sure.
When it comes to love stories, I’ve had two thoughts lately. And if you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts.
Thought one: It is possible to talk honestly about love, but, typically, we do not. This is not a failure on our parts, but rather a desire to make something complex and unwieldy seem simple and predictable. Because we function best in a world that is simple and predictable.
Thought two: It is not possible to talk about love (or, more accurately, to tell one another love stories) in a way that is complete and adequately nuanced. Love is too varied, too variable from one relationship to another, even within a single relationship. It is sprawling and amorphous. And the function of a love story is not to present a complete picture of love, but rather to instruct, to advise, to compare, to illustrate or to entertain.
Thought three: We are too smart for fairy tales and romantic comedies. We understand their artifice. And yet, we can’t help relying on love stories. They’re all we have.