Entropy? Synchronicity? Co-Incidence? The English Language Fails Us

March 15th, 2005 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

The problem with traveling (other than the part where getting the husband to understand that, if he doesn’t make decisions, we cannot be responsible for the fact he can’t shave) is that you get into a news time warp. Truly, you’re under sedation.

Yes, we’ve already lost our point. Luckily, through the magic of Firefox, we have found it again (have we mentioned tabbed browsing?). Yesterday, we posted about character, the author as character, and family (including friends, bosses, etc) as character. Is there a line, and who, pray tell, is going to define it? Not that we’re letting Meg Wolitzer off the hook o’shame (see previous), but she addresses yesterday’s question, days ago (we are feeling so science fiction right now), so much so that we’ve lost our ability to punctuate this sentence):

The notion of parents mortifying their children is nothing new. Everyone is familiar with the horrors of, say, one’s mother doing the hokeypokey in public, or one’s father wearing an orange windbreaker and whistling “A Whiter Shade of Pale” while on carpool duty. But the children of writers are given a mortification all their own. It reaches beyond the hokeypokey and deep into regions unfamiliar to the children of management consultants and travel agents.

In its most common form, the embarrassment occurs when a writer is simply doing his or her job: describing the world in an unflinching, candid manner, and casually borrowing recognizable bits and pieces from real life. Occasionally, a writer borrows much more than that. This was the case with A.A. Milne, who used his son Christopher Robin as a character without asking. The child grew up and was left to languish in bitterness, loathing the father who left him frozen in a kind of twisted, eternal moppethood. It seems clear that writers who use their children to advance their own work are guilty of some kind of unsavory pimping, and that those children — those trapped-in-amber, beloved figures from picture books and novels — have a right to feel furious.

But what of the children of writers who neither borrow overtly from real life nor steal their children’s souls, but who, along the normal course of their work, write books that include something more mortifying than the image of Christopher Robin in a gender-ambiguous nightdress? What of the children of novelists who dare to write about sex?

You, as a child, do not ask to be put on display. And you, as a child, are subjected to the subjectiveness of the writer. A parent sees an incident differently than the other parent, the guests, or the child. You could be memorialized as a brat, when in fact you were simply cranky. And you, as a child, will necessarily make it to the page.

Writers, and we’re talking fiction, are not necessarily the people on the page. But it’s hard to differentiate. We know women who write about sex on various levels, and struggle with the idea that their work will haunt their children and their jobs. And we wonder if men who write about sex face the same questions (we would so love to hear from men who wrestle with the sex, writing, real life questions). Does Tom Wolfe have to explain his obsessions to his daughter (“Yes, dear, I looked at your roommate and wondered if she was good in bed.” Also, “I’m sorry I wrote about sex like it was a scientific experiment.”).

This is not (necessarily) a continuation of our thoughts about men and opinion writing, but it is. Wolitzer’s point is valid. Is your father a whore because he writes about sex? Are there double standards? This is something near and dear to our little black heart. Because the answer, scarily, is that women novelists who are mothers must make almost untenable choices. We know these women, and they agonize over art versus family. This week, we’ve encountered far too many artists who are male and don’t agonize (some women, too, but they seem to be largely childless). As with previous posts, we don’t have answers (via The Happy Booker), who is new and has posted a lot of cool thoughts).

File Under: Tools and Craft

1 response so far ↓

  • Lorra // Mar 16, 2005 at 6:43 am

    Funny this subject should come up as I complete a novel inspired by a true story.

    Regardless of one’s need to bleed publicly, extract revenge or simply get published, there are times when the fallout is too great.

    I was strongly urged to tell my story as non-fiction, but when one boy attempted suicide and a second succeeded, I chose to write it as fiction “inspired by’ because I couldn’t live with how the true story might impact the boys and young men whose lives were shattered by the events in the story — my youngest son included — and the survivors of the boy who succeeded in taking his own life.

    Yet, because I feel a need to share a cautionary tale, I have written a version of the truth that I hope will make a difference in society. It will be to the reader to decide what is real and what is fictional. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church. Yes, my son knows what I’m writing and is very much for it.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is a judgment call when the writer chooses to bare his/her soul. Even though it may be cathartic or sell a lot of books, there are some things that should never be aired in public. Embarrassing your kids is one thing; killing them or their friends is entirely another.