E-readers, Never Shop with a Man, & NANOWRIMO

The-eBook-e-Reader-Painting--95667Sometimes my e-reader is my friend, sometimes it isn’t.

Last week I had a solitary weekend.

Everyone I knew was out of town.

My husband was on a business trip and gave me several phone numbers I would never call.

Doesn’t everyone love a solitary weekend?

It was pretty much my e-reader and I.  We are  great friends since I deleted my email account and Twitter from the machine.  No more email alerts:  no more reading 10 pages, then checking 10 emails.  I feel about my e-reader the way the women in Sex and the City feel about their vibrators.

And so I spent the weekend reading Meg Wolitzer’s brilliant new novel, The Interestings, a long realistic masterpiece that pleased critics who underestimated her last book, The Uncoupling, a short, clever riff on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.

As I said at my old blog, Wolitzer has a brilliant, distinctly American voice, slightly Nora Ephronish, with a twist of Dorothy Parker.

In The Interestings, she writes about a group of New Yorkers who meet in the ’70s at an arts camp.  Their friendship extends into middle age in the 21st century.

Read, read, read.  And then…

Oh, no.  A car in the driveway!

I hoped the person with hennaed hair and black clothes in the driveway was not the old friend with hennaed hair and black clothes I had last seen in a mental hospital after her bad trip at Woodstock II.  Normally I am happy to see anybody, but this was my weekend!

The person went away.  Wrong address apparently.

Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings seemed to apply to the situation, though, as so often happens when you’re reading and living life.  She writes about mental health politics as well as other changes of the 20th and 21st centuries.  The pills do not necessarily work well.

The main character, Jules, a (female) social worker, is married to Dennis, who has depression.

Ever since he’d been taken off the MAOI five years earlier, Dennis had rarely returned to buoyancy.  Instead, he still struggled with what his pharmacologist variously referred to as “low-level depression,” “atypical depression,” and “dysthymia.” There were some people who were just very hard to treat, Dr. Brazil said.  They were able to live their lives, sometimes to a fairly full extent, but they never felt good.  Dennis’s atypical depression wasn’t making him break down, as it had in college, but it also wouldn’t go away.  He felt its presence like a speck in the eye or like a chronic, rattling cough.  Different drugs were tried, but nothing worked for very long, or if a drug did work, the side effects made it untenable.

By the way, I am so glad Obama’s health care plan will treat mental illness like a physical illness, with the same deductibles, etc.  Don’t let the insurance companies and the Republicans destroy our new national health care.

Hey!  Why didn't we look like that?

Hey! Why didn’t we look like that?

NEVER SHOP WITH A MAN.   I  went to the mall with a man.  What was I thinking?

I had to buy a few things that were too big to fit in the bike pannier.

He moodily paced behind me.  No smile, and he wondered why no clerk would help us.

Finally I caught the attention of  a clerk who showed me several bags I could use for a laptop that weren’t strictly laptop bags.

Later, the man was so tired and mall-phobic that he argued over whether we could spend 99 cents at Target.

The other men at the mall were behaving well, but their wives were clearly in charge.

I bought the 99-cent item.

You know the reggae:  Get up, stand up.

But it’s really easier to shop with your cousin.

THE SHORTEST NANOWRIMO EVER.   Every November people all over the world sign up for NANOWRIMO (National  Novel Writing Month) to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

I’m not a fiction writer.

Nor do I want to write fiction.

Nor do I want to write 1,660 words a day.

But I love the idea of writing a novel in 30 days, so I planned to write a new version of Ovid’s tale of Daphne and Apollo.

Then I realized I’d rather read Ovid.

I wrote 32 words.

I lasted one minute this year!   I will not even PRETEND to write a novel.

That’s it!  I  promise never to sign up for NANOWRIMO again.

Retold Myths & NANOWRIMO

………………………….Run a little slower
And I will run, I promise, a little slower.”– Apollo to Daphne, Ovid’s Metamorphoses

I love retold myths.

John William Waterhouse: Apollo and Daphne - 1908

John William Waterhouse’s Apollo & Daphne

If I find a novel that retells, say, the Daphne and Apollo myth, I’ll read it.

Oh, wait.  That’s the one I’m writing.

Yes, I’m writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO), an annual project that brings people together to write their own 50,000-word novels between November 1 and November 30.

You can read about this enjoyable project here. A group started it in San Francisco in 1999 for the same reason people start bands, they say at their website:

Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.

One reason it’s fun and sweet is that members in your area meet twice or thrice a week at coffeehouses or Panera. (You don’t have to go, of course.)   It’s kind of like AA or Weight Watchers, only you are trying to do something, rather than not do it.  A bunch of people get together with their laptops…and write.

I am not a novelist, but I once won a scholarship to a writers’ conference on the basis of the first chapter of a novel I was writing.  Did I go home and write Chapter Two?  No, I did not.   When it came to writing Chapter 2, I discovered that I’d rather be reading a book.  Any book.

NANOWRIMO means all kinds of things.  It can mean participating in online forums.  It can mean shopping.  I intend to buy a new black sweater and black jeans (I wonder if it’s tax-deductible to buy writing clothes?) which I will don one minute before I leave the house, because otherwise they will be covered in cat hair.

NANOWRIMO is such a charming idea, and Erin Morgenstern did start her best-selling book, The Night Circus, there.  Now I have signed up twice, and never finished.  I enjoy the first couple of days, but then I fall behind on my word count.  Everything I write needs revision, and NANOWRIMO is not about revision.  It’s about getting something down on paper.

I hardly think my retelling of Apollo and Daphne will take up the space of a whole novel, but that’s my idea of the moment.

In Ovid’s comical version in his brilliant poem, Metamorphoses, Cupid wickedly fires an arrow at Apollo to make him fall in love with Daphne, and fires one at Daphne that drives all love away.  When Apollo chases the nymph, he begs her not to run so fast; she prays to her father, the river god, “to change and destroy the body/which has given too much delight” (Rolfe Humphries’ translation).  Her father turns her into a laurel tree, and Apollo  will not let her go.  He claims the laurel for himself.  It is an aetiological myth:   it’s why he wears a laurel wreath, and why Roman victors wear laurel wreaths.

The description of Daphne’s changing into a tree is simultaneously dazzling and nightmarish.

…her limbs grew numb and heavy, her soft breasts
Were closed with delicate bark, her hair was leaves,
Her arms were branches, and her speedy feet
Rooted and held, and her head became a tree top,
Everything gone except her grace, her shining.
Apollo loved her still.  He placed his hand
Where he had hoped and felt the heart still beating
Under the bark; and he embraced the branches
As if they still were limbs, and kissed the wood,
And the wood shrank from his kisses…

Metamorphoses, Rolfe Humphries translation

Read on!  It’s a very great poem.