Quotation of the Week: Tama Janowitz on Ironing in “Scream”

Tama Janowitz (right)

                                               Tama Janowitz (right)

I am enjoying Tama Janowitz’s entertaining new memoir, Scream, which has a lot in common with stand-up comedy.  Janowitz is best known as a Brat Pack writer in the ’80s (along with Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis) who became famous overnight for her short story collection, Slaves of New York, which was later adapted as a Merchant Ivory film.  But life wasn’t always easy:   She was raised in semi-poverty by her mother, the poet Phyllis Janowitz, because her father, a pothead psychiatrist,  wouldn’t pay child support.  Janowitz grew up smart and stylish:  she went to Barnard College in New York, spent a junior year abroad in London, where she failed to recognize the talent of the Sex Pistols,  studied with Elizabeth Hardwick both at Barnard and in the MFA program at Columbia,  and finally publishesd by submitting a  story to The Paris Review under a male pseudonym, Tom A. Janowitz.

Janowitz scream u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az2vNK7LiZyZN+sBWsKtMX1WWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuShe also felt she was following in the footsteps of Sylvia Plath in 1977  when she won a contest to be a guest editor at  Mademoiselle, as Plath had done in the ’50s.  Janowitz expected her experience to be like Esther’s  in The Bell Jar.  Unlike Plath, she is sent to a photoshoot,  where she is commanded to iron a white satin blouse, “much nicer than anything I had ever had or seen.” How on earth do you iron a satin blouse?   Janowitz gamely tries, but she burns the blouse.

Would this have happened to Sylvia Plath?  She had been a guest editor and went to dance with Yale men on the roof of the St. Regis hotel during her time at the magazine.  There was no mention in The Bell Jar of being sent out to iron.  But if she had been, she would have ironed beautifully, I am sure.  My life and my future career possibility  were over.

Later, she is unable to get even an entry-level job at Conde Nast, so she  goes home to “Mom’s bleak little tract house by the interstate highway outside of Boston.” Her mother comforts her .

My mother was indignant that my job had been to iron.  “You’ve never been able to iron!”  But she suggested I write a letter to the editor apologizing and explaining how this terrible incident had occurred.  We wrote it together.  It started out reasonably, and then, as the two of us perfected it, became a masterpiece easily equal to Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”

And the letter is truly hilarious.  You’ll just have to read it!

Obama’s Reading List & New Books by the Brat Pack

obama_2016_sticker_bumperThe other day we saw a bumper sticker: OBAMA 2016.

Yes, we laughed, but we’re going to miss him.  Could we write him in on the ballot?

And then yesterday I saw Obama’s summer reading list.  I love reading lists!

Barbarian Days william finnegan 51+9Q4THKRL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_He’s at Martha’s Vineyard with the following  books.

“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson
“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

And so I went to a bookstore to look at some of these books.  I read a few pages of William Finnegan’s Pulitzer-winning memoir, Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life, but it must be said I’m not much of a surfer–I’m NOT a surfer!  Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, an Oprah Book Club pick, interests me more than the others, but I did not buy that, either.


bright, precious days mcinerney BN-PE464_JAYjpg_MV_20160729171322Because two Brat Pack writers of the ’80s, Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney, have new books out!

Was I happiest in the ’80s?  Well, happy, who knows? But I loved 1980s literature.  Although Janowitz’s and McInerney’s partying life-style did not appeal to me, I enjoyed reading about it in Janowitz’s humorous collection of short stories, Slaves of New York, and McInerney’s witty novel, Bright Lights, Big City.

Naturally I bought Janowitz’s new memoir, Scream:  A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction, and McInerney’s new novel, Bright, Precious Days, the third in a trilogy.

Janowitz scream u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az2vNK7LiZyZN+sBWsKtMX1WWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuI haven’t kept up with all of their work, but these two seem to be underrated these days. There are fashions in writing.  And yet  McInerney’s The Good Life is the best 9/11 novel I read, and I also loved his short story collection, How It Ended.  Janowitz is always witty–I laughed and laughed at The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group— but one reason I’m drawn to this memoir is that not only does she examine the excitement of her social life in New York in the ’80s but adjusting to marriage, motherhood, and ordinary life in upstate New York.  She also describes the care of her aging mother, who had dementia and ended up in a nursing home.  (I went through something like this a few years ago with my mother.)

NOTE:  Aug. 9 was the third anniversary of my mother’s death.  I thought about writing a post, but it is hard to write about the life of a very ordinary person.  Her favorite activity, as she coolly told the recreation advisor of the nursing home, was watching TV. And let me tell you, she settled in front of her TV and refused to go to the dining room or do crafts! I despaired but she would not play Bingo.  (I wonder:  would I?)  But I appreciate her stubborn eccentricity and dwell less on  her death these days.  In fact, I forgot the anniversary of her death until I read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s brilliant novel, My Struggle, Book 1,  in which he writes about his father’s terrible death.  That’s progress!

And now I can cheer myself up with two good books.