Is Someone Sitting in My Chair?
There was a time when I hated anyone who mentioned the New Yorker without irony.
And then I graduated from Antioch, grew the hair on my head, shaved the rest, that tired old cliche of moving into the mainstream, settling into the mini-margin where I belong. Aaaah. Then I went to one graduate school. Then another.
Being a Midwesterner who came of fashion age in the 80’s, I just can’t shake my love of matching. And so lo and behold, my reading taste began to align itself more and more with my new station in life, and it wasn’t long before I started reading less feminist theory and more New Yorker. Not surprisingly, I found it utterly compelling, and not really even offensive or annoying.
And now I’m “blogging” about the bougie rag and its hegemonic discourse (I am dating myself, I realize)! The self truly is empty.
And so, with that preamble, on to the business of the evening. Last week’s New Yorker (I am, after all, a subscriber) featured two items that must be discussed, one short, one long.
- In the super juicy profile of super star and bazillionaire Ben Stiller we learn that his wife, Christine Taylor (who just so happened to play Marcia in the Brady Bunch movie!) said:”I have a completely different view of Ben’s body of work than he does. I say, ‘Look at all you’ve done, it’s the ultimate career! He recognizes that, but be thinks, Do my peers respect me? I don’t get nominated for awards….And it would feel good to get the call from this director or that one.”
Geez, Ben….you, too?
- Shelia Heti is a 30ish Canadian writer, a woman whose career I admire and crave (I learned about her because she is the interview editor at The Believer, a great magazine; she even wrote a book about chairs called The Chairs are Where the People Go)….anyway….her latest book How Should a Person Be? was extensively reviewed, like discussed, reflected upon, by James Wood. Granted, it wasn’t all a rave (in response to one of Heti’s character’s monologues, Wood writes, “If I wanted to hear that, I could settle in at a Starbucks and wait for the schoolkids to get out at three o’clock.”), and yet, it was so…serious. Ms. Heti’s book is subtitled “A Novel from Life,” so it does that thing of including emails and snippets of real conversation and her BFFs’ real names (who happen to also be accomplished artists in their own right.). It should be noted here that I have not read the book. I have been obsessing about it for days, longer actually, as I was aware of its existence via The Believer, before it came out this month, and was drawn to/repelled by it…..afraid that maybe Ms. Heti was sitting in my chair? As my daughter would say, Yike! That’s so ballsy (creepy?), small, not gracious of me. I know. And I am not satisfied with this response and want to move through it. I have a lot to learn here. So when the book came out, I wrote her publicist to request review copies of her books, saying that I wanted to interview her for my column, which usually gets folks’ attention, figuring I would then change my mind and say, actually, I have this blog….but nothing. So I ordered her books, and they are on the way.
Mr. Woods writes that Ms. Heti’s compelling book on the meaning of art, friendship, and big questions is intended to be “a larger portrait of a generation that knows the right questions but struggles to find the right answers.” The author is 35, a generation younger than mine, but the impulse hasn’t changed that much. Has it? I definitely resonate with her line of inquiry. Here is an example:
“How should a person be?
For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers—in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux. Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?
I admired all the great personalities down through time, like Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde. They seemed to be so perfectly themselves in every way. I didn’t think, Those are great souls, but I did think, Those are some great personalities for our age. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein — they did things, but they were things.
I know that personality is just an invention of the news media. I know that character exists from the outside alone. I know that inside the body there’s just temperature. So how do you build your soul? At a certain point, I know, you have to forget about your soul and just do the work you’re required to do. To go on and on about your soul is to miss the whole point of life. I could say that with more certainty if I knew the whole point of life. To worry too much about Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol is just a lot of vanity.”
This is my take on a similar realm of thought/feeling, written a long time ago (even younger than 35), but still very much alive for me:
Sadness: my god,
how I wish I could get through it all,
like my friend and his Bible: five pages a night
for one year. That is a commitment
I could make. Watching people
I have always asked: how do they live?
Do they ever figure it out?
A moment of grace:
this morning happened
without me, uncovering trees
in their perfect sleep,
and the neighbors got up
without me, and they dressed,
their very own food waiting for them,
and the whole thing grows
without me, like my undisturbed shadow
in the evening, the darkness that illuminates
the shape a life takes.
And so, Ms. Heti is on my shortlist of people I want to talk to here. Her and the poet Rachel Zucker, who I also wrote to recently. I will report back after reading Ms. Heti’s book/s and regarding my continued attempts to connect with these women, and other interesting folks. I have a few questions I would like to ask them.