Shame on me and big apologies for not posting a single thing on the 2018 Key West Literary Seminar. During last year’s Seminar I think I posted everyday. My excuse is a bit of an embarrassment; I was not as familiar with this year’s panel nor was I as enthused with the topic, Writers of the Caribbean (last year’s topic was The Literature of Politics). I attended fewer sessions then before but must note that this does not at all speak to the genius of the panel or those who select them—it speaks only to my miseducation. I fortunately heard Jamaica Kincaid’s opening address and had the pleasure of listening to Teju Cole and Billy Collins for the second time.
But I was also less enthused because I had signed up for a writer’s workshop that followed the seminar; and I could not wait for it to begin. The class topic was memoir and roman à clef (both near and dear to me), taught by Lisa Zeidner, Novelist and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Rutgers University (I cannot praise Ms. Zeidner enough—she was a marvelous instructor). There was quite a bit of homework for this workshop–10, long, student submissions to read and critique as well as required reading. Instead of boning up on Caribbean authors, I read our instructor’s latest novel (an optional read – Love Bomb – very good), and a required read from the list provided by Ms. Zeidner. I chose Erica Jong’s memoir, Fear of Fifty – not so good. We were asked to talk briefly about why we selected a particular memoir, or memoir turned fiction, and to read a passage from our selected work that resonated in some way.
I chose Erica Jong’s memoir not because I’m a fan of her or her writing, but because I was familiar with her work and she’s a contemporary who writes about sex. Ms. Jong is also very fond of putting herself into the role of protagonist which I’m prone to do. Erica Jong enjoyed a privileged and indulgent life and the indulgence continues in Fear of Fifty. The book is way too long, there are too many marriages and lovers, and I’m sorry, but “princess” comes to mind in too many paragraphs—apart from the paragraphs where she intentionally uses the word “princess.” I don’t mean to imply that Ms. Jong is not talented or intelligent—she is both, and I gleaned much from her writing. The passage below that I shared with the class has stayed with me for weeks.
“My generation grew up with an imposed myth: the myth of happily ever after—always implying a man—a prince who someday comes (and makes you do the same).
…We tried to write other myths—someday my princess will come, or I am my own princess, so there—but they were all derivative. The armature of plot was the same. We were reacting, not creating. We had not expanded the terms in which we saw our lives.
Is there only one story? The prince comes or does not come? The princess replaces the prince? Solitude replaces them both?
Couldn’t we find a story that has nothing to do with that, a story in which neither relationship nor renunciation of relationship was the be-all and end-all?
Apparently not. Our writers and philosophers thrashed through this territory and came up with new versions, not newly created myths.
…Where is the woman who self-starts, who doesn’t merely react, who lives her life for an ideal apart from relationship? Can we even imagine such a woman? And if we did imagine her, would our readers identify with her?”
What resonates? Pretty much everything; the myth, the relationship reruns in life and in print, the limitations of self. Yes, I can imagine the self-starter and yes, I want to be her, but so far, have come up with only vague and amateurish attempts at rewriting the myth. And I am too often obsessed and confused by what my readers identify with, which brings my wandering mind to women in politics. If you change the word “readers” to “voters” in Jung’s last sentence, therein lies much of Hillary Clinton’s demise—too many [female] voters couldn’t identify. Tough shit. Fucking grow up, gals. Try, at least, to expand the terms in which you view your lives. As Jung calls womanhood today, try to imagine yourself as not the “second sex.”
My mother was the most capable woman I have ever known. She could fix anything from a broken heart to a broken toilet, and given a proper background and proper set of tools, I believe my mother would have been able to fix a broken nation. My heart and my hopes lie with the courageous women throwing their hats into the political ring. And I’m talking elected positions, women willing to take on the concerns of a larger community, not the female spokespeople, cabinet members, etc., of the current administration. I’m not saying vote your sex, be an informed voter. But, and at the risk of sounding sophomoric, do not dismiss the fact that since the beginning of time wives and mothers have ruled as peace makers, policy makers, doctor, lawyer, and chief of the clan.
Why the hell are women suspicious of women in politics? Would readers relate to a protagonist as self-starter, living a life apart from a relationship?