Book Love: Judy Blume and Lena Dunham In Conversation

SAM_2106
A small gem of a paperback, only a little bigger than the glasses used to read it.

Yesterday, a package from Believer magazine arrived in the mail. It was much smaller than the usual magazine, so naturally, it was intriguing. Inside, was a pocket-sized gem of a paperback book: Judy Blume and Lena Dunham In Conversation. There had been an interview in the actual magazine itself, but here was a long version—in a perfect trim size—just waiting for me to devour.

It goes without saying—even though I talk about it a lot—that I greatly admire Judy Blume. Her books were always a treat to read, but in particular, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was a touchstone for my younger reading self. She’s been controversial, she’s been banned, she’s been beloved. Throughout it all, she’s been honest and she’s taken her audience very seriously—and that counts for a lot in my book.

When it comes to Lena Dunham, I know only what I’ve read in interviews. I’ve never once seen the show Girls, but have wondered for some time if there’s something that I’m missing by simply not having the right cable television package to watch it. I’m more convinced than ever after reading this lengthy interview.

One is young and just arrived at her icon status, one has had time to adjust to it and live in her own skin as a writer. One has pushed the limits with her words, and the other sometimes does it with the baring of her own body. But both of these women have dared to go where no one expected them to—probably where a lot of people didn’t even want them to. They’re utterly brave in their creativity. So it makes sense that they sat down together—even decided to be friends afterward!—and talked about their process, their work, their families, and their lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to create—what the rewards and the drawbacks are, and why we as people are so drawn to the very act of creation. In the end, I think we all want to be brave as Judy Blume and Lena Dunham in what we create—whether we’re painting or writing or making music or dancing or acting or…whatever. We want to boldly go where no one has before—to tell a story in whichever mode of telling we choose that’s somehow both a part of ourselves and a part of something bigger than ourselves.

So, this interview—this brief look into the minds of these two very writers—struck a chord for me. If you have a chance, take an hour (or less, really) to read it. Heck, you can even borrow my copy. It’s a little dog-eared, but who minds that among friends?

Shocked—Shocked!—to Find Out that Writers Make No Money

Recently, Digital Book World published statistics on how much writers make. Turns out, it’s not very much. As a writer myself, and someone who works in the publishing industry, this was about as stunning as Captain Renault’s revelation that there was gambling at Rick’s Café.

Looking at the graph below, it’s particularly surprising, of course, that “aspiring” writers don’t make any money at all. Oh, Digital Book World, say it isn’t so!

dbwslide

While it’s interesting to look at numbers like this sometimes—and the breakdown of what kind of publishing provides what kinds of rewards—it’s not terribly informative. Because as both the graph and life experience can tell you, writing is not a lucrative calling.  And writing for young people, in particular, is not known for its millionaire-making.  With very few exceptions, anyone who writes—or creates visual art, or music, or…well, I could go on endlessly—can tell you that it’s not the salary that drives her.

This is not to say that it’s not a very nice thing indeed to get paid for your writing—it goes without saying that it is. It’s frustrating, even infuriating, sometimes not to get paid a lot (or even at all) for your work.

But—and here comes a reference to The Bachelor (it is still Juan-uary, after all)—creative pursuits are all about the journey. And part of being there for the Right Reasons is knowing that you’re almost certainly not going to get rich doing it. Though, again, a little something here and there certainly helps.

So, thank you, Digital Book World, for providing this graphic. It’s very colorful and pleasing to look at, and give us aspiring writers out there something to actually, well, aspire to. That teeny little slice of green up there is certainly calling my name!

Literary Lists…or, How Do You Know What Will Make Me a Better Person?

A fresh page upon which to create today’s list! I’ve been with this planner longer than I’ve been with my husband.

It is an undeniable fact: I am a list-maker. From what to buy at the supermarket, to what to pack for a trip, to what I need to do each and every day, there is a list. Indeed, I’ve had the same Franklin Planner since approximately 1997, for which I dutifully buy new, blank pages upon which to list-make at the start of every year.

For me, this is a sanity preservation device: I know my own tendency to become wildly stressed out if I don’t feel like I’m on top of things, so I try to keep on top of things. I am not a procrastinator—doing stuff at the last minute tends to eat away at my mental well-being. So, each day, I make a list of the things I need to accomplish. On paper, in pencil, with a system to mark off what I’ve done, what’s only partially done, and what’s going to have to wait a day or two. If this sounds like madness to you, fair enough. But it works for me and they’re not created for the benefit of anybody but me.

The long and the short of it is, I understand the urge to list things off and make sense of them.

What I guess I don’t understand is making lists of books based on things like Flavorwire’s “50 Novels Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person.”  Okay, so there are some good books on there, and there are worse ways to spend your day than putting together a list of good books. And, okay, so there’s research out in the ether that says that reading novels is good for you—can even make you more empathetic. As a life-long reader, I didn’t really need any scientific research to tell me this, of course. I know it from experience. I also know from experience that one woman’s life-changing read is another terrible bore. Because what changes you is as individual and subjective as being you is. I often joke, but truly believe, that while some people turn to religious texts in their times of need, I turn to Middlemarch. For me, that’s what’s life affirming and life changing. So to create a list of books that will help someone else be a better person seems like an exercise in futility.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I like a good book list. I like Goodreads for that very reason—readers putting together lists of books that they’ve enjoyed, usually by some sort of categorization. But creating such a list—one that says, hey these were great books that I liked!—and saying hey, these books will make you a better person, are two very different things. By all means, share what you love with me. Maybe I’ll love it, too. But don’t presume to dictate what might do something as enormous as improve a person on a fundamental level. Because my George Elliot might be your Jonathan Franzen. Maybe Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books opened up a world of possibilities for you as a kid. Who knows?

On my desk at all times is a little bookmark that contains a snippet of text from Little Women in a glass tube. I keep this on whatever desk I use as an editor—and it’s traveled with me from one location to another for many years—as a physical reminder as I read submissions and edit stories that everyone has their own special, life-changing books. Little Women turned me into a serious reader. Any other book might do that for any other reader.

So, at the risk of sounding cranky—and oh, I fear that I do sound cranky!—telling people that this book or that one will make them better or change their lives (and why it will) is kind of hooey. Tell me what you love, but then let me sit back and discover what I can in a book—and let it change me or not as it will!

On MFA Residency and “Juan-uary”

Juan Pablo Galavix
ABC/Craig Sjodin

Do you watch The Bachelor? No? Whether you do or don’t, if you’re tuned into any kind of pop culture or own any kind of electronic device, you must have keyed into the fact that ABC has dubbed this month “Juan-uary” in honor of the current (hunky, deliciously clueless) Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis.

My husband and I love this show. So much so that I won’t even deign to call it a guilty pleasure—it’s just a plain, old pleasure. Last week’s season premiere did not disappoint. There was the usual round of craziness: The lady who shows up pretending to be pregnant. The other lady who brings her massage table with her, just because. The folks who give new meaning to the phrase “odd jobs” (I’m looking at you, “Free Spirit,” “Dog Lover,” and “Former NBA Dancer”). But it also was crazy on a whole different level: as in he gave the coveted First Impression Rose to someone who could barely tolerate his presence, and then during the rose ceremony, someone actually mistook Kat for Kylie—you know, the kind of mistake anyone could make—and two ladies came for a single rose.

Did I mention that I love this show?

Are you beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to get to the part where The Bachelor is like my recent MFA residency?

Well, wait no longer, because here it is: Like the beginning of Juan Pablo’s “journey,” my nine days at residency at Lesley were a little bumpy. The first day was cancelled because we got over a foot of snow. On the second day, I apparently dropped my wallet in the parking lot of a shopping center near campus. No one turned it in. This resulted in hour upon tedious hour of organizing bank, credit card, license renewal—you name it—all in the midst of seminars, workshops, readings, and time with friends I only get to see twice a year.

Then on Friday, it snowed again and I slipped on a patch of ice and hurt my knee. Nothing’s broken—only woefully swollen and sore. And so I missed the last day of residency.

The thing is, this was my last full residency, the one that kicks off my thesis semester in a program that has meant a lot to me. But, just like the proverbial path to true love (you had to know I’d bring it back to The Bachelor somehow), the course of this residency just didn’t run as smoothly as I’d hoped.

Even so, it was—as always—wonderful to see friends and faculty, to talk about writing with people who are also on this crazy journey, to think about craft and dive a little deeper into a story that’s come so far—and still has so very far to go.

So, Juan-uary didn’t begin quite as I thought it would. Big deal, right? I’m still on this wild MFA program ride for The Right Reasons. And as any true fan of The Bachelor will tell you, that’s all that really matters.