"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joyce Maynard Treasure Hunt

Neosho, Missouri: Where I Grew Up in the 60s

The works of Joyce Maynard entered my life a couple of years ago through one of those uncanny paths of literary coincidence, shaping themselves before my eyes into a fortuitously designed mini - course: "The Life of Joyce Maynard & Family." The path began in May 2007 when I finally read Catcher in the Rye for the first time in my life, something I probably should done twenty - five years earlier, but better late than never. At that time, I also read some background material on J. D. Salinger, learned a bit about his life, then moved on to other things.

A few months after I finished the novel, a fellow reader gave me a magazine featuring an interview / article about the two Maynard sisters, Joyce & Rona. The sisters both make a few passing references to Joyce's early, distressing connection to J. D. Salinger. Trying to recall why that sounded vaguely familiar to me, I reviewed the Salinger info. and, this time, looked up Joyce Maynard, as well.

What an astonishing life! And even more astonishing -- why didn't I ever know about this writer and about her youthful memoir: Looking Back: Growing Up Old In the Sixties? Why didn't anyone ever tell me to read this book, back in 1973? It might have opened my eyes to a few things! I ordered a copy right away, read it in no time, and then started in on her more recent memoir: At Home in the World (1998).

According to her autobiography, as she grows older and has three kids, she starts writing a parenting / family life column in a number of periodicals. Again, I got a feeling of de-ja-vu and went to search through a notebook of things I have enjoyed and saved over the years. Sure enough, there were three essays, torn out of Parenting Magazine during the years when my children were very young. Turns out I had been her fan after all, without even realizing it! Many of these essays are available in Maynard's collection: Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life (1987).

Next coincidence, my son (older now) received a letter from the NCTE concerning the "Achievement Award in Writing" and a list of previous young winners: Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Robert Redford, and . . . Joyce Maynard!

After her first book at age 18, Maynard already had a plan for her next project, in collaboration with a family friend -- a book on doll houses, a subject dear to my heart (see my book, Created in Our Image: The Miniature Body of the Doll). As it turned out, Maynard's writing took off in another direction, and her co-writer completed the project singly (Joan McElroy's Dolls' House Furniture Book, 1976)

Another coincidence concerns the favorite genre of the friend who gave me the magazine in which I learned the story of Joyce Maynard's life -- true crime narratives, which just so happens to be another of Maynard's specialities. Maynard is the author of Internal Combustion: The Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City (2006), and To Die For (2003), which has been turned into the movie starring Nicole Kidman. Maynard wrote the screenplay and has a bit part in the movie, as the attorney.

You can learn more about Joyce Maynard and her very talented family by reading her sister's autobiography: My Mother's Daughter: A Memoir by Rona Maynard (2008); and her mother's observations on child-rearing and family life: Raisins and Almonds (1972) and Guiding Your Child to a More Creative Life (1973) by Fredelle Bruser Maynard.

I have found so much to admire in Looking Back and At Home in the World that it was rather disappointing to come across a magazine article a few months ago in which Maynard explains her decision to spend a windfall inheritance on breast implants, which she describes almost glibly as a life- and self-affirming use of resources. Yet it seems to me an oddly inconsistent choice for a woman so skeptical of medical intervention that she insisted on entirely natural home-births for her children.

I was dismayed that she would respond with anything other than outrage to her unworthy boyfriend's suggestion that she consider cosmetic surgery. How dare he look at her with "a faintly troubled expression"? At times like these, let us not forget Dorothy Parker's sage pronouncement:"Now I know the things I know, and do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you." Surely this advice applies to our anatomy; love me, love my body. How long until we believe that we are beautiful just as we are?

So, I've had to discount Maynard's approach to mid-life crisis; but the honesty of her parenting essays and her youthful insights stay with me. She recalls, for example, hearing the phrase "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off," for the first time, when she was eight or nine. "I remember perfectly...That Stop-the-World phrase, anyway, seemed so familiar, and so telling, struck so deep, it was as if I'd thought it up myself. I knew the feeling, all right -- the frightening, exhausting realization that no matter what, from now till my death, I could not really take a rest" (Looking Back, 54).

For more on Joyce Maynard's Memoirs
check out my "Listmania" on amazon.com:
Joyce Maynard Treasure Hunt

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Horse Is At Least Human


Spring Break in England 2008
Looking Through the Windshield, near Liverpool

Above: Yes, there are still those who trundle to the speed of a different wheel! As Ghandi said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Left: Here we are heading off to college in our Dodge Dart. Now, just exactly what color is this car? Forest Green, Jungle Green, Pine Green? Tropical Rain Forest? Maybe Asparagus or Fern.
[See my previous post:
"Burnt Sienna"]

Before the Burnt Sienna Omni, there was the Dart (please feel free to pronounce as Click and Clack do: Dartre--to rhyme with Sartre). When my twin brother Bruce and I started our second year of college, our parents got us this car with a standard shift on the column, a nightmare for me since I had failed at every attempt to learn about shifting gears. So one Friday in late September, my brother decided to teach me a lesson. We had lined up a few girls from my dorm to make the four - hour drive home for the weekend with us and chip in for gas. Bruce usually kept the car over at his dorm, so on Friday afternoon, he pulled up at the appointed time to pick us all up.

As we were piling all our stuff in the trunk, he announced, "I think I'll just stay here for the weekend, Kit; you go on home." I had no idea how I was going to drive that car, but I couldn't disappoint those girls at the VERY last moment. So after berating my traitorous brother, who merely shrugged his shoulders and trudged off across campus, the rest of us got in, and I guess my riders hung on to their seats while I ground the gears all the way home. Anyway, I learned. And the old Dartre nearly got us through college.

Dorm Girls, Heading Home for the Weekend, Fall 1976

Going back even further, there was my dad's Station Wagon, the one I crashed when driving home from highschool band practice on a Saturday afternoon, on the county roads out where we lived (lots of accidents out there). I shudder, even now, thinking of how I might have killed myself, my sister, and those two other kids. Sometimes I wonder what on earth our elders were thinking! Couldn't any of them have given us a ride? For some reason, my mom's car, the one that I drove more often, was not available that morning, and I protested when my parents said I should drive the other car, rather than have one of them drive us there and back. Filled with reluctance, not used to power brakes and steering, I was a nervous wreck waiting to happen.

Distracted for a fleeting instant -- when one of the others in the car said, "Why is there a school bus out on a Saturday" and pointed off to the right -- I barely edged off the right side of the road. As soon as I felt that gravel shoulder under my tires, I steered left to get back on the road, over - corrected, and ended up in the left lane, heading straight at another car. I totally panicked, over - corrected again -- back to the right this time, went beyond my lane, across the right shoulder (where I had been the first time), and crashed right into a telephone pole, which broke in half, dangling dangerously over the car.

And that was in broad day - light, stone - cold sober! Yet another scary statistic of a teen-ager driving with other teens in the car. Not good!

As you could probably guess, after surviving the crash, my passengers and I were entirely heedless of any electrical issues, and all jumped right out of the car and ran to the nearest farm house to call my parents. Luckily, we weren't electrocuted, on top of everything else. I know my parents paid for the replacement of that telephone pole, which was NOT covered under our insurance. They were cross for a little while but went easy on me, knowing that I had very specifically, not to mention tearfully, requested a ride from them.

Shortly after the accident, my dad found a cartoonish advertisement for a corny movie entitled "Kitty Can't Help It." The caption read: "She doesn't mean to drive men wild, but Kitty can't help it." Well, my dad cut this ad out of the paper, crossed out the word "men" and changed the "y" to "i" to make it like my name: "She doesn't mean to drive wild, but Kitti can't help it" Hahaha!

I laughed and laughed and so did everyone else. That cartoon must have stayed on our refrigerator for the next ten years. I wish somewhere along the way I had pasted it into my scrapbook for safe keeping, but I'll never forget it anyway, so I guess that's about the same. That was my father's humor! Plus, that's how I knew I was forgiven for my recklessness.

Another way I knew was that a mere seven days after the accident, my parents needed something from the store and told me to go hop in the rental car (that we were using while the station wagon was being prepared) and run and get it. I did NOT want to do this, but they insisted. I was not allowed to refuse or convince myself that it was impossible. No more avoidance. "You can do it," they said. And I did it.

But that doesn't mean I enjoyed it. I share Holden Caulfield's skepticism of the automobile: "Take most people, they're crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they're always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that's even newer. I don't even like old cars. I mean they don't even interest me. I'd rather have a goddamn horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake" (from Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 17).

And Holden Caulfied isn't the only one. Although I can't recall a time in my life when I didn't know what a car was, I can understand perfectly the qualms of startled little Chiyo when she is first exposed to the hectic streets of Kyoto: "I'd never seen a car before. I'd seen photographs, but remember being surprised at how...well, cruel, is the way they looked to me in my frightened state, as though they were designed to hurt people more than to help them. All my senses were assaulted" (Memoirs of a Geisha, italics Golden's, 35). Like Chiyo, I've never really overcome the apprehension that when it comes to cars danger is lurking everywhere.

Quiz Time:

I am most afraid of: Losing a loved one in a car accident; even worse, being the cause of that accident.

My favorite car is: One with a driver.

I never really got the hang of: Driving.