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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Set them on fire

"When I got them, I knew I would set them on fire."

Sifting through my college papers today, I found a stack of my creative writing, all of which bears heavy traces of my obsessions with Joan Didion, Amy Hempel, and Lydia Davis. There are a lot of single-line short stories in the vein of the latter two writers--e.g. from Amy Hempel: "She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, 'French film, French film" ("incanting" makes the sentence) and the sublime "Just once in my life--oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once?" I heard Lydia Davis speak a few years ago about Varieties of Disturbance, she noted that she had to be choosy about which of those kinds of stories are good enough to be collected.

Needless to say, the italicized line above is not Amy Hempel or Lydia Davis-quality, so I'm left to Joan Didion to reinterpret it. (I also found a poster from the night I met her and awkwardly gave her something I had written about her--the stuff of legends in my writing classes now.) From Didion's "On Keeping a Notebook":
"It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one's self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends."

I made a few phone calls yesterday to see if I could place this line from a college conversation: I think someone's mother had sent her a pair of slacks from Talbot's, or maybe it was more egregious, like Halloween sweaters. Didion would go for the first in her correcting mode, right? The second possibility is too much:
"What kind of magpie keeps a notebook? 'He was born the night the Titanic went down.' That seems a nice enough line, band I even recall who said it, but is it not really a better line in life than it could ever be in fiction?"

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Anonymous Alice's mom on Sun Apr 12, 04:46:00 PM:
I think it was a Halloween sweater. I seem to have a dim memory of hearing about this travesty.

But remember that your mother's mother used to say "Ethan Allen" in reverential tones and never worked up to buying anything there, although she had enough money.

And your mother, still living, still jeans-wearing, non-owner of a single holiday or otherwise decorated sweater, might nevertheless have the occasional fantasy of going into Talbot's (I've never been in) and buying something "classic."

So I'm hoping that if as a college student you had an immediate response to an item from Talbot's, it was a) ageist and not classist and b) didn't occur until at least your sophomore year.

As usual, don't take this very seriously.

Blogger Alice on Sun Apr 12, 05:55:00 PM:
It's cool, I was being ageist.