Today I am afflicted with a disease I know all too well: simple narrative envy. And in this case, it’s not because some people’s childhoods seem simple to me, even if there is some trauma, they seem to have one maybe two and with the same people involved – but in this case it’s as I’m finishing Jennifer Egan’s ‘Welcome to the Goon Squad,’ which is really, really good. And I look at the jacket cover, the good reviews, see her picture – she’s gorgeous - realize she’s married to a New York theater director I like – and I just hate her. No, I don’t actually hate her, it’s just pure envy.
The book by the way does not have a simple narrative, and I imagine she sweated blood to write it, but I see she is a writer, has been a writer and continues to be a writer. She has stayed focused, she has success and talent.
My life is not like that. It never has been like that, and I doubt it ever will be. I have been gifted or afflicted with many different talents (well hopefully talents) and have ping-ponged between them, sometimes integrating them (as when writing stage texts and directing them) and other times feeling them at cross purposes, for instance trying to run a theatre company and find time to write and direct, including writing the longer prose projects I embark on but do not finish.
And this is what Jennifer Egan’s book captures so beautifully, which is why I now hate her. She has the simple narrative of being a writer, but has captured fragmentation so successfully. Each chapter is from a different point of view, but interlinks with the previous one, she spans multiple decades and even pulls off a masterful chapter done in power point as written by a 13 year old. All hail. I hate her.
And of course I am wildly grateful to Egan and David Foster Wallace (I am one of those: one of his Abject Fans) for showing that what I always suspected was possible in writing is indeed possible. I hope I can pull off my own version of what I see in their writing – the ability to wend their way through multiple viewpoints and move between the micro and macroscopic with ease. Egan, it should also be noted, in her book does a kind of wicked satire of a DFW style article…though I imagine – well, hope – she meant it as a satire of a DFW wannabe rather than Wallace himself.
I am writing all this still in rural Scotland on the seaside, having had a lovely coastal walk yesterday to the little local village with internet connection. The walk included seeing deer unexpectedly jumping out of a gorse hedge through a small pond. There is something magical about deer, and I realize in moments like that how little of the natural world we see anymore. I don’t know if this is just about living in cities but just in general – so much of it has been contained or cultivated. Of course I live in the UK now where this is true more than in the US. On the other hand, in Scotland anyway, there is a right to roam, so all the coastal routes and walking paths are open to the public, even if on private property. Unlike the US, you cannot own a view or a patch of beauty. But there is of course way less land that is not managed or cultivated.
My father in law just walked in to the cottage and my husband is still out in the village, so I guiltily asked for more time to write and he went back to the other cottage. I feel so jealous of these minutes of writing. I think I have some idea that if I can write everything down, there will be some kind of freedom in that. I wonder if I am completely delusional in this way.
The sea today is calm, the Isle of Man is visible and I am in one of the middle places between calm and anxious. I feel the space again as an absence where my theatre company was, but am still holding it open not filling it yet with anything in particular.
In the distance, the sea is sparkling with sunlight and the fact is I really don’t have that much to say at this moment, so I will fall into silence.
Below are some images from my walks the past couple of days….