I like detective stories. Henning Mankell says that character is revealed in moments of crime, or something like that, and he uses his detective novels, many of which are also films, to talk about politics, too. Which makes me feel better about it, as if simple pleasure is not enough. I’ve watched all the Scandinavian crime TV shows on Netflix. The cops hardly ever carry guns. Fat old cops chase down young muscular criminals and catch them, somehow, through sheer force of will or authority. European cops often go right into people’s homes if the people are gone, and we don’t even mind because they are good. European criminals hardly ever think to say they want a lawyer. Usually detectives drink too much, but we don’t hold that against them unless they are female. If they are female, it’s troubling. We worry about them in a way we don’t if they are male, even if we are feminist and know this is illogical. When I read Donna Leon, I want my husband to be Commissario Brunetti, and I want to live in Venice. For a long time after the Supreme Court appointed Bush president, I only read detective novels. I wanted a world in which things got sorted out eventually, a world in which the bad guys lost, the good guys won, the truth prevailed.
I am looking again at my manuscript which Jessica said is too “dark,” a complaint I can’t understand. And I am thinking of how to edit a short piece I wrote which was inspired by Walter Pater’s Child in the House, but I wonder if it’s too obscure. I want to rewrite my unpublished novel, The Only Home I Have, so that all the minor characters don’t seem like cliches. I want to rewrite my novel draft, The Secret Bible Club, based on the American Eugenics Movement, so that the front story is at least as interesting as the back story. I want to develop a collection of short stories, but first I need to read more Chekov. I want to finish my book about Ten Mile. I want to write a screenplay. I just want to be a writer. But I need to work in the garden and I want to play with the baby and I need to cook and I want to organize my closet. And I have to finish my syllabus for class, which starts Monday.
The structure … is always the story of how the birds came home to roost. –Arthur Miller
I’ve been watching Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender series. I like crime movies. but I don’t like to dwell on the crime, which is what American crime movies usually do, as if the crime is what’s interesting. I went to see The Life of Pi, even though I don’t like movies or books that take place on boats. The Life of Pi was visually interesting, but the film itself only becomes interesting retrospectively, as revealed in the final five minutes of the movie, and by then it is too late. I went to see Cloud Atlas and I’m sure I would have liked it more if I hadn’t gone with David who is an atheist, but I do wish they would have resisted sentimentality. I also saw Lincoln and was, first of all, surprised to discover a popular American film that relied so completely on interesting dialogue.
It’s Christmas and Christmas always makes me feel that I fall short. My goal: to have a job that allows me to be gone every winter. I told Sarah yesterday that living in Oregon in the winter is like being wrapped in a tarp. She said that was exactly right, but I said I should stop describing it like that. But no, it’s exactly right, she insisted. But still, that’s not the way to think of it, even if it is true. I should walk more, even if it is like being under a tarp. I am morose in the winter. I’ve finished the final chapter of my novel, Watching Rhonda Honey, which I’ve renamed Little Bird. Crystal says there is a restaurant in Portland named Little Bird, but surely that won’t matter.
When we questioned the District Attorney about the decision to use a SWAT team that night, a “small army,” as one of the journalists characterized it, the DA said that overwhelming force generally encourages submission. Research shows that, he said. At one time, not too long ago, a SWAT team was called in only in rare cases: when hostages had been taken or if there was a mass shooting, but now they are used for common crimes. They are used to help serve search warrants. Now our police are militarized. There is no longer a clear line between our police force – whose job it is to protect us—and the military – whose mission is to annihilate the enemy.
According to Radley Balko, writing in the Huffington Post, since the 1994, it has been legal for the Pentagon to donate its surplus weapons to the police.
In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.
At the end of the 1968 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, the police show up. Zombies, they have realized, can be destroyed if you shoot them in the head. They are shooting zombies. Looking up they see a black man, the movie’s hero, at the window of a house, and he is not a zombie, but they quickly shoot him and move on. He is clearly not a zombie, but he is not part of their group either. Like the zombies, he is part of the “other,” and this is what disturbs me about the increasing militarization of the police, that with it comes also an increasing dehumanization, that we all become the enemy, the other.
~this is an excerpt of the book I’m currently writing. Non-fiction, for a change.
I thought of a short story last night while I did the dishes and it was all whole in my mind but then I worked on math, watched an episode of Twin Peaks, drank a glass of wine, read a little of Henry James and went to sleep and now I haven’t the slightest idea about that story, even though, at the time, is was complete in my mind.
Frieda decides to run away from home. What song would it be?
On the radio this morning an actor described making a film about the rape of Nanking. He worried because the actresses were required to cry so much and he said prolonged emotion is hard on actors but then, as he watched, one of the girls turned to him and winked. Can you do it even when don’t feel it? Larry McMurtry said he hated writing Lonesome Dove, but how could he not enjoy writing something that is such a pleasure to read?
It’s flooding in Oregon. The school where I work is an evacuation center. It’s selfish, but I love big weather. I wouldn’t feel this way if it were my family washed away or my home or anyone I knew or maybe if I had more imagination or heart.
Virginia Woolf said that we should write what interests us, what moves us. I ran away from home when I was fifteen, but now it feels like someone else.
Earlier I said I didn’t think MMM was worth the anxiety I experienced watching it, but I found myself thinking of the film all day today and, better still, thinking beyond the film: thinking of what it said. Thinking about the prisons we allow ourselves to live in, about fundamentalism, cults, domestic violence, about the human longing for a charismatic leader or, at least, absolute answers. When the film ended, it seemed incomplete. But in retrospect I think that what I saw as the flaw was really the strength: we share Martha’s confusion about what is happening, what is being remembered, and what is imagined. She doesn’t trust anything and neither do we. She can’t tell what is really happening and we aren’t sure either. The film leaves us with a sense of uncertainty and paranoia. I think that means it worked. I think it’s an important, brave film. Well acted and well told and worth the anxiety experienced by its audience.
I’m reading A Moveable Feast. I want to go to Paris in the 20s but clearly that will not work out. When I went to Paris I met a woman named Beatrice whose apartment was full of books. She had a painting of flowers on the wall that matched the flowers I brought. Beatrice took me to a structure built by the Romans and gave me creme de cassis to drink.
I want to be in my town the way Beatrice is in hers, even though I have less to work with.
Obviously Hemingway should have stayed with his first wife, Hadley, but it’s common to imagine something we don’t have is better than what’s right in front of us.
Last night I went to The Dark Side see Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene with Mya –how’s that for alliteration– and then to Les Caves to drink Belgium beer. I’m willing to experience anxiety during a film, to be afraid, worried, sad, frustrated, and angry, if the film makes it worth it. I’m not sure Martha was worth it, although I admired its portrayal of the way young females can sometimes agree to give up our autonomy, our safety, pleasure, self- respect, our humanity. I did that when I was nineteen, but I don’t want to talk about it today.
Maybe we’ll go to Hawaii or maybe we’ll go to Savannah or Mexico. I want to sit on a beach, drinking cold beers and reading novels. I want the sun beating down on me. Camus said that even the poorest Algerian has it better than a European because in Algiers the sun always shines.
Doris Lessing says that writers don’t need memoirs or biographies.The writer reveals herself through her writing. She says, for instance, that you can clearly understand Dickens by reading his novels. You can see his different personalities. His novels are a map of who he is.
Scott Trurow taught himself to write by studying Dickens.
Lessing is always urging us to experience life directly instead of “through a screen of theories, ideas, political correctness, and so forth.” That is not so easily done.
I went to see Midnight in Paris last night which is about learning to find contentment where we are, but it made me want to find contentment in Paris.
Writing is both deeply personal and oddly impersonal at the same time. My friend Susan Coast always said that when you tell a story it stops belonging to you. It belongs to whoever hears it. I’ve felt that way about my own writing. On one hand, I’m mortified by the way in which my writing exposes me. But, at the same time, I feel like once I put something down on paper it has nothing to do with me.