Girl Crush: Jennifer Egan


I was behind the game on Jennifer Egan, and became familiar with her only after she won the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Goon Squad. A Visit From the Goon Squad is a series of interlocking stories, and I’ve heard some complain that in the end the chapters did not come together neatly enough for them. But for me, this book was perfect. I loved that there was no bow to tie it all up. Sometimes, life’s a mess. In real life, we really do lose track of people who once meant so much to us. The characters were loosely connected through space and time, and sometimes we saw what the world looked like through their eyes and sometimes we saw how they looked through other people’s eyes. I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how we perceive ourselves versus the way others perceive us. How vast or narrow that gap can be.

I loved the book because it was:
A. Different than anything I’ve ever read.  It continued to surprise me, right up to the last page.
B. Well-written.
C. Both entertaining and profound. It covered the gamut of emotions. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always true. All of the characters (and there were a lot of them) felt so real to me.

 Anyway. Jennifer Egan is on my mind because I just read her story Black Box in the Science Fiction issue of the New Yorker. It’s indeed science fiction–strange and haunting. But it’s also a very human story , (how much can we sacrifice before we sacrifice too much?)  I was reading it in our extraordinarily comfortable La-z-Boy and got sleepy toward the end, so I took a nap right afterward. I had a dream that I was in the story, the main character, on this mysterious, frightening mission in the Mediterranean surrounded by violent criminals, (perhaps Egan’s use of the second person convinced me that it was actually me.)

Randomly enough, a friend emailed me the link to the story today, and told me that it was originally composed on a twitter feed, which is so dang cool. No wonder each sentence is so careful. Each is a story unto itself.

Being alone with a violent and ruthless
man, surrounded by water, can make the
shore seem very far away.

In a great three part interview with Slate Magazine, Egan says that she tries to create a new challenge for herself with each book. Once, she wrote from the perspective of a prisoner and tried to do away with all lyrical language. Now, she’s writing historical fiction. In a reading that Elissa Bassist (great writer, a woman I knew back when I was involved with the SF lit scene) went to, Egan explained that for Goon Squad:

She set three rules:

1. Every chapter must have a different protagonist.
2. Every chapter must have a different theme and feel.
3. Each chapter must stand alone.

I love this idea of inventing a new framework for each piece. Of committing completely to it. How thrilling for a writer. Each piece a brand new adventure for her to write, and for us to read. I love how she’s willing to toy with format, (one chapter of Goon Squad is a girl’s powerpoint ‘journal.’)  I love that I never know what to expect from her, but that I can be sure that I will be delighted, intrigued, and always satisfied.

Getting Old(er)

I’ve been thinking a lot about getting old lately.

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday. Maybe it’s because I was just at my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Or maybe it’s because Dan and I went to see the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last weekend.

My grandmother is quite a character and I wish you all could meet her. She’s a hardcore conservative, ravenous Fox News-watcher, and a god-fearing Catholic. (After my dad divorced my first wife, his parents purchased him a retreat weekend. My dad arrived, unpacked his bags, went to the first meeting, and realized that the topic of the weekend was ‘A life of celibacy.’ Cause, you know, divorce is a sin or whatever. Dad promptly packed his bags and left.) And while my political/social views could not be more opposite, Grandma Ernie is one of my heroes.

My adorable family with Grandma Ernie

Her greeting is positively the best: “Oh my Sky! My beeeaaautiful granddaughter.”

She’s had the same couch for probably 35 years.

She managed several apartment buildings single-handedly well into her eighties. 

She issued a groan of joy upon receiving our gift–a simple calendar with all of the family birthdays written in. It was the kind of genuine over-the-moon disbelief-sound most people reserve for things like a new car.

Grandma’s tough, stubborn, frugal, she prays every morning and every night, and sincerely overflows with love. For her, it’s all about family.

And there we were–all her sons and their children and our spouses in one room for the first time in many many years. “This is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” she said.

The Hornig Clan

I guess when I think about getting old I can only hope that’s how it goes. I’m all filled up the brim on my 90th birthday thinking ‘it just doesn’t get any better than this.’

I know it sounds crazy (and probably a little bit stupid) but I don’t think I really realized I would get old until I turned 30. I mean I knew I would get old, but I didn’t really believe it.  It kind of crashed down on me like a tidal wave.

It’s partially why I wanted to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel–a movie about seven Brits who make their way to India for retirement. The film is superbly acted (can’t go wrong with Judy Dench, Bill Nighy or Maggie Smith), heartwarming, a feast for the eyes, and funny. There are nuggets of wisdom throughout. My favorite perhaps is when a crotchety lady asks one of her comrades how he ‘can bear India.’ What does he see that she doesn’t.

Even the trailer will warm your heart.

“People here see life as a privilege, not a right. I think I can learn something from that.”

I’ve been having totally unreasonable panic attacks that my life is over. That whatever I haven’t already done I will never do.  Yes, I know- crazy talk. But I guess I’m saying I appreciated the stories of these older folks and the little lessons…that our lives are constantly evolving, that adventures lie in hidden corners, that is never too late to do something, or to change your life or your self.

How’d I land such a cute guy? I shall never know…

Turning 31 was sweet. It was so far from my 30th birthday with oodles of friends camping out on the coast of California, and getting drunk enough to plant my ass on a styrofoam cooler around midnight, (true story). It was cake with my nieces and nephew. A long, fancy dinner with my husband. Shopping with Mom at Target. And toasting my grandmother on her 90th.

My sweet nephew and niece! Georgia and Will

So the world turns and on we go.

Introducing the turquoise Sportsters, my pirate helmet, and ladybug bicycle bell

Today I got an email from Chris Marshall (friend of Dan’s, now friend of mine) that was subject headed Tough Love. This is what it said:

Sky’s Blog stats

March
1 post (you just started near the end of the month so this is acceptable)
April
4 posts (about 1 per week. good job!)
May
2 posts (slipping…) and one was only a coming soon notice
June
What will it bring?
—-> Insert whip sound here<—–
It’s true that I deserve a little whipping. Chris might be the only person reading this- (you’re the best Chris!) but if I can’t keep my one reader happy, then I really am a complete failure. 
May’s been crazy. This past weekend was the first in a month that Dan and I woke up in our own bed with nothing planned. It was both divine and disorienting. We probably asked each other, “What do you want to do?” about a hundred times.  
So first we harvested some rhubarb. Yes! Rhubarb. We have an enormous plant in our little parking spot. What does a rhubarb plant look like? Glad you asked.
Our rhubarb- post harvest. It was more magnificent pre-harvest.

 Here’s Dan chopping off the leaves. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Who knew?

The harvest:

Pretty impressive, hey? (People always add the word ‘hey’ at the end of questions like that here. Eh I was expecting but ‘hey’ was a surprise. Maybe it’s all the same.)

After all of this rhubarb-ing, we decided it was time to take our new Sportsters out for a spin. Dan found us these beauties on Kijiji (Canada’s Craig’s List) for forty bucks apiece.  

That’s right. Turquoise his n’ hers.

For those of you who aren’t married yet, I would highly recommend marrying someone who has different ideas and priorities than you do. I never would have sought out these bikes. Never would have buffed the chrome to such a sheen, or taken them to the Good Life bike shop to tune them up.  But look at those shimmering turquoise bicycles. Am I lucky or what?

Dan never stops beautifying these pups.

Dan also bought me this here ladybug bell.

My 6-year-old niece was extremely jealous of this bell.
This motherfucking ladybug takes no prisoners.

Also, you guys. Check out my helmet.

That’s right bitches. A pirate helmet!
We bicycled along the Bow River.  I’m not going to lie to you. The Sportsters are a fast smooth ride.  We leave a turquoise jet stream in our wake. It’s a beautiful thing.
Whenever I move to a new city, I seek out my favorite places. This is one of them in Calgary. It’s along the river and away from the road.  When you’re there, you forget you are in a city. It’s quiet. And you’re usually alone.

On Saturday it was just the two of us and the Sportsters. With nowhere to go and nothing to do.