Tuesday, December 4, 2007


From the Archives

(February 2006) Norman Mailer once described himself as the
embattled aging enfant terrible of the literary world, wise father of six children, radical intellectual, existential philosopher, hardworking author, champion of obscenity ... amiable bar drinker, and much exaggerated street fighter, party giver, hostess insulter ... [who] had ... a fatal taint, a last remaining speck of the one personality he found absolutely insupportable—the nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.

I drove all morning just to have lunch with a writer pal who fits much of this description but is decidedly NOT a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.

Tuscaloosa and I met at a Chapel Hill restaurant where racuous southern grrrls like us sometimes seek out flour-dredged ecstasy in between our healthy meals and we caught up over Mama Dip's sweet tea. Then I handed over the edits to her first draft of an excellent nonfiction piece and she handed over her comments to the newest draft of my novel.

Her essay is a real doozy of a piece, a thoughtful reflection on what happens to girls who are so damaged that they turn in on themselves.

I also reviewed her new book contract. And we decided that I really need to find a way to cut back on my academic demands so that I have some chance of giving some more readings with her.

(Plus, damn it, I am tired of being a thank you in another writer’s acknowledgments when what I want is to hold my own published novel in my own two hands and thank all of my friends and colleagues for a change!)

We wound up discussing the “rough South” stereotype over lunch and describing atrocities in our matter-of-fact way that so many people cannot stomach.

Then our conversation wound its way around to The Piano Teacher, a French film that left both of us speechless.

Practically everyone else we know stormed out of the theatre during the screening of this film, but we went back to see it again because it validated our experiences/depicted the damage that we’ve seen with incredible accuracy.

So yeah. We talked about all this in the context of our writing, and that got me thinking about my friend who grew up Seventh Day Adventist.

She had no access to films or television or public education or mainstream culture as a child and cannot view violence now. Nor can she understand why I would voluntarily read poetry of witness or watch films such as Hotel Rwanda or Schindler’s List or Bastard Out of Carolina and allow such graphic violence into my life.

But, let’s face it, violence happens on a very regular basis and often on our tax dollars. And I guess, if my hands aren’t clean, then I want to know about it.

Don't you?

Meanwhile I have discovered that, like Mr. Mailer, I am a much exaggerated street fighter.

I studied two styles of martial arts for years and taught self-defense for a while and still operate under the general assumption that, if need be, I could disarm most would-be attackers and, well kick some serious ass should the situation call for it.

This assumption has proven true the very few times that I have had to defend myself, but my new kung fu classes are kicking my ass now and exposing me as the wimp that I have somehow become.

Kung fu is based on monkeys’ movements. This style differs greatly from the styles I studied previously, particularly because the stances involve crouching so low to the ground that your bent knee nearly scrapes the floor (which makes your thighs scream as they become rock hard).

I sit on my ass for way too many hours a day now, I guess, and must have gotten out of shape when I wasn't looking because, wow, these sessions are KILLING me!

(Ow. Wimper. Ow.)


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