where the writers are
Computer Glitches & An Evening with Jonathan Franzen

Breathe… In and out. Computer problems are a good way to practice breathing to keep from becoming too frustrated and that is what I am finding myself doing this morning. As I began reading and commenting on blogs, the internet connection was lost. First a yellow shading across the bars and now a big red X. I turned off the wireless router, turned it back on, and was patient, did my morning pages, stopped when I saw a sign of life and then it died again. It’s been at least 20 minutes now. I’m almost done with my decaf coffee and don’t feel quite satisfied because usually my coffee goes hand in hand with my blog reading. I could shout at the computer, yell profanities into the air, but that wouldn’t do any good. So I calmly breathe, take a big deep breathe and move on to other things, this being one of them. I’ve been running into this internet problem intermittently now for it seems days, even weeks. I’m not sure if it’s the hardware or the service provider.

Breathe. Computers and technology have a way of presenting opportunities to slow down, to step back, be patient, cool off. I don’t feel too annoyed, but I’m aware of wanting to do one thing and then I can’t and I feel like a child whose candy has been taken away. And in my morning page, nothing much was happening and I was thinking about that in general about how writing and to want something to always happen and to be able to convey it without allowing the editor or critic any space. It’s a constant up and down battle in a way, a battle with the self or wanting, to let loose and to know and be familiar with that feeling, of the wild feeling, but of not fully allowing the self to express. And it’s something that Jonathan Franzen said last night in his talk—about loyalty to the writer—that each writer comes to a point where they question who will be affected by what they write and of course when it concerns published work in the form of fiction and non-fiction by a best-selling author your talking about a much wider audience and of course your family or friends will see it and they may be hurt or angry or upset by it, but the writer has to be loyal to self. I needed to hear this advice as a way of breaking open the tight bud that sometimes wont allow its own self to flourish because it hasn’t learned yet to trust itself entirely and it knows there are thorns but the thorns are part of the process—the necessary element; and the bud—tightly wrapped—knows this intuitively and she watches herself and she opens and closes; opens and closes. It’s a long beautiful, ever growing process—a constant death and rebirth of self.

And when he consulted with an old friend on how to handle what he was writing about one day, his friend told him to write around it. Jonathan Franzen tells us we can write through it or write around it.

Franzen is a funny man. He came onto the stage, carrying a black backpack slung over his shoulder and he looked out to us, as with a nod to say hello. It seemed to me that he had this backpack as a way of holding on to something and I like that it was so causal. A backpack. He put the backpack on the table and commented on how he liked the table and everyone laughed. He took a folder from his backpack and opened on the podium, gather his pages. He unscrewed the cap from his water, took a swig. His movements were tentative and deliberate at the same time.

I’ve never read anything by Franzen and I only knew he would be here because I saw the mini-flyers in the library. Of course I wanted to see what this famous author had to say to us about memoir and fiction. In the interim I had checked out a few of his essay collections to get a sense of the man I would see speak. I read the introduction of one and was not immediately pulled into the essays of the first book, but I recognized most of the introduction in the notes that he was reading to us. I was certain of it, though I don’t think he directly mentioned that he would be reading from his book, but I recognized those words and no wonder he would choose to open his talk with the four questions that are usually asked of any published author and so he read through them as though he had prepared the speech for this talk. But then when I did a Wikipedia search, you can find the questions there, I thought, did I imagine reading the words he was speaking? Did I google him and forget? Why did I feel like I’ve heard these words? I don’t know the real answer, but the audience laughed at his delivery. It was informatively funny.

I laughed a lot because he’s funny and his voice reminded me of Steve Martin and also the narrator that also sounds like Steve Martin, narrating Steve Martin’s book An Object of Beauty. He has a punctuated way of speaking, and the way he read his work was how I believe I read it. The way I would read his work, matched his own voice reading his work. I was drawn into his thick black rimmed glasses, that reminded me of Buddy Holly. Physically, his face reminded me of the actor, Tim Robbins. Odd that Franzen made me think of these three people.

By the way, I loved An Object of Beauty. I like Martin’s writing style. His writing is confident and flows. He is in command. I read his novella, Shopgirl, a long time ago and he seems to have a fascination with exploring the relationships of younger woman falling for older men. I can relate to that in my past relationships. He has an acute sense of observation and the way he delves beneath the surface is interesting and seemingly accurate.  As An Object of Beauty progressed I found that it was predictable, but for me, that didn’t take away from Martin’s commentary on the art world. I fell for the characters and I learned about what goes on behind the scenes of the art world. If you love art, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

But back to Franzen. I thought it also funny that he said he doesn’t ever google himself, nor does he read reviews of his work. I can imagine that would be a very difficult part of being in the public eye. You put yourself out there and then as will always happen, there is someone that your work doesn’t quite sit with and they let you know and maybe sometimes they aren’t nice about it. That must be a horrible feeling, but as an old friend once said to me about her acceptance of the writer’s life, “You have to learn to eat rejection for breakfast.” Or something along those lines.

Overall, I’m glad to have heard Franzen speak about his work, especially the personal details beneath the writing of Corrections and also of how his first two book ideas were taken from movie plots. Go figure.

I think the event would have been more special for me if I were seeing a fellow Red Room member or author for whose work I’ve followed all these years and new member’s whose work I follow or any Red Room member that I’ve had contact with. And of course any author whose books I’ve read and admired. To me, even though this was a wonderful presentation by a famous author, it didn’t mean as much to me simply because I had no connection to the author. It could have meant more. He was a perfect stranger. He had wise words, yes. He shared, yes. But, and maybe this had something to do with it. I’m not sure. In the very beginning—we started a bit late—he seemed to suggest that he could take as long as he wanted to get those first words out and that he would do his job because, “I’m getting paid to be here.” And someone from the audience quietly said, “Yeah, we paid too.” But, I thought to myself, why would he even mention money at all. Why begin that way. Even though, much later he talked about where part of the proceeds go, it didn’t matter. The way he first presented it left a funny feeling in my being. This was one small moment, possibly overblown by my mind. It’s how I felt, but it didn’t take away from the whole.

Jonathan Franzen seems a funny, intelligent, quirky man. I enjoyed listening to him speak, when he spoke away from his own written words, when he stepped away from the podium, even if mere inches, and I liked when he would take a long pause before answering audience questions.

One person from the audience asked if he saw value in writing groups and he said they could be good, but that it depended on the relationship of the people in the group because that would determine reinforced responsibility or lack of. This made sense. Naturally if there is some connection, some caring, the group tries to adhere to creating a useful and encouraging environment. He also said, “after enough practice, you can see your own work.” I appreciated this advice.

I still have my library copy of Jonathan Franzen’s essays, How to be Alone and I’m looking forward to reading some of his essays. I would like to think I will finish the book, but I don’t think it will be possible with my reading already being pulled in several other directions, as I peck away at the books I’m currently reading.

I appreciate most of all how Franzen holds the physical book up high—that he holds the physical book with such high respect. He mentioned that he does not write his books with the idea that they could be made into a movie. He wants to write a book that does not translate into cinema. He wants the book to be such that it stands on its own and is enjoyed for the contents within its covers and that this experience can only be found in his book, not outside in a movie, but right there, just you and his story.

There is much to admire in Franzen. I’m glad to have been pulled in his direction by way of good marketing on the part of the library that had planned this event for two years I think they said. I am eager to read his essays and eventually his fiction and his new collection of essays, Farther Away.

I’ve tried to ignore the status internet connectivity symbol in the bottom corner of the screen and I seem to have written through it. I’ve been breathing and typing, letting it come out. Finally, after what seems an hour or more and I felt done, I went and turned off the power for the router and waited. I turned on the main computer, as I call it—the one directly connected—and the internet turned on. I went and looked at the wireless router, on hands and knees and noticed the little antenna was pointing toward down. I lifted it up and went to the laptop and iPad, the X at the bottom of my screen disappeared and was replaced by four strong bars of connectivity. Who knew the solution was so simple. It must have gradually been limping downward.

I wasn’t going to write about this experience, but apparently it wanted to come out and mingle with the page, to see what I thought about it and to take the time to  appreciate meeting Jonathan Franzen, if only from in my seat, because I didn’t stay longer than when the audience applauded as he sort of skipped off the stage waving to us like a school boy that was going to miss his bus. There he goes…Thank you, Mr. Franzen.

Comments
4 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

i am glad that you came out

i am glad that you came out and mingled with the page. i found what you had to say and discovered to be of great interest from my own writing perspective and that of a reader. i think you wrote honestly and with great insight Rebb. i think this blog will, in my case at least, have to be read and reread to savour the words, just like tasting a salad dressing to ensure it is of the right consistency while knowing all along that it is. nice one. mx

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you, Mary. I didn’t

Thank you, Mary. I didn’t realize how much I had written until I was done and saw the page count. I like the salad analogy. It feels like that to me too. I realized I could have cut some things out, but I wanted to keep it as close to how it came out of me without too much meddling. I can always come back to it and modify the consistency. Thanks for your insights!

Comment Bubble Tip

Rebbecca, Loved this thought

Rebbecca,

Loved this thought provoking post. It was honest, forthright and interesting.

I read it, like Mary, from the perspective of both writer, and reader. I've read the Corrections and I was interested in his comments about writing without thought of making it into a movie, and your own comments of how you did not share a connection with the author. 

I don't know how many people venture out to hear a unknown (to them) author, yet would be more willing perhaps, to hear an unknown musician.

I don't know what the connection is, but I may ponder that for a while!

Thanks again for your wonderful post. I'm so glad your internet was down this morning!

Annette

Comment Bubble Tip

Annette, Thank you. I’m glad

Annette, Thank you. I’m glad this one spoke to you too. I think that partially what happened is that I was processing the experience and though I wasn’t planning on writing about it at all, it was inevitable because I had been thinking about it too much. The way that you and Mary read it is the mindset that I went to see him with: As a reader and a writer. That’s why even though I didn’t know him personally, that he was going to also talk about memoir in addition to fiction was part of the draw for me. I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say, even thought I didn’t know his work beforehand.

Interesting that you would venture out to see an unknown (to you) musician.

Thanks for reading and sharing.