Monday, March 29, 2010

Ann Patchett and I Could've Been Friends...

“A friend of mine wrote on Facebook that he was suicidal and thinking about jumping off a bridge. So I poked him.” Tom Rhodes.

This is my way of saying I’m feeling pretty good lately. I’ve been exercising, I’ve been getting out some, and I’m hopeful about the sunny, warm weather promised later this week. If it rains on Easter, I know a meteorologist who will never see Christmas.

In other news, my blog seems to be dying a slow and natural type of death. This is me trying to revive it:

So, Ann Patchett was in town on Friday. Who is Ann Patchett? She’s just about the eighth to tenth greatest American female writer writing today! (If you have not read the novel Bel Canto, please do so yesterday.) I picked up John at work and we ventured to the local community college to hear her speak. I was so excited! I put on lipstick for her.

Ms. Patchett is obviously brilliant. She was funny and thoughtful and seemingly gracious. She name-dropped (I was talking with John Irving…), talked about her hatred of technology (she will never be on Facebook-sigh), and gave us some insight into what it was like to write her most famous novel (that’s an awful day when you kill your characters.)

As I sat listening to her speak, I was pretty sure that Ann was going to by next best friend. It was all so obviously meant to be. I would go up to her and say: Hey… I know a great little bistro. Let’s grab a panini and discuss Thomas Mann.

She would reply: That’d be great! I have such trouble getting people to discuss Thomas Mann with me!

I would say: Why would anyone not want to discuss Thomas Mann?

And she’d say: I know, right? I like you!

This never occurred, mainly because she floored me with her thoughts on a particular subject of interest to me.

I will set the scene for you. A student asked Ms. Patchett what she would have been if she had not been a writer. Ms. Patchett replied that if she could be reincarnated, she would be reincarnated as a woman with eight kids, just to see what that experience would be like. She admitted she has never cared for children.

“I have no interest in children. Not mine, not others,” she said. “Children take up all your time and don’t go away.”

Now, she said this all casually, in a lighthearted manner. She went on to explain that the things she enjoys most, listening to music, reading, and writing, could not be done with a two-year old running around. For her, the choice was obvious: books or children. Since she cared little for children, she chose books.

After she finished speaking on this topic, I turned to John.

“I am floored!” I said. “Simply floored.”

I have no problem with Ann Patchett’s disinterest in childbearing. It doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Two-year olds are noisy. And distracting. And they leave snot all over your cushions.

But I submit that most anything ANY adult enjoys doing best cannot be enjoyed with kids about. If everyone took this into great consideration before acquiring a child, we would have a lot fewer people in the world today.

My problem was her either/or attitude. Instead of saying “children or books” she could have just said, “I just never had an interest in having children.”

Yes, having children makes writing more challenging. When they are awake, I can’t read a page in a book without someone asking me for a cheese stick. (They love cheese sticks.) And no, I can’t run off to the Amazon to research my latest book. I mean, if I had a latest book, which would suggest I had an earlier book, which I don’t. I suppose I’m proving Ms. Patchett’s point here.

I was bewildered by her comments. Her dream was to become a writer. What happens if someone has two dreams, say have children AND be a writer? And what if that person is by nature, quiet? What if her personality is a lot like Ann Patchett’s?

I did a little bit of research. I looked up well-regarded (living) female writers to see how many children they had. Here’s what I found out:

Margaret Atwood-1 daughter
Anne Tyler- 2 daughters
Ann Patchett- 0 children
Anne Lamott- 1 son
Alice Munro- 3 children
Barbara Kingsolver- 2 daughters
Jhumpa Lahiri- 2 daughters
Joyce Carol Oates- 0 children
A.S. Byatt- 4 children
Toni Morrison- 2 kids

Average: 1.5 kids.

My conclusion: If AS Byatt ever comes to town, I’m totally going to hear HER speak.


MGBR said...

But what about men who are writers? Do children interfere with their vocation? Why or why not? (These questions are admittedly Elvera Berry-ish.)

Toaster said...

Remember I said that I had read books by her daughter? I got it backwards--it is her MOTHER! Her mother is author Jeanne Ray, and she writes very light-hearted books (I am sure VERY different from Bel Canto, which I have not read). But you should read Eat Cake--very fun!

Anonymous said...

It is possible! It is; it is! It just takes lots of time, lots of patience and lots of cheese sticks. If it weren't for cheese sticks, my children would starve. :)

Holly said...

MGBR- I wasn't going to pull out my plucky feminist streak, but you've unleashed it with your comment.

Men are expected to follow their vocational calling, or their "dreams." Fatherhood is a man's responsibility, but is rarely described as a man's calling.

Apparently, motherhood is still looked upon as an all-or-nothing vocation. If a woman chooses to have aspirations beyond homemaking AND have children, she is incapable of giving her best to either. At least, that's the idea that Ann seems to be perpetuating.

Perhaps she is saying, "If you have a big dream-don't approach it halfway, give it your all!"

Or maybe she is saying,

"Motherhood is for women who are not intellectually motivated."

Or perhaps she was trying to say,

"Look. I'm sorry. I just don't do kids."

All I know is that her words got me in a John Locke from Lost type of mood. Hey lady, don't tell me what I can't do.

Everyone should still read Bel Canto, though.

Elizabeth said...

Great post. Good thing her Mum didnt like books.

freckletree. said...

Dear love, I can't tell you how much I enjoy your posts.

Also? I think you should leave your family.

And join my book club.

Anonymous said...

Prove her wrong, Holly! So many "Mom-Writers" have already. Look at the Twighlight series (Ok, so it's not exactly a high form of literature). S.M. went down to her basement office and typed out her books after putting her kids to bed.

Heidi said...

I had not heard of Ann Patchett until this post. Now one of our homeschooling mother's is looking to do a book club meeting on it. I guess now I am going to have to read it! I will let you know what I think. When I am done I will post a book review on my blog ( about it.

@nicolewick said...

I am soooooo glad we found each others blogs! I love your writing... great tone and style. And of course I totally love your hat!

Anonymous said...

I just finished "State of Wonder" and enjoyed Patchett's writing very much, but the ending of the book makes it very obvious that the author has never had children. While children would have given her less time to write, the experience would have made her a much richer writer. I guess there's always a trade off, but I personally would not have wanted to miss out on the experience of having children.

Holly said...

Me either! State of Wonder is on my list... Thanks for stopping by!