Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Escalation Of Cool Commentary

A GoMama'ntary:

Hey everybody, Andi Buchanan's just posted her fantastic piece called "The Escalation Of Cool" which she presented as part of a panel discussion about memoirs and women writing their way through motherhood at the recent ARM Conference up in Toronto. She comments on the proliferation of the new "bad mother" tone and the edgy, hard angle one seems to need these days in order to get their writing published, and what that may be doing to constrict the identifiable definition of motherhood even more than being a "good mother" did.

In some ways I feel it dovetails with some issues I've struggled with while hearing about other writer's childhoods, thinking that the ante of horrors one has to survive in order to compellingly write memoir is so "upped" now, I really should just shut up already. If it isn't a freakishly hellish life, then maybe it isn't interesting or "competitive" enough a memoir for the marketplace. I don't know.

And then that multi-faceted gem we've been tossing about, what is memoir, what is nonfiction, what is truth, what is literal, what is artistic reinterpretation or "heightening of the story," seems to rear its complex head again. Perhaps we should just blow all categories out altogether…"here's a story…fact or fiction, you decide"…and force everyone to sharpen their own truth or bs detectors.

Props to Jen at tomama who likened the whole thing to fashion, saying that "bad is the new black." It's much harder to push grey, or knotted, isn't it? Authentic and real has always been a tougher sell. It isn't sexy. But as I said before, perhaps like a pot that is about to simmer over with trendy "hip" marketing strategies, once those boil off, it's the real and authentic that endures.

Not wanting to hijack Andi Buchanan's comment section, I thought I'd post my commentary here and widen the dialogue. Feel free to jump in anytime.

Here's my take:

So what if it's funny, it's edgy, it's hip, or it's untrue? It sells, baby. It gets optioned. It makes the bucks. So what if it is over-dramatized, re-slanted for publication, non-representative of the mass reality? Who cares? We love a good story, right? We just as giddily lap up the Desperate Housewives' soap-opera for the same empty, glamorous thrill it delivers. Real depictions of women? No, it's candy. Not even smart candy. But we, as a nation, eat it up.

Just to get something off my chest, one of the books cited in Andi's piece, at least the excerpt "Prenatal Guru To The Stars" from Brett Paesel's Mommies Who Drink, is creative fiction. Now I don't know Brett, I haven't read her whole book and I certainly don't wish her any ill-will because she seems like the kind of smart, sassy woman I'd love to hang out with, but I also happen to live in LA and recognize the "yoga guru" she writes about. I was in "Rananda's" pre and post-natal classes every week for almost 2 years. She's the one who personally recommended Pema Chodron's When things Fall Apart to me when I needed clarity. Except for the graham crackers and tea presented, much of the ensuing star name-dropping dialogue is completely out of character and nothing that "Rananda" would actually say, but hey, it's a funny read. Yeah, I laughed. I even laughed knowing who she modeled the piece after. But was it true? Not really. More like fiction. Very loosely based on a real situation.

I haven't read all the other books on Andi's list, but I can't help but believe Christie Mellor's Three Martini Playdate was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. This wasn't classified as memoir or nonfiction. This was comedy, right? Had to be. C'mon, no one really took her seriously when she instructed you to teach your child to make and fetch cocktails for you, that we should revert back to the seen and not heard era of child-rearing, did they? Are we to believe she was completely serious?

Perhaps publishers need to come up with some new book classifications. Perhaps people need to start to think between the lines and define their own personal truth.

Maybe what we should be asking instead is what is the truth and what is entertainment? And then, who are the truth police? How do we as people, specifically as mothers, determine what rings true for us personally?

I think the difficulty comes in trying to fully identify oneself within the mainstream media...in any arena. I don't look to the media to tell me who I should be. We as people are unique, complex people, and cannot be defined by labels, facades, or stereotypes. Just because I might not resonate with being represented as the hip, cool, bitchy, hot, drunk, depressed mama as suggested in recent books and printed media, doesn't make my experience as a mother any less authentic. I might identify with some of those experiences at times, or I might not at all. Either way, my experience is valid, even if it isn't accurately represented in the media.

If anything, we should be media-savvy enough by now to know how much of this is manipulated and driven by the bottom line. This is capitalism, the free marketplace. Once we understand this concept, we can stop looking for our identity, acceptance and validation externally, and can refocus on what is true or authentic for each of us.

I like to think of it as a buffet. There's all kinds of sh$t out there, from twinkies to cognac-infused flaming duck a l'orange. There's something not just for everyone but for every mood. We each get a plate and can choose whatever we want. But it's up to us to choose wisely, and to feed ourselves well.

In my circles, I feel that there's plenty of authentic, non-extremist writing being done via blogs, smaller online mom e-groups, and literary magazines which do embrace the whole messy experience and attempt to build virtual support and community for one another. Maybe they aren't getting published as loudly or as much in the traditional way, but the voices are out there for those who seek them.

Perhaps replacing the "good" perception with the snarky, the drunk, or the "bad" one is just another step in the right direction of shattering ANY one-noted view of motherhood, or life for that matter. It's personal. It's profound. It cannot be encapsulated into a mask. We can write and talk about it until we're blue in the face and we still don't get it quite right. Like love, or survival, motherhood continues to surprise me…its an uncontainable evolution; its ramifications are far-reaching for myself, for my family and for our collective future.

Until we can embrace our uniqueness, our perfectly (human) imperfectness, and still collaborate together instead of pit one against one another through judgment and shame, we will not be progressing.

Good, bad, indifferent, hands-off, or hands-on, I say, there's room for us all.

What do you think?


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Absolutely, room for everyone! There is no scarcity!

Lee Wolfe Blum said...

I think this piece was beautifully written and should be published!
I sometimes wonder these things...would my book be more "sellable" if I was a vegetable now (like the Dr's said I would be)? Or if I hadn't recovered? Or what if I was still near death. Need more drama I guess. Geese...living through near death, severe anorexia, cutting with bottlecaps, and watching a girl set herself on fire isn't enough for these publishers! I blame it on Running With Scissors. Now it is a movie. And...Lindsay Lohan's dad is out of jail and drumroll...writing a memoir. Do I want to be in the same category of Lindsay Lohan's DAD!!! Ok ...I am ranting. Sorry..maybe I should post this on my blog too. You triggered a rant in me!
Thanks for this

Jerri said...

I think there's room for you, for sure, and you'll create room for more, no doubt..

Thoughtful, thought-provoking piece. Reminds me of a song from my old church, St. Joans in Minneapolis: Everything's got a crack in it, that's where the light gets in.

Light and love to you,

Prema said...

Awesome, righteous, bitchin post! You got it. Makes me want to run through the streets screaming....so I'll just run through my house screaming! As I contemplate it all, in the end, I remind myself that we each have our calling, our medicine, and we just must stay close to what that requires of us.

Michelle O'Neil said...

I agree.

I also love the idea of dropping the categories altogether.

Sandy D. said...

Very interesting indeed. And I was happy to see that I'm not the only one to describe books as food. There are so many food metaphors we could use - not just (brain) candy, but pies, and pot roasts, and health food, and nouvelle cuisine.

holly said...

Right On! Right On!

"If anything, we should be media-savvy enough by now to know how much of this is manipulated and driven by the bottom line. This is capitalism, the free marketplace. Once we understand this concept, we can stop looking for our identity, acceptance and validation externally, and can refocus on what is true or authentic for each of us."

Drop the classifications. Define yourself. Let a good read simply be a good read. Period.