Terry Jones

not really a eulogy

My father loved Monty Python. I was nine the first time he showed me Flying Circus. Dinsdale (“you mean to say he nailed your head to the floor?” “At first, yeah”) and Biggles (“when I have the antlers on, I am not dictating”) and all of the irreverent nonsense. A few years earlier we’d lived upstairs from a cheese shop, and I don’t remember if my parents made jokes from the sketch with the shopkeeper or if my memory has merely inserted them. (Mom, do you remember?)

Graham Chapman died perhaps a year or so after I first saw him on the small screen, but I don't remember knowing about his death. And why would I? I was ten or eleven, and although I was aware of Lucille Ball's death the same year, I was also a regular watcher of I Love Lucy, forever in syndication. Monty Python was still something I only watched with my father. This remained true of the Flying Circus sketches until I was an adult.

As a teenager I memorized Holy Grail and the arguably superior Life of Brian. At 17, when I lived with my father on West 21st Street in a two room apartment with an African Violet on the windowsill, I read Chapman's autobiography and mourned him for the first time. In college, I saw The Meaning of Life and wished I hadn't (sorry, I don't think it's very good).

I am not sure when I learned that my book Terry Jones's Fairy Tales was by that Terry Jones, but to this day the Fly-By-Night is every bit as much a part of my personal mythology as any Grimm character.

Sometimes it is impossibly sad when someone you don't know dies. Sometimes it is impossibly unremarkable. Usually it is somewhere in between, as you grapple not so much with the loss of the person but with the loss of your connection to the person. In my case, I am of course thinking a lot about my father and how I can never again call him and make a silly Monty Python reference. I can't even call him to tell him Terry Jones died, though I suppose that if you believe in an afterlife, he must already know.

Reprint: The Lives of Literary Wives

an essay on the writing life

Twenty years ago, when we first lived together, the thought of typing my now-husband's stories was so romantic to me that I almost couldn’t bear it. I even bought him a tape recorder so that he could dictate stories and ideas for me to later type up. This plan did not go well, as he is perfectly capable of typing and in fact does so faster than he can speak and only slightly slower than he can think. We abandoned it quickly, and I was devoted enough to be disappointed. The thing is, I was a writer too. So why did I want to prioritize his work? I still don’t know the answer, but I have discovered that A) this is common behavior among literary wives, and B) I am totally fucking over it and over literary husbands in general.

Vera Nabokov

I had not, at the time, heard of Vera Nabokov (though I had read Lolita after my high school crush said it made her think of me, a comment that I have never figured out or gotten over), but if I had, that’s who I would have been trying to emulate. Vera met her husband Vladimir through her publisher father. According to a single clause in a single sentence on her Wikipedia page, she had a budding writing career at the time, which never went any further. (It doesn't even merit a full sentence!) She worked as a secretary and translator to pay the bills, and did the same for Vlad (for no money), while raising their son (presumably with no help from him) and keeping house (she said badly, I say who gives a damn). She also learned to drive so she could be his chauffeur, and carried a handgun as his acting bodyguard. I infer from everything I’ve read that she also performed extensive emotional labor, preventing him repeatedly from burning his drafts of Lolita (which was, in hindsight, a mistake).

People in relationships make choices that sometimes do not look equitable or reasonable from the outside. I try very hard not to judge, but it is difficult when a marriage is, to my eyes, so dreadfully unbalanced. What on earth did Vlad do for Vera? I can find no evidence of anything whatsoever. I can also find no evidence of her writing, or of her aspirations prior to meeting Vlad. I am very tired when I think about Vera.

Sylvia Plath

There is a passage in The Bell Jar that absolutely knocked me on the floor when I first read it:

But an English major who knew shorthand was something else again. Everybody would want her. She would be in demand among all the up-and-coming young men and she would transcribe thrilling letter after thrilling letter.

The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters.

There is no question that The Bell Jar is fairly autobiographical, and there is no question that Sylvia Plath died by suicide a few years into an attempt at being a writer and a mother and the wife of a writer. It has, somewhat recently, come to light via Sylvia's letters that Ted Hughes was abusive, which I personally think should have been obvious already but I suppose it’s helpful in some abstract way to know it for sure.

I am a writer and a mother and the wife of a writer, and I want to dictate my own thrilling letters. I don’t want to be Vera, I want to have a Vera. But it turns out that Veras are still by and large only available to men. This phenomenon is evident particularly in the way that (male) writers thank their spouses in the acknowledgments of their books.

#ThanksForTyping

A few years ago, Alexis Coe wrote in Lenny Letter about the disconnect she had noticed, where male writers thank their wives for support (i.e. doing everything so they can write) and female writers rarely do the same (most likely because they are writing and caring for the children and doing the laundry and cooking and cleaning and cetera.) Where can I get a research assistant slash editor slash (I assume) sex goddess, please?

Nearly a year later, Bruce Holziger tweeted about a verrrry similar discovery—specifically, that men are thanking wives for typing their manuscripts, something that apparently these male writers are too important and/or inept to do—and got a lot more attention, spawning a hashtag (#ThanksForTyping) and a Buzzfeed article that featured a depressing assortment of tweets using the hashtag. (I could go on for several paragraphs here about how a woman wrote it first but when a man said something it got widespread attention, but, well. Those paragraphs would be better summed up by an emoji of a trash can or possibly a smiling poop.)

Jodi FUCKING Picoult, Shirley Jackson, and Anita Loos

What I want to know is: who would I thank in my acknowledgments? Without a Vera, how will I ever write enough to be worth anything? To even have acknowledgments? Where will I dictate my thrilling letters? Is there even any point in trying? I guess I want to be the imaginary male author described by Rufi Thorpe in her devastating essay "Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid": “Your father is Jodi FUCKING Picoult.” (If you click only one link in this essay, let it be that one.)

But Jodi Picoult manages to have a writing career without a Vera (or, put another way, acting as her own Vera), and so have many other literary wives, including Shirley Jackson, whose husband Stanley Hyman was The Worst. Stanley, who somehow was better-known during their lifetimes than she was, took great pride in never having changed a diaper (they had four children), and while that was de rigueur for the time, he also could not boil an egg, make toast, or even pour his own coffee. (Source: Ruth Franklin's biography A Rather Haunted Life and Shirley's “fictional” family stories, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons). Shirley did everything for him and the children, kept house, entertained, and wrote nonstop, while Stanley occasionally wrote for The New Yorker, having affairs in the New York literary scene. Later, he taught at a women's college, having affairs with his students (he did not believe in monogamy or care that his wife wanted it).

Stanley, at least (and I do mean least), did not make any effort to stop Shirley's writing career; in fact, they met because he read a story of hers and declared that he was going to marry the author. Compare him to Ted Hughes, or perhaps to John Emerson, who went so far to discourage his wife Anita Loos from having a career as to fake an illness in an attempt to prevent her traveling. Like Hughes and Hyman, he was also unfaithful to his wife.

#MeToo

In the last few years, we have seen a landslide of men's careers being put on pause (though most of them have quickly resurfaced) due to the way they've treated women and young boys as sex toys instead of people. Inevitably, a backlash has begun of people crying, “But what of their talent?!” as though somehow the world needs the art of abusers more than it needs that of the abused. Shirley died and Stanley immediately remarried. Sylvia died and Ted went on to publish poems for 35 years, both his own and Sylvia's (taking the profits, of course, and edited as he saw fit). Anita suffered for decades, lost most of her money to Emerson, attempted multiple times to divorce him (he refused), and finally went off and enjoyed a successful Hollywood career as a screenwriter in spite of him (she managed, at least, to outlive him by 25 years).

I still like my husband. He works a full-time job and comes home and does half the housework. Well, more than half. Most of the housework. He's an equal parent and does not expect me to be his typist. And yet I find it difficult to not resent the fact that I once wanted to be his goddamn secretary.


Originally published at Book Riot.

Skyscraper; Prairie Fever

You can read my words elsewhere, for free!

Hey guess what. GUESS WHAT. I am now a published author. (I’ve had flash fiction in zines before, so I am perhaps being too snobby about what counts as published, but I said it and I’m sticking with it.)

My poem Skyscraper is in the Winter 2020 Fireside Quarterly, the January 2020 ebook, and online with optional beautiful narration.

My story Prairie Fever is in CRAFT Literary, with a short essay I wrote about westerns and my extremely mixed genre feelings.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Julia Rios for both of these pieces; she acquired Skyscraper for Fireside, and rejected Prairie Fever with a thoughtful and kind note about the nature of the western genre, which directly informed my author’s note at CRAFT. I am also extremely grateful to Jessica Pryde, who read my author’s note for sensitivity and suggested wording changes that made it stronger. And of course Katelyn Keating, the editor at CRAFT, and my friends (especially Will and Chelle) who read this story and believed in it during the 2.5 years of rejections before it got a yes.

♥︎

What I'm Reading: December

If you guessed it is 100% romance novels, you weren't far off

Fiction

Fairy-Tale Ending by Beth Goder: Rapunzel, but on the moon.

Photo of a Nine-Year-Old Girl Smoking by Kat Moore: Killer flash fiction based on a killer photograph.

The Weight of the Sea by Maria Haskins: content warning for death, child death, overdose, suicide.

What It’s Like To Be A Writer by Amber Sparks: ugh, fuck me all the way up.

Nonfiction

Nine Essential Songs by The Handsome Family by Boze Herrington: I enjoyed these mini essays on some songs I love and some I don’t know, all by a weird band I enjoy.

Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck by Myriam Gurba: maybe this is what all book reviews should be.

“You’re my present this year”: An Oral History of the Folgers Incest Ad by Gabriella Paiella: I don’t even know, man. This ad was SO bizarre and I dig the article.

Books

Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry: This ADORABLE contemporary novella by my friend and sometimes critique partner is about two women falling in love with a dog…and each other. At Christmas. In New Orleans. Ugh, yes.

A Delicate Deception by Cat Sebastian: UGH THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD. Fine, I admit it. I like regencies now. At least when they are about queer people with anxiety (see also Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, which I don’t recall explicitly mentioning anxiety, but it was totally there).

Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins: YES GIVE ME ALL YOUR NON-WHITE WESTERNS (I also adore her book Topaz). This is going to be a TV series as part of the Sony deal with The Ripped Bodice and I am SO excited. Please cast Wentworth Miller as Rhine.

Not The Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher: It’s How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (which I never saw) but gender-flipped.

Spellbound by Allie Therin: Are you noticing a theme in my reading this month? Huh, me neither. (OMG this one is Prohibition-era M/M paranormal and sooooo good.)

Christmas Inn Maine by Chelsea M. Cameron: Allllllll the Christmas romance tropes, but f/f.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan: My first of her historicals. The heroine has major crowd anxiety (probably PTSD) and the hero is a duke who wants workers to unionize. I mean. Can you even?

(As always, all Amazon links contain my affiliate code.)

Bonus

The Complete Star Wars Canon in 42 minutes: This! Is! My! Jam! I don’t care for the narrator’s voice, but I managed.

The Deep Sea: The most soothing (and educational!) thing on the internet. Just trust me, okay?

Issue 4: Q4 2019

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