Stupid talented essayists.
24 May 2010
I read an article in my New York magazine a few weeks back about Meghan Daum's new memoir, Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House. Daum is most well known for her 2003 novel, The Quality of Life Report, for her essay collection My Misspent Youth, and for moving away from New York City in her late 20s so she could live more cheaply in Lincoln, Nebraska.
She has now moved to Los Angeles, and her search for a home there is what her new memoir is about. Strangely enough, though, when I read the article, I didn't feel like getting the memoir, but I did wonder about the essay collection, so I checked it out.
And I really enjoyed it. It's not a particularly broad or profound collection, but it was definitely worth the time. Her essay topics range from an online flirtation to working in the publishing business, being successful in New York but still having to move away from it to how much she hated dolls.* But the essay that really annoyed me was titled "Carpet Is Mungers."
Well, I should explain that. I loved the essay. But I hated it because it was SO GOOD, and I want to write essays like that. Frustrating, to see where you want to be and not know how to get there.** But I digress. The entire essay is about nothing more complicated than how and why Daum doesn't like carpet. And here's how she explains it:
"Carpet makes me feel the way I felt when I was twelve and 'went out' with Stephen Mungers, a boy from homeroom who I barely knew, for a week. In seventh grade, 'going out' signified nothing more than a mutual agreement that the term would be applied to the parties involved; no physical contact or verbal exchange other than 'You wanna go out?' and 'Okay' was required. And even though the situation was entirely reversible, I remember that week as an unprecedented and traumatic psychological jaunt into a self that was not my own. I had, in the context of seventh grade and the various ideas I'd developed about who I was, become 'other' to my own self. I felt somehow that I had betrayed a basic premise of my existence...
Carpet is Mungers. Carpet is otherness." (p. 64.)
How awesome is that comparison? Who combines a memory of going out with someone in seventh grade with trying to describe how they feel about carpet? And makes it interesting? This woman, that's who. Disgusting. All weekend I walked around muttering "Carpet is Mungers" and shaking my head. Mr. CR simply let the muttering pass without comment. Smart man. I wouldn't have been so annoyed, but I also spent the weekend re-reading one of the essays (multiple times) in Daniel Nester's book How to Be Inappropriate because it was so good. I'm hoping that writing skills can be learned by osmosis, obviously.
I'm going to try her memoir now too, but if you're looking for a good summer read that includes essays this one might be a valid place to start.
*I loved this essay, as Mom informs me that I often would toss whatever dolls I owned in the trash. I didn't hate them, I just wasn't using them.
**For this reason I can only read so much Joan Didion at one time, too. She's scary good.