Sep. 7, 2009

An Inheritance

by Naomi Replansky

"Five dollars, four dollars, three dollars, two,
One, and none, and what do we do?"

This is the worry that never got said
But ran so often in my mother's head

And showed so plain in my father's frown
That to us kids it drifted down.

It drifted down like soot, like snow,
In the dream-tossed Bronx, in the long ago.

I shook it off with a shake of the head.
I bounced my ball, I ate warm bread,

I skated down the steepest hill.
But I must have listened, against my will:

When the wind blows wrong, I can hear it today.
Then my mother's worry stops all play

And, as if in its rightful place,
My father's frown divides my face.

"An Inheritance" by Naomi Replansky, from The Dangerous World: New and Selected Poems 1934-1994. © Another Chicago Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1927 that a man named Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first ever all-electronic television picture in history.

It's the birthday of novelist Jennifer Egan, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1962). She's the author of The Invisible Circus (1995), based on her travels in Europe; Emerald City and Other Stories (1996), a short-story collection; Look at Me (2001), a finalist for the National Book Award; and The Keep (2006), a best-seller.

She moved to San Francisco when she was seven, and in high school she worked at a candy shop on Haight Street named "Kiss My Sweet." After college on the East Coast and postgraduate study at Cambridge, she settled in New York City, where she's been firmly rooted for two decades. Egan once explained that Emily Dickinson poetry is good reading for a person living in New York City. She said: "Certain books are easier to fit into New York life. I find it very hard to read Henry James here. There's something about the multiple clauses, the almost archaeological quality of his observations, that requires really full attention."

She writes her fiction using a pen and paper, the old-fashioned way — and all this despite the fact she was born not that long ago, in the 1960s. She said she started writing fiction before she had a computer, and after she got a computer in college, she tried for a while to write fiction on the computer. But she said, "There came a point when I realized my fiction written on a computer was inferior to what I was writing by hand — the choices I made on a screen were always wrong, and I would have to fix them by hand. It wasn't a timesaving measure but a time-wasting measure because it required another step."

She started writing her novel Look at Me in the mid-1990s. It was a satire on American culture that was set in the near future and involved Silicon Valley innovations and pretend TV shows where people were monitored 24 hours a day by television cameras (which soon happened afterward, in the form of "reality TV"). She also invented an Arabic-speaking would-be terrorist who sneaked in to live in the Midwest and devised the demise of the United States. The book had been finished long before it appeared in bookstores the week of 9/11/2001.

Look at Me was a finalist for the National Book Award that year. But Egan was also worried that people would forget that the novel was written long before 9/11, and that they would mistake it for a reaction to the attacks. She said that potential misinterpretation really bothered her because she would never write that book in response to 9/11. Some people called her "prophetic," but she insists, "Everything I talked about in Look at Me was in the air, as it were, a little more viscerally than probably any of us expected, myself included." She set her next novel, The Keep, in a different era and far away, at a medieval castle in Eastern Europe.

In addition to the novels and short-story collection, Egan writes some long-format journalism, and since 1996 has written about a dozen articles for The New York Times Magazine, most of which have appeared as the Sunday magazine's cover story. Her most recent was "The Bipolar Puzzle" in 2008; others include "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm" (2006), "Love in the Time of No Time" (2004), "Lonely Gay Teen Seeking Same" (2000), and "Walking Toward Mindfulness" (2000).

Her next novel is entitled A Visit from the Goon Squad and will be released in summer 2010.

Look at Me begins:
After the accident, I became less visible. I don't mean in the obvious sense that I went to fewer parties and retreated from general view. Or not just that. I mean that after the accident, I became more difficult to see.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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