22 March 2013

That was... odd.

So I finished Murder Comes to Pemberly the other night. It was... odd.

You see, it's not a mystery, as most mystery readers and enthusiasts think of the term. It's not a procedural. P. D. James walks us through a situation. She provides the reader with all the clues he or she would need to figure out the solution, but the characters, from the master of Pemberly Mr. Darcy himself to his retired coachman have really no interest in investigating the crime. The reader is a silent voyeur peeking over various shoulders, seeing reactions, but the pace is slow and the book seems somewhat aimless without a character for whom it is imperative that the mystery be solved. To be sure, we're pretty much sitting with the Darcys and their friends and families waiting for the whole dreadful business to be over.

So, if you're interested in a return to the world of Derbyshire, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, the Wickhams, and Lady Catherine, this is a pretty good read. But if you're expecting a mystery, you're probably going to be let down.

19 March 2013

Step 9

About four years ago, he contacted me out of the blue.

I am still friends with several people I dated before I got married, but only one is, well, not. We are not friends. I called to check on him in the aftermath of September 11, and I ran into him about a week later, because we lived in neighboring buildings. But aside from that we've had no contact since.

So, four years ago I get a phone call in the middle of the day from the woman who was my best friend in college, and who is still a very good friend today. Now, at the time, I was a stay-at-home-mom with a sideline in adjunct and online teaching, but I did remember that it's odd to get personal phone calls in the middle of the day from people with office jobs.

"Who's dead?"

No one, she assured me. But she had a Facebook message from Jeff1.

Jeff? Jeff Who? Bridges? Goldblum? The guy with the puppets? Who?

Nope. Jeff. She paused to let it sink in. Jeff Jeff. Ohhhh. Jeff. Crap. He had asked her for my contact information so that he could regain lost karma, express regret, and make amends.

You see, Jeff and I didn't "break up." That's far too kind a euphemism for what happened. After nearly two years together, he sent me an email in the middle of the work day. When I got home from being nursed through dinner by a friend, I found 75% of my belongings bagged up in trash bags in the vestibule of his apartment building. Luckily, I had an apartment in the building next door. I saw him take off in a cab as we pulled up. The note he left stated that he would be staying elsewhere for a few days. This guy had so far exceeded his karmic credit that Goldman Sachs would have said, "Whoa, dude, show a little restraint."

I thought for a minute, and talked it over with my friend. I eventually told her, sure. Give him my info. What the hell. Maybe he'd grown and learned over the intervening years.

There's also a lovely bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

The email promptly arrived about forty-five minutes later, and let me tell you, I have never seen a more eloquent pile of horseshit. There was no apology, there wasn't even an admittance that he'd done anything wrong. Regret was expressed, explanations were given. Wishes for a good life were proffered. But there wasn't a single "I'm sorry I treated you like a hooker at a papal conclave."

So, there no response from me, because I had no idea how to respond to the apology that wasn't. It all seemed to be an exercise for the writer (that'd be him), rather than an actual attempt to mend fences with the reader (that's me).

A few weeks later, I get a Facebook message congratulating me on the birth of my daughter. Which had happened about a year earlier, but I get that he was behind on the news. Truth be told, it wasn't the emails, per se, that had me yanking my hair. It was the tone. "Have a good life," "You deserve to be happy," "I wish you all the best." What a bastard, huh?

Seriously, though, maybe it's the lack of inflection inherent in electronic communication, but it just came off as too formal and dramatic to be truly sincere. Maybe if I'd heard it in his voice, maybe if I'd read it in his execrable handwriting, it would have had a chance. If you put in the work, I'm really a pretty soft touch; but nothing shuts me down like a half-assed effort.

I sometimes think that maybe it was all part of Step 9 of the famous AA 12-step program. (I have a working theory that Jeff was an alcoholic. High functioning, mind you, but an alcoholic.) That's the one where you reach out and, according to AA's Big Book, make amends to all the people you hurt through your alcoholism. But I suspect that if that's the case, Jeff's mistook apology for amends2,, and then compounded the error by offering the apology badly. To be honest, I don't a hundred percent know what the finer differences are myself. But I do know that my world tilted on its axis that day, and while it ultimately worked out for the best, I felt angry, and hurt, and, worst of all, worthless. And I'd like to know that he understands that, and is sorry he did it.

So maybe, in this case an apology would have made amends, at least for me. But it had to have been executed with sincerity and without drama. Which is something I've had to work hard at learning in therapy the last few years. Save the rent clothing and ashes for when you're hired as a professional mourner. Put away the plaster saints and banal blessings. Say you did wrong, say you're sorry you did it, and be done.

That being said, Jeff, if you ever wind up reading this, I did a lot wrong when we were together: I ignored boundaries, was not always a very good emotional support, and should have been in therapy having various issues--most notably insecurity and anxiety--dealt with, instead of foisting all my issues on you to fix. I shouldn't have cornered you like that. I'm sorry.

1. Names have been changed to protect the, ahem, innocent and keep me from getting sued.
2. A really nifty resource about the difference between the two can be found here.

18 March 2013

Miss Knight's Voice

Those of you who know me pretty well know that I am an inveterate Jane Austen fan. I can recite whole swathes of the books, I'm a complete pain the backside to see a film adaptation with (unless you've got the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries on DVD or the 1999 Mansfield Park with Frances O'Connor), and I am a horrendous pedant when writing about her work. I wince to call the woman "Austen." She should be Miss Jane Austen, and never just Miss Austen, as her older sister Cassandra never married, and thus never relinquished the title. I have read sequels. Some are all right, some are horrendous; Mansfield Park sequels seem to go better than Pride and Prejudice  or Emma sequels for some reason. Perhaps it's because everything in those two books wrapped up just so perfectly. There are no loose ends for a sequel to attach itself to.

That being said, I am currently about a third of the way through P. D. James's Death Comes to Pemberly. I'm finding it particularly interesting because so many writers work so hard to mimic Miss Jane Austen's tone and voice with varying success. James has sidestepped the entire problem. There are echoes of Miss Jane Austen in Death Comes to Pemberly, but James, as one must when writing a murder mystery, includes other points of view and facts and anecdotes that the strictly-stratified upper-middle class of 1803 would never discuss, and indeed, try very hard not to think about. In addition, James spends the first quarter of the book re-setting the scene and reintroducing the characters as they stand six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice. The result is a voice that is Miss Jane Austen, and yet not Miss Jane Austen. Perhaps it is her well-off niece, Miss Fanny Austen Knight. A young woman of the same time and sensibilities as her aunt, but with the privilege of wealth and education, not to mention the loosening of social stratification that the Romantics advocated in the early 19th century, able to peer a bit more closely into the lives of the residents of Pemberly, their friends, and their families.

My only complaint thus far is that there is little humor to leaven what could turn out to be a rather moribund volume. Miss Jane Austen, in her own way, was hysterically funny (don't believe me? re-read the "let's put on a play!" section of Mansfield Park), and while it may be a bit much to ask for humor while [redacted] is lying dead on the gun room table, it would be the only discordant note in what is otherwise a very well-balanced performance.

11 March 2013

Yeah, so all that happened. But what I really want to say...

Yay, I have a job! No, I'm not going to blog about it, because I'd like to keep it, thank you so very much. But it's a good fit, and I'm very, very happy and fulfilled

But that's not why I'm here today. I followed a link on Facebook tonight to one of those Crunchy Mama blogs. Now, I'm not a Crunchy Mama. Hell, there are days I'm barely Cream of Wheat Mama. But this woman spent a whole post speaking at length about how just because she was pro-baby wearing, -breastfeeding into toddlerhood, anti-vaccination, -rice cereal, etc., it didn't mean that she was putting anyone else down. I don't agree with her parenting philosophy much. Who am I kidding, I don't agree with her parenting philosophy at all. But the fact that she felt the need to spend 1,500 words apologizing for speaking her mind on her own blog is just wrong.

A writer's blog is his or her castle. It's the one place you never have to apologize for being yourself. It's okay to delete comments that are toxic, trollish, or both. Would you let someone come into your living room and behave that way towards you? Of course not. Don't tolerate it in your corner of the Internet, either.