3.08.2011

The Ugly Stuffed Squirrel.

I finished The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen last week. It was a refreshing little book of personal essays, just the way they exist best: original and yet totally relatable.

In one of the essays, he writes quite a bit about the Charlie Brown comic strips he loved as a kid and how he identified with the characters. He writes on page 39:

"Everything I do makes me feel guilty," says Charlie Brown. He's at the beach, and he has just thrown a pebble into the water, and Linus has commented, "Nice going... It took that rock four thousand years to get to shore, and now you've thrown it back."

... I felt guilty about shunning my mother's hugs when she seemed to need them most. I felt guilty about the washcloths at the bottom of the stack in the linen closet, the older, thinner washcloths that we seldom used. I felt guilty for preferring my best shooter marbles, a solid red agate and a solid yellow agate, my king and my queen, to marbles farther down my rigid marble hierarchy. I felt guilty about the board games that I didn't like to play - Uncle Wiggily, U.S. Presidential Elections, Game of the States- and sometimes, when my friends weren't around, I opened the boxes and examined the pieces in the hope of making the games feel less forgotten. I felt guilty about neglecting the stiff-limbed, scratchy-pelted Mr. Bear, who had no voice and didn't mix well with my other stuffed animals. To avoid feeling guilty about them, too, I slept with one of them per night, according to a strict weekly schedule.

The poor unloved stuffed animals! The ugly ones that you didn't want to put on your bed but could not bear to reject by shoving them in a closet or (horror) donating them to other kids, worried that they would retain the stain of being "unwanted" and disposable. This passage hit me hard, the way that only personal essays can, the way that you want to call up the author and say "let's grab a beer 'cause I've got an ugly stuffed squirrel to talk about."

Just another example of writing as connective, a force that joins people together in their reading.

Incidentally, I got some very nice emails about last week's post on marriage and I just wanted to point you all in the direction of A Practical Wedding if you're interested in reading more about bucking the traditions and stereotypes surrounding the event. When I have a moment of doubt about how we're planning flowers or bridesmaid dresses or the honeymoon (or the institution itself!), I pop over to that site and read lots of other opinions on how it can all go down. It's a lovely community and I highly recommend! (I also recommend Franzen's book, but I'll leave the good stuff for the next round of book reviews...)

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