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Q and A

Jan 23, 2012; Murakami is incredible! Asks:

Thank you for the suggestion. I started The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and all I can say, pardon the lack of imagination, is WOW!

Stacey answers:

Right on.

Jan 18, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

Are artist ever happy? Maybe they would be if they had a good Pirate novel to read. A real swashbuckler that gives them something to do besides their work.

Stacey answers:

Good point. I don't know why pirate novels aren't popular anymore--maybe they were never popular. Pirates seem at least as cool as vampires, though they don't get to live forever and wear fancy gowns. They might not even get to take showers.

But even a thrilling swashbuckler probably wouldn't make most artists happy. They might be temporarily amused, then go back to brooding. I don't know if artists are ever happy. I don't know any happy artists (but if I met one I'd kill him). I don't think I even know any happy people (but if I did I might not like them). I think I might need to get out more.

Jan 18, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

Which Haruki Murakami work should I read first? A Wild Sheep Chase seems interesting. Then again, they all do.

Stacey answers:

I've heard A Wild Sheep's Chase is good but haven't read it. I might have started it and been put off by the business of the first chapter being about a guy making a cup of coffee. That was before I understood that every Murakami novel begins with a long, boring, detailed section and then slowly becomes more strange. Pretty much everyone likes The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because it's so amazing. I say read that. The Elephant Vanishes, a story collection, is also really great. I wouldn't recommend Kafka on the Shore (because talking cats should say things like, "Why are you starving me to death when my little nose is so sweet?", not, "You are taking too much of my time sir," like snooty headwaiters) and the gigantic 1Q84, which has cool parts but is wildly repetitive.

Jan 18, 2012; Lauren Asks:

Hi Stacey, Liam shared a link to your Q&A page a few days ago and I have been reading it ever since. It's been a source of amusement and thoughtfulness at the end of long days. There's a delicious sense of eavesdropping while you dole very wry, good advice and a funny-poignant insightfulness that I feel drawn to. I haven't read any of your fiction, yet, but I thought since I had the opportunity to, I should tell you candidly how I have appreciated reading your miscellany. And perhaps see if I couldn't participate in the conversation, as well. I have a few questions. The first deal with reading. Have you read "Cannery Row" by Steinbeck? I just finished it. I think I am at a time in my life for it to matter a lot to me. Also, have you ever read any Eric Hoffer? You share a certain clarity. My other question is an advice seeking one. You wrote on here that "making art is fraught with fear, as is love. There's a lot at stake, like your sense of yourself as smart or worthwhile or interesting or useful". I feel a little silly, since you gave solid advice on tackling fear related to making art, but do you have any advice on negotiating the fears that arise in love? Best wishes, Lauren

Stacey answers:

Hi Lauren. Thanks for writing in. I’m not qualified to address the fears of love. I just want to warn you. For instance, I recently adopted a terminally ill cat because I could only deal with short-term commitment. Then, when I realized I loved her madly (she’s so soft and so small), I asked the vet to just euthanize her now so I wouldn’t have the agony of anticipating it. Did she? No she did not. She thought I was joking! Silly vet.

With that in mind, all I can really offer is the reminder that there’s no such thing as love without fear. There is no one who won’t leave you, or won’t die, or cannot disappoint you, or will protect you in every circumstance, or give you everything you need, or make you feel happy, or make up for what you’ve lost. Except Jesus, but he’s a mythological being (don't argue with me on this). So if you’re holding out for that, or trying anxiously to get there, you can stop.

I haven’t read those books. I’d like to though. It's so great to find books that feel like they're part of your life. I put them in my library queue.

Jan 11, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

I meant to post a comment and question about catch-22. About one third the way through I really caught on to Heller's rhythm for the book and it made reading it even better. It was kind like acquiring an new skill; as if I could suddenly play piano or work crossword puzzles. John Yossarian is a protagonists protagonist. In a slight way he reminds me of myself during a certain period of my navy career when I realized the doctrine of Mutual assured Destruction was indeed MAD. Anyway, great book for the ages. About Mr. Hornby, or Hornsby, if you prefer; I think he is a really good writer that one day may become a great writer if there is a really kick-ass novel waiting in him. But for now I do enjoy his portraits of contemporary life and his use of popular music in his stories (always back to the music). So what is the latest on the Pirate novel?

Stacey answers:

You are like my father, always asking about the pirate novel. I'm in a shame/procrastination spiral and haven't looked at it in a month, okay Tom? Are you happy now?

Jan 11, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

Are you familiar with the work of Nick Hornby? Now that catch-22 is behind me I have started reading Mr. Hornby's latest, Juliet, Naked?

Stacey answers:

I did not read Juliet, Naked though I think maybe you asked me about Nick Hornby once before, Tom. I think you recommended him so I read How To Be Good and found it a little programmatic for my taste, though everyone is allowed to write a few books that are not as wonderful as their other ones. (Yes Haruki Murakami, I'm talking to you).

Is Hornby your one true love? Can I say "Hornsby" instead? Do I have to keep reading him?

Jan 06, 2012; Pickles Asks:

Yesterday I paid one dollar, U.S., to sit in a movie theater and watch Moneyball, which I did not hate. I didn't even hate myself for liking what I liked about it. Half the trailers shown beforehand were for t.v. shows. You been to the movies lately?

Stacey answers:

Moneyball is a good title--reminiscent of Rollerball, yet also like it could be about a giant ball of money, or else a testicle filled with money. Obviously I did not see it. I haven't seen anything.

Dec 22, 2011; Pickles Asks:

Yo, Stacey, have you checked out the flying videos made by the man called Jeb Corliss?!! Man, oh Manischewits!!!! Have you/ would you ever jump out of a airplane? Do you enjoy Danger these days?

Stacey answers:

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles. Yeah, I have seen that guy. He's awesome but I'm mad at him because I think that if anyone should get to fly, it should be me. I should be able to fly without jumping off of anything, maybe even just hovering a few feet above the ground until I get the hang of it. Then I will take a nap in midair.

I don't enjoy danger! Sometimes fake danger is okay, like getting on a giant Ferris wheel, but having happened upon a terrible car accident just yesterday I feel confident in saying that danger is frightening and disturbing. Even though I think everyone was basically okay in this crash, but the cars were ruined and it looked like hell. Happy New Year!

Dec 15, 2011; Tom Hancock Asks:

Hi Stacey1 Have you read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller? I am rereading it and really enjoying it. Happy Holidays! Tom

Stacey answers:

Yes, I reread it recently too. I really liked it too though it's so circular and repetitive that I was kind of thrown off. I swear one of the chapters was repeated in its entirety. But this can't be right, right? Will you let me know?

Also it's aged amazingly well, I think because it's one of the few major novels of the mid 20th century that's not about men and women. (In the foreword, Franzen says he cringes at the book's attitude toward women, but it just seems satirical to me). Of course there's also the irony and lassitude and cynicism--that makes it feel current too. And the ending is phenomenal, the one real thing that all the unreality revolves around. Yet still funny.

Dec 05, 2011; The wonderer Asks:

Hi Stacey. Awhile back on here, you were answering someone's question and you said that the person shouldn't cut off their mother (or maybe father). You said, don't do that. And that if the person wanted to know why, you would explain. Could you explain? I would never cut off my mother or father because I think it would make me feel too horrible (even if they were horrible, which they're not) but I have cut off someone else in my life who, according to professionals, is verbally abusive. But for a good long time, that verbally abusive person was also my friend, in between moments of being an asshole. I feel bad about cutting this person off, and sometimes even miss the person, at the same time I feel kind of free and kind of like "well why was I putting up with that crap in the first place?" about it. My self image feels better for it at the same time it feels totally guilty. Cutting people off, even crappy people, feels bad when you care about them, even if you care in a complicated don't-want-to-return-their-phone-calls or divulge-personal-information-around-them way. Could you elaborate on whatever it is you were going to say before? I really hated this person when I did it, and can still think of stuff she's done that makes me hate her again, but that wasn't all there was too her. Sometimes I feel like getting back in touch, but trying to find a way to not get sucked into the whole thing again. Is that nuts?

Stacey answers:

Hi Wonderer. No, you are not nuts. Not only are your ambivalent feelings understandable, it takes sensitivity and courage to perceive them. It’s still a loss, even if your friend was a jerk—why wouldn’t you feel that? And of course your friendship meant a lot to you—if there wasn’t love, you wouldn’t have bothered to get angry.

As for cutting people off, I have different opinions for family vs. friends (& exes). With family, I think severing a relationship is a false solution with potential for bad-soul reverberations. (Obviously I’m not talking about family members who’ve done things we all agree are really fucking bad). The problem isn’t that it's too mean, it’s that estranging yourself from a parent isn’t the same as being free of them. Instead of vanishing, they’re likely to take up residence inside your head and become symbolic (i.e. the Bad Daddy). At that point, you’ve stopped dealing with the real person, so nothing can change. There’s no chance to grow up or watch them become doddering or get a nice china set out of the deal. It’s just you and Bad Daddy, locked together in a weird psychic room, forever.

With friends, the situation is less dire. You’ve already had the experience of breaking up, moving away, changing schools, quitting tennis team, or whatever it was that taught you that friendships can come and go without anyone dying or maybe even feeling that bad. And friendships are predicated on enjoying each others company; if it becomes torture, what’s the point? The truth is that people change and it can suck. A bad personality trait that was almost imperceptible once, like an ear poking out of their hair, may expand to cover their entire head. Then you change. Qualities you once found endearing (binge drinking, dissecting sexual encounters, extreme lateness) lose their madcap charm. There’s nothing wrong with moving on. I say do that. But it usually feels better to try non-extreme measures first. Distance, negotiation, telling them to stop it, that stuff.

It's kindhearted of you to wonder if your relationship can be redeemed. But it brings up questions about your objective chances of pulling this off. Have you gained some hotshot diplomacy skills lately? Because whatever happened before is likely to happen again. And do you think she’d be open to it, or is she too pissed at you for dumping her? Was she undeniably abusive, as in stealing your things or locking you in her car and driving 100 miles an hour? (Really bad). Or did she use abuse-style language while you were free to complain, leave, or use it back? (Obnoxious, but some people can deal with that). Would it work to try a more distant, fun-type friendship instead of an intimate one? Or would that just send her to Crazy Town? Are you idealizing her now? Did you over-react then? Did you give her a reasonable chance to reform? Even if you don't become friends, does she deserve an apology? Or are you just a nice, gentle person a who feels guilty easily?

You know Wonderer, it sounds like that feeling of half-wanting to get back together with an ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the longing isn’t so much about the boy himself as it is about being lonely and boyfriendless. Do you really miss her? Or are you feeling lonely and friendless? If it’s the second one, maybe it’s better to put more energy into your existing friendships, eat chocolate, surround yourself with stuffed animals, and buy a dog. If it’s the first, maybe it’s worth getting in touch with her to see what happens. That’s admirable. But brace yourself, Wonderer, because she might be really angry at you for dumping her.

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