Sunday, October 25, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking XV

This week I'm getting smart and posting before the Giants game. That way my writing ability will not hinge on the status of Eli Manning's sore foot.

What’s love got to do with it?

This week’s essay provides an interesting window into what Modern Love editors mean when they say “love.”

Because frankly, there’s not a whole lot of love in this essay.

This week’s gripping piece is by Michelle Nicole Lee and it tells a fascinating, sometimes painful tale of the author’s lifelong battle with depression. Like many a great ML essay, “When Madness Is in the Wings” takes a familiar topic and travels an unfamiliar route. Mental illness – certainly depression – have been well covered in essay land. What makes this one different? It’s the relationship the author chooses to share with the reader.

Instead of friends and family, the author tells us about her relationship with a woman she encountered as a graduate student – a woman who displays signs of mental illness and becomes a mirror and a reference point for the author as she travels her own route through depression.

And so that brings me to my original question: why is this a story that belongs in a column about love? Even as the author expresses her sympathy, her connection and finally, her gratitude to this woman in her life, she does not say she loves her. There isn’t any indication that the emotion of love, as we understand it commonly, is present at all in this story.

So the essay is interesting, because it isn’t really about love. At least not traditional love. And that gives me a new insight into the market. The title of the column is not “Love.” It is “Modern Love.” What’s the difference? The addition of the word modern allows the possibility of reinterpretation of the emotion, of relationships, of what it means to feel love.

Perhaps the author does not feel the kind of love for this woman that she might feel for family or friends. On the other hand, there is a powerful, emotional experience there. And perhaps it’s one that shouldn’t be relegated to anything less than love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the road...

...Monday Morning Quarterbacking will post later this week.
Besides, I'm too depressed about the Giants to face a football metaphor. Maybe by Thursday I'll be over it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Thank you for writing to Modern Love at The New York Times."

My latest, The Jordan Runs Through It, is off into the email ether.
Go, baby, go.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking XIV

For the Boy Who Makes Waves by Joe Blair

This essay beautifully illustrates the benefits of simplicity in writing. It is an intimate and powerful vision of a father confronting the limits of parenting and the limitless nature of love.

There are several elements of this essay that just blew me away:

*Focus. Clearly, there is a lot of rich material going on in this writer’s life. He’s a pipe fitter in Iowa getting ready to relocate the family to California. No job. No waiting family or other community. Just a full out pilgrimage west. Already, that’s a book. But Joe Blair shows his writing chops by not insisting on telling the WHOLE story and instead, taking a small slice of his book-worthy life and giving it full treatment. Smart, and great reading.

*A new take on a popular theme. There is one word that does not appear in this essay, but is thematically all over the text: Autism. I’m not trained in developmental disabilities, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Michael appears autistic. He stims (pacing and cracking the belt in a repetitive wave-pattern). He does not communicate in a socially recognizable fashion. He sings, screams, howls. He engages in what looks to my layperson eyes as echolalia – repeating rather than responding to conversation. And autism is a popular theme in writing today. It has gained greater recognition and stirs heated debate in medical and educational circles. But this essay does not wander into that territory. There is no discussion of diagnosis, school issues, dealing with unsympathetic friends and neighbors. In fact, the essay doesn’t even utter The Word. It’s a new twist on a well-covered topic.

*Tension. The writer injects tension into this story at several junctures. The opening graf creates tension by describing items that sound scary: a padlock, a bolted six foot fence. The scene visiting the hugging saint is disconcerting, surreal, and it serves to destabilize us. In the final section, the author is describing Michael’s behavior and casually drops this line “…which might seem cute to you but to me indicates Michael is on the edge of a seizure.” And like that, we’re afraid. Is a medical crisis about to unfold? The writer’s style is quiet and restrained but he does not allow us to be lulled by it.

A quick Google tells us this author is an experienced essayist. I'm not surprised. His skill shows.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking XIII

Well, I finally got to Modern Love column that I’m not wild about. And it may be because I’m a cat person. But I don’t think so. I think it’s because I didn’t find anything new or dramatic to bond to in this essay.

This is an essay about how someone who wasn’t sure he could love a dog, finds out he can and what’s more, the dog makes his whole life better than it was before.

Nice story, but not new. And it’s not made new by the fact that the couple in this story is gay. Although that does allow the author to get off a great line expressing his concern about owning a long-haired miniature dachschund. “She’s too small! She’s just too gay!”

I thought the essay was well written. But it didn’t turn me in any new directions. In the end, it was just another happiness is a warm puppy tale. Ever since John Grogan managed to make a mint off his Marley, the world has been quite well-populated by How Great Is My Dog stories.

I guess this essay does give me one bit of good news: you don’t necessarily have to tell your deepest, darkest secret to make Modern Love. I’ve read Bob Morris before, in the NYT and elsewhere. This is not his most revelatory piece.

Maybe the editors decided the column needed a break from the My Most Humiliating Moment trend?