Friday, September 10, 2010

Now That's What I'm Talkin' About.

Almost every day -- certainly every week day -- I hear from Oprah Winfrey.  She sends me emails and newsletters about all kinds of things.  Unless I'm waiting for some important communication from someone who actually knows me, I'm usually glad to hear from Ms. Winfrey.
It's important to sift through her material though.

The fashion advice, for example, is almost never pertinent to my lifestyle.  For one thing, does Suze Orman, Oprah's Financial Guru, admonisher of the frivolous, know that Adam Glassman, Oprah's Fashion Guru, has recently advised me to spend several hundred dollars more than the food budget on a nice purse?  I don't think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing in the Suze/Adam "Save-Your-Money!/But-You're-So-Worth-It!" dialogue.

However, the previous paragraphs were merely prologue to what I REALLY want to talk about.  I was just warming up.  I REALLY want to talk about Junot Diaz.  That's him up in the corner.

Today's O email was about books.  And there was an article in which Junot Diaz purportedly talks about what made him become a writer.  But if you read the article you'll see that this is not what he's talking about.  Not at all.

He's talking about how writing The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took ten long years of what amounted to bleeding from the eyeballs over 75 pages of good writing and 500 pages of something he deemed not good enough.  It's about how badly he wanted not to be a writer during a lot of that time.  About how grindingly hard it was.  How it messed up his life.  How bad it hurt.  And how ultimately he couldn't lay the pencil down.

My book club read this book. Any book club member will likely tell you that one of the very fine things about belonging to a book club is that your sense of responsibility and shame will drive you to read books you would otherwise gently direct back to the library.  (Or shove under the couch if it was a book you owned.)  The Brief Wondrous Life was that book for me.

First of all it was about people who were seriously unintelligible to my small-town-America upbringing and my English-speaking brain.  The novel was so riddled with Spanish swears I had to purchase The Red Hot Book of Spanish Slang: 5,000 Expressions to Spice Up Your Spanish in order to make it from page to page.  (If you ever get me mad and I resort to Spanish?  I am going to call you some very mean things and you probably won't even know.)

Oscar was so lost.  His life was so ... strange, so alien to me.  His family had suffered the sort of horrible injustices that I recoil from knowing about.  Suffered them for generations.  In a country devastated and impoverished by tragedy and cruelty.

But since it was For The Club, I kept slogging, and now, although many of the details of the story have slipped away, when I think of Oscar, he fills my heart.  My heart is full to the brim with joy and sorrow, pity and admiration.  My heart is full of love for Oscar Wao.

And in ten years of incredible effort, Junot Diaz made Oscar.  For me.  And, of course, for Junot.  Because he couldn't help himself.  Because he couldn't stop.

This is what he said about what makes a writer a writer:

"You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn't until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am."

And that's what I'm talkin' about.

Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

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