Just Do It: On Reading, Writing + Narcissism

The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am, by Kjersti A. Skomsvold

Over three years ago, I started this blog as a repository for my musings about books that I read and how their themes or imagery could be viewed through the lens of “real life.” (You can read the “About” page of this blog here.)

Blogging – and my pace of reading – took a hit, however, when we moved back to the US and the details of work and resettling a family took precedence.

I’ve been trying to write a something about this book since we moved in July 2015. That’s over two years ago! (Well, I mean, in spurts. This is not two years’ worth of effort that you’re about to read.) I picked up The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, by Kjersti A. Skomsvold, in April 2015 in Dubray Books in Blackrock Shopping Centre. I love this book – and I’ve actually read it three times – but whenever I sat down to write about it, I struggled with my writing feeling pedantic or non-insightful.

Word to the wise: There comes a point when “thinking about” something for a long, long time results in…nothing.

While I’d love to compare my “nothing” to Seinfeld’s…

Thinking about…myself.

The Faster I Walk is a riff on longevity and what it means to live a satisfying life. It’s “deep” – but I wanted to say a bit more than “it’s deep.” (See, that’s only two words.) The basic gist? The main character, Mathea, is unintentionally hilarious (but a little bit tragic too) because she is a narcissistic nonagenarian with many similarities to stereotypical, media-characterized Millennials. (Is it bad that my compassion for a socially stunted 90-something was not overflowing?) For much of her life, her only point of contact is her husband, Epsilon.

A sampling of Mathea’s thoughts include:

  • “I want to say something meaningful, make my last words rhyme, so I lay awake the whole night trying to think up something appropriate. I know I’ll never get out of bed again. But then morning comes and I feel so hungry.”
  • “I’m wishing I could save what little I have left of my life until I know exactly what to do with it. For that to happen I’d have to lock myself in a freezer, but all we’ve got is the small one in the refrigerator.”
  • When Mathea goes to the store, she is happy to see other customers “so I don’t attract attention.” And when she has to choose between two check-out people she feels tormented because “I don’t want either of them to feel that I’ve rejected them.”

Poor Mathea: so self-deprecating that, ironically, her sense of exceptionalism blasts through the pages. Is it wrong to criticize someone approaching 100 for being narcissistic?

In early October, The New York Times Magazine published a piece about the actress Frances McDormand. My first thought? Fran (as she apparently prefers to be called) should play Mathea. She is exactly the kind of actor – quick to acknowledge that that she’s “really good at being the other” [not a typical starlet] – who could play someone and invoke empathy for a character who at first warrants only pity.

McDormand, too, flirts with the edge of introversion and “who, little ol’ me?” self-deprecation. The author of the piece writes, “She doesn’t do press junkets, and for the most of the 20 years since she won a Best Actress Academy Award for playing Marge Gunderson, the tremendously pregnant, improbably cheerful police detective in ‘Fargo,’ she has refused interviews. Her publicist explained to me that his job is to politely tell people to go away.”

“Go away”?: Frances McDormand posing for The New York Times Magazine

A career’s worth of criticism of her “quirky” appearance has made McDormand reflective and wary:

According to the NYT piece, “Years of hearing this type of thing [that she didn’t fit a typical mold] from casting directors have provoked in her a defiant renunciation of vanity and a deep, though intermittent, self-consciousness. She’ll state her weight in a public interview but avoids looking at the monitor when filming. ‘I’d much rather not be aware of how fat my ass looks,’ she said. She wants the work that is given to stars, but she hates to have her photo taken. She doesn’t own a full-length mirror.”

McDormand is full of seemingly odd thoughts and one-liners, much like Mathea:

  • When discussing her experimental theatre company, she says “We’re avant-garde. It doesn’t mean we have to be unhygienic.”
  • “Around 46 years of age, I became concerned that I may slaughter my family. I was perimenopausal when Pedro [her son] was in the throes of adolescence and at the mercy of testosterone poisoning. I continue to have three hot flashes daily, one bout of cold sweats per night, and have reveled in my invisibility for 10 years. So there.”

So there!

Back to Mathea: Skomsvold is clever to make her protagonist nearly 100. We’re trained to treat older adults with respect (yes, I realize this is arguable) and perhaps even kid gloves. We’ll let Mathea’s idiosyncrasies slide and may even find them sweet. McDormand, however, welcomes a different type of response. Instead of dismissing or even indulging her “don’t look at me, actually please notice me” behavior, we chalk it up to “quirkiness.”

Is the difference in our responses due to these two women’s ages? Or is it because one (McDormand) continues to get ‘er done despite her frustration with “the industry,” while the other (Mathea) mostly eschews any activity at all in fear of being noticed? Why does Mathea make me want to throw a book across the room (after I get a good chuckle from her amusing mental gymnastics), but McDormand makes me want to know her better?

It’s this: After McDormand spends an entire morning directing the Times stylists and photographer, she coyly spends just as much time narrating throughout the photo shoot, “I never do this…I never, ever do this.” Someone finally asks why, then, she is “doing this.” Her answer: “I don’t know! I guess I want more work.”

So there you have it: In a world where women feel the push-pull of wanting success but don’t want to reveal any parts of us that are “odd,” McDormand has basically said, oh well – let’s do this! Whereas Mathea pontificates (and then pontificates some more), McDormand pontificates and acts.

Conclusion: I’m dumping Mathea and embracing Fran. (I’d rather be 60 than pushing 100 anyway.) Instead of merely pontificating about writing this little blog post, here I am with this humble offering.

So, fill me in: Whatcha reading?!

Let’s do this!

 

 

 

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