Friday, November 13, 2015

This is happy??

I'm turning into a crabby reader in my old age. Last week I skimmed "The Folded Clock," by Heidi Julavits, which is an odd, interesting diary, filled with her day to day activities and musings. She's intriguing with a very rich life, and she's a marvellous, intelligent writer, but still, I found it episodic and unsatisfying, too quirky, like a platter of delicious hors d'oeuvres; I didn't think it was enough. But then, I thought Julavits's friend and colleague Sheila Heti's book "How should a person be?" was self-indulgent and silly, and then it was reviewed at length, favourably, in nothing less than the New Yorker. So what do I know?

Now I am reading Camilla Gibb's popular "This is happy," the memoir about her extremely painful childhood and adulthood, her years of depression and attempts at suicide, and then happiness with her lesbian partner (who we all know, though she's given a pseudonym in the book, is Heather Conway, a top level poohbah at the CBC.) As soon as she becomes pregnant in her early forties, however, her partner dumps her. She cries every day for months, all through her pregnancy. Yet somehow - how? She's a writer! - she buys a downtown house (the price of single family homes in Toronto is through the roof) and renovates it completely, including putting in an incredible garden that had me drooling, and she hires a live-in nanny who's on site and ready when the baby is born. All this while sobbing. She gives birth, has the nanny, faithful friends and her mother to help her, but is desperately waiting for her lover, who wants to co-parent, to return. And then she finds out her lover has found someone else, and she collapses in rage and grief.

She stands watching the nanny play with her child. "It should be my daughter's other parent playing peek-a-boo in this moment, me watching her lose all inhibition - becoming innocent and childlike - and welling up with love for them both. It should be my partner seeing me anew, at greater depth, as a mother, moved by the brave extent of what we are capable of as humans ..."


And I think to myself, you're beautiful, rich, and a successful and talented writer, you own a house and a Jeep, you live with a fabulous nanny who's like a best friend, you have a perfect, healthy child - and you're going to whine about being without a partner? My daughter is the single mother of not one but two young children. She lives in a small rented apartment and she does every single thing by herself. And I have never, not once, heard her complain. Well, maybe once. I know, she wasn't heartbroken, she chose her life - though she did hope things would turn out differently with both fathers. But Anna is brave and strong, resolute and resilient, beyond anyone I know.

So right now, I have little patience for Camilla Gibb's ceaseless suffering. I know this sounds intolerant and judgemental. Well, it is. And yes, as the writer of a memoir read by a few hundred people, I'm jealous that hers has received such a lot of attention. But mostly, I think she's a very good writer, and her editor should have reigned in the self-pity flowing like a torrent through this book.

I'm only on Page 159. Maybe there's a big change by the end. I do hope she stops referring to her daughter as "the egg."

Her nanny goes off to her own friends on the weekend. "I dread the long and lonely weekends, the boredom, the hours, the exhaustion, the early mornings. The weekends are for families... I cry too much when it's just the two of us. I cry and count the hours." Oh for God's sake.

"I want to be in my pyjamas and parenting with someone together. I want to be a family. I want to be years into a relationship, in that place where you are known and knowing and loving and loved - the place I thought I was."

You know what? I wanted that too, after my divorce. My gay friend Chris who's adopted and an orphan wants that. Tons of people want that. In the end, we all want to be known and loved. No news there.

This is what Anna just wrote on FB, the closest to a complaint I've ever heard from her:
She has to have four arms, four legs, four eyes, two hearts, and double the love. There is nothing single about being a single mum. 
This one hit me in the feels tonight.

My heart is with her. 

And while I'm lauding my kids, Sam's bar Gaslight was just voted Now Magazine's Runner Up for Best Bar in Toronto. The winner is a long-established place, where Gaslight is only a year old. Woo hoo! 

Okay, I'll stop grousing now. 


  1. I couldn't even make it to p. 50 of Gibb's book. World's smallest violin.

  2. Valerie, usually I too abandon books if I'm not compelled, but I did read the whole thing, because she's a good writer. But yes, there was a lot of self-pity. To me, the writer can put it in; it's the job of the editor to cut it out.