Thursday, April 15, 2010

Call Me Crazy, by Anne Heche and Mark Strand, Pulitzer-prize winning poet

Memoir is by far my favorite genre. The juicier the better, and some of the juiciest are penned by the rich and famous. Rosie O'Donnell's memoir? Loved it. Maureen McCormick's? Loved it. (And shame on you if you don't recognize her as Marcia from The Brady Bunch!) There is just something irresistible about getting the "dirt" on someone shiny and privileged, on knowing that they suffer through the same ordeals we do. Celebrities' lives make for great memoir - their lives are full of the stuff that makes for fun reading: the conflicts of family life, sexual indiscretions, and emotional lives that are, well, maybe just a tad less than rock-solid. And best of all, they know how to give it all up on the page.
At the time I read Heche's autobiography, the coals of her love affair with Ellen Degeneres had just cooled. I dare anyone not to be fascinated by the story of Heche, a young, blond starlet who - flash! bam! - suddenly declared herself bisexual as she fell head over heels for Degeneres, who herself had just come out of the closet as a lesbian.
The story of Anne Heche's childhood is not pretty; in fact, it's painful to read. Her father was an emotionally disturbed minister who sexually abused her. Her childhood brought her one crushing indignity after another. She survived, even succeeded, by her own grit, and ambition. One day, post-Degeneres, Heche basically lost her mind, becoming Celestia, an alternate personality that emerges, and finally takes over her life.
And then, just as quickly as Heche fragments, she integrates and heals. Sounds crazy, yeah? But, is she crazy? I dunno, but she's interesting as hell, and she's honest, and she has a truth to tell. And, aren't we all just a sum of our parts - the happy, the sad, the joyful, the mad? Like the facets of a jewel, those myriad aspects of ourselves are our birthright, and make us human. Heche gave it all up in her memoir and at the end, I felt I knew her. Call me crazy - but I liked Anne Heche (and Celestia,too.) " Call Me Crazy" - sure, it's a little angry (who can blame her?) and it's no literary masterpiece, but it was one good read.

On a completely unrelated note, poet Mark Strand recently spoke as part of the The Butler Writers' Series. The intersection of the Venn diagram of celebrity memoir fans who are also poetry lovers is very slim, so it should come as no surprise that I'm not a "poetry-girl." I've always felt bad about that, embarrassed that I've never understood this literary form. Despite not "getting" poetry, I've always loved the idea of poetry. I love words, and I long to be swept away by the emotion that comes with hearing how words are strung together. I think that poems must be the equivalent of word-paintings.
Mark Strand is a big deal. Pulitzer Prize winner. Poet Laureate. His oeuvre could fill a bookshelf. I sat perched in my folding chair, waiting with barely contained anticipation. But, I suppose it's folly to assume that an artist is necessarily as facile at communicating about art as s(he) is at creating it. Mr. Strand read his poetry, and dutifully answered a few perfunctory questions at the end, but kept the audience at arm's length throughout the evening. He did not speak to his inspirations, or delve into the meaning behind the imagery, or the form. I wondered if this was because Strand's personality is such, or if it had more to do with the interiorness of the form, and the personality-type it attracts. The one interesting, if disturbing, comment Strand made was when he stated that, counterintuitively, poetry had failed to bring insight or transformation to his emotional landscape. This moment of dark honesty was tossed out with a chuckle. I don't know anything about poetry, but I thought that was what it, and all art, is about!
I look forward to hearing what novelist Mona Simpson has to say this Monday at Butler.

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