October 11, 2006


At Zestful Gardens, yesterday, at last, a good photo of my sister. I weigh the tomatoes on the scale (only two pounds, this week, whew!), while my sister holds the sugar pumpkin. The woman behind us wearing the blue fleece vest is the matriarch of the farm. She told us she felt sad, because the first frost had come that morning. That marks the end of the green peppers and other delicate vegetables that didn't get harvested beforehand.

* * *

Last evening, Jennie and I went to University Book Store for a reading by Janet Fitch from her new novel, Paint It Black. She read from the first chapter and it was pretty hard-hitting (plot: 20-year-old punk girl living in L.A. learns that her boyfriend has committed suicide); after reading, and in contrast to the hard-hitting emotion of the chapter, Janet Fitch was quite upbeat, chatty, and entertained a number of questions from the audience, including one from yours truly. "I'm wondering about the artistic decision to kill off one of main characters right away in the book," I said. "Was that a decision that you made from the very first draft, or a decision that you came to later?"

"It was a decision from the very beginning," she said. "I'm not interested in glorifying or romanticizing the character who commits suicide; I'm interested in the ordinary people who are around afterward who have to mop up. The person may think, 'Everyone will be better off without me,' but really what they do when they kill themselves is to spread their depression to everyone around them." She explained that its a novel about the process of grief; how do people who are left behind after a suicide bring meaning back to life?

With my literary criticism hat on, I have to say that it is unusual for a main character to die within the first few pages of a book. The only other book I can think of that's similar is Another Country by James Baldwin, where, for about a hundred pages, you get to walk around with the main character, Rufus, get to know him and even love him, and then he kills himself; the remaining couple of hundred pages of the novel are about how Rufus's friends pull themselves together after losing him. With my literary criticim hat on, I think readers are not drawn into a novel that is so very hard-hitting right in the first 20 pages. Despite this reservation, I bought Paint It Black anyway.

I bought Paint It Black anyway, because I had read her first novel, White Oleander, and thought it beautifully written. Lyrical, even. In talking with Janet Fitch, she said that she spent 10 years learning her craft and getting nothing but rejections, and, since I spent the 90's doing the same thing, I very much appreciated her honesty.

I was affected by Paint It Black by a weird synchronicity, too. About three weeks ago I learned that an old boyfriend of mine from high school, who was living in L.A. and who, from all appearances, was having a pretty darned successful career, had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I'm still stunned and shocked and want to know, Why? (I wasn't consciously aware of the plot of Paint It Black when I chose to go to the reading; I chose it because I'd enjoyed White Oleander and because Jennie and I like to go to readings. But the unconscious mind is a powerful thing, and I think it was my unconscious mind that put me in that audience last night.) How do we bring meaning back to life?

Posted by Karen at October 11, 2006 09:51 AM

What an interesting reading that must have been! Now you have me hankering after the book so I MUST hear how you like the actual book. Interesting parallel between your life and the book too.

NOW! You challenge me on socks! And now I'm thinking I might be able to do the two second socks and a pair of argyles! Darn you!

Posted by: Rebecca at October 11, 2006 11:38 AM

I really like the picture. It made me smile. All the beautiful produce and happy people enjoying it. Thanks!

Posted by: Lisak at October 11, 2006 02:05 PM

You look so happy in that photo, you and your sista. Love shopping with mine, too. Hey, sorry about your friend in L.A. It's always hard to know what to say to others left behind when one of our own decides to remove themselves this way. Suicide is not addressed well in this country, either in medical or social arenas. There are suicide survivor groups available for those who seek them out, many through the Crisis Clinic (206-461-3200). I like to speak about the CC whenever the subject arises (which is far too often) because it is such an unknown asset to our community. I hope you find peace and can forgive your friend, who must have been suffering terribly. Some things we can never understand, but we can empathize.

Posted by: Rebecca at October 12, 2006 09:54 AM

I feel honored to be on Ideaphoria! Truthfully, I was never much of a veggie freak, much preferring desserts, but Zestful Gardens has made me a true believer. It's such fun splitting the share with the Campbells-- we get to see you almost every week during the season.

Your book reading discussion was great. I don't like having a main character die early on either, as it immediately transfers (social work term) the depression, anger and guilt to the reader. And who wants to read a whole book while feeling bummed out. Will be interested in your review.

Sorry to hear about your high school friend. It's always such a shock to lose someone we once knew well.

Posted by: Shirley at October 12, 2006 10:07 AM

Thanks for sharing a photo of you and your sister. Look at all those healthy yummy veggies! Lucky you. I enjoyed reading about your experience with Jennie at the book store. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Jewel at October 12, 2006 10:24 AM

Rebecca Burgess -- no need to go for a *pair* of argyles, when just one will do. :-)

LisaK -- thanks for stopping by!

Rebecca Bienn -- thanks for sharing your wisdom. And, on a lighter note, is there anyone better to go shopping with than a sister? They know just what you like....

Now, Shirley, do you know that you've been on Ideaphoria before? (Search in the archives for August 30, 2005.) But, seriously, it's the family sweet tooth that raised us to prefer desserts over veggies . . . and I was so glad we got a *few* fruits mixed in with our cabbages and carrots at the farm this summer. Since you are a retired social worker, I'm thinking you'd probably like White Oleander, which is about a teenaged girl who lives in four different foster homes. Your analysis of transference to the reader is totally right on the mark -- and who does want to read a book when you (the reader) go through so much emotional pain right in the first few pages?

Jewel: The share this week *was* very colorful. I've really had fun sharing recipes with my sister in these recent months.

Posted by: Karen at October 13, 2006 07:09 AM

I'm sooo jealous! I, too, loved (in spite of myself)White Oleander. It was a wonderfully painful read, and remains my favorite book of all time. I'm sorry about your old boyfriend. How terribly sad...sigh...thanks for the heads up on Paint It Black. I'll have to take a look at it. It's time for a good book, now that it's cooling down here in So. Cal. That and knitting with wool again!

Posted by: Dori at October 14, 2006 01:53 PM