Saturday, August 1, 2009

Chabon Worries about Young Writers ... I Don't -- or not for the same reasons ...

In a recent blog at the KENYON REVIEW, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky writes a response to Chabon's piece in the New York Review of Books ...

Chabon writes:

"People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children..."

Beautifully put. But here, he worries ...

"Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?"

I always get argumentative when people worry about the future of "literature itself."

And I might be able to set Chabon's mind at ease -- just a little -- as I can offer a report from the trenches of a neurotic childhood.

(And by the way, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky's post makes a much broader, more socio-economic, historically conscious point ... Worth reading.)

I was raised by a hyper-phobic matriarch, pure obsessive compulsive, built from hearty starch of pure love. Her list of the world’s dangers included everything from drinking orange juice out of coffee mugs to not peeling off the waxy edge of the balogna to lying on damp grass. I was taught to fear all things in nature, as well as germs and the chemicals that kill them. I missed most of 4th and 5th graded because she didn’t trust the bus driver … She would abandon a grocery cart halfway through a shopping trip if the mop guy came near — because the fumes would settle into our pale defenseless Nilla Wafers.

And what do I write? Adventure, fantasy, magical realism — fearful children moving into different worlds through a slippery map or into the underbelly of Fenway Park full of cursed creatures, horned and otherwise. (And in my adult novels, my work has plenty of neuroses but is shot through with large doses of unrestrained love. My mother was generous in that regard as well …)

And Chabon’s point is well taken, as is Lobanov-Rostovsky's. I get both of them.

But speaking as a novelist born from a neurotically overwhelmed home deep in the suburban wilds of middle class America, I can say that Chabon need not worry about the future writers of the world — or not at least necessarily on that score. If anything, denial will breed curiosity, desire … just as boredom leads to creativity. (It’s the lack of unrelenting boredom that scares me, but only because boredom was so plentiful in my childhood that it’s something I can point to … just as adventure is something Chabon points to…)

Writers. What I love is how they can crop up in the most unlikely places under the most unlikely circumstances …

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a longstanding literary tradition of writers raised by overbearing, overprotective, neurotic parentals?

Feel free to discuss ...