Is it really February 25?


It is, it is really February 25th. And why does time go faster the older we get? A friend of mine maintains that there is a physiological reason that time seems to speed up as we age, but, being in her 50's, she can't actually remember what that reason is. Is it  relativity? Not to mention physics. The speed is directly related to the fact that we are now on the other side of the mountain, and we are rushing downwards, careening towards the infinite space of death.

Sorry, people, but this is what happens in February. We must face death every winter before the slush of March comes and then, later on, the mud, and the brilliant yellow forsythia. My son pointed out a robin to me this weekend, and I said, My dear, it can't be a robin, but there it was, when I turned to look, red-breasted and insisting on spring.

Lately I've been doing something that writers should never do: checking out how many books I've sold and reading online reviews of my work, especially Burmese Lessons. The Lizard Cage was the better book, I agree, but it's important to remember how different the books are too. A novel; a memoir. A fictional accounting; a record of lived experience, my own lived experience, complete with my failures and my immaturity. (What did they expect, human perfection? How satisfying would that be, how believable?) Burmese Lessons is also very much the portrait of the artist as a young woman. It fascinates me how judgmental people are when they read about young women, adventure, and sex. Young men having adventure and sex are universally celebrated and indulged--in both fiction and nonfiction, and real life!--but even writing 'adventure' here seems like a dangerous move. As in, "Oh, my God, she calls being amongst those refugees and dissidents and suffering people in Burma and on the border an adventure! She's so callous and cruel, she's so self-involved." At the time I didn't think of it as an adventure--it was my life then, in my twenties and thirties, living abroad and trying to understand the world through my skin, trying to understand, what it meant as a writer to bear witness while not indulging in propaganda.  It was always a serious enterprise for me. But fifteen years on, in my 40's, of course I can see that it was also adventure: the adventure that my life has always been, complete, in the case of Burma, with political awakenings, impassioned relationships, and the demanding work of learning the history and culture of another country.

Yet when I read some of these online reviews, I laugh out loud. Some readers were so shocked by the sexual content of Burmese Lessons (which is, alas, pretty tame--was it the word 'cunt' that did it, do you think??) and others were so insulted that not only did the young woman live on the border in Thailand, but that her point of reference, of home, was a Greek island. Really--it seems to insult or bother (or make jealous?) a whole swath of readers, that it was Greece I pined for, as a place of beauty and peace, rather than Canada, where I was born. But that little shack on the island is still the place I pine for! Nothing's changed in almost 25 years, when it comes to my relationship with Greece. Until now, the island (like many Greek islands) has not been as sorely affected by the ravaged economy. But even if it were, I would still pine for my friends there, the sea, the land, which will endure.

Anyway. You'll be happy to hear (or maybe you'll be irritated and disgusted; whatever) that I'm presently writing a short novel FULL of sex. And collecting a series of shorter memoirs for another new book. And working, here and there, on the longer novel full of darkness. The dark stuff is, interestingly, what people crave the most. There is an appetite for trauma--and hopefully for overcoming or transforming trauma. But my Short Novel Full of Sex doesn't have much trauma in it. It's just mildly scandalous and inspired by Vita and Virginia. And, well, oddly, my local swimming pool. I can hardly wait to read the online reviews . . .

Karen Connelly5 Comments