When Ottessa signed my book, she offered me encouragement to keep writing and to “Stay Nude!”
What did Ottessa Moshfegh mean when she told me to “Stay Nude!”?
Ottessa Moshfegh signed my copy of “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” with a message to, “Stay Nude!”
Now you’re obviously wondering what in the world this could mean. Let me explain.
During the Q&A with Interabang‘s book club master Lori Feathers, the audience was permitted to ask Ottessa questions.
When it came to my turn, I had a writing-style question in mind.
Reading Moshfegh’s book, Eileen
You see, I recently read Ottessa’s first book Eileen with great interest. It is quite an odd book, with a deeply puzzling protagonist. The woman, Eileen, is troubled, there are few kinder words to offer.
Full-frontal nudity of the soul
In the writing program at Southern Methodist University, The Writer’s Path, the director of the program, Suzanne Frank, often told us that writers often bare their souls in novels. That we transform large parts of ourselves into our protagonists when we write. Suzanne has called it, “Full frontal nudity of the soul.”
And so, my question to Ottessa Moshfegh was simple. Between Eileen and the protagonist in her new book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, how much of what we’re reading is “Full frontal nudity of her soul.”
She didn’t even reflect very much before she blurted out the answer: “You’re definitely getting some side boob action.”
The book signing
So when the time came for Ottessa to sign my book, we talked about writing styles. She knows I’m a writer as well. I’ve even sent off a query to Bill Clegg at The Clegg Agency and I’m waiting for an answer. The conversation was fun. I enjoyed meeting her, we said our farewells and I walked away happy to have met her.
When I got to my car, I opened the book out of curiosity to see how she had signed it. “To Donny, best of luck with your writing. Stay nude! Ottessa Moshfegh.”
And of course, do some writing. I have a new mantra for when I’m in front of my typewriter making the magic flow onto the page. STAY NUDE! Thanks, Ottessa for the encouragement. You do the same, though I don’t think you’ve had any problem.
Franklin Peabody sat studying the scene outside the window of his library dreading the onslaught of spring. Three robins stared watching his every move. Or so he thought. One robin protected her clutch. The nest never sat unguarded if Franklin Peabody was near to touch. When he went outside, robins followed. Or so he thought.
As the light of day waned, Penelope Peabody, the bride of Mr. P., entered with exciting news. She said she too was on the nest, due herself a visit from the Stork.
This news shocked Mr. P., who since a child himself vowed never to have one of his own.
“How can this be Mrs. P?” he demanded. “Are you certain the father is me?”
Mr. Peabody and the Robins, a short story by Donald J. Claxton.
Franklin Peabody’s accusation crushed the good woman.
“How could you ask such a question of me? You know there is no place in my heart or our bed for anyone but you,” said she.
“I fear bringing a child into this wicked world,” he confided in her. “Evil lurks outside these very panes; a wretchedness for which there is no cure.”
Mrs. Peabody cried and trembled over the surprising reaction of her husband.
And so, she flew upstairs to quarters above the dismal library of Mr. P. where he perched after dinner, sipped a drink or two, and hid between the pages of the latest best seller. All the while robins flocked to observe him through the library’s windows. Above him they could see Mrs. P. crying a bird bath of tears and they chirped among themselves.
“The time has come,” they said in their birdish ways.
“Robbed my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother he did of eggs in her nest one spring it’s true, now that he has one of his own coming, we shall avenge as sure as an egg is blue,” crowed the mother at rest in the nest.
“That poor woman will worry herself sick and the baby, too,” said another. “But shouldn’t we leave this kind of thing to the ravens of Poe my dear brother?”
“Nonsense!” squawked the third in a passive voice. “Tradition is set, and revenge must be dealt. We will not be happy until an equal measure of loss is felt.”
Mrs. P. made ready for the special day as the robins flocked outside in a special way, and Mr. P. thought of something special to say.
Days before the arrival of the Peabody child, Franklin exited the residence did he, with a bag of bread and walked to a bench in the park to sit under an oak tree.
The birds issued their warnings to each other, but going to the park they shrieked, “he’s returning to the scene of the crime!”
“Franklin Peabody, we know what you did that day as a kid. The murder of our ancestors can never be hid’,” said a venerable robin.
“I was a boy, curious at heart. I meant no harm I promise you that. I picked up those eggs to carry them home and before I knew what, in my hand they went splat.”
This stirred the ire of the birds.
“Nature is best left alone in the woods not in the palms of some greedy young boy,” cried an old timer.
“I know that now,” exclaimed Mr. Franklin P. “but how was I to know that then?”
“Your teacher on the field trip earlier in the day said these very words, ‘Our place is not to touch but to admire the beauty and power of Nature,’ did she not?” demanded the venerable robin.
“She did, she did indeed, I must confess,” whimpered Mr. P. “I am guilty as charged, but I do not know how to make amends for this colossal mess.”
“Fair is fair in Nature, Mr. P,” cried a round robin.
Mr. P. sat thinking for a moment as though he’d brought his study with him.
“You are angry over something that happened generations ago. Isn’t your sin as damnable as mine?”
“He is trying to trick us,” charged a younger bird. “What happened long ago hurts me every day! Make him pay for what he did.”
An older bird chirped to the younger.
“Oh, be quiet. Neither of us were even born then.”
Mr. P continued.
“Let this new generation be born and our mistakes forgiven.”
The older robin moved closer to Mr. P.
“’Tis tiring to keep angry over something one did not experience firsthand.”
“I have suffered for my sin and longed to make amends,” Mr. Peabody said. “When my child comes, the child shall have the name Robin.”
The birds fell silent.
“I see how you at my windows, worrying if your nests are safe,” Mr. Peabody said. “I will set out seed and build bird houses, so you are worry-free from children, cats, and other predators.”
“That way you will give life to more than the three we lost,” a momma robin said.
“I cannot replace the three whose lives I stole, but perhaps more will have a greater chance to live as I make amends,” Mr. P. said.
The birds chirped among themselves and accepted his offer.
He then opened the bag of crumbs and shared the bread until consumed.
Upon returning home, Franklin discovered Mrs. P. had flown the coup. Gone was her bag kept readied for a trip to the hospital. When Mr. P. reported to the delivery ward as arranged, they’d not heard from her. Nor any others. Nor had her parents. Or so he thought. Mr. Peabody was so distraught, he returned to his study and since he had no child of his own, he did not name one Robin. He did not set out seed or make bird feeders. The birds kept watch on his study and didn’t know what happened to Mrs. P. either.
Neil Diamond canceled a planned world tour this year. He has Parkinson’s and in the words of one of his songs, is done too soon. The disease is so bad he can’t keep traveling. Honestly, I wasn’t surfing for tickets, but this is sad news. For the past 46-47 years of my life, Neil’s tunes have enriched the musical fabric of my life.
I first remember Neil Diamond when we moved to Derby, Kansas near McConnell AFB in late spring 1972. When Dad returned from his second tour in Nam, this one as a member of the elite USAF helicopter group, the Green Hornets, he brought with him a Sansui receiver, Teac reel-to-reel, and a Pioneer turntable that fed some high powered Sansui speakers.
One of the albums that filled two bedroom home on S. Post Oak was Neil Diamond’s Taproot Manuscript. Dad played it every Saturday morning as we waited for a place in base housing. To this day I can hum every note of side two of the album–from “Childsong” all the way to the frogs fading at the end–twenty minutes later.
When I got older, I found the jazzed up version of “Shilo” on Neil Diamond’s 12 Greatest Hits album. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played and replayed this song. From grades four through… I won’t say how old, I played air drums along with him and the orchestra.
Something about the high-hat and the drums rolling across the set has always made me as happy as Neil singing about his imaginary childhood friend. There are a couple other versions of the song but they don’t come close to the one on this album.
Now I know some of my friends reading this will mock me and make fun of Neil. That’s okay. They’re not getting sung in seventh inning stretches either. He is. Bum bum bum…. (“Sweet Caroline”)
“Do It …” the 45 single sounded better than any album or CD ever has.
The Monkeys have Neil to thank for “I’m A Believer.” It was Number One on BillBoard Magazine for weeks.
Neil had tons of hits. “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I am… I Said,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” and on and on….
But now I wonder if he’s playing one self-fulfilling song in his head more often than the others.
Done Too Soon
I’ve been mindful of this song since dad brought home Taproot Manuscript, but never really understood it until I grew older. Neil goes through a litany of famous people and then remarks that all of them have something in common with all of us.
In 1970, he wrote himself a warning in “Done too Soon.” I hope he heeded it and enjoyed every minute along the way.
“And each one there
Has one thing shared
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon
For being done too soon.”
We all race through our lives seldom taking the time to enjoy each day as we live it. That was the message here. Not to do that. And even if we do, Neil postulated as a younger man, that it would still happen, that our lives are but a wisp of time and then we are gone, or we are old and our days of youth are swept away before we know it.
Neil Diamond, thank you for the music and the memories. They’ve been valuable in my lifetime.
Heed Neil’s words as you live out your days. Live every day as if your last. And enjoy every single moment as much as you may because one day you’re going to look back and wonder where the days went and remark that it was all done too soon.
This is a father’s poem to a daughter. Years ago, circa 1998, maybe early 1999, before her twin sisters were born, I wrote this poem for Chandler. I found it in the garage the other day, the pages worn and stained the way a poem written twenty years ago should be. Here it is in digital form so that won’t ever happen again.
This may be my poem to Chandler, but I dare say it’s probably a message most fathers have about their little girls. I could apply it to Reagan and Haley as well and have. Looking back, I think we’ve done just about all of the things I mention in the poem–though I never had to sample mud pies!
They are now little women, but I forever hold them in my heart like you see Chandler in the picture to the right. That’s her in my lap where she and the twins will always be in spirit.
I Can’t Tell You
I can’t tell you how much I love you,
Or how much I like to hold you.
I can’t tell you how happy you make me feel inside
How you make my heart pound so hard with pride.
I can’t tell you how much I love to watch you grow,
To learn to walk, to run, to catch and throw.
I can’t tell you how much I’d like you to play piano
To learn to act, or dance or sing soprano.
I can’t tell you how much I like to kiss you
Or measure when we’re apart how much I miss you.
I can’t tell you how I want you to be so smart
To do well in science, English and event art.
I can’t tell you how much I want you to know,
The feel of grass, of fallen leaves and snow.
I can’t tell you how much I want to walk with you
To climb big rocks, to talk, to jump and sing songs, too.
I can’t tell you how much I want to learn with you,
About computers, cooking, baby dolls, and mud pies, too.
I can’t tell you all I see when you’re at rest
And think about my limits you sometimes test.
I can’t tell you how much I love to see you read
And to reach out to me when you feel in need.
I can’t tell you how excited I get every day
When you come to me and say, “Daddy, let’s play.”
I can’t tell you how much I love to brush your hair
To tickle, and tumble and to tell you I care.
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see you fall,
Or to not be there in the day when I know you call.
I can’t tell you about all I want you to know,
But for now, I’ll work on “Red light stop. On green you go.”
I can’t tell you I’ll always be at your side,
One day you’ll grow up and become a bride.
I can tell you it will be hard to walk you down that aisle,
But I promise you now, I’ll be wearing a smile.
I can tell you I’ll be thinking of so many other days then,
How much I’d like to go back and do it all again.
And I can tell you right now that makes me sad,
So today, I’ll just concentrate on being your Dad.
Not long ago, I bought resume paper and matching envelopes. Not to send out resumes but for something more special–letter writing.
Once I load the paper into my 1951-model Smith-Corona Silent, (taking care to ensure the letterhead is correct), I write someone I’ve not corresponded with in a while. Maybe someone I have never written before.
My penmanship is better after months of hand-written Morning Pages. But how often these days does anyone receive the gift of a letter composed on a typewriter? Yeah, rarely.
My goal is a letter a day. One-page to let a special person know they were on my mind. This is so much better, not to mention cheaper than Hallmark. More original. More personal. More caring.
I don’t ask for a letter in return, though a typing pen pal would be nice. these days we dash emails and texts off with so little thought behind them. I enjoy my time at the typewriter taking the care to send genuine thoughts and to do my level best not to make any typos.
Dumping By Snapchat
A friend of mine had her son dumped by a girlfriend recently. She sent him a Snapchat message. He read the Dear John and it disappeared, forever. They’d been going steady for more than a year. They are 14, but still. This from a girl born in Alabama. She knows better and her mother taught her better, too. Emily Post is rolling in her grave.
My friend Harold Duncan often tells his mail carrier he wishes the Postal Service would bring “better mail.” The other day Harold had his wish fulfilled with a one-page letter thanking him for many years of friendship and support.
Typing With a Butter Knife
Owning a typewriter is rare these days. I bought my first last fall–a Smith-Corona Super Sterling like my dad had when I was a boy. In the documentary California Typewriter, Tom Hanks turned me onto the Smith-Corona Silent model. Hanks says that of the 250 typewriters he has, the Silent is the one he could not do without. I concur. It’s like typing with a butter knife.
My typewriters have changed how I write. The rhythm of the intricate machine slows my thought process. Words form pictures in my mind as the letters flow to my fingertips, depress a key, activate a series of levers and springs before compressing the fibers of a black ribbon and leap onto the white canvas of the non-glowing, porous page.
I revised my novel “The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club” on my typewriters. Instead of cutting, they helped grow the story into something new and magical. Yesterday I started querying agents.
Times are crazy busy. I’ve enjoyed the responses from friends who’ve received my letters. Writing them was worth it. Every clickety-clack….