Notes From No Man's Land : The Unfinished Ok Oh Review

On a warmish Spring evening in 2009 an opposing soccer player's shoulder offensively connected with my jaw.  The offending shoulder trotted off without so much as a nod of recognition, sending my sense of injustice and fair play into aggressive overdrive.  I yelled at then spit on the shoulder and was kicked out of the game.  Forced to sit on the sideline, the full shame of my actions huddled around me.  Actually, I should say, the huddling humiliation was born of inaction, for as soon as the curse & spit left my puckered lips, I knew I didn't want to get into a fight at all.  And this has not always been the case.  There have been other similar moments played out on similar soccer fields where my desire to get into a fight aroused itself with far more intent.  But that night, I spat and backed down.  And I had to sit there behind the white line and accept that my age had finally crept into my emotional state in a personally discernible, quantifiable way for the first time in years.  In 2007 Lee Gutkind edited a book which boasts some of my favorite cover art.  Titled The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1, it is a collection of entertaining essays of the sort that get spoken by the mystifyingly nasal on This American Life.   I bought the book in 2008 and have continued to return to it since for the twin enjoyments of the cover art and a piece called The Pain Scale starting on page 65.  I've often thought of photocopying the essay, accompanied by a color copy of the cover, to send to a handful of people I think would really appreciate it.  I never have.  Once, when my father was in town, I made him read it.  Once I made my wife promise she would read it.  I am not the sort of person who makes proclamations about myself, but I can say this with some certainty: my brain is a hash of messily laid wires leaving no room for undue concern about certain specifics.  And by specifics, I mean things like technical jargon.  And by technical jargon I mean any number of things that may or may not include something like the name of the author who wrote a creative nonfiction essay I greatly admire.  This kind of ignorance, one I readily admit may well be habitual choice rather than particular molecular makeup (both, likely, so they say, can you really divorce them?) afflicts me in all sorts of inconvenient circumstances.  For instance, my job title is film editor yet try to strike up a conversation about filmy things, like film history, or director's oeuvres or even a what I might consider my favorite film, and you'll be met either by an annoyed or embarrassed fidgeting (depends on whether I'm trying to impress you.)   Last week I had one of those pyrexic attacks of book buying that occasionally overtake the occasional book buyer.  That sort which sends one into the local bookstore looking frantically for the one book one knows one would like to read, paired with a book or two whose cover art catches one's eye.  Usually this sort of flurry happens a couple days before a long flight or a vacation, but this one was seemingly disconnected from anything other than the instantaneous, compulsive need to buy some books.  In fact, I assume this is exactly how I ended up with The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1 in the first place. The dazzling cover art and short-story format surely points to the probability.  Tonight on my train ride home, nose deep in the second of the three books purchased (review of first, known commodity featured below, third book, bought on aesthetic instinct, currently tucked in the bathroom) I suddenly, out of the blue, think of The Pain Scale.  Out of the blue in the way that usually sends my brain scurrying to make connections, to wonder why I thought of it, to actually start writing in my mind, while disembarking the train car, a blog post.  Why am I thinking of The Pain Scale?   What could possibly be the antecedents?  Yes, the writing in the book of nonfiction essays I have just been reading has an eerily familiar voice, but don't all nonfiction essays have that voice?  I mean, I've heard This American Life a hundred times.  I've read plenty of David Sedaris.  I can conjure Ira Glass' midwestern Jewish whine readily.  Is something hurting me? My ankle? I really ought to photocopy that story, and color copy the cover, and send it to someone.  I think of Big Dan's assertion, recently repeated to Grant over Sunday morning coffee and less recently to Jack over the telephone, that once one turns 35 everything changes,  becomes less of a struggle, gets mellower. Does this have something to do with The Problem of Pain?  The blog post is practically writing itself. That is, I am practically writing it.  It is practically written. And I haven't even passed Good Friend Chinese take-out place yet.  Of course you know the end of the story.  You've probably figured out the ah-ha!  Once home I pluck The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1 from the shelf to find The Pain Scale written by none other than Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man's Land, the book I had selected just last week out of the kind of compulsion which selects books based on cover art and four sentences gleaned from a quick flip.  The juicy irony of it all.  Now I just wonder why a high res rendering of the cover art for The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 1 can't be found on the web.

1 comment:

BigDan said...

Please copy and send. Harper's owns the rights and you can't get it over their web site without paying for it.