Jill Grunenwald is a 2004 BFA graduate of Bowling Green State University and a 2008 MLIS graduate of the University of Kentucky. She lives in Cleveland, where she works as a librarian in a minimum security prison. The second letter, below, was written to her friend Melody, whom Jill has known since middle school. The first letter, below, was written to her ex-boyfriend (now friend), Bo, whom she has known since they were students together at BGSU.
Saturday | 5.31.2009
My dearest Bodysseus,
On Twitter you mentioned how you were going to be starting your first Margaret Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake, today. I know I don’t have to tell you that is my favorite of her books. As someone who started writing at a very young age, how I identified with the line “They spent the first three years of school getting you to pretend stuff and then the rest of it marking you down if you did the same thing.” (Like that other writer I love, Chuck Palahniuk, Atwood always has one line in each novel that strikes with the raw truth of life. In The Blind Assassin she writes, “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself.” Interesting perspective, given that this letter will be seen by at least one other person than the writer and intended reader.)
It has been so many years since I wrote a proper letter to anyone, and I certainly never typed one up. But you know me: I am too much of a perfectionist to send off anything but a final draft. I attempted, several times in fact, to write this long-hand, and was surprised at how difficult a task it turned out to be. One or two paragraphs in and I could see the errors, the misspellings and misplaced commas. Forgotten thoughts and phrases. I was thisclose to grabbing my red pen before I just decided to type the letter. I’m still undecided on how I feel about it.
Oryx and Crake is your first Margaret Atwood novel. Cat’s Eye was mine and I was in seventh or eighth grade. The truth is, while I did read her that young, I didn’t start to really read her until much, much later. After high-school, even after college. As much as I love her now and have almost half a shelf on my bookcase dedicated to her works, I’ve been a fan (how I hate that label) for a relatively short period of time. And yet it’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t reading her.
As a junior I took Modern Poetry. Wylam taught it, and I think you might have been in the class with me. It was held on the second or third floor of Moseley and we had one of the Norton Anthologies as our textbook. To this day it’s the only college book I regret selling back at the end of the semester (although, I think I’ve seen it on your bookcase, so perhaps all is not lost). It was in that book that I first read the poetry of Ted Hughes, which, of course, inspired my play Crow Songs. There were also some Margaret Atwood poems in the anthology. We didn’t read them as part of the class curriculum, but I was always flipping through the book during class. And while “Postcards” has since remained one of my favorite poems, it was years before I connected the dots: from the copy of Cat’s Eye that I checked out of the public library as a middle-school student, to the poetry I discovered in college, to the eight books taking up that half-shelf on my bookcase.
(When Amy was a sophomore or junior at BG she took a Women’s Studies course. One day she called me up and asked if I’d ever heard of the book The Handmaid’s Tale? Imagine her surprise when I told her, not only had I heard of it but I owned a copy.)
My dinner is cooking as I’m writing this: stuffed bell peppers from my tofu cookbook. The whole time I was preparing it, all I could think was I can’t wait until I get to cook another dinner for you. (I also kept thinking about how I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the book tonight.) Quite the domestic I’ve become since we started dating! Prior to our relationship, such an idea – the want, the desire, to cook dinner for you on a regular basis – would have challenged my sense of being a feminist. But, somehow, like the last name discussion, it doesn’t. It is an addition, an evolution to the label. Not an exception from. And, somehow, I think that explains why I like Margaret Atwood as much as I do: she doesn’t necessarily challenge the standards of being a feminist, but she certainly presents varying versions of the ideal. Each time I read the book, I change my mind about Oryx’s position. Is her attitude about her past healthy or ignorant? Shouldn’t she be angrier? Or has she reclaimed herself and is now at peace? Is it better to stay hard and bitter or to accept the past and move on? As a self-proclaimed feminist whose favorite t-shirt bears the Playboy bunny logo and whose book blog bears a reading mudflap girl, I’m sure I present an image of juxtaposition and make other feminists question my values. Is it wrong of me to call myself a feminist while wearing eyeliner and high-heels, or is it wrong of other feminists to judge me for it?
Sometimes I wonder if Oryx really is the little girl from the video, or if she just plays along because that’s what Jimmy wants from her. (And what does that say about women in relationships?)
Margaret Atwood has a new book coming out this fall. September, I think: The Year of the Flood. From my understanding, it’s a parallel novel to Oryx and Crake, dealing with the group God’s Gardeners (have you met them yet?) in the same post-catastrophe world that Snowman is in. I like the idea of seeing that same world from a different point of view, and, of course, I love the idea of Margaret Atwood returning to that world and, by extension, my own return.
Until then, however, I will merely wait for your return to me.
Love, from Cleveland,
Sunday | 6.7.2009
I first have to tell you how much I’ve loved seeing Cate’s pictures on your blog. When she is older and able to appreciate and understand the blog, I’m sure she’ll love being able to go back and look through the older entries. What makes it so great is she’ll also be able to read what you and Eric were thinking at the time when the moment was captured on film. Photo albums don’t always allow the story to be told, at least not in real-time like the blog does. I was thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure the last time we saw each other was when we met up at Newport. You had just found out you were pregnant, too, and now Miss Cate is over a year old. Where does the time go?
As I’m typing this, I’m listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the musical “Wicked.” Have you ever read the book it’s based on? The whole series is wonderful: “Wicked,” “Son of a Witch,” and the most recent, “A Lion Among Men.” The musical changes some things, but that usually happens with adaptations. Growing up, I was never a big fan of the film “The Wizard of Oz,” although I did read the book several times when I was in fifth grade. But that was really only because the edition in East Wood’s school library had the most beautiful illustrations. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to find the same edition, without much luck.
Truthfully, I didn’t like “Wicked” the first time I tried to read it. But a few years later, at the urging of someone who did like it, I opened it up again. This time I fell in love, and ended up reading some of Gregory Maguire’s other books, like “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.” I love the idea of taking a classic story that most children grew up hearing, whether it be Cinderella or Snow White or The Wizard of Oz, and turning it on its head.
“Wicked” is about Elphaba, a little girl born with green skin. (Her name is sheer creative genius: L. Frank Baum wrote the original Oz series. LFB. Elphaba.) She, as you can probably guess, grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West, and the book is the story of that evolution. The Oz that Maguire creates is darker than the one I grew up with as a child, and yet he stays true to many parts of the original series. He just looks at it from a different angle, more shadow than light. It’s also fascinating seeing Dorothy’s visit from the other side of the rainbow, as it were.
Considering the shade of Elphaba’s skin, so much of the book is about acceptance, especially acceptance of yourself. It’s about not letting anyone – not boys, parents, the popular girls – dictate who you are and how you feel about yourself. Given the age group you teach, I’m sure it’s something you see at your school: the teasing, the taunting. And, as the mother of a young daughter, it probably hits home that way, too. I remember the cliques at HHS, although I think it was even worse in middle school. In this age of blogs and social networking, how fast things travel through the internet and across cell-phones, I can’t imagine being a teenage girl at this point in history.
With you as her mother, I’m sure Cate will grow up to be a big reader. From the pictures posted, it seems like she’s already started having a love for books. I hope it continues for her. I still continue to voraciously put away books, as I’m sure you have, and still love curling up with a good novel. (It’s supposed to rain today, and I’m strangely looking forward to it so I can stay in bed all day with my current read.) While you’re off this summer (I am so jealous of my teacher friends!), if you’re looking for something to read, I definitely recommend “Wicked.” It’s a good, fun, fantastic tale. Perfect for summer reading.
I’m looking forward to our dinner in a few weeks! It will be fun to get together with you and Cecily – how far we’ve all come from our high-school days! I hope your school year ends well, and you have a safe trip up this way.