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A Writer's (Comical) Morning Routine

A la Edith Wharton, I remain in bed until the sun rises though I have no servants to bring me my tea on a silver platter. Still, it is a luxury to write in my journal propped up against the pillows. I begin the process of heating my brain in the quiet of these early morning hours. No phone, no obligation other than rousing myself into the day. I may read some of David Sedaris’ journals, the first volume recently published. Is there anyone who doesn’t love this guy? Does the much-and- unfairly-pilloried Jonathan Franzen wish he were David Sedaris? Meandering thoughts. Now it is 1999. My friend David is on an airplane to Germany sitting next to a very fat man. Ha! The guy is taking up two seats. The next day my friend David, currently living near Paris, is in his French class. His sardonic humor doesn’t quit even under pressure of acquiring a new language. Inspired, I continue my own comical morning routine and attempt to imitate David’s irreverent take on everything as I write my journal entry. I begin with the days just passed, already behind me and mulched into memory. For example, I cooked a turkey for the first time in a decade and because we are in a new apartment, and have only used the oven twice since we moved here last March, and the oven is electric, the manner of its heating and cooling is a mystery. The turkey cooked FAST and we had to rescue it before our guests arrived. Fortunately, they brought delicious side dishes so the dryness of the turkey did not matter, or was not even mentioned. Politeness! Gratitude for our hospitality! We toasted, several times, to old friends and new. Inevitably, we slid into politics or the programs we are bingeing on. Let’s make lists and pass them round, I suggested. Let’s not sully the day with you- know-what and you-know who. Let me distract you with a story about my work-out at the gym yesterday morning. Alas, it was closed today, I continued in a non-stop monologue. (I was the hostess and held the floor.) I went onto WiFi and listened to WBGO, my favorite station, and began to sing out loud as I pranced on the elliptical. No one noticed, or did they? I wasn’t sure. I kept on singing. A guy walked in and took the bike next to me and I said, “That’s your bike, make no mistake, I’ve seen you on it before, we all have our little routines and that is your bike.” His face broke into a huge smile. Why did I think until that moment that he was mute and sullen? Because it was still early in the morning, the sun just up, and we were both barely awake.
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Edith Wharton

I'm been re-reading the Marilyn French introduction to my frayed edition of Edith Wharton’s "The Custom of the Country," and that has set me straight on Jonathan Franzen’s odd review in The New Yorker of her work on the occasion of her 150th birthday:

Franzen begins by complaining that because she was born into privilege it is difficult to feel any sympathy for Edith Wharton or her writing. That’s odd as I have found Franzen’s writing cold and unsympathetic. And this brings me back to Marilyn French's observation that it is very interesting what men writers make of the women in their lives. I suppose one could also say the opposite: It’s very interesting what women writers make of the men in their lives. But Franzen's decision to attack Wharton for her "privilege" on her 150th birthday seems chauvinistic and cruel—chauvinism is cruel—small-minded, perhaps even envious of her great gifts.

For years, Edith Wharton’s work was relegated to the dusty shelves of libraries and she was mentioned only in passing as a contemporary of Henry James. We now know better. She was better, richer and truer in many ways than James as a writer. And Franzen is far from her class as a writer; I use class differently here, of course, though the word has some relevance.

Shame on The New Yorker for not honoring Edith Wharton and publishing one of her stories in celebration. Instead, they published Franzen's odd review. What an introduction for a new generation of readers who have never read Wharton. How are they to know that Franzen is utterly wrong about her? She wrote with empathy about many other people less fortunate than herself. She was an aid worker during World War I. Her generosity, both material and emotional, were legend. Three of her novels are masterpieces: “The Custom of the Country,” “The House of Mirth,” and “The Age of Innocence.” She wrote in bed, and that was a luxury, but she also had a serious nervous breakdown and much sadness and struggle in her life. She never had children yet she adored children and wrote tenderly about them. One could go on and on. Franzen has no such empathy or vision. He is a cold writer caught in the web of his own narcissistic middle-American origins, and blinkered by them.  Read More 
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