Last week quarterlane books launched it's winter collection and I was lucky enough to curate the Memoir Box. As I mentioned to quarterlane founder, Elizabeth Lane "I recently realized in the past 6(ish) years I have read only memoirs written by women. I am not sure what that says about me? Perhaps simply that I don't read as much as I should, or that I love women's stories, both of which would be absolutely true. But, I do think that there is another layer to this attraction, something that we all seek in stories we read and the stories we tell: connection."
Claire Deder's recent book Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning was included in the Memoir Box. A recent literary obsession of mine, Love and Trouble felt instantly recognizable while also mildly disconcerting. The topic of aging and reconciliation is relatable, but something that is not as widely discussed is the often false notion of "arrival" and the untidy dichotomies that exist within us all. I don't know if this experience is unique to women, but I do know it resonates with me at this juncture of life.
Needless to say, I was eager to talk with Dederer about Love and Trouble, her experience writing the book, and how she wrestled with the life events and themes the process unearthed.
As a 40-year-old woman, I found Love and Trouble relatable to a point of both concern and solace – concern because it made me ponder the plausibility getting to an age of wholeness, and solace because it was comforting to know I’m not alone in those thoughts and concerns. Has this been a common response?
Yes, it has been a very common, and I’d say reasonable, response. The book is exploring the possibility that we don’t actually ever get to an age of wholeness—we don’t change or transform in that way. We are the people we were. In that sense, it pushes against traditional memoir, which is built, in its very essence, on the idea of personal transformation.
It’s not a very comforting point of view, this idea that we’re not going to achieve some better, more integrated self. The comfort comes from the reader discovering she’s not alone with such feelings and thoughts.
You reference and quote from your old journals throughout the book. How was the process of rereading and revisiting your younger self at various stages?
Horrifying! Awful! Weirdly addictive!
Before I read them, I remembered, of course, that I had been obsessed with boys and men and love as a teen, but it was excruciating to see page after page of hard evidence — just this terrible solipsism and blindness to the rest of the world. At the same time, I sort of fell in love with the pretentiousness of the writing in the teenage journals. I think there’s something really pure in that youthful pretentiousness. The connection to emotion, and art, and raw feeling — it’s kind of wonderful, in an awful, excruciating way.
While I was working on the book, a friend said to me, “You probably know what you would teach young Claire if you could, but what does young Claire have to teach you?” What she had to teach me was in those journals: the importance of love and yearning and, yes, pretentiousness things we sometimes forget about in the daily round of grown-up life.
You wrote Love and Trouble over the course of more than five years. Is that extensive, in comparison to your "typical" writing timeframe? If so, what made this book more time-consuming?
Yeah, this book was a real bear. For one thing, I was writing about sex, and writing about sex honestly and with complexity is just flat-out hard. And I was trying to tell a story about not changing, and of course, stories are usually all about change. How [could I] make that have some kind of dynamism, some kind of fun to it? I had to invent a new way of telling it, and that was time-consuming.
Plus, I was still mired in depression when I started the thing. I knew I wanted to write about this midlife despair, and I wanted it to be authentic, but I also wanted it to be funny. It took a year or two of playing around just to find the [humor].
In the chapter entailed "Victimhood," you discuss holding two opposing thoughts about your sexual desires, thoughts that confront your feminist views. Do you think this a part of aging, realizing that what we want and who we are is not as black and white as we once thought?
This is a great question! Yes, I think experience is a brutally honest teacher. Getting older and really assessing my sexual life, I had to acknowledge a lot of stuff that was, on the surface, counter to my feminism. Acknowledging my desire to be dominated and chasing it back to its roots was quite disturbing for me. But of course, feminism is stronger than that. It can withstand a lot of complexity. As it’s turned out, women have really appreciated what I was trying to do in that chapter.
There is a conversation that has been rotating through my social circles a lot lately, and it revolves around adulthood. Most of the women I know, myself included, who are in their mid- to late thirties and beyond, whether with kids or no kids, still don't feel like adults. We are professionals, and most of us mothers, who have a decent amount of life experience and responsibility, yet we still don't feel like we are old enough to be considered mature. I don't think there a specific rite of passage that makes someone "mature" per se, but I think wrestling with our younger selves, acknowledging if and how we've changed, is somewhat of a rite of passage in itself. Did this book serve that purpose for you? Do you feel more or less adult-like after writing it?
I like the idea of wrestling with the younger self as its own rite of passage. I never looked at it quite that way before. I don’t usually perceive writing as a cathartic act, and yet in this case, I think writing Love and Trouble really did grow me up a bit. I faced the horribleness of my younger self and realized she wasn’t so bad, and that in any case, I am still the same person, and there’s little point in pretending otherwise. The not pretending, that’s a relief.
The Fold is an online space for women beyond the millennial age range – a place to celebrate the revolution and evolution of women at any phase of life. What do you enjoy most about your current age, and what are you looking forward to in the years to come?
Again, not pretending. More and more, I just do what I want, and I don’t worry about what I’m supposed to like. I like my family, I like a few other people, I like nature, I like to read, and I like to work. I like London, and I like milky coffee. That’s plenty of stuff to like. I guess it would be a problem if family and work weren’t on the list.