Battle Hymn of the Humorless Mother

Amy Chua, better known as the Tiger Mom, praises the virtues of her “immigrant upbringing” and blames America’s fear of parenting and fear of China for the explosive negativity directed toward her and her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  Well, that’s a load of bovine excrement.

In a recent video clip posted on AOL Chua blamed the Wall Street Journal for taking her book too seriously and kick starting a brouhaha that would never have happened if the title had been, say, Battle Hymn of the Italian Mother (no, that’s a whole different and even less flattering stereotype).  After all, according to Chua, the book is intended to be humorous. Okay, now I get it. In spite of all her academic dedication and professional achievements, Chua is a horrible writer of humor.

When my oldest son was in first grade we actively explained to him that humor that had to be clarified wasn’t funny. Someone needs to deliver a similar message to Ms. Chua. I wouldn’t have thought that this was necessary since by her own frequent declaration Chua is a highly intelligent Ivy League educated attorney and law professor, not a six-year-old whose understanding of social cues is hindered by an autistic spectrum disorder. But even if that’s the case, wasn’t there an editor over at Penguin who could have mentioned something about it? “Um, Ms. Chua, is it possible for you to give your readers a ‘Bazinga’ every now and then?” Or did everyone involved in the publication of this book just fail to understand that writing humor isn’t easy?

A friend and former classmate of mine is a serious student of humor writing, exceptional writer in his own right as well as editor of Kugelmass: A Journal of Literary Humor. Check it out! Issue 2 is hot off the presses. He has fostered in me an appreciation for the art of humor writing and its creation. Before getting to know him and his writing I thought that being a writer of humor and a humorous writer were one and the same. They aren’t. I can honestly say that while I can, at times, be a humorous (and sarcastic) writer a humor writer I am not.  But Amy Chua is neither.

So ever the optimist I can give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’s not as much horrible mother as terrible writer. Maybe…

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Staying Alive: A Love Story

One of the most exciting parts of being in a writer’s community is the publication of a friend’s book. A unique comaraderie develops as we work out the kinks, draft after draft, with our trusted readers and friends. We come to feel that while we aren’t haven’t birthed or nutured the book, that we are its godparents, standing by it’s side and supporting it as it is eventually sent out on the world.

Recently my friend, Laura B. Hayden, has delivered her book, Staying Alive: A Love Story to the world.

Staying Alive: A Love Story is a tale of hope and renewal that centers on Hayden’s search for meaning after the untimely death of her 49-year-old husband. Coupled with other experiences of loss in her life – including one of her kidneys to cancer — she is determined to, with her children, persevere.

Like Annie Dillard, Hayden draws on the rhythms and rituals of the natural world to explore her Brooklyn roots and New England adulthood. Wild creatures and domesticated critters, seasides and hillsides proffer comfort and understanding as she comes to realize that ‘no more than a hairline and no less than an eternity’ separate her from the man she loved. Even with the wear and tear her faith endures, it rarely diminishes.

Her purpose – to usher her two grieving children through a difficult adolescence to a well-adjusted adulthood – resonates through her own struggle. With the precise objectivity reminiscent of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates A Widow’s Story, Hayden recounts the day her husband died and the rituals and obsessions of the bereaved. Forced to look at death straight in the eye, the author stares back, wide-eyed, without blinking through her tears.

Hayden also manages to be seriously droll – in an Anne Lamott way.  Never is her humor more honed than in the portrayal of her deceased spouse, whose devotion, antics, and
wisdom remain ever-present to those who are staying alive without him. His death becomes not only the family’s heartbreak, but the loss of a well-executed life for all who knew him or will get to know him through her memoir.

Whether Laura B. Hayden’s writing deals with herself, her children, or her cadre of loved ones, it is clear that she, her daughter, and her son emerge from their tragic loss survivors, not victims of Larry’s death, an outcome of which he would be very pleased. In a culture of intentionally exposed and celebrated self-victimization, the story of this family may be considered a quiet triumph.”

This is a wonderful book, and I’m not just saying that as a proud godparent.

Click on the cover of the book to purchase Staying Alive: A Love Story from Amazon.com.