Molly Ringwald Reads from When it Happens to You
Common Good Books (at the Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel)
September 16, 2012
You can hear that relief die in the corner—a little hissing sound, I imagine, like a popped pastry—when the floor opens up for questions. Question no. 3, from the man with the shy wife: “Do you think you’re going to have a difficult time, as a serious novelist, overcoming the image of sweet little Molly Ringwald?”
“First of all,” she says, “I don’t feel like I’ve ever been little. I’ve been 5’8” and a half since I was fifteen.”
This at 7:50, maybe—only ten minutes before the questions are over and the book signing begins. You’d have to be a unique species of naïf to think questions like these are rare, or that they take Ringwald by surprise. Actually, you’d have to be the stupidest person on earth. In reviewing When it Happens to You for the New York Times, Dan Kois drops four film titles plus a television series in his first paragraph, the void between them filled by adjectives like “plucky” and “popular,” nouns like “idol.” Do you think, man with the shy wife, that Proust might’ve had a thing for dudes?
That said, I didn’t arrive early and I didn’t snag a seat in the front row of Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel just to swoon over the ‘80s teen starlet who made her cinematic breakthrough five months before I was born. Reimringer, in his question to Ringwald, is dead on: writing is a solitary endeavor, and not for the faint of heart. Like most young writers, I relish any opportunity to glimpse into another writer’s experience—so much so it almost seems sadistic. I want to hear about that solitude.
As a young stage performer, actress, singer, and dancer, Ringwald grew up around polyphonic praise and criticism, direction and advice. In her teenage years she began to fall in love with stories—Salinger’s, Cheever’s, and Fitzgerald’s, which for a long time kept her from Hemingway’s, “because he was too mean,” she thought. It was Raymond Carver, however, that would become her primary motivation for writing. She found her first copy of What We Talk about When We Talk about Love at nineteen, on a friend’s coffee table, and read it straight through. “I was dumbfounded,” she tells the audience, still clearly in love with such writing that, until then, in her friend’s apartment, she’d had no idea existed. “When I write characters,” she says, “I want to know their flaws.” It’s the flaws, she says, that she always kept in mind when she was acting. Certainly Carver is a master model for this, as well as for characters that say one thing and do another—an aspect of fiction that fascinates her, she admits, holding the room’s attention like any novelist. It’s easy to forget, if you want to know the truth, that that’s Molly Ringwald, 20 feet away, donning a black dress and black, cat-eyed glasses. That twenty-seven years ago she sat somewhere in a high school library-looking movie set and translated John Hughes’ script into her own adolescent version of existential pain—you’d be surprised how quickly all that vanishes, how readily you accept her as Molly Ringwald, debut novelist. Even with the occasional gape-mouthed thirty-something sitting near the back, 25 years late to his wettest of dreams, Ringwald holds her own as an author.
My mother saves everything. Everything, in this case, meaning six banker’s boxes worth of grade school art projects, notebooks, and loose-leaf math homework. When she lost her house in Saint Paul she drove my entire grade school history to my apartment and handed it over—“Otherwise I’m throwing it out,” she said, and cue the standard who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-mother joke. I told her I’d just throw it out anyway, but I didn’t, and I still haven’t, apparently just as sentimental as she. I went through a box once and found everything inside to be too strange—my handwriting, for example, or a primitive ancestor thereof, margin to pink-lined margin in my elementary school notebooks, etching out my frustration with summer’s heat (still hate it) and how I’d love to see wasps eradicated from the earth (still do). It really is like reading letters from a wholly different part of yourself. And we’re not talking last night’s drunk texts, here—more like a unidirectional time travel available only to those with the patience to go on living. I’m discovering, now, that this happens whenever I read anything I’ve written. The older the text, obviously, the greater the distance, and the more irreconcilable the two Patricks involved. That’s not to say I’m ashamed of what you might call the lives you might say I’ve lived—I mean, the writing is always brutally bad, but it’s not like I’m going to cut myself off from those other individuals and pretend it wasn’t me that complained when the girls I played with growing up wouldn’t let me wear the prettiest dress in the box, that I never said, at six years old, “There’s pajillions!” in a commercial for a massive retailer I now refuse to support, or that some other boy swore, up and down, for three years of his life, a love that wasn’t really love at all, only fear. Sometimes time traveling is simply logging in to an old e-mail address and getting lost in its hell.
1: I still go. An overgrown ATM is not a video store.
Header photo by sebilden.