Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Erica Jong - From Fear of Flying to Fear of Dying... Provocative, Real, Memorable...

“The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not "taking" and the woman is not "giving." No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.” 
― Erica JongFear of Flying

I don't remember how I first acquired Erica Jong's Fear of Flying way back in my youth. But I do know that it was my first "big of naughtiness," a fantasy that used that forbidden "F" word (at least in the correct context rather than a daily curse word as it is today). I must admit that one scene on a plane has always stayed with me... It was racy, stunning, and memorable, but what I do know is that it was a fantasy that made me start to think about...being a woman within the world of that time... Yes, I am about the same age of the author and have "grown" from that first book she wrote...

And now, I've reached another stage of life with Jong, as she presents her latest novel, Fear of Dying... 

Fear of Dying

By Erica Jong

Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; Let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it!” 
—Attributed to Mishkan Tefilah: A Reform Siddur

With memories of her first book, Fear of Flying, in my mind, I was the laughter didn't often come for me. It was too was escapism from fear. The fear of dying. In my mind, Jong included it almost as a "wake-up call" that some might look to, and use sex, to counteract, to prevent facing that fear we both had reached...the fear of dying... So, of course, she had to find out whether it would work!

Specifically her first chapter asks, "Is There Sex After Death?" Well, I couldn't give her an answer, but I suspect there isn't, what do you think? Still, she quickly shares why these thoughts have crossed her mind...

My parents were dying and I was growing unimaginably older but was that a reason to pursue what my old friend Isadora Wing had called “the zipless fuck”? You betcha. It was either that or spiritual bliss. Apparently the creators of had ripped off Isadora without paying a penny. The company that bought her movie rights was sold to a company that owned publishing rights, which was sold to a company that exploited digital rights that was sold to a company that exploited well-known tags. Such is the writing life— as savage as the acting life. Isadora and I had been friends forever. We met over a movie that was never made. We even got sober together. And I could call her for moral support whenever I needed her. I thought of her as my BFF, my alter ego. I really needed her now.

I thought I was searching 
for love— 
but it was reincarnation I really 
sought. I wanted to reverse time
 and become young again— 
knowing everything I know now.
The book is written in first-person and reads somewhat like a diary. It may be fiction, but I felt that there was much about Jong's own life in the words. In fact, I didn't even think to identify the name of the main character... I thus allowed the author's words to be as if she was directly speaking to me...

The main thrust is that her parents are both dying. She is caught in despair, knowing that there is nothing to do but wait. But she hates seeing the vitality of two people who she loves greatly slowing ebbing away.

And then her husband is discovered to have an aneurysm, plus her beloved dog/friend dies...

I felt she was in panic mode. Death surrounded her and she was afraid. Afraid of her own mortality at the same time fearing the loss of those she most loved.

Sex and love had once been separated, but now she was totally in love with her husband, and feared his loss. Fearfully and in a flippant attitude, she seeks love through sex...and she delights readers as she posts an ad and receives responses from many who have some strange perversions...At least it was making her laugh a little but confirming what she already and being in love can be two widely diverse things...

The thing I admire most about Jong's story is that she is willing to share internal thoughts and worries, that many of us have, but keep hidden inside. I used to sit while watching television, once in awhile glancing over to check my mother's breast, to ensure it was moving as she breathed. She was only in her seventies when she died. I knew that having parents living so long and having to see such deterioration of their bodies would be heartbreaking and very hard to deal with. As she said, she would move from hoping they died to dreading their loss. I empathized greatly with her. Her father was the first to die...
“La vida es un sueño,” he said. “Life is a dream. I look forward to that deep sleep.” And then he went under and never quite came back. Three days after the surgery he was babbling gibberish and clawing the air. Six days after the surgery he was in the ICU with a tube down his throat.

When he was diagnosed with pneumonia, I stood at his side in the ICU and sang “I gave my love a cherry” while his eyelids fluttered. We never thought that he would emerge from that hospitalization. But he did. And now he and my mother spend their days sleeping side by side in their apartment but never touching or speaking. Round-the-clock shifts of aides and daughters attend them. Every day they sleep more and wake less.

And later her mother...

“We all love you so much,” I say. “Thank you for the books, the plays, the music, the poetry, the movies. Thank you for Gershwin and Mozart and Cole Porter and Beethoven. Thank you for Duke Ellington, Gilbert and Sullivan, Mitropoulos, and Bernstein. Thank you for Yeats and Dickinson and Millay. Thank you for Leonardo and Michelangelo and Hogarth and Vigée Le Brun. Thank you for stuffing our heads full of your amazing knowledge of everything.” And I kiss the air as I have kissed her before. And we all stand stupefied by the power of death.

Of Primary importance to me in her book was the dichotomy related to God...She announces herself as an atheist, not being able to accept the Holocaust and other events that have been hard for many of us, too, to understand. But as death rears its ugly head, she "wishes" she could believe, she "wishes" she could pray for those she loves... 

Again, her willingness to open her thoughts to others in this important area, allows us to also acknowledge that we, too, have things we don't understand. We, too, also wonder, worry, at times, is there Someone there listening to our prayers... I think the difference with the author is that she's always been open with her contradictory statements--she's willing to share ideas and thoughts purely for her writing, even if others might interpret them incorrectly. This was shown with her first book and undoubtedly will occur with her latest.

But, for me, having a writer express our own fears through her characters allows us to ponder, to consider changes in our own lives, and find and make our own decisions if and when confronted with the different situations she covers in her books. 
I got what I anticipated in Jong's book... She's provided us a look into our own fears, at the same time she openly shares what the fear of dying has meant in her own life...
Her book is provocative, real, and memorable in so many different ways. I highly recommend it, especially if you...have a fear...of dying...

Words of Inspiration 
All the good things that have happened to me in the last several years have come, without exception, from a willingness to change, to risk the unknown, to do the very things I feared most. Every poem, every page of fiction I have written has been written with anxiety, occasionally panic, and always with uncertainty about its reception.… I have accepted fear as a part of life, specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: Turn back, turn back; you’ll die if you venture too far. I have learned, in short, to trust myself. —ERICA JONG

Jong challenges us. She's thrown in a little sex to titillate but it's of little significance in what she has really provided. God and I thank you Erica Jong, for writing this book... And He understands your confusion just as He understands and accepts it from me and readers who needed to learn about others who have similar thoughts and fears... 


(Bio used
Erica Jong--novelist, poet, and essayist--has consistently used her craft to help provide women with a powerful and rational voice in forging a feminist consciousness. She has published 23 books, including nine novels, seven volumes of poetry, six books of non-fiction and numerous articles in magazines and newspapers such as The New York Times, The Sunday Times of London, Elle, Vogue, The New York Times Book Review and The Wall Street Journal. 

In her groundbreaking first novel, Fear of Flying (20 million in print around the world in more than forty languages), she introduced Isadora Wing, who also plays a central part in three subsequent novels--How to Save Your Own Life, Parachutes and Kisses, and Any Woman's Blues. In her three historical novels--Fanny, Shylock's Daughter, and Sappho's Leap--she demonstrates her mastery of eighteenth-century British literature, the verses of Shakespeare, and ancient Greek lyric, respectively. Erica's memoir of her life as a writer, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, came out in March 2006. It was a national bestseller in the US and many other countries. Erica's much anticipated novel, Fear of Dying, is due for publication by St. Martin's Press in September 2015.

A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University's Graduate Faculties where she received her M.A. in 18th Century English Literature, Erica Jong also attended Columbia's graduate writing program where she studied poetry with Stanley Kunitz and Mark Strand. In 2008, continuing her long-standing relationship with the university, a large collection of Erica's archival material was acquired by Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where it will be available to graduate and undergraduate students. Ms. Jong plans to teach master classes at Columbia and also advise the Rare Book Library on the acquisition of other women writers' archives. 

Calling herself "a defrocked academic," Ms. Jong has partly
returned to her roots as a scholar. She has taught at Ben Gurion University in Israel, Bennington College in the U.S., Breadloaf Writers' Conference in Vermont and many other distinguished writing programs and universities. She loves to teach and lecture, though her skill in these areas has sometimes crowded her writing projects. "As long as I am communicating the gift of literature, I'm happy," Jong says. A poet at heart, Ms. Jong believes that words can save the world. 

Known for her commitment to women's rights, authors' rights and free expression, Ms. Jong is a frequent lecturer in the U.S. and abroad. She served as president of The Authors' Guild from 1991 to 1993 and still serves on the Board. She established a program for young writers at her alma mater, Barnard College. The Erica Mann Jong Writing Center at Barnard teaches students the art of peer tutoring and editing.
Erica Jong was honored with the United Nations Award for Excellence in Literature. She has also received Poetry magazine's Bess Hokin Prize, also won by W.S. Merwin and Sylvia Plath. In France, she received the Deauville Award for Literary Excellence and in Italy, she received the Sigmund Freud Award for Literature. The City University of New York awarded Ms. Jong an honorary PhD at the College of Staten Island. In June 2009, Erica won the first Fernanda Pivano Prize for Literature in Italy.

Erica Jong lives in New York City and Weston, CT with her
husband, attorney Ken Burrows, and standard poodle, Belinda Barkowitz. Her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is also a writer.

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