3 min read

14. We who are miscast

We're all making our minds up about each other. I hope there's some wiggle room left for change.
14. We who are miscast

You're reading The Ponder, and I'm Devin. Welcome! This is where I connect the dots between seemingly disparate ideas floating around in my head. Thank you for being here. I hope you stay awhile.


It's somehow Thursday, late in the morning. The cave of books is slowly growing around my desk so that means revisions are going well. This week I have a lot on my heart and mind and am fixating a bit on who much the stories we tell about ourselves and people around us matter. Not just in an ephemeral way. But these stories shape lives and have the power to obscure or clarify. Hope you're well <3 Let's dive in.

The dots

  • "A line in one of D.H. Lawrence's letters captured my attention. 'One sheds one's sicknesses in books—repeats and presents again one's emotions, to be master of them.' Lawrence was saying that you could use your difficulties in your work and master your emotions if you represented them in your writing. 'Representing,' of course, means 'describing.' But it also means 're-presenting'—presenting scenes from the past as if they were presently occurring. This would undo, remedy, or rectify the effects of early experiences." — Louise DeSalvo in WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING
  • "...restraining myself from going on my usual 'Kelly Clarkson was miscast as a pop star because of Idol. When in her vocal prime, she was always more of a straightforward rock singer' rant ... could have put her in front of the biggest/loudest/most chaotic band and she would have carried them." — Hanif Abdurraqib on Instagram stories
  • The novel's wisdom: "The wisdom of uncertainty." — Milan Kundera in THE ART OF THE NOVEL

How do they connect?

Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol and became a massive pop star. People ate it up -- Idol was new, she was new, people wanted a pop star. We like to think we're objective. But presentation matters. I'd never thought about this connected to Clarkson, but I love when people rant. Hanif Abdurraquib (whose book A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA is fantastic) made the point that Clarkson was miscast. Her voice was different than how she was marketed. It makes a lot of sense. People remember the beginnings of things better than what comes after. That may be why some other idol winners/adjacent singers have been able to shed that brand more easily.

As far as I can tell, Clarkson has had a great career. I wonder, though, if she would like a chance to have that first impression all over again. Many of us, from my non-scientific observation, feel 'miscast' in our lives. There's the family member who knew one thing about you from years ago, and that's all they want to talk to you about. Or the friend who is disappointed when you change. We're all making our minds up about each other. I hope there's some wiggle room left for change.

Writing is a way of representing thoughts, ideas, and stories. Reading Louise DeSalvo's book allowed me to rethink the word: "'Representing,' of course, means 'describing.' But it also means 're-presenting." The shift makes the word more active. Rather than simply looking at a rose and describing it, I'm looking at the rose fresh and challenging my assumptions about it.

DeSalvo's book is a lesson on how we can take ownership of past experiences by re-presenting them in the pages of our journal. I love it. I'm in. YES.

Then I write fiction and am the one miscasting my own characters. In the first draft, they're blunt objects to hammer the reader over with a message. I don't want that, in the end. I want to present options, not answers. Milan Kundera writes that the wisdom of the novel is "the wisdom of uncertainty" and the spirit of the novel is complexity. He writes, "Every novel says to the reader: 'Things are not as simple as you think.' That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off."

The easy, quick answer: Kelly Clarkson is a pop star. Representing only means 'describing.' Milan Kundera takes this too seriously (lol, maybe).

But I'm not here for quick answers or fixes. And the work of revision is less editing and more unraveling my assumptions and sloughing off my heavy-handedness. I'm re-presenting the story, the characters, and the setting to myself to see more clearly. –DKP

Gratitude & notices

  • Nicole shouted out The Ponder in her excellent newsletter on writing — run, don't walk, to sign up <3
  • If you want to talk about Louise DeSalvo's book in the kindest company, consider attending tiny driver's book club (meets Tuesday, August 31 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST.) More info & register here
  • And a serendipitous Louse DeSalvo dot -- TONIGHT at 6-8 ET: MAKE YOUR MEMOIR REMARKABLE with Amy Jo Burns. A workshop "using specific techniques developed by a premiere mind of contemporary memoir, the late Louise DeSalvo." Registration link

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