The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
The Winter Of Our Disconnect, Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, What Women Want Next and Sort of a Place Like Home
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born on Long Island in 1958, lived in a town called Dix Hills (named after an Indian named “Dick” – ! – according to a plaque outside the local firehouse) and went to Half Hollow Hills High School. Perhaps this explains why I still see the cup as half … hollow?
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I wanted to be a writer when I was 12, an actress when I was 18 and divorced when I was 30. All of those dreams came true by the way.
At 18, I was pretty sure I knew everything. At 52, I am not sure I know anything. Luckily for me I live with three teenagers (15, 17, 19) who definitely know everything, so I never go too far astray.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Walden by Thoreau is my favourite book – I try to read it at least as often as I have a pap smear – and has been since I first encountered it aged 20. Thoreau’s ability to see eternity in a grain of sand, or an ant fight, or a field of beans cultivated by hand, is a source of continual inspiration and wonder. So too his determination to “live deep”, as he says, and suck the marrow out of life. His interior life was so … deluxe, so plush, at the same time as the material conditions of his life were so Spartan. I think he had the interior design thing the right way round. Walden directly inspired The Winter of Our Disconnect, which is also the story of a self-imposed exile in a kind of wilderness …
I was sort of devastated to learn as I did only recently that Dvorak’s New World Symphony is actually about Poland. LOL! I always thought it was about America. But for me, and for the rest of the world no doubt, the famous largo movement expresses an ineffable longing for, a nostalgia about, home: wherever that may be. As an “ex-pat” – a term I hate, btw – this has been a constant theme for me, sometimes foregrounded, sometimes submerged, but always audible.
Most recently, there was a piece of work in the Medieval collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that hit me like a gong. It was a miniature wooden sculpture of a world, peopled by a teeming multitude of carved homunculi, each of which stood no taller than a grain of rice … Looking at it I felt I’d had an epiphany about both the vastness of humanity and the puniness of any given human life. It made me feel a tremendous urgency about living deliberately and living well – according to my own lights …
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a book?
I write non-fiction, possibly because I can’t draw.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
The Winter of Our Disconnect is the story of one family’s digital de-tox: a chronicle of how three wired-at-the-hip teenagers and a mother with iPhone dependency issues survived six months of screenfree living. (In fact, we didn’t simply survive , we transformed …)
The book is part memoir – including humiliatingly unedited extracts from my journal – and part investigative inquiry into the impact of new media on family life. How do media affect the way we eat, sleep, socialise and learn? How do they help to shape our identity – and the very meaning of home?
These questions are all explored through the prism of our Experiment, but in way that is LOL-worthy rather than earnest or preachy. Oh … and there is a surprise ending, too. Just like itself!
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
My aim is to simply to get people to think more deeply – indeed to think at all! – about how our media give shape to our experience. I think many parents, and many non-parents, for that matter, are concerned about these issues. But most feel very helpless about it. The Winter of Our Disconnect, I’m hoping, will do something to change that – to help readers move beyond worry and confusion to something more constructive. Not by banning technology as we did – which is really only a stunt, however illuminating – but by understanding it.
My favourite writers – from Anne Tyler to Kate Grenville, Tim Winton to Thoreau, Malcolm Gladwell to Nicholas Rothwell, David Sedaris to EB White – are all amazing storytellers who give great verbs. I’m a sucker for verbs. They are all also courageous, generous, curious and unpretentious. All the things I would like to be when I grow up!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read, for heaven’s sake! An aspiring writer who doesn’t read constantly is like an aspiring musician who plays Guitar Hero all day.
Susan, thank you for playing.
Susan Maushart is a columnist, author and social commentator who writes for the ‘Weekend Australian Magazine’ and is heard regularly on ABC Radio as host of the acclaimed online series Multiple Choice. Her four books have been published in eight languages ‘Sort of a Place Like Home’, ‘The Mask of Motherhood’, ‘Wifework’ and ‘What Women Want Next’. Her latest book is ‘The Winter of Our Disconnect’.
Susan will be appearing at the SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL May 15-23 2010 – Click Here to see where & when.