Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living
By Nick Offerman
Somehow 2013 became the year of reading memoirs. It started with Tina Fey's Bossypants, and without having some kind of memoir-reading agenda, I read seven more. I've read memoirs (mostly humorous ones) by:
- Mindy Kaling
- Anthony Bourdain (both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw)
- Eddie Huang
- Baratunde Thurston
- & now, Nick Offerman
I think of all of the books I've read this year, the ones written by the above, with the exception of Mindy Kaling's, have been my favorite. (Nothing against Mindy, just didn't like hers as much as the others.) I reviewed Paddle Your Own Canoe for The Manual; in short, I thought it was excellent. This is coming from someone who hadn't watched many Parks and Recreation episodes prior to my reading. As I mention in the review, many people know & see Offerman as a funny man mostly because of his role on Parks and Rec but what I thought was really special about this book--despite some of the similarities between him and Ron Swanson--was that it offered him the ability to reveal himself as more than the character he plays. He is an awesome human being & a funny storyteller with the kind of values all people should aim for: hard work, humility, loyalty. And he is unabashedly and admirably completely in love with his wife. Highly highly recommend. It will make you laugh and also probably put a lot in perspective.
The biggest takeaway from reading these memoirs by all of the successful, funny, insightful people above is that many of them had to go through a lot of shit to get to where they are today. They all worked insanely hard and often found themselves in dark or undesirable places as younger people but they pushed through and eventually found themselves right where they needed to be. And maybe some are still striving--or all are still striving to be better. A lot has changed for me since January and I've come to the realization that life is a work in progress & every experience--regardless of what it is--matters somehow and is essential to building my character and building my life. I feel an immense amount of gratitude and optimism and comfort in knowing I have a lot to look forward to, and that a lot of how my life turns out is in my hands. And even when it's not, that it can still be OK. So these memoirs have been really wonderful complements and companions while I've had these personal realizations.
I didn't mark any excerpts specifically but here are a few gems:
– “If you think that altering the tip of your nose with surgery will make you happier…alter something much more malleable than your flesh, like your priorities or your friends. Quit looking in the mirror so much.”
– “Choose your favorite spade and dig a small, deep hole, located deep in the forest or a desolate area of the desert or tundra. Bury your cell phone and then find a hobby.”
– ”Bring enough wit to any given situation to lighten the load with a grin.”
– ”No matter how you decide to spend a little more time on your gestures of giving, the point is just quite simply that you do. You don’t have to give a person a papier-mache penis vase to get a reaction, but you won’t be sorry if you do.”
The following excerpt is similar to my last for Fahrenheit 451 in that I didn't really like either book but from each I found an excerpt I liked that includes the words of another, more gifted [real-life] writer. This one also reveals where the title of the book came from:
I didn't read it until I got home, situated in my own huge and empty bed with no chance of medical interruption. It took me forever to decode Van Houten's sloped, scratchy script.
Dear Mr. Waters,
I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves." Easy enough to say when you're a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
While we're on the topic of old Will's insufficiencies, your writing about young Hazel reminds me of the Bard's Fifty-fifth sonnet, which of course begins, "Not marble, not the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / But you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time." (Off topic, but: What a slut time is. She screws everybody.) It's a fine poem but a deceitful one: We do indeed remember Shakespeare's powerful rhyme, but what do we remember about the person it commemorates? Nothing. We're pretty sure he was male; everything else is guesswork. Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus. (Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. (Full disclosure: I am not the first to make this observation. cf, the MacLeish poem "Not Marble, Nor the Gilded Monuments," which contains the heroic line "I shall say you will die and none will remember you.")
I digress, but here's the rub: The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and disappoint. Your Hazel is alive, Waters, and you musn't impose your will upon another's decision, particularly a decision arrived at thoughtfully. She wishes to spare you pain, and you should let her. You may not find young Hazel's logic persuasive, but I have trod through this vale of tears longer than you, and from where I'm sitting, she's not the lunatic.