Channeling Eleanor Roosevelt and Tim Gunn

Eleanor RooseveltChuck and I are slowly making our way through the Ken Burns series about the Roosevelts, which we recorded while we were in Washington D.C. Last night we wrapped the episode retelling Theodore Roosevelt’s death and Eleanor’s discovery that her husband, Franklin, had been having an affair. The entirety of the series is excellent, and for someone who did a mediocre job in history classes, it’s a great refresher for me. While the parts about Theodore and Franklin are engaging, my ears perk to their fullest when the attention turns to Eleanor. She’s intriguing in every way politically and professionally. To get to know her more intimately, I plan to read through her daily newspaper columns that ran for nearly thirty years, concluding at her death.

Changing topics, but not really, I’ve been wondering lately if I’m living in the monkey house. It’s a Tim Gunn reference from Project Runway, and while that doesn’t carry the same dignity and prestige as quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, here me out. Several seasons ago Tim Gunn, mentor to the fashion designers in competition with one another, visited a finalist in his home to critique his collection. The designer raised eyebrows by using human hair on some of his garments. Tim was disconcerted and wasted no time gently telling Chris that he should be worried:

“I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for twenty minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You’ve been living in the monkey house.”

What in the world does this have to do with me? Everything. More specifically, the novel. As someone who’s lived her life under the weight of self-doubt and skepticism, it feels completely unnatural to be this confident about my work of fiction. I love it. I insanely love it. I love it like a child. I’m protective of it, frustrated with it, gentle with it, concerned for it, and very, very much in love with the people I’ve created.

I love it so much that I wonder if it stinks and I just don’t smell it.


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