Over a decade ago I had the pleasure of participating in the first version of "The Grotto," a San Francisco-based collective where writers got together to work and kibbitz. Each of us had a little office space, in which we were meant to hole up and craft our masterpieces. But many of us somehow found ourselves wasting much of the day in the shared living room, which had a couple of very nappable couches and a much-abused nerfball-basketball hoop.
The unquestioned nerfball champion of The Grotto was Po Bronson, my guest on tonight's show (at 7:30 p.m.; repeated on Friday at 10:30 p.m.). And he brought the same Michael Jordan-esque intensity to everything he did -- notably, his writing. Po had a quirky set-up: instead of using his main office space, he'd cram himself into a tiny bathroom, using the toilet as a seat and a jammed-in two-by-four as his desk. Also, he had the disturbing habit of nervously plucking at his eyebrows as he wrote -- so that, the deeper he got into a book, his brows would break out in bloody sores and Band-Aids.
Yes, folks, writing isn't pretty. But the thing is, he got results. Since my brief time at The Grotto, Po has established himself as a prolific and popular author of both fiction (Bombardiers) and nonfiction (What Should I Do With My Life?). And his new book, a consideration of real-life relationships titled Why Do I Love These People?: Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families, has put his intensity to the service of a remarkable project: Po's heartfelt attempt to show that the oft-rung death knell for the American Family is drowning out a powerful truth -- that our families, for all their flaws and variations, are getting stronger.
Why Do I Love These People? recounts the stories of 19 very disparate families. The problems their members encountered, and the courage and inventiveness with which they addressed them, are sometimes almost unbearably poignant. Po Bronson's book moved me deeply, and its lessons -- none of them of the easy, how-to variety -- have continued to resonate. However much his eyebrows suffered this time through, they did so for an eminently good cause.
4 comments January 23rd, 2006