The Crane Wife Author CJ Hauser: “Do Men Have to Be Relationship Skills? Maybe not’

TThe internet is the worst. But about three years ago – just for a while – it was for the best. Why? Because everyone was reading The Crane Wife. Then they tell their friends to read The Crane Wife. Then… let’s talk about The Crane Wife. New York writer CJ Hauser’s elegant, bittersweet essay on why she called off her wedding was published by The Paris Review in July 2019 and promptly went viral. Read by more than a million people, it garnered high-profile admirers from writer Roxane Gay to actor Busy Philipps (who simply tweeted “Yes. Yes. YES”). Zodiac sign, tell me which passages from ‘The Crane Wife’ you screened immediately to show your therapist.”

The internet isn’t usually about elaborate literary essays. So what was going on? Well, to put it in online jargon, people felt seen. Especially women. In The Crane Wife, Hauser sets out to study the North American whooping crane as research for her novel. family of origin. She does this 10 days after breaking off her engagement. Out in the field, she discovers a Japanese folklore story about a crane that plucks out its own feathers every night to maintain the illusion that she is a woman for a man who would otherwise choose not to take care of her. “Continuing to be a woman is such a self-destructive work. she never sleeps She plucks out all her feathers, one at a time,” Hauser wrote.

Self-Extinguishing: It felt familiar. Through this ancient story, Hauser found a metaphor for how she had to suppress her desires until she almost disappeared. She always asked her fiancé how she could be sure of his love; he reminded her that he had said “I love you” once or twice before. “Why couldn’t I just knows what he did, forever?” she wrote. Her needs were “a personal failure”; she “learned… to survive on less”. What she described seemed ubiquitous but mundane. But, not to be dramatic, the stakes were actually quite high. It was ultimately about the destruction or survival of the soul.

Hauser grew up in Connecticut, a place she characterizes as “decent manners, politeness, not airing the dirty laundry, above all social niceties, secrets stay inside.” It planted in her a rebellious instinct to do the opposite. The essay exploded, she believes, because she said out loud what so many people had felt. “It felt pretty good for me to be like, oh yeah, I can say more things out loud. I love saying things out loud!”

Remarkably, it was only ever intended as a promo track – a track written for the plug-in family of origin. Going viral is “delightful, confusing, terrifying”. She was in no hurry to write more nonfiction. When her publishers suggested she pursue an entire book of them, she actually resisted. She was stubborn. “I’m a novelist!” She cried. She didn’t want to write something just because the internet said so. Her publishers gently encouraged her to try it. She did it reluctantly. “It was like a new puzzle. It was like… I have all these fictional tools and I can build new things. And I just started joking about it, and sooner rather than later I was like, ‘—her tone changes, faux hangdog teen—’‘… you were all right’.

The Crane Woman – the book – is ingeniously idiosyncratic. It’s funny, beautiful, and weird, full of seemingly random collections of cultural references and stories from Hauser’s past — things that seem like they don’t make sense together until they do. Written in Hauser’s very direct voice, the collection traverses a wide range of themes including family, breakups, fertility and home ownership. She uses Daphne du Mauriers Rebekah as a template to dissolve our cultural obsession with the purity of first love. She writes about comedian John Belushi’s grave becoming a place of pilgrimage and whether her niece is the reincarnation of writer Shirley Jackson.

But who is CJ Hauser, this initialed riddle that has looked into all our souls? (Her full name is Christina Joyce, but everyone calls her CJ.) She lives between Syracuse, where she teaches creative writing at Colgate University (post-pandemic, many of her students are writing about purgatory), and Brooklyn. “I’ve found that I’m an amphibian,” she says shyly, a little proudly. That means she’s bisexual, she writes in multiple genres, and lives in the countryside and in the city. “And a scale,” she adds with a knowing giggle. So undecided? “Yes,” in a feigned world-weary voice.

She’s also incredibly alert despite having only arrived in the UK a few hours earlier. As we chat outside Tate Britain, her voice is packed with melodies that could burst into laughter at any moment. She has a story for everything. (When I ask her if she’s worried about “The Crane Wife” becoming her “Wonderwall,” she tells me how her roommate used to pound on her wall while learning to play the guitar, “You’re MINE Wonderwall! For example, their reaction to breakups appears to be, “I’m going to have 40 dogs in a cabin in the woods! And never see anyone again!” Oh, and she’s not wearing dungarees – or overalls, as she calls them – and can’t believe it’s me. Her mum told her not to pack as we Brits wouldn’t have any.

Cover of The Crane Woman


It’s fascinating to meet the real person behind a viral sensation. The world is shamelessly curious; “CJ Hauser’s ex-fiancee” is a common search term. Doesn’t that make her feel a little weird? “Yeah. A lot. I don’t know what to make of that. Besides that… Oh, I don’t know.” It’s the only time in our conversation that Hauser’s sunny disposition fades. She also writes about other ex- Friends and: “I just wanted to write about them to tell stories about myself and things I’ve learned. And I hope that whenever I’ve had a choice to omit something that would hurt someone, I took them.” And whenever there was a chance for me to be the butt of the joke, I took it. Yes. That’s how I sleep at night. But I worry. I live in horror of ever hurting anyone. But me I also feel like I can’t tell the story of my own life just because other people were in it. Other people are always there.”

Has her ex-fiancé read The Crane Wife? “Uhhhh… I think he did. Yes.” There’s uneasiness. It’s becoming apparent that this isn’t a writer rushing through life picking up bits with copy-hungry eyes. It weighs on her. “Oh yeah! I am a problem child. Here feels a lot. Anytime.” However, those in the book who are still in her life have given their approval “thousands of times.”

It’s a very in-your-thirties book. The essays revel in working things out, learning to slow down a little, not panicking in the face of uncertainty, and forgiving your younger, dumber self. “I couldn’t have written this book in my twenties. Even if some of the things contained in it happened a long time ago. Because I just had a completely different take on… I don’t know, wrong? Now I’m, like, all about it. It’s all part of the texture and learning and living.” In her twenties, she wondered if she was on the right track or not and nothing in between. Getting engaged seemed important, because “I think that was the moment where I was like, yeah, I’m going to do this thing. Because that makes your happiness legible to other people, and it makes it legible to yourself.” Canceling made the Gemini fearful that she would “screw it up.”

I really resent being restricted by gender

I’m aware of something: Everyone kept telling Hauser how understandable “The Crane Wife” was. I also did it, unbearably, quoting passages from her own book. Relatable is a word the publishing world seems to be obsessed with, particularly when it comes to women’s work. Is it useful? Hauser insisted that the word “women” should not be used to market the book.

“I’ve had some really amazing conversations with trans friends and men about the kinds of topics and things I talk about in the book.” In fact, one male friend even had his therapist, The Crane Wife, quote him in one session. He forwarded the exchange to her: “Don’t fucking quote CJ! If I wanted CJ’s advice I would call her! And maybe I will! But don’t quote it to me!”

“I think if it’s relatable, I hope it’s relatable without being limited to gender,” she tells me. “I really resist being restricted by gender — anything that makes me feel like I’ve been shoved into a frilly dress, and I’m five again. I’m really grateful that my book wasn’t positioned that way. Do men have to be able to relate? Maybe not. Maybe men just have to be interesting and women have to be approachable,” she says.

In her essay The Lady with the Lamp, after recognizing an impulse to care for others more than herself, Hauser muses: “How did it feel to be me? I had no idea.” Is she any closer to an answer? “I think I’ll start…?” she says. There’s still a question in her voice, the sense that it’s an idea she’s still clinging to “I have to get used to it. Besides, she’s turned self-discovery back into art. But not an essay this time. She shows me a new tattoo on her arm. It’s funny, beautiful, weird – we could even call it Hauser-ish – and includes a bat two bouquets of flowers.”One to keep and one to give. So that’s about where I’m at right now.”

The Crane Wife will be released by Viking on July 14th

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/cj-hause-interview-the-crane-wife-b2117765.html The Crane Wife Author CJ Hauser: “Do Men Have to Be Relationship Skills? Maybe not’


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