You may scoff at the mere idea of a dating guidebook. You may almost certainly scoff at one that matches people by their mythological creature -type. I did too at first, and I have a professional astrologer on speed-dial.
But Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur is by Francesca Lia Block — an author whose 24 spellbinding magical-realistic novels have fascinated many thousands of girls and boys since we read her award-winning Weetzie Bat young adult series as teenagers — and this book marks her first foray into the prescriptive realm. I was curious about what kind of dating advice we'd get from the creator of the stories that taught me so much about the hot, subversive, dazzling potential of love and sex when I was in my teens – so curious that I decided to put aside my prejudices about books with the word "dating" on the cover and find out what kind of mythological beasties my friends and I are.
Divorced with two young children, Block reentered the single world later in life via online dating. This experience seems to have been exciting and traumatic in equal measure, and she has drawn heavily on her own experiences in order to devise the book's categories. The chapter that describes the male types in detail is full of girlfriendishly confidential and funny stories, and the descriptions of these types who feature in these stories ring true, though they sound a bit ridiculous taken out of context: "My Garden Elf friend was helping me shop for a vintage Chanel suit," for example, or "I liked the Urban Elf very much. But I was still rebounding from my Satyr and was soon distracted by yet another Satyr; my relationship with the Elf fell away."
But after I got past the inherent oddness of thinking of men as Giants and Werewolves, I was shocked to find how accurately Block was describing many of my exes. I experienced the same feeling of "instant relief" she describes herself as having felt after devising the system: "I recalled all my failed relationships, and when I looked at them through the lens of mythology… I felt a sense of order. Of course the Satyr left me. Of course I couldn't stay with a Faun. I was a Wood Nymph! It was like trying to date the wrong astrological sign."
Skeptics might wince at this comparison – after all, not everyone believes that the position of the stars at the time of our birth determines our essential natures. But even the most rational-minded among us has to admit that people do have essential natures. It might not matter so much whether we call someone a "Pixie," or a "classic Aries" or a "Myers-Briggs ENTJ." Also, trying to figure out what type you and your friends and your significant others are is fun. Tomboyish and energetic, with an underlying seriousness? You may be a Brownie. Passionate, ambitious, and likely to channel your anger into art? You're a Banshee. Do you love beauty, and often insult people without meaning to? It's likely you're a Mermaid. Does your crush have an intense gaze, a lean, athletic body, a comfortable bed and a great stereo? Watch out – you may have a compulsively seductive, never-faithful Satyr on your hands.
The system isn't without its weak spots. A gay friend (who I think is probably a Centuar-Faun) happened to be sitting in my kitchen when this book arrived; he's a longstanding Block fan, but he honed in immediately on how much less useful the system is for predicting the outcomes of same-sex matches. (Block provides a chapter, but acknowledges that a whole other book would be necessary to encompass all the possibilities). And the chapter about female types lacks the specificity of the chapter on males, probably because Block dates men, and only has firsthand experience of what women are like as friends. I had to combine two types to arrive at a description that seemed like it fit me, which Block says is common, but which made reading the chapter about pairings a bit less satisfying (sort of like when Susan Miller told me I had to read the monthly Astrologyzone predictions for both Libra and Aries, but I digress.)
Nevertheless, I found myself recommending the book to friends and bringing up its advice as we chatted about our relationships – and to my mind, anything that brings a fresh perspective to those conversations is worth the cover price. I also chatted briefly with Block via email about how she devised the system, her favorite breakup music, and what the future might hold for a Mermaid-Banshee/Centaur pairing (I was just curious).
How do you think people come by their mythological types? Are we born Mermaids or Werewolves, or does a combination of nature and nurture make us what we are?
I think it is definitely a combination, with, perhaps, a little more emphasis on nurture in respect to my system because in my book I'm primarily talking about how types relate in the venue of dating and often our dating persona is something we create, either consciously or unconsciously. As we get to know someone deeply we discover their true nature, which is, literally, as much about nature as nurture.
What are some red flags — detectable from an online profile or a first glance alone, let's say — that the creature you've got your eye on might be a Satyr?
Satyrs often have beautiful, soulful looking eyes, sexy voices and physical style and grace and they can throw you off. Don't just get carried away by what you see at first. Everything comes down to behavior and actions, not what someone says or how they appear but what they do.
Does he call you back? Is he attentive? Does he keep his wandering eye in check? Is he kind? Does he introduce you to his friends and family at the appropriate time? Is he sexually and emotionally respectful?
I loved the celebrity examples of different types of creatures, or different type-pairings, but I wondered, as I imagine many readers of your fiction must've wondered, what type you'd say some of your characters were. (Of course, some of them are literally Fairies or Vamps!) What's Weetzie, or Cherokee, or Violet, or Claire or Emily in Pretty Dead? (Um you don't have to answer all of these. But I'm curious about all of them!)
Weetzie is Pixie/Fairy. Witch Baby is a Wood Nymph/Banshee. Cherokee is a Pixie/Mermaid. Violet is a Wood Nymph/Vamp. Claire is a Dryad/Fairy.
Charlotte from Pretty Dead is a Mermaid. Emily is a Brownie. Thanks for this question!
I know you've written a book of poetry about an ex-lover, and obviously all fiction writers draw on their personal lives for inspiration. But even so, was it hard to be this personal about your love life? Was the experience of writing this book different from writing others? In a way, in spite of its prescriptive format, I felt like it contained peeks at what a more straightforward memoir might look like. Have you ever considered writing one?
I feel comfortable revealing my truths through my writing because I have the protection of lyrical language and literary structure. In other words, if I reveal something personal in a way that has some beauty and order I gain perspective on it and distance from it. I also consider the fact that my truth may help someone else. I have written a memoir about my first year as a mom called Guarding The Moon and I'd consider doing another.
You clearly know your way around heartbreak — How do you deal with breakups? Any recommended methods of coping, favorite music, etc?
Lately it has been about continuing to go out and meet new people, doing a lot of yoga, relying on my friends and writing about it. I can't listen to music when my heart hurts, unless it hurts with the joy of first love and then I can listen to sad music and cry easily. I like "Breathe Me' by Sia for a good cry. Also "Morning Yearning" by Ben Harper.,"Mad World" by Gary Jules., Michael Franti's "Hey World."'I like Frightened Rabbit's "Floating in the Forth," "Ava" by the National, "Nothing Compares 2U-Sinead O'Connor, "Thank You,," Alanis Morissette and "Love Should" by Moby.
What's your take on a Mer-Shee/ Centaur pairing? Just um randomly curious.
Just randomly, huh? He'll think she is sexy and admire her power but he might be intimidated by her unless he's found his own success through his art. She should try to tone down her ego and work on expressing love. support and compassion to the females in her life, as much as the males because it will be a way for her to find love and compassion for herself and be more ready for a healthy relationship with this attractive but sometimes difficult type. Good luck.