I Waltz so Hard, they call me "Matilda"

May 02

Fictitious Heteronormativity

Some years ago, my dad visited my house for the weekend. He borrowed some books when he left—my dad was a voracious reader, always borrowing books. He’d say, “Read anything good?” and I’d give him a stack of whatever I’d enjoyed recently. He’d bring them back with dog eared pages, broken spines, and motor oil thumb prints.

I’d frown and sigh and grumble, but I’d give him another stack before he left. He was my dad, you know?

That visit, Sacrament by Clive Barker was among the books I sent off with my dad. I’ve enjoyed all of Clive Barker’s work, but Sacrament is probably my favorite.

My dad called me up a few days later and said, “What did you give me this gay book for?”

***

I was talking to my mom on the phone. I said, “We’re going to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

My mom said, “It was pretty good until they all turned lesbian.”

***

This isn’t about how my parents are bad people who find homosexuality offensive. They aren’t and they don’t.

It’s about how heterosexuality is so dominant in mainstream fiction, whether books or television or film, that having an openly gay character is seen all out of proportion and becomes the dominant theme.

I’ve read a lot of criticism of the portrayal of Tara and Willow’s relationship in Buffy—that Tara dying and Willow turning evil is punishment for having gay sex, even though sex is pretty complicated for all the characters in Buffy. They don’t have to be gay to end up evil, dead, or both. Way before Tara got killed and Willow went nuts, Angel had one little (heterosexual) orgasm, lost his soul, became evil, was stabbed by his lover and shoved into a hell dimension to be tortured for hundreds of years.

But Willow and Tara are gay, which, to some people, automatically makes everything that happens to them about being gay.

It’s not that being gay isn’t an important part of who a character is, but it’s only a part. To see a character only as gay, to interpret everything that happens to them as being about their sexuality, makes them into caricature.

The burden of creating gay characters not defined solely by their sexuality or based on stereotype and cliché is the responsibility of the writer. To look past a character’s sexuality and see their humanity is the responsibility of the reader.

***

I’m thinking about this a lot because I recently read Songs From the Other Side of the Wall by Dan Holloway, and I loved it. To me, it was a story about a young woman coming of age in a changing world, the conflict between east and west, future and past, dreams and heritage. Oh, and Sandrine’s gay.

And when I finished reading Songs, I wondered, who can I recommend this book to that won’t say, “Why’d you give me this gay book?” or “It was good, except for all that lesbian stuff.”

Dan’s writing is beautiful, his story is resonant, and I would hate to see Songs marginalized or dismissed because of who Sandrine falls in love with.
Feb 25

Oh don’t pretend, ‘cause I don’t care: reader punk

#fridayreads

I used to just read. You know, back when I was younger and more naive and didn’t think that people would judge the fuck out of me based on what I read, didn’t read, and most importantly, what I was seen reading.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place and among people where (outside my own family) reading itself was seen as a little outré. I had a couple friends that read sci-fi and fantasy. One girl, she read romance novels by the bucketload. I tried a few, checked them out from the library before I knew I should be embarrassed being seen with a handful of Harlequins. To the librarian’s credit, she didn’t bat an eyelash. Or when I requested just about every book Harlan Ellison ever wrote through the interlibrary loan system.

That was my literary circle. For a really long time. I’ll tell you some stories someday.

Then I started writing. Restarted. And there are stories about that, too, but not now. The more I write, the deeper down the rabbit hole I go. Somehow I ended up here.

Here being the kind of place where you get shit like the > kill author Indie Lit Community Survey[1]. Up front, I enjoy > kill author, and I love what they’re doing. They say clearly that there’s no subtext intended in the questions. But read the answers. There’s a whole fuckload of subtext being answered. And I applaud every motherfucker who’s owned their social neurosis.

But, seriously, what the fuck, people.

They are books and stories and poems. They are a private act between you and the author, the closest you will ever come to being inside another person’s brain. There is no experience more intimate, more exposed, more vulnerable, than that between writer and reader. And it goes both ways; the reader gets to enter the writer’s mind, but god, the things that happen in there. That is literature.

And it is a mindfuck.

We’re doing surveys on this? Really?

The indie fiction world is so fucking tiny. And so fucking dependent. There is no media machine, just readers. You want people to read your shit, you gotta get them by word of mouth.

Which brings me to what started this thought-train along its inevitable tracks. This is the locomotive, baby.

Spreading the word is not accomplished by being ashamed to talk about what you’re reading, what you enjoy reading.

I can put whatever shit I want up on my Goodreads banner. I can review it in all the right places, comment on all the right blogs. I know what’s hip, who’s overrated, who’s up and coming. I been told, and I can pass for indie, pass for literary. While I’m reading Dan Brown on my Nook.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Not one of those indie-popular authors. Not even Amy Tan or Junot Díaz. Dan motherfuckin’ Brown.

Don’t you fucking judge me, either. You’d never know if I didn’t tell you.

There’s this fear, being among people who are so fucking talented and so fucking smart. I’m afraid they might catch me out. They might realize I’m not smart and I’m not talented. That I’m not one of them. That I’ve got Dan Brown on my Nook.

And here’s the kicker:

There are people that have been indie for, well, eons. Before it had a name. Before it was cool. Way before. The people that laid the groundwork for what has become “indie.” There are people with a surfeit of talent, and by talent, I mean they are some hardworking motherfuckers who are shaping the destiny of independent literature in what is the most revolutionary time for literature since Gutenberg. Those smart, talented motherfuckers I was talking about before. And they are so inclusive and so non-judgmental, they will welcome you with open arms. They don’t care what you read.

Really.

I’ve got this thirty-second rule.

In a new space, new faces, I give myself thirty seconds for the knee-knocking, bladder-weakening social fear. “Omg, what if they don’t like me, is my hair okay, I’m gonna sound stupid, I don’t think I should’ve worn this, does my breath stink?”

Then I turn that shit off. Because I am awesome. Because I am fearless. Because it’s gonna be a shitty party if I spend it hiding in the coatroom.

And at the end of this really long, really rambling, really alcohol-fueled blog post, that’s what I hope you, dear reader, gentle reader, kinda hot reader, will take away.

Read whatever the fuck you want. Comic books, Playboy, Harlequin romances, Dan Brown, Twilight, Dzanc. Whatever you love, own that shit. Celebrate it. Not everything has to be about image and what’s indie (and what’s not).

I’m not gonna judge you.

There aren’t enough of us.




[1] The Indie Lit Community Survey 2011
Feb 21

I’m sorry you didn’t like it; or, criticising the critic

My strange and sick fascination with the overrated writers kerfuffle is waning. I have a short attention span and it’s such a little tiny drama. Like rubbernecking at two people swapping insurance information; sure, there was an accident, but it was so insignificant as to be inconsequential. “Oh, look at the ding on the door there. I bet that’s gonna cost a couple hundred bucks at least! The paint is even chipped!” It’s only interesting because it’s in your neighborhood. Some of the neighbors[1] are still real excited. What can I say? Not much happens around here.

I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t follow J. Bradley[2] and Brad Green[3] on Twitter. (I don’t know them; I just like their poems.)

At first there were some maybe interesting ideas about criticism, its value and its duty, what constitutes good. Nothing smashingly original, mind. It quickly descended into frenzied ego frottage, smarmy and boring in equal parts. And no, I’m not going to write an entire essay explaining why. Fuck that noise.

See, I think we live in a post-critical society. Hardly anyone fucking cares. Nobody has the time.

Jason Jordan’s post[4] is exactly what the philistine masses[5] want: “This book is awesome,” or “This CD sucked.” (Outside a handful of fanboys demanding justification because they want something to refute.) Not long, thoughtful essays following a sandwich formula, fairly balancing careful explanations of the positives and the negatives. Just tell me if it’s a waste of time and or money and let me get on with my bad self.

As a reader, I want star ratings, maybe a couple sentences. I don’t need five thousand words of literary theory amounting to “Look! I have an MFA!” That shit takes longer to read than the book would. Lengthy, girthy criticism is just a reader dressing up their personal experience with a work as authoritative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to probe and analyze. But it’s still just intellectual wank and arguing about it is like arguing over whose spunk has more validity.

Personal taste—not everything needs to be a debate. It’s okay to just like something, or not, without fucking dissertating all over everything. There is no obligation, express or implied, to explain why.

But people take it real personal when someone dogs shit they like. Go ahead, say something bad about Justin Bieber. I dare you.

The whole thing brought me back around to a discussion I had about lit-punk and just not giving a fuck what other people think. We were talking about writing.

What I think, maybe we need to be more punk in our reading, too.




[1] "If you don’t have anything nice to say…" (PANK); "Internet graffiti and its discontents" (Big Other); "In which I join the bandwagon" (Robert Swartwood)
[2] @iheartfailure (who blogged about the increasing metaness of it all)
[3] @Green_Brad
[4] "5 Overrated writers" (Jason Jordan and His Blog)
[5] I include myself in that.
Feb 19

I have an overrated writers list and you can be on it.

I’m just some jack-off nobody’s ever heard of. Thanks to the internet, though, I have a blog. And I can use it to awe you with the depth of my profound insight into the human condition. Or vent every arrogant, ill-informed opinion I hatch up just as fast as I can concoct them. These things are not mutually exclusive. One man’s epiphany is another man’s enema, and the best way to get people reading your shit is by pissing them off.

Right, so I bet you’re wondering what this is about.

Okay, some guy[1] nobody’s heard of, a few months ago, wrote an article[2] listing a bunch of writers he thought were way overrated, and nobody had ever heard of (except Amy Tan). Everybody, but everybody, read this list. (By everybody, I mean dozens of people.) And there was much internet drama over it on several websites for, like, three days. Which is a really long time on the internet. Especially for literary controversy, because there are only about seventeen people on the planet that actually care and it’s pretty much guaranteed that something really important will happen, like Gawker posting pictures of a drunk Paris Hilton making out with Justin Bieber, and all lesser disputes will be sucked into the undertow as servers quake in the face of the ensuing drama tsunami.

Cue present day: some other guy[3] nobody’s heard of posted his own list[4] of overrated writers on his blog, including pictures and snarky little paragraphs reminiscent of the original list.

To which any normal person would go, “Haha, I see what he did there.” Or, “Um, yeah, okay. Next. click

But this is the internet.

Commence literary slap fight.

Team Unicorns and Rainbows thinks writing is really fucking hard and people should be supportive of each other and, shit, if you can’t say something nice why don’t you shut the fuck up already.

Team Brutal Honesty thinks that we should all stop with the nicey-nicey because this lauding and praising is degrading literary quality and cheapening us all. Also, review outlets are pussies and don’t have the balls to publish real criticism.

Me, I don’t have an ideological stand. I’m lazy and selfish and of the opinion that life is too short to read shit I don’t enjoy. And way too short to write thousands (or even hundreds) of words explaining why I thought it sucked. And way way too short to get into bitch fights over it on the internet.

That said, I’ve got my own list of overrated writers on Twitter. Because nobody[5] should have to feel like they aren’t awesome enough to be called overrated by some schmuck on the internet.


[1] Anis Shivani
[2] The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers (Huffington Post)
[3] Jason Jordan
[4] 5 Overrated Writers (Jason Jordan and His Blog)
[5] http://twitter.com/#!/Green_Brad/status/39045484580438016

Dec 29

A Confession

I like to read poetry.

It’s dangerous to admit in public. Poetry is one of those things that has a reputation. Suicidal women and sexually ambiguous men using big words and taking liberties with grammar.

If I do admit, publicly, that I read poetry purely for the pleasure of it, I’m usually gonna get the stinkeye. Sad fact is, outside of certain circles, people believe it’s pretentious. Like admitting you read Moby Dick for fun. Nobody does that. I must be putting on airs. Because nobody actually likes poetry.

On occasion, when I do manage to find myself in a hipster enclave where perusal of poetry (and one’s own poetical aspiration) is de rigueur, I just end up embarrassed. It’s safer to pretend I’ve never read a poem in my life than it is to say that I like Bukowski (“Passé.”) or Adrienne Rich (“Cliché.”) or have my shallow knowledge of modern poets condescended to.

So it remains mostly a secret pleasure, like masturbation.

I take out the confections of the poets that appeal to my plebeian taste and I roll around in an orgy of literary ecstasy, like a dog on his back in freshly mowed grass. I coat myself in it, every pore. I inhale until the words fill the alveoli of my consciousness.

Once in a very rare while, I meet someone else as ignorantly enthusiastic as myself. For a few moments, breathless, as fast as we can talk (or type):
"Have you read…"
"You’ve gotta try…"
"… is amazing.”



I started this post a while ago. Before dinner and a nap. I almost forgot where I was going.

Don’t worry, I remembered.

As I quietly, secretly read lit journals and online zines, the corners frequented by the poets that are still working day jobs and self-publishing their own chapbooks, the great New York bastions of the poets who’ve Made It with stipends and poet-in-residence positions, there’s a common discussion that always crops up.

"Why," poetry people lament, "does no one read poetry? How do we make it accessible?"

Maybe it’s the apparent impenetrability. Maybe it’s the psychic scars of premature sonnets. I’ve got no answers.

Poetry seems a style of writing peculiarly suited to the way we live our lives. Brief, more often than not, condensed meaning packaged for quick consumption. Three minutes in a bank line, fifteen in the doctor’s office, half an hour on the train or bus or in motionless gridlock.

Last night I said to Em, “Remember when, if you wanted something to read, you had to go out and get a physical object and bring it home?”

It seems so antiquated. Now, the words are all around us, floating in the ether, waiting to be plucked down and tucked into the crevices of our lives.

Why not poetry?



And between those of us with more enthusiasm than education in these things:

"Have you read Hot Mamas and Little Gangstas by Kyle Hemmings? Or Avenue C?”
"You’ve gotta try Adam Coates!”
Kristine Ong Muslim is amazing.”

Dec 17

Death and Christmas

I have trouble sleeping. Don’t think I’ve closed my eyes before three AM this past week. Last night I was up until five reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Time-travel historical romance, and really not my thing, but it was free in the Nook store. The writing’s okay, escapism. I just need something to do besides lay there with my eyes closed and think about death.

See, I’m afraid of death.

I’m a second generation atheist. I don’t have the security of an afterlife to soothe me. I don’t have the anger and defiance of first generation atheists to brace me. I have to find the courage to face the void somewhere else. I want to ask my Dad, how do you feel about dying?

He’s a first generation atheist. He has his withering contempt for the Catholic Church to hold on to. I want to ask him, now that you’re dying, do the myths of your childhood give you any comfort?

Those aren’t the kinds of questions you can ask a dying man.

As far back as I recall, my dad has always despised Christmas. My mom loves Christmas; it’s her favorite holiday. I think sometimes that maybe he didn’t hate it so much until they split up, maybe it’s that she loves it so much and it hurts him to remember. I want to ask him, does this Christmas, your last Christmas, matter very much to you?

Mexicans have Día de los Muertos. Swedes have Alla helgons afton. Holidays to remember the dead. I’m American, we don’t have a holiday to remember our dead. Maybe we did once, but it’s been retailed out of recognition.

Christmas seems as good a time as any. For thousands of years before Blue Eyed Jesus, the apex of winter was a time for pitiful enclaves of humanity to cluster together against the cold and the dark and pray to their fickle gods that they would survive passage through the desert of the coming months and emerge, still alive, in the spring. They wouldn’t, not all of them. They knew that too.

Time sucks me forward, inexorable and uncaring. It’s going so fast that sometimes I can’t breathe. I’ve dug in my heels, but there’s no traction in the snow. We won’t all still be here in the spring.