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The Pizza I’m Not Delivering

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 Happy Maytag Day!

maytag

Dang – I mean, Happy Mayfly Day!

mayfly

Or rather, Happy Maypole Day! 

maypole

Make that, Happy Mayflower Day!

mayflower

Or is it, Happy Mayday?

maydaydistress

Er…maybe…Happy Mother May I Day?

You most certainly may not!

You most certainly may not!

*   *   *

Department of Chick Lit vs. Dick Lit 

I’ve groused about this before.

REALLY

Yes, really.

This being the overt and covert sexism in the literary world, particularly when it comes to book reviews and categorization.

You’ve probably heard the term chick lit, whether or not you fully understand the literary insinuations behind the label. Nutshell: if a female novelist writes about herself, or her fiction’s  protagonists share similar characteristics (ethnicity, age, social and economic circumstances) with herself or her peers, or if Female Novelist tackles subjects related to family, feelings or relationships, she’s a neurotic narcissist and/or what she writes is labeled chick lit. [1]  When a (usually white) male author does the same; naturally, his works are consigned to the label…what would that be: dick lit?

yeahright

Noooooooo.   He gets no such label. He’s illustrating and critiquing the human condition; he’s doing some serious Lit-ra-chure.

The reason for a grousing reprise was the snippet of an artsy radio program I caught while I was driving to some miscellaneous errand. A male voice emanating from my car radio, using the reverent, NPR poetry voice ©  intonation, [2]  was praising the works and themes of the esteemed Russian short story author and playwright, Anton Chekov. And that less-than-reverent yeah, right voice popped into my head.

Anton Chekov is the second most produced playwright in history (the first, of course, is Billybob Shakespeare). Chekov’s stories and plays address themes of the clash between social progress and the maintenance of compassionate human relationships; the frailty of human physical, mental and emotional health; the lack of communication between people of goodwill – even and especially between family members; the lure of aspirations and ideals and the seeming impossibility of realizing them, especially within one’s social and family structure….

Duuuuude.  If Chekov’s works were somehow re-introduced today and Anton was changed to Antonia, there’d be lavender and pink cover art…and he’d never have been awarded the Pushkin Prize.

*   *   *

Speaking of dicks….

Three weeks ago I mentioned my dream in which I had to deliver pizza to former president Ronald Reagan.

In Real Life ® , if I had to deliver pizza to anyone with that particular surname, I would be most happy if it were Uncle Ronnie’s wonderful and witty son, Ron Reagan.

happyza

I’ve been a fan of Ron Reagan’s even before I heard him speak at the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s annual convention. RR the younger is proof that not only can the apple fall far from the tree, it is capable of rolling uphill.

Ron Reagan is currently a commentator and program contributor for MSNBC cable news network. His career in media includes jobs as a talk radio host and political analyst for KIRO radio, and he hosted his own daily show on Air America Radio.  RR is known for his progressive and liberal political and social views, and is also an active, out-of-the-closet atheist. His activism on behalf of atheist and Freethought causes includes the pithy PSA he recorded for the Freedom From Religion Foundation…a PSA you may have heard on CNN or Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but which was banned from the three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC).

ABC and NBC rejected the PSA – although when first approached by the FFRF, NBC offered to accept the paid advertising if FFRF would delete the spot’s concluding line– it’s punch line, for crissake! – which RR delivers with an adorable, wry smile:

“Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.” [3]

FFRF also wanted to buy time for the ad on Sixty Minutes. After months of delays in their response, CBS rejected that placement AND banned the ad from any national CBS show.

Here’s what some network execs found so scary:

 

 

I’ve watched a lot of CBS’ Sixty Minutes over the years, and have lost track of the number of commercials the network has run that are considered offensive or dodgy by some folk (myself included). Apparently the craven asswipes wise content programmers at CBS have no problem running ads for products that talk directly or obliquely about ED (and the dangers of erections lasting longer than 4 hours!), or commercials which feature people gyrating and clutching their abdomens and buttocks to illustrate the discomfort of diarrhea, flatulence and other intestinal disorders…but an atheist who calmlys jibe about H – E- Double hockey sticks?  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

 

*   *   *

I have no respect for any human being who believes in it [Hell]. I have no respect for any man who preaches it. I have no respect for the man who will pollute the imagination of childhood with that infamous lie. I have no respect for the man who will add to the sorrows of this world with the frightful dogma. I have no respect for any man who endeavours to put that infinite cloud, that infinite shadow, over the heart of humanity.
 — Robert G. Ingersoll

*   *   *

Department of Getting The Kids Up To Speed

Last Saturday’s book fair. To survive such events, I close my eyes and think of England grit my teeth and think of castor oil, and other things that (as a writer) are supposed to be good for you.

Friend and fellow writer SCM mused about the incongruity of having a book fair at library, where people can read books for free. [4] She also kept me sane through the event via a series of texts that distracted me from smacking people who attempted to walk off with copies of The Mighty Quinn without paying for them, [5] along with the par-for-the-course Book Fair atmosphere that several newbie authors noticed and commented on.

Higher sales (and dignity) than those of book fairs.

Higher sales (and dignity) than those of book fairs.

One Nice Young Man, © an editor and author of children’s picture books who was participating in his first book fair, mentioned in an email to me that he was disappointed in both the turnout and the number of copies of his books sold…but that he (altogether now, authors) had a good time and made some connections/met other nice authors, so it was worth it.

I tried to be gentle yet illuminating in my reply.

It was nice to meet you, too.  Your experience (few sales, but good time) was par for the course. As a reluctant veteran of many book fairs, and can tell you that the turnout was, in fact, typical for a book fair.

Also, the rules of Book Fair are a variation on Rules 1 & 2 of Fight Club:
1. Nobody sells books at Book Fairs.
2. Nobody buys books at Book Fairs.

If you want to find the people, check the cookie booth.

If you want to find the fair attendees, check the cookie booth.

*   *   *

Whether you celebrate the coming of spring or the day when industrial workers worldwide  protest the capitalist insect that preys upon the people, [6] may you have a Happy May Day, and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] or the only marginally better regarded,  “women’s fiction.”

[2] You know what that is.

[3] Then NBC decided they wouldn’t take the spot even if it were censored altered.

[4] And for which, all you well-meaning library patrons – or at least those who mistakenly think they are supporting literature by reading library books – the books’ authors are not compensated. If 2000 people serially check out the library’s copy of Reflections on a Wrinkled Elbow, the book’s author receives a royalty on the one copy the library purchased.

[5] This has happened at every such event I’ve participated in.

[6] And when in doubt, I say, celebrate ’em all.

The Keys I’m Not Losing

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Lettuce and Taters and Beets, oh my!

Okay, no potatoes this week, but there be lettuce and beets, and an extra share of beet greens (hands down and earlobes up, my favorite greens), plus “dinosaur” kale, [1] broccoli, green beans, spaghetti squash, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, garlic, hot kung pao peppers and sweet red and yellow sweet peppers and basil….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All in our weekly CSA share.  La Finquita del Buho was bountiful this week. Fresh hot peppers will lead the way for tonight’s dinner…whatever it shall be.  All I know is that it will be tahini-free.  I usually love the stuff, but I happen to be holding a grudge.

*   *   *

That’s the last time I help an old man find tahini

I have one of those faces, or attitudes, or combination of attributes – oh, fine, surrender to the woo-woo:  I apparently project an aura that leads some people to think I know Where Things Are.  In general, no problem.  Today, ’twas the impetus for the panic experienced by Mature Individuals [2] that can only come from fearing you’ve lost something vital (today it’s the car keys, tomorrow it’s my offsprings’ names… how many kids do I have, anyway?).

Perhaps it was the fact that I was staring at packages of dried chilies with a look of smug disappointment (what kind of Hispanic Foods section doesn’t carry dried ancho chili peppers?!). There were other people wandering the aisles of the grocery store, store employees, included, but FOG (Friendly Older Gentleman) thought I was the one to help him find something “exotic.

FOG approached me, and asked if I happened to know where he could find…he paused and looked down at his shopping list…tahini? I led him to where I thought that item should be shelved [3], Et voilà !   We chatted amiably about his dinner plans, FOG showing me the shopping list his wife had written for him and both of us chuckling at his admission that he had no idea what tahini was and had wondered, Did she mean I’m supposed to find a condiment from Tahiti?  He gently squeezed my forearm, patted me on the shoulder and thanked me several times for my assistance.  I wished him a happy and tasty dinner, and took my bag to the checkout counter.

As I was unloading my bag at the counter I answered the clerk’s customary query, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” honestly:  Well,everything but Mexican oregano and dried ancho chili peppers.  With a look of confusion that morphed into concern, the clerk scanned my items and returned them to my bag and asked, “Did you try looking in the Mexican Foods section?” I smiled and nodded, keeping my Whaddya think, considering that four of the eight items in my bag came from the Mexican Foods section? to myself.

And then, no car keys.  Could not find them.  Maybe they fell into my grocery bag?  Nope.  I returned to the checkout counter and alerted the clerk. I retraced my steps throughout the store (asking every store employee along the way if they’ve found any car keys), exited the store to the parking lot and retraced my route into the store.   checked everywhere, checked every item on my person, giving myself a pat down worthy of a horny/ethically challenged TSA agent.  Nada.

I girded my loins and told myself to calm down, things could be worse…

KEYS

 …and made the Phone Call of Panic and Shame to MH, who said he’d leave work as soon as he could, get the extra set of keys to the Zoom Zoom[4] and come to the store.  I returned to the checkout counter and asked the clerk where I could leave my contact info in case anyone found my car keys.  A smiling young woman who stood by the clerk looked at me and said that she had found some car keys and, she pointed toward the Customer Service desk.  I thanked her profusely and I asked her where she had found them.  She indicated what shall forevermore be (by moiself) referred to as That Damned Tahini Aisle.

*   *   *

Happy Writing Stuff

While I’m not happy about waking up several times the past few nights with the buzzing-in-my-head-that-needs-to-be-written-down-or-I-won’t-get-back-to-sleep, I am happy that in the mornings I have been able to decipher (well, uh, mostly) my in-the-dark scribblings.

Oh yea? You try it

Oh yea? You try it

I am going through my The Mighty Quinn Book #2 file. Picture an actual file folder, filled to bulging with notes on dialog, setting, plot points, character descriptions….  I’m not sure if a computer file can be said to bulge, but that’s what I’ve got, and it is both exciting and intimidating to start the virtual paw-through.  I’ve enough ideas and material for two more books, and now have to start the outline process and determine what ideas go where.

I already have the title for the second Quinn-and-Neally-and-company book, a rare pleasure for me to know what it will be (and good omen, the non-superstitious moiself hopes), as coming up with a title for a story is one of my least favorite aspects of  writing.

And I have to choose the characters’ names as soon as I think of the character.  I use baby naming books and other resources, to identify characters with names that hold special meaning, even if only to myself.  Hmmm, how can I denote this character’s total prick-osity without actually calling him a dick?

*  *  *

Speaking of dicks (and thanking moiself for that segue)….

WOW

Dateline:  last Sunday (9-8-13), MH and I in bed,[5] listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition.  My attention was caught and hackles were raised during Rachael Martin’s interview with author Norman Rush re his new novel:

On the surface, Norman Rush’s new novel is about a middle-aged man, Ned, who reunites with a group of college friends after one member of the group dies unexpectedly. But what transpires over the next few days ahead of the memorial service is less about Ned’s relationship with these men and the heady, self-absorbed days of yore, and more about how Ned sees himself. 

In his third, much anticipated novel, Rush takes the reader inside the most intimate parts of relationships — between Ned and his wife, between Ned and his deceased friend, and between Ned and his own expectations. 

Imagine that!, the cynical author part of moiself snickered to moiself while MH breathed deeply [6] beside me.  A novel written by a middle-aged author that purports to take a reader “…inside the most intimate parts of relationships;” a novel that is, the author says (further into the interview), “about friendship.”  Ah, that relationship-y thing again.  And the novel is “much anticipated” and taken seriously, and is also described merely as what it is:  a novel. There is no limiting modifier.

Now, change the gender (for both author and characters) in Martin’s commentary:

On the surface, Nora Rush’s new novel is about a middle-aged woman, Nell, who reunites with a group of college friends after one member of the group dies unexpectedly. But what transpires over the next few days ahead of the memorial service is less about Nell’s relationship with these women and the heady, self-absorbed days of yore, and more about how Nell sees herself. 

In her third, much anticipated novel, Rush takes the reader inside the most intimate parts of relationships — between Nell and her husband, between Nell and her deceased friend, and between Nell and her own expectations.

It’s strange, having a flashback on a Sunday morning in bed, when I’ve never taken an acid trip (in or out of bed).  But that’s what happened as I listened to the interview – I was back to a conversation with friend and fellow fiction author SCM  about an unfortunate, ongoing, literary dirty laundry issue which, thanks to uppity female authors with more clout than moiself, has received some airing in the past few years:

-Novels dealing with (what literary critics perceive to be) ” relationships” are often critically acclaimed when the author is male, and when the author is female such books are dismissed as “domestic/family dramas”…if they are reviewed at all.

Not germane to the rant,  but a cute picture, oiu?

Not germane to the rant, but a cute picture, oiu?

Warning: domestic drama ranting [7] ensues, via excerpts from an email, sent approx.  two years ago re this topic, to SCM):

“I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of serious critic’s attention.”  [8]

On my way back from an errand this afternoon I caught the tail end of a rerun of NPR’s Fresh Air 2010 interview with author Jonathan Franzen, recorded not long after the release of his latest novel Freedom.  I felt an almost overwhelming urge to pull the car over to the side of the road, get out and find somebody’s yippie dog and give it a good kick.

The ways Franzen’s novels have been presented and marketed by publishers, and reviewed by the critics, have had me (and many other writers, almost all – surprise! – women) reflecting on the sexism and even misogyny that still pervades the wacky world o’ contemporary literature (well, the world in general).  What sent me into Pomeranian-punting mode were several of Franzen’s ruminations, including [9] :

“I wanted in this book to write about my parents’ marriage and their parental experiences as I observed them … but I…wanted to set it in times contemporaneous with my own. So in that way, too, I turned my parents into people my age; into people I might be or I might know. And that was the real engine. It was something that came from inside.”

“…much of the work on a novel for me consists in the kind of work you might do in a paid professional’s office of trying to walk back from your stuck, conflicted, miserable place to a point of a little bit more distance, from which you can begin to fashion some meaningful narrative of how you got to the stuck place.”

What frosted my butt was not Franzen himself – don’t know him, personally – but the fact that when he, a male author, chooses to fictionalize the subject matter of family, feelings and relationships, the resulting work is touted as a “masterpiece of American fiction” (Time Magazine) and “an indelible portrait of our times” (The New York Times).

The Fresh Air site acknowledged the controversy:  “So many terrific contemporary female novelists cover the same terrain, yet their work receives a fraction of the highbrow fanfare that greets Franzen. It’s like how men still get praised for doing housework and taking care of their own kids: Any male involvement in the domestic realm still merits applause.”

In the interview Franzen spoke extensively about how his own feelings, experiences, family relationships and background influenced his writing.  I was reminded of an excerpt I read many months ago, from article in New York magazine, in which a novelist noted that if a woman writes about herself or acknowledges using material from her own life in her writing, she’s a narcissist, and has no wider interest in or focus outside of [10] the domestic sphere.  If a male novelist does the same, he’s describing universal truths or chronicling the human condition.

Of course, such inequities almost always sound better when put into the mouths of fictional characters.  I love this observation, from the novel, Commencement:

“When a woman writes a book that has anything to do with feelings or relationships, it’s either called chick lit or women’s fiction, right?” one of the characters asks.  “But look at Updike or Irving.  Imagine if they’d been women.  Just imagine.  Someone would have slapped a pink cover onto ‘Rabbit at Rest,’ and poof, there goes the Pulitzer.” 

Here is something the non-fictional character moiself wrote over a year ago, right around the time of the release of Freedom (it’s from one of the documents in my Things I Hate About The Publishing World file.  Oy vey, it’s less expensive than therapy):

Freedom is being hailed as “a domestic drama about marriage and family.”  Effusive, serious praise…for a domestic drama.  Since it is a Jonathan and not a Joanna Franzen who wrote it, the book isn’t being consigned to the “women’s fiction” bin of commentary.  When a female novelist writes about herself, or her protagonists’ ethnicity, age, social and economic circumstances are thinly disguised versions of herself or her peers, she’s a neurotic narcissist.  When a female novelist tackles subjects related to family, feelings or relationships, her work risks being labeled “Chick Lit” (or the faintly more reputable, “women’s fiction”).

A (usually white) male author (e.g. Franzen, Updike, Irving, Cheever, Roth….) does the same thing, writes about the same “territory.”  Do the literary critics – whose  ranks are still overwhelmingly white and male – review his book in the category of…what?  “Dick lit?”  Noooooooo.   He’s illustrating and critiquing the human condition!  He’s doing some serious Li’t-ra-chure!

*   *   *

By the way, if you want to borrow the Dick Lit descriptor, feel free to do so.  Attribution would be nice (or, failing that, cash).  And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Lacinto

[2] Make that, people age fifty and above.  I’m still waiting for the mature part to kick in.

[3], in my experience, that particular grocery store does not always follow my food-grouping logic (nor logic of any kind when it comes to shelving their stock)

[4] Mazda’s promotional nickname for the Mazda 3. MH & I refer to it as “the fun car” (a nickname we bestowed to distinguish it from our Honda Odyssey minivan, the Utilitarian Parent Vehicle).

[5] Shame on (or, good for) you, but sorry, not that kind of dick reference segue.

[6] Notice I did not type, “snored.”

[7] Still awaiting its critical acclamation. Yes, I’ve mentioned this topic before, and will doubtless do so again.

[8] author unremembered – at least, by me.

[9] (I checked the program’s website transcript to make sure I was recalling them correctly)

[10] No, there is no footnote in the middle of my email. How silly would that be?