Department Of The Importance Of Looking At The Warning Sign Head-On

Dateline: Wednesday. Moiself  is visiting a Tillamook County campground, to purchase day use passes for the county’s parks and boat launches.  While waiting at the campground’s registry building I see a bright yellow sign posted to the right of the registry’s service window.  As the camp registry clerk prepares my day use passes, I turn my head to look at the sign, which warns campers of coyote sightings in the vicinity.  From where I am standing I can only see the sign from an angle. This slight but significant limit to my field of vision means that I miss two key words in the warning.  The clerk looks up from her paperwork and eyes me questioningly when I begin laughing.  I point to the sign, and say,

“I don’t know about that requirement – from what I understand, most coyotes are very resistant to leash training.”   [1]

 

 

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Department Of All We Religion-Free Folks Ask For Is A Little Perspective

MH’s chuckles as he looked at his phone prepped me for the why-haven’t-I-ever-thought-of-that?  moment that was to come.  I was not disappointed, as he read me a social media rumination from a prominent atheist activist:

Christians claim Jesus “died for their sin” ( whatever that means   [2]  ).  However, they also claim that he rose from the dead after three days – crucified on a Friday, alive again on Sunday.  So, essentially, Jesus gave up a long weekend for their sins.

 

“Goddammit! Sooner or later, someone was bound to notice….”

 

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Department Of The Literary Biography I Definitely Won’t Be Reading

“I have a terrible confession to make—I have nothing to say about any of the talented women who write today…. I do not seem able to read them.  Indeed I doubt if there will be a really exciting woman writer until the first whore becomes a call girl and tells her tale.”
( Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself )

 

 

I was introduced to the “Beat Generation Writers,” in junior high and high school, via recommendations from both teachers and several classmates.  The Beats (e.g., Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg) influenced the 20th century writers who followed them, practitioners of the aggrieved-male-viewpoint-dominated school of fiction. Exemplars of the latter, who came to prominence in the 1950s and 60s, included Norman Mailer (credited for spawning the creative non-fiction movement, aka, “New Journalism”) , Philip Roth, John Updike ad nauseum et al.  These were the writers, I was told, who were influential, and “happening.”  And, you know, cool.  Because they wrote about the anger and angst of contemporary life (read: sex) and weren’t afraid to tackle controversial issues (more sex).

When I first started reading their works, I thought I must be missing something.   [3]  Not wanting to be thought uncool, I mostly kept those thoughts to moiself …then I just stopped pretending I was interested.  Other than an amusing passage about his father’s constipation that I remember from Portnoy’s Complaint, I loathed Philip Roth, and Mailer as well.  Fairly soon after being introduced to their works (after reading one or two novels, essays, short stories from the authors) I stopped reading them altogether.

I loathed the fact that their alleged “hip contemporary” outlook was a thin veil for their raging misogyny.  Yes, they could string together some impressive sentences, but…ick.  And I didn’t need to know the biographical facts of those writers – for example,  [4]   that Mailer had stabbed his wife (# two in a series that would eventually total six wives) –  to figure out that their raging hetero-masculinity  [5]  hid – or fed – a simmering hatred and fear of women, and of anything they deemed feminine (including homosexuality   [6]  ).

I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it at the time, but I knew what those writers’ works reeked of.  The Beats and “New Literature” works were presented to me – to the world – with the implication that to be “literary” (read: not a prude) you have to appreciate them.  Yet I found little either neither new nor literary in those men’s work.  It was the same old, age old sexism, repackaged in more contemporary (i.e., profane and sexual) language.

Those male authors simply and profoundly didn’t like women.  To them, women were a class (or perhaps, caste?), and were lower than men on the intellectual, moral, and consequential totem pole of humanity.  If you were a female you were in one of two of their thematic camps.  You were either their mothers, whom they resented and blamed, or a girl they wanted to fuck (and, later/eventually, resent and blame).  If you didn’t fit into either of those categories you had no use to them.

Thus, my appreciation of a recent essay in The Washington Post, about the controversy behind the release of the latest Philip Roth biography (the biography’s author is accused of sexual assault).  The following excerpt is from that article, which is titled, “Philip Roth and the sympathetic biographer: This is how misogyny gets cemented in our culture.  Roth’s issues with women are well-documented. One of the prime documenters has been accused of rape.”  The essay is by Monica Hesse, and can be read in its entirety here.

“I can’t help thinking about how readers and viewers have been repeatedly presented narratives as the factual observations of great minds rather than as the ax-grinding of men whose judgment on gender relations might be questionable.
Roth, who died in 2018, was not so much a male writer as an archaeologist of maleness, excavating his own concepts of what men desired, needed and hated….’There is in him a dark distaste for women,’ book critic Linda Grant wrote. ‘A repugnance that can only be described by the word misogyny.’  In her essay, a review of his 2001 work, “The Dying Animal,” Grant describes a particular passage, in which a cancer-stricken woman uses her last day before a mastectomy to visit her former professor/lover so that he may fondle her chest and say goodbye. Grant notes that every woman she discussed this passage with burst out laughing at the preposterousness of this idea.”

 

 

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Department Of And While We’re On The Subject

If women write about their inner lives it is considered “confessional.” When men do the same it is called “literary.”  When men write about their lives and feelings, they are said to be writing for and about the human condition, while women doing the same are accused of navel-gazing.

A recent example of this age-old literary hypocrisy can be found in the New York Times article about the writer Kate Baer, aka “The Mommy Poems author.”  The article deals in part with the criticism that because much (not all) of Baer’s subject matter involves motherhood, her work is not considered serious enough…at least, to some (envious, in my opinion   [7])  literary critics.

 

 

A subject that all of humanity experiences is not universal or relevant or serious enough (to the entrenched bastion of male-lens literary criticism) to write about?  Almost half of the human race will be mothers, at some point in our lives, and *all * of us, no matter our class, nationality, religion, ethnicity, political viewpoints, or gender, have mothers.  But how dare a poet write about it – and, even worse, be successful  (my emphases)!

“Since the pandemic, the 35-year-old mother of four (Kate Baer) has been working from the Panera parking lot, sitting in her Honda minivan with her laptop propped against the steering wheel, attempting to catch a Wi-Fi signal….
It was there that she wrote “What Kind of Woman,” a poetry collection that topped the New York Times best-seller list for paperback trade fiction….

( “Kate Baer Is Speaking Truth. From Her Minivan.
Who says motherhood can’t be literary, even poetic?” NY Times 3-13-21 )

The title of Baer’s collection came from the last line of an Instagram message she received from a (male) freelance book reviewer:

“Hi, my name is ___ …and I’d love to pick your brain about being a mommy writer. …my questions are on content. I find your work well written, but the subject matter was not necessarily what I want to read about. Not unbearable, but also not universal.  I’m wondering if studying some of the classic writers (Poe, Hardy, Thoreau) would help hone in (sic) your work to be more relatable. Also the way we have allowed poetry in any space concerns me.  How can we determine what is good from otherwise? I’d love to take at least an hour on the interview…. Afterward we can shape the piece to include excerpts of your work and perhaps explain what kind of woman you are!    ”  

 

 

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Department Of Getting COVID Vaccination #2

Which moiself  did, yesterday.  Oh, I feel like dancing.  [8]

 

 

*   *   *

Puns For The Day

(male) Authors’ Edition

The author of Webster’s dictionary committed suicide with the book he wrote.
At least he died on his own terms.

Why did the author suffer writers’ block after rectal surgery?
He was left with only a semicolon.

 

“I’m begging you, make it stop.”

*   *   *

May you rejoice in getting completely vaccinated;
May you trust your own judgement in deciding what kind of literature is truly cool;
May you beware of unleashed coyotes;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] The words I could not see were “All pets” (preceding  ” MUST be kept on leash….”).

[2] Yeah, I know what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s so bizarre and primitive – an appeasement of an angry deity through blood sacrifice…it’s nice to watch believers squirm when they try to explain such antiquated theology in 21st century terms.

[3] And for those writers, I was.  I was missing male anatomy, which to them, was everything.

[4] I did not know this at the time I first read anything by Mailer.  Mailer stabbed wife #2 at a party wherein he’d intended to announce his candidacy for New York City Mayor.  “Mailer appeared the next day (after the stabbing) in a scheduled interview on The Mike Wallace Show, where he spoke of the knife as a symbol of manhood and continued to plug his mayoral bid.” (Wikipedia, quoting the article, “Norman Mailer: Stabbing Your Wife as an Existential Experiment.” )

[5] In the case of Roth and Mailer.  Updike’s sexism was a more laid-back, suburbanite version.

[6] Mailer and Updike were particularly known for their homophobic sentiments and comments, even book reviews.

[7] I mean, a best-selling book of poetry?  That just doesn’t happen.

[8] Even if I am having the not-uncommon reaction of feeling a bit punkish afterwards.  My immune system is working; good to know.