Readers

Last night, while re-reading and skimming sections of one of my favorite books, A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White — in anticipation of reading his newest, Jack Holmes and His Friend — the inevitable finally happened. The spine of the pink cover’s front edge had already detached from the pages on the side a few years ago, yet still held on in the back. With a turn of about page 12, the chunk of pages 1-40 fell out. As you can imagine, I was crestfallen. Sure, poke fun, or think, a hashtag of “firstworldproblems” could easily accompany relaying this in a tweet. But, I cherish this book and had been refusing to get a new one despite its decrepitudeplay_w2(“D0081700”) . It’s the copy I had in college, bought because a writing professor and mentor recommended it to me to discover White’s illuminating and still-relevant prose, the copy I used in my American Novel class to lead a two day discussion on its first three chapters, the copy with my marginal notes and underlines — in pencil, I promise! And, of course the first chapter — an example of some of my favorite writing ever, and the best part of the whole book — has to be the problem. In the midst of e-readers’ increasing popularity, I couldn’t help but think of my claws-in-the-dirt stance to refuse them in a sea of recent discussions about DRM and the environmental impact of print versus digital. Some may tell me condescendingly with their marketing and/or computer science/tech degrees, “This wouldn’t happen if it was on a tablet.” But, despite the way one of my favorite hard copy print books fell apart on me, I still resist a tablet reader, and here are the reasons:

1. I like numerical assignments to pages and despise percentages. The percent system makes it much more difficult to go back and re-read (what would one say during a class discussion or book club meeting? Let’s all go to about 12% in?)
2. I cannot sell a digital book back.
3 I cannot lend a digital book to a friend. I know the different companies are working on lending features, but believe it will only be limited to that device within the company (i.e. Kindle users can lend to Kindle users only). And, even if they make lending broader, the personal quality of what lending is all about to me is lost. I recently put two of my Margaret Atwood hard copies on lend, both of which I enjoyed in Florida at different times in my life, and both of which I associate these memories with, and to me, passing them on is also like passing on that part of myself.
4. What about author signings? Two books I hold dear the most are signed by the author.
5. I cannot indulge in the pleasure of perusing used bookstores like A Reader’s Corner for an hour and stumbling upon good cheap finds I ordinarily wouldn’t have thought about reading before. I cannot support local shops like Carmichaels. Even if they offer the option of purchasing e-books on their website, part of the local book shop experience is going to the shop itself, getting recommendations from the clerks or talking about books with them.

While I’m sure I can think of more, these are the primary reasons. In the boom of social media and ipads, writers are responding differently from the Margaret Atwood full embrace to the T.C. Boyle fear over what may become of such a plugged in culture. I fall somewhere in the middle. But, I know this much: I will take reading those first 40 pages in a hunk outside the bound book over caving and buying something like a Nook.

Or maybe I can duct tape the spine! I’m sure the dark gray would provide a poignant chiaroscuro against the book’s hot pink front. At least better than the disappointing cover of the new edition in its boring, nasty brown and tan hues. That’s for sure.

Gay Flicks

Straight people don’t care about gay stuff. At least this is the general impression I get. Yet, I have to be inundated with and am demanded to care about movies, TV shows, music, art work, and news with hetero-centric focus. It’s a double standard expressed by a character in my favorite movie last year. He makes the ironic and funny, yet true point that people will praise and welcome art work with images of war, violence, poverty, etc. but anything with gay sex, and it is immediately taboo and shunned. LGBT material has been placed in a small niche market in pretty much every media form. Especially as a writer and reader of fiction, my hope is for a transition where it will be accepted in to the main cadre of the respective format (i.e. a well written and layered book classified as gay literature will be seen as good literature in general, and accepted as such within the literary community.) With the buzz of Oscar season, recently I’ve been thinking more about the discrepancy and gap in movies. Straights can find themselves represented in film easily. The majority are made for you. If you give Brokeback Mountain as a counter-example, I will throttle you. It’s more difficult for us gays. They’re either these cheesy, campy romps often a nudge-and-wink parody of a mainstream non gay movie but with cheeky exploitative stereotypes or seedy underground films that are essentially softcore porn under the veil of being edgy (look no further than 90% of the selection in the Netflix Gay and Lesbian section, like this one or this one) The similarity between these two categories is awful acting, fake dialogue, and no real characters. The third category is the Hollywood movie pre-packaged for a safe portrayal to cater to heteros — don’t want to push their limits too much! — that is an opportunistic way for a straight actor to be lauded for playing gay while gay actors themselves struggle getting roles, and new actors in the biz are forced to remain closeted (think A Single Man and Milk, both of which I like but still take issue with). A number of great counter-examples are out there though. I watched a good deal of LGBT movies in the past year — many of which occupy the realm of the gay genre and haven’t gained much audience outside of gay people, which is why I feel the need to share my top 3 (note these are movies I saw for the first time last year, not necessarily with a 2011 release date but made within the last 10 years):

3. Strapped (2010) rating: 9/10 – Some may find this plot a little gimmicky and unrealistic, but it worked for me. If you suspend your disbelief enough, it may for you. A young gay hustler — don’t walk away yet!, I know you may be thinking “Again?!” or “Typical,” but I beg you to look past this routinely used character type — finds himself in an apartment complex after a trick. But, he can’t seem to find his way out, as the complex becomes almost maze-like. On his journey to find the exit, he encounters about 5 different types of gay men. I like the way this one is structured in arcs, each exchange a different act in itself. I also like how it plays on stereotypes but then breaks them by peeling back the layers to reveal authentic people.

2. Red Without Blue (2007) rating: 9/10, instant streaming on Netflix – An excellent documentary. I could’ve picked a great political one exploring aspects of the struggle for gay rights, because there are many out there, but I chose this one because of the personal quality of it. It’s about one family –specially two twins, Mark and Alex Farley. They grew up in the typical fake cookie-cutter nuclear family, but in the onset of their parents’ divorce, they both came out. The film explores their struggles: Mark’s depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, Alex’s identity as transgender in her transition to become Claire, the way their parents handle their sexuality, and the connection that both of them have to one another despite their recent decision to live apart. I also picked this one because it not only explores gay issues, but gender and identity overall.

1. Weekend (2011) rating: 10/10, instant streaming on Netflix – Real, raw, and honest, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is now my favorite LGBT film, and beyond that, my favorite movie period of 2011, and definitely my favorite love story in the past 5 years. The review over at Slate can probably do a better job outlining for you, but I’ll give you the basics if you don’t want to read the whole thing (also a bit of a spoiler alert in their review). It’s main character is Russell, an average, ordinary gay guy in Nottingham. Haigh’s aim was to depict gay culture in Nottingham specifically, so it has a regional flare, but this depiction will easily resonate with any gay community in a city. We’re put in to his POV immediately — please note this, Darren Aronofsky as an example of how to effectively follow your main character with a shaky cam shot without giving the unsettling feeling that we’re stalking them as viewers — as he goes to a gathering at his straight friends’ place (a sequence shot in a way that’s coated with the very real feeling of outsidership as a gay man). He leaves early and heads to a local gay club, where he meets Glen. What starts as a one night stand slowly becomes something more neither of them wants to admit. Glen is an artist and records Russell as part of a project he’s working on, the catalyst for a gradual weekend long exploration they go on with each other. Their conversations address the gay struggle in one of the most apt and contemporary ways I’ve seen. Glen is a bit of a radical who is angered by oppression and thinks gay marriage is conformist to heteronormative power structures, whereas Russell is shy, sweet, and is looking for a monogamous relationship eventually. I see myself and my outlook in both. It embraces the tropes of romance dramas in a self-aware way, but turns them on their head by breathing new life in to them within a gay love story. What is so refreshing about this movie is the intense attention to the specifics of character and what it’s like to connect with someone, whether gay or straight, providing a gleaming, novel view of what love can be. (Advice: may want to turn on subtitles at times. We’re dealing with British low talking mumblers, here)

I’m hoping with movies like Weekend, gay cinema is headed in a great new direction, and maybe it has to be the indie scene to break the barriers. In his recent Salon review of Keep the Lights On, an upcoming similar film which currently made the Sundance rounds, Andrew O’hehir predicts something comparable to New Queer Cinema of the early 90’s, except hopefully a turn away from that to something more expansive, something that resonates not just with the LGBT genre, but with open movie goers willing to experience another perspective than their own and discover the reason for the differences while identifying with the similaries of a shared human existence. And, in the end realize a good movie is a good movie. Also, if I can sit through Katherine Heigle trying to find a boyfriend while being a bridesmaid for the 34th time, Micky Rourk trying to date a stripper, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt going through a break up set to the tunes of The Smiths, or Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhal screw and sit around naked while she’s dying, you can sit through a gay sex scene.

What Have I Been Up To?

Should I come up with a clever first line for my post after an unintentional blog hiatus? One that is self-reflective, poignant, and tugs at the heart strings of my imaginary blog audience? Nah. I didn’t mean to go this long without any post. I could say it may have something to do with “writer’s block.” But that’s not true. I have had many FEEEEELINGS I could’ve blogged over the past 6 months. I could excuse it as blog fatigue. But that’s not true either. Or, I could say I wanted the adorably atrotious Purple Hat Willow to be the first gracing anyone’s presence upon visiting this page. That may be closer to the truth. But, I can part with PHW on mutually good terms in favor of future posts.

What Have I Been Up To?, Why I Thought You Would Never Ask (In No Particular Order):

I have read 6 books. My favorite was The Year of the Flood. My least favorite was The Art of Racing in the Rain
-Dived off a rock quarry… twice.
-Sneered at an episode of Glee.
-Went on a beach vacation.
-Developed a crush (that was developing previously)
-Saw many movies. My favorite was Weekend. My least favorite was The Wrestler.
-Celebrated a birthday.
-Tried some restaurants that made me go, “YUM!”
-Tried some restaurants that made me go, “Bleck!”
-Watched all of Mad Men. I am team Peggy.
-Listened to much music. To give an idea of my diverse taste, 3 examples are Nero, Bon Iver, Stevie Nicks.
-Injured my foot… twice. Because I am dumb and lazy and refuse to get new running shoes.
-Got new running shoes.
-Sneered at a Lady Gaga television appearance.
-Watched all of Breaking Bad and can report that it’s overrated.
-Wiped out in the middle of an engagement party, spilling 2 creamy milk based drinks all over me, and no one cared.
-Stared at a computer screen 40+ hours a week.
-Got over a crush.
-Bought a new — to me — car
-Sneered at Zooey Deschanel approximately 38 times.
-Bought 2 cardigan sweaters.
-Realized that Modern Family is not as good as I thought it was.
-Got writing done!
-Was overcome with extreme self doubt at said writing.
-Watched all of Twin Peaks and discovered the owls really AREN’T what they seem.

All of these could have been blog topics in the past months, but they are all bullet pointed here for you to impose whatever you think I may have explored and pontificated on in them. And, that’s why this post is just soooooooooooooo… META!

Purple Hat Willow!

Whenever I’ve had one of those days that is shitty-as-hell, I want to punch twenty babies, and every moment is laden with a silent gloom and disillusion, I just think of purple floppy hat Willow, and all is right with the world again.

But, what if the talking thing becomes the awkward silence thing?
I think you guys sound good.
I bet you have a lot of groupies.
Oh no! Buffy’s party!

Hehe. I said “date.”

Flannery


I recently found a link to download a talk with The Fiction Master. She gave a lecture at Notre Dame about a year before she died in 1964, and also gave a reading of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The person who posted it is probably violating copyright laws, because it’s only available through the university’s archives at a somewhat expensive fee, which is why the part of her reading was removed, but her talk is still up. Listen to it while you can, if interested. It’s a rare treat and something you won’t come across every day. In it, she comments on the grotesque in her writing and in Southern writing, along with the relationship both have to her Catholicism. Great stuff, and it’s here.

(Source)

Read to Write

What’s the word? Apparently, writers like Cormac McCarthy and Philip Roth have given up on the word — at least the made up word. Over at Salon, Laura Miller dedicates an entire article to it. First, I was angry and defensive. What blatant hypocrisy. Then, equal parts disappointed. So, even literary giants like these men don’t like to read fiction, which for the most part, the vast majority of people in the world don’t read anymore. Philip Roth reads, but in his statement, he claims he now prefers books about history, science, or politics, and goes on to say that he turned away from fiction, because he “wised up.” To what exactly, Phil? Because this statement seems to very much bolster the pervading notion that if something isn’t true, it isn’t valid, and that fiction is frivolous and a waste of time. The overwhelming advice that any aspiring writer gets from the more successful, the advice I’ve gotten the most of, is to read. Read like mad. But, apparently if you’ve become a McCarthy or a Roth, you can give it all up after you’re successful? You just read to get published, and win Pulitzers, and be a part of Oprah’s book club, and then that’s it? Miller brings up the appropriate argument that reading too much can actually constrain a writer. I’ve even heard similar quotes from Alice Munro. I remember reading in an interview with her that she felt reading too much can leave a writer stifled. This is a valid point, because the main goal of a budding writer is to find his or her own unique voice. I think the difference with Munro is that she was warning against reading to the point of imitation, not giving up reading stories altogether.

The reverse ageism underlying in all of the arguments or excuses can’t be felt more, coupled with questioning the use for fiction. So, people who have had more experience in life shouldn’t indulge in stories? According to this article, they have “reached a saturation point,” but then goes on to admit that the novel is perhaps the single most intimate art form revealing the inner life of another person. And, old people shouldn’t have this relationship with a story, because they’ve already met enough people in real life? Huh? What kind of logic is this? The beauty of fiction is in the access of a different consciousness than one’s own, and if it’s good fiction, the resonance of having this access shouldn’t depend on age. Philip Roth may learn facts by reading about science or anthropology, and as Laura Miller notes that staunch proponents of nonfiction proclaim, even if it’s poorly written, he will “come away from it having learned something about the world.” But, within fiction is just as much truth, only a different kind — the truth of someone else’s experience. The personal truth attests a universal, more transcendent truth. McCarthy or Roth, while were once eighteen, for instance, don’t know what it’s like to be eighteen now. They don’t know what it’s like to be a lower class woman living paycheck to paycheck. They don’t know what it’s like to be a gay teenager kicked out of their parent’s home. They don’t know what it’s like to have survived a rape. They don’t know what it’s like to be an undocumented U.S. immigrant afraid of law enforcement. They don’t know what it’s like to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. And, the list could go on. And on. And, while they may have read stories about people like this before, or even written about people in similar situations, it still won’t be the same character who’s affected in a different way than the particular story they happen to read at the time. Much respect for both of them, much more for McCarthy than Roth, I’ll admit, but the central question I can’t get over is this: How can any writer expect their work to be read or respected and not consume and support the art they produce?

He Doesn’t Sound Like Someone Who Would Have a Hairy Back

The printed page is obsolete. Information isn’t bound up anymore. It’s an entity. The only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in you’re not alive. – “I, Robot… You Jane,” S1, Ep. 8 of The TV Show
I’m not a person. See me not exist? I’m not on the book of faces, and I don’t tweet like a bird. Deleting my Facebook about eight or nine months ago was liberating, and a good number of people have asked me if I miss it, which usually causes me to pause. I think about it, and realize that I haven’t even thought about it until they’ve asked me, so I can say that’s a no. I’m broadcasting it in the months after that October post I wrote when I first started this blog that I don’t at all. I promised myself I wouldn’t write about it anymore, and this post won’t be about Facebook. Okay, okay. It is, but it’s more about something larger, which is the digital world. Obviously I still live and participate in it without being a part of much social media. I e-mail, text, work a job that glues me to a computer screen for eight hours a day and sometimes more, and read my news mainly on the internet. I’m a cafeteria follower of the digital world. I pick and choose what aspects of it I want to be a part of. And, I’ve been trying to figure out where I draw the lines. I don’t own a TV, which is similarly liberating, but I indulge in a good deal of streaming Netflix and DVDs. I have a laptop and find myself using it for everything, which is part of what I fear about our current technology, especially with that ipad2 commercial where it espouses the greatness of it by showing how it’s everything in one device. No, thank you. I still don’t know what technologies I find acceptable for myself and which ones I’ll pass on. I just recently got a smart phone. Since it was a free upgrade, and the plan was comparable to what I was paying anyway, I figured why not. I hardly use the internet on it though. The only difference is that I’m now updated every time I get an email, which I don’t even like and have been meaning to change the settings to disallow that. The week before I got it, I was out at Wick’s for the weekly Team Trivia I’ve been doing for about two years now, and at one point, I scanned my friends, and every single person in our large booth had their head down, crouched over their phones, tapping their screens in silence. I turned to my friend, Alex. “Exhibit A of why I don’t want a smart phone.” Do we now come out with friends to sit and look at our phones? Is that facebook status, tweet, or Angry Birds game more important than having a conversation in person? Yet, I still caved and got one when I said I never would. Was part of it peer pressure? A response to the jokes I received with my old phone? I’m sad to admit, yes, partly. But, it’s scared me into thinking if I gave in to that — something I never said I would — what other technology I adamantly refuse will I gradually and inevitably embrace?
At times, I feel like a paranoid lunatic, or think that’s how I’m being perceived by some people. Either as someone who’s needlessly cautious or someone who’s a snob. The issue I’m questioning is one that’s been around for quite some time. While thinking about it the past few months, I felt like being conflicted with the digitalization of information and interaction was something specific to the last five years or so. I recently watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the campy and self-aware 90’stastic first season, and it hit the same mark I’m writing about now. I found myself falling into the same stance as Giles, the dry but wry British librarian, who outright resists computers altogether, instead of Jenny Calendar, another teacher, who thinks he’s a snob for it. He explains at the end of the episode that he doesn’t like computers because they don’t smell, and as he bumbles, “books smell musty and-and-and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a – it, uh, it has no-no texture, no-no context. It’s-it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then-then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly.” I’ve also wondered how prescient the last chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is. It thrusts forward to a future world in which people have “hand sets,” which I assume is some device like a phone attached to one’s hand, people T, meaning text. There was some law passed to protect personal digital information, because it’s implied that certain companies somehow exploited people’s personal information for marketing purposes, though specific names like Google, Facebook, or Twitter never appear.  Language has changed, and words like “freedom,” “democracy,” and “story” are all written with quotes around them, because they no longer have any meaning. Text language is ubiquitous and is characterized by abbreviating everything while taking out all vowels. In my experience with the way some people in my life email and text, I can see this shift happening, which is sad. Language evolves, and I’m a strong supporter, but not to the extent of wiping out core elements of what makes our language artful and intelligent. If someone texted or emailed me in this way, I probably wouldn’t respond. Or would I have to if everyone in my life did? The hashtags and @reply symbols I sometimes use in emails with my friends ironically, and partly to poke fun at how base digital communication is would no longer be ironic. It would be how I would have to communicate. This gets at the core reason of my resistance to some digital media: it was supposed to make people smarter, but it’s seemed to do the opposite, clearly evidenced by the way our language has been dumbed down by it.
Personal interaction. This is the reason I give when asked about why I don’t participate in social media. “Because I value personal interaction more,” I’ll say. It’s an easy answer to give, and I’ve given that same rote response so much I’ve lost what it even means at times. I also say it’s to free myself of distractions. I’m distracted enough as it is to the point where I now put my phone in another room and close the door during activities like a good Saturday morning writing session, and even then I’m on my computer with Gmail or Youtube just a few key strokes away. I often wonder how I get any reading or writing done. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy what digital media has given me. I like that I can cultivate my own media experience. I can watch the TV shows and movies I want to on Hulu or Netflix without having to own a TV and bring in what I don’t want into my home. I can email with a friend who’s currently teaching English in Vietnam and follow the blog of her daily events. I can find any previous This American Life podcast I remembered from three years ago and want to re-listen to. I can indulge my love of pop culture while particularly bored at work by texting cast parties back forth with Alex. My ipod is pretty convenient, another technology I once resisted and now have come to accept. Although, I’m guilty of itunes purchases instead of buying from Ear-x-tacy, the local music store in town, and also downloading music in torrents. But, I draw the line at e-readers. And another major line is when it comes to something like real human interaction, which can’t be replaced by media. Once, I skyped and was crept out by it. Not just by the audio and visual delay, because even if that glitch was fixed, which I’m sure has been by now, it would still be unsettling to have an interaction with this computer screen, pretending as if it’s the loved one. I’m someone who likes to think before I express an idea, who chooses his words carefully. Sometimes this is why I may be a little quiet in social settings, apart from some shyness. This quality I have is part of what makes me want to text or write an email or message instead of speaking in person. It’s more controlled. It’s not chaotic and free-flowing. I can ponder. So, it’s not always easy for me. And maybe this why I’m afraid I’ll eventually give in to what I say I won’t now. But, I keep in mind that placing more emphasis on written communication as opposed to real time isn’t authentic, and that’s been my goal by taking out some digital communication in the last almost-year, to experience people in all their quirks and personality more authentically. In that Buffy episode, Willow dates someone over the internet (who yes, in true Buffy fashion, turns out to be a demon), and Buffy is leery, pointing out that she can’t know him based on what he writes in messages, saying “he could be a circus freak — he’s probably a circus freak!” and says, jokingly but with a hint of seriousness to Willow, “He could have a hairy back.” And, she responds, “Well… he doesn’t sound like someone who would have a hairy back.” As silly as this point is garnered from the show, Willow’s reaction is similar to how people now view interactions with people online, as genuine and wrapped in the illusion of connection, when true connection can’t be replaced by the cold, unfeeling, visual field of the computer or phone screen.
What about you? What is your relationship with how you interact with the people in your life and technology? Does such a heavy reliance on digital communication bother you like it does me, at times? Do you ever make an effort to limit it? Or not? Do you think that anything that helps being connected to more people is something good? Do you really think things like social media connect us to the world more? I’ve been telling myself my smart phone purchase can be offset by lack of FB or twitter. I guess in the end, it’s all about a balance. And, I’ve been doing well in the last few months. I have noticed a difference in the way I value the real communication I have with people, even if they are status updating at the dinner table just a pizza or burrito away.