Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Are Men Allowed To Write Blog Posts Like This?

I’ve had almost a month now of time for my own reading and writing, without teaching, and it has been a pleasant experience, if difficult at times. Except for the occasional e-mail exchange, I’ve been avoiding social involvements and instead taking some time to try to understand myself and my own writing in a way I often can’t when I’m busy. And I haven’t been thinking much about my blog either. Amazing though how much suddenly having time to write makes it easy to want to fill one’s life with meaningless clutter. Still, I’ve spent every morning writing and exercising, and every afternoon reading and writing and going for a walk, then in the evening watching a film or listening to music.

It’s strange to live in the state of California, where the government makes such bad decisions, many of them based on panicky responses to their bad decisions of the past. Maryland didn’t do that sort of thing. DC did, but for the most part the government of DC didn’t have enough power to really screw over most of its citizens. California, however, is better at that. Right now, the depression and financial crisis we have is an excellent example of what happens to a state when it gives all its money away to corporations, essentially with very little payback or oversight. Because corporations can “choose their own tax plans,” they pay almost no taxes and take the money in and out of the state as they please, and the state has no money. And all of it doesn’t benefit anybody other than a few ultra-wealthy people who maybe don’t even live in California. Does anybody in California really still believe that corporations create a lot of jobs? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it true.

I have been a fan of the TV soap opera The Young and The Restless for 25 years. It’s on when I’m at home and eating lunch. Sometimes I don’t watch the show for several months, but more often I manage to watch it about once a week. Lately it coincides perfectly with my post-exercise lunch break. What do I like about it? All the characters are ultimately ambiguous, capable of generous and selfish acts by turns. Also, they’re all so messed up all the time that it’s a lovely lesson in the messed-up, waste of time lives of the American wealthy. Immature, deluded, vicious. Even the frequent homilies to family life and love and children, which I can’t really stand, are undercut by people’s actual behavior. Whatever they say, they don’t take care of their children and they don’t love anyone but themselves, and their corporations are mainly just a way of trying to take revenge on each other.

Why is it that many blogs written by women discuss a number of issues in each post, but that there are almost no blogs by men that do that? Blogs by men tend to focus only on a single issue with each post. Some women focus only on one issue per post, and others do it differently, but male blogs almost uniformly discuss only one issue per post, unless of course they’re doing a round-up of recent magazines or readings or something like that, and even then the round-up tends to focus on one main issue. Ryan Walker’s blog is an exception, except that it’s possible also to say that all his blog posts are about the same thing.

It doesn’t seem like anybody has much idea yet what’s going to come of the massive Iranian protests. Overturning the election seems unlikely without even more revolutionary change, and while that’s definitely needed, how likely is it? Are a lot of people going to die before this situation is resolved? A few already have. The situation is still changing as of this minute, obviously, and some election results are being reconsidered.

The most interesting music I’ve been listening to recently is the 2005 CD The Eleventh Hour by the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. With his continuous breathing techniques, Parker has long been one of the strangest and most original musicians currently performing, and the range of odd sounds the ensemble makes here create a series of fascinating textures unlike anything I’ve heard. They do have some similarity to Parker textures on other releases but this CD pulls them almost into big band like arrangements. I’ve also been listening to a fair amount of blues and country and alt.countrypop (thumbs up for the best cuts on the somewhat uneven sun kil moon sampler ) as well as to the live 2004 Iggy and the Stooges CD Telleuric Chaos, which is really energetic and also sloppy in a great way (with only a little toneless hard rock thud), making their recent studio release The Weirdness sound even worse.

A lot of my reading this summer has been critical books on the history of science fiction and some key science fiction texts, along with poetry and much else of course. I may be teaching a science fiction course in the next year or two. Oddly maybe, I had never heard of Alfred Bester until this summer. I still think I might like science fiction less than either horror fiction or detective fiction, while at the same time, the greatest books in science fiction are certainly more profound than those of detective fiction. I find sci-fi most interesting when it includes a psychological component in thinking about science and alternative societies. I’ve really loved the Ursula LeGuin work I’ve read so far. I’m teaching her book of stories The Birthday of The World this fall, and actually I’m a little worried that it’s too sexually explicit for some of my California students. Imagine: I’m living in a place where Ursula LeGuin might just be too blunt.

The city is still perhaps best defined by the concept of the stranger. In cities, frequently encountering those you do not know is inevitable and part of what many residents are seeking. The stranger is a direct function of circulation. In contrast, the suburbs seem defined by the desire not to know anyone you don’t want to know and having no more than brief contact with them.

The kinds of loneliness that the city and suburbs create are therefore very different.

I just played Van Morrison’s song “Evening In June” last night for the first time this month. It’s from his album How Long Has This Been Going On and it’s a song that creates such a perfect longing for June that I usually play it frequently every June so I can feel like it’s June while it is June. Yes, I need a song for that. Know what I’m saying? Every day I’ve been telling myself I wanted to play that song yet by the end of the day I still hadn’t played it. But last night I finally did.

Just watched 1967's In Cold Blood for the first time ever on Sunday and on Monday watched Capote, which I had also not seen. In Cold Blood may be the book that gave me the most powerful emotional reaction I’d ever had from a book when I read it 25 years ago: revulsion and fascination and a big headache. I still remember much of the book and have never wanted to read it again. The movie was grim and compelling but didn’t stun me as much, perhaps because in the movie the characters of the murdered Clutter family were not as developed as they were in the book. Extra real-life painful twist; the actor who played neurotic murderer Perry Smith so effectively is of course Robert Blake, who was found not guilty after a long trial of the 2001 murder of his wife. Blake was later found guilty in a civil suit and ordered to pay $15 million to his wife’s three children. Almost everything connected to this book is horrifying.

Speaking of which, Capote was an intriguing examination of Truman Capote’s character and the kinds of manipulation he used to get information for the novel, an effort which ended up having genuinely destructive effects not only on the people who were the subject of the book but on him as well. Still, Capote was another example of the only kind of movie about artists that Hollywood seems capable of making, with rare exceptions: that of the tortured genius who looks into the heart of darkness and transmits it to us while being destroyed by it. I really get tired of that.

Yes, creative writing can be taught. And a lot of poetics debates circle the same ground over and over again with no new insight.

I’m flying to Paris July 1.


Nada said...

Oh, I like this butterfly style.

Sharon E. Dreyer said...

Government bureaucracies are a vexation to all taxpayers! Such bureaucracies produce nothing and take more than they are worth! Just my unabashed opinion. Perhaps you would enjoy my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting tale is a romantic action adventure in space and is more about the characters than the technology.

Iain said...

It's feels wholly "unnatural" for me when I try to blog about only one thing. In fact, I often want to talk about a few things, recurrently throughout a post. I hadn't noticed there being a gender divide as far as that type of thing goes, but I'm not very quick to notice that type of thing. Gender on the Internet... (don't remember what that sentence was going to say). Göransson also comes to mind as a male poet who often has multi-subject posts.

I should ignore, more often, that part of me that tells me my blogs should be more linear (was going to say "focused", but that seems very wrong). Thank you.

deewana said...

wow. something i never thought about. if that's a phenomenon, then i can't explain it. but if you want a good example of a man who can consider and write about a myriad of issues tied together in one package, check out a book by Eugene Kachmarsky, called Let Slip the Dogs of Love, a collection of short stories that span the spectrum of genres from sci-fi to magic realism to crime drama to psychological thriller to children's fables for grown ups. you're interested.

Don Zirilli said...

hmm... you're starting to sound like Sherlock Holmes...

I recommend The City, by Clifford D. Simak (I think)

I'm sure I recommend it. I think it's by Simak.

Is this comment too feminine?

sandrasimonds said...

Like Nada, I really like this post mostly because you admit to watching a soap opera...and for 25 years. You're a nut! (of course I mean that in a nice way).

Ryan W. said...

I found the post readable. what kind of exercises do you do? what is your attitude / strategies involving exercise.

Joe Safdie said...

Yeah, Mark, let me join the chorus here to say that this post was an enjoyable change of pace. I don't know if it's masculine or feminine to focus relentlessly on one issue, but it is aggressive -- an attempt to cover the waterfront instead of allowing other people's voices to shine through. I do that a little too often, I think.

My favorite science fiction writer is Philip K. Dick, but then, I bet a lot of people say that . . .

Art Durkee said...

Gender related? Not at all.

Zuihitsu? Definitely. A style as old as the Heian Imperial japanese court.

Art Durkee said...

And then there's the science fiction murder mystery noir thriller novel, which Alfred Bester more or less invented, with "The Demolished Man." And then there's the psychologically-driven SF story by Bester, "Fondly Farenheit," which is about multiple personality disorder expressed via projection. And then there's the action-adventure post-Dumas SF hybrid novel, which Bester pretty invented as a form with "The Stars My Destination."

tmorange said...

california: voters there also recently rejected an emergency tax increase measure at the voting booth too, yes? seems the right's anti-tax mantra has worked stunningly well.

iran: witness the ongoing emergence of the technology-fueled "citizen journalist."

parker: yeah those E-A ensemble recordings are fascinating, manifesting an impulse going back to AMM and the original music improvisation company of the late 1960s, in which among other things the source of any given sound is increasingly difficult to identify.

reading: for me right now it's a rather curiously complimentary combination: james lovelock's gaia and john ashbery's selected later poems.

capote: yes, vicky cristina barcelona, the first woody allen film i've seen in years, also has that tortured artist schtick. still, philip seymour hoffman's performance as capote was brilliant.

mark wallace said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

I doubt that most women bloggers using this style are consciously referencing a Japanese court tradition, or that the men who don't use the style are consciously rejecting a Japanese court tradition. I think Joe's comment is more on the money, since there's a markedly smaller degree of aggression in switching topics rapidly than in making an argument just about one.

Thanks, Nada, for giving me a name for this style that I didn't know.

Ryan: three long runs per week (usually Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday), one long strenuous hike (usually Saturday), then three days of muscle training, with special emphasis on the legs (running a lot without working on leg muscles otherwise can lead to hamstring problems). I also try to take a more leisurely walk most afternoons, which helps relieve stiffness and also takes me to a park where I can read and write outside. Plus, I don't necessarily walk as part of daily life here as I used to do in DC--there aren't many places that I can walk to, so walking isn't associated here with taking care of daily tasks or going to work.

Sandra, Y and R is particularly good this summer: the criminality and psychological problems are really running wild.

Tom, alas, you've been taken in by the Arnold propaganda machine. The emergency measure was mainly a shell game designed to give our governor the ability to make many financial decisions without input from others. Yes, the right wing was against the tax part, but my faculty union opposed the measure too. It was a poorly worded measure that wasn't going to do what it promised to do and which the governor was going to use to try to divide the state's liberals against each other. It was deservedly voted down by almost everyone--the "blame the voter not the governor" part is just more propaganda. The problem in this case is not the voters, but the governor. But yeah, the Parker ensemble music is really amazing. Nothing else sounds remotely like it.

Don: well, I'll play Sherlock Holmes with your comment. Two ways to read your remark about Holmes: that like Holmes I an noticing a phenomena and trying to draw inferences from it, or that like Holmes I am stereotyping based on gender. Since in this case I asked a question based on observation rather than making an assertion, Holmes might suggest that there's an ambiguity about your remarks, but that taking questions as statements which one then argues against is aggressive. So your comment is marked both by aggressive and more friendly and/or ambiguous implications simultaneously, which seems to hold true for your closing question as well, which could be read as a critique of a position that in fact I didn't take, but which doesn't necessarily read that way. So reading your comments as being either more or less aggressive is possible, and I think Holmes would probably need further info to decide which tactic you were more centrally employing. But he might conclude by saying that your comment could only be considered feminine if it was feminine to ambiguously mix aggression and more gentle (potentially) questioning, which in fact doesn't seem likely even if one did hold an essentializing attitude about gender that you may or may not be implying I have.

Thanks for the book suggestions, everyone. I have more reading material than I can handle right now, which is both great and terrible. I'm a huge Philip K. Dick fan too, Joe, although I go back and forth on whether I like him or Stanislaw Lem better.

tmorange said...

ah well, t's all the news of CA we get out east. today's nytimes: "in California, where a $24 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year is the nation’s worst, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed releasing thousands of prisoners early and closing more than 200 state parks." hurray!

mark wallace said...

He'll propose anything other than even a reasonable amount of taxation for corporations. Know what I'm saying? Close the schools, close the parks, close the prisons, but absolutely never tax anybody a single cent who's already making more than 10 million a year.

Art Durkee said...

I never meant to imply any sort of influence, I only pointed out that the style itself is a very old style, and concept. Certainly it can be rediscovered or reinvented by different people and different times.

What I was saying was that back in old Japan, both men and women practiced the style. The inventor the essay in Western literature, Montaigne, pretty much wrote in this style.

So I think there's absolutely zero basis for saying this has anything to do with gender. The japanese examples support my point, that's all.

Matt said...

I remember Montaigne's Blog. It was the Silliman's Blog of its day.

John Vanderslice said...

Well, I'm new to the blogosphere and I've been warned by my wife to keep all posts to two paragraphs. At most! That kind of limits, on purpose, the number of subjects you can take on. So I get around this by posting almost everyday. Is this rule a "true" rule? A useful one? And how is California doing these days after the supposed budget "fix" of late summer? I was in Paris just last June. Rather be there than here, especially with all this health reform screeching going on. So, what, we all like the status quo now? We don't actually want to fix it? Now there's a bunch of subjects all at once!