Does This Matter?

May 16, 2014

Holy Crap Reader,

I have not written a new post in a long time. The last thing to go up here was on the Alfredo Simon rape accusations. That was a pretty weird thing. I posted it here because it went up, then down, then back up at Redleg Nation where I have been writing about Reds baseball for several years. It probably generated as much notoriety as anything I’ve ever written, which surprises me, even though ti shouldn’t. All I did was lay out the facts and demonstrate that if someone says an athlete raped them, they are very, very likely to be telling the truth. This caused an uproar because we live in a a strange world.

Which actually kind of leads into some other thoughts I’ve been having. It has struck me, recently, how crowded the internet is. There are so many people talking so much about every topic you can imagine that nearly anything one does is already being done somewhere else. It makes it even more inexcusable that so much of what is in the mainstream is so terrible. I generally think that what I put up is well-thought and well-written, but I worry about adding to the cacophony. It’s had me thinking about ceasing to blog anywhere at all. That’s probably not going to happen. I’m too much of a producer for that. But it might.

Further life musings…

Things are approaching mellow in my life (sort of). Cate has a new business and it’s getting off the ground pretty well and making us a little more financially relaxed than we ever have been. We’ve been secure for a long time, but it’s been tight a lot. It’s nice to be able to buy a book or an album and not have to feel guilty about it.

Of course, fewer monetary concerns are pretty much the only thing making my life more mellow. I’ve been going like crazy on the book (new chapter coming soon) because I really want it put to bed by the end of June so I can have one solid month of no responsibilities. Writing in serial has been very interesting. I’m still gathering my thoughts about it, but I know I’ll be glad when I’m done.

My daughter is about to turn five, and that seems impossible.

It is almost summer vacation. I love teaching except for the last month of every school year when I want all of education to burn down. I am tired. I want to sleep in some.

That’s all for now. See you sooner or later.

Candyland Is Kind of Icky

August 23, 2012

Lately, Simone has been moderately obsessed with two games: Candyland and Cootie. Ostensibly, there’s nothing wrong with this. I mean, those games are mind-numbing like all games targeted at three-year-olds, but Simone finds them delightful, so whatever.

Recently, we sat down for a good-old-fashioned game of Cootie. Simone pulled out to an early lead, and though I recovered, I was unable to come back, finishing one leg short of a full-cootie. I was crushed, let me tell you. But there was something even more disturbing that I noticed.

Cootie, you may know, is a game in which you roll a die and build a bug (aka a cootie) from plastic parts. There are a variety of choices regarding body color, eyes, mouth, hat/antennae, and legs. Simone chose the pink body. Fine. She’s been on a pink run for a long time now. She chose the hair-bow in the hat category. She chose the eyes with big, long eyelashes. She chose the big, pouty lips. She built the perfect girl cootie.

She didn’t chose the cowboy hat, though she spends a lot of her time wearing whatever hat she can get a hold of. She didn’t choose the goofy looking tongue, though she thinks sticking out your tongue is hilarious. She didn’t choose the funny eyes.

She is three and she built the perfect, demure, girl cootie. Dammit.

It’s not that I find anything wrong with things that are stereotypically girly. I don’t. It’s just that I want Simone to know those aren’t the only options. I know we’ve done a mostly good job because her interests are all over the map, as they should be. But I can’t stop being bothered that, when asked to build something, she didn’t build the thing most in-keeping with her personality, she built the thing most in-keeping with what girls are supposed to look like.

And speaking of that, let’s talk about Candyland, shall we?

The current edition of Candyland has three male characters and three female characters on the board. A nice bit of gender equality. However, the male characters are a dashing-prince-type, and wily-villian-type, and, of course, the king.

So what do the girls get? A sexy princess with serious curves. Some sort of nymphish faerie with her own set of barely-legal curves (and a lollipop, no less), and a grandmother.

So, if your a boy, you can be adventurous or clever or in-charge of everything. If you’re a girl, you can be sexy or a grandmother.

This is a game targeted at three-year-old children.

Now I’ve gone and depressed myself.

Lately, there’s been some Jonathan Franzen-related kerfuffle going around. Most notably, as regards a misguided essay he wrote about Edith Wharton for The New Yorker. Just as this was going on, I was working my way through his most recent novel, Freedom. If you read last month’s book log, you know I was less than impressed.

At the same time, there are a lot of people – A LOT – who regard him as something like America’s greatest living writer. It does not seem to matter to the dominant reviewers that his treatment of women is so lacking. This, of course, is because most of the important reviewers and editors are men.

The vast, vast, vast majority of fiction writers are women and that isn’t going to change. My writing classes are overwhelmingly filled with girls. More than 80 percent of my students in those classes are girls.

You are, I hope, seeing the disconnect with this. I played with numbers in my last post a bit, and I feel the need to point out that it is impossible for the majority of great writers to be men right now. But, you know, this is a long tradition. Most great writers have always been men (this is entirely because women haven’t been allowed to learn to read or taken seriously when they do write something), but I don’t think it can last much longer.

The most ridiculous part of this is that a woman who wrote like Franzen or maybe Cormac McCarthy and marginalized men the way they marginalize women would never be called great. The women writers who do ascend to the canon almost all have to show they understand male and female perspectives. Men just have to show they understand the world of men.

But that can’t last forever, not in a world where women are most of the readers and most of the writers and where they’re held to a higher standard. The canon of the future is a female canon

I recently mentioned the advanced writing class I am teaching for the first time. It is a wonderful class and recently, we had a discussion that gave me an epiphany. The discussion was based around the idea that it is important to learn to write from other perspectives. I was especially focusing on the tendency of men to always write from the male perspective. I mentioned Colum McCann as someone who transcends this limitation.

Unsurprisingly, the girls in my class were very receptive to this discussion. After all, they’ve spent there whole lives watching the majority of stories be told from a perspective that is not theirs. One of them made a wonderful comment. She said, “My boys get in touch with their feelings.” She was referring, of course, to the boys she dates. Good for her.

The writing implications of that statement were immediately clear. You can’t write if you aren’t in touch with your feelings. Creative writing is about emotion. Without emotion, there is no engagement with the audience. This is important stuff to talk about. However, there was another implication that didn’t hit me for several days.

The hard part about parenting James will be teaching him to show emotion.

This is the biggest hangup society lays at the feet of men. You are not to feel. To feel is to be weak. To be weak is to be irrelevant. It’s a depressing thing. I went through most of my adolescence and a portion of early adulthood trying, with varying degrees of success, to suppress my emotions. And I came from a household where my dad was affectionate and open about his love for me.  Yet, somehow, I lived a long time before I realized the idea that men don’t cry ever or men don’t display emotion publicly was a bunch of nonsense.

It was hard for me and I suspect it will be hard for my son. If the hard thing about parenting a girl is avoiding/counteracting the princess culture, with boys it’s the tough-guy culture. What’s worse, the societal consequences for boys are much steeper. That is, a tomboy girl is often looked upon as charmingly different, if flawed. Whereas a sensitive boy is typically seen as unacceptable. Unmanly. A reject. Or worse, someone to be preyed upon.

Still, I will try to raise James to feel and to express his feelings and to not be ashamed of it. If I’m lucky, one day he’ll trip across someone like my student who knows enough to realize that this is a good thing.

Bits and Pieces

February 27, 2012

There are several things I could write full blog posts about right now, but it’s not going to happen. Instead, I offer you the following semi-worthwhile snippets.

1. We had a new child! James Atticus was born last Thursday. He is named for my dad and for the character you’re all thinking of (if you’re not thinking of the character – go read a book, slacker!). Everyone is home and happy and Cate and I are adjusting to a two-child household. Mercifully, he’s been easy to get along with so far, so we probably won’t have to take him back to the baby store. Frankly, I couldn’t take all the pecking. Those storks are brutal with the high-pressure sales-tactics.

In semi-seriousness: I’m quite happy and it’s very odd to have a baby around the house again. I have lots and lots and lots of things to say about attempting to raise a man who respects women and doesn’t buy into the misogynist nonsense of our culture. That will come in time.

2. I taught my advanced writing class for the first time today. I walked into the room, said I’d been looking forward to this class all year and immediately had several students respond that they had, too. It was so gratifying. I love writing and I love teaching writing. This class is pretty much why I got into teaching in the first place. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it.

3. There has been a movement afoot on the internets to encourage men to speak up about the birth control nonsense going on right now. I feel compelled, and so I have to speak up. The ridiculous bullshit being spouted by a handful of conservative men who believe they should have the right to control women’s reproductive choices is simply absurd. It is born of a hatred for a women and I find it sickening. If we really want to start making moral arguments, I want to start talking about all the places I don’t want my money to go.

That’s beside the point, though. The point is women are just as capable of making decisions as men. It’s absurd that we’re still having this conversation in 2012. I look forward to watching Republicans be crushed in the upcoming elections.

What About Boys?

February 13, 2012

We are expecting the birth of our son any day now – literally. Over the weekend we spent nearly 24 hours in labor and delivery as Cate went into and then, vexingly, out of labor. It’s caused some exhaustion around the house and I don’t know how much I’ll be writing anywhere for the next week or two. I did want to chime in on another of those things people do that bother me.

Given the brief descent into labor, I’ve had lots of conversations with people about the forthcoming child. Everyone seems to be under the impression that we are lucky to be having a boy. The implication is that boys are easy because they are so low-maintenance. Or something. It’s all left me wondering, once again, why our society seems so set up to hate women. The worst you’ll ever hear about boys is that they are rough and tumble. But girls are whiny. Girls talk too much. Girls can’t play rough. Girls cause drama.

Bullshit.

Simone has been part of our family for almost three years. Has she created drama? Of course. Has she been whiny? Of course. She’s two. Show me a two-year-old who doesn’t whine. I’ll say this though, Simone can rough house with the best of them and she is a quiet, often contemplative, child. In other words – not the stereotype.

I know this echoes a lot of stuff I’ve written before, but it amazes me how much baggage society lays at our feet before we are even born. I don’t know who James is yet. He may be a very easy child or he may be difficult. Either way, his gender won’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know if he will like girly things or manly things. Frankly, I don’t care. I suspect, however, that like all actual people, it will be a mix. Certainly, in our house, we’ll keep doing our best to let our children be whatever kind of children they want to be.

2011 Reading Year in Review

January 1, 2012

Time for my annual favorite books of the year ramble. This year, I thought it would be fun to start with some trivial numbers from the year (I mean fun for me, you might find it mildly amusing, though).

Books Read: 75
Pages Read: 21,454
Average Pages per Book: 286
Average Pages per Day: 59

Biggest Reading Month: October (8 books, 2141 pages)
Smallest Reading Month: May (5 books, 1169 pages)

Five Longest Books Read:

  1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 959 pages
  2. The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – 883 pages
  3. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser – 856 pages
  4. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – 512 pages
  5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – 471 pages

Five Shortest Books

  1. Native Guard by Natasha Tetheway – 50 pages
  2. The Simple Truth by Philip Levine – 66 pages
  3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 70 pages
  4. The Art of War by Sun Tzu – 70 pages
  5. Now and Then by Robert Penn Warren– 75 pages

There. That was fun, wasn’t it? Now, if I haven’t scared you away yet, let’s look at the highlights a lowlights of my reading year (rereads are excluded from consideration):

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

(Note this is not the worst book I read this year, that would be The Hunger Games, which was required for my job. You can find my contemptuous screed on that book here.)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides. A lot of people are putting this on best-of lists, but I just don’t see it. I loved Middlesex, but this book has so many issues and is so rife with misogyny (most notably, a female character whose greatest sexual pleasure comes when her boyfriend rapes her), that I could never get into it. There are some wonderful passages and plenty of good moments, but the book, as a whole, doesn’t work.

Enjoyable Nonfiction:

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson and The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene. A couple of very different titles. Notes might be Bryson’s best-known work and is a delightfully funny read. The Hidden Reality is Brian Greene’s third pop-science book and a great explanation of the various kinds of multi-verse we might live in. I highly recommend both.

Favorite Books of the Year:

Honorable Mentions – Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (her best, I think), Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (a wonderful modern fairy tale), Dancer by Colum McCann, The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett, The Tent by Margaret Atwood, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

5. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – Unlike the Eugenides, I agree with everyone listing this as one of the best books of the year. It’s fantastic. I noted when I first read it that a some pop-culture references might cause it to feel dated in a few decades, thus preventing it from being an enduring masterpiece, but overall this is a fantastic book. I was very excited to read it and it absolutely did not let me down. A great exploration of all the different kinds of love that drive us.

4. Zoli by Colum McCann – I love Colum McCann. I gather he considers this book to be a bit of a failure. Oh, that I should fail so. This is such a wonderful and rarely told story. It follows a Roma (Gypsy) poet/singer through post WWII Eastern Europe. The main character is just so real and fascinating. I can’t find anything bad to say about it. If you haven’t been reading Colum McCann, you are doing yourself a disservice.

3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – In some ways, this is the most remarkable book on this list. Not because it is an unexpected story, but because it is such a common story. Rich people. Banana republic. Hostage crisis. Kind of writes a terrible book on its own, doesn’t it? But this is beautiful. Patchett goes so many places with this, exploring the constraints of class and language and how they might be overcome through art. Lovely.

2. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee – Lee’s newest book, The Surrendered, was up for a number of awards and I’m excited to read it this spring, but I can’t imagine it could be any better than A Gesture Life. This book explores one man’s experiences with comfort women while in the Japanese army in WWII and his later struggles to repair his severely broken relationship with his adopted daughter. What really sets this book apart, though, is the beautiful descriptions Lee gives of even the most everyday things.

1. The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – One of the longest books I read this year, and instantly one of my favorite books ever. This is a complete masterpiece. Byatt takes hundreds of pages to lovingly explore the lives of many beautifully flawed characters. In addition, you get fairy tales, early 20th century England, free-love, socialism, war, and the consequences that spring from all of that. I was hooked on this book from the very first page and spent all my time reading it dumfounded that anyone could ever produce something like this. Unbelievably wonderful. This spring, I plan to start slowly working my way through everything she’s written. I suggest you do the same, and start with this.

As the Father of a Daughter

December 8, 2011

As you have probably heard, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently decided for the entire country that young women under the age of 17 shouldn’t be able to buy Plan B. President Obama agreed with her, saying something about being “the father of two daughters” and “common sense.”

I have a daughter and I have heard of common sense, so let me take a crack at this…

Common sense tells me that if your issue is with 10 or 11-year-olds buying something, then maybe you should restrict them instead of restricting everyone under 17 and then only talking about 10 and 11-year-olds.

Common sense tells me that we should realize that some girls, sadly, are raped by people they know – maybe even their fathers – and that just maybe making them reliant on their parents to get a prescription is not the best course to take.

Common sense tells me it’s ridiculous that young women who are – in most states – considered legally old enough to have sex don’t also have full access to birth control.

Common sense tells me that pretty much no one wants to come up to their parents and say “So, um, a condom broke.” And maybe, just maybe, this reluctance is going to hold kids off long enough that suddenly there is a much bigger problem.

Common sense tells me that you can buy a lot of dangerous crap over the counter and that this is only different because the pander-machine that is the Obama administration thinks liberals won’t punish them for it.

I really, really hope Simone would feel comfortable coming to Cate or I if she needed Plan B. I also realize that she might not. And you know what? That’s her right because, if  you ask me, I don’t own her. I am not entitled to control her body until she turns 18. In fact, I don’t control her body now. Simone is a person and she always has a right to autonomy (within reason, it’s not like I let my two-year-old play with knives). This assumption that our daughters need us to control them is misogynist and morally repugnant.

And here’s the thing: This was the last straw for me. I won’t be voting Obama in 2012. Maybe I’ll vote 3rd party and maybe I’ll write in Hillary Clinton or someone else. It won’t be Obama, though. Why? I have a few friends who insist that you should always vote Democrat and try to shove them to the left. But I think there has to be a limit. The Obama administration has always operated as though they had liberals in the bank. Nothing they could do will send us away. If that’s really the case, they don’t have to pay attention to liberal values. And they haven’t. So I’m gone. If they want me back, they’ll have to earn it.

Fatherhood, Part 2

October 11, 2011

Yesterday, we found out that our next child will be a boy (James Atticus). Both Cate and I are totally happy with that and we would have been totally happy with a girl. Still, it is neat to have the complete set.

There hasn’t been time yet to hear all of the boy-versions of crazy that we got when we had Simone, but I’m sure that will come(along with corresponding blog posts). In any case, here are two things I won’t be worried about:

1. Wearing “girl” clothes. I have  volume of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s memoirs with a picture of him as a baby, in a dress. Remarkably, he does not seem to be scarred. We’re not going to put the new kid in dresses unless he wants to wear dresses, but he will wear the various “girl” onesies Simone had. I suppose it’s possible that I’m wrong about this (in the way it’s possible that the earth is actually flat), but I don’t think wearing a bit of pink (which used to be considered a boy color) will scar this child for life.

2. The toys he plays with. Just a big whatever on this. I’ve ranted about the ridiculous gendering of toys plenty. He’ll have access to all the stuff Simone has access to. That means “boy” toys and “girl” toys.

Something we are both really looking forward to is raising a feminist boy. I know from experience that it causes a different reaction in people when they hear me espousing feminist views than it does when Cate says exactly the same thing. People either take me more seriously or think I’m a nut, but in either case, it makes an impression that I am not lobbying for the retention of our society’s sexist/misogynist values. There’s an air of going against “my” interests that I think rings true in the way of rich people asking for higher taxes. The more feminists around, the better.

Anyway, semi-political ranting aside. I’m very excited. New babies are excellent. They smell good and they are warm and they fall asleep on you in a way that makes it impossible not to take naps with them. It’s good times. It’s also nice to get the chance to name a child after my dad (James) who is, frankly, the most impressive man I’ve had the good fortune to know. He has been given few advantages in his life. He was poor (and I mean POOR). His dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed until high school. He worked in a factory for thirty years, often seven days a week. That said, I never had the chance to miss him when I was a kid because he would come home from a twelve hour shift and play catch or chess or whatever with me. He’s also grown enormously. He thinks. He’s not afraid to change his views when he gets new information. He’s not afraid to admit when he’s wrong. Despite a myriad of learning  handicaps, he’s become an autodidact in certain fields (he is spending a second career as a naturalist for the forestry). All of this is the long way of saying, if my son grows up to be half the person my father is, I will be very, very happy.

On Children’s Clothing

September 6, 2011

It’s been a while since something about society made me really angry on behalf of my daughter. As is always the case, I thought it best to vent via blog post.

Yesterday, Cate, Simone, and I went out to get Simone her fall wardrobe. Simone, you may have gathered, is a girl. That said, we do not, by any means, limit her to the “girl” section of clothing. If we did, I think we’d be bad people.

Simone is two. What does the world have to say about her clothing? It says that everything has to have some pink on it. It says that sports and trucks and dinosaurs are for boys. Girls get butterflies, cupcakes, and being pretty. Now Simone likes butterflies and cupcakes (so do I, for that matter), but she also likes trucks and dinosaurs. In fact, we pulled about half her clothes from the boy section, including a shirt with a big dinosaur on it. She is TWO. Why do her interests need to be gendered already?

All this is bad enough, but what absolutely killed me were the sweaters. The girl sweaters were entirely decorative. That is, they were only good for keeping you warm from the car to the door – if you’re lucky. Boy sweaters were thick and warm and clearly made for playing outside. This says that boys are expected to be outside playing while girls are supposed to be inside being frilly. There is nothing wrong with being frilly and there is nothing wrong with rolling around in the dirt. Shouldn’t kids have a choice that has to do with their personality instead of their gender? Why, when they are so young, is it necessary to paint them into such a tiny corner?

It makes me angry.