Category Archives: Sex

Memoir: Insert Grandiose Subtitle Here (Part I)

A few days ago, my brother threw a vintage typewriter from the second floor window of the public library. The window a circular feat of glass-engineering, stained green and bubbled-out like a submarine porthole. The typewriter an indulgent gift from our parents, a rusted antique that had been meant as a decoration. My brother, however, could not be convinced not to loudly pound on the stuck keys.

When finally he could not deal with the defunct device any longer, he flung it through the window. Among falling shards of glass, the typewriter plummeted, its black metal pieces flying apart upon impact. The night the police escorted him home and dumped the remains of the relic on our front lawn, he collected the pieces and buried them in the back yard.

When he had dug a hole at least three feet deep next to where Skippy had been buried (he had collided with an ice cream truck), I shuffled out beside him and dumped the typewriter into the abyss. We kicked and shoveled dirt onto its black veneer, patted down the earth, and then as if my brother had buried his writerly ambitions, he retreated to his room.

My older brother, he was only seventeen, but prone to outbursts of incredible self-doubt during which he would rant about failure, about never being published, and that no one would ever accept his gift of genius and storytelling craftsmanship. I secretly harbored the notion he wrote like a mutant conglomerate of Stephanie Meyer and R.L. Stine, but I never voice this opinion. My parents naturally nursed his ambitions, deluding him with the promise of literary DNA.

Despite his dramatic funeral metaphor, I suspected he would be pitching his newest novel to me by the end of the week.

*

                The Snyders– my family– were a strange folk who loved most of all to read and write. My dad– Carl Snyder or Papa Snyder– he was a literary critic and scholar at the local university, and he published books on books, on the theory of writing books, but he had never written a book himself. Despite this, we and the literary community treated him as a book expert. He looked regal as a gentrified sailor, his head a plume of white, his beard a snow-capped fringe he neatly trimmed every morning with a tiny electric razor.

When I was young, I often watched him trim his beard and wondered why he was so old, why his hair was white and my mother’s was brown. Brown naturally, before she starting having to dye it. When I turned seven, I learned my father was much older than my mother, that my older sister Agatha had a different mother than I. That no one ever talked about that openly or ever discussed the details of the couple’s demise deeply disturbed me. It occurred more than once that perhaps my sister had been adopted or dropped on the doorstep by grumpy aliens.

This concerned me at first, since my mother often commented that she loved Agatha’s name (a tribute to Agatha Christie, a great female mystery writer). My mother adored female writers with grit because she wrote a bestselling crime series.

The fact that my mother had published and my father had not– this did not escape the attention of my brother, who had begun the process of cataloging our lives in a journal. A black leather journal he kept hidden in the top of his closet next to his stash of booze and marijuana– like I wasn’t going to look in such an obvious place.

A gritty, but optimistic professional detective starred in my mother’s hit series. At first, the books had focused on the detective’s personal life, marrying her to a cute forensic scientist, then impregnating her with a new plot twist. Around the time I had been born, however, my mother found her voice and began writing the series in a darker direction. In the fifth sequel, the detective lost her child in a car accident caused by a sadistic criminal. By the end of the novel, her husband had even killed himself out of grief.

I’m not sure what happened in my mother’s life that forced her hand to execute such a thematic darkening, but the critics consumed the work like doves nip up Popcorn. Once she began writing the detective as more desperate, more outlandishly existential, the more popular her series became until she became a figurehead in the dark crime genre, the best-selling woman by far.

One evening, when my father was drunk, he taunted my mother that he might review her latest novel in The New Yorker, that the review would deflate her career and bring her to ruin. He had the power, he claimed, belching and nearly barfing. She replied calmly by calling his bluff, then Googling her own name and then my father’s. This I knew through their animated dialogue about the importance of “hits” or “reviews.”

When I turned thirteen, I began reading my mother’s series, but though I finished every one, all 28, I only continued out of respect for her. The drama dragged on for awfully long, creating repetitive sequels in which always crimes occurred so horrendous, I could not exactly imagine them on my own. Once presented, however, even the most grisly scene seemed trite, perhaps because violent insanity became the norm. At least I read her works; two years later, my father’s scholarly work remained dusty on my shelf.

After my sister moved out, she published a poem about my mother and father which compared them to angry flies debating whose shit tasted better. The poetry she published before going to a college in California, those verses were dark, very prose-like, and jammed with eccentric metaphors that just barely made sense. At college, she made the transition of talking deeply about her own life to talking deeply about other peoples’ lives.

Once poetry critics discovered her literary lineage, they began heralding her as the “Confession Poet of the Literary Life” which I thought was bullshit since she lied outrageously. Now she remained only a depressing scribe, having reconnected with my parents during those two years, like a poser Sylvia Path devotee writing sonnets in her own blood. What a totally morbid bitch, moping around and comparing everything to the fucking “abyss.”

Michael at least– my older brother– he had the decency to suck genuinely and not be praised for it. If even Michael could be published through his parental connections, I would certainly lose all optimism for the quality taste of the publishing world. Maybe at the age of thirty, he’d finally produce some picture book under a corny pen name.

Imagine the weirdest kid you knew, the one who makes up lies about who he is, throws typewriters out windows after they don’t work despite their initially futile condition, or cuts French fries with a knife and fork. If you know someone like that, you probably have met my brother.

And me? The youngest of the Snyder clan? I don’t really write, not really– I mean, I’m writing this, but I don’t write fiction. Or poetry like my sister. Or even criticism like my father. Like every kid without an interesting story and didn’t have the imagination to come up with one, I folded and decided to write a memoir.

*

                Father stumbled through the front door, a pile of boxes under his chin, straining against his veined hands. He dumped the stack at the bottom of the stairs, gasped once dramatically, and called, “Get your arses down here. Your sister’s home.”

My brother scrambled downstairs first, scratching his bum and yawning. I followed, rubbing my eyeballs, figuring it was a mental illness to get up before ten on a Saturday. Course then I remembered Agatha came home today, hauling home from college more clothes than I owned in total. We lugged her suitcases and boxes and hampers brimming with underwear to the laundry room and loaded them straight into the washer, while Agatha blabbed loudly through the wall how difficult her final exams had been. And we hadn’t even finished school yet, looking toward another grueling week of school before winter break began.

Agatha hovered in the hallway. “Michael, I heard you broke your new typewriter. You know, I might write a poem about you. A crushed, young artist struggles to find himself and in an effort of desperate expression,  breaks a fucking window with a fucking typewriter.”

“Stop that talk. Michael’s perfectly fine, isn’t that right?” My father did not wait for a reply. “And Agatha, don’t use language around Jackson. He’s impressionable.”

I wanted to speak up, but Agatha broke in. “He’s fifteen– I hope he knows what “fuck” means. Furthermore, I believe I use language any time I talk at all. Would you prefer if I spoke French?”

She could, she claimed, but not understanding or speaking French myself, I could not validate her fluency. Father blew her question off with a wave of his hand, then stormed into the den. “Damn it, Georgina, you can’t even say hello to Agatha when she comes home?”

“I know she doesn’t want to talk to me, Dad. She’s angry.”

“Yes, I am,” hissed mum’s voice through the wall. “That poem you wrote was very inappropriate, Agatha. The imagery, that was barbaric and untrue.”

“Damn it, the murder scene was a metaphor, Georgina. Anyways, I was just being ironic.”

Generally, I tried to avoid squabbles, but as research for my memoir, I decided to stick around, observe the events. Michael shook his head and tromped up stairs, his head down. Once he told me that he hated Agatha, that she taunted him and hated him because his mother was still alive and hers was dead.

Mum and Agatha were having a tiff again because she had recently published a poem in Harper’s about a metaphorical literary critic whose metaphorical wife died in a metaphorical car accident, and then he met a metaphorical new girlfriend. At the end of the poem, the plot unfolded to reveal the fiancé had designed the car crash as an elaborate scheme to marry a famous literary critic, she being a famous children’s novelist.

Agatha swore the poem did not depict mum because naturally my mum had killed no one and wrote not children’s books, but crime fiction. But I pointed out that her occupation, that was probably a metaphor as well. The problem with poetry, I felt, was you could never tell what was real, what was not. If you tell me, your heart is a glacier or a volcano or a wooden coffin, I begin thinking you should seek medical attention.

That night, we had a dinner, and while Agatha talked about her grades with my parents (they were concerned why she missed every biology class but no sessions of Yoga), I snuck upstairs to loot my sister’s bags. Not in a creepy way, not really, but once she got settled in, she would hide her writing, her poetry. She only let people read published work, polished lines stark and bleak, but some of the verse in her doodle-filled notebooks were riotously funny.

Not that we usually shared writing, writers being entirely secretive creatures. Mum refused to show even Dad whatever novel she had been working on for the past few months.

I pushed open the door, tiptoeing across floorboards that threatened to shriek, thumbing through the spines of the notebooks laying on her bed. Opening the first, I leaned against her dresser and read the scribbled lines in the dark:

As I stare into the abyss, feeling my mind sink below the surface of the slithering sea

Agatha always mentioned the fucking abyss, as if she owned a luxury vacation home there.

I see myself staring back at me, a dark reflection

Closing the book, I sighed and muttered, “Well, that’s fucking boring.” I reached for her dresser, gingerly rearranging trinkets laid there. I pulled a crisp letter from the pile to read it and a sparkling ring toppled out– it must have been nestled inside the crease. The ring bounced and rolled into a pile of clothes on the floor. Abandoning the letter, I scrambled after the ring, my body drawing murderous screams from ancient floorboards. Agatha, Agatha would hear, would come running, I thought, as I tore through the dirty clothing to find the ring. Such a beautiful ring, not anything like Agatha might have worn. Shiny as a magpie’s ambitions, as expensive as an engagement ring.

Like an engagement ring. I paused.

Wrenching a warped bra from the pile of shirts, I watched the ring fly into the air. Like a swooshing basketball arcing as the seconds counted down. And I like a wide receiver racing to catch the ball as it plummeted to earth in meteorite-fashion. Plink, the ring fell onto the floor vent, rolled to the left, and fell into the darkness.

The abyss.

Nothing left to do but to flee the scene. I skirted out the door and managed to hop into my own bed as Agatha tromped up the stairs, screaming something back at mum like, “You haven’t written anything good in two years.”

My teeth chattering, I began to write longhand something about the abyss, about sisters, about how we lie to ourselves when we write, how we trick even our own memories of events we never understood.

Absurd and Exciting Short Fiction Coming to “Word Salad”

In the past few months, I have culled “buzzwords” from the national conversation, if the discourse can be influenced by media, “buzzwords” I have contemplated. When writing blogs, sometimes we search for “hot topics” to talk about, to share about, but lately I have abstained from throwing in my two cents for gun control, marriage equality, or the construction of an American Death Star. My silence should not suggest I have no opinions on the matter (Build the Death Star immediately) but that I feel the arguments I could make have been made sufficiently by other people and also that posting op-ed articles on “Word Salad” might not be the best way to convey a message.

Sure, a couple hundred people read this blog a day, but it might take a mighty fine piece of persuasive writing to haul anyone from one side of any controversial canyon to another. Instead, I have focused the past three months on what I do best: writing fiction. Most notably, I have been working on a novel that is now finished. I am currently querying.

Because novels take so long to write and apparently much longer to publish, I felt it might be strange to not include on “Word Salad” samples of my fiction. Maybe you’ll like it so much, you’ll buy the novel when it comes out. Maybe? Probably.

Therefore, from now on, though I may still write plenty of op-ed articles about politics or Twinkies, I will try to post a short story (or at least part of a short story) on the blog. These stories may have several parts, but if there is nowhere to publish some of the weirder, more experimental tripe I write, I might as well post it on the internet for the world to see.

As I draw closer to publication, I might post sample chapters for “Lickskillet,” but until then, here’s a rough preview of short pieces I am currently working on and will likely post in the coming weeks.

  • A yuppie journalist breaks down in the midst of a Hillbilly Hell as he seeks to uncover the true purpose of a newly-minted dam. Mutant catfish and missing teeth abound.
  • Nikola Tesla manages, before he dies, to perfect his most secretive project: a time machine. When he takes a ride to the future, however, he lands in the kitchen of three aimless stoners who don’t know who he is.
  • His father a literary scholar, his mother a bestselling crime novelist, and his sister a “Confession Poet,” the youngest  Snyder child has a lot to live up to, but also much to worry about as his older brother attempts to write a memoir of their defunct family life.

There will hopefully be more stories than these, but these are the ones I have come up with so far. Check back in before the end of the week, and perhaps I will have the first story (or part of the story) posted.

Sex and Politics

These words come from curiosity more than from deep thinking: this post contains more questions than answers.

With the debates currently going on in politics, I have been thinking how we approach the subject of sex: how we discuss it in our personal lives and how we discuss it concerning politics. Sex, after all, has become a dividing factor of politics– and I’m not talking about “gender,” but straight-out, throw-down coitus.

How does our comfort with discussing sex affect our political views? Can sex be used as a political means? What is considered inappropriate in the political realm?

Mostly, conversations have stemmed from the outbursts of foolish old men, most notably U.S. Representative Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape.” He argues that sometimes what we call rape is not rape at all, but instead a fantastical illusion of some woman’s mind. Basically, he claims that some forms of “rape” are justified, that the air-quotes around the word should always been instilled in our language. Honestly, just typing the word makes me shudder, which makes me unlikely to openly discuss it, which probably affects how I approach women’s rights altogether.

This is interesting to consider because when the Founding Fathers first signed the Constitution, they deliberately refused to discuss slavery or immigration. Both were highly controversial and to avoid causing disagreements, they explicitly refused to argue slavery for at least twenty years. Sometimes, we put off speaking of what we should for the sake of feeling comfortable.

I won’t get into that conversation at all, but only to say that this idea permeates world-wide, though I believe most people from the U.S. have come to a consensus that Akin’s style of thinking is nothing short of ludicrous. I didn’t come here to talk about why rape is real and obvious. If you want to hear about that, look here and here or here to get a wide scope of the issue from several viewpoints.

What sparked my interest in the connection of sex and politics was something that coalesced the ideas much more concretely: the situation in Togo.

For the past four decades, Togo has been ruled by a father and son who have shared the presidency throughout, holding bogus elections and generally inciting tyranny for the country. Isabelle Ameganvi (leader of a civil rights group) urged women to go on a “sex strike” for a week. This means withholding sex from their husbands to encourage them to unseat the current leader. By violent or political means, I’m not really sure, only that these women want their voices heard.

This interests me because women in this country intend to use sex as a political tool. They hold a particular power over men in that respect, even if not directly politically. ” That’s also a weapon of the battle,” said Ameganvi of sex (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/08/27-6). So, in this sense, sex is a weapon, a means to an end, a reward for all men willing to make change. While this may work in a country in which women hold no political power, I wonder how American women (fighting to be de-sexualized in the political sphere) feel about this.

There have been so many arguments in America to remove the idea of sex from politics because it corrupts the fairness of the proceedings, but in Togo, women actively use sex to drive political initiatives.

Like I said, I have no answers, only questions and whatever research I could muster. For example, I could find nowhere whether or not the women of Togo can vote. I also don’t know the laws of Togo concerning sex with husbands. I can glean from this next quote that the laws do not favor married women:

“I do agree that we women have to observe this sex strike but I know my husband will not let me complete it. He may agree at first, but as far as I know him, he will change overnight,” said Judith Agbetoglo. “So I don’t believe I can do the one week sex strike. Otherwise, I will have serious issues with him. He likes that too much.”

(http://news.yahoo.com/togolese-women-plan-sex-strike-press-resignation-president-154612133.html)

Many are quick to point out that the inciter of this idea (Ameganvi) is not married herself. The entire situation raises many questions, of course.

How might this discussion affect our views of how women are treated in America? And do men, who simply cannot experience things from a female perspective, have at all a reasonable handle on what it means to live as a woman in our country today? Therefore, should this blog post exist or should I avoid wading into sexually-charged, political waters?

In the case of Togo women, the organization plans on coaxing the men by giving them a reward, or perhaps in the eyes of the man, taking away what is rightfully his. Naturally, from nation to nation, culture to culture, the idea of what a man’s “rights” are drastically changes, whether they be civil or natural. And this implies that the act of withholding sex for the Togo women will be much more controversial than it would be in America. While here we would see that as women asserting their rights over their own bodies, in Togo this could be seen as severe disobedience not only to the family but to the ideals of the culture.

An aside: I’m not sure a week without sex would truly change my political views, but maybe because for me, every week is without sex. What is important to remember is that men in Togo see sex as a duty their women commit to, not a gift they give away. So women are not simply shirking on pleasure, but in the Togo mindset, their obligations.

As I have said again and again, I have no answers, only questions. If you are a woman (from America or from anywhere in the world), how do you feel about the Togo sex strike? Are they demeaning themselves or empowering themselves by using sex as a political “weapon”? How else might sex or sexuality affect politics and create change?

Leave me some answers in the comments, perhaps.

Excerpt: Our Cures for Boredom

{Curious about my newest project “In Lickskillet”? While I work on seriously editing the novel, why not take a sneak peek at one of the stories written by Blaine. He arrives in detention and must divert his attention for the duration of his retention. Because readers of this blog hardly get a feel for the fiction that I write (only non-fiction essays), here’s a short excerpt to satiate curiosities until I can publish this book for real.}

The first two hours flew by as they always did because were forced to do schoolwork. But we never had to work all day. Given such leisure, we tore through class work and homework and future projects. Bent over like skeleton scholars transcribing the end times, we wrote tirelessly until nothing else presented itself to be written. Then each of us, one by one, was overwhelmed by morbid boredom which tasted awful. Like synthetic cheese, the sort individually plastic-wrapped by the slice.

Then it was six more hours with a novel and under-the-breath mumbles. It would turn out the novel you snatched from a rogue bookcase would not actually deliver you from boredom. Probably because it was not a novel at all but instead a Spanish-English dictionary. Even considering that you could learn enough to take a Spring Break trip to Cancun, the entire experience probably turned out pretty fucking dull.

A nausea overcame me along with the droll feeling of boredom.

If I swam, I could hear soft tones, piano-like notes drawn out. Eating curry, I saw a haze of red. But with boredom, nothing happening. My condition was unprovoked. I felt the void, the abyss that I stared into, it staring back at me.

Then I remembered the tin of pills in my pocket. Pure, pharmaceutical narcotics, without the enzymes that slowed down the release of codeine into the body’s system. Just pure hydrocodone, ready for consumption. I tapped Declin’s shoulder again and passed him one. Generosity, my ultimate nature. One might have done him in, but I needed four.

With a strange look at me, Declin slipped the pill into his mouth. As if he knew what he was getting himself into. Even I didn’t accept drugs from strangers. But here he was, fresh and eager to prove himself bad and dangerous just as we all tried to be bad and dangerous.

Around the room where we sat, animals stared down at us from behind motivational quotes from saints, presidents, and Oprah Winfrey. A lion throned regally on golden plains, the quote hovering above set in bold, dazzling font, turned to stare at me. The animals turned and watched. Their eyes followed me and I slipped into a chaotic high before I quite realized what I’d done. No true hallucinations here, but a fine, ethereal high that cured my boredom.

Boredom: our natural state, our default. For our entire teen lives in Lickskillet, boredom was true evil, our archenemies, the Darth Vader to our Luke Skywalker. We the free rebels fighting for sacred liberty from this, our mortal enemy we called “boredom.”

We tried everything to absolve ourselves from this carnal sin. Most drank heavily, even idiotically. Which was the best way to drink, with the high possibility of death. Most of the boys drank beer, challenging each other to gulp down more until all had passed out. Girls preferred liquor, mixed or straight. And then everyone, roaring drunk, would smash boredom against the walls. Would take off our boredom’s clothes or pass out on boredom’s lawn.

Marijuana was our new vogue—joint-rolling became as common a social skill as driving or shooting a spitball. Once kids started smoking green, the floodgates opened for Woodstock-ian levels of experimentation.  For me, this meant experiencing extreme forms of my condition.

Our ailment was our failure to stimulate ourselves. This town cultured an illness which festered hot and rotting in each of us. A convulsing itch that we scratched until our skin burned raw and our eyes went bloodshot. Thrown into a cycle of ecstatic highs and dull lows, we lived a constant war.

We chucked eggs at houses, gave car rides to hoboes at two in the morning, snuck into the Red Hole to smoke and skinny dip, drove out in cars to abandoned thickets of wood and coaxed young girls to blow us, and didn’t give a fuck about what lay ahead. Or maybe that was just me. Sick of ambition and dangling my fate by the whims of deadbeat parents.

Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

One of the coolest covers ever.

I first encountered Chuck Wendig on Litreactor when he was interviewed about his upcoming book. I began reading his very cool blog terribleminds and was hooked, so when his first full-length novel was released, I bought it for my Nook.

Well, I both enjoyed and disliked the book for several reasons. Perhaps reading it was a bit out of element though I can’t say anyone would not be. While it falls into the category “urban fantasy,” I read it more as a horror-drama with smatterings of snarky humor. In a moment, I’ll give you its high and low points, which seem intricately intertwined.

Here is the Amazon low-down:

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

- Amazon.com

The premise is probably one of the best things about this novel, not because it is entirely unique, but because of the approach Wendig takes. So she can see how you’ll die, but hey, instead of saving you, I’ll hook up with you and then rob your dead body. We encounter Miriam while she’s travelling cross-country, conning sleazy men so she can thieve from their corpses. She’s vile, dirty, and caustically sarcastic– not to mention a bit hilarious. The opening was one of Blackbird’s better segments as it allows us to see into the grim life of Miriam, a simple slice of the last few years. But as much as the opening chapters gave us, I wanted more.

Blackbirds is mainly about Miriam’s transformation, from sly psychic temptress to sly psychic temptress with a heart. But I don’t think we got to see enough of Miriam’s previous life to fully appreciate where she ends up in the end.

On the road, when she encounters Louis, it’s almost sweet. Probably because he’s the only character not interested in killing and thieving, he is my favorite character. Miriam’s ultimate attachment to him and her eventual attempt to save his life give this book emotional impact.

The book reads like an underworld travel guide for debauched clairvoyance-catchers. I really enjoyed the viciously dark tone, the gratuitous cussing, the extremely realistic violence, and the general air of pessimism. But still something felt very off as I was reading. Maybe I never allowed myself to be fully sucked in. It’s not that the main characters were not compelling enough but perhaps that the plot was predictable.

Which is very nearly the point. Miriam sees the future and she decides finally she should try to stop some guy’s death. The tension is somehow lost because we know exactly where we’re going to end up and if you try hard enough, you can figure out what might happen when we get there. Not that there are not small surprises, but those feel small once you worm through the main mystery.

What did carry better tension than the main Louis-based plot were brief interludes during which Miriam told her story to a young interviewer. Whether this was in the past or future, we do not know. We get flashes of Miriam’s past, her troubled childhood and eventual pregnancy. And this backbone for the character certainly gives her better weight. It gives you a little bit of the unexpected I was expecting. Which is what I want. Chuck Wendig, I just want you to sneak up on me from behind and twist my neck and break it.

Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed Blackbirds and will be tuning in for the sequel Mockingbirds coming out this September, but there is one major flaw, a distracting flaw in this work: Chuck Wendig is a blogger at heart.

He writes funny but passionate passages full of sarcasm, wit, and satire, but this satire sometimes overwhelms the actual story. He spends so much time saturating the atmosphere with the scent of urine and blood that we realize, no this isn’t just a diatribe about the nastiness of truck-stop bathrooms and Waffle House’s, it’s an actual story about an actual girl. This sort of tongue-in-cheek writing best serves blogs, where he is absolutely brilliant. But the same sort of style crosses into his book, which feels strange and very distracting. There are times he gives in to some of the most conventional literary tropes, then whips out very imaginative sentences. So, the writing is hit-and-miss.

I would probably give this story a six out of ten stars if I proscribed to such rating systems, but I don’t, so I’ll leave it at “Read it.” It’s a short, fun novel that slightly blackens your heart and eye. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk and other subversive writers will probably get a kick out of Miriam Black.

Want to hear other’s thoughts? Check them out here:

http://sqt-fantasy-sci-fi-girl.blogspot.com/2012/02/blackbirds-by-chuck-wendig-brash-and.html

http://iwishiwasabook.com/blackbirds_by_chuck_wendig.htm

http://www.myshelfconfessions.com/posts/review-blackbirds-by-chuck-wendig/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+shelfconfessions+%28my+shelf+confessions%29

http://thebooksmugglers.com/2012/04/book-review-blackbirds-by-chuck-wendig.html

The Bawdy Bard: Why Inappropriate Humor Matters

Last night, while watching the Aiken County Playhouse’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I realized something important about fiction, more specifically comedy: dirty humor is a must.

Many people shake their heads at sexual humor, seemingly meant only to stimulate the minds of sick teenage boys (me). I mean, American Reunion has been released, a beg-play at making more money off the original franchise. Of course, there have been umpteen direct-to-DVD sequels, but apparently the series is successful enough to continue producing movies. Why?

I will say it out right- dirty humor is hilarious. Sure, it is immature and pointless and plebeian and sometimes sickening, but always funny.  Butter, a cow Halloween costume, and a game of truth-or-dare add up to nothing less than hilarious in my mind. Oh, why cannot directors and even writers use adult humor. The Woody Allen kind, the cold, ironic humor. Sure, I think that is quite funny too, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. Refer to a sex organ through a balloon animal and yes, I will howl like a hyena.

Shakespeare is likely one of my favorite bawdy comics. When he begins making jokes about sex, he gets down and dirty, and he’s not

afraid to refer to some of the most taboo subjects of his time. What Shakespeare does really well which some contemporary dirty movies is use subtlety to tell these dirty jokes. He’ll will refer to sex via hilarious puns and innuendos. Have we lost the art of subtlety? It’s not funny to simple call oral sex oral sex. But if you refer to a “the winds that Mother Nature even could blow,” that is dead funny in a Victorian England sort of way.

What fails at these references: see any American Pie spin0ff, horror movie featuring killer fish and topless girls, or National Lampoon straight-to-DVD film.

Compare the following.

Shakespeare Sonnet 125:

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

 

In this passage, the word “Will” takes on the double meaning of ambition as well as “phallus.”

Now, consider the movie American Pie where the entire joke IS sex. You cannot allow sex itself to be funny. Look viewers, there is sex happening on the screen between two teenagers! And look, a naked midget!

It just does not work. I appreciate those movies for their raunchiness, but dirty does not ultimately equate funny. Dirty and smartly stylized equates to funny.

The question we must consider… is WHY we appreciate dirty humor. Shakespeare included it in his plays for the lower class. In one play (say, Hamlet), the bard explores the woes of love, life, and revenge and also makes jokes about virginity, whore-dom, and Ophelia’s breasts. This is why I love Shakespeare. He can be both hilarious and serious within the span of a single monologue. So, when I see a very serious movie that applies very dirty humor, I think “Yes. This great.”

Humor must be had in any great work of literature or film, I believe. It is what allows us to connect at a more visceral level to what’s going on. Laughing makes our bellies shake, our voices boom out. Which offers a nice balance to contemplating the movie’s more intellectual themes.

So, remember, next time you pop open a cold one and get ready to watch a dirty movie dealing primarily with sex, that this experience was made possible and popular by the dirty mind of William Shakespeare. He’s a dude’s dude.

Why Valentine’s Day is Not Just a Hallmark Scam

I want to be your Valentine. That’s right: you. You right there standing in those sexy knee-high socks and bottle-lens glasses. I want to buy you roses and then spritz cologne on the petals so that when you smell the same cologne on me, you’ll whisper, “You smell like a rose.”

I am willing to be whatever sort of Valentine you wish. Sappy or strong romantic. Brusque or Ryan Gosling. Anything. We’ll dance around the kitchen like an awkward couple at Prom who will not hook up tonight.

I want to be your Valentine, your saint Valentine. I want archers to line the walls and plunge arrows into my chest. They’ll zip through my ribs and I’ll fall like the good saint in the name of love. Me, the human target. Me, the unconventional tragic hero.

Until a few minutes ago, I forgot that Valentine’s Day will fall on tomorrow. A Tuesday, the least romantic but most sexy day of the week. Maybe it’s because I don’t need to buy a present or stupid flowers or those disgusting chocolates that we still buy because hey, this huge box of nasty chocolates is on sale.

Now, plenty of people will tell you that Valentine’s Day is stupid and awful. That a real man would show love to his woman every day of the year. While I partially agree with those opponents, I actually like Valentine’s Day. Sure, we should always show each other love. But in the rush and bustle of life, we forget to appreciate the little things. Like getting flowers and getting dressed up for a nice dinner. Waiting in line outside a restaurant for an hour while singing Broadway tunes (Or is that only me?)

It’s nice that on a single day, all the couples come together and kiss and say, “I love you.” It’s not so much a forced-upon holiday as a

tribute to love. Sure, flower companies, chocolate companies, and the companies that produce those pink teddy bears with heart messages have capitalized on the commercialized view of love. But what’s so wrong about giving praise to the greatest thing in life? Love.

I think it’s nice to be reminded that there is true love in the world. Even if 50% of American couples get divorced, we’re allowed to know that there are some lucky few who make it through. Some grow old together, grow cute and wrinkled and senile together. Have adventures after retirement and still kiss every chance they get. Call me a softie or call me a pansy or say that I’ve bought into the financial rat race inspired by Valentine’s Day, but I enjoy it.

Maybe we DO, as couples in general, need to show each other love more often. Be romantic, be spontaneous. And there is nothing spontaneous about going out on a particular day, but it reminds you to do those things. Reminds us that there is someone there for us, if there is indeed. Perhaps the day isn’t simply a celebration of you and your partner. It’s a celebration of love, of that end-all be-all relationship for which we all strive to be in. Don’t be downtrodden or pessimistic. Celebrate!

Anti-Humanity?

The human race makes me SMH sometimes. (SHAKE MY HEAD, for those of you not familiar with text-speak vernacular). When you get down to brass tacks, our race does a lot more harm than, say, sharks. And sharks are feared a lot. Sharks get blamed for a whole lot of stuff, mainly eating people’s limbs. But the human race killed more people with the atom bomb in a single day than the entire shark population has killed in… a century. That’s a lot of people.

It’s makes us pretty easy to hate. But since we’re the only animals who speak English, we don’t catch any flack about it from dogs or giraffes or, more tellingly, sharks. Who is anti-humanity? Humans.

And I realize we probably don’t deserve the gold medal for “Best Animals Ever.” (That would probably be panda bears or sea otters, both very cute). We do a lot worse for the environment than any other animal, even worse than kudzu or mangrove trees. When you reach that level of destruction, something bad is going on? It is more likely you will be killed by a human than a shark, though not all humans think you’re tasty. For the record, I bet you’re delicious.

Despite all this, I don’t agree with hating on humanity. I know I just laid out a lot of very bad things we’ve done, but since I’m human, I’m on Team Humanity. I’ve heard a lot of fellow humans (I’m supposing most of you reading this are human- Sorry 1% sentinel cyborgs) do not think humanity is “good.” In fact, a lot of people believe that humanity is innately evil. We are savages driven to kill and destroy and a few systems of government and religion are all that keep us from tearing into each other’s throats.

Sure, you could lock yourself in a closet and never have to deal with humanity ever again, but how fun would that be? You’d miss out on so much.

For example, board games. Playing Monopoly alone would be less fun and less violent. Without other people, not only Monopoly is given up.

We can kiss, sumo-wrestle, or do both at the same time. We can hold intense philosophical conversations and learn from each other. We can help each other survive. We can’t play freeze tag alone without dying of starvation. Face it, we need each other and cannot turn away from humanity. The human race is all we’ve got, so why give that up? We need each other for the purpose of, for example, love.

Without getting too gooey and cliche, I’ll admit we need love. Maybe you’ve been broken up with, divorced, and chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need another person to be with you. To love you. Unless you’ve been chopped up into tiny pieces by a serial killer. Then, you’re dead.

If human beings were meant to live alone and hate each other, we may never have invented salsa dancing or sports games or parties or sex. All these things are what we get in return for being part of a somewhat horrid race. But perhaps that is the point of humanity. In a way, we’re despicable. But that wickedness is bred from the same race that brought you Super Mario Bros. and hang gliders. Do you realize how cool hang gliders are? Very much so.

We have this incredible duality: we have free will and so can commit either atrocities or great acts of love.

So, before condemning your own race to the bowels of Hell, think about what horror it would be if we were any different. Imagine us as clean robots. Sure, we may never spill ketchup on the floor of restaurants so waitresses are forced to clean it up. But we also would be unable to love.

That is more than can be said for sharks.

A Love Letter to Joyce Carol Oates

Three and half hours after picking it up, I had finished the book. Its brevity shocked me, almost frightened me. Yet the entire story was there. And more than just the story contained within the pages, but an entirely other story. One of the human race and its dark past. Of its desires and hypocrisy and self-loathing.

Before reading Oates for the first time, I considered her merely a feminist writer. After finishing her novella Beasts, I can confirm that to be true. She does not, however, explore femininity in an obtuse way, merely as a strong opposite of masculinity. Instead, it is merely a shade of humanity, or rather, many shades and very complex. In the book and in much of her work, she seems to explore what it is like to be a woman. I say this only having read little of her work and hearing much about it as well. For that reason, I cannot claim to understand her or dissect her work. I can, however, admire it. Also, I want to read more of her. She’s published over one hundred novels and this one, published in 2003, is merely a coin dropped in the fountain for this prolific author. That’s why it amazes me that despite her having written so many books, she has yet to dilute her work with disappointing poor quality.

I encountered her first in my English literature class in a short story called “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” It recounts the story of self-obsessed Connie, who despises her parents and sisters and yearns for more sexual respect. She finds, however, a warped reality of what sexuality is. The short story is a very subtle sort of horror, something that creeps upon you and nags your brain. Beasts works much the same way. The story seems rather innocent until you realize that something about this story, this narrator, this confession…. is very, very wrong.

The twisted ideal of sexuality carries into this work as well. A young college student Gillian falls in love with her narcissistic poetry teacher. She and her friends swoon over him and his artistic French wife. They, however, hold dangerous philosophies that begin to affect the girls. And there is some wickedness brewing between them.

Beyond that, the novel is difficult to explain. From outside, it seems almost just about a silly little girl with a crush on her professor. The implications go much further than that. From page one, Oates has full control. She knows where she wants the story to go and it will go into Hell. And whether you like it or not, you’re going too.

I began reading, merely passively. I admired her prose, which was both simple, elegant, and impossibly complex. Within each sentence is a treasure cove of symbolism and stark, dark beauty. But I feel, if I were to explicate this novel, it would lose its enigma. That is what made me keep reading until the book was finished. Because easily, I could figure out the symbolic meaning of the fires that some secret arson sets throughout the school year or what the female lead might “represent” or why the poetry teacher is so obsessed with D.H. Lawrence and Ovid. I could figure out all those things, but in those ways, we destroy literature.

Oates, I believe, understands more than anyone else that a good piece of literature, a good story, is not meant to be fully understood. In ways, I am perplexed, yet by simply reading the novel, I understand completely. The author, by subtly placing the cues and clues that English teachers so love to point out, does not mean for the story to be an excavation site. Oates does not wish for fiction to be trivialized into meaning. The story, rather, makes a very distinct impression.

Sure, one can discuss how she uses imagery. How each word affects the mood. But instead, we can learn to be complacent that the book does have an effect. It puts me on edge, even now. I sit in the dark and write this and feel a sort of strange horror creep around me. The book is something like horror, but contains no ghosts. No monsters, vampires, or bloody deeds. Only very human characters, in the cruelest of their renditions.

What alarmed me most about the plot was not the fact that it was riddled with sexual abuse, though not evidently. There are passages in which the narrator describes her poetry class. At first, it is a class where girls go to ogle the professor. But soon they fight for his attention. They write the whole truth of their lives: every relationship, every anatomical flaw, every incestuous sexual encounter. They lay all this out in poetry which the professor praises. Yet I noticed that as each poured more of themselves into the poetry, they became less. Small details, that Oates writes, cues this. They became skinnier and less healthy, a bit more deranged. They live only in poetry.

Every single one of these girls becomes a victim of their own infatuations. By the end of the novel, the main protagonist is no longer the sweetly naive girl from the start of the story. She is transformed into a husk of pure obsession and is crazed by her jealousy, rage, and longing.

Even now, I find myself trying to make sense of everything she did in the story that it would have such a great effect on me. Understand, the story itself would seem to me frivolous and pointless if told by anyone other than her. If you were to go read the plot on Wikipedia, you might not see anything special. I doubt it. But when you read the novel, it affects you in a disturbing way. Such is Oates’ gift.

In conclusion, I admire Oates for her subtlety and power. She understands her entire story before it begins. Every word is meticulously chosen to create the atmosphere of the work which might always be compelling while slightly unnerving. Either way, every writer can learn something from her stories. She has mastered the ability to forever confound English teachers by wrapping her stories so tightly with symbolism, with meaning, that they can never truly be unwound. Nor should they ever be.

What is the purpose of discovering the secrets of the universe? We surely cannot ever take them seriously.

What is considered UNmanly?

We all know what might be considered manly (Chuck Norris, Daniel Day Lewis, and films about war), but what exactly does it mean to be UNMANLY? Because I am so oft labeled thus, I’d like to explore exactly what that term constitutes.

I could... probably achieve that.

Does it mean that I don’t “lift weights,” but instead attend Pilates classes? (Ok, fine, it’s Yoga…. Ok, FINE! Yoga on Wii Fit… Just leave me alone OKAY! I admit, it’s actually table tennis on Wii Fit, so just stop judging me, please!)

Maybe being unmanly means eating healthy cereal like Special K or some other granola-based barf disaster. Granted, painting my toenails and joining a ballet company… but wait, have you guys SEEN male ballerinas? They’re more fit than Rugby players. So maybe ballet IS manly? Because think about it, you spend all day with beautiful women in tights. Yet society seems to point to other adjectives when describing a male ballet dancer. It doesn’t make much sense.

Okay, maybe plucking your eyebrows still lies in the UNMANLY camp of activities, but other things that used to be considered effeminate have become more… well, manly.

What’s the big deal with being manly, anyways? I mean, so I don’t smoke cigars and wrestle bears, but why should I? I’m sure given the right occasion, I might put a grizzly in a choke-hold, but unless it’s attacking me, why would I ever attempt to do that? The quest to be manly evolved from when men went to war. I mean, all men went to war. There was no military to speak of, so when America needed to fight a war, it enlisted every man. Farmers and merchants and blacksmiths and horse riders. They took boys as young as 14, handed them a gun, and pushed them onto the battlefield.

Think on a Civil War battlefield where these men are strewn across the grass. Every grass blade sports flecks of blood, the corpses piled over each other. You can see by the position of the bodies that the battle lasted long. Three hours. But the boys kept running out, fighting. They kept fighting. And it was not as if either armies harbored disdain for each other– only months before, they had been countrymen. Yet now confronted with what they were told was the enemy, they fought. They killed.

They shot and stabbed each other and kept trying to do so simply because if not, these boys would look unmanly in front of their friends. To not fight was the coward’s way. It was each boy’s duty to fight and if he fled, he could never overcome that act of unmanliness, that betrayal of honor.

It was pointless. Wars fought for the same reason men today still choose to pile more weights onto a barbell if they’re lifting in front of their friends. There is a certain spark in some people that will encourage them to lay down their lives for a war. Others do so because they cannot do otherwise and continue to live with masculinity intact.

 

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