Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Poetry: Denise Levertov

I like it when poetry uses exclamation points.

Denise Levertov
The Goddess

She in whose lipservice
I passed my time,
whose name I knew, but not her face,
came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle!

Flung me across the room, and
room after room (hitting the wall, re-
bounding—to the last
sticky wall—wrenching away from it
pulled hair out!)
till I lay
outside the outer walls!

There in cold air
lying still where her hand had thrown me,
I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:
the seeds of a forest were in it,
asleep and growing! I tasted
her power!

The silence was answering my silence,
a forest was pushing itself
out of sleep between my submerged fingers.
I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue
of day that shone already among the stars
in the water-mirror of low ground,

and a wind rising ruffled the lights:
she passed near me in returning from the encounter,
she who plucked me from the close rooms,

without whom nothing
flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,
without whom nothing
speaks in its own tongue, but returns
lie for lie!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Get It

Yes, I am perfectly well aware of the irony of sitting in Chipotle and reading The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, thank you very much.

Just so we're clear. :>)

(That might well be the first time I've used an emoticon on this blog . . . certainly in a long time.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Radio (Uh-Oh)

I'm going to be reading on The Callback tomorrow. Nifty, huh? I'll be reading a personal essay about—guess what?—politics and theater.

You should totally listen. In podcast form. All the infos are on the site.

Now back to revising that piece of writing. Which I may well publish on this blog as well. But first I have to revise, polish, practice and read it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Poetry: Phillip Lopate

Sadly, I've been in a state this week that makes this poem disappointingly appropriate. Comes of closing a show, I think. Anyway, I like it.

Phillip Lopate
We Who Are Your Closest Friends

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fan Clubbing

I like to link to things. I think this site summarizes my difficulties with Barack Obama fan clubs brilliantly, and with a better sense of humor than I can ever hope to have. (If it doesn't change words within a few seconds, just click on the words and it will.)

Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle.

Barack Obama picked you up at the airport.


Without a Trace of Doubt in My Mind

Rereading Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven (which is fascinating and you should read it right now—seriously, I don't know why you're still sitting here) a couple of weeks ago, I started thinking about Joseph Smith and the concept of belief. I'm a deeply secular person, as I've been for most of my life (the exception being until I was around eight, when my family had a game known as "What Does Your God Look Like Today?"), who, while she still has a lot of faith, has trouble subscribing to any of the ideas that drive organized religion. From this deeply secular perspective, it's easy for me to feel that Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was an incredibly charismatic, untreated schizophrenic. He was visited by an angel who told him that he could find golden plates on which were inscribed the story that became The Book of Mormon; once translated (which translation Joseph Smith conducted by burying his face in a hat that contained a "peep stone" and using spectacles made of rocks provided him by the Angel Moroni) and transcribed by his wife and members of his community, Smith returned the plates to the angel, and thus the most successful homegrown American religion was born. In admiring Krakauer's skill at telling such stories as the one above without irony, anger or judgment, though, it occurred to me that it is entirely historically irrelevant whether or not Joseph Smith was schizophrenic.

As someone who tends to set a lot of store by facts, that notion interests me. The historical significance of Joseph Smith is that he singlehandedly created a religion—okay, not "singlehandedly" per se, as very little happens that way, but certainly he was the visionary and nothing would ever have happened without him—that has endured and strengthened over the last one hundred and eighty-odd years, with an enduring mythology that speaks deeply to more than ten million people, and in his lifetime caused enough controversy and reaction that he was thrown from a window by an angry mob before he was forty. From that man came a complex, developed American religion of a scale we as a nation hadn't seen before or since—and I want to debate whether he was schizophrenic, whether it is indeed possible to have an angel appear before you and offer golden plates, whether peep stones in fact translate angelic runes? Seriously.

I have, as I've mentioned before, a great deal of faith in the power of belief. It sounds tautological; it might be. But if Joseph Smith's schizophrenia or lack thereof is historically irrelevant, by the same token the historical truth behind any religion, from the coat of many colors to the crucifixion to the angel Moroni, is irrelevant. Faith, as I see it, is itself the basis for power—all kinds, including staying power.

Recently I had a conversation with an artistic collaborator whose views differ drastically from my own. He once considered himself a homosexual, but has since come to believe that his behavior was not sanctioned by God, and he sought forgiveness through an organization called Love in Action. I knew him when he called himself homosexual (in college), fell out of touch with him for a while and heard only secondhand information about his experiences, and then a couple of years ago we got back into contact through theatrical interests. (We're currently writing a musical together.) The first couple of times that the differences in our beliefs came up, I told him, honestly, that I wanted to have the conversation with him about he he came to be where he is, but I could not have it casually. At his insistence, we came to it a couple of weeks ago.

Based on my collaborator's time with Love in Action and on his own long-held (though lapsed during much of the period when he believed himself to be gay) religious/spiritual beliefs, he feels that homosexual behavior is destructive to anyone who engages in it, that the only sex acceptable in the eyes of God is heterosexual monogamous marital sex, that homosexuality is not something born into people but rather a sinful impulse born of a lack of masculine love or support in childhood; the impulse is akin to, say, the urge to shoplift, in that it cannot be seen as unreasonable or wrong to have the impulse, but it is wrong, an act against God, to act on it. If we are all listening carefully, according to this belief system, when engaging in a sinful sexual behavior we will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to desist. It's the refusal to listen to this voice which causes so much anxiety, neurosis, psychological damage in contemporary homosexual communities; men suffer more from this than women because women are by nature more relationship-oriented, but anybody who persists in this sinful behavior is damaging themselves spiritually, which seems to basically equate to psychologically.

Regular readers of this blog obviously know how inimical this is to my beliefs. (While I urge discussion and debate, I also request that it be done respectfully, as my artistic collaborator is himself a sometime reader.) It was one of the more difficult conversations I've ever engaged in. At the end of its first segment, where he was much more the talker and I much more the listener (he, after all, has had the opportunity to spend some time living in the world I now inhabit, whereas in my liberal urban upbringing and young adulthood I've barely touched upon such a community as his), he asked me what I thought about it all. There were a lot of ways I could've chosen to be provocative at this point, and I admit I did choose a couple of them (I asked his opinion on evolution, for example), but the overarching conclusion, which I shared, was the interesting fact that, even as we are going to continue to work together and have great respect for one another as artists, we each have a deeply held belief system allowing us to completely dismiss the other as a person, and we're going to continue holding those beliefs. I'm interested in women because I have not listened sufficiently closely to the voice of the Holy Spirit continually endeavoring to speak to me; he's so in need of a religious community's approval that he's denying his true nature and desires and can't *really* be happy. That's only slightly oversimplified.

I guess my question, then, is what is historically relevant here? Not that I'm expecting my collaborator or myself to have any major-league historical significance, but can I possibly make this a question of who is right? He and I certainly disagree about which of our perspectives is leading the public opinion polls in America at this point (each thinks the other's, though I can understand where he's coming from), but could we ever win a debate about who's right, any more than we could win a debate about Joseph Smith's mental illness? It only works if you believe in mental illness.

What does that say? It says we can't run a world without belief, but that the world isn't run on truth, simply on belief in truth. That doesn't dismiss objective reality, I don't think, it just somewhat diminishes its relevance.

I want to emphasize, too, that when I say belief I'm not limiting it to religion; as I said above, my beliefs are as fully developed as my artistic partner's. My extremely secular father, visiting me in Chicago about a month ago, was musing on the difficulty of moral development in an ever more secular world, and remarking that among contemporary secular young people my sister and I seem to have managed to develop a working moral operating system (hereinafter referred to as MOS). I will never be swayed to believing that one pair or group of people's mutual and supportive love is inherently better or worse than another's. Should it, indeed, turn out that I enter an afterlife where God Hates Fags (man, this post contains a lot of links to things I vociferously disagree with and find really upsetting—still worth knowing and acknowledging they're in the world, though), that would be unfortunate, but to my mind it would mean that I have a point of contention with God; I still cannot convince myself that my system's inferior, that the world wouldn't be a better place if people followed a system of acceptance than the system Love in Action, or other similar evangelical organizations, preach(es). That assumption may be in error, but I feel close enough to the logic that brought me there that I am sticking to it. I feel it so deeply that, even if I can follow the logics that bring people to a different conclusion, I'm confident it's True—there are many aspects of my beliefs that could ultimately be changed by argument or experience, and I would not list this as one of them. Other people whose beliefs are inimical to mine feel exactly the same. How do we make sustainable communities and worlds out of that?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Poetry: Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai
Gifts of Love

I gave them to you
for your clothes, your fingers. I gilded
the time on your wrist,
I hung a lot of glittery things on you
so you'd sway for me in the wind, so you'd
chime softly over me
to soothe my sleep.

I comforted you with apples, as it says
in the Song of Songs,
I lined your bed with them,
so we could roll smoothly on red apple-bearings.

I covered your skin with a pink chiffon
transparent as baby lizards—the ones with
black diamond eyes on summer nights.

You helped me to live for a couple of months
without needing religion
or a point of view.

You gave me a letter opener of silver.
Real letters aren't opened that way;
they're torn open,
torn, torn.

Elected Officials

A few brief thoughts on Super Tuesday and its aftermath:

I voted for Barack Obama. I have not yet decided how I feel about that. Which is to say, I haven't completely settled on a candidate preference; what I have, or at least had, settled on is the conclusion that there's no way Hillary Clinton could beat John McCain. They're both decently close to center, and given the fact that they've worked together in the Senate on a number of bipartisan-ish projects, he's simply that much more charismatic and likable than she is, and also hasn't been nastily and sexist-ly vilified by the press on a consistent basis since 1992. If it is, indeed, going to be Mr. McCain, which I think it is, I want to run a candidate I think has a chance. On the question of racist and sexist voters, I think Clinton herself is so polarizing a figure that non-voters are likely to come out specifically to vote against her, while I don't see that happening on nearly the same level with Obama, and I see it as more likely that non-voters will come out spefically to vote for him.

My sister tells me this is an unproductive way to think. While it's not relevant to my vote right now, since I already voted in the primary, she says that there's really no way to know/predict what will happen in the next nine months enough to assert that as a confident reason for a vote; I can't pretend to know everyone, I just have to know me. Since that comes uncomfortably close to my exact beliefs about art and artistic audiences, I think I may have to buy it.

Still not entirely sure what I think. Many to most of my friends and family are at this point Obama supporters, and while I respect each of them and their assessments, I am having a lot of the trouble with Obama supporters that Paul Krugman mentions here. Dude is not going to save the world, and I do not like the attitude of many Obama supporters that if the world is not saved it is automatically destroyed. By the same token, though, I'm not about to minimize the importance of charisma and the ability to inspire, though, and it seems fair to claim that Obama's far and away the leader on that, as elucidated in this Lessig blog post that Maddy sent me. In a similar but angrier manner, Tom refuses to vote for Clinton should she become the nominee, believing that her campaign has used very subtle and nasty racist techniques to enforce the idea of a white status quo—that is to say, she's trying to say to voters that it's true, and okay, that only white people can have enough power to get things done for black people.

Bydeby, I have a very strong and angry reaction, these days, to using "Hillary" to refer to Hillary Clinton. I have to fight doing it myself, and I recognize that one could interpret calling her by her first name as an effort to distinguish her from her husband. But I also think that in a race known in common parlance as "Hillary v. Obama," it's abundantly clear who's being taken more seriously. I also feel strongly that it's much more acceptable for the mainstream media to be openly (or subtly) sexist than openly (or subtly) racist. (That's not a general "gender trumps race" argument, bydeby—that's not something I like to get into because I don't think it's a worthwhile comparison. But quite frequently people get away with comments about Clinton along the lines of the "clean and articulate" comment for which Joe Biden was, reasonably, upbraided.) It has a lot to do, of course, with how much longer Clinton has been in the spotlight than Obama, and the particular era in which she came into it. But it's a Hillary v. Barack race or it's an Obama v. Clinton race. Those are the only acceptable dichotomies for this blog. (I guess Hillary Clinton v. Barack Obama is also okay . . . :>D)

I honestly don't feel well-informed enough to make a well-informed choice. I know Clinton has dealt with the devil; I know I really don't approve of the way in which she's conducted herself with regards to the war. I am not, however, confident that her polarizing of the public is her fault, nor am I sure that Obama wouldn't deal with the devil if given the opportunities, which opportunities he is simply too green to have encountered. He's also had fewer opportunities to vote dishonorably (I don't really care what the Illinois State Senate thought about the war in Iraq, to be frank). I do, however, think the level on which he manages to speak out on his beliefs being as green as he is remains impressive, and that there *is* something to be said for electing the press's golden boy.

Off a conversation with Silvana and friend last night, I need to assert that I am confident Huckabee will not be McCain's running mate. Why? Because McCain doesn't need him. They don't share beliefs, political or otherwise, nor styles, and while I know the religious right keeps swearing they'll boycott the vote if McCain should win, are they seriously planning to let Clinton or Obama win? I think not.

I voted for Barack Obama because it seemed to me the practical choice. A sixth-grade girl named S in my mentoring program was furious with me and the other mentors who confessed to have voted for Obama; in our female empowerment program, S felt we had betrayed her desire to have a woman president. One of my former students, M, who's 21, knows simply that this election is historical because "a lady and a black guy" are running, and she plans to vote for the black guy because she thinks he should have a chance. I will also vote practically in the November election, because I don't want John McCain to be president (though there was a time, specifically the year 2000, when I really wouldn't have minded—when I even prefered the prospect of McCain to that of Al Gore). I can understand and accept the arguments against voting purely practically in a primary. But the fact is, if I hadn't, I'm still not *positive* about whom I would have voted for.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks

I've had my students reading her lately; I chose not to study this one in class, since the vocabulary's pretty intense, but still felt like posting it. However dated the originality of the sentiment, this is some stunning language the woman is working with.

Gwendolyn Brooks
The Lovers of the Poor

arrive. The ladies from the Ladies' Betterment League
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars along the boulevard brag
of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink pain ton the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall.
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You'd better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
Perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor—passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is—something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battles' bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
But it's all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they're told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Note homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they're done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
They've never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this "flat,"
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered . . .),
Readies to spread clean rugs for the afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . .
They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin "hangings,"
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and tale shames
And,a gain, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies'
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!—
Where loathe-lover likelier may be invested.
Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Two Things You Can't Forget to Do!

#1: If you're somewhere where it's Super Tuesday (like, say, the state of Illinois), don't forget to VOTE!!!!!!!!!!! I'm going this afternoon when I get home from work. And I honestly think I'm still a little undecided, and I think I'm okay with that. If you're having trouble with the smaller potatoes, can be very helpful.

#2: If you're in the Chicagoland area, see Blindside!!!!!

You only have two more weeks. As in, this weekend and the subsequent one.

The Chicago Reader likes it.

Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:30 pm, Sundays at 4 pm
through February 17th
Raven Theatre Complex in the West Theatre
6157 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60660
For tickets, go to
or call 773 572 1530
or Email

That is all.

Photographs ©2007

What It's All About

This comic is kind of what it's all about these days.

I don't think I have any more to say than that in this particular post. You should read it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I'm the Tomato Blogger!

As my middle-school fencing teacher (yes, I had one) liked to say, "She's starting to ketchup!"

This may in fact be my record for most blog posts in a day ever. At least when I post this one. I want to clear out my drafts, so look forward to hearing from me on:
• Orwell and Huxley on sexuality
• do-gooders, world-changers and the positions in between
• belief and historical reality
Carousel and how great art, particularly with regard to gender issues, does and does not get dated
• talent versus competence
• the fucking ELECTION ferfuckssake, instead of being so ridiculously esoteric all the freaking time.

I'm sure you wait with bated breath.

Friday Poetry: Emily Dickinson

I must confess, I've never been enamored of the woman. Or perhaps just not generally enamored of what her fan base has made of her. It's rare for her poems to get me excited. But she's important, and interesting, and I've never put her up before, and this isn't one of those overdone poems of hers. Plus the subject definitely has been on my mind. So here goes.

Emily Dickinson
[There came a Wind like a Bugle]

There came a Wind like a Bugle —
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost —
The Doom's electric Moccasin
That very instant passed —
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived — that Day ˆ
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told —
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

I Think There Are Male Authors That Are Female

Title cited from a high school classmate; the conversation at the time centered on whether Vergil's portrayal of Dido was an accurate portrayal of a woman's struggle.

Also note: I started this essay almost two years ago, and I'm not totally satisfied with the completion, but it really needs to get out of my drafts.

In the wake of a brief, difficult romantic entanglement with a man a couple of years ago, when I turned to my friends—predominantly female—for comfort, many of my complaints were met with, "He's just being a stupid boy," or, more simply, "He's a guy," as if either statement stood as an explanation and a reassurance. A reassurance that I was perceiving his behavior correctly? A reassurance that I was, indeed, a woman, and therefore my behavior patterns were distinct from his and thereby not as reprehensible? As someone sexually and romantically interested in most genders, men among them, I can't say I see much reassuring in believing that male behavior is inherently offensive, inherently inimical to my values, nor is it much comfort to believe that my values exist solely because I am a woman. Yet to a certain degree this seems to be the paradigm we have accepted—even among feminists, even among forward-thinkers.

I'd be a useless feminist if I didn't believe in the existence of gender differences. Authors of countless dystopias, from Lois Lowry to Aldous Huxley, have meditated on the essential distinction between equality and sameness, and ain't much use in fighting for sameness. However, I'm also coming to believe it's useless to try to extricate biological differences from socially constructed differences between the genders. Biological differences exist in spades, the growing body of research and public discourse on transsexuality making this ever clearer, but until we become an honestly equal society decent research on the topic will be a rarity, given the funding of scientific study by special-interest groups on both hands of the political spectrum and whathaveyou. So when are we becoming an honestly equal society? Ummm . . . anyone? There must be a better solution to ways of thinking about research, but I don't think I'm going to find it in this post.

More and more, though, artists of each sex seem capable of (and ever more interested in) exploring the relevance of another sex or sexes to their work and perspectives. I suppose to a certain degree this has been going on for centuries, Clarissa and whathaveyou, but as gender distinctions in general become more flexible and more difficult to define it seems an ever more relevant phenomenon. For this post I want to examine two pieces of writing from the last decade in particular, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood's thirteenth novel, Atwood used the third-person limited perspective of a male character. It was the first time Atwood had used a male voice for a full novel (Life Before Man includes the occasional male perspective, but they aren't the focus and it also is not a very good novel). It's following a young man growing up in a dystopic non-too-distant future controlled primarily by genetic engineering, incredibly threatened by bioterrorism, with tremendous gaps between the rich and the poor. The focus of the novel is by no means his masculinity, but Atwood felt the need to tell the apocalyptic story from a male character's perspective.

Wally Lamb narrates his novel She's Come Undone from the first-person perspective of a female character, Dolores Price. We follow Dolores from age four to age forty, through familial confusion, tragic abuse, incredible weight gain, hospitalization, marriage, divorce, reevaluation. The novel's nicely done, with occasional egregious literary mistakes—if you spend so much time using a character's interaction with a psychiatrist to explain her life's symbolism, why have symbols at all?—but it's a well-executed, unremarkable coming-of-age tale, with very few standouts. What's made it a standout is the gender switch, the intimate and, for many, spot-on knowledge of femininity and femaleness, coming from a man—that's what got the novel recognition from Oprah and tipped it over to the bestseller list.

There's a little bit of oppressive appropriation at play there. A lot of female authors have admirable expertise on the woman's perspective, spot-on knowledge of femininity and femaleness, but you can't say anyone notices. A woman writing She's Come Undone would have been dismissed from the canon as "chick lit." (Of course, what is Oprah's Book Club if not "chick lit," and it's certainly an exaggeration to say that She's Come Undone is part of "the canon." It's fair to say, however, that it's one of the more respected and better-known novels of the last decade, and I think equally fair to say that there would have been no such recognition had a man not written it.) On the seventeenth hand, though, if women do find Lamb's observations and character development perceptive and substantive, then shouldn't we honor that knowledge whatever the source? Be it firsthand or otherwise, if it's perceived as accurate and honest by those who would know doesn't it qualify as knowledge? In a discussion of these two novels a while back, my friend Squiggy claimed that She's Come Undone was "the only time a man wrote about a woman and got it right." She hadn't liked Oryx and Crake: she found the story inauthentic and when I mentioned my interest in Atwood's use of the male voice, she said that there were enough male voices on the scene already, and she didn't consider it a tremendous gain just because Atwood was a female writer. For Squiggy, it was the presence of a female character, a real and complex one, that mattered more than the author behind it.

It needs to be noted, perhaps, that the first time Atwood felt in need of a male voice was for a macrocosmically scientific novel. It's by no means her first political piece, but it's only her second explicitly political novel, and her first that's really focused on the scientific future. Atwood herself grew up with scientists according to most publicity materials released when the book was published four years ago, and has the knowledge base to write what was a pretty scientifically complex novel (yeah, I know we're not really just hanging around splicing raccoons and skunks, but it's overall solid), but she felt the need to present the story as male-dominated. Which springing from our society might just be realistic, and she needed that level of reality for it to work, but I think the portrayal of Oryx was a little sexist, not just from Jimmy's perspective, but from the fact that nobody in the novel, including Oryx herself, was able to challenge that perspective in any successful way. Even more than Crake, Oryx was a sexy stereotype, all her knowledge being based, pretty much, in "worldliness" or "feminine intuition," which caused both our main male characters (Jimmy and Crake) to fall in love with her. And while I acknowledge that Atwood was trying to do something big enough that I can't rely on her to do everything politically perfectly, it does continue to feel a little strange that my favorite feminist author based her most important plot points on one of the oldest, most sexist versions of the love triangle in the book.

Then again, maybe it's been in the book for so long because it's true. It's not like nothing sexist ever happens. I wonder, then, if it was fair to expect an author, just by means of being a different gender than the one she was writing about, to challenge expected notions of the character's gender. Lamb did none of that. Oddly, it's the fact that he did not challenge any accepted thoughts about the character's gender that threw *his* gender into such sharp focus. By using a male perspective, Atwood's female perspective receded into the background, became less central or less impressive; by using a female perspective, Lamb's male perspective was seen as substantially more impressive, less limited than he would otherwise have been assumed to be. That's oversimplified, but nevertheless I wonder what it's about.

Now to read Moral Disorder and I Know This Much Is True.


A couple of months ago, among many other strange experiences, I had the strange experience of listening to the Indigo Girls' "This Train Revised" for the fifteenth time and realizing for the first time that it was a Holocaust song.

About a week later, in a much less disturbingly monumental fashion, I realized for the first time that They Might Be Giants' "Twisting," from the album Flood, which I loaded onto my computer about two years ago, is about a breakup. (For an excellent, articulate discussion of why TMBG is/are great [which one is grammatical?], you should see Bilal.)

In case you haven't noticed, I like words. I like them a lot. I particularly like adverbs (though not as much as J.K. Rowling does), but I'm pretty bloody attached to all of them. I know all the words to at least four hundred songs and more than ninety poems (yes, I have counted, if you must know), and I write an awful lot of things and say perhaps even more than I write. (Perhaps not, but it's pretty close.) Yet I listened to these songs repeatedly, certainly enough to feel attached to them, without hearing the lyrics enough to have even an inkling of what their subjects were.

I'm not a big fan of the Idiot Savant School of the Arts, that somehow it's enough if it's just about soul. I have too much respect for craft and for the community of artists to engage with that notion. But nevertheless knowing everything remains boring, pointless, and more to the point, impossible. This has been part, for me, of the process of doing Blindside: the revelation that, however proud I am of the play, there were several scenes I did not understand in any way until I saw actors doing them. And given that I wrote them, and have thought A LOT over the last three years about this play and how the ideas and characters in it are put together (as any number of my friends and/or collaborators can attest). I would not come anywhere near classifying myself as an idiot savant. And yet I'm still working in ways I consider visceral. When I make a mistake I can fix it better by figuring out how to explain things to myself, but for a very logical person I'm often not working with logic. I am, loath though I am to admit it, following a less calculable/measurable form of knowledge.

And such is the way I listen to songs. Verbosity or otherwise, I hear music first, and often as not the power of the music I'm hearing will keep me from engaging with the lyrics, the form I understand much better, for a long time. Does this harm the songs—as in, did I do a disservice to "This Train Revised" by listening to it so poorly that I briefly had it on a playlist called "Vagabond Music" alongside Tom Waits' "Cold Water," Harry McClintock's "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and Beck's "Derelict"? (I adore all those songs, don't get me wrong, but the relationship between their subject matter and that of "This Train Revised" is tentative.) I know many people would say "to whom is that relevant besides me?", but it's relevant in considering audiences for the arts. It's okay with me, where it is not with some of my friends, that different people read different things in works of art—I believe very strongly that one should not attempt to tell audiences how to feel. But that doesn't eclipse my belief that there do exist right and wrong interpretations—plural, yes, but the criteria by which one judges art should be at least as rigorous as those used to judge politics or anything else that exists in the "real world." My interpretation of "This Train Revised"—its story—resulted from my not listening carefully and was therefore a wrong interpretation. And even with this completely wrong interpretation I found the song, through the way its music reached me, incredibly compelling. (Same deal, albeit more lightly, with "Twisting"—I was just having fun listening to it long before I realized that the refrain "She wants to see you again" referred to a recent ex-girlfriend.) Is it a sign of good artistry that there's room, and time, for really wrong interpretations? Is that an easy answer?