All the other “Serious Writer” stories in my collection are told from a male perspective. Only “The Serious Writer And Her Bush" (below, a kind of counter-piece to "The Serious Writer And His Penis") assumes that The Serious Writer is a woman.
I’ve often been drawn to picking female protagonists only to find out later that it’s too hard for a man to write a woman convincingly. At least I cannot do it & I think it may be a widespread problem among male writers. Take Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” — for me, the title figure never really comes to life in the same way as Lewin, the male protagonist, does. He seems to carry the burden of the story while she carries the heavier fate.
Perhaps someone should offer a tutorial for Serious Writing (Wo)Men, “Writing as a (wo)man for wo(men).”
Here’s the story — The Serious Writer And Her Bush:
«The serious writer looks back on a long and distinguished career as an herbologist. Her favourite bush grows in Central Park and is called Noah’s Ark by the residents because of the myriad of animals that it shelters. The serious writer has given a name to every leaf and branch of the Ark, and when autumn comes, her heart slowly withers, pondering decay as the shrub sheds its summer splendour and returns to the raw.»
—From: The Serious Writer And Her Bush, in “Thank You For Your Sperm”, published by MadHat Press. This story was first published under my nom de plume Flawnt in elimae. — Photo: Central Park Bridges (Wikimedia).
He moves his household to a deserted location called Loch Llamorgan. He buys a large shovel, which he covers with tattoos lifted from a book of Maori motives. He anticipates a journey of many moons. He drives to the local liquor store and purchases supplies. He devises a plan to shelter the house from all disturbing influences: it involves a system of trenches surrounding the house, an escape tunnel from the study, and CCTV surveillance around the perimeter. He begins to dig.
When the serious writer, weeks later, finally sits down to start writing, he is exhausted and has forgotten what he wanted to write about, or why. He dolefully looks at his tool with the strange patterns on them, and at his callused hands, and he cannot hear any voices.
He composes an e-mail for an anonymous publisher expressing his sorrow over pressing deadlines, the demands of job and family, and regrets the delay in providing a synopsis. After sending the message, he lies face down in one of the ditches criss-crossing the field in front of the house, and drinks in the scent of the soil, waiting for the book to write itself.
[From: “Thank You For Your Sperm”, MadHat Press, 2013, story first published in Wrong Tree Review, 2011][Image: Atlas, drawing by Alfred Kubin, 1942]
The Austrian artist Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) was a pioneer of symbolism and expressionism. He illustrated books of Edgar Allan Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Fyodor Dostoevsky and others. His only novel “Die andere Seite” (The other side) was admired by Kafka. My father was a collector of Kubin’s graphical work and passed his collection on to me. Kubin’s fantastic, absurdist novel was an important influence during my teenage years.
I never managed to get any closer to a book trailer for TYFYS than this: one of a number of songs, composed, performed, & recorded by me. Posting this reminds me of the time when I briefly studied musical composition with Michael Finnissy whose music I loved then like now, as well as John Cage’s often obscure but always energetic and never empty statements like this one, which bolsters me up right now :
“It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.” —John Cage
Photo: Margaret Barr’s “Strange Children” ballett (1955), photographer unknown. State Library of New South Wales Flickr stream.
«After twenty years of marriage K. had given H. everything except children. It was clearly too late for that. Everybody said so, especially the doctors, who were the experts on childbearing. H. had been 67 when he met K., who was 37 then. Biology had spoken.
For the first few years they made love like very young people again: without regard for time or space or the many demands of grown up life, which insert themselves so easily and effectively between a couple’s genitals. K. used protection, if only because that’s what she’d always done; and as if to show that even at his age he was still a responsible adult, H. used protection also, so that they were doubly sheathed against the chance of new life. …»
A different version of this story was published in 2012 at THIS literary magazine.
What I did this morning. Look into the abyss. Only just discovered this quote by Lionel Trilling, via Vargas Llosa’s book on cultural decadence in our time (“Alles Boulevard”; Suhrkamp). Interesting how Vargas Llosa (in the German translation of the Spanish original) gets this quote by Trilling wrong. By misquoting as if the students (and not the Abyss) had said “How interesting”, which he then uses as an indicator ofcultural decadence (the students’ inappropriate answer to the deep mystery of the Abyss). It’s pretty mean, that, and typical for (semi-professional) cultural pessimists who take their ammunition from anywhere or if none’s available, fabricate it. This book doesn’t really deserve being mentioned it’s not even well written (but I also don’t like his prose and I don’t understand how anybody can like it
—maybe he is one of those writers who gain enormously in their own language?). Vargas Llosa evidently doesn’t mind a little cheating, despite his 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Sadly he himself turns into a better example of cultural decay than the (made up) examples he presents. Needless to say, I’m not a cultural pessimist. I’m currently thinking about writing a book against cultural pessimism myself. Trouble is I don’t like cultural optimism either. Extreme positions can never reflect the complexity of truth, they can only cramp it with their zealousness. A book that does: Cultural History of the Modern Age by Egon Friedell (1927), beautifully written, too. He wrote: «We can never see the world other than incompletely: deliberately to see it as incomplete is to create an artistic aspect. »
«…with these words, my dear child, I shall leave you to your meditations: you must honor those who work with you; because to work in the world is to fight bad spirits. To be princely means to be an eye to the world, which sees things through you; it means to speak for the people as if your tongue was made of a thousand tongues. It means making up similes so that your people understand a thing from all sides. It means to be on the side of the poor, the weak and the needy: god is already punishing them and it is you who must help tip the scale towards remission. Whether you’re a woman or a man, but especially if you’re a woman, don’t believe everything the books say: many of them were written by scared, old monks. When you’ve lost your path: look at your feet, because they were made to carry on. Build something whenever you can…» — Gisela closed the book, put out the candle and opened her face to the dark. There was so much out there, so much to know and to see, that it was tempting to close her eyes to it all. Leave it to the more impassioned. Stay behind the walls with the guardians, hire people to think for you, write for you, live for you, die for you. She did not like to think of herself as a little girl. She liked to think of everyone else as being deformed and too large. While she was unsuccessfully groping for certainty, but enjoying the walk through her mind, an image built itself inside her; it was partly disturbing and partly comforting. Her body was connected to every other body. Was it something to do with that duty to build which the nameless emperor had spoken of in his book? Was building the purpose of everything? Was making connections a way of building? Or was it all about the joy of riding on top of a giant Earth worm? She muddled through minor thoughts trying to recover, but it was too late at night. It was fair enough to feel lost looking at creation. It was not all right to get lost and feel sorry for yourself because you were so small, especially if you were a princess. Either everybody was deformed, or nobody. She fell off the high cliff of her consciousness into a careless sleep…»
[Originally posted at 100 days and nights. Part of my flash novel “Gizella”, to be published by Folded Word Press.]
…in fact, the Amazon CEO loves them so much that he has just bought Goodreads, a social media site for readers and writers with 16 millions followers. My response below (really more of a ramble) seems a tad confused even to me, the author, but these times are complicated. I sense a certain religious subtext but perhaps it can be forgiven because these times require special spirit and because books, after all, are items of a quasi-religious reverie to many of us…
The purchase, warmly described by Goodreads as “joining the Amazon family” & greeted with “Nooooooo!” by the Washington Post, is quite impressive on the open-ended monopoly scale. It follows a 40% stake in LibraryThing (2006) and the purchase of Abebooks (2008). LibraryThing is a service much like Goodreads that looks more like a librarian’s day dream. Abebooks is an online book store with a 1995 web design (a nostalgy trip for Bezos?)… [Continue reading…]
I don’t know how many times I have tried in vain to describe what I feel for this action hero, this Kennedy-and-California infiltrating Austrian poser how much I admire his bulging ego and his love for animals which is featured too little in the media that seem to focus on the bluest lapis lazuli ever seen on the hand of a manly man, of a terminator no, of The Terminator, The Eraser, the extinguisher of distinguished one-liners, who said cockily once “Luck is for the unprepared” only to raise his rifle again, whip out a mighty machine gun like cream, who walks with more panache than even a Texan, and fathers children like other men pop doping pills.
I’m not saying you should follow me where I’m going with this. I know that I’m rambling, but I’m rambling on behalf of a silent majority that values the body more highly than the brain and isn’t afraid to say so.
But I have reserved my silver bullet for the end: after witnessing what fellow actor James Franco can do with words, Arnie has also taken a pen in his fist, gripped it firmly like a rifle butt and put it to good use by writing a poem on Nanni Moretti. Not a bad one, I hasten to add, and not one of the best poems ever written either. But a solid hommage on this Italian, borrowing strength from Franco’s inauguration intelligence by dropping the names of many artists, and including in a daring feat of novelty the name of a housekeeper who supposedly bore Moretti’s illegitimate child, touchingly not unlike Arnie’s own story. Asked why he chose this improbable target as the subject of his first poetic impulse, Arnie said: it’s not my first, I used to compose verse for my mother while she worked the cash register so that I could pump iron. And also, he added eloquently with a nod of his patrician head and with barely an accent “Io sono un autarchico.” The journalists who were present drooled. Before leaving, Arnie said he was already talking to Woody Allen about playing a gay Austrian-American, black unemployed billionaire ex-actor immigrant who miraculously succeeds against the odds against the establishment while always smiling not ashamed of his crooked teeth, in Allen’s new feature on Vienna and Freud: he loves my accent, Arnie says, and he liked me in Kindergarten Cop and Twins, he really did.
I’m not saying you should follow me where I’m going with this. I know that I’m rambling, but I’m rambling on behalf of a silent majority that values the brain more highly than the body and isn’t afraid to say so.
The man stopped reading. The girl looked at him: “Did you honestly think, daddy that this story would scare me? Don’t you know how old I am? Do you know anything about me? I read the last Harry Potter book when I was seven,” she said. “Well,” said her father, “truth be told your mother read it to you. And she gave the old Rowling a sanitizing makeover so that you wouldn’t be traumatized for the rest of your life.” He smiled one of those smiles that he had smiled for the first thirteen years of her life, but lately, as now, his smile had only embarrassed his daughter, as if he was pretending an intimacy that she had begun to shed like dry snakeskin.
On a balcony outside of the small apartment, The Lord of Demon Flies stood listening and glistening in the rain. All along the street the rats had emerged from the sewers. Paws raised, they looked up at their Lord as large, cold drops fell on them and soaked the hairs that had been so carefully braided in preparation for Halloween and the Great Demon Flight. What was their master doing up there with the humans? Why wasn’t he preaching to them?
The father left the room and closed the door behind him. He took his story with. Perhaps it was time to stop reading to the child. Perhaps it was time to stop thinking of her as a child. As he stood in the corridor, he had a sudden bad feeling like a draft from some unclosed window of the soul. He stopped and wondered if he should go back and check up on the girl, but he hesitated: he’d been too cautious since his wife had died. It was clear that his daughter needed space above all. He scuffled to his desk, back to his work and put on headphones to listen to music. The house fell still.
The girl opened her laptop. Behind her, Beelzebub changed into a fat, iridescent green horsefly, buzzed around her head and landed on top of the web cam. The girl had joined a hangout. A dozen teenagers from around the world were logged in and chatting all at the same time. The girl was jiggling around like Beyonce, so that Beelzebub in his insect self felt competitive with the human and joined her in mid air for a little dance.
The girl tolerated the buzzing body for a bit, but when she felt too bothered she grabbed the fly with a quick left hand and squished it, so that the Prince of Darkness had difficulty escaping and, as there was no time to find another small body, he entered the computer.
But the electrical impulses hit him with unexpected force and his spirit was drawn further into the machine. Like a drowning man he was pulled out to the open sea. Deep currents of communication, stronger than anything he had experienced throughout millennia, held him there. Millions of man-made tiny silvery switches and golden gateways were processing him like freshly caught fish in a can factory. Only fractions of a second later – he himself didn’t know how it had happened – the Dark One was spread out over the entire net. His great evil was distributed too thinly now across the planet to do any harm to anyone for a long time except through flame wars, hate mail and small furious comments on Facebook.
Down on the street, as the clock was eating away at Halloween, the rat mob gave up on their king and the rodents slowly disappeared into the night.