Today the printer at work breaks while printing invoices. I cut my thumb, which has ink all over it, while trying to fix it. My nail is short and already broken, but it had been covered in glittery polish. I take a photo of my bloody, glittery, ink stained thumb and think about posting it to facebook. When I started working an office job my personal facebook became a part of my day I feel incomplete without, yet it also makes me claustrophobic. I comb my news feed obsessively for something to entertain, because I don’t want to fix the printer.
“Women’s Prize for Fiction Reveals ‘Staggeringly Strong’ Shortlist” is a link shared by an independent bookstore in Brooklyn. I click through to read the article. The staggeringly strong comment is attributed to Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles, in Mark Brown’s article in the Guardian. In the article there is glowing praise for the AM Holmes novel, May We Be Forgiven. When I read this I couldn’t help recall her words at a sparsely attended reading I saw her at last fall, in a Barnes and Nobles on the UWS. She read from May We Be Forgiven, then answered questions from the audience. One women asked her why she chose to make the main character of the novel a man. She wrinkled her nose and said something like, “I don’t like writing women.” Then she paused, and attempted to clarify. “It’s just, female characters — I don’t know. She shook her head again, “I like men.”
I am one to argue for imagination above all else in fiction. If anyone wants to write anyone else, well, that’s what it’s about, right? Still, her reaction surprised me. She has written female characters before, and well. I wondered if her reaction was more to the question, or if there was a grain of truth in it. Did she really not like writing female characters? Or did she just like men more?
I post the photo of my banged up thumb with the broken printer behind it as my status. I call tech support and try to revel in the mundaneness of my day, but I feel pent up and frustrated. The article reminds me of my own ambition. I’d be happy if someone called my writing staggering, I’d be pleased to have surprised. But then, I have barely started at this writing game. If I had several novels under my belt I might feel differently.
I test the sentence “Men’s Prize for Fiction Reveals ‘Staggeringly Strong’ Shortlist.” It sounds and looks sarcastic. Men’s writing is expected to be strong, to leave us all reeling. To say that work by women writers is “staggeringly strong” seems to assume that strong writing from women is unexpected. The memory of hearing AM Holmes mention her distaste for writing female characters bothers me, especially because she was praised in the article with this underhanded title.
Kate Christensen talks about gender and character in a great interview by Maud Newton titled “Male Muses and Inner Dicks.” What Kate said amounted to this: she found male characters easier to write because she had read more compelling male characters. I relate to this. I can more easily write men because I have read more complex, enigmatic, entertaining, incessant male characters than I have female ones.
Also, female characters are expected - required, if they hope to exist in major distribution - to be likable. Likable is usually not as enigmatic or entertaining as one of those bad boy narrators, what I call the Bright Lights Big City boys.
I’m still on facebook, and I notice that the photo of my scratched up thumb looks kind of like a tiny penis. Something about the angle of the photo I hadn’t noticed when I first took it. I laugh to myself. This is a weird Tuesday. I still can’t get the printer to work.
Something about the penis thumb thought trails along to the idea that it’d be really odd if my fingers could go flaccid. Like, if they were only capable of typing when inspired, I wouldn’t be able to do my job here. I have strong fingers from training to be a stenographer, but I imagine all ten of them limp and useless.
Almost immediately this thought seems cliché, and somewhere in the back of my mind Freud is whispering “penis envy” and I’m laughing back, “I want ten penises!” but somewhere else in my head I’m thinking, finger-fuck. If your fingers were penises you could fuck yourself, and you wouldn’t need anyone else. And maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve had sex, but I don’t want to think about this need.
I wonder if it’s the invisible motion of female desire, the ability to mutate and morph without any outward signs, the simultaneous vulnerability yet invulnerability that makes representing it so fraught. Writers such as Kathy Acker or EL James, who write compelling sex scenes, are often less concerned with the codes of craft than the mainstream literary world. Something about our collective understanding of female desire confounds depictions of it in words, as if to name it were a sin, if not of propriety then of taste. As if we can’t imagine the full humanity of it. We make partial allowances for female desire, but only when absolutely necessary.
I’m on facebook again. I don’t dislike the link “Women’s Prize for Fiction Reveals ‘Staggeringly Strong’ Shortlist.” I can’t dislike the link. My two options are to like it or to do nothing. I do nothing, but I write.
What I do find staggering is that people, myself included, keep writing fiction. Fiction, especially great fiction, staggers. That something which came from nothing can move us, this is staggering.
Junot Diaz (at BookCourt)
My story is featured on Mr. Bellar's neighborhood this week!
Bernice McFadden reading at the BK Book Fest, with Colson Whitehead, Joyce Carol Oates, and Rob Spillman (Taken with Instagram)
Patti Smith reading (Taken with Instagram at Granite Prospect)
Charles Yu reading presented by WORD bookshop (Taken with Instagram at Brooklyn Bridge Park - Pier 1)
Now write! (Taken with Instagram at Earth Matters)
On a Camus kick… (Taken with Instagram at Strand Book Store)
Johnny Temple of Akashic books, Joe Meno, and Nathan Larson (Taken with Instagram at McNally Jackson Books)
#book #bookmark #read (Taken with instagram)
Writing addiction #writing #pens (Taken with instagram)