Monday, March 22, 2004

Tab-clearing Time
1. Back in 2001, The Onion ran a prophetic story on the Bush inauguration. Like I usual do with Onion pieces, I read it, laughed, and forgot it. Dan Chak's done an annotated edition that's a fun read.

2. I love Match.com. Used it once and never would again because a. I'm takend and b. it's a horrible way for writers to meet people. We're so used to constructing a persona that it's almost impossible to be authentic. Life's messy and for romance to work in real life, it has to be messy, too. For me, and, I suspect, other writers, online just isn't a messy enough place for a relationship founded there to work. But as a repository of stories, it's irrestistible. Some profiles are tragic, come comic, and some are such a trainwreck that you can't quite take your eyes from the screen.

Because I used it once, I still get weekly emails suggesting possible matches, and because I love the stories, sometimes I click through. Today I found this: "MUST be a Christian. MUST NOT be a momma's boy. MUST like children. MUST like firearms and/or hunting. MUST NOT be shorter than me. MUST NOT have a bad back or be bald."

Ouch.*

3. Salon's got a well-written and interesting piece up on the hell of almost making it as a writer, with a sidebar on saving the midlist author containing a completely predictable rant about Barnes and Noble. I'm of at least two minds on this.

The first mind feels for the author, who spent years writing, got very little back for it in the way of financial remuneration, and is now about to take a day job, though she plans to keep writing.

The second mind scoffs and says, "So what?" First of all, the only evidence we have of the quality of her books is in this piece, and while it's well structured and flows well, the narrator is quite self-absorbed while being not at all self-conscious. Such a character can be worth reading, but only if the author is aware of these flaws and uses them deliberately, but here the author seems to suffer the same maladies. As far as the central conflict, we hear much about the author's stresses over money, but the only actual hardship we hear is of her ghostwriting a Hollywood autobiography to "keep her daughter in Nikes". This is hardship?

Jane Austen Doe, as she calls herself, isn't interested in being a writer; she wants to be a Writer. And she wants to do it writing what she wants, when she wants, and the fact that it doesn't sell as well as she'd like is the public's fault for not appreciating her particular genius. Um, okay. Van Gogh depended on his brother for financial support. Charles Ives kept selling insurance even after winning the Pulitzer for composing. William Carlos Williams got up at 5 a.m. to write while still practicing medicine. That Doe can't buy her daughter overpriced sneakers while writing literary fiction is not exactly a "man bites dog" story.

That's not to say her story is without virtues. There is a myth in this country that publishing your first novel, signing your first record contract or selling your first painting means the struggle is over. Not true. As Jane beautifully evokes, that's just the beginning. There is the next novel to worry over, then the one after that. And because we live in a capitalist society, it is not enough that a few critics call you great. People actually have to like what you do enough to give money for it. That's the bitch of it, and artists of all stripes have complained about it for centuries.

Sidebar: If a baker refused to make cakes that taste good because bland, chewy cakes can better be molded into odd shapes, and insisted on using chewy, chalky icing because it was the only way to make the shapes he wants, well, then he'd probably do very well making wedding cakes. But a cake is ultimately to be eaten, and an unpalateable cake is blasphemy. Similarly, art is about beauty, as is writing. Why, then, are so many artists dismissive of public opinion? Sure, it's easier to produce something that's pretty than something that's meaningful, but it's also a hell of a lot easier to produce something that's ugly and meaningful than something that's beautiful and meaningful. So why not strive?

4. This is subtly but forehead slappingly funny. A nice commentary on the intersection between programming and reality.


* Obligatory nice-guy disclaimer: There's probably some guy out there that would, and he's probably exactly the kind of guy she's looking for. That's what I mean about messiness. God bless them both and may they be very happy together.

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