Monday, 31 December 2012

Kill your darlings

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. 
-          Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

'Kill your darlings.' The phrase irked me the first time I read it. The relish with which other people repeat it has only annoyed me more.

I guess what he was getting at is that if a writer is particularly proud of a phrase, those words are likely to stick out, draw attention to themselves, and snap the reader out of her immersion in the story. That's likely enough, so it's good advice. But the smug self-satisfaction with which the advice is delivered really gets under my skin.

This morning I woke with a revelation – 'Murder your darlings' is a darling. It's exactly the sort of 'exceptionally fine writing' that should have been deleted before being sent to press. The smugness, the preciousness, the surprising and clever metaphor, are precisely the definition of a darling.

Oh, the delicious irony. The aphorism 'Kill your darlings' is a darling, so by rights Quiller-Couch should have killed it, but he didn't so it's beloved and repeated by thousands who don't recognize that it should have succumbed to its author's knife, gun or poison.

Here's a more in-depth analysis by Stephen Wright, who also despises the phrase.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Look, Ma, no hands!

A certain brand of feminists complains about the defiling male gaze and the damage they believe it does to women. Feminist social psychologists, calling the gaze “objectification,” conduct experiments designed to demonstrate the harm it does. Meanwhile men, from the seven-year-old riding his bicycle (‘Look, Ma, no hands!’), to the old man in his fancy car, are trying to attract the female gaze, often in vain.

The concept of male privilege rests on a foundation of the invisibility of the average male. When women talk about “male power,” what man are they thinking of? Not the men who’ve been forced into the deadly professions: Electrical wire installer, truck driver, farmer, steel worker, roofer, garbage collector, fisher, lumberjack. No, they’re thinking of successful politicians and CEOs. Far more men are at the bottom of the power structure than the top, but these men don’t count. They don’t warrant the female gaze. They can’t be seen.

Here’s blog post by Jeremy Nicholson that makes the case that the Batman shooter was motivated by his inability to win the female gaze. It seems that far more women are attracted to mass murders than to graduate students. Nicholson writes:

"Why then turn from a nerd to a killer? That is, unfortunately, very simple. More women love killers than nerds. Being a killer today is more socially and sexually rewarding than being a "good guy". Countless women write love letters and beg for conjugal visits to death row inmates (see here). Even Holmes himself has already begun collecting adoring female fans on Twitter who think he is 'hot', 'sexy', and 'cute'"

This idea may seem a little extreme, but if you read the comments you’ll get a sense of how many men feel ostracized, rejected, invisible to women.

Ostracism is painful. The lack of human interaction, as in solitary confinement, is one of the most distressing experiences  that a person can undergo. It’s this experience, one of rejection, insignificance, and invisibility, that the male gaze in media often depicts.

  • A painting: A nude woman, looking away.
  • A scene from a film: A beautiful woman walks toward the camera. The camera’s eye lingers on her. She doesn’t acknowledge it; she withholds her gaze.  The camera follows her longingly as she walks away.

A long time ago, I worked as a girl in a glass booth, in an X-rated movie theater. A man could buy a ticket, $10 for seven minutes. Then I would go into my little closet, and he would go into his, with a big, glass window between us. In person, I’m a pretty introverted and reluctant conversationalist, so I didn’t think I’d be very good at this job. (I was right.) But an older gentleman who worked at the theater gave me some excellent advice. He said, “If you want to make a lot of money at this job, just go in there and tell every man, ‘You have the most beautiful penis I’ve ever seen.’”

That’s it. That’s the elusive female gaze.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

the female gaze

I've been reading about the concept of the male gaze, and finding the idea just as perverse and troubling as you might imagine.

What is the male gaze and why is it a problem? Being viewed, observed, regarded, by men, is somehow damaging to women. It's similar to the idea that a woman's virginity is her purity. If she has sex with a man, she becomes polluted. The concept of the male gaze extends this idea so that even being looked at by a man damages the woman and causes her to lose value.

I propose two truths regarding men's experience of the female gaze. 1. Men crave the female gaze;
2. Women injure men by denying them the gaze.

If you've ever been around men, you've seen men trying to earn the female gaze. How do they do it? They try to be good enough at something to earn her attention. This might include displays of humor or intelligence. Often, men display skills, especially skills that are dangerous (skateboard tricks), or skills that took a lot of practice to develop (musical expertise).

If you observe women in these situations, you'll note that many are pretty open in their disdain. They refuse to acknowledge jokes, and look off into the distance with studied ennui as the men perform dangerous stunts. According to the unwritten rules of engagement, men aren't allowed to show that this hurts. By treating men as invisible, women are able to maintain a position of power. Even a putdown from a woman is often received with gratitude. It's less painful than invisibility.

It's not necessary that the woman in question be "hot," in case that's what you're thinking. Men crave the female gaze so much that they will perform like trained monkeys for almost any woman, younger or older, skinny or chunky, pretty or plain.

So, if the female gaze is received as a valued gift, what insight does this give us about the male gaze? Is this is just the old sluts vs. players schtick, only on a less corporeal plane? Does the female gaze build up, whereas the male gaze destroys?

If you really believe all that, let's talk about how it would be if men suddenly deprived women of their gaze. How would be if men simply forced women to work for their gaze, the way women do with men?

Next time.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Last night I had a sexy dream about one of the characters from my novel. We weren't actually having intercourse, more making out and cuddling, very vivid and sensual. I woke up in total bliss, feeling like I'd been given a tremendous gift.

Is this a common experience? I've never heard of it from other writers. Maybe it happens to everyone but it's the sort of thing you're supposed to keep private.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

I'm working on a novel, trying to write 1000 words and/or 2 hours per day, and I've noticed something surprising. On the days when I write, colors look brighter. On the nights after I write, the sky is a bright, jewel-toned blue, and street lights are surrounded by a misty halo.

I don't mean this figuratively. I mean that the world literally appears different, almost like an acid trip (but much less intense). I've never heard of this as a side-effect of writing.

When I was in my early twenties, I tried to write a novel. I had to stop because it gave me nightmares, horrible nightmares, about killing babies and rivers of blood and injured animals. I was terrified to go to bed. They stopped as soon as I stopped writing. I haven't had anything like that this time, thank goodness. I've had vivid dreams, but only nice ones, and the strange perception with the colors, which I absolutely love.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

I listened to a podcast by John Crowley, my favorite author, today and it made me mad.

The book I love the most in the world is Crowley’s Engine Summer. It’s the story (spoiler alert) of a young man who makes a terrible sacrifice. He allows his consciousness to be trapped, forever, in a crystal ball. As Crowley explains, he is trapped like a fly in an ice cube. He is only briefly and occasionally allowed to inhabit a living person’s body in order to tell his story, but this enables an entire culture to learn a deep, meaningful method of communication. It’s a heartbreaking and lovely idea, revealed only at the end of a complex and inventive plot, when all the pieces of evidence fall together like bricks into an inevitable edifice.

So, I listened to this podcast, and Crowley was kind of dumping on Engine Summer. I had read previously that, of the books he has authored, his own favorite is Little, Big. Well, I love Little, Big, too. Not long ago, I had my daughter rolling with laughter when I did a dramatic reading of the passage where George Mouse stalks and kills the changeling. But Little, Big doesn’t pierce my heart the way Engine Summer does.

I found myself wanting to argue with Crowley. In fact, I was pretty ticked off at him. He talked about Engine Summer as if it were just a silly attempt to predict the future. No! It’s a book about the nature of humanity (both animal and angel, as Otto Rank wrote), about the connections and barriers between people, about love and sacrifice, mortality and immortality.

It was an absurd experience, feeling the urgent need to debate someone I so admire, for criticizing his own creation. Pretty silly, huh?