Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Saturday

Gray day over here, everyone is still asleep. The Brooklyn Baby Baby sometimes sleeps in a bit when it's overcast outside, because the sunlight doesn't peer into her room quite so much. I am kind of embarassed to note that all these months later instead of shades or curtains in her window we have a torn-out black plastic garbage bag to keep out the light. It mostly works, but doesn't look all that great.


In the name of having a better life, I have made the effort to think more positively within the past few days. I would really, really like to keep moving in that direction. I remember not long ago I saw a local dad that I know and I asked him how he was doing. We were both at the playground. He smiled and said, "couldn't be better!" The look of contentment on his face as he said it first took me aback and then inspired me.

That day I started to say this to myself: "couldn't be better!" I even made it a status update on Facebook. This simple act seemed almost revolutionary to me. (And not just to me, I actually got a comment from someone to that Facebook post. The responder was kind of shocked I could write something so optimistic on a Monday!)

You see, I'm not typically the most bright-eyed of guys. I have always, in fact, enjoyed a bit of a jaundiced view, even as I maintain a bit of optimism about things and people. This, I believe, is the central paradox of being a journalist: you are both cynic and idealist at the same time, with more of both than most people. You believe to doubt so many things, but never doubt that things are really worth fighting for. At its best this is what the profession is about anyway.


So this is my goal: realign my thoughts, build a fortress of positive thought around myself. At this point my fortress is about as well put together as the straw hut in the three little pigs but I used to have no hut at all. But life lived that way is so much harder, so much less fun. Writing this blog more, tell you the truth, helps me. Every morning I do something that is simply, selfishly, a pleasure. I get to express myself freely in words, without any fear of repurcusion, or need to please anyone. Or even need to prove what I think or assert, unless I want to. Instead I simply can write and figure out how I feel about things. (That's a great quote, btw, I recently read, but I forget who said it. The effect was they said they write in order to understand what they think about things, not that they understand things and then write about it. This is how I feel too. I often surprise myself when I actually try to tease out an idea on paper, or the screen I guess. What I felt I didn't understand can become more clear as I write it down, and sometimes things I thought I knew crumble under the weight of writing about them.)


Last night Randi and I (or is it Randi and me? I always get this wrong) had a very cool discussion about many of the great male writers of the 20th century: Hemingway, Miller, Mailer, that crowd. Even Bukowski, perhaps my recent favorite of this bunch, got thrown into the mix too.

Maybe I've haven't read them in long enough but I couldn't help circling back to a recent "Vanity Fair" essay by James Wolcott, where he talks about how Mailer's central weakness was that he seemed deep down to neither understand women, nor like them. Expanding on this theme I had to grant that the same could be said of both Hemingway and Miller, with the former being a little bit better on the topic of the female of the species than the latter.

Hemingway, at least, had one all-time great female character in Lady Brett from "The Sun Also Rises." Miller? I can't remember any memorable females in any of the books of his that I have read, and I've read quite a few. This is a shame, because in Miller's personal life he was very sweet and often tender-hearted in his lengthy correspondence with Anais Nin. Their letters to one another are a real treat to read, and at times he seems to worship her. But when you read "Tropic of Cancer" you would be hard pressed to find any admirable or even memorable ladies in its pages. Or, for that matter, you'd be hard pressed to find any other memorable men, either. The guy's ego and solipsism were pretty much off the charts at that point.

And Hemingway's female characters, from what I read, seemed to get less and less complex over time. "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is hundreds of pages long, but I'll be damned if I can remember one line of dialogue that the hero's Spanish girlfriend says. I can't even remember her name. All I can remember is that he called her his rabbit. Or maybe it was "little rabbit?" Someone out there, probably, will let me know.

After a while I simply had to ask: what the hell was wrong with these guys? Why did they seem to, there is no other way to think about it, hate women so much? It pisses me off, because it really seems like an Achilles Heel that they all shared. And these were great writers. But they could have been greater still.

Randi said she believed these guys were threatened by the nascent female empowerment and sexuality that started to bubble to the surface in the 20th century. Even flappers, anachronistic as they seem today, were on the vanguard of social change in the 20s. Instead of embracing this, it's possible a lot of tight-assed guys ultimately felt scared by this. This makes a certain amount of sense.

I also ended the night by thinking that even if all these guys were assholes to women, and they were, that it's pointless to judge them today based on contemporary standards. In some cases they wrote about this stuff 80 years ago. It was a different world, and a different time.


Interestingly I feel Bukowski comes off the best in this bunch when it comes to the ladies. Yes, he was a drunk, often loutish asshole much of the time, but at least his women were recognizably people. And over time he mellowed and the sharp, sometimes actively unpleasant edges started to come off.

If you want to read a really sweet book by him, and, yes, I said sweet, try "Hollywood." It was written towards the end of his life, when he had finally found some degree of success and comfort, after decades of madness and poverty. He is happily married (crazy right? Him?) and along for the ride as they shoot the movie "Barfly."

I recommend.

I would write more but Stella Rae woke up early today. And now she's crying for me to come and get her. Good morning!

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