Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Snobbery and Hipocrisy!

Here’s a thing I’m occasionally forced to admit: I am a snob.

This is, perhaps, unsurprising to some of you who have met me in real life. I suffer from that well-known disease, Resting Bitch Face Syndrome. Apologies to my parents, but it’s a genetic condition. Several people have told me that they thought I hated them when they first encountered me, because my default facial expression makes me look like I’m pooh-poohing everyone and everything around me. The truth is that I am only doing this about 25 percent of the time.

When I am, it tends to be because people are in the process of telling me that they are in the midst of reading the Fifty Shades of Grey series, anything by Nicholas Sparks (the king of white people almost kissing), or the latest Kardashian publication. This is funny because I’ve gone on record several times as saying that I believe people should read anything that appeals to them rather than following some prescribed list, as well as because I am nothing if not a fan of the trashy romance novel (mainly of the Regency persuasion).

But when I get to an open mic event and someone reads their maudlin, poorly-rhymed, unlearned poetry that was influenced by Billy Collins or a spirit journey to the desert or the really awful time they had with addiction/cancer/dying pets, I judge the writer and then I tune out their words. It’s a horrible way to act as an audience member, and I know this because I’ve been on the wrong side of a less-than-enthusiastic crowd in the past.

There’s something in me, though, that cannot accept hearing a piece written in such a way. I’m all for artistic expression, especially as a healing tool. Simply committing words to the page, however, does not make it poetry, nor does it make the thing fit for public consumption.

This is a sort of long-winded way of saying that we all need to be careful about what we put out into the world. No matter how heartfelt your efforts, you cannot create something worthwhile by running the poetry playbook (rhyme, meter, alliteration, and so on) and applying it to whatever topic springs to mind. That’s what a diary is for. Even the so-called “confessional poets” (Lowell, Sexton, Plath, and their contemporaries) were able to turn their psychic wounds into something better for themselves and their readers and connect with them without falling completely into the self-obsession trap or--more importantly--the sentimental trap. Sentimental verse is great for greeting cards. It’s not useful in a poetry collection.

Lest I should sound like a complete jerk, I readily admit that I struggle with this in my own writing. I’m absolutely self-centered when it comes to producing poetry. I’ve never written a single poem that wasn’t at least partly about me and my hang-ups. But I want to bridge that gap between my interior life and my reader’s sensibilities, and so I work hard to make it happen. This isn’t my way of tooting my own horn; it’s simply my way of encouraging others to take a similar approach in order to avoid alienating their audience with a simplistic rhyme scheme and platitudes.

Of course, I’m likely judging everyone too harshly, given the quality--or lack thereof--of my own poetry, and for that I apologize. But as someone who loves the written word, I want to read and hear the best work possible, and I hope this will nudge some authors in a more polished direction.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Let My Dog Chew on My Shoes So You Don’t Have To, Or, the Absurdity of Non-Experience

Slate, the Gawker family of sites, and a few other outlets are big on publishing the type of article that starts out, “I [insert random activity here] So You Don’t Have To.” The author often undertakes some onerous task, such as reading a celebrity autobiography (possibly in a meta way, if Bethenny Frankel is involved), viewing a highly-unanticipated television show or film, or sampling the latest trendy food. Sometimes a new, questionable beauty treatment is involved.

While I don’t object to these articles in full--they do, after all, fulfill a purpose in the form of a review--I do think it’s odd that so many media types find it necessary to blatantly judge a product. Sometimes, it seems as though the writer is saying, “I am a gatekeeper and these are the reasons why.” Gatekeeping is, however, something that contributes to a lack of interpersonal understanding and, frankly, elitism.

I’m not the type of person to seek out, say, the complete works of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi. Although she has certainly grown as a person over the past few years, I don’t find her appealing at all, and therefore I have no desire to read her books. By the same token, I don’t need anyone summarizing her output for me. This isn’t elementary school, and no book reports are necessary.

Similarly, if a consumer has a secret soft spot for beauty advice from the Kardashians, she doesn’t need some “tastemaker” who has never met her judging her from a distance for purchasing an eyeshadow palette from Kardashian Beauty.

There are some non-experiences we should appreciate: refraining from murder, human trafficking, or starting up a meth lab, for example. These, however, we can learn from fictional works and serious journalism rather than from snooty people who think their tastes are highbrow.

And for the record, while I may have let my dog chew on my shoes (she quite enjoyed them) for the sake of saving my mother’s shoes from the ravages of puppy teeth, I think everyone can more or less figure out for themselves what is good or bad. Give us a little credit.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Holding Your Tongue

Recently, I had an interview for a job at the cosmetics counter of a local department store. Phase one was a phone interview, and when the woman on the other end asked me why I wanted to work in cosmetics, I began my response with, “Not to buy too much into the beauty myth, but.” Amazingly, I was invited to interview in person, although I didn’t end up getting the job.

I was surprised to have the opportunity to meet the next person in the chain of command because running my jaw tends to get me in trouble. Throughout the years, I’ve said all sorts of things I shouldn’t. A few times, serious consequences have followed. Holding my tongue seems to be the best strategy, but it’s easier said than done, if you’ll forgive the cliché.

Fictional characters are lucky. They can say what they want with impunity from the author. (Other characters? Not so much.) I encourage writers to try out all sorts of dialogue for their characters. It may help you find the right voice for that character or even the best direction for the story. In some cases, doing so could be therapeutic for you, the writer, but it can also be dangerous.

Sylvia Plath agonized over the autobiographical nature of her novel The Bell Jar. Anyone who has ever drawn inspiration from their own lives will know a bit of that feeling. In Plath’s case, she was able to make her characters come alive on the page through drawing from tics of family, friends, and acquaintances. She took the extra step of first publishing under a pseudonym. Her ultimate success has, perhaps, proved her literary instincts correct.

But if you’re like me, you tread carefully to forego any drama. We can create enough of that in our day-to-day lives without adding to it on the page. Still, we should never be afraid to explore the possibilities, so long as we’re willing to rein it in and protect others while still remaining true to our artistic vision.