the kurt cobain hair simulator
tender age in bloom...
the kurt cobain hair simulator
When I was a teenager, into my early twenties, most of my friends were boys. I dismissed or stifled socially coded feminine interests like fashion, makeup, cooking, dancing, processing emotions, practicing self care. I was more interested in sex, and metalwork, and urban exploration, and fighting. Girls were too soft, and bitchy, and I felt alienated among them. I wanted to DO things, not talk about them.
Now, when I look back, I think about how much I missed out on because of my internalized misogyny. Most of the people I spend time with now are women- in fact, now I can count my masculine-of-center friends on one hand, while my femme friends are numerous. If anything, it’s a complete 180- most of the people I have close to me are femmes. I talk to my mother more often than my dad. I work with mostly femmes, I live with another woman, most of the groups on FB I interact with are femme-centric. Even my interest in metalwork is turning towards working with other women.
Sometimes I wonder what shifted. How did I go from being “one of the boys” to unapologetically femme focused?
I think it started when I started doing sex work activism. Being around a group of women doing activism to help marginalized women together was incredibly healing for me for a while. And then, I think it was underlined when I started doing consent activism, as I began to shy away from sex positivity into a more critical stance and began to unpack the various ways in which patriarchy affects consent, communication, and what we consider valuable. I began to realize all the unpaid emotional labour that I was expected to do, in order to cushion the lives of “well meaning”, “feminist” men, who felt so BAD about their privilege and wanted to be reassured that they were “nice guys”. I bristled every time a man spoke over me, or assumed I wanted to flirt with them, or that I was available to them.
And I started to notice just how often it happened.
Not just to me, though that was plenty overwhelming. It also happened to all the women I knew, whether it was a partner, a family member, a coworker, a friend. And I noticed how often any attempt to discuss how frustrating it was outside of a women-only space would be derailed into men protesting they weren’t like that, and anyway what could they possibly be expected to do about it, masculinity was a rough gig too after all, didn’t we feel for them?
This was particularly telling on Facebook. I can’t even explain how often I say something out of frustration to my friends/acquaintances (mostly women, anymore) about banning men, and suddenly a man, sometimes not even a friend but a friend of a friend, will pop by to pipe up with “not all men!”, like my declaring a ban on men on my Facebook wall will mean that all men will be summarily destroyed. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of goddesslike power. Sorry to disappoint, y’all.
When this happened, I’d glance at the guy’s timeline. So often, that man wasn’t using his own space to talk to other men about toxic masculinity. He wasn’t taking time out of his day to critique other men. Sometimes, even, he would defend his right to say “bitches are crazy” because he was a Good Feminist Guy and obviously it was a JOKE and geez why did everyone jump on him for expressing himself?
They never seemed to see the irony, that they were coming to MY playground, expecting me to engage in unpaid emotional labour on my own time for their Fee-Fees about masculinity, time they couldn’t be bothered to make on their own.
I’m just fed up with that, to be honest. Being on guard 24/7 is a tiring way to exist. Being on call to play therapist, mother, lover and teacher is exhausting and draining and thankless. I witness so many amazing women, and femmes in particular, being expected to take on that emotional toil on such a regular basis, expected to caretake and educate and be compassionate and kind and always available. I have found when it’s a community of femmes, it’s great (mostly, though there’s been issues about racism/classism/ableism/other isms in some groups). Ideally, we can all do that for each other, and have it done for us in turn. Talking to other femmes has been healing, validating, safe, comforting. I don’t feel like I have to be constantly wary for That Guy the way I feel I have to be on guard in the general population. It’s safer space.
The sad truth is, I cannot trust even the men I care about the most to necessarily be present for me emotionally the way I can trust the femmes in my life to be. It’s not entirely their fault, sure- they’re trained into having emotional voids and lack of self awareness. But this is a cold, cruel world, and we all need a lot of reassurance in it. I have found it’s my femme pack who is there for me in times of sobbing hysterics or heartbroken uncertainty- there is almost always someone who is able to hold my hand and talk me through this panic attack or that nightmare or this other relationship trauma. Men, even the best men, try, but it doesn’t occur to them to reach out or to comfort to the extent femmes can and will. As someone who gives a lot of that kind of love out, having people around me who return that love so readily is a precious resource.
The most difficult obstacle I’ve found myself coming against in the process of centering other femmes is the cultural training to see them as competition. I have been scared of other women, scared of feminine judgment of my body or my choices. But as I’ve been practicing reaching out, particularly to women I feel intimidated by, and expressing both ownership of what issues I bring to the table and my discomfort/impression, alongside a desire to get to know these women better rather than indulge these anxious feelings. And you know what? It’s been amazing. Rather than being caught up in my fantasies of how these women think of me and being avoidant, we both create space to be vulnerable and to hear each other out, and in doing so, dismantle that notion of competitiveness between us. Becoming friends with my boyfriend’s girlfriends/exes has been so incredibly healthy for me, as I unlearn some of my fear and jealousy to replace it with femme solidarity and support.
I’m finding more and more that my femme friends are my greatest allies. And that if eventually we do form a bunker banning all men… I think I could be pretty happy in there. Femme solidarity gives me life.
(Note- when I talk about femmes, I’m not just meaning cis women- some of the closest femmes to me are genderqueer. I differentiate sometimes between women and femmes, because they are not one and the same.And when I talk about men, or masculinity, I don’t just mean cis men, though often, yes.)
Want to raise up femme power and pay for femme emotional labour? Support my Patreon!
For a chart about male characters, this was surprisingly useful!
Appropriation != appreciation.
when they want the thick hair but not the thick eyebrows
when they want the ‘forehead jewel’ but not the ‘dothead’
when they want the tan skin but not the darkest of night
when they want the third eye but not the perspective
when they want the bangles but not the troubles
when they want the flavor but not the smell
when they want to practice but not understand
when they want the trend but not the history
when they want the benefits but not the disadvantages
when they want the light but not the heat
when they want the culture but not you
Oh, and the whole recent "by the way, you no longer have Like/Follow/Reblog/Dashboard" buttons in the top-right, because we replaced all of that with a LOOK, DID YOU KNOW U CAN LEIK TOTALLY SEARCH INSIDE OF TEH BLOGZ?" bar... well, that was the final straw for me. I ragequit tumblr and unless things get majorly unfucked, I won't go back.
seriously tumblr, i will pay you money to make this stop.
i will pay for no ads, for a messaging system that works, and for you to stop recommending blogs to me.
i’ve been here 8 years. i will do this. please take me up on it.
The eyeliner, though...
Mad Max: Fury Road + Popular Text Posts
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY MUSIC
I really really don’t like the he old “Don’t like it? Make it yourself” chestnut. It’s lazy and dumb. Think about this: if a bunch of tall men said to car manufacturers “Your cars are too cramped for us.” No one would say “Make your own cars, freakshows.” No one who designed, say, dishwashers or homes or computers would have that sort of dialogue with consumers. So why are people in the creative arts allowed to say things like that?
I suppose you could argue artists should get special dispensation because artistic vision is sacred, but I think there are two problems with that: 1.) You have to argue that engineers, designers, architects, etc. aren’t artists. But I would argue that a decent amount of artistry goes into designing even something like, say, a refrigerator. 2.) When an artist becomes popular, she’s not creating her art in a vacuum. She’s profiting from it. She is necessarily in a give and take relationship with the people who consume her product.
I understand why people get very sniffy about keeping artistic vision “pure.” People staying absolutely true to their vision sounds right and the idea of our vaunted genius-artists compromising their artistic vision sounds terrible. But I think that when you become a popular artist, it’s actually quite fair for your fans to make demands as reasonable as “Hey, could you make your make your next episode less rapey?” (Yes, people in the “Princess” thread, I’m looking at you.)
I can afford to stay 100% true to my artistic vision, because I don’t have an audience–no one is reading my erotic slashfic “T-Rex Takes Clippy.” But once I start selling, you’re damn right I’ll listen to my readers. And if they want me to make it clearer that the sex between a dinosaur and computer icon is consensual, I will happily comply, artistic vision be damned, and thank you for your money.
Theatre for One in Times Square (courtesy Theatre for One)
In the mobile black box of Theatre for One, there is only one audience member for each of the seven rotating plays. The four-by-eight space is sparsely staged, with a built-in red velvet seat on one side and a folding chair for the performer on the other, and a wall that opens and closes between, revealing the viewer and actor to each other.
Theatre for One in the Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am, the current cycle of performances in the mobile theater, presented by Arts Brookfield, opened this week at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place in Battery Park City. Through June 6 the performances are traveling around Manhattan, with a stop at Zuccotti Park and Midtown’s Grace Building Plaza. All of the plays are free, you just have to line up and be prepared for one of the most personal theater experiences of your life.
Theatre for One evolved from an initial prototype created in 2003, the vision of artistic director Christine Jones, better known as a set designer for Broadway shows like Spring Awakening and American Idiot. The current tiny four-by-eight theater built by LOT-EK is a sort of cross between a peep show and a confessional box. Every experience is unique, and you don’t know what you are going to get when you are closed inside the box. It could be comedy, tragedy, a love story, or a self-aware monologue on the awkwardness of such a confined space.
Theatre for One in the Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Theatre for One in the Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The newly commissioned pieces include some high-profile playwrights like Craig Lucas, nominated for a Tony for his American in Paris libretto, and Lynn Nottage who received a Pulitzer for Drama in 2009 for Ruined. Each play is only about five to seven minutes, and the three I saw varied from comedic to tragic. In Zayd Dohrn’s “Love Song,” directed by Jenny Koons, actor Kevin Mambo looked into my eyes and told the story of a teenage crush that drove his character to learn the guitar, the story accompanied by Mambo’s music, strummed beneath the lights of the red room. The next play, “Lizzy,” directed and written by Josè Rivera, was performed by Marisol Miranda as if I were a friend with her at lunch, the ambient noise of a restaurant filtering through the speakers as she told me about the devastating terminal illness of her mother. Finally Will Eno’s “Late Days in the Era of Good Feelings,” directed by Brian Mertes and performed by Erin Gann, brooded on the awkwardness of our shared situation and riffed a bit on the absurdities New York theater can take with its unexpected spaces, with Gann apologizing: “I thought we were going to be in a bank vault.”
Erin Gann performing in Will Eno’s “Late Days in the Era of Good Feelings” (photo by Darial Sneed, courtesy of Arts Brookfield)
A warning to introverts, all the plays involved intense amounts of eye contact, the lighting giving the actors’ pupils a starry light, although physically neither of us crossed the dividing line between audience and stage. I’ve been to my fair share of offbeat theater experiences, including, um, Sleep No More over 20 times, almost each of those involving some moment with an actor behind a closed door where briefly the performance is exclusively for a sole person. However, Theatre for One gives its power by not immersing us in the world of a narrative: you’re immediately stepping out of chaotic New York into this small space where your attention is only on this person, with no transporting set or fellow audience members to ease your role. It’s intimidating to suddenly be as much in the spotlight as the actor, but rewarding in offering a moment to really engage with a story and a stranger.
Theatre for One in the Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Theatre for One’s traveling stage (courtesy Theatre for One)
Theatre for One: I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am continues at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place (230 Vesey Street, Battery Park City, Manhattan) through May 24. It is then at Zuccotti Park (Broadway and Liberty Street, Financial District, Manhattan) May 27 to 31, and Grace Building Plaza (1114 Avenue of the Americas, Midtown, Manhattan).
Le vidéaste Clemens Wirth, qui nous avait déjà gratifié d’une courte vidéo dans laquelle il expérimentait les lois de la gravité, nous offre cette fois-ci le film de son road trip à travers l’Irlande. Les paysages routiers, maritimes et ruraux s’enchaînent au rythme du titre « Your Wish » de Talisco. Une véritable invitation à s’y rendre.
Despite all my rage...
(photo via mranthony101)
You hopefully recall the case of Tamir Rice, the sixth-grader killed by a Cleveland police officer last November even though the 911 caller who reported that the boy had a gun told the dispatcher it was "probably fake." This is the case where the police pulled up right next to the kid, hopped out and shot him within two seconds of stopping, and then knocked down and handcuffed his 14-year-old sister when she tried to run to him. All captured in the first two minutes of this surveillance-camera video.
This doesn't make it worse, I guess, because how could it? But it's awful.
Shaun King originally posted the document below on May 20, saying it had been recently obtained from the Cleveland PD. It appears to be an incident report completed on November 29, a week after the shooting (the 5/20 date in the top right is presumably when it was printed). Some reports describe this as a charging document, but it seems unlikely that anyone would actually have considered charging Tamir Rice with anything, if only because he had been dead for a week. This is probably just a bureaucrat filling out a form, but it is still a chilling if no longer very surprising look at how police view incidents like these.
Here are the takeaways:
Gustave Courbet, “L’Origine du Monde” (1866) (animated GIF by the author)
It’s been more than four years since French teacher Frédéric Durand-Baïssas, after posting a link to a documentary about Gustave Courbet’s “L’Origine du Monde” (1866) on Facebook, returned to the social network to find the post removed and his profile suspended. The link had included an image of the risqué painting, which Facebook’s censors took for pornography. The legal battle that began six weeks later endures; most recently, a court in Paris ruled that it has the authority to hear the case, despite Facebook’s insistence that, per the terms and conditions that every user must sign when joining, all its legal cases must be tried and decided in California.
“I was really very angered that a 19th-century French painter, whose work is in the Musée d’Orsay, should be treated as a pornographer,” Durand-Baïssas told the Europe 1 radio station. “This fight is to defend Courbet, condemned by the Americans, even though we are in France and he’s in the Musée d’Orsay.” He was due back in court today, where Facebook is appealing the Parisian tribunal’s decision.
Acknowledging that the protracted legal battle has been both trying and costly, Durand-Baïssas is now seeking €20,000 (~$22,200) in damages from Facebook and to have his profile reinstated. “Facebook has a very Anglo-Saxon conception of freedom of expression,” Durand-Baïssas’s attorney, Stéphane Cottineau, added. “On Facebook we can read homophobic and racist comments, or comments that praise terrorism, but we don’t have the right to see a thigh or a bit of breast in a nude photo.”
In the four years since Durand-Baïssas’s run-in with Facebook’s censors, they have racked up an embarrassing track record, censoring painted gloves, realist watercolor paintings, photos of butt cracks, and more. It got so bad that a Facebook glitch last month was widely assumed to be the doing of the social media site’s overzealous censors. Nevertheless, a Facebook spokesperson reassured the Independent that “photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures” do not risk being censored anymore, and even Courbet’s painting “wouldn’t pose a problem today.”
It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:*
Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee getting Emmy buzz for her work on the Sundance miniseries “The Honourable Woman,” reveals that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man.
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said during an interview for an upcoming issue of TheWrap Magazine. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
Leaving aside the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal being 37 makes me 103, it’s amazing how deeply institutional Hollywood sexism runs. How on earth is 37 too old for a 55 year old man? The only solution for this is to pair up Clint Eastwood and Emma Stone as a couple. Now that makes sense.
*Let’s hope this post isn’t too forthright about sex for Google.
Remember when Mark Zuckerberg declared that the age of privacy was over?
Well, that was before he spent $100 million on 750 acres of Kauai North Shore plantation and beachfront, the majority of which will sit undeveloped in order to provide a buffer between his private retreat and the public who might want to pry into his life.
That’s in addition to the four houses he bought around his home in Silicon Valley, which sit empty, providing an exclusion zone that protects him against prying eyes.
Then there was the time he flipped out because his sister screwed up her (deliberately over-complicated and difficult-to-understand) Facebook privacy settings and shared a photo of a private family moment.
When Mark Zuckerberg (or Eric Schmidt) declares privacy to be dead, they’re not making an observation, they’re making a wish. What they mean is, “If your privacy was dead, I would be richer.”
The best use for Facebook is to teach people why they should leave Facebook.”
i gots leaf
The Illuminator projected “Koch = Climate Chaos” on the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 9, 2014. (image via Occupy Museums)
This week Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle, and Yates McKee, members of the Illuminator Art Collective, filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York alleging false arrest and improper seizure of Illuminator Collective property by the New York Police Department’s Central Park Precinct.
On September 9, 2014, members of the Illuminator Art Collective were arrested outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the inauguration of the David H. Koch Plaza. All three members who filed the civil suit were arrested during the evening protest by members of the NYPD’s Central Park Precinct, and they were released four hours later, though the police kept the Illuminator Collective’s projector as “arrest evidence” for an additional two months and 10 days. Depew, Earle, and McKee were charged at the time of their arrest for “Unlawful Posting of Advertisements,” a charge that was later dismissed by a Manhattan Criminal Court judge.
In their court filing, the three Illuminator members allege that the unlawful seizure of their property constituted prior restraint on speech. They are being represented by civil rights attorney Samuel B. Cohen of Stecklow Cohen & Thompson.
“[T]he First Amendment was established to ensure that the government could not use its power to restrain speech on the basis of its message, or the identity of the speaker,” Cohen said in a statement. “In this case, Deputy Inspector [Jessica] Corey [of the NYPD Central Park Precinct] apparently did both, unlawfully arresting Illuminator Collective members to stop them from lawfully speaking truth to power, and unlawfully seizing their projector as ‘evidence’ in support of a trumped-up charge to prevent them from engaging in further speech activities within her command.”
The group says the seizure of property stopped members of the Illuminator Art Collective from participating in various planned protest actions, including the People’s Climate March in September 2014.
“We were charged with ‘Illegal Posting of Advertisements,’ which was obviously used as a ploy to remove us from the scene before our message was met by too many eyes,” Earle told Hyperallergic. “If you really dissect that charge, though, you see how nefarious the whole thing really is. The charge stipulates, in a nutshell, that we permanently affixed something to the surface and stood to benefit financially from that action. Obviously neither of these apply to us whatsoever, as we are using video projection and certainly weren’t standing to gain any commercial success from our endeavor … if you look at what David H. Koch was doing that night — permanently inscribing his name on more or less public land, as the Met sits atop Central Park, and doing so obviously benefits him financially, considering he brands his multibillion-dollar company with his own name, ‘Koch Industries.’ He is now using the Met as his advertising space, and somehow we were the ones arrested for illegally posting advertisements. The Met should be ashamed of this classless move to rent ad space to a climate denier, and financial father of the Tea Party.”
|Courtney shared this story from Super Opinionated.|
people who tell me i shouldn’t drink lava: the media
people who lie: the media
conclusion: i am going to drink lava
I am a geologist with no association to the media and I would not recommend drinking lava
Get a load of Big Geology trying to oppress the voice of the people. Teach the controversy. Drink the lava.
|Courtney shared this story from Super Opinionated.|
A Crime of Fashion ~ Nov 15, 1938
On Nov. 9, 1938, Helen Hulick, 28, wore slacks during a court appearance to testify against two men. Her case was rescheduled and Hullick was asked by Judge Arthur S. Guerin to next time wear a dress.
Hulick was quoted in the Nov. 10, 1938, Los Angeles Times saying, “You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress I won’t do it. I like slacks. They’re comfortable.”
After Hulick’s next court appearance, the Nov. 15, 1938, Los Angeles Times reported:
In a scathing denunciation of slacks – which he prosaically termed pants–as courtroom attire for women, Municipal Judge Arthur S. Guerin yesterday again forbade Helen Hulick, 28, kindergarten teacher, to testify as a witness while dressed in a green and orange leisure attire.
Miss Hulick, who Thursday was ordered to return to court in a dress, was called to testify by Dep. Dist. Atty. Russell Broker against two [men] accused of burglarizing her home.
After she was sworn in as a witness, Judge Guerin stopped the proceedings and declared:
“The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches than the legal business at hand. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure.
“Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It’s time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct.
“The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court.”
Slack-shrouded Miss Hulick was accompanied by Attorney William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations to appear in whatever dress she chose.
“Listen,” said the young woman, “I’ve worn slacks since I was 15. I don’t own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that’s okay with me.
“I’ll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism.”
The next day Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt. Given a five-day sentence, Hulick was sent to jail.
via <a href="http://latimes.com" rel="nofollow">latimes.com</a>
This comic was originally created for Everyday Feminism here.
I have yet to meet a woman in a relationship with another woman who hasn’t encountered a guy suggesting a threesome. Hey dude, what’s up with taking the one of the only possible configurations of sex and intimacy that doesn’t involve you as a demographic, and then just mentally shoving yourself in the middle of it?
Once upon a time, I took a creative writing class with Paul Griner. It was 2008, and I was a new PhD student in the Humanities program at the University of Louisville. Paul, then the director of the creative writing program in English, had his own students to attend to, but he continued to take an active interest in my writing life long after our semester together was done. Soon after that first class, I took what must have been the most important directed study of my college career. In it, Paul challenged me to write fiction in order to better understand myself as a creative nonfiction writer. To my surprise and delight, this via negativa approach worked! I developed a deeper and more nuanced understanding of essay and memoir as a result of Paul’s guidance during my first official fiction-writing forays.
Now, in my own multi-genre creative writing class, I routinely teach Paul’s story, “The Bleating Lambs, Safe Beneath the Ewes,” which epitomizes everything he does best on the page. The work is compressed, surreal, haunting, and invariably invested in matters of life and death. Paul’s newest work only extends and enhances this literary legacy. Earlier this year, his third novel, Second Life, was released by Counterpoint, and this week his short story collection, Hurry Please I Want to Know was released by Sarabande Books. Lucky for me, he still found a little time for a reunion.
The Rumpus: I remember years ago asking you about the relationship between your writing life and your real life. I was trying to keep the question laid-back and open-ended, but what I really wanted to know is what I think a lot of memoirists want to know about their friends who live in short story and novel country: how much “non” do you stir into your fiction? Do people from your life ever make cameos on the page? Do you ever write about yourself in disguise?
Paul Griner: An interesting but difficult question. I’ll start at the end. I don’t ever write about myself in disguise, at least on a conscious level. I was talking to a good friend about this, also a writer, about the difficulty of writing directly from experience. The problem for him—as it is for me—is that the resulting fiction often sounds less like fiction and more like a diatribe or an explanation or a whine. I guess it comes down to this: I don’t find myself all that interesting. I’m far more interested in other people, real or imagined, and they’re the ones who populate my fiction.
As for people from my life making it into my fiction, well, that’s tricky too. Very early on, I wrote a story called “Grass,” which came out in my first collection Follow Me. The main character is a man who lived much of his life in his older brother’s considerable shadow and now spends his waning days taking care of the family graves, including his brother’s. It was loosely based on my great uncle, who was both a very private man and very kind to me. When I was a boy, he took me often to baseball games, taught me how to record a game on a scorecard, et cetera. When I was an adult, he took me around to all the family graves and told me the stories behind each person. I meant the story as an homage to him, but after he read it, he sat down and wrote me a single sentence letter: I will never speak to you again.
It was devastating. I wrote him a long letter in response, and we eventually reconciled, but it spooked me. On the other hand, around the same time, I wrote a story about something that happened to my sister-in-law, and my wife suggested I change the character’s name. I did. When my sister-in-law read it, she said, How come you changed my name? So, I’m not sure what lesson to take from that, other than being very careful about which of your friends or relatives you sneak into your work.
But since then, consciously or not, I’ve rarely used anyone close to me as a character in one of my various fictions—rarely but not never. When my mother was dying, I spent time beside her bed, talking to her, reading to her, just being with her. She was at times coherent, at times not. She would often say things as she was fading in and out, and some were sweet, some painful to hear, and some very funny, sometimes unintentionally so. I wanted a record of that, and when I wrote a story a few years later, “Three Hundred Words of Grief,” I used a lot of those conversations. But I wouldn’t have done so if they didn’t work within the bounds of the story. It’s the final story in my collection, Hurry Please I Want to Know, which Sarabande will publish in May 2015.
Of course in a larger sense, all fiction is autobiographical. If our characters are distant from us in time or locale, of different backgrounds, genders, outlooks, we still must fill in their emotions and thoughts based on what we’ve experienced. The trick is to dig deep enough that such emotions, et cetera, become universal, applicable to anyone at any time.
And one of my favorite moments as a writer happened after a reading I gave from The German Woman. An older woman with a German accent approached me and told me that she’d had to put the book down when she read the scene about the fire bombing of Hamburg during World War II because she’d been a child when it happened and lived through it.
I began to apologize, saying that I’d tried through research to capture the event as realistically as possible, but I was certain to have been off in some ways, perhaps many.
No, she said. I stopped because you had it exactly right.
Which tells me that imagination is often better than pure experience.
Rumpus: Speaking as a memoirist and a confessional poet, I recognize the challenges you mention in writing from “pure experience”—the limitations of trying to transcribe any recollection or notion of a lived reality onto the page. Jeanette Winterson talks about the need to “translate experience into art,” and this strikes me as an imperative that transcends genres and invites a conversation about style.
The first story of yours I ever read is called “Sixty-Three Heads,” and it begins quite unexpectedly and compellingly with these words: “Each night I work on my father’s head, the moist clay staining my hands mahogany to the wrists.” When I went looking for that story again, I found a link to it from Pindeldyboz, a site that archives stories “which defy classification.” Do you see your stories this way?
My first experiences reading your work took me to literary journals and to stories like “Sixty-Three Heads,” “Balloon Rides Ten Dollars,” and “The Bleating Lambs, Safe Beneath the Ewes,” all of which I would classify as surreal in some sense or perhaps even as magical realist storytelling. Would you agree? Or perhaps the better question is how would you describe your style as a storyteller? What makes a signature Paul Griner story?
Griner: This has been a difficult question to answer, and not simply because stepping outside your own work and figuring out how to classify or describe it is rarely easy. Rather, it’s that I see different strains, different influences, running through my work, my writing, my reading, and so trying to sum them up is not easy.
Perhaps a somewhat linear narrative will help. I read always as a child, loved books and then, when I read The Great Gatsby in high school, knew I wanted to write. I made my way forward and backward in reading—Hemingway and Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and Jane Austen, Trollope, Dickens, Flaubert. Most of those writers are considered realists. I loved the Russians—Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, but also Turgenev and Babel. I moved between novels and stories. Then I began to read more widely—Jean Rhys, Katherine Mansfield and Katherine Porter, Faulkner, Flannery and Frank O’Connor. Then the South Americans, Borges, and, especially the great Brazilian Machado De Assis, an exact contemporary of Twain’s, but whose work reads as if it was just written. Other Brazilians followed, especially Clarice Lispector, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, and Lydia Fagundes Telles. And I read and read stories endlessly—Chekhov, Baldwin, William Trevor—and more modern masters,Wolff, Carver, Bowles—Paul and Jane—Murakami, Robison, and Barthelme. From that list, you can tell my influences have been all over the place, and I think my stories range pretty widely too. Some of the stories you mention are in the upcoming collection, some not; it’s a culling of nineteen years of work, about half experimental/surrealist, half straightforward realism. It took a long time to settle on which stories to include—and in this, Sarah Gorham, Jeff Skinner, and Kirby Gann at Sarabande were a great help—and even longer to figure out what order I wanted them in.
Deciding what holds them together is tougher still. Looking at the table of contents, I’d say they’re often concerned with the same issues or ideas or problems, whatever form the stories themselves take: the pleasures and pressures and constrictions and bounties of family life what we’re willing to do or to sacrifice in order to fit in or be accepted, to feel a sense of belonging; the immense human desire for friendship and the toll loneliness can take; the thrill of love; the enduring, ennobling and sometimes crippling power of memory. I hope all of them are entertaining and, possibly, enlightening. One final thing on the question of form: I don’t think about form when I’m writing. That is, the material tells me how it needs to be handled. Later, once the form is a given, I’ll edit accordingly, but during the writing it’s never a concern.
Rumpus: What you’ve described here as “all over the place,” in terms of both reading and writing, is something I relate to and greatly admire in the writers whose work I follow and seek to emulate. Your first story collection, Follow Me, and your first novel, Collectors, are the most similar in style in my estimation, given that they left me as a reader with a similarly haunted feeling, a pervasive unsettledness. I liked that feeling and went seeking more. The next novel, The German Woman, is still haunted, but in quite a different way. The book is heavily researched, as you mention above, and all told, it comprises some of the most powerful and incisive historical fiction I’ve read to date.
Now you have the forthcoming story collection from Sarabande, Hurry Please I Want to Know, as well as the recently released novel, Second Life, which ventures into decidedly dark and surreal terrain. I’d like to hear more about the novel—what inspired you to write it and in what ways your previous collections primed you to write it—but also how you balance the short story writing with the novel writing in your life. Debra Dean, another fiction writer I know and have interviewed in the past, speaks of her strong need to be “serially monogamous” with her writing projects. I suspect yours is a more many-pots-on-the-stove approach, but I’d like to know more. Do you write stories concurrently with novels? Does the short form bolster the long form or vice versa? In other words, help me better understand the capaciousness of your creative output.
Griner: I’m both monogamous and non, depending on where I am in my writing. When I’m drafting a novel, I sit down to it every day. It’s not that I can’t write a story during that time—especially a short one that seems irresistible—but it will have to wait until the novel is done for the day. Once I’m in revisions, I can and often do work on multiple projects at the same time: several stories, stories and a novel, etcetera. This last summer, in fact, I was working on two books at once, revisions for the stories in Hurry Please I Want To Know and for the novel Second Life. Partly that was due to production schedules, but partly it’s how I’ve always worked. For instance, some of the stories in this collection were written during the revising of The German Woman. But the different worlds and works do feed one another. Collectors began as a four page story, one I wanted to include in Follow Me, but my editor felt it wasn’t full enough, was a fragment rather than a story, and so I put it aside until I was done with the collection. Then I came back to it, and realized it was the end of something much longer, and wrote backwards from there. That turned into Collectors. And both the beginning of and the main character in Second Life came to me, after a fashion, during the writing and revising of The German Woman.
I’d grown up watching Alistair Cooke on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, his urbane British presence, so it was a shock to read headlines about his body being plundered, which came out about five years after his death. Though he was in his nineties when he died and died from cancer, his body, along with hundreds of others, was stripped for parts—skin, tendons, bone, et cetera—by an unscrupulous ring led by a dentist who’d lost his license. They would pay minimum wage workers in funeral homes and morgues a couple of hundred dollars to have access to corpses and then take what they knew they could sell—to implant surgeons, medical researchers, et cetera—for thousands of dollars. They’d kept meticulous records indicating that they forged death certificates for anyone over sixty, or who died of cancer or highly contagious diseases, which is how Cooke’s family was eventually notified of what had happened.
I read quite a bit about it at the time, but I was in the middle of writing and revising and still researching The German Woman, so eventually I stopped reading that and went back to working on the novel. After it was done, I began writing stories again, and in one of them, “Trapped in the Temple of Athena,” a minor character is a bone procurer. That story is in the Sarabande collection. After I finished it, I found myself still interested in her. How did she become a bone procurer? What’s that life like? What might it do to you to always be around the dead, and to see them—and sometimes the living—as a resource? Obviously such people help others—burn victims need skin, et cetera—but the gray areas are pretty large. And since that’s what I like to write and read about, it seemed natural to go back to this character, to write more about her, to research what her life might be like. And all of that turned into Second Life. She’s a quite different character than the one in the story collection, but that’s where she was born. It sounds fairly neat and orderly, describing it this way. But the process was pretty messy.
Rumpus: Your writing seems to be fueled, regardless of subject or style, by the question you’ve articulated here: “What’s that life like?” Would it be fair to call this a credo of your creative process?
I was reminded, as I read this response, of the author biography that accompanied your first novel, Collectors. I had to pull out my copy to be sure, but there it was. In addition to your literary accolades and education, the bio notes that you have “worked as a carpenter, painter, tour guide, and truck driver.” Were these deliberately experiential forms of research into the question “What’s that life like?” or accidental forays? How have your own experiences working beyond the page informed the work you do on the page?
Griner: Those jobs were, at first, simply to make money, though in time some of them—construction and painting, especially—became something more. I didn’t know any writers growing up and had no idea how to become one. I read constantly but only wrote one or two stories in high school and a couple more in college. None were any good, and I knew it. What I couldn’t figure out was how to make them better. I didn’t take any creative writing courses in college, where I was a history major and an English minor. And then when I graduated I painted houses for a bit, married, worked as a waiter, saved a lot of money and moved with my wife to Portugal, where I started writing in earnest. We stayed a year that first time, then moved to Boston, where I was a tour guide and worked construction. My partner was a painter, and so we’d take construction jobs and work ridiculous hours for weeks or months at a time, then get paid and take time off to do our own work. When the money ran out, we’d start up again. Some of the people I met in the construction world, which can be crazy, made their way into my stories, and those were the ones I used to apply to creative writing programs after my second stint in Portugal, and a year earning an MA in Romance Languages and Literatures. So, construction and painting became both a way to support my writing and a way to find stories, interesting people, situations that were both physically and metaphysically interesting. Three of the stories from my first collection are set in that world, and some of the characters in them are altered specters of guys I worked with, on construction sites, or while driving trucks and working in a warehouse. I went back to that world for a couple of stories in my most recent collection as well, and for some of the characters in Second Life.
Rumpus: So here’s a question for you as a full professor and a long-time director of the creative writing program at the University of Louisville: How have your life and work outside and beyond the classroom informed your presence within it and your personal teaching philosophy? Do you ever caution your undergraduate students against rushing off to graduate school in creative writing without a few years of real-world experience under their belts? Or does the academy, in your view, simply offer a different but no less real kind of experience for the next generation of writers?
Griner: I think that, except for in rare cases—and I certainly wasn’t one of them—it’s better not to go to graduate school for creative writing until you’re a bit older. I was twenty-seven when I went, and I was the youngest in my class. Partly, I think it’s better to have lived a bit more, but the biggest reason is one of perspective. Time in a good creative writing program is a gift, really, and if you’ve had some jobs that allow you little time to write before you go, you’re more likely to realize that and to really use your time wisely. I think the delay can also help you decide if this is something you absolutely have to do.
As for my life outside the classroom and in it, yes, they’ve certainly informed my teaching. I like to run a supportive workshop, having sat through one or two that were truly nasty—and therefore, from my perspective, wholly unhelpful. The writing world is hard enough without making the classroom difficult as well. Also, in a lot of the jobs I worked, I found people to be really curious and aware of the wider world, though often without means of expressing that. So I try to keep that in mind in all of my classes—that I’m dealing with people with complex lives who nonetheless really want to wrestle with the deep questions that literature asks. My job, as I see it, is in part to give them a space in which to do so.
Rumpus: I know this is a question I’ve been asked many times, and one I suspect I’ll be asked again and again throughout my life, so I’d like your take on it.The question in its baldest form is, “Do you believe creative writing can be taught?” It’s a bit like asking a carpenter, “Do you believe houses can be built?” or a plumber, “Do you believe pipes can be fixed?” But I think the question lurking beneath it is really “How can creative writing be taught? What are the best ways to teach writers how to grow in their curiosity and awareness of the wider world on the page?” When you were a graduate student of creative writing at Syracuse, I’m curious to know what the most valuable exercise or piece of advice you received from your teachers was and how it has sustained you. And now that you’re a teacher of creative writing yourself, what’s the most important thing you do to make those supportive workshops work?
Griner: Creative writing can be taught, to a degree, which may sound like a waffly answer, but I don’t think it is. Some things are probably innate—a love of language, of story, of form, of a properly turned phrase. But a lot of people have those things, without necessarily knowing how to channel their interest into actual stories or poems or novels or plays, or at least good ones. The creative writing classroom is a place—though not the only place—to help students figure out how to do that. Along those lines, I think a supportive classroom is best because people are far more willing to take chances when they feel safe, and that’s the swiftest way to become a better, more accomplished writer. But another part of that equation is, as you say, helping students grow in their awareness of a wider world on the page, so I try always to pick a range of texts, from standard greats to exciting newcomers, from print to the web, from “realistic” to “experimental,” when making up my CW class syllabi. Even if they don’t like Borges or Baldwin or Lispector first time around, being exposed to them or others they may not know is crucial. It’s natural to want to do or read what’s comfortable, but in the end that will stultify your work, so I always push students in their reading, especially when dealing with writers they might not have a natural sympathy with.
As for the most valuable things from my time at Syracuse, that’s easy: generosity, patience, precision, and stick-to-itiveness. Nobody was more generous, professionally and personally, than Stephen Dobyns, who introduced young writers to established ones and to editors and agents, as if his life depended on it. We all benefited from that. And Doug Unger, one of my workshop leaders, was an incredibly generous and rigorous reader and critic, a tricky balance but one I’ve tried to match. Finally, there was the time I spent with Toby Wolff, both as a student and a friend. At first I was intimidated by him, because I so admired his work, and during our workshop almost everything I wrote was awful. But I’ll never forget an hour sitting at his side as he edited one of those terrible stories, line by line and word by word. I realized during that hour how much more care he was taking with my work than I ever had and, subsequently, how much harder I had to work if I really wanted to improve, let alone make a life as a writer: the need for a nearly endless patience and focus, that was one of his many gifts to me. The stick-to-itiveness I guess came after; there were a lot of good writers in my class and in the years on either side of me. Some have gone on to great fame, some of us have published well, and some stopped writing. I don’t think looking at us at the time, you could have said which of us was likely to end up in which of those groups. Some of it was luck, but a lot was simply stubbornness, a refusal to give in or give up. I learned some of that on my own, but Toby helped teach me that too, over the course of many conversations about writing, life, et cetera. Having learned from others, I try to incorporate those lessons into my teaching as well, to help others along the path.