“People like me write because otherwise we are pretty inarticulate. Our articulation is our writing.”—William Trevor
“Imagine a good gambler who is playing an important poker hand, the way he lays his cards down makes all the difference. With a certain number of cards, a certain number of the enemy are falling off their chairs, so the sequence of the cards can often determine who wins the hands. A writer needs to play his hand very carefully; he doesn’t need to play fifty-two card pickup with the reader and throw the whole deck in his face just because he’s got control of the deck. That’s not playing cards at all.”—Thomas McGuane
“We went back to your place and listened to the White Album. We ordered in. We fought and made up and got good jobs and got married and bought an apartment and worked out and ate more and talked less.”—
Have you read Jenny Hollowell’s wonderful short story “A History of Everything, Including You”?
We’d met for a beer that had turned into three before we ever got around to talking about anything that had any meaning to either of us. That’s what happens when your best friend moves to another city and you can no longer avail yourself of weekly happy hours. Lots of mundane things had happened to both of us in the two months since we last spoke at any length. Things like the fact that two people whose souls had been so inextricably tangled together – to the point they were indistinguishable – had somehow managed to sort themselves so quickly the two could meet for drinks two months later and talk about the weather.
I lit a smoke and motioned to the bartender for another round. As I exhaled I cornered him in my eyes. “So. Are you gonna tell me what happened? Or do I have to ask?”
“You just did. Ask.”
“No, I asked if you were gonna tell me. It’s a yes/no question.”
“Alright then, no.”
I sighed. “It’s on your mind, so talk. You know, we used to talk about everythi–”
“And now we don’t. Okay? Shit changes.”
“She loved you, asshole.”
“I know. I loved her too.”
“Then what the fuck happened?”
He spent a little longer than necessary pondering his beer before sipping it again. “What did you order?”
“Whatever you had before.”
“It tastes different,” he said, holding his glass up to the light before sipping again.
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
“There was a subject?”
“Yes. Why did you break up with her?”
“Why do you care?”
“I’m just – it’s just –” I downed half the glass’s contents like what I wanted to say was a prize hiding at the bottom, just waiting to be revealed. “Because – look. You used to tell me everything. We used to –”
“And now we don’t.” He tipped his own beer down his throat and I watched his Adam’s apple bob twice. Regret doesn’t go down easy. “Now we don’t,” he said, setting the glass down on the bar. “Now we meet each other for beers and talk about the last album that got released and whether it was any good, or the last book we read. We talk hockey, or college basketball. Now? We’re bros. We don’t talk about love because you’re incapable.” He excused himself and walked towards the men’s room.
I motioned the bartender for a final round. After conducting a hazy mental calculation of the delicate equation of beers drunk over time consumed, I called a cab. Alone, I glanced up at whatever the fuck was playing on one of the bar’s five television screens, as though I was interested. I wasn’t.
When he returned to his barstool, I spun around. Our knees knocked and I left my legs there, pressing on his. “What did you mean, incapable? Incapable of what?”
I lit another cigarette and turned back to whatever the fuck it was I wasn’t interested in watching, and tried to ignore the burn. I know love, I have loved, I do love. I do. Just not … exclusively. Not … to a full stop. “Why do you say that? I’m capable of love. I’ve loved many times. I love –”
“Just don’t. She loved me. I loved her too. You get the answers to the questions you ask. Sometimes you get the wrong answers because you didn’t ask the right questions.”
“You never answered my question at all,” I said, spinning my knees away from his.
“I asked you why.”
He leaned over, sliding his barstool closer to mine. Usually I’d feel crowded, but here it felt right. It felt like old times, like how things should be. I felt myself softening. He lay his arm across the bar in front of me, palm up, and I couldn’t tell whether he was offering or begging. “It wasn’t enough,” he said. “That’s the best answer I can give you, I’m sorry. I told you it wasn’t the right –”
“Well what the fuck do you want me to ask? Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind? You know I’m for shit at asking questions. What do you want from me?”
He leaned back. “You told me she loved me. I told you I loved her too.” His calm, even demeanor infuriated me.
“But you didn’t –”
“No, I did. I did love her,” he said, finishing his last beer and glancing at the headlights crossing the front windows of the bar. “I did. But not as much as I loved you.”
On "Mary Sue"
So I was reading something a bit ago and it got me thinking about Mary Sues and that whole concept.
And that basically the concept of “Mary Sues” is about policing female characters against taking up narrative space in the same way the world polices actual women against taking up physical and cultural space.
Because think about it. When someone calls a character a Mary Sue, what are they saying? ”That character is too awesome. That character has too many good qualities.”
…and your problem with this is…?
Like there are a hundred ways to describe a character that’s so flawless as to be boring. One-dimensional. Cardboard. Unbelievable. Flat. Self-insert, if we want to go with the other connotations of “Mary Sue” but without the gendered shaming aspect. Author power fantasy. Ridiculous.
So why do we - and by we I mean primarily male authors and readers, you’ll notice - have to have this specific term that means, “Woman who has written a female character, your female character is too cool, you need to make her shittier in the name of “believability” or else I’m going to snidely dismiss not only that character but everything you’ve ever written”?
If you can’t even handle female *characters* being awesome, you’ve got problems with powerful and awesome women far beyond the help of any fictional works, boyo.
So if anyone ever calls your female character a Mary Sue, remember that what they’re trying to tell you is “I’m uncomfortable with badass female characters and I want you to make your female characters suck so as not to damage my fragile male ego.”
And then gleefully push their face into the mud, step over their body, and keep walking.
(and, of course, writing.)
“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”—Tahereh Mafi; Shatter Me
No Gods No Mangers
“And when there is no hope, I smoke some crack; I shoot some dope. When there’s no enemies I’ll sit and stare at my TV…”
In the summer, during the day, this city feels like hell. It’s an existential sardine can filled with the writhing, sweaty bodies of the damned. Packed in shoulder to shoulder, stacked one on top of another just choking down each other’s stench. Public transportation is the river of lost souls. Except we’re not being quickly herded into the deep and the black of Hades. We’re traveling at the speed of ants burning slowly under a magnifying glass, right into the center of the fucking sun.
At night the city becomes a vampire, humidity sinking into your flesh like a pair of fangs, sucking the fight out of you. Every living room is a cemetery, inhibited by zombies. The television set is a voodoo priest, commanding mindless, drooling hordes of the walking dead. Every bed is a grave, haunted by the lonely, sexually frustrated spirits of the single — rotting alone, for what feels like eternity.
After dark. the streets are a special kind of limbo. Where the ghosts of what used to be decent people wander the earth. Every white light turns out to be a neon sign, flickering like a candle at the entrance of a tomb. Into the belly of the beast, where there’s a million earthly pleasures spread like an all you can eat buffet, but once you have a taste there’s no way to go back. Whatever you consume holds a grudge and eventually, if give half the chance, it will clamp its savage little teeth in and consume you.
During the day, this city is a dog and pony show. A spectacle of artificial intelligence and rigid code. An efficient machine designed to transition the living into the dead. The smiles are plastic. The odds are set. There’s no beating the house. You cash in your chips when they tell you to. There’s no beating death.
At night, it’s a dog eat dog world. Meat is meat. No rules; no clemency. An amoral playground where anything can happen, and “anything” usually means a rough fuck with the tip of a knife blade. The smiles are gashes in throats from ear to ear. The outcome is fuzzy. The house is burning and no one has the attention span to even piss on the flames. You lie, and cheat, and steal to make a buck; to live another day…
But at least there’s no gods or managers looking over your shoulder.
I love this city because it proves that dead men do tell tales…
It’s the never ending story about how any intelligent life in the universe has turned its back on us. Humanity is like a helpless dog, locked in a hot car, who doesn’t even have the energy to lick its own balls anymore.