Hedgebrook Diary: Week 3

September 15, 2015

I am exactly at the midway point of my residency. I’m winding up work on this next chapter of the novel. It was over a week of what I felt was not much, but amounted to a whole chapter, a lot more figured out in terms of world-building, and time well spent with a character.

Some writers get here and write like 100 pages but this is not that type of project (or maybe it’s just not at that point yet) and I am certainly not that kind of writer. Years of writing in spurts—a few words in caps as placeholders, expanding on those words with a few sentences, molding a paragraph, threading it to be cohesive with another paragraph, staying with a scene, rounds of printing, rereading, tweaking, heightening—not in one sitting, mind you, but at work, on my lunch break, after work, on the way home on the train, for a few minutes in the evening, on a Saturday morning after walking Niko, a Sunday morning after breakfast. Snatches of time. It’s all I’ve ever had.

It’s trained me to keep working like that even when I have blocks of time so even here at Hedgebrook I’m compelled to work in a touch and go way. I write a blog post, make edits to a work in progress, have coffee, expand a scene, have lunch, make notes, take a shower, print, reread, mark-up, have dinner, talk to other writers, take another look at the whole thing, tweak, read, listen to the radio, read in bed. Even from week to week I feel the need to switch from one project to another.

It’s fine. It works for me. And the only right way is the way that works.

This week, I’m dedicating my attention to studying musical theater. Some things are better done when you’re too inexperienced to have the foresight to see just how impossible it is or you’d never do it. I have a collaborator. I have a fresh premise. I have a story. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. But I once said the same thing about short stories and essays. While many days, I still don’t have a clear idea of what the fuck I’m doing with a particular short story or essay, I feel I have a better grasp. Maybe that’s all we get, more confidence in the handling.

September 16, 2015

On a walk with a few fellow writers after dinner, someone today made the most casual comment that this time, being here at Hedgebrook, is especially great for 9-to-5ers.

what-on-earth-are-you-on-about

I fucking forgot my life. That I have a life other than this one. That this one is not the real one.

I seriously had a moment of dissonance where I did not understand that I am one of the aforementioned 9-to-5ers and was like…oh shit, this isn’t my life. The way you pick up a jacket at a party and you’re like oh wait, this isn’t mine, looks just like mine but it’s not. I might have audibly gasped like someone threw a drink in my face. It was as frightening as those days you wake up suddenly and can’t determine if you’ve woken up late or early, if it’s a weekday or weekend. A moment of sheer terror.

I haven’t locked my door, used keys, a wallet, cash in weeks. We had a brief power outage the first weekend I was here. When the power returned, I didn’t even bother to set the time on the clock radios in my cabin so both clocks have different random times because who gives a damn? I haven’t even shopped for my own food. I basically ricochet between my cottage, the pumphouse, the bathhouse and the farmhouse. I pushed myself to take that quick walk off the property today because…I mean…it’s good for me, but I was glad to get back in the farmhouse when we returned.

I fucking forgot my life. How quick was that?

September 17, 2015

The writer Alexander Chee posed a simple question on his facebook status. Just asked if anyone had comments about taking a social media break, if it was helpful in their writing.

I use Facebook and twitter most frequently. I’m a jump-on, jump-off type of user rather than someone who sits and scrolls and I don’t rail about the evils of it. I’m in the “it’s all about how you use it” faction. If your timeline annoys you, curate a better timeline. There are plenty of tools available for you to do so, from herding individuals into circles to limit their view, to unfollowing for limiting yours. And once you set that up you never have to think of it again.

I long ago uninstalled Facebook and twitter from my phone and haven’t missed notification icons and dings for a moment. My linkedin account just sort of sits like a monument, although I don’t know if that’s technically social media. It’s like one serious friend in the crew. Google + is crickets, so I just share infrequent big professional news and blog posts. I use pinterest for inspiration boards for writing, recipes, saving photos of sploosh-worthy famous people. It’s my corkboard, not somewhere I engage with others. I’m a fan of instagram and use it, but oddly enough I uninstalled it upon arriving here. Partially, because my phone was pressed for storage space and partially because I wanted to encourage myself to directly experience in the present rather than capture for later. Tumblr and Medium are infrequent afterthoughts.

I don’t feel they get in the way of my writing, at home or here. Other things siphon from my writing time: work for pay; parenting and parenting-related putting out of fires; commuting places; household crap like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry; working out, people, events. Much more so than social media, but something stuck to me from that thread. Someone said they felt a decrease in their hair trigger reaction.

Sometimes checking social media feels like a series of quick, and therefore meaningless, indignations. Everything from a news item to a status to a photo, meme, or video can spark declarations of heinousness, offense, vapidity.

There’s no time to process in depth why we feel the way we do. No time to turn it over in one’s mind, see things from different angles, practice introspection, examine ourselves, glean insight, practice empathy. There’s not even time to feel nothing because the flow of stimuli is so constant and eternal. Something that sparks outrage in the morning is forgotten by noon. And in between, there were a dozen other sparks.

What strikes me when I’m reading a piece of literature, whether essay, short fiction or novel, are the parts that refuse being shaken off so easily. The insights revealed in the sentences that feel like a wallop. And a hair trigger reaction doesn’t seem conducive to creating that experience for others. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Tears take time to collect and surprise actually takes time to build.

I respond to individual experiential learning so I decided to take a break from social media for the rest of my time here. I don’t expect to write more, but perhaps create the space to think and feel more.

September 18, 2015

I listened to a Thich Nhat Hahn talk this morning and cried. I mean, like an ugly sob. I’m not really a crier anymore. I have one good cry a year. Period cries don’t count.

My father once asked me if I ever saw my grandmother depressed or crying. I never did. We know she must have felt desperate or sad many times, but we never saw her cry. I believe I come from a long line of non-cryers, especially women. Breaking down, releasing, unpacking, is a luxury and a privilege—one I did not see exercised too often in my family.

I am afraid, despite all of my emotional intelligence, that while I understand when others cry and feel compassion toward them when they do, I see it as a sign of weakness in myself.

It means I have allowed something to wound me. I have given something power to do so. It is a constant struggle to remind myself no one gets through this life unscathed and that wounds remind us we are human. The power I think I retain when I don’t allow things to penetrate is a false one, an illusion, something to make me feel immortal.

He talked about the components of love in Buddhist terms. The concept of understanding did me in. How necessary understanding is to love and how much must be traversed to truly understand. How you must see it all at once, a person’s suffering, their obstacles, their life, their desires. That when you truly understand another person, you don’t do or say things to make them suffer. If you’re not bringing them joy, it’s not love. If you can’t understand, it’s not love. Perhaps there’s an intention to love, but not real love just yet. How when we love our friends we give them all the freedom they require. What changes in romantic love that this becomes no longer true? He suggested we ask our loved one, do I understand you enough?

I think I have been intending to love for the last year, but not truly done so. Fear and attachment get in the way. I can see it when I look deeply, as Thay suggests we do, at my loved one’s disappointments, loneliness, fear, his past experiences, his desires, his reaching toward happiness. I don’t think I have always said or done things to ease his suffering. I think my suffering always stepped in front of his. I don’t think my love has always been freeing in the way a friendship is, in that selfless way, where you want to see your friends happy, in whatever form that takes.

I exercised my privilege of having the time and privacy here to cry over how nearly impossible a task it is love well.

September 19, 2015

Well today sucked. I am disappointed I didn’t get something I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted. I got something else I wanted, but wasn’t sure I deserved it. Or rather the thought ate at me that I got it despite what I perceived was a conclusion that my work is mediocre at best. The few people I could divulge these happenings to were kinda remiss about it. And it’s not fair to expect people to respond the way you want them to. They can only respond the way they know how.  I couldn’t cultivate any gratitude or happiness in the present. I didn’t bathe. My confidence took a bit of a hit. So did my ego.

September 20, 2015

You have to be delusional to be a writer. Have to be. It’s the only way forward.

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Female Wrestlers and Feminism in the WWE

“To every woman who gave birth to every tax payer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” -Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech

I’m gonna set aside the problematic parts of Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech and her post-Oscar comments for the sake of getting to a point. In response to her speech, WWE’s Stephanie McMahon tweeted: “Thank You @PattyArquette for having the courage to fight for on such a grand platform. .”

To which AJ Lee tweets to Stephanie McMahon: “Your female wrestlers have record selling merchandise & have starred in the highest rated segment of the show several times, And yet they receive a fraction of the wages & screen time of the majority of the male roster.

I have been waiting for this moment of badassery from the women of WWE since I started casually watching again as a semi-conscious adult. Maybe I have been waiting for this moment subconsciously since I was a little girl watching Ultimate Warrior or Jake “the Snake” Roberts be badass. Only in hindsight have I gained a fuller appreciation for women like Luna Vachon, Sherri Martel, Chyna, Lita. So why does this make me want to invite these women to have several fucking seats? I should be Meryl Streeping out, I wanna Streep out. As a work, this gender inequality angle makes a product out of a movement, a struggle with real ramifications in the real world for real people. It’s a hashtag, a marketing ploy, something destined to be churned into merchandise or publicity. They’ve already garnered attention from the Washington Post, Fox Sports and Time. It’s a storyline sold to fans with none of the thought, consideration, and risk required for anything meaningful with lasting impact.

It makes for a strange pantomime as a storyline too. It’s like hey, we have this real issue – gender inequality – but we’re not gonna address that, let’s just put on a public show to pretend we are. And I’ve been getting beaten over the head with people saying this is real and not a work but I remain unconvinced. No one hopes I’m wrong more than me. And listen it’s a great work, it capitalizes on something from the larger world around it, but if you’re not doing the work backstage too, it’s just a mockery.

You might ask, well, isn’t more screen time for female wrestlers a direct, immediately visible way to address the problem? Imagine a choice between two movies in front of you. One movie is about these two guys competing to be the fastest swimmer in the world. The other movie is about two guys and two girls competing to be the best swimmer in the world. The women have half the screen time. So fucking what? Giving certain characters visibility doesn’t necessarily deliver a better story on its own – it just creates a clusterfuck or even worse, a bunch of lazy caricatures. It’s not enough.

More screen time for female wrestlers will only help balance gender inequality insofar as they are supported and pushed creatively. It’s not more of the same that’s necessary. It’s better and new.

The time of caricature in wrestling should have long passed. But it hasn’t. Nuanced and fully fleshed characters, especially women, remain long overdue. Booking women with the same demonstrated effort and attention as the men is what’s required. It’s applying that same effort and attention into recruitment and development. And you can argue that some of the male wrestler’s storylines or gimmicks don’t get handled properly either, but can you say that the male and female champions, or the most popular stars, get booked equally?

An imbalance is righted when the conditions are created for whatever is deficient not only to exist, but to thrive. It calls for comprehensive changes and consistent long-term work.

WWE probably employs a writing staff of mostly hetero white males unless they miraculously buck the trend that holds up almost everywhere you find a team of writers. It’s an assumption on my part that the creative department is mostly male, but it’s a safe one. And with storylines that feed off of homophobia, Islamophobia, and a shitload of other isms and phobias, I would be surprised if any of the writers or decision makers have a vested interest in social or gender issues.

How many of the refs, trainers, doctors, writers, commentators, managers, executives, production crew are women? And if you give me one name out of a hundred, I’m gonna ask you to go have a seat somewhere until you figure out 1 is not a proportionately equal number.

How many of the female wrestlers were recruited from independent wrestling promotions as opposed to being models or actresses? (Granted, acting experience would help any wrestler perform.) But how many of the men were models as opposed to athletes before signing with the WWE? That tells you what the company’s priorities are for each.

My timeline on twitter usually fills up with calls for a bathroom break when a Divas match comes on. Is it the predominantly male fans themselves who don’t want to see women wrestle? Maybe if fans lent more support, WWE would, in turn, book them better. A well-intentioned, thoughtful suggestion, no doubt, but it reminds me a little of the debate people of color have about going to see movies by/about people of color even if it’s a crap movie. Does supporting them at all costs really lead to more and better movies by/about people of color or does it convince studios to keep churning out the same crap because it’s making money? How then do we explain WWE’s developmental program, NXT, doing a better job with its female wrestlers?

Because sometimes twitter is a thermometer of the people, here is a sampling of top recent tweets about WWE Diva Nikki Bella (at the time I wrote this):

“John Cena Surprises Girlfriend Nikki Bella With Designer Bag Worth Thousands—See the Total Divas.”

“Nikki Bella Showing Off Her Cleavage.”

Nikki Bella is a heel, so of course she’s going to win by cheating sometimes.”

Only one of those tweets is related to her work as a wrestler. And she does some pretty impressive shit.

Here, in contrast, are the top recent tweets about NXT champ Sasha Banks (at the time I wrote this):

“AJ Lee. Paige. Sasha Banks. Titus O’Neill. The Bella Twins. Cameron. The real shooters. The New Bullet Club.”

Sasha Banks slays me”

“Bella’s vs. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch!!!! Paige vs. Charlotte AJ vs. Bayley

All of these tweets, and the majority I scrolled through, were about Sasha’s wrestling or her wrestling persona. So WWE (through NXT) is capable of delivering more gender balanced programming. While WWE can be accused of not leading in that direction, some of the female roster is complicit by following. True, it’s an uneven exchange – trading the opportunity to wrestle on the largest of its platforms for control of how they’re portrayed as women and wrestlers – but it’s one they make and we can’t completely look away from that. And with WWE’s history, it’s a choice they make with some knowledge about the shit they’re gonna be asked to do. The argument could be made that change can best be affected from within. May that be what’s happening here. I’m just saying some of the women are active participants in the portrayal that wrestling is a secondary concern for them. Fame being the first.

Let’s look at why so many fans (self-included) re-up on snacks or do a chore whenever the Divas come on. I can tell you why I do. Their characters are homogenous and lack nuance. From entrance music to attire to physique to personality. The variation is only in degrees. A quick word association game when I take a cursory glance at the male roster: evil exec, vigilante, arrogant actor, cult leader, cosmic tag team, underdog, Samoan twins. The same game with the female roster gives me: punk goth girl, twins, sorta rebel.

And if you’re asking me if I, casual fan that I am, would watch more if the Divas were on more, I’ll say no. Because they’re going to give me grown women skipping, batting their eyelashes, relying on their cleavage for popularity in some infantilized version of womanhood that isn’t the reflection I know or care to see. And don’t get me wrong, sexuality/sensuality are fucking badass places in which to be totally in your power, but once you put that on a stage for the regular consumption of an audience, how much autonomy do you still have? I can watch one Diva with a sexy gimmick, (male wrestlers have always had a narcissistic pretty boy archetype) but seven or eight bitches doing the same thing? Why? Where are the other archetypes that the men have? The snob, the smart-ass, the dark one, the technician, the loose cannon, the monster heel, the comic relief even.

You might say, who watches this shit anyway? Why are you attributing so much power to this one medium of entertainment? Who is looking to professional wrestling to align their social issue compass anyway? A fuckton of people watch it. Just one of their weekly shows, RAW, drew 4.12 viewers this past Sunday. With a mix of performance art, theater, sports, soap opera, and story-telling I don’t know how more people aren’t watching this, especially artists. And approve of it or not, the masses have always had their socio-political-economic views heavily influenced by entertainment, from the first person to ever tell a myth around a fire.

Entertainment is a reflection of collective consciousness, but it can take a more active role and steer some of that collective as well. And that can be for the benefit of an encompassing, more humane world or a divisive, detached one. So why am I not totally sold on some big change in gender equality from WWE? Simply because I don’t trust the sincerity of it, and it’s a sincerity that would still make it good TV.