Sunday, July 18, 2010


A friend, who still is getting to know me on email, suggests that it must be hard to write with no audience, no feedback. I had been explaining that I’ve abandoned the idea of being published, at least until something “like publishing” reappears again. Right now it’s down the tubes. In a bitter sense, since they will still publish what you are willing to trim to suit their idea of what sells and what fits their liberal urban overeducated too-prosperous notion of what is “true.” But they have such a corroded sense of what they think readers are like that they guess wrong all the time. Who would want to write to suit such people?

A writer was interviewed on about his book, “The First Thing And The Last.” “Sociologist Allan Johnson tells the story of Katherine Stuart, who kills her abusive husband one night after he attacks her and kills their only child.  In the wake of the devastation, Katherine is befriended by Lucy Dudley, an elderly woman who shares many of Katherine’s experiences and shows her that there can be healing in the aftermath of domestic violence.”  Johnson’s book is excerpted here: It is a tract (and a trance) , meant to help us understand battered women. It is both for us and for those women. Maybe even those men and children.

I was never a battered woman. But I was divorced because I am the kind of woman who makes men want to batter her. Some women would like to strike me, too. It disqualified me for the ministry. I am defiant, “out-spoken” is the Montana Humanities people’s polite word for me, and I try to tell the truth -- when I can figure out what the hell it is. School principals hate me. Businesses will not tolerate me. So I understand when Johnson suggests that the truth about men who batter women is that they are responding desperately to our culture which defines success, esp. for men, as control.

So long as the woman is on the same “page” with the same goals as her husband, the couple can run the ranch together and he will be empowered by her strength and dedication. As soon as she begins to disagree about what should be planted, when to sell the calves, or how the kids should be educated, he escalates his grip on her, the same as he would a defiant horse. Which makes her, like that horse, fight more. So from him more force. UNLESS the ranchers are enlightened enough to figure it out, talk it out, renegotiate, re-frame, and all that. You might say, learn to whisper. If alcohol is involved, they likely never will. Death will come sooner.

But this is not my main point here. When Johnson took this insight around to publishers (sixty of them), they liked the premise of battered women because they figure it’s chick lit and that’s who buys books and most women feel abused no matter what, so they’ll identify. But they rejected the book because it was “too violent.” They wanted a bodice-ripper plot where only the blouses take fatal damage. Such books arguably excuse exactly the kind of confrontations Johnson was trying to interpret. Bodice-ripping romances promise passionate rewards for women in a culture that wants to justify controling men. Even an unfeminist like me (I’m TOO inclusive) can see the problem is alive both in the publishing industry and the books it likes. (It’s not the only problem.)

Blogging is great because no one can be the authority figure who tries to shut me down. (I’ve had a couple of male bosses who did NOT try to shut me down: notably Mike Burgwin who knew a thing or two about wife-batterers from his years as a cop. Tim and I have had no power struggles.) So, getting back to my real topic, am I writing for you “bloggees,” blog-readers? Well, not really. Am I hoping for eventual publication. Nope. Am I trying to exorcise the demons of a spanking father and a leg-switching mother? Naw. Is it to fly in the face of all the people who sneered at my early writing? Huh-uh. Forget all that stuff.

I write for the pure pleasure of it. It doesn’t even have to be on paper. Tim is gradually steering me over to aural writing (I still use a script -- you can hear the pages rustling because my present printer won’t take the really heavy paper.) and to iMovie, which is image and sound as well as word. It will be a while before I get to vid and a while more before I get to the sophisticated kinds of things the Cinematheque kids do. I do not have the visual power of Tim’s half-lit stubbly face when he roars and whispers his impassioned poetry.

Content is my thing. Which means a certain amount of research and thinking. I want to be a female Clay Shirky. (I’m going bald anyway.) Not reflecting on media the way he does -- more about this geographical place and the beings here and the huge philosophical quandaries they bring up, the everythingness of everyplace against the uniqueness of here and now. Esp. since I can go online for fact-checking instead of traveling to a library. I’m content-rich and finally, late in life, have the time and energy to process it. I love the feedback loops and friendships that develop online among us. I love reading THEIR writing! But I never do what they tell me to do. Real cats, not “wall-cats.”

The real compensation for writing is the same as that of the painter alone in the studio, the musician in the practice room, the sculptor pushing clay -- the pure pleasure of the doing of it. Finding the right word. Shaping a graceful sentence. Remembering the telling details. It becomes a dance. Still, there’s the danger of becoming precious, writing so elegantly that the writing is no longer transparent but rather cries “look at me!” I don’t want it so fancy that if I speak it out loud, the receiver can’t get the sense of it. (Many years of preaching behind me.)

I KNOW how rare it is to have the time and tools to write this much -- didn’t I wait sixty years? I exult in it. The rest is gravy. My advice to writers is to TAKE the time. I don’t mean “go slow.” I mean, “do it now.” But who am I to give advice? I’m busy -- because I’m not standing around waiting for publication. Or -- I'm warning you -- for readers. You can come along on your own.

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