Fair enough, Peggy

You know, a lot of us are disappointed in some of Margaret Atwood’s stance on things like consequences for anti-Trans actions by other writers, and while some of this is simply age and outdated notions of feminism, some of it is really about the rest of us as well — how we hold celebrities, especially our public intellectuals, up to strange standards of perfection. I wrote a particularly brief aphorism a few days ago that encapsulates it: “Fame is a zoo.” Anyway, does Atwood care how people will view her in the future? No, she says. She’ll be dead. Touché. And she has a point. She’s making peace with her views and her lot, and our disappointment doesn’t really mean much to her and her stance on things. Take what you will from this. I will always love her for her work and her generosity towards the community (and me personally), but I will remain opposed to, as well as disappointed and in disagreement with, her recent politics.

In an interview last month, Atwood shrugged off the controversy.

“I don’t care. I’m well on record of saying trans rights are human rights,” she said. “When I was (tweeting about) trans rights … and the science on it, I was getting trolled by people who disagreed with that. And that’s how it goes.”

Atwood said she’s proven resilient in the culture wars because she’s more interested in the truth than pandering to the dogma du jour.

Some people are inclined to think of time as a linear march toward progress, Atwood said. But in her view, there is nothing inevitable about how history unfolds, so there’s no point in trying to be on the “right” side of it today when you could find yourself on the “wrong” one tomorrow.

This is particularly true of posthumous artistic reputations, she said, which tend to rise and fall with the ever-churning cultural tides.

Diane Wakoski Rides Again

For Poetry, Daniel Nester looks at a new release of the classic Wakoski work The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems. I remember discovering her work in the 90s and being fascinated.

The re-release is another victory lap in Waksoki’s impressive and in many ways unlikely six-decade career, well-mythologized over more than 30 collections. Wakoski’s work is a sui generis mix of Deep ImageConfessionalBeat, and New York School poetics, one that Lynn Melnick classifies, in a Los Angeles Review of Books essay, as “enduring badassery.” Wakoski herself has long resisted labels: most notably, feminist and Confessional. She has also resisted the strain of criticism and condescension reserved for independently minded female writers who draw on their own lives for material.

“I’ve had, you know, 80 percent negative reviews and 20 percent good ones,” Wakoski tells me. “But the negative ones never really gave me anything to work with. One of the things that always made me mad about poetry criticism, for the most part, was that it wasn’t very useful.”

How much should writers self-censor?

Years ago, before I’d published a book of poetry, back in the 90s when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I had a manuscript of short stories. The majority of these centered around “bad” men and that seemed to somehow be “hot” at the time, because I was offered a book contract by a large publisher. I declined because I wasn’t sure this was how I wanted to enter the publishing world. Over time, I became less attached to those stories, so I shelved them. How much did a 26-year-old, semi-woke dude really know about the subject of bad men? Less, I realized, than every woman around me. That said, there was some good writing in those, and some interesting subjects. I don’t care enough to try rewriting them, but it was a good set of questions for my brain to ask itself.

Anyway, this writer asks herself if and when self-censoring is a good thing. Should we hold back at all? My answer is “no,” but it’s no on a broader scale, and with caveats. We shouldn’t hold back writing our own truths, but we should do enough research and due diligence to know whether what we’re saying is worth saying, and take enough time to know whether these “truths” are “of the moment” or actual truths that are core to our lives. Both of these considerations will affect whether I write something, and subsequently whether I choose to publish it.

Five or ten years back (what years is this?), I got deeply in to Frederick Seidel and spent some time investigating my thoughts on what he was doing by writing in response. It was a good thing for me to do, processing as I was the shitshow of toxic masculinity being revealed around me, but ultimately, those poems were for me, not publication. I’m not self-censoring by doing this, I’m just acting as any artist once the work is done: as curator. None of it met my standard at the time or since. So off it goes into the nothings.

The realisation that my poetry and prose might get read often clips my wings, perhaps for good reason. But I question if my internal editor keeps me safe or suppresses me. As a rule of thumb, I tend not to post anything on social media that might paint me in a bad light with my boss, parents, friends or the public. Sometimes, the same mantra is harder to apply to my writing.

Rules for dating another writer

A list of do’s and don’ts for dating other writers? A bit of quasi-fluff for Thursday to ease you into the weekend. Now, as someone for whom this worked out spectacularly well, you should probably take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt, but I find other writers (caveat: who are decent people) are particularly good partners because they “get” it. They get the constellation of weirdnesses around the profession, whereas others treat it like it’s a hobby like coin-collecting or metal detecting or trolling Karens on Facebook parenting groups. That’s not to say that I’ve not had my share of shitty writer lovers. I’m sure social and field-based power dynamics, envy, and insecurities played into those things, but that’s not who you’re after. You’re after someone you’d choose to spend time with given other options, and who you respect as an artist. It’s not going to work if you don’t like their writing. Honest. Doesn’t matter how nice they are otherwise. Go ahead, try to ignore it. But come talk to me in 2 years. Respect and admiration are central to any relationship, but between two people working in adjacent fields? Essential.

Respect the overlapping details in each other’s work and cherish the differences.  

Inevitably, when you’re dating a fellow writer, there will be a certain amount of overlap in your fiction. Certain details might surface in both of your work—a Shih-tzu puppy you’re petsitting together eating an ancient junior mint that was stuck to one of your blankets, and the two of you frantically googling, “are junior mints dog poison?”

Thursday news catchup