Friday, July 07, 2006

The not-nice part: "That's why I use it, too!"

Not so awesome was this one woman in the class who really sort of disproved all the encouraging stories I've been telling for the last few days. I know everyone has a good side or whatever, but this chick was just awful.

First of all, not that this matters, but she was morbidly obese. Her bulk was like a wall between her and the rest of the class; she would sit pushed back from the table, her notebooks and manuscripts fanned out around her, her face a mask of detached judgement, as if she was just waiting for the rest of us to say something that pissed her off.

Second, she was obsessed, I mean obsessed, with Irish culture. She was fully American and did not even have Irish heritage, but like a '70s-era hippie claiming to be emotionally half-Cherokee, she claimed Gaelic culture as her true heart's home. The thing was, she wasn't into, like, U2 and James Joyce and Dylan Thomas -- she was enamored with the kind of Irish trinkets you see going on sale at Hallmark stores in the week after St. Patrick's Day. She peppered her speech with references to "the blarney stone" and "Guinness." She named her cat Shamrock. Not Ceallach, not Meadhbh, not any other mysterious-sounding traditional Irish name -- SHAMROCK. Ach, begorrah, always after me lucky charms!

Third, and this is where it gets germane, her writing was Irish-themed, Dublin-based, yet weirdly absent of any actual Irish influence. The main character was a gal who worked in a factory and had lots of bad things happen to her. And lots of sexy things with long descriptions of slippery-this and firm-as-a-hurley-that. Worse, there were pages-long fantasies about delicate faeries, howling banshees, and fucking LEPRECHAUNS for god's sake. There was an Irish guy in the class -- by heritage, not by birth -- and he was all, "Have you ever been to Ireland?" and she was all "I took a tour once" and he was all "Cuz leprechauns don't really act that way in Irish folklore, that's kind of a Hollywood thing," and her face shut down even tighter.

Another night, she told us about her first unpublished novel, a searching, heartbreaking story about a poor boy's childhood of woeful misery that "got totally ruined when Frank McCourt's book came out and ripped off my whole story." "Uh ... wasn't his true, though?" the soap-opera writer asked. "Well, yeah," Shamrock allowed, and her face shut down again.

She hated criticism. When a classmate suggested she cut down the background detail of a minor character, she said, "But I put that in because someone in another class said I needed more background for him. Why did I bother?" The unexamined revision: plopping in prose because "I was just following orders"... good in a magazine article when your editor demands it, bad in fiction when your supreme editor should be your self.

Worst of all, though, for me anyway, was how much she hated her main character. "God, I keep rewriting this and making things happen to her, and she just won't stand up for herself," she complained. "I had someone beat her. I had someone rape her. I threw everything I had at her, and I could never get her to get angry and retaliate. She was such a wuss." WTF? How do you do that to a character? Just write her different! My god! It was like writing happens to the writer.

Writing is a JOB. You get the job done. You tell the story, it doesn't tell you. For God's sake, I thought, get a grip on your story!

So this is the thing: would Allan Ginsberg have encouraged Shamrock if she had approached him the way I did? Would it denigrate his encouragement of me if I found out he had? Are there people who should not be encouraged, or does Shamrock deserve the same ego-stroking as me? Is encouragement just one tool in the writer's toolbox?

Because I'm really awful. I don't want Shamrock to torture her characters or her classmates or her teachers. I don't want her doing what I do. I want her to stop. I want her to take up knitting. It stresses me out to think of all those words pouring out onto pages somewhere, piling up, half-cooked plots rubber-banded together in a box on a shelf surrounded by other boxes on a green-painted bookshelf in a rent-controlled one-bedroom in Gramercy Park. I want to scream at her, "YOU ARE NOT A WRITER! PLEASE STOP! YOU ARE USING UP ALL THE WORDS! AND FOR FUCK'S SAKE, CUT BACK ON THE CORNED-BEEF-AND-CABBAGE DINTY-MOORE STEW!!!"

Then again, I'm no Alan Ginsberg.


the beige one said...

If Shamrock had run into Mr. Ginsberg, and had he given her the same advice, I don't believe that it should denigrate the value of that advice to you.

Why? Because you would have taken more from that exchange than she had, assuming her nature hadn't changed by that point.

And in that sense, yes, everyone should be encouraged as much as one is criticised, because you never know what positive effect, if any, one's encouragement will have. Would Shamrock have changed her outlook, would she find herself able to cope and digest criticism, or actually do research on Ireland, etc.?

For me, though, I feel proprietary about what I do, and the success I aspire to, in the same way you do. When I see someone I think of as a lesser getting ahead based on luck and charisma, and not good work, in my estimation, that's when I want to spread evil rumours about pigheadedness, betrayal and STDs.

Not that I know anyone like that right now, mind you...ahem.

Madfoot said...

Yeah, I think that's what I was getting at when I said praise was another tool in the toolbox. Everyone deserves to feel worthy of the pen.

On the other hand, there's that quote from The Incredibles where Dash points out that when you say everyone is special... you're really saying noone is. Isn't that what leads to entitlement (like the gal on Beigey's blog)?

In the end, love begets love, and happiness begets happiness. We're all better off when we're nicer to each other, which was, I think, where I started with this whole multi-day tangent.

twobuyfour said...

She's using up all the words. You're killing me here. I understand exactly what you mean. Maybe there's a market for Shamrock's bad writing. Poorly written books are all over the place.

Starchild said...

i knew it, you hate fat people!

actually, this is the I'm a freshman-considering-being-a-psych-major, taking-an-intro-to-psych-class-answer, so please forgive me, but this has to be said...she SO obviously hates herself and hates her character who was probably some version of herself, that she isn't actually a WRITER, she is more like writing a diary.
What is even more grotesque, she SO obviously wanted to f**k a leprechaun.
I am speaking from my fat, half-Irish, heritage when I say, if you told her to f**k on off, you did her, and Irish people everywhere, a huge service.
So, ACTUALLY, you ARE A. Ginsberg.
see? you don't suck At ALL.

A, can you come do my blog now? I only signed up so I could comment on yours, and now I have an empty blog. It's called and when I say it sucks, i ain't kiddin'.