Monday, October 29, 2007

Top Issues in Unspeakableness

Here are some high (and low?) points from the panel on Saturday.
  1. Mental illness: apparently if you are depressed, or if you drink a lot (in fiction) you might be considered "mentally ill." By this standard, most people I know are mentally ill. I mean, who doesn't get depressed? And by depressed I mean would rather stay in her pajamas all day and swear?
  2. Swearing: Apparently, here in our corner of the universe, swearing is bad. Where I come from (not too far to the North) swearing is what people do. According to me and Raymond Carver, swearing is fun and a less fatal way of relieving stress than bar fighting. Also, according to me, swearing is the only sane response to people who honk at you for yielding to pedestrians. Someone (he must have been from Provo) asked me if I worried about alienating my audience by dropping the F-bomb. First, can I just say that I hate (hate!) the expression F bomb? I had never heard it until I moved here. This, despite growing up not too far away! Swearing is good for you! In the name of all that is holy, start swearing! And I answered that I never thought about it. Which is true. My co-panelist, Christine, said she tried to alienate people and in spite of this was invited by our friends down south to read. She thought they hadn't read her book, but they had. So we try to alienate, but we fail.
  3. Alcohol: Christine's protagonist is a self-confessed alcoholic. Mine just drinks a lot (martinis, wine, margaritas). I said it was a "social lubricant". It allows her to do stuff, like relax and get on with life. Much like swearing.
  4. Indeterminate sexuality: I think that it's okay to be gay and it's okay to be straight, but we don't much like people who can't commit to one or the other. And in my story, it wasn't a case so much of that. A few people have commented on the "sexual attraction" between the female characters. I never thought of it that way, but more that the main character was obsessed with the other's (pregnant) body. But that falls into some indeterminate category, which makes people uncomfortable. (One editor called my story "edgy.")
  5. Unspeakableness: One sharp listener observed that if we were talking and writing about it, then it wasn't "unspeakable." I agreed, sort of. We write around things, like depression and alcoholism and hope that readers put it together for themselves. But then he asked, what is, truly, unspeakable. My response: violence against children. I think there are times when it is acceptable to talk about it, but as a subject for fiction, I don't want it described or, I don't know. I just don't read books like that, and I do, in some cases, think it shouldn't be published. I think it's unspeakable, as a writer, to talk about subjects or genres that the first amendment shouldn't protect, but I feel that way about violence against children.
  6. Librarian rudeness: Our panel ended at the same time the library was closing. The librarians ran into the room and said, "You have to leave" then proceeded to hang around as if we were ruffians bent on destroying The Word and not participants in the Book Festival that they were hosting. It was...weird.
All in all, the festival was fun. I heard Janette Turner Hospital read and bought her new book, Orpheus, Lost, which is good so far.
You should also buy Christine Allen-Yazzie's book if you haven't already. It's great.


ErinAlice said...

Yea I think F bomb is right up there with Oh my Heck! Swearing usually makes me feel better, as long as the kids aren't around. I agree that drinking is, as you called it, a social lubricant. I know some people who could use some of that. Sounds like you had fun. And I have found, our mother not included, that most librarians are a bit harsh and well rude. Like they are on some book power trip. Remember the librarian at HHS??? I never went in there because of her. Yikes!!

Lisa B. said...

I heard about the rude librarians from my writing group. Whatever! However, it sounds like your panel was a cornucopia of hotbed issues. Swearing is, like, a hobby of mine, and I come by it honestly--my forebears were inveterate, if not particularly daring, cursers. One of my favorite stories about my grandmother is when she was walking into the grocery store from the parking lot, and a big dog in one of the cars barked a ferocious bark, and she said "Son of a bitch!" I myself was swearing at a young age. Let's all swear a little more, is what I say.

susansinclair said...

Librarians can be very uptight. And some can be very very cool. I think if I could have been guaranteed cool library colleagues, I would have totally gone the MLS route and been done with school like 7 yers earlier. (Once I said "totally" I just had to use "like.")

Yeah, the indeterminate sexuality thing. I almost think that has more to do with gender than anything else. We so need people to be one thing or another.

As for drinking, didn't we learn in your blog some time back that it is a known fact that lesbians like to drink?