Friday, May 28, 2010

28. A Two-Minute Novel in Questions

Have you guessed? That there was a review? That, having learned over the years not to mind bad reviews, because my books are not perfect, and some people will notice that, and everybody’s different, and you-can’t-please-them-all, and some will misunderstand, some have different tastes — and fools all of them! but who cares? — having learned, in fact, not to read reviews at all — that still, one slipped through, slipped underneath my skin, and ended up standing on my shoulder!, where it stands now (I think), and leans in when I write, with its weight and its claws?

What if this review — a lengthy review! in a literary journal! by a woman! — what if this review said, amongst other unkind things, that Amelia was sexist! that it privileged the male and silenced women?! What if it assumed a jeering, sneering tone, and gave away the ending, all of the endings!, before concluding that, unfortunately, young people might read this book?

What if I read this review and laughed — paused, afraid a moment, considered it, dismissed it — and laughed again — but what if it kept finding its way back? Breaking down the fences? What if, even though it is a profound misreading, a misapplication of the theory, and can be countered at every turn — what if, despite this, the poison found its way into my head – like you’re stupid, or you’re plain – which is the way sometimes with untruths?

And what if it collected other voices — all the sneering voices of the past, especially my own (that voice from adolescence) — and what if it tangled these voices together, tightly, like a web, so that I could not write a word ?!

Are my metaphors getting themselves tangled here?

Well, but am I not tangled in confusion?!

Because shouldn’t I laugh (again), and flick it away? Talk about an issue that matters? How can so many generous reviews and comments — many that understand exactly what I set out to do with that book — so many beautiful readers! how can they all be erased by a single page of unkind words?!

Why am I doing this at all?! Did I not advise my defamation clients that: one hundred people might have seen this now, but if you sue then a thousand more will see it? What if nobody has even seen that review? What if this post is like a two-headed dragon laying hundreds of tiny dragon eggs?!

Is it revolution or foolishness to write this? Shouldn't you close the curtains on that spotlight? Aren't you supposed to hold it close - closer - never give your sadness away?
But is it cowardly to be silent?

Did I tell you that I googled this: ‘are bullfrogs —’ but google interrupted, thinking that I wondered whether bullfrogs might be:

- or good pets?

That actually, what I wanted to know was whether they were bullies? And turns out they are — in the following way: that they sometimes eat the children of other, smaller frogs? And doesn’t that put things in perspective?

By which I mean to say, am I stretching the concept of a bully here?

Isn’t there a sliding scale, a continuum? From gentle mockery to critique to bad manners to cruelty — and wherever it falls, what do you do? Do you absorb it, turn away, or swing back? Stand tall, leave the school, roar, tell the teachers, say No!? And what do you do if it keeps coming? What if there is smirking and ‘the truth hurts, doesn’t it?’ even though it's actually not true?!

And if I met that reviewer, would I laugh, raise my eyebrows, be charming, indifferent, poisonous, cold, or would I laugh? Would I point out the errors, would my voice rise up in anger if I did? Should I strike back using words as weapons, or as tools, or paper cuts — or just as paper tigers?

Isn’t it a waste of time to write this? Did you know that Isaac Newton couldn’t cope with criticism? That he tried to ignore it, but couldn’t bear the foolishness, and often wasted several days responding in acerbic tones? That he sometimes announced he was giving up science since the critics drove him mad?! Did you know that he invented Calculus? Did you know that someone else said that they’d invented it? That an impartial Report detailed this dispute, and found, conclusively, that Isaac was the one — that this report was followed quickly by an anonymous review, praising the impartial Report?
That the impartial Report and the anonymous Review were both written by Isaac himself?

(Do you realise I am not here in any way suggesting that I am comparable to Newton?)

Also, there is this, that perhaps the bird isn’t really there? Have I mentioned that I once saw an ear specialist, who tested my ears and said that, no, I was not slightly deaf — that what I had was an illusion of deafness?

But what if I feel as bruised as an apple that has fallen from a shopping bag?!

What if the bird leans in and tells me that whatever I write, it will be judged, misjudged, misread, and misunderstood?

What if I find myself (absurdly) compelled to defend my own feminism?! To refer to the fact that I grew up yearning for stronger girls in books, that I studied women’s literature, and gender and the law, that I’ve read all the theory, that my novels have strong, complex girls in the lead roles?!

That when I was in fourth grade, we were told to write letters to the Australian armed forces, requesting information on careers (strange!), that my letter said I’d like to be a pilot, that the reply said, ‘Actually, there are no lady pilots, but here’s some information on nursing,’ while all around the fourth grade boys opened envelopes filled with aeroplanes?

That an aunt once laughed at me and said: ‘There will never be women commentators on the radio; their voices are not pleasant to the ear’?

What if, when I was twelve years old, a teacher, talking about public speaking, mentioned, in an off-hand way, that she did not like the sound of my voice, and that it could be a disadvantage for me in public speaking? So that, for the next year or so, I tried to speak as little as I could, if at all?

Why do women silence other women?

And will this be enough to let it go? The bird, or the poison, or the tangle of voices? Whatever we decide to call it?

(Well, isn’t it a fact that they’re almost gone now anyway — that this blogging has just about worked? And am I not at this moment thinking, 'don't do it! don't publish this!' while another voice says archly, 'yes, you will!"?)

This has taken me longer than two minutes, hasn’t it, and it’s tricky, isn’t it, to write in questions?

Unfortunately, young people might read this book. What a thing to say.