I recently went with my husband to a concert. The artist we saw writes gut-wrenching songs. His albums are full of fascinating characters and their stories, his voice invites the listener in, and he and his band put on a great show. But I got restless about half way through. “It’s just so masculine,” I said to my husband, and not long after that the inevitable guitar solo tradeoffs began.
I thought of a line from a talk Jill Soloway gave in September at the Toronto Film Festival, titled “The Female Gaze.” She describes sports as “men watching men do things that men like to watch men do.” These solos, and the way the two men stood there, guitar to guitar—locked in a competition that was more than a little homoerotic and that generated music that seemed utterly devoid of feeling—were not for me. I admit I was already on edge. Just a few days earlier, women had heard something that wasn’t for us—the misogynistic and explicit remarks Donald Trump made to Billy Bush on Access Hollywood.
All of this also made me think of Claire Vaye Watkins’ essay, “On Pandering,” which was widely circulated at about this time last year.
As a young woman I had one and only one intense and ceaseless pastime, though that’s not the right word, though neither is hobby or passion. I have practiced this activity with religious devotion and for longer than I can remember. I have been trying to give it up recently . . . since around the time my daughter was born. But nearly all of my life has been arranged around this activity. I’ve filled my days doing this, spent all my free time and a great amount of time that was not free doing it. That hobby, that interest, that passion was this: watching boys do stuff.
Read more at Ploughshares.
Image: Conal Gallagher, 2010
Two weeks ago I finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for a year. My kids were spending the week with their grandparents and Andrew was backpacking with his brothers for a few days and I went feral—falling into irregular patterns of eating, sleeping, and grooming—and wrote over 13,000 words in five days. I was determined that I would finish it during this huge gift of a week and then actually enjoy our upcoming family vacation. I would bask in the glow of this momentous accomplishment and let the draft rest during the back-to-school crunch and agonizing transitions of September. I would pick it up again in October and revise it during the coming academic year.
Today is my blog’s first birthday. It’s also my thirty-eighth birthday. It’s also my nephew Liam’s second birthday. I started the day off right eating breakfast at the Deluxe Town Diner with him and a few other great people, and then we struck a birthday buddies pose in front of these trash cans. I think it’s fair to say that both Liam and I have learned a lot this past year.
When I wrote that first blog entry, I had no idea what kind of year I was headed into, and it’s turned out to be one of my best. It even has a theme: the year I stopped allowing my fear of creating something bad to paralyze me.
Exhibit A: I started a blog, even though there are many people better qualified to write about all the things I write about. I’d been meaning to start a blog for ten years.
Exhibit B: I started writing the novel I was excited about writing instead of the novel it would have been more sensible to write. The one I’m writing is about musicians, which I knew had the potential pitfall of not being able to convey what it needed to convey about music. I knew this problem might be impossible to solve. I’m not at all sure I’ve solved it, but Andrew and I have been creative about trying to, by…
Here’s our new song, Love Is a Sickness.
I finished the 1992 section of my book during the first week of January, and since then I’ve been trying to get a handle on what comes next. I began this project with a sense of where the book ends and an outline for part one, but no outline for the rest of it. I’ve spent the past few weeks writing about the book instead of writing the book, and when I finally started actually writing part two we were barraged with snow and its evil companion: snow days. I’ve missed a lot of writing days as a result, but I’m still scribbling in my notebook and thinking about it, and it’s becoming clearer.
It’s been great to have songwriting as a tool for figuring out what comes next. The book picks up eight (or maybe even a bit more—still not totally sure) years after part one ends, so the character has changed. I thought if we could write a couple of songs for Johanna for part two I would be able to get a handle on who she is eight years later. And I was right. I wrote one that we haven’t recorded yet, and then I came up with the lyrics for “Love Is a Sickness.” Apologies to Samuel Daniel, who coined this phrase in the 16th century.
Andrew and I have a new song. It’s called “New Girl.” I came up with what turned out to be the bridge a couple of months ago, from an idea in the novel I’m working on. The bridge is: “Baby, leave me here with my last cigarette. You don’t want to be the only vice I’ve got left.” I liked the idea of a person or a relationship being a vice, and I like the idea of a sober addict transferring his addictive tendencies to a person, and how it might feel to be that person. This song became a warning from one of the characters in my novel to another. She ignores it, of course.
I’m not sure why I didn’t realize sooner that I should write a novel about musicians, because now my research is watching rockumentaries and reading back issues of Rolling Stone. My fingers are crossed that I’ll get Life, Keith Richards’s memoir, for Christmas, and I’m eagerly anticipating Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon’s memoir, which is due out in February. I could not love that title any more. I can now admit that Sonic Youth was a bit noisy for me even when I was seventeen, but I still think Kim Gordon is devastatingly cool.
You know who I never, ever thought was cool? Axl Rose. By the time I was really into music, Nirvana had arrived and Guns n’ Roses seemed excessive and shallow. But I can’t get this 1992 Axl Rose interview from Rolling Stone out of my head.
Seventeen years after Andrew first walked into my dorm room bearing a few CDs he thought I might love, we wrote and recorded a song together.
It’s here. I would love it if you listened to it. He built a thing himself so it could play music nicely, so it’s just easier if you do it there, though I know all of this back and forth is a lot to ask.
Okay. You’re back. I hope you liked it. The process for writing this song was incredibly roundabout. We both love music and I sing (mostly around the house these days) and he plays like every instrument and is also really into digital music recording. So this seems like something we should have already done, but it’s been a struggle.