Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Writer's Tale

I recently landed in two separate discussions with two separate groups of people (all college educated) who had no idea who Margaret Atwood was. Literally, not one of them had any idea. I'm not about to suggest she's an underrated writer; she's certainly celebrated for her numerous contributions to literature. But it continues to bother me, or at least sit on the edge of my consciousness, that 1984 is read and recognized widely in schools and universities across this country, but The Handmaid's Tale is not. Namely, because I start to wonder if the "female writer syndrome" is at work, here.

To be fair, most of the people involved in said discussions recognized Atwood when I mentioned she wrote The Handmaid's Tale, as they'd heard of that book, but only two had actually read it. Dystopian fiction is pretty timeless in its popularity, but why does dystopia always invoke discussions on Huxley and Orwell and Orson Scott Card and Philip K. Dick, but not Atwood? She's not strictly a science fiction writer, but she's written a handful of novels set in dystopian societies. And, why on earth is it okay to get through high school and college English without even knowing who she is? She certainly doesn't lack material, having written novels, short stories, poetry, essays, children's books, nature pieces, etc., and in all these fields, her work excels. There are, of course, many good writers whose work is overlooked by the mainstream; with Atwood, the question inevitably has to be, "Is she excluded because she's a woman?" I can't fully answer that, myself, but I do think the more recent movement of more female writers into the science fiction and fantasy genres will bring more acceptance of all of them as credible writers in the genre. And maybe, The Handmaid's Tale, which has lately become a more realistic than fictional perspective of modern society, will eventually find its place in the mainstream, alongside Orwell and the like.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


For as long as I can remember, I've been the sort of person who keeps records of various facets of my life.I don't consider myself a sappy sort of person, in any way, but I think there's a misconception about recorders being sappy, sentimental types, really.  I don't know the origin of this habit, but I've always noticed in others a lack of attention to the details around them, and perhaps it's my way of filling in those gaps in observed things/events/moments/whatever. As you can imagine, I enjoy lists, so allow me to attempt to expand on this statement:

I kept a written diary throughout most of my adolescence and started a five-year journal a couple of years ago. I made mix tapes of my favorite songs on the radio that I still have, decades later (in addition to VHS tapes of a similar nature, with my favorite music videos and band interviews). I keep a list of books I've read that dates back several years. I date practically everything, whether it's a handwritten note to someone or a to-do list. I write events in my planner even after they've happened, just in case I need to go back and recount something. I make a strong attempt to keep every draft and edit of every poem/story/novel/play/whatever I write, which all writers know, can amount to dozens of copies of hundreds of pieces, which leads into yet another idiosyncrasy: my flash drives that contain the entirety of my college work, the entirety of my writing (dating back to my teens, anyway, and though the obsessive record keeper in me laments not having any sort of copy of my writing as a child, my more rational self understands there would be little point in hanging on to such embarrassments), pictures covering the past decade, and every miscellaneous file from my adulthood, including old online chats with friends, resumes and work-related diatribes (I once wrote what can only be described as a manifesto detailing the management of a gift department at my job - yes, indeed, I do not mess around), and past submissions to literary journals.

(This is the part, by the way, where many of you tell me I'm not crazy and alone in having this quirk, that during your longer-than-it-should-have-lasted childhood geology phase, you also kept notes on the names and types of rocks you found, including when and where you found them. Basically normal, right?)

I should clarify that none of this feels as exhausting as it comes across here. I suppose doing it for the majority of my life makes it very second nature, after a while. Now, this tendency has been heightened tenfold, since I've ventured into parenting. Hard to believe I could become even more obsessive than I already was, but I suppose it makes sense, since I'm now not just keeping a record of my own life, but someone else's, as well. There was the pregnancy journal beforehand, which was a little too sentimental for my taste, admittedly, but I kept it, in the event I ever want to recall the experience (an experience we probably forget much of, over time). Then of course, after the spawn emerges, there's the saying you hear constantly from those around you: "Enjoy it all, it goes by so fast."

For the record (oh, the pun-ery), I've often found myself disagreeing with that, as parenting has made me feel entire years of my life have gone by in the span of a few months. But that's beside the point. Fast, you say? Well, then, I must record it all! There are the baby/toddler books...also overly sentimental, but more important than the typical milestone photos, in my opinion, are the sometimes copious notes I've taken about his accomplishments, his likes and dislikes, his mannerisms, and his routines.

The one record-related thing I do that technology likely limited previous generations from doing is I take pictures of him every day. Or I try to, anyway; a day inevitably gets skipped, here or there. And part of the reason I do it is that it enables me to permanently capture something that many don't think to capture - daily life.

Nowadays, it seems, we're obsessed with milestone photo shoots. Engagement photos, wedding photos, pregnancy photos, newborn, six months, one year, birthdays, first day of school, piano recitals, prom, etc. These are all occasions worthy of photos, but they're also the events we're not likely to forget, and as of late, I've become more interested in getting pictures of what I likely won't remember years from now - my spawn's day-to-day life. Riding in the car, eating lunch, chatting with stuffed animals, playing with our dogs. I'll also take photos of seemingly un-photogenic things, like the back of his head or his foot or his face when he's upset. People think I'm crazy.

And obviously, I don't care. Because I'm obsessive and on a mission. The fact of the matter is, I've already forgotten what the hell he was like even just a year ago, and for someone who somewhat obsessively records life and its surroundings, the solution starts with the realization that what is mundane in our lives today may become some endlessly fascinating tidbit we yearn for, later. My effort is largely to become more conscious of the little things I want to remember - and to record as many of them as I can.

Poem in Really System

Really System is a kick-ass journal that published me a while back, and I'm happy to be in their most recent issue again with a new poe...