Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dear Good Ole Boys of the Literary South

You weary me. I get it. We all get it. You're tough guys. You don't shine to anything that seems like self-promotional pomp. You refuse to gussy up for the cocktail hour with donors. (You hate the rich donors -- who pay your freight.) You talk coarsely around them, tell the raunchy jokes. You get drunk. You proposition the hostess of the literary soiree. You ask the girl in the wheelchair to dance. You hit on the grad students. You almost miss the NPR interview but somebody wakes you up and puts you in a car. (That makes for a good story at the next literary soiree.) You throw up before the panel. You sharpen your knife while running a workshop. You tell stories about snake-handling. You put the other panelists in their place for being uppity. You're the real intellect; people just got all their preconceived notions about who you are and who you come from. You've read every book -- some authors are Gods, some shit. You know where to worship and how to judge those who don't worship right. You're an intellectual bad ass except when making fun of intellectuals.

But let's break this down. You were the sissy boys. You're the ones who read books. You spent your childhoods amid your rough daddies who tried to toughen you up, to no avail. You're the softies, the ones who cried in the movie theater when the dog got shot for being rabid after it protected the family from the wolf. Your softness is an embarrassment. You buried it and then let it spring loose on the page, now and then. Are we shocked that you're capable of that sensitivity? Well, sure. You try to make people cry -- in workshops and at parties. (The girl in the wheelchair didn't cry though. She's tougher than that.) But just to make sure no one thinks you're really soft, you kill off as many dogs as you can on the page, add in brawls, blood and eyeballs.

You don't like self-promotion, but you want to be the center of attention. The next morning, you hate yourself for what you said to the girl in the wheelchair. You hate yourself but good. Every person you made cry, though, it helped them in the end. The world is brutal. Better to learn how to take a beating. You have (rough daddies). Or was it not that bad after all (sweet daddies)? Maybe they drove you to the libraries. You just wanted to be Faulkner. Is that a crime? Is there anyone holier than you? More pure of literary heart?

Here's the thing. How about you just be honest with us? How about you not do the old familiar song and dance? How about you not drink yourselves to death? When you're not being an asshole and not getting in your own way, you write like a house afire. Just be the sissies you are. We all are. (Rough daddies are plentiful. Look the world over.) How about you ease up on the self-hate so you can ease up on hating all of us so much?

I'd like that.


Julianna Baggott