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Les Semaines

99.04.18

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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Becoming Invisible

In the course of a couple of email correspondences I've started talking about what it's like to become invisible.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a woman of small ego or personality and I even have a strong sense of the ways in which I'm physically attractive. I don't easily disappear except at large parties, where I tend to turn myself invisible which is something else entirely, and is due to my inability to cope in crowds unless I know enough people who make up the crowd.

No, what I'm referring to is a different phenomenon, a societal one, one that gradually happens to every woman, except perhaps Jackie Onassis and a few well-known others. It even happens to men, but only much much older when they become obviously infirm. And it happens, I'm guessing, to people who are physically disabled, but I would think in a slightly different way.

The concept was pushed into my head in correspondence with two male friends of mine, both artists, both of whom felt passed up by awards. And I realized that I didn't think of awards as something I could feel passed up by--that I had no sense of entitlement that kind of notice, or indeed to notice of any kind regarding my work. How odd, for a writer who gets her work out there however she can and while I'm no showoff I do some rather obvious self-promotion when appropriate (through pursuing readings and such). But I've never expected recognition in the way that these male friends did. I welcome it when it does come, of course, but it would never occur to me to feel passed over because I was not nominated for an award.

Now, aside from the quality of their work, which is not at all in question, I had trouble figuring out why they expected to be noticed and I realized I was thinking in female terms. Most women don't expect work they do to get noticed in that way. Men expect their work to be noticed. In the normal way of the world. (Generally, of course: when talking about things on this level it's only possible to speak in generalizations because certainly there are specific instances of exceptions.)

And there's societal invisibility. When women are young they do expect to be noticed sexually (so do men for that matter) but after that, unless losing that sexual notice makes them nervous and they fight the process off, they gradually become invisible, far younger than men do. I am becoming invisible--the first way was by being overweight, so for me the process began younger than for women who are closer to general societal expectations for attractiveness. And then by letting my hair do what it does naturally, which is turn grey--it started when I was 17.

And I've noticed that for a large proportion of the population now, I simply no longer exist. It's fascinating.

It reminds me of when I was 21 and had worked in the hardware department of a store for almost a year and a teenage boy was hired. Customers would ask him a question, he'd ask me, I'd answer, and the customers would ask him the next question, as so on. It blew my mind. I laughed at first, but it started to bug me.

Anyway, while I'm partially invisible, one of my vanities does draw attention--I keep my greying hair in-your-face noticeable by the fact of keeping it long. I get compliments by strangers. Ha! So much for invisibility, at least among those who have eyes to see. But really, I've never minded being invisible--it must be harder for women who expect notice and attention, particularly of the sexual kind, when they get older and more invisible generally. There are several women of my acquaintance who have long defined themselves by the sexual attention they draw who I suspect will have a hard time with this. Still, those women would never expect their work to draw public notice.

What a strange world--just when a lot of people know enough to start getting really interesting, they become invisible. To the crowd, but not necessarily to individuals.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

This was a miscellaneous listening week. All over the place, listening to a string of old favourites, including some recent ones, and Jim played DJ one evening and played a bunch of things I hadn't listened to in a while but that I love, like Rebecca Moore's Admiral Charcoal's Song, blackgirl's procedure, goya dress's bedroom cinema, boo trundle's tall sleep...it was quite wonderful.

He also bought some new discs himself (not me for a change) from Bedazzled, including a new An April March ep.

Right now as I type I'm listening to a live tape of Veda Hille, who is probably my favourite musical artist. She sings "This is so beautiful and fierce," and yes, it is, which is why I love her.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

I read Sean Stewart's Mockingbird this week. Every book of his I read, I love. He writes beautifully--nothing overwrought to draw notice to itself, but simply, clearly. He also knows how to give his readers hooks into his characters. The stories are all very different: some are contemporary, like Mockingbird and others are set in worlds not ours, but always there is plenty for the reader to grab hold of and get lost in the story. Mockingbird is a novel about a contemporary family of magical women in Houston, and how they learn to love each other. It's a charming, powerful novel that I highly recommend. Rather like Alice Hoffman's novel Practical Magic but with more depth and characters you really get into (I find Hoffman pretty superficial, though I know other people don't).

I also read the first mystery in a series of medieval mysteries set in York, England, written by a local (Seattle) author, Candace Robb. It was intriguing, especially, for me, the historical stuff. But mysteries just aren't my drug of choice. They're too tidy and there's none of that essential ingredient for me in fiction, the old sensawonda. That's what makes me love fiction, and poetry.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

So Blood Memory went out in the mail on Monday. I can't believe I finished it, and that it fell together so quickly. I really am amazed at how it happened. Last Thursday I found its basic structure. Last Sunday I revised that, complicated it, and this Monday I put it out in the mail.

Of course, none of that accounts for the years I've spent thinking about what I wanted this book to be; how one day in 1991 when I was cutting out a jumper (I never did finish that jumper) I started writing a long poem in the voice of a Viking's wife--she's talking to herself as he sails away. I kept thinking the poem was finished and I'd go back to the jumper and work a little and more lines would spring up in my head and I'd be back to my notebook, scribbling them down. When I was finally finished a second voice had her say (a woman on the shore the Viking is sailing to) and there the whole idea for the manuscript was born. A collection of women's voices, ordinary women, talking about their lives through space and time.

At first I thought they were mostly going to be historic voices, but that's not how it turned out--well over half are clearly contemporary, and many of the poems aren't dramatic monologues and some are fantasy voices, but there they are.

Blood Memory.

I'm having trouble settling back into getting the fiction done that I need to.

In another conjunction, it was looking at Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, the book (and TV series) that the high school class in civilisation I talk about below was based on that started the Viking voice in my head.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

October 1975

144. Civilisation

Civ is trés interesting. It has to be my favourite class, even more than writing (yes, i'm taking writing again). It's all about art (literature, painting, sculpture, architecture) all that sort of f'rout thing. Pretty soon my name's going to be up there with Leonardo, Giotto, all those guys. Sure! Absolutely! You can sell my autograph for twenty bucks if that ever happens. What a joke.

145. History

Hist'ry of the twentieth cent'ry. World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, etc. Teacher talks most of the time, which is a drag 'cause he's interesting, and even if you don't want to listen, you find yourself doing it. Then essays, essays, essays, purnells1, purnells, short reports, just pile it on. Work. What a drag. I don't know how i'll ever get up enough energy to pass.

146. Writing again

Back again to writing class.2 Same course, same teacher, different people, different me. I don't think i Phono as well as i used to, but maybe i'll learn again. I've written quite a few poems lately but no stories, though i think i've got a story on my mind. I'm doing research for it (research--look again, seek again. Ain't no again involved with this. Oh well.) I've got a Poetry Problem. Too many disconnected images. Have to tie 'em together, or concentrate on only one to a poem.

147. Canadian Literature

Yep, that's what i write at the top of my page every day. The date and the words Canadian Literature. I've got lots of disconnected, rambling, mixed-up notes that make about as much sense of my disconnected poetry images. My poetry is Canadian Literature, why can't i study that?3 Let's take over the class and write, instead of study, Canadian Literature! Revolution! (Look out Mr. Munch!)

148. The Lord is Coming4

The Lord is coming, that's what people bin tellin' me. "Look out!" "Beware!" "You never know when He'll get here!" [Quote omitted from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"]5 Jesus is all right with me, and oh what a friend we have in Jesus--isn't that where it's at, not "Beware! Forswear thy foolish ways?" Isn't the love more important than the fear? It is to me.

149. Look out Phono

Look out Phono, you're getting too serious and Heavy; and it that isn't a sin, I don't know what is.

150. Two (too) many essays

That's what i've got right now, too many essays to write, too much homework. Four essays due within two and a bit weeks. So what am i doing? Writing in Phonosnout, that's what. I've got an essay on a book due first, i don't even know what theme i'm going to use for it (how much i hated writing an essay on the book?) then an essay on a Renaissance artist, concentrating on one of his works i particularly like (i think i want to do Leonardo da Vinci, aside from the fact i think he's a genius, i'm interested in his work and i love The Last Supper, i did a report on him in grade five, so it'll be a little less prep work.6 The next essay is on another book, i'm just about finished reading it, it's about a small town preacher and his wife, a very grey prairie novel.7 Hard to concentrate on. The last one is a big 2,000-3,000 word essay on, and i quote, "The twenties were a crucial decade setting the social pattern for modern america." Sounds easy, doesn't it? I think i want to hide in a dark corner somewhere. Somewhere where teachers can't assign me any more essays! Besides this i've got to keep churning out writing and do my regular homework, and catch up on my correspondence course8 (i haven't done anything on it in over a month.)

151. Another said ta(i)le

Gee, that was an awfully long chapter (for a Phono-chapter). Please feel sorry for me with all my homework. Poor, poor, me. Notice me struggling away working on essays! "Dear, dear, what's that? You're writing in that funny little book again? But your essay is due tomorrow!" Nyeh! Leave me alone and i'll go home wagging my tail behind me. (Question--do Phonos have tails?)

152. Early music

Early music flows through my mind, pieces of the morning, flowing, a river of words and tunes. Passing through this day, i noticed that... (brain surgery should have been performed before the catalyst occurred? No, something else) that time is flowing through me, and i am standing still.

153. Blissful Ignorance

That's me, i'm blissfully ignorant. Mr. Munch is writing those words on the blackboard (greenboard?) with white chalk. There are all sorts of cute diagrams up there, but who know what they mean? I hope, or at least assume that Mr. Munch knows what they mean. I don't, but probably will. However, meanwhile...
                i remain...
                     blissfully ignorant
What an adorable phrase!


NOTES

1. I can't for the life of me remember what a purnell is. Probably some collection of materials about a particular subject that we'd have to report on.

2. Just as a note about how dedicated I was, because there only was one class of creative writing I didn't get credit for it the second time I took it. What a sacrifice for art!

3. Freaky--recently I've received email messages from high school students (I think, I suppose they could have been undergraduates, but high school is my guess) doing reports on my work and wanting more information. I wonder if I would have had the nerve to email a writer at that age? Probably not.

4. I can't tell you how difficult it is to type this stuff.

5. I suppose this is still under copyright. Anyway, at least I still had a sense of humour about this.

6. Wow--strange to think how close I was to that age then. Of course I don't remember this at all now.

7. This would be Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House, a classic piece of prairie writing. 8. It was a course on the Bible as Literature, which was only available via correspondence. I had to take an extra course to make up for taking Creative Writing again, but I enjoyed the extra Bible study. I'm still glad I learned this stuff at church and through this course. Otherwise I would never have read the Bible. I can't imagine doing the literature studies I did later without knowing the Bible.

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