Friday, October 14, 2005

Icarus Descending (More on Steve Almond's Salon Piece)

What bothers me so much about this piece, and there are so many things really, is how absolutely dishonest it is. He first trashes Sarvas and makes really puerile allusions about him sexually. When he sees him at a book festival he fantasizes saying, "Does anyone around here smell blog pussy?" Um. Gross? Then he ends the nasty piece with a high-handed morality play about forgiveness.

He did a reading at Sewanee from one of his short stories and I didn’t go, but my friends all loved it and thought it was funny. It was about an affair the narrator has with a lifeguard and when she has an orgasm, the whole pool comes out of her. Or something. But my reaction was just kind of, you know, ew. What else can I say? I'm not a prude. I'm really not. I mean, bring it on. But give us a little dimension to the sex--a little give--and not just a rude goose up the arse.

Something about his stuff just smacks of such juvenile, snickering, prurient, finger-sniffing immaturity. Like an adolescent metronome. To wit, from the end of the aforementioned story, My Life in Heavy Metal, "I was doing something even noble in the eyes of youth...Radical, kickass, seeking love on all fronts, transporting myself beyond the reach of loneliness and failure, into the blessed province of poontang."

Some guys just know how to do it, and you can detect this. And when they write about sex, you just know, you just know from what they are revealing, and what they are reveling in, and the details they notice, and how they express it, how they might be. And when I read Steve Almond’s stuff, I just come away with that cheeseball feeling you get from all the micro-dick losers sending in their cum stained fantasygrams to Penthouse.

I think the thing that gets people’s goat about him is that he’s a sham. He pulled one over on everyone. She orgasmed up a pool, man—we have to publish this dude! A pool! Dude! Like you made her cum up a whole POOL. Dude!

This also bothered me. In talking about blogs he writes, "It's a kind of Ponzi scheme in which the object is attention, and the shared illusion is one of relevance."

Oh really? Then what is the whole MFA, lit magazine, writer’s conference, plum university teaching job, dog and pony show? If that’s not a Ponzi scheme—or more accurately a Faustian scheme—I don’t know what is.

What pisses Steve Almond off is what pisses off every slobbering beast who’s finally made it to a perceived Valhalla—he doesn’t want anyone taking any short cuts to the booty ranch. No he doesn’t. And in his stuffy, condescending assessment of blogs, he reminds me of my crusty old theatre history professor who proclaimed, with creaky irrelevance, that Sam Shepard was merely a “flash in the pan.”

I think his failure, or refusal to accept new forms of art and expression reveals an incurious and frightened mind that doesn’t want anyone crashing the party he clawed his way into through all the “correct” channels.

Every writer with an ambition knows the ropes—beginning with publishing in literary magazines, and there is a strata there, to be sure. Steve Almond mentions that a lot too—he makes a point (not in this article) of saying that not only is he published, but he is published in ONLY THE FINEST literary journals. His status grubbing is pretty transparent. A diaphanous gown of pride. And, one would hope, pride goeth before a fall.

So you publish in journals, then you assemble the story collection, all the while completing the novel feverishly because, it is carved in the tablets, you MUST have a novel before you go to the agent. Novel first, short story collection chaser, and then it’s on to the teaching gig pot o’ gold. Those are the "correct channels" to achieve literary luminousness.

He says not many people read blogs. Well, one might ask, who the hell reads literary magazines? Even THE FINEST literary magazines? Hmm? Other writers, that’s who, if you’re lucky. It’s a Ponzi scheme unto itself. You can’t get published unless you have been published, and on and on. There are blogs with readerships that would make most literary magazines cry into their Wheaties every morning. So let’s not get all fusty and territorial about our hard won writerly pimpapalooza. And how nice of him to qualify his rants against the blogging stepchildren and single out Wendy McClure as a “real writer” among the chaff. A benediction from the Great One.

This last conceit really made me want to hurl: "It will have occurred to nearly all of you at this point that I have made a dream come true for Sarvas. He has officially made it into my world. But I'm also going to offer him something he wasn't bargaining for: my forgiveness."

If that is not the BIGGEST pair of wax wings headed for the sun, I don’t know what is. He has “made it into my world”? Someone PLEASE turn up the sun! Make those tragic bloated wings melt! Fall into the sea! Banish-ed. Be gone with you. And forgiveness? Really? Let me blog pussy you all over a national publication and humiliate you and lord my “real” writer self all over the page and then, at the end, like Jesus Christ himself, let me absolve thee of thy sins against me.

Please, someone, get the hook. Pluck him from the sky. I don't think any of us could survive the tidal surge his plunge would incite.

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