Self Censorship

On October 1, I changed the theme of my blog for the first time in three years, and asked you guys if there was anything you wanted to see me write about. ShoutAbyss  posed this question to me:

 How did you decide you are an atheist? Do you out your atheist beliefs or keep them in the closet?

I realized, as I read the comment, that when it comes to my blog, I really do keep a lot of things in the closet. I censor myself. I rarely, if ever, use the swear-words that I use both in everyday life and in much of my fiction. I try not to touch tricky subjects like politics or religion. I don’t share my deepest darkest secrets – or, if I do, I try to mask them in story form or in poetic prose, and I attempt to shield my exact meaning. This last makes sense – there are people who read this blog who actually know me, and sometimes I want to discuss things that they might not know about me and that I’d rather not share with them. This is natural. Anyway, writing about my personal life through other kinds of media is an interesting challenge and I enjoy it.

But why do I censor my politics, my religious opinions, my coarse and often vulgar language?

I think I’m scared. Scared to alienate readers. Scared to have people challenge me on my ideas. To be fair, when it comes to politics, while I have solid ideas and opinions of my own, I don’t feel comfortable expressing them when I’m ignorant of many of the facts. The title of this blog has always, whether you knew it or not, alluded to my weird reluctance to read the news and educate myself properly on what’s going on in the world. I’m less ignorant now, and I listen to NPR and read the New Yorker, and I feel more informed, but I still feel the childish ignorance rise up in me when I’m called to defend my opinions.

When it comes to religion… well, that’s a very sensitive subject to a lot of people, and it’s one that I feel extremely strongly about. I also know that I have various readers who have their own strong opinions, and yes, I don’t wish to alienate them or push them away from me. I’m probably not giving them enough credit – they’re all open, intelligent people, and I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t forsake me because my opinion differs than there own. And yet – and yet I still haven’t written about how I feel on this subject (unless, of course, I have and I’m not remembering it. Which, in three years of blogging, is entirely possible.)

Finally, when it comes to the profanities, I think that I don’t use them because a) yes, they make many people uncomfortable, but also because b) there are stronger, more interesting words for me to use, and it’s a fun challenge to write differently than I speak.

So am I censoring myself? No doubt. Despite all my lovely rationalizations above, I’m still aware that it probably all stems out of fear of being rejected. Approval matters to me a lot more than I feel comfortable admitting. But maybe, in censoring myself, I’m managing to explore some other sides of me, my mind, and my writing.

How about you? Do you feel like you censor yourself on your blogs?

Please Hold, We Will Be With You Shortly

Dear Sir, Madam, Non-Binary Identifier or Automaton,

I would like to point out an apparent flaw in your system. By “you,” I refer, of course, too all companies in general, whether they are private medical practices or credit-card companies. I hope you will forgive me for lumping you all in the same group, and believe me when I say that after extensive research I have come to the conclusion that the issue at hand is relevant to each and every one of you.

It is not a very big problem, to be truthful, but I believe that you could solve it quite simply. Let me come at the matter in a roundabout fashion – please imagine yourselves using a telephone in order to reach a particular service you wish to use or inquire about. Now, think of automated recording that answers. It tells you, in some form or another, that your call is very important, but that other clients are being served at this time. It requests that you stay on the line, and promise to be wish you shortly. After some variation of this form, music begins to play.

I shudder to refer to the tinny loops of notes as “music” but I suppose that it is the best and least offensive name for the noise. In a world that has birthed string-quartets, orchestras, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, it is incredible that such sounds still exist outside of the endearing false notes of a beginning violinist. Furthermore, in a universe that has come to use radio waves as well as the Internet for transmitting music, it is hard for me to believe that the options for cheap, or even free, music is so hard for companies to come by.

It is my opinion, and I am sure that others will concur, that the collective “you” to whom I write, that such alienating and disturbing music is the cause of many a headache, not to mention heartaches, missed dates and other inconveniences. I will check the statistic on bleeding ears and get back to you on that when I get more information.

If you truly value your customers, will you please consider trying to play something that doesn’t loop every fifteen seconds? I can almost guarantee that your callers will be in a much better mood when one of your highly-trained service providers answer the phone, thus causing quicker and more efficient service, which would lead to more satisfied customers who would use your services more often.

As a Good Samaritan, I am not asking for any share of the extra profit.

Sincerely,

Slightly Ignorant

Book Review: “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

Hard as it is to picture New York City’s 5th Avenue lined with houses, it is much more difficult to really grasp the way American high-class society functioned a mere century ago. When I read Jane Austen’s female characters’ trials and tribulations, I remember that she and they are some two hundred years removed from my world of tank-tops, flip-flops, cougars and boy-toys. The names of pastoral English counties and villages, if they still exist, echo in my ears as from long in the past.

Wharton’s Lily Bart, however, inhabits a world that includes Central Park, 59th Street, Madison Avenue and Long Island. These familiar names resonated within me as I read of Mr. Trenor’s crude flirtation with and near-rape of poor Lily, and reminded me that a hundred years is not so very long. It chills me to think that the same streets I walked just a couple of weeks ago used to be inhabited by a society that excluded women like Lily Bart if they were whispered about and tainted by the slanderous tongues of their so-called ‘friends.’

Lily is not an innocent by any mean, but to be fair, she is painfully honest with herself. She’s manipulative, shallow, wasteful and sometimes tactless, and knows herself to be ornamental rather than useful. But she’s the heroine of this beautiful book, and despite her many shortcomings – or maybe because of them – I loved her from the first chapter. Her fall from grace is described gradually, through a series of events that are seen by her social-circle as indicative of her ‘fastness.’ In truth, she’s not fast at all – she’s rather picky, and though she intends to marry someone rich enough to support her gambling habit as well as her wardrobe, she never manages to follow through on these base instincts.

Wharton’s language is subtle, but any reader attuned to the nature of witty word play that floods novels of a certain era will be able to pick up on the truth behind the niceties: the couple having marital difficulties are clearly cheating on each other, Mr. Trenor is asking for physical and not monetary repayment of Lily’s debt, Gerty Farish represents what Lily might have been under different circumstances. So much of this is between the lines, however, that a reader trying to ignore the hints will lose a lot of what is being conveyed.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book is the way Lily’s change of outlook affected my own opinions. The odious Mr. Rosedale and the gossiping Mrs. Fisher became my favorite characters by the closing chapter – their knack of speaking the blunt truth rather than beating around the bush was refreshing in Lily’s world of careful conversation and venomous whispers. Wharton’s ability to change a reader’s mind is to be admired.

I highly recommend The House of Mirth, although I daresay you won’t find much to laugh at in its pages.

Stories

We’re all made of stories.

We’re all living stories.

We’re all making stories.

Everything in our lives can be seen as a story. There’s the story about how you were born, the story of whose braid you pulled in first grade, and when you got braces, and why you chose to take physics in high-school and where you had your first kiss.

We all tell stories every day. There’s the story you tell your best friend about how your date went last night, the story you tell your aunt about whose car you dented last week, and the one you tell your coworker about when the boss got drunk at the office party, and the one you tell your cat about why you’re giving him canned food instead of dry today, and the one you tell yourself about where you wish you were right now.

We all make up stories all the time, too. There’s the story of how you wish your father was alive, the story of whose life you’d want to try out for a day, and the story of when you’ll really feel like a grown-up for sure, and why you’re going to win the lottery next time and where you can picture yourself living in ten years.

But then, there are the missing stories.

The stories of horrible events that need to be suppressed.

The stories that you’ll never know, because there’s no one who can tell them to you.

The stories that will never be, because they’re too frightening to really accept.

Even then, though – there are stories. Every minute of every day of your life. They are stories.

Wuthering Heights

It’s a classic. Lots of people have read it. It’s right up there with Jane Eyre and anything by Jane Austin. I hadn’t read it before, and when I was looking through the bookshelves at home, I decided to pick it up and try it. Ever since I got home for my break, I’ve been reading a new book every couple of days, spending half my days reading and swallowing up page after page. I’m beginning to feel like a hermit, but then there’s something so nice in escaping completely and utterly into the worlds of other people.

So I decided to read Wuthering Heights. The copy I picked off our shelf was beautiful – a small, green, hardback copy in terrific condition and with that special type that seems to dominate older library books. I began reading, excited that I’d finally get to know this Mr. Heathcliff that everyone who talks about the book is always swooning about. I assumed he’d be something like Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester; gruff and unfriendly, but ultimately the possessor of a romantic and loving heart.

In this, as in everything else I’d heard about the book, I was sorely mistaken. Heathcliff is horrible. Why is he romanticized? True, the life he led wasn’t particularly a good one, but then his mean and vengeful spirit was entirely his own, in my opinion. The whole book was so vastly different from what I imagined it to be – I thought it would be more like a Jane Austin novel, but instead I found it to be disturbing, full of  menacing and frightening characters, violent and truly distressing.

This is the first time I truly felt that I’d judged a book by it’s cover. Must remember not to do that again in a hurry.

Collapse

Some things are destroyed all at once, in a flash and with a bang. The ruin is catastrophic, dramatic, big and bold. It’s a declaration of horror and ruin, without any cause for doubt or room for discussion. There’s a sort of beauty, stark and horrible, to a ruin like this. People watch car crashes and buildings going up in flames and roadkill for this reason – there’s a beauty in the dramatic effect of a life being snuffed out or even simply in the ruin of something substantial that you wouldn’t expect to be destroyed so quickly or easily. It’s a morbid and fearful beauty, but there is beauty in it.

Then there are things that collapse from within, slowly, without drawing attention to themselves. Things stew for ages, gradually becoming worse, collapsing by degrees. It’s like something decaying, almost – there is something there underneath the surface that rots away slowly, until one day you realize that the whole thing is about to fall down completely with the slightest puff of wind or nudge of a fingertip. There is a different sort of beauty here – the frail, the pathetic, the fragile and ethereal look that sometimes comes across in this situation. It is the feeling of impending doom, but one that has been coming for a long, long time.

No matter what, there is a beauty in collapse, however wrong it may be.

A Passion For Fantasy

The first fantasy novel I read was the first of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I was young enough then that my mother was reading it to me, at my request – the book seemed long and daunting to the nine year-old girl that I was. About twelve chapters in, though, I started cheating- I would keep reading after my mom would put the book down and say good night. A few chapters later, I felt guilty and confessed to my mother what I had been doing. She laughed and let me read it on my own from then on. That was the first average length book that I read on my own.
Today, it seems so funny to me, having read series upon series comprising eight-hundred page books. Fantasy novels tend to be long, full of twisting, complicated plots and myriad characters. One of my series even has a section listing the “Dramatis Personae” at the beginning of it, lest the readers should forget who’s who.
Too many people criticize fantasy novels for their themes: idealized past, patriarchal societies, a suspicious appreciation of monarchic or socialist systems of government. The ironic and critical presentation of such systems which is apparent in so many of the books is usually overlooked entirely.
Moreover, there is so little appreciation for the massive amounts of research and imagination that goes into the writers’ work. Fantasy writers create whole worlds from scratch, from political entanglements to the irrigation systems, from magic spells to religions, from the layout of the land to the very flora that grows in it. When they’re not building their worlds, they’re researching ancient warfare, the hundreds of different deities that exist in current and ancient religions, the way actual monarchies functioned once upon a time and much more. And this is just for writers of this type of fantasy – there are so many different types and sub-genres that they’re hard to keep straight, and critics often don’t bother to distinguish them whatsoever.
I’ve held these opinions close to my heart for as long as I’ve been reading fantasy, and I have never had the opportunity to research these phenomena. Why is fantasy so disdained? Why isn’t it appreciated, but rather looked upon as a genre only for children and teenagers and unsophisticated readers? Why are the writers of fantasy not praised for their incredible writing style at least? Why do fantasy novels reach the best-seller lists, but then get beaten down and criticized?

I wish it weren’t the case, that so much of the fantasy genre be treated as sub-par by so many – especially when books that are fun reads but by no means well-written become best-sellers overnight.