Usually when we speak of gender bias, the first thing that comes to mind is the literary feats of old dead white dudes still controlling the standards by which works of literature are measured today, regardless of the author’s race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Or we speak of the white guys who are still alive and kicking having an upper hand in getting grants, getting agents, getting published, getting attention, getting press, getting prizes, getting better grants, and round and round we go. But the gender bias I want to talk about is far more insidious. Those things I mentioned earlier certainly create a problem that needs to be addressed, but there is a pernicious undercurrent of another form of gender bias among writers that can potentially harm their efforts so early on that they will never get past the very early stages of publishing, let alone into the realm of real recognition, regardless of the depth of their talent. This gender bias has directly to do with the quagmire of questions that are: What does and what does not make a woman? What does and what does not make a man?
My ancient fiction professor at Vanderbilt once told us about a man he knew who drank Dr. Pepper hot. When work was over, this man would get into his after-fives and stir it in a saucepan over low heat, delicately, like he was handling milk. “Sometimes,” Professor Sullivan said, “it’s all right to let your characters take life a little too far.”
I am not a long-write poet and suspect, by nature, I never will be. Most of the time, I see much more value in longer works than in what I produce, (read as: “most of the time I see more value in what everyone else in the world is doing except me”). In this insecurity, I am like a child who stubbornly believes ten one dollar bills will always be worth more than one twenty dollar bill.
A friend of mine once told me he doubts I have the attention span for long-write. Possibly. More likely though, I’ve got an addict’s taste for hit-and-run.
It’s crazy how these old worries keep coming back. In my mind I’m in a poorly lit room. I look down at my own work and think, pouting, “But my work doesn’t sound like other people’s work. My work doesn’t sound like what’s in the literary journals and magazines.” It’s true, but why I automatically jump to the conclusion that this is a bad thing is beyond me. I may have trouble finding a home, but when I do, it will be the right home, the Goldilocks home. Maybe I’ll find several.
The only thing I must absolutely not do is write what I think I should sound like rather than writing what I actually sound like. My poetry and essays look and sound how it looks and sounds in my mind. That’s a good thing because I’m the only one who has my mind. For the world’s sake, that’s an excellent thing.
My world is so incredibly computerized. It seems I spend the entire 2/3rds of my life that I’m not sleeping sitting chained to this screen. To combat this, I’ve started doing my morning writing by hand, which feels wonderful and has improved my previously disused handwriting tremendously. Last night I received a box of stationary supplies from Evil Supply Co. and, among those supplies, was a planner. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it felt to do all my deep, creative planning for the next three months by hand. There is something about the connection between brain, hand, ink, and paper that simply cannot be duplicated by typing. (I think there are even studies that confirm this.)
Obviously, as a writer, I will still spend the majority of my workday in front of the screen, but it is wonderful to have an outlet now for real communion with my creativity.