12 November, 2009

About women's work, particularly their writing work

Here. Yes.

Three other depressing stories: Sheng Keyi's story (trans. Eric Abrahamsen) 'An Inexperienced World' in the latest HEAT (the beginning of which is available, Jonathan points out in the comments, online—thanks, Jonathan!). Something depressing about this being the first item in the issue, but mainly it's the story itself. It's about a women 'well past thirty and possessed of a certain experience of life', which suggests to me that the author might well be under thirty ('born in the 1970s' says an online bio) or just on the cusp of it. I seem to have recently read quite a lot of stories by young writers, male and female - but it's particularly distressing from young women - that are essentially about feelings of revulsion for the state of middle age, and a particular contempt for middle-aged women. This one seems to think that middle age is all about mourning for lost youth, lost vitality, lost sexual attractiveness, that those losses sit centre stage in the woman's mind and render her almost incapable of interacting with 'normal' (generally younger, or male) people. It's like those scenes in Hollywood movies that are young studio executives' imaginings of how established couples relate: they're bored solid with each other, and the woman is pathetic because she's not the young beauty her husband married, and any affectionate behaviour he can demonstrate towards her is to be regarded as a great kindness of his in the face of his own loss. That Julie Christie/Alzheimer's movie seemed to stink of that. Away From Her. Anyway, read the 'An Inexperienced World' and tell me what you think.

I woke up at 2.30 am last night and couldn't get back to sleep, so I took my book light and 10 Short Stories you MUST Read and read on the couch for a while. Robert Drewe and Peter Temple. Two stories about middle-aged men behaving poorly, which was depressing enough in itself - I suspect they might have been meant to be mordantly funny - but the casual way that the women were presented, either as trophies or viragos... Did anyone else get the irrits at this?

Yairs, should stop now. The Harriet Evans article is via @tansyrr.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In case people are looking for it, 'An Inexperienced World' is online.

12 November, 2009 16:44  
Blogger Stace said...

I just wanted to say congratulations!

You know what for.

12 November, 2009 20:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph is why I've largely turned away from what the world considers contemporary literature, I'm tired of forcing myself to identify with men's stories. And why I was so over-the-moon for Tender Morsels.

13 November, 2009 03:29  
Anonymous Jonathan S said...

Sorry, I was wrong, only the very beginning of the story is online.

That was very astute of you, Margo, to spot that Sheng Keyi is probably on the cusp of 30. I found the story odd, and realise on reading your piece that the assumptions about sexuality ("well past thirty" = "long been sexless" but somehow incapable of being attracted to a younger man without it being all about the absence of sex) were a good bit of what made it odd. The hypnotic play with "experienced" and "inexperienced" was another good bit of it.

Knowing very little about Chinese literature, I put all this down to cultural difference. I did the same with the gross sexism of Ah Jian's memoir later in the magazine. Mea culpa, I think.

13 November, 2009 08:30  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Yes, I don't know what was lost or gained in the translation, but the cultural difference point doesn't cheer me up any. I think it's the intergenerational misunderstanding that gets to me. I mean, I'm sure there are women on the 'wrong' side of thirty (break for hilarious laughter) who are unhealthily preoccupied with what they've lost and how attractive they might or might not be to any man they meet. And perhaps it's rude of me to presume that this story's purporting to say something more general about middle-aged women instead of just being a documenting of this one woman's preoccupation. (But I do.)

And the idea of 'experience' was never explored beyond the woman's past experiences of love. She simply didn't exist beyond this desperate, yearning, uncertain creature competing for the young man's attention with the round-faced girl. There was no sense that she had any work or life beyond that train carriage; there was no indication of what her other worldly experience consisted of. (Whatever it was, it equipped her very poorly to deal with the situation! She was incredibly vulnerable, and couldn't see anything beyond her own POV and her fears of what other people might be thinking about her.) So 'experience' ended up being this word that - yes, hypnotically - just got batted back and forth rather meaninglessly throughout.

13 November, 2009 08:52  
Anonymous Cynthia said...

Drew depressing? Compared to what? Your drivel? Lighten up, Mango.

13 November, 2009 19:42  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Hm, Cynthia, I thought about deleting your comment, but I might let it sit for a while so others can admire your strong sense of blog-commenting etiquette, and your creative spelling.

14 November, 2009 05:53  
Blogger Aishwarya said...

"Lighten Up, Mango" would be a fantastic autobiography title.

14 November, 2009 19:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, Margo, a few weeks ago, I wrote this blog post about a similar subject http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/forgotten-people/

My NaNo novel has a protagonist who is female, and 58. It has a strong romantic subplot. Who says young chicks get all the fun?

14 November, 2009 19:09  
Blogger Misrule said...

Took me a minute to work out what you'd drawn that was depressing, Mango. (I'm gonna call you that from now on!) Anyway, whatever prickles Cynthia has up her bum are her problem, but I do wish she'd gone and kicked a lamppost or something instead of venting her bile here. Most unattractive and definitely unseemly. Pfft!

14 November, 2009 19:09  
Anonymous Marsha said...

I dislike both extreme ends of the spectrum in how 'mature' women are portrayed. The story in Heat is an example of one extreme--the sexless, hopeless woman who can only look and worry about her appearance when in the presence of young men. Example of the other extreme: all the silly junk emails about how all older women are empowered, mystical, bountiful, life-savouring, etc. Marsha

14 November, 2009 19:48  
Blogger Penni Russon said...

I used to have an evil twin called Cynthia but she was imaginary and died when I turned thirty because what self respecting soap opera evil twin would want to be OLD?

I am interested in this topic because it sometimes occurs to me to wonder how the undergraduates perceive me, how Old and Established I must seem to them at the ripe old sexless age of 34. Especially when I read their stories, of worlds where the large population is Beautiful People in their 20s taking drugs. And sometimes even when I am at home, or on the train, or elsewhere I realise I am seeing myself through their eyes, and that is dangerous, and disheartening.

Love your work Mango. Please don't lighten up. Whatever would you write about then?

14 November, 2009 19:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Margo,

I'm tempted to call you Mango because I love that kind of typing-too-fast-to-give-a %^&^%$ mistake.

Anyway, just wanted to say "hi," and tell you again how much I loved meeting you, and hearing you read at VT College last summer.

Take care,

Mima or Miami (my favorite typo name.)

ps. I still find myself thinking of certain scenes from TM. What a great discussion we had about your book:)

15 November, 2009 10:44  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

15 November, 2009 11:09  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Aishwarya: Yes! Lighten Up, Mango: my journey through depression to a tropical paradise!

Patty: Go 58-y-o female protagonists having fun! Good luck with the NaNo-ing! (And everyone, go and read Patty's post and the discussion afterwards - there are some good reading-tips in there!)

Judy: Absolutely!

Marsha: Yes, there's that earth-mother cliche too, which is just as bad, although at least then she has some power.

Penni: I think there are a heck of a lot of those evil twins about that we have to be careful of. I tend to think of my silver hair as giving me a cloak of invisibility, which is kind of restful. (And then to read something dark and strange to a school group who didn't see me, and watch myself become visible to them, is interesting.) And oKAY, I will try to stay dark. *rolls eyes*

Miami, thank you for dropping by! Oh, Vermont (and particularly VT College) was so nice. I expect it looks and feels entirely different from my memories of it, at this time of the year. I'm glad TM is sticking with you!

15 November, 2009 11:10  
Blogger Zoe said...

Well, there's always the satisfaction of waiting ten years til they write a story about "omg it's not so terrible to be a middle aged hag after all"

15 November, 2009 11:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

18 November, 2009 02:05  
Anonymous Helen said...

"An Inexperienced World" seems like horrible writing to me, but I can't tell how much of the badness comes from the translator.

Fascinating insight, though - As a member of a society where women routinely don't settle down until their thirties and, if they're good looking, hang onto their sexuality as long as possible, it's surprising that the narrator of the story assumes women are old, withered and sexually dead once they hit thirty!

18 November, 2009 13:21  
Anonymous Helen said...

D'oh. The "if they're good looking" bit was to refer to the Yummy Mummy phenomenon, which I scrapped because not all sexually active older women are mummies, right? So I changed tack but forgot to delete that. I didn't mean to imply that only good looking people retain their sexuality past 30!

18 November, 2009 13:23  
Blogger Greg G said...

Someone should make a cocktail called a "Mango Lanagan".

Some inspiration here -


20 November, 2009 16:32  
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02 December, 2009 01:58  
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