Sex and Commas
The good news: I’ve been asked to speak at Wordstock. The bad news: my panel is opposite Steve Almond, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Viva Las Vegas. This hardly seems fair – kinda like going up against Hendrix on Max Yasgur's farm.
Wordstock, in case you don't know, is Portland’s legendary book festival. Speaking there, for me, is the attainment of a dream. Tragically, I’ve been assigned to a grim panel discussion on the serial comma (“Red, White, and Blue: Is the Oxford Comma Un-American?”). (Worse, I'll be speaking on the Borders stage, which at this point is a park bench outside the Convention Center. I'll be sharing the stage with a bum and a steampunk girl re-reading Morlock Night.) Meanwhile, Almond et al will be inside delighting the masses with something far sexier. Namely, sex.
Indeed, Almond, Strayed, Yuknavitch, and Las Vegas (ASYL henceforth) will be probing “America’s Sexual/Literary Hang-Up,” stroking the nuances and subtextual pleasure-points of character-revealing sex. Their presentation will feature “dwarfs and giants, fat people and beanpoles, hermaphrodites and transvestites, some grotesquely painted or costumed, some deformed by nature or choice,” unless I’m accidentally reading from Roger Ebert’s review of Fellini’s Satyricon rather than the Wordstock progam.
No matter. The panel assignments are clearly unjust and a misallocation of resources to boot. ASYL are the ones who should be talking about commas. Almond, for one, is publicly conflicted. His memoir, “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life,” (“Exuberant…deft…hilarious” – Publishers Weekly. “Honors Seger by Excluding Him” – Segerfile.com), is an Oxford orgy. His book of essays, “Not That You Asked,” abstains. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, something is eating him about commas, and he needs to talk it out.
As for Lidia Yuknavitch, I heard her at a Portland wine bar just last week. The excerpt she read from “The Chronology of Water” was gut-wrenching, wise, funny, and moving all at the same time. Maybe I lost focus, but I didn’t hear a single comma. At one point I thought I heard a semi-colon, but it may have been coming from next door. And I have no idea where Strayed and Las Vegas come down on the comma vis a vis its usefulness in aiding prosody, which is precisely why such a discussion would be so scintillating.
More to the point, I’m the one who should be talking sex. I’m the one whose book says, right on the cover, “Like being in a stolen car with no brakes in a world of train-hopping, character-revealing sex, violence, and drugs.” (Italics mine.)
Want more proof? My 83-year-old aunt refuses to read Wire to Wire. She didn’t come right out and say it was the character-revealing sex she objected to, but her silence merely underscores the point.
But alas, as Iago says, there’s no remedy, short of hatching some convoluted plot involving handkerchiefs and irrational jealousy in which ASYL all stab each other, and even that would be more interesting than the punctuation discussion at the Little Kids Table, which apparently is my due. (Do? Deux?)
Yet even though I’m not on the Sex Panel, I’m not going down without a fight (a statement which, without even trying, doubles as character-revealing sex). To honor my aunt’s sacrifice, I’m tempted to challenge the ASYL panel to a F**k-Off. A cockfight of sorts. Go ahead, name your categories. Best sex scene referencing a character’s pride in the Motor City? Best use of train signals during sex? The most character-revealing sex scene involving only the thumb? (cf. W2W, p. 29.) Whatever you got, I’ll match it.
Or maybe I’ll just skip my panel and attend theirs.
Truth in Blogging Disclosure: There is no panel on the serial comma, although it would probably draw a good crowd. At 11:00 am on Sunday, October 9, I’ll be on a panel entitled “When Was Your First Time?” with the marvelous debut authors Ellen Meeropol (House Arrest) and Jason Skipper (Hustle), moderated by the highly successful book publicist and marketing consultant, Mary Bisbee-Beek.
The name of panel sounds sexy in a Cosmo, non-character-revealing way, but I’m told the discussion is always very well attended. Get there early.
Immediately following the panel, at noon, I’m reading with screenwriter, teacher, and novelist Johnny Shaw, author of Dove Season. Don’t miss it.
Schedule information is here.
Blog music: What happens when writers talk sex and commas? It “Gets Ya Pumpin.’”
Bonus: Wire to Wire’s sex scenes as a word cloud.