Two weeks ago, I was having dinner with a scholarly journal editor, and we were discussing our writing. “Do you keep a journal?” he asked, and I had to admit that I don’t, exactly, and that this blog is the closest I’ve got to such a thing, and its sporadic output is a perfect indication of my, ahem, dedication to such an endeavor.
“Yes, I’ve tried on a few occasions to keep a daily journal,” he said, “but I just don’t have the discipline for it.” I nodded. We talked some more about diaries and, in the midst of much wine and cioppino, we ventured onto one of those sorts of offhand digressions that linger in my head for days: “Of course, in my teaching experience, I’ve found that women are much more rigorous about keeping journals than men are.” “Really?” I said. “Sure,” he said, “In my writing classes, I always ask the class to give a show of hands of who keeps a regular journal, and the hands are and always have been overwhelmingly women.” “Why do you think that is?” “Maybe women are by nature more introspective. I dunno.”
Are women more introspective, more willing to look at their interiors, by nature than men? I dunno, either. Certainly, men are more prone to seeking art that reflects themselves more than women—I’m much more likely to read a novel by a man, or watch a movie directed by a man, than either by a woman, and all that’s a form of self-absorption. Ego identification is not, however, exactly introspection. That, in fact, is a sort of navelgazing of which I’m ashamed.
I’ve been giving that conversation a lot of thought and, as longtime readers, I’m also prone to bouts of self-improvement—a much healthier habit all around. I’ve also been reading about, but emphatically not reading, these “year of” books. You know, The Year of Living Biblically, that book about spending a year saying “yes” to every yes/no question, that book (and documentary) about spending a year without electricity, etc. Why just a year, anyway? The cynic in me says that a yearlong—as opposed to a lifetime—commitment is just enough to get a 300-page book out of, and thus looks sexiest as a project to big trade publishers and editors, without, you know, having to change the writer’s lifestyle permanently. (You can recover from a year from anything, even bathing.)
Frankly, I’m tired of my ego, tired of looking at myself, tired of internalizing, tired of not experiencing the poetry and magic and lunacy and vision of half the human race. So, I officially declare 2010 the year of the woman. For twelve months, I will read only books and long-form comics written by women, see movies directed by women, and buy new music by women.
Theoretically, it won’t be hard. I’ve always wanted an excuse to reread Woolf, Morrison, Eliot, and Wharton; to conduct a retrospective of the films of Mira Nair; to finish up my Sleater-Kinney and Maria Schneider collections; to get into Mary-Lou Williams and Peggy Lee; to read Rebecca Solnit and Colette and Elizabeth Hardwick and Angela Carter; to discover the films of Chantal Akerman and Agnes Varda and Claire Denis and to brave Catherine Breillat; to revisit Clare Peploe and Sofia Coppola; to finally read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and her forthcoming collection of essays; to read Natasha Trethewey’s poetry; to read that gargantuan Lydia Davis story collection; to get into the comics of Aline Kominsky-Crumb and more of C. Tyler and Carla Speed McNeil and Tove Jansson; to read more Andrea Lee and Fran Ross and Ann Petry; to read For Keeps cover to freaking cover; to, at long last, possibly figure out the appeal of the Brontë sisters; and on and on and on.
Okay, that’s theory. In actuality, I already see exceptions. There’s no way I won’t dip into Stephen Dixon’s forthcoming mammoth collection of stories. Since I’m trying to update my fashion, I’ll be perusing Scott Schuman’s gorgeous The Sartorialist regularly. (And can I really go a year without watching a Buster Keaton movie? We’ll see.) And I’ll continue to read essays, blog posts, reviews, etc., without a gender barrier. But, otherwise, men are out for 2010.
Maybe I’ll learn more about women in general, maybe I won’t. In any case, I won’t get a book deal out of it, and there’ll be the added benefit of getting out of my own head and dick for 365 days.
Wish me luck, and please make suggestions for reading and viewing.
UPDATE: Johann Hari writes a useful, engaging reminder of why there’s one woman I won’t be rereading in 2010. I tried, folks, but seriously: What is the appeal on Ayn Rand, honestly?