Tripping Feyly, Gayly Over the Verandah

Probably Tina Fey and I agree pretty often, but we don’t know each other that well, so I can’t be sure. One point on which we are united, however, is that neither of us is impressed with Gay Talese. Maybe for different reasons, but still, me and Tina, we’re in harmony on this thing.

My reason for being unimpressed with Gay Talese is that I just barely know who he is. He was/is a journalist who pushed at the literary edges of that craft in his own books and some of the major American magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, along with a bunch of other famous guys  people. I didn’t really read those magazines at that time, and there are other journalists and other magazines that wormed their way into my reading habits. Mostly, it’s just a generational thing, I guess.

Tina’s reasons, however, are more pointed. At a recent conference, 84-year-old Talese bumbled an answer to an audience question about the women writers who inspired him. None, he said, women weren’t into that kind of thing at that time, didn’t really know of any good women role models for him. Ouch! As recounted in the Brattleboro Reformer, a sharp intake of breath was followed by mad typing on 500 smartphones, and a whole bunch of smart, influential women eviscerated Talese on Twitter. Fey was just piling on, but I love how she did it… an absolute stone-cold put-down, but funny in just her quirky deadpan way even if you didn’t understand the reference: just a silly non sequitur to wrap up the interview. Bam!

But this is not “Boston literary seminar adventure” or “New York literati of a certain age adventure,” no indeed. This is Brattleboro Adventure, and yes this story does belong here. The audience question that started the whole discussion came from local poet and Packers Corner commune co-founder Verandah Porche. Never met her, but I bet she and I would agree on a lot of principles and very few details. I feel the same way about Bernie Sanders, come to think of it. Honestly, I have a hard time getting past her name.

Why would you raise your hand and ask somebody a difficult or challenging or provocative question in public? Maybe you want to call out an old codger whose attitudes toward women are outdated at least and probably worse. Maybe you want helpfully to prompt an expansion of his original answer so he doesn’t unintentionally come off as a misogynist. Maybe you just want to hear your own voice and show your insightfulness. Maybe you hope the answer will shine a good spotlight on the women he neglected to mention. Maybe you’re just genuinely curious. Whatever her reasons, Ms. Porche showed the power of a short, simple question, and reminded us that even our best and brightest have their smudges. For her as a poet, I would think it would be profoundly satisfying to create such a stir with so few words, and profoundly sad that the stir stirred up something unpleasant from the bottom of the pot.

Best of all, she inadvertently brought me and Tina Fey a little closer together (Tina, please feel free to come over for coffee anytime…).

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