Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The California decision, part 1

Having either confined pieces like this to a journal, or having arduously tapped them out onto paper and maybe sent them to magazines many long, agonized months after the news in question was no longer topical, it is an odd experience now to make a draft of thoughts right here which I can self-publish -- to one reader, or none, but that's not unusual -- this very minute if I want to. In addition, the thought nags: isn't fiction, art, more dignified, celestial, useful?

It seems so, but I do have the devil of a time with fiction. Making up stories, connected surface scenarios that aren't true, and releasing them to readers who will then interpret and enjoy them as they like, is just something in which I have only the smallest and the most pained and grudging interest. I've tried. I look with wonder on those who can do it. In college I did have great fun writing what amounted to a short piece of historical fiction, incorporating all that I had learned from a semester spent studying Victorian England. But to have spun that into a novel would have been more, I think, than I could do. Anyway, its format was that of a letter, and they are chatty and plotless by nature.

What I like best is to teach through writing; hence, the wine blog, hence the book review blog. But good heavens, how is that a full use of what small abilities I have? Chardonnay is chardonnay is chardonnay; and how will I answer to my maker when I announce that I reviewed other people's novels, but didn't write any of my own? (Well, one. But not much of it is made up.) I do excellently with situations, and I think with characters. What confounds and bores me is this "plot" business. Come, come! When was the last time real people ever lived out a plot? With an ending? Truer words than this were never spoken:

Manicurist to rich society wife, as she files her nails: " 'Don't you just love to read? How do they ever think up those plots? Of course I guess anybody's life would be a plot if it had an exciting finish.' " (From the movie The Women -- Norma Shearer is the rich society wife about to start living a plot.)

So then, a "piece," as we say in the trade, non-fiction, about a very topical issue which I, as usual, won't be able to cope with fast enough to render it of use to a magazine or a newspaper. Never having been lucky enough to do that -- one editor who has published me said about an essay of mine, "It's timeless. That's a fault" -- I have no reputation as someone who should be called and asked to respond authoritatively to a topical issue while the issue is still hot. I have no product to deliver, and no name.

Oh, I'm not whining, really. It leaves me free to blog, and include quotes from The Women in an essay, which my dear lord editor would unhesitatingly pencil out. There's the problem with writing without an editor: no professional to help you do your professional best by candidly telling you good grief, No.


The topic is that controversial decision by four justices of the California Supreme Court, overturning a law that the people of California had approved, determining that marriage is only and ever a union between one man and one woman. The California Supreme Court, or its four justices who made up the majority for this decision, handed down that this definition of marriage is unconstitutional in that it denies the civil right of access to marriage -- the rite of marriage --to homosexuals. Since the California state constitution does not yet spell out what marriage is, the court was able, it seems, to lump this right into a kind of bundle of all rights, or any rights you like; the general concept of civil rights. Because it was asked to. What the people of California can now do, if they still wish to define marriage as only and ever a union of one man and one woman, is to amend their state Constitution to define it so. That way, no supreme court will be able, in theory, to say that a provision of the actual Constitution itself is unconstitutional.

Of course there has been a great deal of reaction, to say the least, about this. Brighter people than me, faster thinkers, better educated, with big reputations, or simply (and also) more devoted news junkies, have written reams already. (Remember what "reams" are?) Liberals are delighted with this expansion of proper compassion to disenfranchised people, and are proud to second it. Conservatives quote a dissenting justice's complaint of "legal jujitsu," and warn of a future in which little girls and boys will absolutely be taught that marriage to either a man or a woman is very much a normal part of their future. Dennis Praeger wrote eloquently (and fast!) of a basic, moral dismantling of the human sex drive, more importantly a moral dismantling of man's and woman's basic urge to love one another. What a pity if it will turn out that he is right, and if we should learn that romantic love was not invented by medieval Italian troubadours or eighteenth century English poets, but was a part of human nature all along -- and that it could not have been invented but can, under the correct conditions, be shamed and puzzled away, beginning in the hearts of children.

Now, normally this would go into a drawer, and would await revision. But this is blogging. A bit like the serial publication of yesteryear. Maybe that's why yesteryear's authors were so prolific. They let their pieces go almost instantly, meanwhile thinking out what else they wanted to say, and they cringed and hoped not to have written anything too awful. Tolstoy's poor writer-characters waited for the explosive public reaction, on changes in agricultural policy or something, that never came.

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