I once watched a TV show about doctors, GPs, meeting their patients, filmed in the fly-on-the-wall style. It was supposed to show the real interactions between them, and give us a secret insight into the way doctors have to operate. Of course, it was designed to also show off the patients with humorous us approaches to illness amongst the more serious stuff.
I remember one particular exchange really well. It’s etched into my brain.
A middle aged man is having problems with his heart. He may be on medication, he may have left his medication in France, where he lives when not going to funerals. I may be mixing up this story with another.
The Englishman, who is probably 50, old enough to have to trim his ears, speaks to a doctor who may be in her early thirties.
They discuss diet, and the pills he needs for his heart. She asks about fruit, as doctors seem to like to.
He says he eats a grapefruit every day, for breakfast.
And she tells him something, a fact that you, reader, may know, that grapefruit can increase your blood pressure and provide your heart with additional palpitations. A gift of a few extra beats. Or a jazz drum solo in the marching band really.
And the middle aged man who might live in France is shocked.
He says he eats one every day, for breakfast. The doctor looks at him with a shimmering air of someone who might have just been told their patient hammers nails through their knees of an evening, despite advice.
But he has one every day. For breakfast. He says that he doesn’t use a plate, he says:
“I eat it with my hands, over the sink, like an animal.”
There’s a lot going on here. Animals don’t eat over sinks. Why was this information useful for his doctor? Is the primal nature of his grapefruit eating meant to show his vitality, in contrast to his apparently abused heart?
None of this matters of course, because the look the young doctor gives the man is a perfect illustration of the that way women look at men in Margaret Atwood’s short story collection, Bluebeard’s Egg.
It quite old, ’83 I think. I’ve been working through it and particularly enjoyed the way that men are formed in the collection as a puzzle, impenetrable, not always evil — but always difficult.
In Bluebeard’s Egg, the story this collection is named after, the inoperable stupidity of Ed, the protagonist’s heart-surgeon husband, is in part his charm and his implicit threat. Ed is so thick that he is easily objectified, placated, but impossible to have a narrative of the protagonist built upon. When Sally, our hero, tries to search for his inner life, she finds him uncrackable. In that impossibility of defined or shared narrative, Sally comes to the conclusion that he has the potential to hurt her when he finally does hatch from his metaphor.
Equally, in Hurricane Hazel, a story about the obligations of teenage relationships, Buddy appears to be some kind of sentient brick, unable to articulate an inner world at all and going through the motions because they are the next thing to do on some kind of societal level. Our protagonist, a girl much younger and deeply worried about straying from, at very least, a display of normal, goes along with it all until Buddy’s mindlessness turns him into a threat.
Both of the men are interesting to read as they aren’t representative of a societal structure, they are fully enveloped arms of it. Ed appears to be something of a tool for Sally to try and produce an ideal life, Buddy is more malign, but not by much. The men are like facets of some kind of great beast which the women in the collection are trying to scale — if they could only use the way this creature interfaces with the wider world, then their aims can be achieved.
It’s interesting to compare this to some of Atwood’s later work, like the MaddAddam trilogy, where some men retain this structural connection, but increasingly the theme is that there are “good ones” in the destruction of those structures. Not that the men in this later work aren’t difficult in their own way, but they’re not as obviously meshed into a power structure that’s in any way malleable.
The men in Bluebeard’s Egg however are good, in some way. Attractive, attentive, helpful in forming useful identity — but also uncomplicated obstacles or tools. Blunt. I think it’s this sympathy for the bluntness of the men in these stories that was somewhat heart-warming to me. They’re still human, just part of some machinery that these women get trapped in.
Hi new people, there’s a few of you. If this if your first issue of ETTO, then please: forgive me. Here’s how it works:
There’s usually a micro-essay splurged out near the top, then a snippet of poetry I liked from the week with a couple of lines about how I enjoy the structure or some turn of phrase dribbled around it. After that there’s sometimes a palette-cleanser in the form of a good tweet, then on to a song, and finally a sign off where I expose the worst parts about me. Don’t worry, that final part is not visual.
If you reply to one of these emails, I will usually respond to you. If you want to be slightly more performative, I’m usually happy to chat on twitter, I’m @CJEggett.
It would be great to know where you all came from to be honest.
If you’re someone who has a chapbook or collection kicking around, I’d love to read it. Equally, if you get something published somewhere, just let me know and I will try to include you in these grubby pages.
I have been listening to and “speedrunning,” Tim Clare’s “couch to 80k” podcast/course thing. I’ve been doing a few episodes a day, which is obviously cheating. Regardless, it’s nice to have someone literally telling you to do those silly freewriting exercises.
It has a very endearing style. There’s a part where you can hear crisis in his voice as he considers whether it’s “an” or “a” handkerchief for a slip of a second. There’s the reassurance that he really is in the woods — and not just very good at sound editing. There’s a bit where he gives you a ten minute exercise and drops the recorder into the empty pram that he’s now pushing around the graveyard so we have ambient noise to listen to — only realising that anyone who looked into the pram of the man marching around the graveyard to find just a phone recording might look a bit odd, after. It’s these moments of torture that really brighten it up.
I look forward to it getting going a bit more in the hope that I can use it to sculpt out the next novel with a bit of guidance. Give it a go if you feel like you could do with trying something different from your normal writing practice.
Listen here: itunes // soundcloud
I reawatched American Psycho recently. I am older than Patrick Bateman. Also, this.
This week’s songs were cropped from the absolute gift of being given a friend’s last.fm page, which captures the magic of the things he was listening to during university. For example:
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart — This Love is Fucking Right
The Bronx — Minutes In Night
Dananananaykroyd — Black Wax
Feist & Ben Gibbard — Train Song
Nouvelle Vague — Dance With Me
Laura Marling — Ghost
Of particular interest is the clear switch from things listened to normally, say a full album, while doing something else or in company, to a scrambled mess that usually kicks in around 12:45 of single tracks (sadly it doesn’t record whether they were played them on repeat). We discussed that this looks a little like that maudlin search for a certain feeling late at night.
You can see this sort of thing over at Marc’s last.fm page. 2008–2009 it’s a real deep seam of forgotten things.
If none of that suits, I would suggest having a bash at this bit of the Tyler, The Creator NPR Tinydesk. I really enjoy the arrangement (particular the use of backing singers) and the way he conducts the band. Nice lights too.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. As always, it was written by @CJEggett and proofread by no one. It’s been a good couple of months for me, as I now have two novels out with various persons related to publishing, and an experimental work out at a publisher too. It feels nice to have things in the wild that might come back with something. It’s probably a rejection note, but we collect those anyway and use them. If you liked this, you can keep it, but make sure you send a friend to sign up, or visit the archive. Thank you to the wizard, who brought us all here. Have some Ben Marcus.
Also, weirdly, I did a PAOM shop, if you liked my glitch art from a previous essay, and wanted to cover your body — you can now do both while giving me a small amount of cash. If you do buy one of these things, send me a picture!