That’s one of the surprising revelations from her new book of essays. It caught me by surprise; I’ve seen her speak and I’ve read her books, and she always seemed like a woman, but her point is that she was born in a time when women were subsidiary to men, and the goal was always to be manly, even in ersatz way. It’s a strange twist on a familiar stereotype, and Le Guin goes out of her way to force me to think, which is clearly a very manly thing to do.
I enjoyed her characterization of that manly paragon, Ernest Hemingway, who was everything a writing man should be. She’s really bad at being Hemingway, and she knows it.
I don’t have a gun and I don’t have even one wife and my sentences tend to go on and on and on, with all this syntax in them. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than have syntax. Or semicolons. I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after “semicolons,” and another one after “now.”
And another thing. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than get old. And he did. He shot himself. A short sentence. Anything rather than a long sentence, a life sentence. Death sentences are short and very, very manly. Life sentences aren’t. They go on and on, all full of syntax and qualifying clauses and confusing references and getting old. And that brings up the real proof of what a mess I have made of being a man: I am not even young. Just about the time they finally started inventing women, I started getting old. And I went right on doing it. Shamelessly. I have allowed myself to get old and haven’t done one single thing about it, with a gun or anything.
Dammit, that’s my dilemma, too! Just as things are getting really interesting (not necessarily in a good way), I look at myself and see a greying wreck slowly succumbing to entropy.
Here I am, old, when I wrote this I was sixty years old, “a sixty-year-old smiling public man,” as Yeats said, but then, he was a man. And now I am over seventy. And it’s all my own fault. I get born before they invent women, and I live all these decades trying so hard to be a good man that I forget all about staying young, and so I didn’t. And my tenses get all mixed up. I just am young and then all of a sudden I was sixty and maybe eighty, and what next?
Not a whole lot.
I keep thinking there must have been something that a real man could have done about it. Something short of guns, but more effective than Oil of Olay. But I failed. I did nothing. I absolutely failed to stay young. And then I look back on all my strenuous efforts, because I really did try, I tried hard to be a man, to be a good man, and I see how I failed at that. I am at best a bad man. An imitation phony second-rate him with a ten-hair beard and semicolons. And I wonder what was the use. Sometimes I think I might just as well give the whole thing up. Sometimes I think I might just as well exercise my option, stop short in front of the five-barred gate, and let the nazi fall off onto his head. If I’m no good at pretending to be a man and no good at being young, I might just as well start pretending that I am an old woman. I am not sure that anybody has invented old women yet; but it might be worth trying.
That sounds like a good project. We should probably also work on inventing old men — they mainly seem to be querulous relics wavering between hiding in fear of all the things they don’t understand and yelling impotently at all the things they don’t understand.
I’m feeling kind of cranky about Le Guin right now, for example. I read those excerpts and then I had to go buy her book.