Midnight Musings: Fifty Shades of Hemingway

I haven’t read or seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but from what I gather, with friends on both sides of the Fifty Shades fence, it doesn’t seem like anything I want to check out. However, this isn’t the first time that sexist themes and lack-luster writing have created wildly successful works of American literature. While there are sadly a plethora of examples that fit this category I give you most famously: Ernest Hemingway

"Mr. Grey will see you now."

“Mr. Grey will see you now.”

(Photo via The Bourbon Brain Trust)

Unlike E. L. James, I’ve read Hemingway. I enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises. I also think The Old Man and The Sea is a truly moving work. But will I re-read them? Probably not.

Most of Hemingway’s work isn’t technically superior to anyone else writing during his lifetime, in fact I’d venture to say it’s inferior, but that was probably a key to his success. He was trained as a journalist not a novelist and since people were readings newspapers every day for their news, his writing style appealed to what they knew and made his work easily digestible and therefore incredibly marketable. Much the same, Fifty Shades of Grey famously began as a work of fan-fiction that was transformed into a novel, keeping the same tone, grammar, and style that the original web-friendly manuscript contained. This gives James the advantage of writing to an audience that, generally speaking, spends a large amount of time reading and communicating on the internet.

Since way more accomplished authors and scholars have explored Hemingway’s work with various feminist critiques, I’ll suffice to say that Hemingway is unapologetically sexist in his work. And for a literary figure whose reputation is slated on writing truthfully, I consider this to be a great hypocrisy. Honesty requires investigation and a willingness to be wrong. I admire authors who are able to build depth in all their characters and who, when writing in unfamiliar territory, try and fail gracefully. Hemingway’s refusal to explore female characters is not only sexist, it’s lazy writing.

Once again, the American literary scene is faced with a commercially successful text that misrepresents sexuality and healthy relationships. And it doesn’t matter what other stories and novels successful writers recommend, or what points they try to make; what the public wants the public will get. Ellen Glasgow (a Pulitzer Prize winning author writing around the same time as Hemingway ) once wrote “Mediocrity would always win by force of numbers, but it would win only more mediocrity.” It has often been the role of writers to change public opinion and expose the reading world to truths they might otherwise not want to face. With so much great writing already existing and continually begin written about themes similar to Fifty Shades of Gray, it’s important to promote those pieces and never stop working on our themes and ideas.

I’m not suggesting that E. L. James is the next Ernest Hemingway nor that she strives to be. What I’m saying is that I don’t want literary history to repeat itself or replay the same themes over and over. I want to continue advancing the art of writing both technically and socially.


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Wyoming: A Love Poem


This was my first shot at a Sestina. I wrote it for a Valentine’s Day gift a year ago and I’m happy to see it up and published for anyone to read!

Originally posted on Eunoia Review:

“Oh please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I hear undeveloped property is being sold for cheap by the acre in Wyoming
in an effort to stimulate the economy now that the mining industry is gone.
So do you want to run away with me and leave all this behind?
We’ll buy a piece of land we can hardly afford and build ourselves a home
with a mortgage that’ll take decades to pay off. We’ve both already got debts
and student loans we won’t ever make good on, so fuck it, let’s add a little land.

We both have degrees that only mean we’re prepared to deal with landlords
and relative poverty in shitty New York City apartments. So why not Wyoming?
The only people we owe anything to is ourselves, and I’m tired of living in debt.
The American…

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Please Stop Fucking in My Bathroom

Originally posted on Eunoia Review:

In high school sex-ed classes,
teachers showed us diagrams about STDs,
bold-lined stick figures all linked together
illustrating the idea: “When you sleep with someone
you also sleep with everyone they’ve slept with.”
This was a North Carolina public school’s
attempt at scaring students into abstinence,
but there’s certainly a truth to it.

We carry little bits of past lovers with us.
Quirks they taught us to appreciate in ourselves—
like shoving covers off the bed while we sleep—
and insecurities we haven’t conquered since.
The stories they told no one else
that we’ve stored away. Only reading them by flashlight
under the blankets while our current lovers
wander lost dreaming of their own pasts.

Donald C. Welch III lives in Brooklyn, NY. His current project @SocialLit explores new forms of poetry and collaborative writing derived from Social Media. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North,

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Heaven Better Have Free Refills

Originally posted on Eunoia Review:

I want my God to be the old man behind the projector at one of those classic movie theaters. Who has to organize the reels of film alphabetically, but makes sure to leave a few of his favorite ones on the top of the pile anyway. Who chews peppermints throughout the day, and gets yelled at by his daughter and his dentist because they think he’s going to hurt his teeth. Who yells at teenagers for their antics, not because he’s actually upset, but because he knows they’ll joke about it with the dates they brought, and he doesn’t mind being the butt end of any joke, especially one that helps somebody get laid. But mainly, I want my God to smoke cigars, because my Grandfather did. And I think the two of them should get along.

Donald C. Welch III lives in Brooklyn, NY. His current project @SocialLit explores…

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Moving Off the Factory Floor

Over the weekend I read an article by Sean Bishop entitled The Poetry Factory: On Mass Submission Culture. Though written two years ago, it remains an enlightening read about the economics of poetry submissions. Is the old method of submitting, selecting only a few journals and without the aid of simultaneous submissions, still viable? Maybe and maybe not. It’s definitely in a poet’s best interest to get as much work out as possible, but I also agree with Bishop in that quality often suffers as writers become more and more invested in the quantity of work they can send out. When poets begin treating their submissions like a production line in a factory it becomes more about industry than artistry.

In November I wrote a blog about submissions, the things I’ve learned, and advice I’ve been given including the advice from Peter Jay Shippy: submit where you read. While I still consider this valuable insight, the problem is that there’s so much content on the internet and in print that it’s daunting to keep up with new publications.

While it might sound counter-intuitive to popular opinion, I intend on submitting a good portion of my new work to the magazines and journals who have published me. When I started submitting I sent work out anywhere and everywhere, but now that I have publications I like and who like my work I can be more selective, both with my poetry and my choice of publications, in order to find the right outlets for specific pieces. I don’t want to blindly submit poems to a list of publications and collect journal titles for my bio like merit badges. That being said, I still want to submit to new places, but now I can take the time to read and get to know the publication to make sure it fits my work and isn’t just a catchy title or famous reputation. I’m more interested in being a contributor than a one timer so the places I submit to are places I’ll continue giving my work to for future publications.

Besides my personal preference, there are a few professional advantages to this method as well: it keeps my name in the forefront of editors minds for awards such as the Pushcart Prize or Best of the Net, I already have an understanding of the journal’s preferences and submission process, and it invites features/spotlights if the magazine offers them because they’ll already have multiple works from me and a solid understanding of my style and range.

Many poets underestimate relationships with the journals and magazines that publish them and are content using the publications as a means to get into institutions and publishing houses. When I launched my #SocLlit project I reached out to some journals that had published my work and Slippery Elm and South85 Journal both responded with enthusiasm. Slippery Elm helped me promote the project on their social media pages and South85 offered me a guest post on their blog to reflect on the project. These gestures were incredibly helpful and indicative of the scenes literary magazines once created and still can.

Literary journals and magazines have the potential to be a kind of community, but instead many writers use them as CV builders to climb the literary social ladder. In Welch & Penn, as with any DIY band worth their salt, I knew it was important to grow a local scene before we embarked on our tours. Journals and magazines can be a home crowd for writers, someone to sing along and mosh to the songs when necessary. I’m not convinced that prestige and readership are as strongly connected as they once were. Changes in technology, distribution, and taste have altered the way literary audiences discover and interact with authors and their work. Rather than publishing one poem in a renowned magazine, I’d rather publish three or four in a lesser-known journal and build a following from their readers and contributors. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be published at a prestigious level one day, but if I am, I want to make sure I have a solid foundation and not just a couple rungs under my feet. When a piece gets accepted, literary jargon often refers to the place that published the work as “a home”. I want to start treating them like it.


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The Musical Network

Two of my good friends, The Tyler Bryant and Dane Page, have begun blogs about their music and musical careers. They’ve both written on the topic of Open Mics, so I thought I’d add my own piece into the discussion.

You can find Dane’s post and blog here

And Tyler’s here

I want to echo what both of them say in terms of the performance aspects of open mics and rather than spend time revisiting their advice, I wanted to speak to the networking potential of open mics. In October I wrote a piece about the way social media has changed both open mics and the way audiences interact with musicians and performers. So this post explores the connections between musicians that open mics help foster.

The first show Welch & Penn played was at an open mic. We hadn’t tested our idea in front of anyone besides our close friends and before we dedicated time to this as a serious act Penn and I wanted to see how a live audience would receive us. More importantly, we wanted feedback from the musicians who were there since it was a new project. We wanted to know what could be smoother and if poetry and acoustic music really made any sense together. Here’s a video from that open mic:


Open mics are an important testing ground for fledgling acts. Penn and I were able to gauge our dynamic in front of people for the first time and run a three song set without the pressure of an actual gig. This kind of experience is invaluable for beginning bands, all of the practice in the world can’t replicate the stress and adrenaline of a live performance.

Another advantage to open mics is that it’s a good way to get your foot in the door at venues. If the host of the open mic isn’t the establishment’s manager then chances are they have a say in the booking process or can put a bug in the manager’s ear since they handle the music first hand for the venue on specific nights.

Finally, open mics give musicians the opportunity to meet other acts and bands they might want to perform with. As great as videos and recordings are, until I see a band or performer live, I’m never absolutely sure how compatible we’ll be. Videos can be filmed at home venues and recordings can be taken and re-taken, I want to see how a musician will act and re-act in person. For example: will they freak out when the volunteer sound guy turns their guitar too low? Will they purposefully get too drunk to create a persona? These are things I want to find out for myself. Open mics are an invaluable way to find acts I want to create bills with.This networking is essential for booking and being invited to play shows with other local acts.

While some musicians I’ve met feel that open mics are beneath them, I think that’s a self-destructive attitude. Unless they have a manager willing to research and connect them to other acts for every show they play, reach out to venues, and give them rehearsal feedback, they need to change their mind-set. Open mics are a necessity for any independent or DIY act. So get out there, get playing, and most importantly, keep listening.

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DIY on a Diet

On both tours Penn and I had pretty strict diets. I was a vegetarian for a whole host of reasons (some personal and some health) and Penn is Gluten free due to allergies. While these dietary restrictions might be manageable at home they’re more difficult to adhere to while on the road.

One of our biggest concerns was staying healthy. While it’s a well-known fact that fast food always, inexplicably, tastes better on road trips, French fires, milkshakes, and the like are pretty meager in both nutrition and satisfaction. Even now that I’m back eating meat, the patties and burgers offered at fast food chains aren’t anything I’d recommend living on for weeks or months at a time. Along with fast food, it’s easy to consume calories through junk food and gas station goodies, especially while sitting in a car without much more to do than eat, but with shows booked we had commitments to listeners, venues, and ourselves to stay healthy and not eating right only increases the chances of getting sick.

Another issue with such specific diets is budget and since neither of our diets were particularly cheap this was a big concern. I distinctly remember the first night of the Green Sundress Tour after playing our set at Turntable we were sitting on a bench outside a Harris Teeter grocery center, eating gluten free chips Penn’s mom had graciously packed us with a dish of hummus and some sushi we bought at a marked down price because the store was about to close.

Supermarkets are friends for DIY acts on tour. The most affordable option for touring is to do some grocery shopping and purchase things in bulk that won’t go bad. While we only budgeted for gas and lodging, leaving the remaining money to be used freely for food, if I were to tour again I’d definitely create a more specific and rigid spending plan that included groceries and food. Some chain restaurants will also offer whatever perishable food they have left over, so try going to places like Dunkin’ Donuts or Panera that have to throw out whatever isn’t eaten. If you can get some free bagels, or some nice Panera bread, from a friendly manager that’s a great score and will open up some extra spending money.

Penn and I often joked about trying to get support from PETA and other health or animal rights organizations like some late 90’s and early 00’s bands did, but, in all seriousness, that might not be a bad route. While not necessarily PETA, or organizations as devise and far-reaching, there are a lot of local and state based organizations that deal with issues such as personal health, sustainability, environmentalism, and other topics that inform or promote certain diets. Bands that align with their missions should reach out, because even though the places probably can’t or won’t provide funding they might be able to give some free publicity or at the very least offer suggestions about the local cuisine and what’s available at what prices.

The number one, albeit clichéd, lesson I learned on tour is that nothing beats a home cooked meal. When we stayed with friends and family and they offered us one, there was nothing better. Simply being able to sit down and have an extended conversation with other humans besides the two people I had been in a car with for weeks was a huge mental relief. Plus, the people preparing them were already aware of our diets so there were no concerns or questions about the ingredients.
Keeping healthy and full while on the road isn’t too hard, it just requires some planning and preparation. Take the time to budget and communicate, both with other people and your tour mates, and it should be a savory and sweet venture.

Eat well and travel easy.


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