Pretty pretty pretty

31 Jul

My amazing artist friend and partner-in-crime Melissa Washburn is currently helping me redesign my blog. Yay! I can’t wait to see what happens, but it may be a good week or so before I get the blog back up and running. (You can have a peek at Melissa’s Iris here.) See you soon!

The Second Lull

7 Jul

It’s been too long since I posted, and for that I apologize. It actually took me a week or two to work the bad taste out of my mouth after my last entry. It can be hard to keep up a positive vibe in the face of relentless ickiness, but I’m committed to trying. Nonetheless, no recent pop culture happenings have inspired me to wax rhapsodic. I haven’t even seen Bridesmaids yet. I know, bad feminist blogger.

I do have a couple of interesting projects in the pipeline, though. One is a piece on women who love Sherlock Holmes – not just the pretty, pretty actors who portray the character, but the Arthur Conan Doyle books and stories, the countless pastiches, and the many filmed versions of all those stories. Female Sherlockians have traditionally been thin on the ground, but thanks to the Internet a whole new force is blooming.

I also have a piece on the legacy of Harry Potter. By way of foreshadowing, I give you an image from Barnes & Noble’s midnight release party for Deathly Hallows: a young girl, about ten, holding a freshly-purchased, 759-page, hardcover book aloft like a trophy, shouting “Yes!” *English teacher swoon* Let’s talk about the girls, shall we? (Once I finish sobbing over the final film.)

See you next week.

Feminism Matters

21 Jun

It’s been a bummer week to be a feminist and I’m feeling bruised. I’m generally pretty upbeat, but yesterday I hit the sexism saturation point and just bottomed out. No amount of exercise, children’s television, or conversations with the very sensible and decidedly feminist Mr. Irises seemed to help me shake the feeling that the world was sliming me — and not just me, but women in general. Now, I know I promised to keep the blog positive, but I just need to share a few of the most frustrating examples of misogyny from last week:

1. Planned Parenthood of Indiana has run out of money and needs to close temporarily while they wait on a judge to rule on an injunction against HEA 1210 — an Indiana law which defunds Planned Parenthood entirely because it provides abortions. This means, of course, no health care for thousands and thousands of low-income women: no pap smears, no HIV testing, no breast exams, no birth control, etc.

2. This article on Smartly.com, a site I have previously contributed to. Here, Rob LaGrone defends the perpetrators of sexual assault at the infamous Tailhook Convention and takes part in some rather-breathtaking victim blaming. Try to hold down your lunch as you read, and be sure to read the PBS write up on the convention and the scandal. It’s hard to feel sorry for the poor aviators when you consider the experiences of 83 molested women and Ms. Coughlin fleeing “the gauntlet” with her clothes half-ripped off and officers chasing her.

3. Scott Adams arguing that rape is just part of men’s virile nature. “If a lion and a zebra show up at the same watering hole, and the lion kills the zebra, whose fault is that? Maybe you say the lion is at fault for doing the killing. Maybe you say the zebra should have chosen a safer watering hole.” Maybe you say the ignorant cartoonist better put a sock in it before his career is in shreds. After reading Adams’s post, be sure to sign this petition demanding he apologize.

4. Finally, there’s been a bevy of debate this week about geek girl culture and whether geek men can be as misogynist as anyone else (guess what, they can be.) On the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Perle laments the lack of social resources for girl geeks, and the comments are so hostile it’s laughable. The women organizing GirlGeekCon posted the article for discussion on facebook and, again, the comments are indicative.

And heavens, these are just a sampling. It’s days like this I worry about raising a daughter.

But… that said, there are some glimmers of hope — GirlGeekCon, for example, and this list of Feminist YA books on Goodreads (I just finished The Hunger Games. Feel free to friend my Goodreads account, if you’re so inclined.)

I realized that just writing this little blog isn’t enough for me right now. Time to do some organizing. A friend and I are talking about what to do next, and I’ll keep you up to date as we get the details worked out. If you have any inspiration or interest in this, let me know.

New Writer Crushes

16 Jun


The Summer issue of Midwestern Gothic is due out in a few weeks. I’ve seen a preview, and it’s fantastic. They kindly published a poem of mine, but even better than that, I now have a slew of new Writer Crushes. It’s true I’m pretty easy, but these people rock.

Nina Badzin is a writer, momma and wife, so naturally I enjoy her work. Her blog is beautiful, honest and well-written. May I recommend her post “New Writer Finds Readers”? It’s about resisting lit mag snobbery and having the guts to shoot far and wide. Pretty inspiring.

Chad Simpson is another writer and English prof whose publication list seems to grow daily. He blogs about every angle of the writing life — from idea generation to publication, with teaching and speaking thrown in. Add in his wife Jane Carlson’s frankly stunning photography, and there’s a lot here to admire here.

Nancy Devine is an educator and holy-cow-prolific writer whose blog is packed with personal thoughts, musings on writing, creativity and work, and a blog roll to die for. Her site’s so huge, I’ve seen but a teeny-bit of it, which is good. Lots to explore.

I think I may have an actual crush on Eden Baylee, who writes female-friendly (but by no means soft focus) erotica and erotic romance with originality, creativity and style. Her blog is not exclusively focused on writing erotica (although there’s some of that), but on writing in general with interviews, links and music. It’s an adult site though, so you know, NSFW, but definitely check it out.

I know I have an actual crush on Robert James Russell. (I’m trying to convince myself he’s less compelling in person, like maybe he doesn’t shower much, or hates puppies or something.) Russell co-founded Midwestern Gothic with Jeff Pfaller, and I really, really dig his blog. He edits, writes poetry, fiction and comics, and co-founded the indie comics press Saint James Comics. His blog is eclectic and dorky and funny. Plus he has awesome taste in music.

As I mentioned, Jeff Pfaller co-founded MG with Russell. He is also involved with Saint James Comics, and writes comics and fiction and these funny little “Napkin Haiku Reviews.” Plus he seems to also do design or content (or both) as a day job, which I admire, because if I had a day job, I wouldn’t write a damn thing (see the last 10 years.)

These are just a few of the wonderful writers involved with MG, and I’ll post more links as I make my way through the issue. I hope you’ll check it out when it’s finally available, so you can get all crush-y too.

Happy Nickmas!

8 Jun

Yes, that’s me in 1986. (What? I suppose you looked like a supermodel at 13? Shut up.)

If you can, ignore my “no pictures please” drama* and have a gander at my bedroom. If you were born after 1980, you may not recognize the men smoldering across every possible inch of wall space. They’re Duran Duran, and in this photo, you are actually looking at my “Nick Wall.” Yes, I devoted an entire wall of my bedroom to pictures of Nick Rhodes, D2 keyboardist, a complete stranger ten years my senior.

Looking back, I have two thoughts:
1. Wow! My original hair color! I haven’t seen that since 1990!
2. Obsessive much? That’s just fucking creepy.

The fact of the matter is, there is nothing creepy about me,** and I was not alone in my obsession. Not even close. In fact, if you were a girl born 1968-1974-ish there’s a good chance you had a similar decorating scheme. Your fave D2 member might have been different, but virtually every one of my girl friends had the Duran Duran DIY wallpaper, and we were competitive about it. The photos and posters I pulled from teen mags not only covered my walls, but also the mirrors, doors and furniture. Nonetheless, my friend Jenny SO had me beat. She managed to cover her ceiling. (No fair. I was -am- short.)

Obsessing about Duran Duran didn’t feel creepy at the time. In fact, I’d say it felt sort of liberating. My preoccupation with this band certainly weirded my parents out a bit, but Duran Duran were kind of like friends to me. I wasn’t crazy; I perfectly understood these real people were strangers whose lives would never actually intersect with mine. But I spent so much time listening to their music, watching their videos (moment of silence for the MTV of yesteryear), reading interviews and unauthorized biographies and news releases that I began to feel like I knew them. My friends and I devoted so much energy to our fandom that at some point, these men stopped being real people whose personalities we could only guess at, and became more like fictional characters we could manipulate. What I didn’t know about Duran Duran, I made up.

Enter fan fiction.

The aforementioned Jenny and I began whiling away our time by making up stories involving Duran Duran. Let me repeat, before you start to squirm, we were actually 12 at the time, and pretty innocent 12’s at that. Our most salacious thoughts were positively cute. We invented our own Mary Sue personas ages before I even knew what a Mary Sue was. (I was a 21-year-old singer in a girl band, tall and slender, with long, flowing, strawberry blonde hair and enormous blue-green eyes and long sooty lashes. Of course.) The internet was still just a tickle in Al Gore’s head then, so we had no idea other fans might be making these stories up too. It embarrassed us, and we kept it secret.

Before long, the stories kept coming to me even when Jenny wasn’t around, so I started writing them down. Thus, I wrote my first novel at 13 – a work of Duran Duran fan fiction. (Yes I still have it. Good GOD no, you can’t see it.) I also wrote dozens of short stories, most of which have not survived, and that is okay. Very okay.

Soon enough I learned writing is the absolute best method of escapism. Other kids had weed; I had Duran Duran. When the real world was a drag, I’d shut my bedroom door and slip into my other world – the one where I was older, cuter, more confident, and already had my braces off. Problems at home? Write a story. Socially awkward? Write a story. Fight with friends? Write a story. Bored? Write a story. Sad? Write a story… I wrote a lot. I was a teenager. No doubt it looked kind of freaky from the outside, but on the inside it felt familiar and comforting and steady. When the real people in my life let me down, I’d spend time with the boys, and before long, those characters began to feel mighty real and mighty important to me.

Nick's in the middle.

This peaked on June 8, 1986: Nick Rhodes’s 24th birthday. To celebrate, I christened the day “Nickmas,” and handed out Starburst candies (get it? STAR-bursts?) in the hallway at school. This may have been the absolute apex of my horrifying nerdiness, but somehow I doubt it. I’ve probably repressed the rest. Of course I got teased, but here’s the kicker, I didn’t care. I just didn’t. Being a Nick Rhodes fan gave me a sense of purpose and identity that nothing else really did. He was more than just a guy on a poster. He inspired me.

Fast forward three years, and I’d lovingly pulled down my Duran Duran posters and replaced them with Poison. And three years later it was The Cure. (Sensing a theme?) And then … and then … and then… ad infinitum. I usually *wink* don’t write fan fiction anymore, but I do occasionally find an actor or a band or a movie or an author that really resonates with me, and for a few months I go a little bananas. I plunder the internet, consuming every tiny piece of related info I can find until the fixation passes and I’m on to something new.

All this comes off as pretty flaky until you think of it in terms of gender. (You knew I’d get there eventually.) Female fans make us uncomfortable. Their passions are laughable because they so often turn towards the romantic/sexual. And yet, do you know any men whose knowledge of sports trivia is jaw-droppingly vast? How many guys have seen Star Wars Parts IV-VI so many times they can recite all the words straight through? (I’ve seen it done, more than once.) I knew a guy with over fifty Grateful Dead bootleg cassettes – all of which he’d gotten at concerts. We may laugh at these guys for being a bit goofy, but no one calls them obsessed.

When the Twilight phenomenon reached its deafening crescendo a couple of years ago, criticism of its young fans ranged from amused condescension to hostile cruelty. They were derided as obsessed, stupid, and delusional. Few things are as threatening as a sexually aware young woman, and stories of girls throwing aside their actual boyfriends flourished, revealing what really scared guys about Twilight fans: “If she likes a fictional character so much, she won’t like me,” as if these girls couldn’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Evidently young girls shouldn’t have sexual fantasies, and if they do, they definitely shouldn’t fantasize about “perfect” men. They should fantasize about pimply, awkward boys, just as teen guys fantasize about pimply, awkward girls, right? When a guy gets caught up on a female celebrity and papers his bedroom with Maxim covers, no one laughs because we know what he’s doing in there with all those sultry Megan Foxes pouting down at him and we’re okay with that. Better there than in the living room. But girls don’t DO that, do they?

Yep. They do.

And sometimes they do it with guys who sparkle, or wear eyeliner, or dance well or sing falsetto. Get over it. The entertainment industry sells escapism and women are just as likely to buy into that as men, if not more so. If fan culture seems more omnipresent now, we can thank the Internet. It was there all along, and honestly, fandom isn’t any more threatening now than it was in 1986, just easier to find.

So, Happy Birthday, Nick! You’re still beautiful and I no longer have braces! Call me. My very real husband says it’s okay.

(I swear I had no hand in this: The Temple of Saint Nicholas!)
……

*I still feel more or less the same about having my picture taken.

**Although, once someone called me an “evil and sneaky” waitress, but that’s another story – a stinking funny one. Buy me a margarita and I’ll do my “evil and sneaky waitress” impression for you.

My lovely friend Libby. Man, I wish I still had that Smurfs bedspread.

Two things…

2 Jun

First, Midwestern Gothic has revealed the cover of its summer issue, which will include my poem “Severed Tail,” so you can peek at that and say “Oooh yes…her name is on the cover, along with all those other writers.”

Also Holmes fans, Wessex Press has opened registration for the From Gillette to Brett III conference. They have really exciting speakers lined up, including Nicholas Meyer — author of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, and all-knowing Sherlock scholar Leslie S. Klinger. Parties, screenings, so much more. It fills up quick and there’s not much room at the inn, so to speak, so hurry hurry.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants

31 May

To best enjoy Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants: 1. Have a couple of margaritas. 2. Be a female, 3. aged 40-ish, 4. who’s well-educated and career-minded, 5. with a kid or two. Now, these are general guidelines, and you can slide on one or two of these requirements, but don’t skip the margaritas (that’s just good policy.) It’s not that readers who don’t fit this description won’t enjoy Bossypants. It is funny as hell, and Fey doesn’t skimp on anecdotes from her stints at Second City, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Anyone will respond to those segments. But there is a reflective tone to the memoir which I think adult women in particular will relate to, as Fey examines how her experiences as a young woman and later as a mother shaped (and continue to shape) her ambitions, neuroses and successes.

Fey’s initial stories about her working-class upbringing and time spent in the trenches of the service industry humanize her enough that we’re willing to follow her when she turns her attention to the challenges of celebrity. She relates these stories by paying particular attention to anxieties most women will recognize. For example, I’ve never had to endure a professional photo shoot for a glossy magazine (and that’s really okay with me), but Fey describes the experience with such frankness and humor that anyone who’s ever had her picture taken will feel reassured.

“Somebody will put up a makeshift wall by holding a full-length mirror next to an open loft window, and you will strip down naked. You must not look in that mirror at your doughy legs and flat feet, for today is all about dreams and illusions, and unfiltered natural daylight is the enemy or dreams.

When you inevitably can’t fit into a garment, the stylist’s assistant will be sent in to help you. The stylist’s assistant will be a chic twenty-year-old Asian girl named Esther or Agnes or Lot’s Wife.

…at this point in time her job is to stuff a middle-aged woman’s bare ass crack into a Prada dress and zip it up. In my case, Esther and I are always mutually frustrated when zipping up the tiny dress. Esther is disgusted by my dimply flesh and her low status. I’m annoyed that her tiny hands lack the strength to get Pandora’s plague back into the box.”

Fey never shies from the fact that being a woman has shaped her experiences and successes. She’s up front about her feminism, but she’s not a cookie-cutter feminist. She challenges women to resist victimhood and plunge on with their ambitions, even in the face of sexism. One particularly funny segment of Bossypants details Amy Poehler’s arrival at SNL and exposes the sometimes subtle, unspoken sexism of the entertainment (in particular the comedy) industry:

“Amy (Poehler) was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’.

Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her in and in a faux-squeamish voice said, ‘Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it!’ Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’

…With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

I can’t say I love Fey’s advice to women facing workplace sexism, however:

“So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. …

If the answer is yes, you have a more difficult road ahead of you … don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions. Go ‘Over! Under! Through!’ and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

I agree that trusting our own competence is definitely the most valuable response to sexism in the long-run, but sometimes (as Poehler demonstrates) calling others out on their assumptions is valuable and lets people know you’re not showing up just to ferry their coffee.

If you get a chance, I recommend supplementing Bossypants with Rosanne Barr’s recent article in New York Magazine. Both women discuss sexism in the entertainment industry, but Barr’s response is both more strident and more potent. Perhaps Barr’s unwillingness to compromise as a writer, actress and comedian (and ultimately as the boss of her own show) cleared a somewhat smoother path for the Tina Feys, Amy Poehlers and Kristin Wiigs of the next generation.

Fey’s comic timing and original point-of-view are fantastic, and I giggled through most of Bossypants, but long-form prose isn’t exactly her strong suit. Transitions tend to be slight or non-existent, her chapters tend to end abruptly, and her organization is inconsistent. It’s clear Fey spends most of her time writing short sketches and screenplays, as the book’s funniest moments are the lists like “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter,” which includes hopes such as:

“May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.”

and

“And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.”

Charmingly, Fey isn’t afraid to expose her own insecurities in the interest of honest reflection, and it’s these insecurities which resonate throughout Bossypants. But I believe the specificity of Fey’s point-of-view prevented even open-minded Mr. Irises from enjoying even the funniest bits I read aloud to him. He’s not a nearly-40-year-old woman writer, terrified of having her picture taken, with a working-class background and young daughter, for example – hence my recommended-reader qualifications. Perhaps I should have plied him with margaritas first? Nah. I think I’ll keep both the margaritas and Bossypants to myself (or share them with my girls.) After all, he has Woody Allen.

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