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Sometimes something bothers me but I can’t articulate exactly why. And then someone else comes along and articulates it for me and I want to give them the best high five that has ever happened (ignoring, for the moment, that I am truly terrible at high fives). This Man Repeller article was one of those times. All-female reboots bothered me for…some reason I couldn’t quite identify. I didn’t want to see Ghostbusters, despite everyone talking about it, partly because I didn’t watch it as a kid so I had no nostalgic connection to the story, but also partly because…something about the entire endeavour felt off to me. I just didn’t know what. And then, a few months ago, Haley Nahman told me what in “My Problem With Ghostbusters and the All-Female Reboot“. I particularly like the last paragraph:

But those felt different. They weren’t remakes with a new representation angle unilaterally applied and marketed, a gimmick that’s hard for me to swallow regardless of the group swapped in. I can’t shake the feeling that these reboots are sloppy seconds, plain and simple. That the driving force behind them is patronizing and rooted in money while parading as feminist liberation.

Let’s write new stories.

Read it. I mean it. Read it. And then let’s do it. Let’s write some new stories.

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I’ve always found that I favour difficult female characters. Honestly, I kind of want to be a difficult female. So you can imagine how much of a “duh” moment it was when I read this BBC article on anti-heroines and realized “I love anti-heroines!” Anti-heroines are not a brand new concept, but they do seem to be popping up with increasing frequency. Carrie Bradshaw, Olivia Pope, Alicia Florrick, Gretchen Cutler, Julia George, Hayes Morrison…these are the kinds of women that fascinate me the most on TV. While this article is by no means exhausted, it does provide an interesting framework to consider them within. It also makes the academic part of my brain really want to do research on this topic. If the idea of anti-heroines interests you even a little bit, I recommend you take a moment to read “These are the anti-heroines we’ve been waiting for“.

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It’s been a while since I posted one of these. Though I’m not sure all that many people are reading this blog anyway, so I figure if my screaming into the void is occasionally intermittent, it doesn’t really matter all that much.

This essay by Curtis Sittenfeld is so very well-written. And it is about precisely the kind of friendship that I hold most dear. The kind of friendship that endures across distance. The kind of friendship that greets most things with humour but lapses into gravity when necessary. Take a moment and read “My Friend Sam“. As usual, the first part quoted here. Click the link to go to the full essay.

If you’re trying to tell the story of a friendship, do you start when the two of you met? For Sam and me, that was in the late summer of 1996, after we became co-editors of the arts and entertainment section of our university’s student newspaper.

Do you start with the beginning of your friend’s life? Sam was born in 1976, in São Paulo, Brazil, the younger brother of two sisters, the son of parents who’d left Korea two years earlier and who, in 1991, would resettle in Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles, and work as garment fusers.

Do you start with your friend’s personality? Sam has always been loyal and generous, neurotic and melodramatic, wickedly but unostentatiously smart, frank and funny and someone who makes the people around him feel funny, too, because he laughs frequently and hard.

Or do you start the story with the day everything changed? Which was in 2014, right around his thirty-eighth birthday, when Sam was given a diagnosis of Stage III-C stomach cancer. For the enviably uninitiated, about nine per cent of people who receive such a diagnosis are alive five years later.

[…KEEP READING…]

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Required Reading. This is what it is like to be a woman in this world. And it makes me angry. It should make you angry too. Read it: Marry Karr’s “The Crotchgrabber“.

I particularly appreciated these paragraphs, early in the essay:

“In case you haven’t been on the receiving end of this sort of assault, you should know the primal physiological response it evokes—in this woman, anyway. The stomach drops, as if you’ve been shoved backward from a skyscraper and are flailing through space. Time dismantles. There are more frames per second, and people’s facial features become very specific. This guy had a squashed-down forehead, wide-set eyes, and heavy but neatly waxed brows.

Cops later told me my description was uncannily detailed—the result, I think, of the kind of change in perception post-traumatic-stress experts call “hypervigilance.” The reptilian area of the brain jolts you either to do battle or to bolt. Adrenaline and cortisol juice through you like a hit of meth, so you might find yourself still up and jittery at 4 a.m. (maybe even watching something as god-awful as “Waterworld,” the way I later did).”

Read the whole piece here.

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I cannot begin to count the number of times someone has tried to sell me on meditation as a way to deal with anxiety. This concept is laughable to me. Like, I literally burst into laughter most times it is suggested to me. I know it works for many people. I know it is a practice, and therefore I might need to, you know, practice if I want it to be useful down the road. But, honestly, right now, at this point in my life, meditation does sort of the opposite of what it is supposed to. As I once told a dear friend, “Yes, because what I need is more time alone with my thoughts.” So when I came across Casey Johnston’s “A Guided Meditation for the Anxious Mind“, I couldn’t stop laughing. Welcome to the inside of my brain.

Welcome to your Buddha Buddy five-minute guided meditation. During this practice, we will focus on your body and breathing awareness, in an attempt to soothe the mind. Find a comfortable seated position somewhere in nature. Now close your eyes and take a deep breath. Picture your front door. Did you lock it when you left? Even if you did . . . well, we can’t guarantee anything.

As you let your breathing settle into a steady pattern—eyes closed, arms at rest, palms face up—ask yourself, is that a pain in your forearm? You haven’t even done anything yet today. How can your forearm hurt, when there are hardly any muscles in there? Resist the urge to poke it. If you poke it, the pain won’t go away, and it might even get a little worse. Yes, it does feel worse. Do blood clots cause pain?

Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let it out—slowly, very slowly—through your mouth. Draw another breath in, and feel your belly fill with air. Your pants are awfully tight. You haven’t been to the gym in several days. Has it been two weeks already? It seems like you’ve been extra bloated after your last three Seamless orders from the Thai place downstairs. Food poisoning can cause bloat, can’t it? On your next inhale, fill your belly just a little bit less. Stop at, like, eighty per cent full. Maybe not just when you’re breathing, but when you’re eating, too. Just a thought. Now let it go.

[…KEEP READING…]

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Required Reading. I really mean that. Jennifer Aniston’s essay on Huffington Post blew up on the internet last week for good reason. She confronts the rampant body shaming of females in the press, the problems with “bump watch” tabloids, the utter ridiculousness of focusing on celebrity gossip given all of the other things that have been going on in the world lately, and what the hell it means to be a woman, famous or not, in a world that passively accepts what are often toxic views of womanhood. I want to scream this part from the rooftops: “Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.”

If you haven’t read it, read it. Now. If you have read it, reread it. “For The Record

Let me start by saying that addressing gossip is something I have never done.  I don’t like to give energy to the business of lies, but I wanted to participate in a larger conversation that has already begun and needs to continue. Since I’m not on social media, I decided to put my thoughts here in writing.

For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of “journalism,” the “First Amendment” and “celebrity news.”

Every day my husband and I are harassed by dozens of aggressive photographers staked outside our home who will go to shocking lengths to obtain any kind of photo, even if it means endangering us or the unlucky pedestrians who happen to be nearby. But setting aside the public safety aspect, I want to focus on the bigger picture of what this insane tabloid ritual represents to all of us.

If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues. The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty. Sometimes cultural standards just need a different perspective so we can see them for what they really are — a collective acceptance… a subconscious agreement. We are in charge of our agreement. Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise. And it begins early. The message that girls are not pretty unless they’re incredibly thin, that they’re not worthy of our attention unless they look like a supermodel or an actress on the cover of a magazine is something we’re all willingly buying into. This conditioning is something girls then carry into womanhood. We use celebrity “news” to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical “imperfection”?

I used to tell myself that tabloids were like comic books, not to be taken seriously, just a soap opera for people to follow when they need a distraction. But I really can’t tell myself that anymore because the reality is the stalking and objectification I’ve experienced first-hand, going on decades now, reflects the warped way we calculate a woman’s worth.

[…KEEP READING…]

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Required Reading. After the last week, after the last weeks, and months, and years, this poem strikes at my soul.

Plum Jam
Alisa Gordaneer

Everything is different this year
but jam still needs to be made
because red plums are thudding onto grass.

We celebrate, marking summers.
The year we added lemon. The year it didn’t jell
and we poured it over ice cream until we couldn’t eat.

You send the children out with pails, and their
arms strain against ripeness. Last year they were too small,
pushed plums into their own mouths.

This year, everything too much to contain:
garden overgrown, trees weighed down,
wasps drunk. Bees drowsy with boozy juice.

In the hot kitchen, I slice out pit after pit.
The big pot simmers, scent bittersweet.
You pull glass jars from the oven, sterile,

then ladle jam, pretending there is no such thing as news,
that I haven’t said what I couldn’t keep
from bubbling over:

Nothing is safe.
Not the jars in the cellar,
unopened from last summer.
to the day, not this earth or
the children humming with pleasure in the yard.

You offer me a
spoon, sticky with jam.
I have no taste for red turning pale.

(Gordaneer, Alisa. “Plum Jam.” Still Hungry. Winnipeg: Signature Editions, 2015. 31.)

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I occasionally peruse the missed connections page on Craigslist. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s touching, sometimes it makes me mourn for the state of humanity. It is always inspirational for character creation. And there is something endearing to even my jaded heart about the fact that people think something — anything at all — can come from these kinds of posts. Ethan Kuperberg’s “Missed Connections for A-Holes” is honestly more up my personal alley. Like I would post one of these. That probably tells you a lot about me. Stop judging me, and read the piece. I promise it is funny.

I was at a coffee shop in Park Slope. You were sitting next to me, talking to your friend about how you’re a vegan but you secretly eat eggs. I really wish I had said something to you. Your voice was loud and distracted me from my work.

* * *

You: sitting next to your backpack on the Brooklyn-bound L train last night.

Me: super tired, holding onto the rail, standing up.

I asked you to move your backpack so I could sit down. You said you were getting off in “only one more stop.” I just nodded and looked away. I don’t know if you will ever see this, but if you do I’d love to meet up. Manners are sort of my thing, and I’d love to teach you some.

[…KEEP READING…]

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Required Reading. Sometimes, for no reason at all, a poem will loudly announce its arrival in my brain. Often this poem is “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I have loved this poem since my first encounter with it in high school, so I never much mind its arrival in the midst of my daily life. It is also one of those poems that I associate with a particular person, so being reminded of a dear friend is a nice bonus whenever I think about this poem. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of tea and settle in. I promise it’s worth it.

The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot
 
                    S’io credessi che mia risposta fosse
                    a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
                    questa fiamma staria senza più scosse.
                    Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
                    non tornò vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
                    senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
 
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow some that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house , and fell asleep.
 
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin –
(They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
 
For I have known them all already, known them all –
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
          So how should I presume?
 
And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
          And how should I presume?
 
And I have known the arms already, known them all –
Arms that are bracelet and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wraps about a shawl.
          And should I then presume?
          And how should I begin?
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
 
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’ –
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
          Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
          That is not it, at all.’
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor –
And this, and so much more? –
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pilot or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
          ‘That is not it at all,
          That is not what I meant at all.’
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell the progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous –
Almost, at times, the Fool.
 
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
 
I do not think that they will sing to me.
 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
 
 
(Eliot, T.S. “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Collected Poems: 1909-1962. London: Faber and Faber, 2002. 3-9.)