Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Marshmallow fluff

I'm not in the kind of shape I want to be in.

I discovered that my new (used) iPod has a pedometer among other things, so on Wednesday, July 7th, I began walking 4000 steps a day. Two weeks later, I was walking 5000, and I've been going up 500 steps every week. Now I'm at 6500 a day (which translates to, for me, 2.7 miles approximately), which means of course that I have to finish my second cup of tea and get my lazy ass moving.

This is a good plan, for me. It allows me to slowly, but not so slowly that I don't get any health benefit, make my way up to 10,000 steps a day, which I should be starting around October 4th.

10,000 daily steps is the recommended exercise by the sexist, classist, fatphobic, disability-unfriendly, healthcare industry.

Since I am a mostly healthy currently-able young person, it's a good goal for me.

Already, I am less stiff come morning (this is helped by the weight-lifting I've also been doing a couple of times a week). Walking is much easier, and I can go much longer distances without needing to stop and rest.

And since discovering Librivox, I'm catching up on some wonderful books. Right now, I'm listening to an Old-Fashioned Girl, which was much beloved in my youth, and next I shall be listening to the Hound of the Baskervilles, which I am ashamed to admit I have never read.

The part that makes me kind of a dork is that I am documenting my fitness on a spreadsheet and graphing the data.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Read This Book! The Known World, by Edward P. Jones

It is one thing to learn dry accounts of slavery in America in history class (accounts which often seem to say that Lincoln Freed The Slaves And Then Everyone Was Cool and Hey A Party, but I digress), but it is difficult sometimes for the modern mind (especially the privileged one) to truly understand how monstrous the entire institution really was. These books about slavery and the human condition have changed more lives than just mine, I know, and I think they should be on every bookshelf:

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Family, J. California Cooper
Kindred, Octavia Butler

and now I'd add The Known World, by Edward P. Jones.

While readable and engrossing, this is at times a very difficult read simply because Jones has the ability to make you care deeply about his characters. With the first chapter, in which he creates in loving detail the county of Manchester, VA down to fake census records and town gossip, you are helpless to do much else until you finish this book. I took it with me on a walk around Lake Merritt yesterday, and stopped no more than four times to read a chapter here, a chapter there, because it was so hard to put down.

One of the things about this book that will break your heart and make you angry as you read it is that Jones refuses to make "good guys" and "bad guys". Bravely, Jones tackles the controversial and highly difficult topic of black people who owned slaves, and he does not spare us the readers by making these slave masters of color kind and egalitarian. They are slave masters just like any other. He also grimly shows just how fragile supposed "free papers" could truly be. No more on that, though, as I don't want to spoil it!

This book made me cry and nearly made me throw it. When it was over, there was a lump in my throat that refused to dissolve.

It won a Pulizer, and I can understand why.

Read this book. You won't be sorry.

Read This Book! The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach

This is not a life-affirming book. It doesn't contain witty asides. It's unsatisfying in a way; if you like a nice, neat package that teaches you a Lesson About Life, well- this book is not for you.

I'm not saying this to say you're not deep enough for it or any such James Joyce-loving nonsense, no, but rather, I'm warning you. You should know what you're in for.

The cover drew me in. Stark, white, interesting looking graphic- a woman on a loom? Hmm. I was desperately seeking reading material on a recent trip to Philly and picked it up on a whim. I read the first chapter right there in the bookstore, in a cushy chair by the window (if you don't have the kind of bookstore that has cushy chairs in which people sit for hours and waist high stacks of books, you probably aren't my favorite), and it knocked me right over. Wham. Kind of like when I read this book for the first time.

It's less a cohesive novel and more a series of vignettes, some pointed and some seemingly pointless- stories in the lives of people in a dying empire, and about the sad pointlessness of the minutae to which individual lives are devoted. It's the picture of those lives and the purpose which connects them. It's not the meaning of life. It will leave a strange open space in your chest when you finish reading.

Read it anyway. You won't be sorry.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hoist the Fail-Sail and Go Forth!

This may or may not be a series, if people continue to be redonkulous. These are some bizarre things that have been said to me or in my hearing recently.

Animal rights groups (emphasis mine) and middle easterners are the people discriminated against these days.

Ok. What?
First of all, let's get rid of this idea that anyone who is "different" from the "norm" (read: straight, cis, white, presently-abled, young, etc) is NOT facing discrimination every. single. f-ing. day.

Secondly, animal rights groups? Really? You mean, these people? The same people who were racist, fat-shaming douchebags to Aretha Franklin? The same people who compared owning a pet to the horrific murder, rape, degradation and enslavement of millions of people for centuries?

Discrimination against fat people also, insert gay people, women and smokers is the last acceptable form of discrimination.

Listen. Nothing is the new racism-against-black-people. Black people still have to deal with racism every single day.

Secondly, why are "black people" and "women" always two separate categories? Do you mean to tell me that people who tick off both the "woman" and "black" boxes on their census forms are nonexistent, like unicorns? Are you telling me that Angela Davis, Renee of Womanist Musings, Gabi of Young, Fat and Fabulous, Latoya Peterson of Racialicious- these African-American Woman-people are imaginary?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dear Governor Jan Brewer;

I lived next door to illegal immigrants for a short while. Know what they looked like?

Well, they were white Canadians on expired student visas.

...but of course, the police are gonna be on the case of people like that.

Babakiueria- Watch this film!

I just learned about this amazing and sadly obscure film made in 1986. This is satire at its finest; Aboriginal Australians colonize a land full of white people.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Read this book! #2

Good afternoon, everyone! *squints into the empty theater* Hi, reader. Thanks for coming.

I just want to tell you about this fabulous book I finished reading! What is it?, you say? No? You just have to pee? Ok, go ahead. I'll just talk to myself here.

Anyway, here it is: The Untelling. This is the kind of book that you finish and sigh. If you're me, you put down your apple enormous chocolate-chip cookie and close your eyes. Tayari Jones doesn't leave anything unsaid, but you still want there to be more book there. Maybe it's because Aria is so much like so many of us; imperfect. Hard on herself. Fallible. Sometimes, weak. Get yourself a nice tall glass of iced tea and settle in with this one. You're not going to want to stop reading.

Speaking of books that make you seriously consider only working on your legs since barbells make you have to put the book down, here's another one I read recently: Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Powell's thinks she's just Dole- she's not). Wench is Perkins-Valdez's first novel, and takes place at a resort in free Ohio during slavery times that was visited by white men and their black mistresses. I wish there was another word I could use here that takes into consideration the complicated relationship a "favored slave" could have with a man with whom she had no choice but to sleep with- in any case, this book is amazing, and heart-wrenching, and you should read it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

what privilege looks like

I arrived at the Philadelphia airport at approximately 5:30 AM for a flight at 7:10 AM and checked in at the terminal. A young African-American woman was attempting to check in next to me. After a few tries, she tapped me lightly to get my attention.
"Excuse me, do you know how to use this?"
"I'm doing the same thing you're doing," I replied dubiously, but then I looked over at her screen. She was attempting to check a bag. TOO CLOSE TO FLIGHT TO CHECK BAGS, read her screen. "When's your flight?" I asked her, alarmed.
"You should definitely ask an attendant to check your bag manually."

We've all been there, in some capacity. At least, any of us who fly from one place to another on occasion. Certainly you want to be there two hours before your flight, but life happens. Sleep happens. Traffic, and rental-car trainees happen. Getting lost happens. And really, it wasn't too long ago that the only people who were consistently at the airport an hour ahead of their flights were the anal-retentive types. Now, you could spend an hour in security alone.

I finished checking in, watching her try unsuccessfully to get the attention of the airline employee, a middle-aged white woman, for a good five minutes. This employee, who was having a leisurely conversation with an older white woman, did not even make eye contact with the young lady beside me. There was not even an impatient, eye-rolling, "I'll be right WITH you."

Nothing. My fellow traveler might as well have been invisible.

I gathered my bags, printed my receipt, and strode over to the airline employee, who was roughly two feet away from me (in other words, there is no way she could have simply not seen or heard the young lady trying quite politely to get her attention through words and hand gestures. "Excuse me," said I in my best imperious voice. This tone, which I learned from my mother, is polite and firm. It says, 'I am an important white lady and you will acknowledge me NOW.'

Naturally, she looked up and met my gaze head-on. "Yes?"

"This young lady is having difficulty checking her bags. Can you please help her?"

And then I stood there until she walked over there and started talking to the lady in question.

Then, I went through the security line.

As a fat (but not TOO fat), young, able-bodied, cisgendered, US-citizenship-having, white person travelling alone,
I was not subjected to a random luggage search.
No one detained me and asked me why I was travelling and what I was planning to do.
No one reported me as a potential terrorist, or asked me to get off the plane. Everyone smiled at me, called me 'dear', and wished me well.
My seatmates sighed and groaned about having to sit next to my fatness, but I was not asked to buy a second seat as the armrest went down and the seatbelt fit me.
I did not have to worry about being asked to remove braces or go through security in pain and agony, as I could walk all by myself.
I did not have to worry about being unable to take essential medication for several hours, as I am not currently taking any medications.
I did not have to suffer the humiliations of being grilled about having been born with a different name than the name I carry now.
I did not have to present several forms of ID. My driver's license was just fine.

There are things I did not have to worry about that I do not even KNOW about, as I am a person of privilege.

The face of privilege is MY face.

We with privileges have three choices.
One: we can simply lament our privilege, and yet still benefit from it.
Two: we can fail to acknowledge our privilege, and yet still reap its bounty.
Three, and this is my choice: we can acknowledge that our privilege is like an extra twenty dollars in our pockets every day, and we can use those extra monies to benefit those who don't get paid.

What does this mean?

Speak up for others.
Don't choose comfort over what is right.
Allow people who do not have your privilege to tell you when you have spoken with the voice of privilege. Take your medicine, and let it make you better.

EDIT, 2:38 PM:
Here is another very different account of air travel by a person with a disability. Part of privilege is the assumption that everyone gets treated with respect, and that if they do not, it is their fault. Let us not make such assumptions.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Colored Girls are People, Too

I've been reading the comment thread over here for a day or two, now, and I've had enough, I think.

When defining a "classic" work of literature, people, most especially man people, often toss off things like "universal appeal" and "overarching themes" and "human experience."

In the thread I linked to, a commenter named Michael Cronin commented that:

"I couldn't really tell you if its a classic or not. It never moved me, but it wasn't really written for me anyway. What I do remember is coming home from elementary school in the late 70s and catching my mother/single parent sitting on the floor with a copy in her hand crying her eyes out. Its pretty safe for me to say she considered it important. My daughter recently read it and her only comment afterwards was "I don't wanna talk about it."
Further down, a commenter named Msladydeborah adds that:

"I am from the generation of Black women who supported For Colored Girls. Do I think it could be deemed a "classic" play. Yes. Why? Because at this particular time our voice as WOC was not being heard in this manner. No one was talking about our lives and the different changes that we went through during our twenties. These were sistas that I could relate to. There are moments in this play that I know about because I have lived through them."

Just a few weeks ago, the category of Best Director was triumphed over by a woman for the first time ever. There has still never been a black Best Director, but that's another story. The picture that Kathryn Bigelow won for was a gritty war drama. Its stars were men.

I am not going to say that it wasn't a good movie. I have not seen it yet, but there is not a single person I have spoken to who did not say it was a wonderful movie. Real. Gritty. Emotionally appealing but not sappy. And then, there comes that word: universal.

See, I have a private theory that Ms. Bigelow would not even be a contender for best director had that movie she made been about women, even women at war. Sure, you argue, but Precious got nominated and so did its director! Well, you see, men are allowed to make movies about lady stuff. Women, on the other hand, have to constantly fight for their movies to be considered serious business. I have no doubt that if Ms. Bigelow made a wonderful, emotionally jarring film about women in combat, that it would be praised and praised and-

relegated to "niche" status. Or maybe my favorite, "cult classic". Which cult, exactly? The cult of people who think that women are important, too?

Yeah, right, you scoff. Women directors are always making schmaltzy movies about romance! Nia Vardalos had to fight to keep the star of her comedy, "My Life In Ruins" female. Of course, this comedy about a post-twenties loser-type who has a journey of self discovery and eventually finds love is a movie for the ladies, only, amiright? Let's call it a fluffy rom-com! Let's compare it to Mamma Mia, which it totally resembles because it is about ladies! (One should never compare Mamma Mia, a movie based on Abba songs, with a movie like Across the Universe, a movie based on Beatles songs, because it is about a man! And the lady who does not understand!)

I suppose that it should come to no one's surprise that women are not considered people.

If we were, then the idea of using the right to have a clean, safe, legal abortion would not be debated and discarded by representatives elected by the people and allegedly working for the people. If we were to be considered people, male hormonal birth control would have come out years ago. Maternity and paternity care would be sufficient, paid, and enforced by law. Rape victims wouldn't have to prove, in court and in society, that they weren't raped due to their own negligence/suggestion/past sexual behavior. Campus safety guides would instruct would-be rapists on how not to rape someone instead of discussing pepper spray and the buddy system with women. If women were people, male and lesbian female domestic violence survivors would not be laughed out of the police stations, and their claims would be seriously considered by the law and their peers. If women were people, we would be equally represented in both government and media sources. We wouldn't have to work twice as hard for half of the recognition. Women's health services like STD screening and pap smears and birth control would be fully funded via insurance, and pregnant women would never have to worry about their babies being delivered via a C-Section they did not consent to.

And the debate over whether to include a beautiful, heartwrenching, revolutionary work written by a woman of color in which she invented a new genre (!) the choreopoem, containing universal topics and themes-

sex, love, loneliness, suffering, bad relationships, strength, pregnancy, doubt, rape- the themes are many and yes they are absolutely universal.

The fact of the matter is that in the 70's, when this work was created, women of color were routinely denied humanity on the basis of both gender and color.

And today, in 2010?

Not too terribly much has changed for WOC.

The fact that this choreopoem has as much power today (and is as solidly controversial) as it did at its first production leaves only one possibility:

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is as much a classic as that much lauded novel about a mysterious millionaire named Gatsby.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On the street

Today, I spoke with four strangers.

To one, over the phone, I unloaded my entire f-ed up recent personal history and bad feelings. It was a phone interview for a sliding scale therapy clinic, and as far as I understand, I have my first appointment tonight.

To the second, I spoke via Chatroulette for approximately 20 minutes. We got disconnected after a while, but he was a 20 year old German student and we had actually a great conversation about English, nudists, mishaps and clumsy people, which we are. Also, about the beauty inherent in making mistakes.

The third was on the bus. I told him I was engaged but if he wants to be friends he can call me. Stupid? Sure. However- I'm trying to move past being a shut-in, and he builds model trains as a hobby.

Crossing the street to the library, I spoke to a fourth. She spoke to me, actually. I believe she was telling me that if I was 100 pounds, I'd look better in my current outfit (which, I lament, is a dress and black velour yoga pants). Honey- if I was 100 pounds and decided to wear my bra and some spanx as outerwear, the whole of society would approve. As it happens, I'm over 200 pounds- and I leave the house anyway, as a matter of course.

Oh, hey, people on the street? I am a fat lady. Bein' fat. Sometimes, while being fat I do such things as walk, talk, laugh, sit, read, ride the bus, ride the train, and eat. I know, right? Pretty f'ing scandalous. In any way, I just want to assure you that I AM aware that I am fat, am also aware that I would look more like a supermodel if I was skinnier, and I still continue to exist. Plan to exist for as long as possible, really. And I may always be fat.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Authors I like: Helen Oyeyemi

This is something I plan to do sporadically, when the mood strikes me or I am particularly impressed. Today's author is Helen Oyeyemi. That link is to her wikipedia page (thanks, Wikipedia!).

She is younger than me by one year, so I'm terribly jealous of her success, but I must admit she deserves it. Woman is a phenomenal writer. I've only read The Icarus Girl, which she wrote when she was 19 years old, but I'm partway into The Opposite House, and it promises to be wonderful.

The Icarus Girl is about an 8-year-old girl named Jessamy. To say she's caught between two worlds would be too simple, and I don't want to give out spoilers- let's just say that she has a white, British father, and a Nigerian mother. She is very smart, sensitive and imaginative, and suffers from the affliction that often comes with intelligence that comes on hard and fast and early- she is both lonely and a loner, and sometimes her brain and her emotional maturity are at odds. She is also quite perceptive, so catches often those little lies that adults tell children as a matter of course.

In Nigeria, Jess meets a ragged little girl named Titiola, and a lot of what happens next centers around just exactly how Titiola (nee Tilly-Tilly) fits into Jess' life, and what exactly she is.

One thing that is wonderful is the solid realness of Nigerian spirituality in this book. Tiresomely, a lot of books that deal with a conflict of cultures between the scientific and modern, and the older and more mysterious, have the latter coming out as a solid loser- superstitious and foolish. Not so with the Icarus Girl.

I would compare it to another book for that aspect, but I think that, as Chimamanda Achidie said very succinctly in her 19 minute speech for TED (you can find it here),

"I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."- Chimamanda Achidie, The Danger of a Single Story

Transcript for this is here, courtesy of Restructure!

In any case, both Jess and Ms. Oyeyemi get to tell their own story, divorced from any other stories that have been told before.

Read this book!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On fanfiction

Recently, I fell back into a habit I thought I had long since discarded.

Yes, you have that right. I went looking for fanfiction.

There's a book I am quite fond of, called Sunshine. Robin McKinley's books are all favorites of mine, and I've read most of them twice, three- sometimes five times or more- but Sunshine is the one I read over and over and over again, at least twice a year. If I didn't have so many other things to read for school right now, I'd probably read it more often. I'm a cursedly fast reader. It has less to do with my actual reading speed and more to do with my intensity as a reader. When I'm into a book, I read it at all times. In fact, I may as well admit that I would long ago have looked into a car loan if not for the pleasure of reading on the bus.

The thing that makes me long for- not even a sequel, but more- is that Sunshine is a brief window of time in a fascinating world. Rae Seddon, the narrator, can be petulant at times, as many real people are, and the surrounding characters flesh out the novel wonderfully.

There is nothing wrong with open endings. At the end of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, I speculated, as many did, I'm sure, about what happened. I had a lot of fun speculating, as a matter of fact. However, I did not miss Jimmy, or any of the other characters. What happens next in that book is anyone's guess, but the story is done. It's been told.

So has Sunshine/Rae's, of course, but McKinley does such a fine job of setting up the day to day existence of these characters and their lives that I longed to see more- to visit with them at work and eat one of the cinnamon rolls as big as your head that Sunshine gets up at 4 AM to bake; to ask her mysterious landlady more questions about her past. I wanted to watch Mel work on motorcycles. I wanted to rub his tattoos (hey- I'm a perv). I wanted to spy on Jesse and Pat, and go to the library and visit Aimil. I was curious to know what kind of creature that sweet old woman who maintains the flowers outside Charlie's place is a were of. I wanted to know more about the war.

One of the problems of making such well-fleshed out characters and making them so real you could expect to walk out the door and bump into them (vamps aside, of course) is that readers get attached. Those characters become your friends, and when they tell you about their lives, it's like you're talking over coffee. You MISS them. You want to talk to them. You want to know how their lives are. Except, being fictional, you can't exactly check up on their facebook statuses every now and then when you wonder how that whole double life thing is going.

A lot of my favorite authors state very clearly that they do not like fanfiction, and I totally understand. Fandom is a wide and variable place, and you can find well written noir-esque Ranma 1/2 fanfiction in the same place that you'll find slavering accounts of the time that Pikachu and Misty got stuck in an elevator *shudder* (I really hope I'm making that last one up, by the way). There are also some very understandable reasons to avoid a legal pickle. Jasper Fforde explains, on his FAQ, that:

My thoughts on Fan Fiction are pretty much this:
That it seems strange to want to copy or 'augment' someone else's workwhen you could expend just as much energy and have a lot more fun making up your own. I feel, and I think with good reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades; clearly I can't stop you writing and playing what you want in private, and am very flattered that you wish to do so. But anything published in any form whatsoever - and that specifically includes the internet - I cannot encourage, nor approve of.

This is a little bit less forbidding than Robin McKinley who writes here that:

My personal feeling is that while using other people's worlds and characters as practise and inspiration is not only good but recommended — I did it myself, and you can learn a lot about the craft of writing by copying/plagiarising/borrowing/spinning off from books and writers you admire — and showing stuff you've written from these origins to your immediate circle of friends, family, teachers, creative writing group, whatever, as an exercise to improve your skills is also fine. And this would as far as I'm concerned (although if I get any queries about this I'd have to check with my agent) include any private, password-protected, invitation-only groups on the net. But using other people's work should only be an exercise in getting yourself going into your own work. (Or a private fantasy. What you do at your own computer, so long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses, is your own business.) And I feel that if you're going to display/hang/offer something for strangers, for anyone and everyone, to read — as on the fanfic sites — it should be your own work. Yes, sources, catalysts and retellings are always with us — but mostly it's pretty obvious where the line runs, and fanfic is by definition on the wrong side of the line.

On the same faq, Ms. Mckinley also has a post called There is no sequel to sunshine ...AND THERE PROBABLY NEVER WILL BE.

I totally get that, by the way. It has got to be terrifically annoying having people bugging you to write a sequel to a book when you're not inspired to do so. Of course, it might make more sense to say something like, "I'm not the story council ...so if you want a sequel to Sunshine you need to write it yourself. also, if you try and make money off of it, I'll sue your pants off so don't even try.

Jasper Fforde follows up his no fanfic answer with a wry claim that someone accused him of lifting a plot from a Thursday Next fanfiction website that he didn't even know existed! Now that is plainly ridiculous. Any fan who would do that is a giant, no holds barred, jerk. The problem I have with writing off all fans as just waiting to sue the author is- well- in my experience as a reader and writer of fanfiction, I've just not seen a lot of that. Mostly, fanworks are prefaced with something like this:

Disclaimer: I don't own Flatland. (yes, that is from a Flatland fanfiction, which is both cool and weird to think about).

Disclaimer: I don’t own Buffy, if I did, I’d be writing scripts, not fanfics."

Because I can't figure out how to edit the actual story, here's the disclaimer. As you all well know, I don't own the characters of YuGiOh. They're Kazuki Takahashi's. I also make no money.

I remember writing my own disclaimers when I also wrote fanfiction.

There are some wonderful writers with their own fiction empires who started out writing, basically, fanfiction, in published form. Diane Duane is one of them. Viewing her Bibliography, one can see that she has written quite a few Star Trek books, among others. And what, exactly is Scarlett, if not an officially licensed fanfiction?

Sometimes people need closure. Sometimes they want to try whatifs. Sometimes they just fall in love with a character and want to watch that character grow up. Authors are not coin-operated. It is not their job to give us the ending we want, or not kill off a character, or tell us the answer when we finish reading a book and wonder what happened next.

That is what fanfiction is for.