Raise Your Hand if You Need the Last Word.

montoya“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Over lunch the other day, a few of my girlfriends and I mused over how we grew up on The Princess Bride.  I mean literally like an after school snack. A drug of choice for hip 90s girls who knew we’d grow up and really want to be more like Robin Wright on House of Cards, but for a little while, we could love Wesley and his sexy bandit costume.  There were two movies that I obsessively watched as a child, Grease and Princess Bride.  I feel like between these two movies PLUS Clarissa Explains It All, I can be discovered.  This may or may not be true for most girls, we shall see in the comments section, but I think a lot of girls found themselves binge-watching The Princess Bride because it wasn’t your normal “princess story.”  Sure, she had to be saved several times from Humperdinck, but Princess Buttercup was no pansy.  What I love most about this movie is that it convinced me that there’s such a thing as a final word.

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I have sought that final word to the point of damage a few times.  I’ll argue until the height of high-pitched yelling.  There’s a moment when I say something despicable that I know can’t be taken back, but I still release it into the world like it’s a clattering truth.  I never remove myself from arguments.  I have a hard time walking away.  And even when someone is trying to give me the hint that there’s no place for me in their life, I pursue them until the ache grows softer and I, too, can let go.

It’s a downfall for sure.  I’m no hero.

shrill-lindy-west-magnumBut with that all said, I think Lindy West’s first book is doing just what I’ve done my whole life, just what Inigo Montoya does with every man who even narrowly looks like his father’s killer.  It’s what a lot of feminists do when they realize that maybe they’re being heard (the sound) but they’re not being listened to (the meaning).  They keep going. Shrill, West’s memoir really encapsulates this idea that silence isn’t golden, it’s boxy and the only way out of it, is to keep on talking.

hqdefaultI knew this book was going to pack a punch when in the beginning she lists out every “Fat Female Role Model” that existed for her as a child.  Characters like the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Trunchbull, Lady Cluck, Mrs. Piggy, and Ursula were the most prominent according to my notebook. I listened to this on audiobook, so I had to pause to write down little tidbits I wanted to remember forever.  In Chapter 2, she says, “There is not a thin woman inside me awaiting excavation.  I am one piece.”  With this quote I began to realize that we were going to witness every bit of Lindy West, whether she thought it appropriate to show or not, she was nothing but transparent and relatable for the entire book.

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This image is from Lindy West’s article in Jezebel “How to Make a Rape Joke”

(If you don’t know who Lindy West is, she came for Tosh.0 in Jezebel with a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke.” And she rocks).  She has been trashed by internet trolls, even one impersonating her deceased father, and she married a man who in her words is “conventionally attractive” who plays the trumpet.  The reason why I say her book is a final word of sorts is that it gives all of the baggage (and I don’t mean this as a negative) to the stories that everyone else construed about her.  These stories created by trolls, comedy show hosts, feminist bloggers, newspapers and magazines, and her blog were in some ways all fabricated.  While I blog my life blood into everything I write at Books & Bowels and Almost an Independent Clause, that doesn’t mean I owe every single one of my followers a pound of flesh.

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Internet Troll image from Kotaku

But in the eyes of the public, Lindy West did.  She was trolled, tattered, and left on the defense over really important issues like fat shaming, rape jokes, abortions, periods, and privilege.  At one point, during the comedy chapters, she says something like, I can easily name 20 white male comics, but … “Name 20 female comics.  Name 20 black comics.  Name 20 gay comics.”  Early in the book, she writes so unabashedly about her abortion when she was dating a guy that she loved, but didn’t quite like very much, that I heard every woman who walked the women’s march sigh in relief.  It wasn’t some grotesque tale like the biblical posters of “baby waste” will have you think, it was a real woman’s life trial, true to each hard step.  She even at this point in her life (what I would argue is probably a low point for some women) thought about her privilege, about the way it was so easy for the owner of the Abortion Clinic to let her pay later.

“Privilege means it’s easy for white women to do each other favors.”

I’m not going to lie, I found the chapters rehashing her experience of Tosh.0 kind of boring, but I knew they needed to be said.  I’m not going to put words in Lindy West’s mouth (like everyone else has done before me), but I get the need to have one last say, to make sure people understand your point, to make one even when all corners are trying to silence you. For me, what she said had value, is valuable, and should be repeated even if the “shrill” is deafening.  Especially in today’s political climate.

“We live in a culture that actively tries to shrink the definition of sexual assault.  That casts stalking behaviors as romance.  Blames the victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood…Convicts in less than 5% of allegations that go to trial” (Chapter 13).

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Lindy West, Fierce AF at KUOW.org

I loved this book because it didn’t ask for anything.  You know how sometimes you read memoirs and you can feel that the writer is asking for pity, or asking for understanding, or even just asking for love and adoration? This wasn’t like that.  This was just a girl, standing in front of a really bookish crowd (with a pack of Lena Dunham’s behind her) telling a few truths about life.  She wasn’t asking for you to understand why your fat joke is sorry, why rape jokes aren’t funny in any contexts, why free speech isn’t necessarily free, or why feminist voices matter, she was just telling you an experience in a life of a human being.

If we could find more writers that do this, our world might open up a little.  Internet trolls might apologize more and Lindy West may have a twitter full of quips that crack a girl up while she’s at a boring desk job.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but if Lindy West keeps publishing, we just might. I liked Slate’s review here.

You’ve Reached: My Feminist Agenda

THE GREAT GATSBY, from left: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, 2013.I’ve always been on that weird middle line with feminism where I can’t jump over the fence and burn my bras because those things are DAMN expensive and sometimes kind of pretty, but I also am definitely not on the side of “all girls should sit and be pretty.” I can’t say that I’ve always been on the side of women, I’ve talked my fair share of smack and I’ve always kind of felt (and always loathed) Daisy in Great Gatsby:

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”

Some of my judgment: For too long we’ve lived in a world where women who play dumb and look pretty get ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’re legacy makers in every right (See: Kim Kardashian or Jessica Simpson), but the way women are still supposed to portray themselves for the public is to be just what Daisy said.  What these woman actually are, are bosses. Big men on campus, but it’s the “beautiful little fools” they play.

61w6r0fl1wl-_sx329_bo1204203200_After reading You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent, I have to agree that it isn’t my call to judge them for how or what they present, but what they can represent for feminism and girls everywhere. Nugent says “There are other words, too.  Bossy. Bitchy. Rude. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Whore. I used these words when I had an agenda.  I was always looking for ways to frame other women in a way that made me seem better and more appealing.  I was a cool girl, not her, don’t you see?”  And for the record, I don’t just mean girls who are born biologically girls, but also the ones who decide / choose to come to the dark side as well.  You’re all girls in my Barbie World.

I loved this essay collection like it was a time-tested musical number or a Pablo Neruda ode. Nugent didn’t have to shout at us with her torch and teeth barred, instead she spoke feminism like a soft wave from a wet kayak.  One chapter would have the punch of lemoncello and the next would be a little quieter, but just as brave and equally meaningful.  Towards the end of the book she smacks the reader around with her to do lists on masturbation and porn, but in the middle, the soft stuff like female friendships (that are never, ever soft by the way) and virginity are breached.

mac-the-matte-lip-1When everyone else in a girl’s life is silent on these topics, Nugent is educated and sassy.  I tweeted multiple times about stalking her and becoming real friends.  One imagining even got very real: we were in the grocery store, knocking on cantaloupes because aren’t they one of those fruits when you just never know the ripeness?  Some people flick, some people tap, some squeeze slightly like the first time you touched Nickelodeon Gak, but Nugent and I, we are two in the same.  With full chapters on lipstick and the haven’s of bliss that are women’s restrooms in a crowded club (other than the pukers and the ones that have to hold their hair), I couldn’t get enough of Nugent’s perspective on feminism.

yourresponsetomybodyIn her world, and mine now that I can stop secretly torturing myself for “Hm”ing every time a dude makes a mild sexist joke, feminists can make mistakes.  They can disagree, but support all the same.  They can understand their bodies, their moral lines, but also accept everyone else’s bodies and moral lines. I finally get what all the tweets are talking about when they bash Teen Vogue or Cosmopolitan for “fat-shaming.” To be a feminist, it doesn’t mean you have to be pure as a saint or reeking of sex 23/7 (no one can have sex for an entire day, we’d all die a slow and maybe only half painful death).  It means that you – at the bottom of everything – you have to believe in other women, and believe they should get the same treatment as any man.

That means it’s okay to suck at that too sometimes.  It doesn’t mean you have to show a nipple once in a while and it doesn’t mean that you have to have a vagina pin on your backpack and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be angry with all the dudes in your life, because some of them are kind of cute, ya know? In Nugent’s feminism, you just have to be knowledgable and accepting.

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635891019852257512-1248180650_il_fullxfull-367509095_dltlI literally, full-on, laughed out loud at work reading this book.  And it wasn’t a cute laugh, it was one of those wide mouth laughs that has you burying your face into your elbow while people kind of stare at you. To the point where I had to almost make up a reason that something would be that funny in a book.  It was.  It totally was.  I almost cried a little bit too, but mostly I laughed.  A lot.  Nugent’s voice is like listening to your girlfriend tell you a drunken story except she’s really smart so it still sounds smart, but there’s tangents of nonsense and hilarity.

I texted my best friends paragraphs of text from this book.  We joked for a few minutes about how much she “knows” us.  This is one of those girl’s girl books. If that’s not enough to pick it up and read it, I don’t know what else to tell you.  I especially liked the chapter on losing your virginity because I think someone needed to say it.

It opens:

“I did not lose my virginity.  I know exactly where it went.  It went on top of a futon in a basement that you could enter through a sliding door.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a landmass that Columbus entered and then ruined.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a number-two pencil somebody asked to borrow during a Scantron test and never gave back.  Nobody took my virginity at all.  I had sex for the first time in a condo with a sarcastic dude whom I sort of liked.  I don’t feel like this is a sad story.

mjaxnc02zdk3ntg1ztzhogvmztdjIt’s enough to feel shame about your public smile, about the way you look in a tankini, about the amount of tortilla chips you ate for … linner. It’s enough.  It’s enough to feel shame of not living up to parental expectations of “being a good girl.”  No one needs to feel shame for the way they use their body if they wanted to.  If there were 2+ consenting adults and they chose to make moves.  My religion makes me feel some shame, I think it comes with the Catholicism though and so I accept it as part of the “Catholic guilt.”  I can’t save anyone from that because it’s a lingering sort.

What Nugent can save you from is digging holes against other women (or just people) and burying yourself.  She can save you from judging someone’s past because it doesn’t match up with their present, or judging someone period because your idea of “rightness” does not align with there idea of “learning.”

Everyone always says, “think before you speak.” Maybe instead we should be saying, SPEAK. and in equal measure LISTEN, and while you’re listening don’t judge, degrade, downgrade, take back to another dinner table and spill about with giggles. Support your fellow woman and make good decisions. When they aren’t good, own them and learn.

That’s a feminist if I ever saw one. (Except I haven’t seen her even though we could totally be best friends.  This is definitely an awkward “Call Me, Maybe” moment that I will own and learn from).

PS. I kind of also wrote about Nugent’s book here when I went on a rant in support of Planned Parenthood.

Feminism: Getting Sticky With It.

I’m sitting here eating a handful of mini-oreos because last week my best friend and I had a sleepover and made sundaes. Leftovers are the best.

Clearly, I am not concerned about the potential poundage that could be added on from the mini-oreos, even if I did check the calorie count and how many I could eat per serving to meet the endless food intake quota that women everywhere are trying to live up to.

Is this a quality of my feminism? No.

Is this a quality of societies expectations for women? Maybe.

Does it matter if these Oreo pieces are damn good? No.

Rosie the Riveter @ Wikipedia Commons

Feminism is a touchy word these days.  Well, let’s be honest, since we got the vote, feminism has been all the rage on both sides.  I think part of the problem with the entire feminist movement is the word that we came up with to introduce ourselves. The very root “fem” became a slang word for women in 1936.  Just by opening the word with that root we’ve already eliminated the likelihood that men will feel comfortable in calling themselves by this name (That’s not the point though is it, however, men can be feminists. I’m here to break your stereotypes).  The rest of it “femini” is basically the word “feminine,” just two letters short.

Computer Engineer Barbie @ Eric Steuer (Flickr)

This brings us to a whole new argument about societal expectations of gender.  Why is the girl aisle covered in pink and the boy aisle covered in blue?  Why is Barbie so skinny (which is just a sad argument for women all together because do you know that Barbie is one of the few female toys that has offered careers for girls in male dominated areas.  Barbie went to space, people, Barbie worked for NASA.  Think about it).  With all of these already bias, already argued about, already heated ideas attached to the beginning of the word, how will it ever reign tall?

While my definition of feminism is just a person who believes in equal rights for all genders (I’m looking at you, LGBTQ), I think other people look to stereotypes for their definition.  So let’s knock a few of those out before I give this review, shall we?

Have I ever burned a bra? Nah, brah, those things are expensive.

Do I hate men? No, I have a lovely boyfriend and have had many lovely and not so lovely boyfriends.  I try not to hate anyone, but sometimes the fact that getting higher up in a company means fighting your way through an “old boys club” is not very likable.  And the people that continue to follow that system of hiring, firing, giving raises and promotions, might be on a list of people that I don’t particularly want to work for or be friends with.

What I might hate is people like this:

Yahoo screen grab

Yahoo screen grab

I would like to think that in four years, he’s had some new experiences and learned not to write the word “b*tch,” even with a star, in a feminist conversation.  However, he did make up the word “vaginamony” so I should give him credit for enhancing the English language, right? Just for your information, and his, I suppose, I believe that the best thing a woman can have is her “shit together” and I will raise my daughter with this in mind.  She can get hers, before she relies on any man to get it for her. However, if once she’s followed her dreams and she’s found a man that respects both her and her dreams, she can by all means trust and rely on him.

Hair @ Wikipedia Commons

Do I whine more than the average man? Actually, I’m on a no complaining campaign so I’m trying to rule out all forms of whining in my life.

I do shave my legs. That’s not even a question.  Sometimes I miss a spot, go ahead and judge me.  And I swam in high school, so I might grow longer than the average woman, but I still shave those suckers.

Do I respect stay-at-home moms? Being a Mom or Dad is a full time job.  If either parent wants to stay home and raise-up babies to be wonderful, open-minded, movers and shakers in society, go on with your bad self.  One of my best friends hasn’t had more than four hours of sleep since her child was born (13 months ago), please believe if I lived in that state of exhaustion, everyone would see my diva side.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

These issues were all brought to you by We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Readers may be familiar with her book Americanah. She gave a TEDxEuston talk called “We Should All Be Feminists” on her brother’s insistence.  She says in the introduction that she “hoped to start a necessary conversation.”

Talk below:

Vintage Short turned this talk into a short essay and here we are.  It also happens to be featured on Beyonce’s self-titled album, which Adichie told Vogue that she’s sick of hearing about.

She begins the book talking about her best friend, the first person to call her a feminist which she knew immediately wasn’t a compliment.  From then on, she began attaching other things to feminism to make herself seem less radical, because with the word feminism, comes the extremism. She attached things like “Happy Feminist,” then “African Feminist,” and finally, “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men.”

This begs the question: why can’t a girl just wear high heels? I feel that Carrie Bradshaw would have something to say about this.

In the talk’s essay, she tells stories from throughout her life when she was considered less than to her male counterparts.  There was the classroom monitor choosing, which led her to this amazing statement:

“If we do something over and over, it becomes normal.  If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.  If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy.  If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations”

Beast & Princesses @ Wikipedia Commons

This is also where I really started to believe in Adichie’s argument.  Her argument wasn’t about women getting paid less than men for the same job, or women hitting a glass ceiling in major corporations, but more about the subtle inequalities.  In Nigeria, even though she paid a valet, the man she was with received the “thank you” (as she says, because of course, if she has money, it must come from the man).  When at a restaurant, the “tab” is always given to the man at the table, and usually the oldest man.  This is a huge societal factor in the ways that we see men and women.  TLC makes so much money catering to a population of women who grow up in the hopes that they will one day marry a Prince Charming.  Disney teaches girls to be damsels in distress (until recently), and the aisles in Target teach girls to like dolls so they can grow up and be mommies.  I’m not saying any of this is a problem, but these things in our society are also the things that can be used against feminism, turned against women, turned into something that they might not be.

Adichie discusses history in the best sense.  She says that when men ruled the world before, it was a world based on physical strength. Now, the world is “vastly different.”  It is based on “more intelligent, more knowledgable, more creative, more innovative” capabilities and not just physical strength.  She says, and I love this, “We have evolved.”

Math Club Image @ PBS Math Club (Creative Commons)

This is the strongest point in her argument.  I think we’ve evolved when it comes to feminism as well, but have we evolved as much as the world has evolved, I don’t know.  I’ll give a personal example. In high school, I was incredible at math.  I placed into the second calculus in college and I hadn’t even taken pre-cal or calculus in high school.  I just generally didn’t like math.  Did I not like math because no women in my family, and no women in my school, and no women in my community had ever been representations of what a women can do in science? I’m not sure.  I didn’t major in STEM, I majored in English, but I probably could have majored in something heavy in math because I was good at it.  I’m not saying that my school, or community did anything wrong, but I never saw a woman engineer until I was in college.  I never really had the knowledge that a world like that existed for me.

Suffrage Parade, NYC. 1912. @ Wikipedia Commons

I’m not angry about it.  I do get angry when I feel that women are being treated unfairly because their women.  Or women are not being valued because their women.  I won’t harp on this one, but guys, Ray Rice got a two game penalty for beating and then dragging his wife out of a hotel room, and a man that says racial slurs is expelled from the NBA and any ownership of teams (not that I disagree with that at all, because I don’t, I think he got what he deserved). The worst part, Rice’s wife…she apologized. Why do we live in a world where this is acceptable?

Why is “blaming the victim” of a rape even a concept?

I believe in raising girls that know what’s appropriate, but since when is it okay to “feel a girl up” because her skirt is short or her belly is showing.  Why is it the girl’s fault that we haven’t raised men with morals and deep respect for women?

These are things that I’m still working through. These are the things that make me angry. And Adichie told me that’s okay.

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011 @ Wikipedia Commons

“Not long ago, I wrote an article about being young and female in Lagos.  And an acquaintance told me that it was an angry article, and I should not have made it so angry.  But I was unapologetic.  Of course it was angry.  Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.  I am angry. We should all be angry.  Anger has a long history of bringing about social change.  In addition to anger, I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”

Like her, I am both hopeful and angry.  I am hopeful that I can live in a world where it’s okay to be feminine and a feminist.  I can live in a world where yoga pants do mean cat calls.  I can live in a world where the glass ceiling is broken and we are “movin’ on up,” like George Jefferson.  And I am hopeful that the world will not make this about another issue that isn’t relevant to equality.  And I’m really hopeful that I won’t feel the need to censor myself on my own personal blog to cater to the beliefs of other people.

On a final note: I feel less compelled to fight for feminism in my own country when teenage girls are being shot, tortured and killed just because they want to attend school or get an education for themselves.  By fighting for feminism in our country, we can hope that our voices ring true and pure to other countries, other populations, and other outlooks, where women may have so few rights that they are categorized as “property.”

Links on feminism education:

Here are some tweets from the #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag.  Tweets are both for and against feminism as the feminists went viral using the same hashtag.

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Is Intensity the Same as Love?

I think it’s almost funny how unmoved I was by this book, like a stone woman.

Reading a book in one sitting is usually best for me.  I cried over Of Mice and Men after a strong afternoon of migrant workers and big-pawed Lennie.  I tend to spend tea time with Alice Monroe on my porch and drink up the sun, the words, the seep.  Then there is, of course, Hunger Games in a weekend where I ate only strawberries.  Gasped through New Moon at a disney resort where the poolside bartender gave us drinks without seeing our IDs, “all you need girls, is your room key.”  I usually have favorable outcomes with books that I spend a day with.  It’s almost like a day trip, we’ve driven this far, my feet are making toe prints on the windshield glass and the air in the pine trees make the words whisper.

The Book in Question

And then the New York Times reviewed the book.  Elissa Schappell wrote the review in the Times that makes me feel like I no can longer wear the stiff garter of the feminist.  She discusses the metaphor of “Soviet women as the human workhouses they were.”  I suppose I was wrong when I thought they lived in castles.  The things I know about Russia can be counted on two hands: ballet, ice skating, mail-order brides, no more American adoptions, Chernobyl, WWII, winter, Russian sables, and the ideal of blondeness.  Forgive me, any Russian readers, I desperately need an education.  It’s as if they leave the wholeness of the country out of our school books, as Americans.  At first, I thought this was the very reason that I didn’t really “get” the book.  I thought I was lost because my Russian history wasn’t fine-tuned.  I’ve never even traveled to Europe, never worn fur in the winters, I barely wear gloves.

The closest I came to Russia was when my high school best friend taught me to say I love you by squeezing my hand before we went to bed.  She would squeeze three times to say she loved me, and I would squeeze back four, tight compact squeezes where the lines in our palms pressed together and made our wrinkles into latitude and longitude.  She was taught to do this by a Russian girl that stayed with her family over the summer.  They would each have their eyelashes closed to their cheek, be secretly under the covers in matching pajamas and twin pillow cases and find each other’s hands.  I learned to say “I love you” silently from a little Russian girl.

“Father Frost and stepdaughter” by Ivan Bilibin

Schappell told me that Petrushevskaya’s American break out is a form of “scary fairy tales” and my only references to this are Grimm and Sexton.  Schappell mentions the Russian greats and compares Petrushevskaya to Chekov which I missed entirely in the reading of her book.   My favorite line from the Times Review though is, “For these women, telling their stories is as necessary as having someone to care for. They tell stories, while waiting in endless lines for bread and trains and promotions that will never come, to feel less lonely. As Joan Didion said, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.'”

This is the exact reason why I didn’t adore this book.  I gave it 2 stars.  I couldn’t even write a review of the book on this blog until I spoke to the women I admire about what they thought on goodreads:

Alena gave it 2.5 stars, a sister to my 2 stars.  You can visit Alena’s fabulous book (and other interesting things) blog here.  I trust very few people to give me book recommendations and she is ALWAYS a go-to gal.

Alena's goodreads review.

Alena’s goodreads review.

And then Claire gave voice to the women smoking in the cafe telling these stories.  You can read Claire’s amazing blog here.  I highly recommend her book blog because she always says just the right thing to make you really analyze a book, or think about what you’ve just read in a new way.  I adore her blog and get the email updates every time she posts.  I will admit though, I am a poor commenter.

The discussion between Claire and I.

The discussion between Claire and I.

More discussing.

More discussing.

Claire's perfectly poignant comments.

Claire’s perfectly poignant comments.

Darkness & love

With all that said, do what you must with this book.  This is the wonderful thing about books, they cause you to explain yourself and they give different gifts to each reader.  I wonder sometimes if loving a book depends on the time you come to a book, or when the book finds you.  This book may have rooted if I was a different age, lived in a different time or place, found myself on a train in Japan half-reading and half watching the silent woman with untied boots three seats away.

Either way, somewhere in an off-write bedroom a women is in love with her sister’s husband and every time, every single time, of the twenty-seven times that they’ve encountered each other’s bodies, he silently removes his wedding ring while she adjusts her eyes to the dark.

Yellow-Bodied Pencil V. Sharpie Pen

Earlier today, even more so yesterday, I was really disappointed with the way my blog was becoming solely a book blog.  Yes, I love reading.  Yes, I hope for everyone in the World to one day be able to put “reading” as a skill on their resume (it IS a skill.  Be thankful if your eyes are grazing over this blog right now).  But, the whole point of my writing life isn’t just to read and spew out opinion on how I found the book appealing or not.  Writing life is also about people-watching, interacting with the living (and maybe the dead depending on what you’re into – personally I like to write poems to & about my dead grandmother), and to write about my life and/or my character’s life.

I used to hate when teachers would ask me to read a novel and then just vomit up the facts on their multiple-choice tests.  For one point, I’m not so good at multiple choice, and on the other hand don’t you want to hear my passion and loathing for that particular book.  (Passion-Catcher in the Rye, Loathing-All Quiet on the Western Front).

So, obviously, I’ve been thinking about the topics I could write about that were personal, or that I could have some say about what is happening – not just another book review.  (Most of the time this turns into a teaching rant, a gay rights rant, or a feminist rant).  The point is, if I’m exhausted from reviewing books and I want to tell you about my exotic and strange plant collection…then you must be tired, and ready to learn about the hot pink cactus as well.

So, without further adieu, I have a new plant to add to the collection of miscellaneous, speckled, shelled, vagina-looking plants that sit on my desk next to a picture of my three-year-old nephew going on thirty-five.   My dad has saved plants from their sudden deaths in the orange covered yards of Boca Raton, Florida.  He’s rescued them from snow plows, snow drifts and snow boots in the nine-month winter’s of Buffalo.  And in the eighteen years we’ve lived in North Carolina he has decorated our kitchen area like a maintained jungle.   He proclaims to have once stuck a stump in the ground and grown two elephant-ear plants that now sit side-by-side near our fireplace.  I think they’re in the palm tree family, so they look especially nice when it’s snowing, and we have a vacation spot right in the living room.   It’s probably safe to say I get my plant rearing from my father.  (And hopefully my child rearing from my mother, no offense dad).

However, he liked the perfectly pretty plants and I like the strange, what-the-hell is that plant.  My brother and I both, I think, (since he bought my dad a “Satan” plant for his birthday one year because that’s what my brother used to call him during his teenage and formative years) choose plants based on name, or look.  In my collection I have a moon cactus that is hot pink and growing new tumors monthly.  I have a speckled purple orchid that is my lady vagaga plant because it opens like the folds of a woman (just being perfectly honest).

Brain Fart

And, now I have a South African Stone Plant that I have named “Brain Fart.”  My old roommate and I had walked around the NC Farmer’s Market for a bit after I ate two larger-than-my-head chocolate chip pancakes at the restaurant there.  I feel at home there because all of the waitresses speak North-Cacalacky English and wear overalls.  (This means lots of “ya’ll” and a slow drawl to their voice).   I secretly wanted to go to the Farmer’s Market for the carrot cake lady, but she wasn’t there on Saturday and I had to settle on cinnamon bread.  Christine bought a watermelon that we both equally had trouble carrying, but we did learn when purchasing a watermelon, the darker green the better.  So, there’s a tip for the fruit extraordinaire.   We were walking through the plants, eying but not touching the miscellaneous, obtuse cacti.  Groaning over the outdoor planting of an “egg-plant” and rustling in the bushes.   Instead, both of us went cheap, since we’re both working at jobs for the good of the people and not for the good of our bank accounts.  The cheapest, oddest plant was of course, the  South African stone plants that feel like hard skin.  Maybe a pregnant woman’s belly?  I’ve never actually felt one, so I’m not too sure.

Other than that, I worked, what else is new in my life?

The only other thing I wanted to discuss is thanks to a woman author I met on Shewrites.com.  Earlier today, Meg Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters and Bellwether Prize finalist The Language of Light wrote a new blogShe’s quite spectacular and every time I walk into an independent bookstore, her book is always in the recommendations from staff.

Anyway, she wrote a blog post today about the use of her favorite writing tool: the pencil.  With the creation of the new “sharpie pen” and Target’s sign for “rollerball, ink, erasable pen, mechanical pencil, ballpoint, fountain” we have lost all friendship with the stringent pencil.  I know for a fact that Nikki Finney has a favorite yellow bodied, pink erasure pencil that she refuses to live without.  She has gone so far as to buy out the Native American manufacture that made these pencils when they closed their doors, just in case she may ever run out.  She keeps them in a wooden box like the kind from Cracker Barrel.

Here is what Meg had to say:

Pencil, from the Latin penicillus, meaning “little tail.” Little tail?

Not everyone writes even occasionally with the old fashioned yellow pencil with pink eraser top anymore. This astonishing fact came to my attention through a more newfangled way to communicate, the Facebook post. But the lowly pencil remains my writerly tool of choice. I use #2 lead, no doubt a holdover from my formative bubble-tests years. The lead isn’t really lead, either, but rather graphite mixed with clay; I’m okay with that.

I’m not exactly monogamous in my writing tool relationships. I write my novels (and everything else I write for publication, for that matter) primarily at a keyboard. When I journal I often use a pen, blue or black ink, I don’t much care. But there is nothing like the freedom of a pencil as I’m taking the muck that is first draft and trying to make something of it. Not quite right the first time? Erase and try again!

I keep a yellow Ticonderoga in a white marble pen holder my uncle gave me many, many years ago, so that I always have one handy. I carry them around by the ten-to-a-box in my backpack. I have an electric sharpener, and a tiny little manual one, and I sharpen far more often than I floss.

Still, I wear out the erasers long before I use up the pencil lead.

Like many a pencil-user before me, I struggle with the dilemma whether to toss a shot-eraser pencil or not. Such a waste of fine pencil lead (or graphite with clay, as the case may be), but the alternative is to be forever cringing at the scrape of eraserless metal pencil top over manuscript page.

Perhaps I erase with too much enthusiasm?

It turns out I’m in good company on the eraser-thing. Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote and rewrote everything in pencil, had this to say on the subject: “My pencils outlast their erasures.”

Great writers erase.

There is another downside to my pencil affection, or to my eraser addiction anyway: dirty pink pilly eraser detritus. On my manuscripts, my chair, my clothes, and sometimes even my dog. But I’m as okay with that as I am with the graphite and clay thing. All those pink pilly things filling up my world mean the writing is going well. That I’m open to change. That a few not-exactly-right words aren’t the end of anything, but rather the beginning of something else. – Meg”

You can also read the entire blog and see her website here.

I like this little diddy on pencils because I flat out refuse to write in pencil.  My right pinky is always smearing the page with it’s graphite mixed with clay residue.  E’s are turned into long, elusive characters that I’m not able to read because my fingers are rubbing along the way.  Later, after the page has been through the moving-vans and moving-boxes and numerous bookshelves, I can’t even remember what the poem was saying about my high school boyfriend being like an eagle, or my mother’s red hair summoning the mermaids, who the heck knows?

All I know is that I would spend my entire life savings to stalk up on the Sharpie Pen.  They make my hand-writing less sorority girl.  They come in packs with green, blue, black and red so I can make my poems bleed while I revise, or I can feel like I’m putting the green back on the trees with the emerald pen.

Mostly though, I type.  My first draft is ALWAYS hand-written so I can get everything I need right onto the paper without worrying about grammar, or mistakes in general.  This is much harder to do than you would think because it means keeping quiet that inner critic.  I don’t know about you, but my inner critic doesn’t believe in the idea of “global warming,” has schizophrenia, and is balding at the age of forty-five.  That’s just a small snapshot of how I imagine him while he spits nasty words to me about my writing, and about the general mass of pimple families arising on my chin.  He’s quite a dirty guy, and always forgets to zip his fly, by now I think it’s on purpose.

Rather than a pencil, I always need a pen that makes my handwriting look stylish so I don’t dwell on that instead of dwelling on my crying girl character alone in the woods.  (Just for example, I’ve never actually written this character, she just came up onto the stage from writing this blog).  As much as I’d like to keep my second-grade pencil biting habits alive, I can’t say I’m doing a very good job.  But, I can rest assured that Meg is out there in all her yellow-graphite glory for all of us, former-pencil-people.

One more thing, on my blogger ball with Meg, I came across this awesome, awesome, awesome blog about feminism and abortion and rights, and questions, etc.  And I just wanted to link to this.  RIGHT HERE.