"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Monday, March 11, 2013

OF: The 2012 VIDA Publishing Count

Every year VIDA publishes a count of the number of male and female writers featured (via book review, interview, etc) in several major literary magazines. The totals for 2012 can be found here.

The numbers are bad. The Paris Review, for instance, interviewed ONE female writer last year. ONE. About 50% of the fiction selections for the year were written by women, while roughly 22% of the featured poets were women. Paltry. Pitiful. Not surprising, though.

There have been many thoughtful responses to this and previous VIDA counts--including one by Roxane Gay which goes yet a step further by looking at the racial statistics present in publishing. Those numbers--also, not surprisingly--are bleak. They can be found, here.

As a writer, as a woman of color, I can't help but feel incredibly discouraged by these numbers, even if they are nothing new to me. 2012 seemed to be there year of the misogynist. Things large and small seemed to proclaim that the Good Ole Boys Club was still in full effect with it's members elect ranging from the obvious comb-over'd ranks of Congress, to the bespeckled literary elite who seemingly equate quality in publishing with middle-finger-in-the-air Lack Of Female Presence. 2012 gave us "legitimate rape," the Sandra Fluke slut-shaming-smear campaign, the Bret Easton Ellis rant over Kathryn Bigelow's success as directly correlative to her "hotness", and the downright-bonkers rhetorical rejection of the Violence Against Women Act from the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Florida) et al.

2012 gave us a zeitgeist captivated by television shows which either glamorized sexist, misogynistic culture (vis-a-vis Downton Abbey and Mad Men), or gave us particularly nauseating female characters to loathe (SEE: Lori in The Walking Dead and pretty much any season of The Bachelor). Every once and awhile we were thrown a particularly savory bone in the vein of Girls or Claire Danes' character in Homeland. 2012 gave us literary magazines devoid of women, and television shows muttling the conversation about women, and women who were ashamed to use to use the word "feminist" to describe themselves.

Even at a time when women are outpacing men in terms of college matriculation and beginning to close the gap in male-dominated fields like medicine and law, the Hallowed Halls of Art have not kept up with the times. Probably a large cross-section of writers do not really give a shit about the VIDA count--or they do, but only intellectually. And I concede that publication numbers do not rank as high, societally, as fair access to birth control--but nonetheless, these issues are interrelated, they are systemic of a larger spirit of contempt against a woman's right to the pursuit of happiness socially, reproductively, politically, aesthetically.

As such, the writing community must come together to fight against this form of silencing. We must clean and prepare our own house as one does before the arrival of a beloved guest; otherwise let us remind elite literary journals (Harper's, The Atlantic, The Nation to name a few) of their inherent hypocrisy in continuing to pretend they are above the misogyny or racism of those bodies (governmental, corporate, educational) whose actions often inform their own articles and commentary. Let us demand change.

Friday, January 4, 2013

OF: Songs I'm Writing To These Days


And this.

And this, for sure.


And I've put some serious mileage on this:

And this, even if 98% of the American intelligentsia claims to hate this woman. 

Beirut, Nina, Philip, Arcade Fire, Jack White, Lana...you've been the soundtrack to one of the hardest years of my life. Amen and amen. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

OF: Poetry

Here are some poems I've enjoyed lately, and maybe you will too.

1) Two selections from Memory of the Prose Machine, by Sandra Doller in Coconut Magazine: http://www.coconutpoetry.org/dollers1.html

"Where are my things? The
fossil of my watching?"

2) "N & K" by Gina Myers via Poetry.org: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23248

"this is one
of them, one
of the best days."

3) "My Job" by Dolly Lemke in B O D Y: http://bodyliterature.com/2012/12/18/dolly-lemke/

"I definitely get the passion, Boss says
It’s like golf
Poetry = golf


4) These three poems by BJ Love in ILK Journal: http://ilkjournal.com/journal/issue-six/bj-love/

"but love is a tough fucking shell
to crack and yet, here I am, my arms
in that shape that lets you know I
want you, my heart, a million little
scurries scuttling right towards you."

5) "In Love with You," by Kenneth Koch via the Poetry Foundation: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/15850

"What glues our heads together? O midnight! O midnight!
Is love what we are,
Or has happiness come to me in a private car
That’s so very small I’m amazed to see it there?"

6) "The People Across the Street," by Ted Gilley in Rattle #38: http://www.rattle.com/poetry/print/30s/i38/

7) "They're There," by Frederick Seidel (one of my fave poets) in Boston Review: http://www.bostonreview.net/BR37.5/frederick_seidel_poem.php

"Everyone is wearing summer light.
They can't tell wrong from right."

8) "Suicide Is Painless," by Michael Robbins, also in Boston Review: http://www.bostonreview.net/BR37.2/michael_robbins_poem

"The child’s toy poses a choking hazard.
The child, too. Life’s a natural disaster."

9) "Toast" by Leonard Nathan via The Writer's Almanac: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2004/02/10

"Love, whoever you are,
your courage was my companion
for many cold towns"

10) "Waiting for This Story to End Before I Begin Another," by Jan Heller Levi via the Poetry Foundation: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245058

"All my stories are about being left,
all yours about leaving. So we should have known.
Should have known to leave well enough alone;"

And I probably violated some form of copyright there. But if I did, and you are one of the
poets/publications above, just know that I did it all for love. And I'll remove it if, you know,
(SIGH) it's a problem.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OF: The Apocalypse

What shall we do on December 21st when the 13th Baktun, and thus the world as we know it, ends according to the Mayan long calendar?

Shall we drink in anticipation?

Shall we move our families into caves?

Shall we pray?

Shall we do anything at all?

For the record, I do not think that'll happen, but I've always been completely fascinated by apocalyptic literature--particularly the Book of Revelation--ever since I was a young child. Which, in retrospect, makes complete and total sense given the kind of childhood I had.

There is an almost clinical satisfaction in destruction, particularly when it matches our inner turmoil or repressed desires or needs.

What I mean is, there seems to be a fundamental human need to watch/experience/contemplate/enact destruction. I used to think this was because human nature was inherently evil, but I see it now as part of a perpetual, unconscious push for rebirth. Spiritually. Economically. Intellectually. Environmentally.

Meanwhile: things and people die. Meanwhile: whatever was safe, or at least known to us is gone. I used to think that was bad, negative.

Apocalypse (n): from the Latin word apocalypsis meaning "revelation," and before that from Greek word apokalyptein meaning "to uncover, disclose, reveal."

Imagine: apocalypse as knowledge, as revelation, as a great uncovering of Truth. In that way there is joy in destruction, hope in destruction. For Christians, it is the hope of Christ to returning to earth. For Secularists, perhaps, it is the hope of a world free from the historical tyrannies of religion. Perhaps I sound like an idiot, but this all interests me nonetheless.

I've been a woman possessed with thinking about the end. The end of 'US'. The end of U.S. The end of bees and polar bears and the Redwood trees in California and bananas and Alaskan permafrost and ozone and Wall Street and love and debt and potable drinking water and reproductive rights and marriage and American world dominance and racial inequality and income inequality and gender inequality and pandemic diseases and poetry and poetry and poetry. All of it comes to die inside my thoughts these days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

OF: Raising Girls

A few weeks ago, in the advent of my daughter's fifth birthday, I wandered the aisles of Target trying to decide which pink plastic trinket or other to buy her when hit me like a Mack truck of college-educated, post-women's-lib, feminist guilt: should I be buying my daughter this crap?

By "crap" I mean dolls. Specifically, the princess-y type. Specifically, Disney princess-y stuff that represents, in part, the archetypal garbage I chaff against: doe-eyed, pure-hearted beauties with dead mothers and evil step-hags. Princesses which must be rescued, or married, or made wretched/humiliated/subservient to the cruel world before they can have any scrap of deserved happiness.

Somewhere a Disney marketer is saying MWUHAHAHA.
I felt sick thinking about all the stuff she already had. Things I had either purchased myself or passively allowed others to buy for her. Princess bedspreads. Princess pajamas. Princess movies. Princess books. Princess dolls. Princess puzzles. Princess panties. Princess sippy-cups. It's a pink nightmare I tell you. Where was that parent I swore I would be when Ava was in utero?

I worry about how invested my daughter is in the whole princess thing--and also weddings. Already! At age 5! She came home from school the other day and proclaimed, "Mommy, I've already chosen my husband. I married Casey at school today." Oh dear Lord. OH LORD. I responded by saying jokingly, "We discussed that you can't get married until 40, remember?" The next day, on the way to school, she mentioned something about one day leaving her family to be married and how that would change her life forever and ever. And if she chooses that, it will absolutely change her life...I just...I just don't want her to fall into the idea (consciously or more pervasively--unconsciously adhering to the idea) that being married is the end-all, be-all of a woman's life/identity/existence. I know what a fatal trap that line of thinking is; I often feel completely torn between my sometimes twee ideals of romance and love versus reality/the landscape of human relationships.

I don't have any answers. I have worry. I have (at times) poor execution of my ideals. I want to be a thoughtful, wise, and intentional parent.

I try to make it a point to talk to her about other things that are equally valuable in life: graduating from college, being independent, caring for herself and others, living a life that honors who she is and what she wants. It's not the obsession with pink or princesses that bothers me, it's the long-term baggage that is sometimes attached with the idolatry of that way of being as a woman.

God, I hope this is a phase.

God, I hope I'm doing right by her.

God, I hope Ava is one pink-tiara-wearing, ass-kicking feminist and wife (if she chooses) one day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OF: Random Thoughts

So, I here there's a planned strike by Walmart workers slated for Black Friday. I think of my best friend's elderly grandmother living in Tennessee who is canceling Thanksgiving dinner at her house this year because she has to wake at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to work her shift at...Walmart. She also has to do the same for Black Friday. I hate Walmart, and made a conscientious decision to stop shopping there in 2005, and I honestly do not notice any marked difference in my bottom line.

I am a working-class person, a mother who manages just fine without football stadium-sized stores chock-a-block with all that is heinous about Americana and the sad ironies of low-income, "Great Value" consumerism. We buy cheap products made in foreign countries to save money, and we become poorer as a result. Americans fail to understand (or care about?) the ramifications of a day's simple purchases, about the philosophy behind those purchases. They pretend to be powerless, unaccountable, without option, "I shop at Walmart because I have no choice!" laments the average pacifist. You have choice. You have power.

The average person has power that s/he parts with via his or her wallet. He parts with his conscience every day through his wallet. For adult-sized footie-pajamas, and flat screens, and jumbo packs of Lay's Potato Chips, and sticks of carcinogenic deodorant that smell of freesia or some exotic island delicacy. I am tired of these people who pretend they cannot choose something else because it's too damned inconvenient to live without the option of shopping for toilet paper at 3 a.m., or for a discounted laptop on Thanksgiving morning. Corporations: I am tired, so tired of Walmart, and Papa John's, and Denny's, and every other entity strong-arming the working person. Consumers: I am disgusted, so very disgusted by people lining up in the godless hours of the night to participate in our most horrid display of national avarice, Black Friday. I sincerely hope the workers of Walmart strike. Strike for all they're worth. Strike, strike, strike, and not be thwarted by corporate intimidation.

It is not anti-American or class warfare or socialist or lazy or godless to want a living wage for yourself or others. It is basic human dignity.


There's an essay that people on Twitter are getting incised about: "How to live Without Irony," by Christy Wampole. It's basically a critique of hipster culture, and boy are the hipsters defensive in their responses to this opinion piece! I can't help but feel a bit inclined to agree with the writer. Hipsters also "produce a distinct irritation in me," but I'd probably have to say it's because I've felt largely alienated or rejected by that whole culture. I'm never cool enough to belong with the cool kids and their various cultural appropriations which are always, excruciatingly, out of my reach for reasons beyond my control.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

OF: Loneliness

"Loneliness is the greatest poverty." -Mother Theresa

"An artist is always alone--if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness." -Henry Miller

"If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry." -Anton Chekhov

"Music was invented to confirm human loneliness." -Lawrence Durrell

"Man's loneliness is but his fear of life." -Eugene O'Neill

"Loneliness is never more cruel than when it is felt in close propinquity with someone who has ceased to communicate." -Germaine Greer

"Moon! Moon! I am prone before you. Pity me, and drench me in loneliness." -Amy Lowell