Elizabeth Wurtzel’s article called “Looking Better at 45 than 25” in Harper’s Bazaar reminded me of Taylor Cotter’s article from last month, very tellingly entitled “The Struggle of Not Struggling.” It probably would have been easier for Cotter to admit that her article was whiney, insensitive, condescending, and full of white privilege, but she took the scenic route and defended it. This baffled me, especially since she talked about how well-educated she was in the article. With all that education, how could she believe that publishing the article was actually a good idea?
Back to Wurtzel. Wurtzel, Wurtzel, Wurtzel. Wurtzel went to Harvard, and she writes shit like this:
I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls. Looking great is a matter of feminism. No liberated woman would misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.
Kelsey Wallace’s commentary hits the nail on the head when she responds with this:
If Elizabeth Wurtzel wants to wear $22.50 lip balm and go for daily walks, that’s great. Keep it up, you 45-year-old hottie, you! But attempting to shame young feminists for their “slovenliness” and reinforcing the very standards of beauty so many feminists have fought to change is absolutely unacceptable. And to make this ludicrous argument about women’s looks in the NAME of feminism? Please.
I’m annoyed that Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote all this to begin with, but I’m also annoyed that it got published in Harper’s Bazaar. They must get bucket-loads of submissions. Did someone actually read this and think is was a gem?
I’ve been vegetarian for 15 months now. When I started out last June, after taking an Animal Theory class at college and watching a chilling ALF documentary, I asked a lot of vegetarians if they missed eating meat. I tried to gauge how much being vegetarian would effect my life. I’ve never been a huge fan of meat in the first place. Even at Thanksgiving dinners, I always liked the corn pudding, cranberry relish, and the mashed potatoes more than the actual turkey. But I did eat a lot of hamburgers, and I loved pad thai, which usually included at least five different animals in it.
When I asked the vegetarians if they missed anything about meat, I heard the same response over and over again: “After you don’t eat something for awhile, it becomes disgusting.” A few admitted that they still missed some things. One of my friends, who had been a vegetarian for several years, said he still missed bacon. Another friend, a vegan, said she missed gelato. But overall, everyone was encouraging.
I’ve been trying to avoid all meat, but I’ve slipped a few times. I bought refried beans that had lard in them (for the love of god!) and I’m sure that I’ve eaten “vegetarian” things at restaurant that contain fish sauce. But for the most part, I’ve stayed on the straight and narrow.
Except for gelatin. Who would have guessed something made from cattle hides could taste good? Bacon, I can live without. Salmon, whatever. Prosciutto, no thanks. But after becoming vegetarian, I realized my abounding love of marshmallows.
Marshmallows might be my favorite food ever. Even the dehydrated ones in Lucky Charms are amazing. And s’mores? Hands down, the best part of camping. I even love those neon Peeps they have at Easter, the ones that are practically the poster child for processed food.
Why are these so good?
So this year, I’m going to try to be more vigilant about not eating marshmallows. Even though they’re amazing and fluffy and make camping trips more enjoyable. It’s been real, marshmallows. So long.
In the meantime, I’m trying to find something to fill the Peep-shaped void. Maybe I’ll try some vegan marshmallows– as long as they don’t taste like tofu. That’s all I ask.
As a person who fervently loves the game of Scrabble, I started investigating the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) to find out how I could get started. Before I looked into NASPA, I considered myself a pretty solid scrabble player. I’m a good speller, I know a handful of two-letter words, and I’ve memorized a few words that use a “q” but not a “u.”
But I know I can be better. I’ve done my share of dumb moves: setting my opponent up for a triple word score, wasting blanks, and using Z, Q, X, and J in dumb places. But after reading this, I got a better idea about how to improve my game.
1. When I can’t get more than 10 points, I’ll swap tiles.
2. I’ll try to use all 7 tiles at least once in the game. (50 point bonus? YES PLEASE.)
3. Steal all the triple word spaces.
In October, I’m going to a Scrabble Tournament in Berkeley to see how it goes, what I need to do to improve, and how other people play. The cool thing about the Scrabble tournaments in Berkeley is that they combine two things I love: Indian food and Scrabble. For a mere $30, you can play Scrabble for 6 hours and eat an Indian buffet! If I spent every Saturday like this, I’d be so happy.
From the Made in LA exhibit in the Hammer Museum. The thing hanging from the chain is the porcelain motorcycle engine, made by Caroline Thomas. Photo from http://www.madeinla2012.org.
It was hanging there like a big, glossy Christmas ornament: a white motorcycle hanging from a white chain. I looked at it for about three seconds before moving on to the next piece of art (an elaborate patchwork quilt) in the Hammer Museum in LA. That was before I accidentally got mixed-up in a tour of the exhibit, Made in LA.
Towards the end of the exhibit, two art students were explaining all the pieces to a large group of tourists. I started following them back through the exhibit, looking at all the art I had seen before and listening to them explain it. It changed the way I saw everything.
When I first saw the white motorcycle engine by Caroline Thomas, for example, and I thought “Cool! A motorcycle engine painted white.”
Then, one of the tour guides said it was made from porcelain, one of the most difficult materials to work with! Looking at that engine and knowing that, it was different. Not more beautiful, but definitely more mind-bending. I stared at it longer, wondering how the artist could have possible managed to get so much precise detail. The level of craftsmanship was breathtaking, but so was the level of investment. This artist spent months working on recreating a mundane object from something pristine.
Nothing in the exhibit was made the easy way. Every single piece in Made in LA had some amazing backstory about how the artist mixed wax and paint to recreate a garbage bag, or spent months painting tiny, intricate arcs that look like they were printed with a fancy-pants printer, or using vertical pen-strokes to create the illusion of marbled paper. The patchwork quilt was hand-sewn; a cabinet with a endlessly repeating pattern was hand-carved. Everything happened made in the most difficult way possible.
The tour reminded me of the quote from the 1951 Alice in Wonderland movie:
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?
Throughout the tour, I kept on thinking to myself, “This is crazy! Why would you hand-stitch when you could use a Bernina? Why would you hand-carve when you could use a machine? Why would someone use millions of vertical pen-strokes to make paper look like it’s marbled?” It really was like falling down a rabbit hole. Everything was nonsense, but nonsense in the best way. The kind of nonsense that made me start questioning all my surroundings; the kind of nonsense that reminds me to stop making assumptions.
I didn’t know that motorcycle engine. I didn’t know its life. I didn’t know what it had been through.
A bestselling author pays a 48-hour visit to a writer whose manuscript has been rejected at least 300 times. After reading it and berating it, the author outlines a plan for the writer to whip it into bestseller form. Obscure references, subtle subplots, and average characters are out; scandalous affairs, eccentric sidekicks, and smack-you-in-the-face symbolic devices are in! Watch to see if these transformed novels make it with the agents– or flop, for the 301st time.
“Literary merit and marketability– two walk in, only one leaves!”
2. The Prose
Writers compete anonymously in the most intense– possibly most silent– TV show of all time. Without revealing their identities, editors are left to judge whether they’re reading a great American author or an extremely skilled nobody. The answers may surprise you!
“The judges think they’re reading Stephen King, and boom– it turns out they’re reading some college kid’s stuff. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!”
3. Poet Shore
A small band of moody poets split the rent for a tiny apartment in San Francisco. In the midst of poetic angst, romantic flings, and arguments about who owes who what, viewers follow these hipster wordsmiths through evenings of hawking hand-bound chapbooks and getting free wine at poetry readings.
“I don’t think these people have ever gone to the gym, tanned, or done laundry. Well, maybe they’ve done laundry. Infrequently.”
4. What Not to Write
A pair of experts on the latest writing fashions team up to make-over the styles of some writers whose schticks are outdated, ill-conceived, or just downright zany. Most of the time, the writer’s friends are too embarrassed to break the news to the writer themselves. That’s why they need a third party to hold an intervention! It’s always easier to hear you’re doing everything wrong on national television.
“At last, a show that tells it like it is and fights against the rampant spread of third person omniscient!”
5. Story-spinning with the Stars
Novelists team up with celebrities to write short stories every week. The novelists are allowed to give instruction and advice, but it’s up to the celebs to pound out a story. With a productivity level of almost zero, the terrifyingly low rate of success on the show proves that collaborative writing is an even more challenging task than walking on coals or eating bugs.
“The stories are shit, but it’s worth it just to see the writers’ frustration.”
I decided to start scouring the interwebs for good character charts a few days ago, when I was trying to write from the perspective of a 29-year-old man, Ben. I found this really awesome character chart and spent about two hours filling it out for my character to get ideas about how to improve my story.
Let me tell you, filling out a chart is not as fun as writing a story. You know when you’re in the doctor’s office and they have you fill out those surveys about how often you smoke, drink, use drugs, and have sex? It kind of reminded me of that. At first, I felt kind of cagey filling out the chart (even though I was filling it out on behalf of an imaginary person). Some of the questions were so personal!
I imagine the chart being an extremely nosy guy named Tim, leaning forward and asking me about Ben:
“Does Ben have a police record?” Tim asks.
"None of your beeswax!" I say.
"What was Ben’s first sexual experience?" he asks.
"Stop being such a creeper. God," I say, determined to protect Ben from voyeurs like Tim.
"Did he have a happy childhood?" Tim asks, like he isn’t listening.
"What are you, a shrink?" I demand.
"Hey, don’t raise your voice," Tim says. "I’m just a character chart! I’m just doing my job!"
"VERY WELL, TIM! GOOD DAY!" I say, and close my laptop so I don’t have to look at Tim anymore.
I learned more about myself than I learned about Ben by filling out the character chart– namely, that there are parts about characters I love to avoid constructing, parts that I find overly-personal and uncomfortable. I admire authors who have the ability to lean into that discomfort.
When Nalo Hopkinson came to visit UCSC a few days ago, someone asked her what advice she would give for sci-fi writers who were just starting out. She replied (I paraphrased), “It’s fun to have cool stuff in your story, and to spend a lot of time explaining how the cool stuff works. But the cool stuff is not a plot.”
I haven’t written sci-fi in a long time, but I know what she’s talking about. For some reason, I got this idea in my head that fly-fishing was a great metaphor and that I should write a story about it. I’m not entirely sure where this impulse came from, but for awhile, it made abundant sense.
Why is fly-fishing cool stuff? you ask. Let me tell you. Fly-fishing is a sport of loss, where you spend painstaking hours making gorgeous, brightly-colored flies, then cast them into a river to either be devoured by a slimy fish or snagged on a rock. Does that not scream poetic material? DOES THAT NOT GIVE YOU INSIGHT INTO THE HUMAN CONDITION?
After watching about a dozen youtube videos about fly-fishing and how to tie flies, I was an expert. I felt like I could see into the soul of an angler. Nay, I felt like I was an angler.
Dream with me for a minute:
I’m wearing a rugged khaki vest and a fishing hat, blending in with the other anglers perfectly. They are taking me seriously because I knew the difference between a royal coachman and a woolly bugger.
We spend all day fly-fishing, talking about the best new whip finishers, and, perhaps, bantering about how we need to renew our fishing licenses before they expire.
Of course, not everyone is so accepting of me. There is probably some guy named Dave who doubts my allegiances to the sport of fly-fishing.
"She’s an imposter!" Dave shouts, pointing at me. All the anglers gasp, dropping their rods in the river. They turn to stare at me.
"No I’m not!" I lie. "Ask me to name any fly, and I’ll prove it!"
"Name this one," Dave says, holding up one of the three flies I can actually identify.
”That’s a black ant,” I say.
And I am right, and Dave will never know that I am a fiction writer and hate fishing with a passion. The anglers give grunts of approval.
"Goddammit to hell," an angler named Steve says. "Our fishing poles went downstream. We shouldn’t have dropped them in the river."
"Let’s go to the fishing store and get some new rods," I suggest.
Everyone agrees this is a brilliant idea. We are best friends forever. The end.
My fly-fishing story was a mess, because it was just that: a story about fly-fishing. Not people. It was not until I had written ten pages that I realized it lacked a plot; that’s how distracted I was by the cool stuff.
I set the story aside, hoping that maybe in a few months I’ll be able to do something with it. I started a new story, determined to steer clear of cool stuff. No more cool stuff for me. No sir. I would not have it.
My new story is about an archaeologist specializing in Roman Britain pottery who falls in love with an independent contractor whom she hires to build a replica of an ancient Roman Britain kiln.
I Have Bad Facial Recognition Skills (and Other Confessions)
Here is something I’m just beginning to realize: I recognize people by their hair, not their faces. I don’t think it’s a great habit, especially because everyone has different faces, but a lot of people have similar hairstyles. But for some reason, faces are hard for me to remember. Hair is so much easier, especially when people have really distinctive hair and you can recognize them right away just by looking at the back of their head.
With that said, new haircuts throw me off. On several occasions, I have failed to recognize people I talk to on a daily basis as soon as they change their hair in some drastic way, like buzzing it all off or straightening it. It’s a little embarrassing. They have to tell me their name and, in really bad cases, where I have no context clues, they also need to remind me that we work together.
Today, after a splendid weekend in Palm Springs, I took a shuttle back from the airport to Santa Cruz. The driver looked so familiar. I could have sworn that he had given me a ride three months ago; he had the same name and everything. The only thing that was different was his hair. It used to be long hair; now, it was cut really short. It was one of those really strange situations where you don’t know if the person is, indeed, the person is the person you think he is, but there’s enough evidence to suggest he could be.
The haircut thing has tripped me up so much in the past few months, I decided that the driver was, indeed, the person I remembered with a new ‘do, so, taking a gamble, I said, “Hey, nice haircut.”
This is probably, come to think of it, was not the best thing to say to someone you may or may not have met fleetingly three months ago. In the best case scenario, he would have recognized me and said, “Thanks! I remember you so well from when I drove you to the airport three months ago, back when my hair was long!” And the worst case scenario was that he was a different person altogether and that I had identified myself as a stalker within five seconds of meeting him.
The driver squinted at me. ”Do I know you?”
I contemplated this. ”Probably not,” I said, feeling very bad about my facial recognition skills. ”I thought you drove me to the airport a few months ago, but I probably confused you with someone else.” I wished, in vain, that I had not complimented his haircut.
After talking about global warming for ten painful minutes, I changed the subject to Civil War reenactments, which, truth be told, isn’t a much better conversation-starter than global warming. The whole time, I was trying to figure out if he was actually the same person as I thought he was or not.
When he dropped me off at my apartment after the longest, most awkward hour ever, he looked at the address again. ”Huh,” he said. ”I remember this place. Maybe I did drive you before.”
So maybe my facial recognition skills aren’t as horrible as I had thought they were. Maybe his facial recognition skills are worse. Still, from here on out, I’m going to compliment people on their new haircuts with great caution.
In Meena Alexander’s collection of essays, Poetics of Dislocation, she mentions the story of Yang Chu, a Chinese sage (c. 350 BC) who knelt at every crossroad he encountered because he believed that “any road taken would lead to another that crossed a neighboring road, endlessly multiplying the chances of being lost” (134). What a great metaphor! What an excellent anecdote! This is poetic gold. This story, to poets, is as good as the Weiner scandal was to comics.
What’s also intriguing about this portrayal of crossroads is that it doesn’t represent opportunity in the positive sense. Instead, it focuses on the sadness of making choices and the reality of dislocation. It’s not some Robert Frost “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” kind of deal. It’s about the fear of getting hopelessly lost and the conflicting need to move forward.
I am familiar with getting lost. Some might say, “Well, who isn’t?” But really. I get lost a lot. More than the average person, I would say. This propensity of mine to get lost is diametrically opposed to my need to be punctual, so I always allow at least an hour to get lost and found when I’m going somewhere I haven’t gone before.
I’ve gotten lost so many times, I don’t feel the same sense of panic about it that I once did. I don’t despair like Yang Chu (although I used to). After all, if there are two choices, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right! And if you get it wrong, you can ask an amiable local for directions. And if you really multiply your odds of getting lost– if you make a million wrong turns– hey, that could be a great story.
As a writer, sometimes “getting lost” seems to be my job description. God, it’s hard to make decisions. Should this character exist? Should they go on a road trip? Should the protagonist fall in love? Every time I come to a decision-making point– which is often– I feel bewildered. The story must go forward. It must! LIKE A SHARK! But that means it might go to a place I didn’t want it to go, and I might have to backtrack and start all over again. I usually end up writing 40 pages just to get an 8-page story because of this. I allow myself time to get lost and found. Lots and lots of time.
So, in sum: Yang Chu and I are like two peas in a pod. Maybe I’m slightly more optimistic than he.
Above: Them tulips. I’ve got 99 more photos like this one.
One of the best things about to going to Galesburg and Chicago was that I got to act a shameless tourist, taking photos of every single thing. Tulips? Snap. Old building? Snap. Funny t-shirt? Double snap. Sometimes one angle is not enough.
Although my body is physically back in Santa Cruz, my brain is still in tourist mode. Lately, I’ve been looking at everything like I’m looking at it for the first time. Everything is a photo op: look at the forest! Look at the ocean! Look at that cute shop!
It’s an incredible thing to see things through fresh eyes again. After about three months of living in the same place, you get used to a place. The things you used to think were strange– unicyclists in Darth Vader masks and kilts riding down Pacific, for example– no longer get your attention like they used to.
Here’s the cool thing about being a tourist: you can describe things that seem banal to the locals like they are the coolest things ever, and people will be more likely to listen to you, because you’re so excited. Sure, maybe your excitement is unjustified. Sure, maybe I shouldn’t have taken over 100 photos of tulips in Chicago. Regardless.
People have described the Sears Tower billions of times. There are tons of books about it, tons of photos and postcards. If you want to be all cynical about it, there’s no good reason to take your own photo of Sears Tower (or Willis Tower, as I mistakenly called it before some indignant Chicagoans corrected me). You could just buy a postcard, couldn’t you? Hell, you could save all your money, stay home, and order a postcard online.
But no one does that. At least no one I know. That’s because individual perspective is a valuable thing. Being there is a critical part of the story.
Call me the Queen of Public Transportation. After traveling to Chicago and Galesburg, IL, I feel like I know trains, planes, and buses like the back of my hand. Reading a bus schedule is like seeing an old friend again. The lady at the airport coffee shop actually remembers my name. The sound of a train horn no longer makes me jump out of my skin (now that’s what we call progress!). But despite my growing familiarity with modes of transit, something that I still wonder about is how people wait.
When you’re at a train station, a bus stop, or an an airplane gate, there’s a lot of waiting involved. Have you ever noticed how quiet people get in these situations? People almost never talk on buses (at least not on most of the buses I’ve been on). They rarely speak on flights, except to order drinks, and they’re completely silent on trains. When I was on a three-hour train to Chicago with my friend Michele, there were these little kids who didn’t get the memo on the “being quiet” part. They belted out “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and “Let it Be” as loudly as possible. Their parents were embarrassed about it, but I thought it was awesome. Waiting loudly, it seems, is like the ability to see the Polar Express. After a certain age, it just doesn’t happen, except for special occasions.
Union Station in Chicago is one of the most crowded places I’ve ever been in my life, comparable only to the miniscule dance floor at my high school Winter Formal that was supposed to accommodate 400 sweaty teenagers (lies and heresies!). It’s impossible not to bump into people, because everyone is constantly dodging out of each other’s way, making the flow of traffic completely unpredictable. There are people from every walk of life, from every age, who all need to get somewhere, but apart from the people at the cafes and the people at the counter, there is not much talking. Even when people say goodbye at the station to their families or loved ones, they don’t say too much. Most of the noise is made up of dragging suitcases and footsteps. So many footsteps.
There is a chapel in the Chicago Midway airport. I’ve never seen a chapel at an airport before in my life, but on Sunday morning, they invited everyone to mass over the intercom. It makes so much sense. People at the airport are literally and figuratively in a place of transition; they’re often filled with doubts about making it to the place they’re going. Likewise, churches are also places of transition; during communion, especially, the message of transition (the bread becomes flesh, the wine becomes blood) is particularly clear. Oftentimes, during prayers or a service, they also have moments of silence for reflection, which are similar to the silence in waiting rooms. Maybe the moments of silence are also moments of waiting, or maybe moments of waiting are just moments of silence.
The simplest explanation is that people are trying to be courteous by not speaking in waiting rooms. But I wonder if there’s something else going on. I wonder if the tendency to wait silently is an American thing, a repression of emotions. Maybe people see waiting as a kind of “non-activity.” Or maybe waiting silently is a universal thing, something that people just DO, not because they think about it, but because it’s human.
Orestes and Elektra in a version called Orestes 2.0.
Elektra: I’m so upset that this play was modernized so much! They probably didn’t even have red nail polish in Ancient Greece!
Orestes: Or did they?
Everyone loves to hate modernized Greek dramas.
Even if the acting is excellent, the set is out-of-this-world creative, and the music is flawless, a lot of people, when asked what they thought about a modernized drama, will say something like this: “It was great, but I wish it could have been more like the original.”
I get it. It’s jarring when Orestes messages “OMG!” to Elektra, when Clytemnestra drinks Southern Comfort, and when Agamemnon’s speech is borrowed from George W. Bush.
But come on.
First of all, writing off all dramas just because “they aren’t like the originals” means that you’d have to dismiss every play you ever see– unless it is the very first time that play’s being performed. Every cast and every director brings new influences into the play, whether they realize it or not. Even the way an actor says his or her lines reflects his or her influences. It’s refreshing to see people actually emotionally connect with what they’re saying instead of trying to imitate someone from a different century.
When people talk about the “original,” they usually don’t mean the actual Ancient Greek drama itself. Instead, they’re probably referring to some later British version of the play, where everyone uses archaic English and wears chitons. Although these versions might seem more “original” because they’re so old (and a lot of what we know about Classical culture comes to us through British culture), they also employ different interpretations. Since Greek dramas don’t have stage directions, there is someone making choices about who slaps whom in every single version, and those decisions influence future performances.
How do you measure the success of a version of an Ancient Greek drama? I don’t think you measure it by how close it is to the original. By that standard, everything fails. I think a performance is successful when the audience– and for that matter, the actors– can emotionally connect with it. To me, this is infinitely more interesting than watching a bunch of disgruntled actors reciting things in Ancient Greek. You can tell when an actor knows the meaning of what they’re saying, and you can tell when they’re just reciting random noises they memorized. The difference impacts the audience.
I find it interesting that, even though modernized plays are often criticized for being modern, doing the opposite– alluding to myth in stories or poetry– is almost always admired. It’s as though just mentioning the classics adds some gravitas.
This reminded me of a quote from Philip Larkin, also known as that one dude who actually didn’t like it when people used myths in poetry:
As a guiding principle I believe that every poem must be its own sole freshly created universe, and therefore have no belief in ‘tradition’ or a common myth-kitty… To me the whole of the ancient world, the whole of classical and biblical mythology, means very little, and I think that using them today not only fills poems full of dead spots but dodges the poet’s duty to be original.
I don’t agree with Larkin. I love me some myth-kitties. But when he talks about poems based on myths being filled with “dead spots,” I know what he’s talking about. Poems which rely too heavily on myth and aren’t interpretive at all, I feel, show the emotional disconnection between the poet and the myth. The poems that are more effective take more liberties with the myth, and as a result, evoke a deeper emotional connection.
When it comes to plays, I think I see more “dead spots” when the play tries to be like the original– archaic English, few gestures, masks– than when the play tries to be relevant. So I don’t think modernization is a sin. Making the classics accessible to everyone is a beautiful thing. Myth-kitties forever!
Above: Calypso, who kept Odysseus on her island for way too long. He totally didn’t notice it, not even after having a few kids with her.
Until recently, I always thought that I’d take two years off after college and before graduate school, but lately, I’ve been reconsidering that.
Although I have fantasies about becoming a grant writer, a court clerk, or journalist for a magazine or newspaper, I also have reservations about finding a job and settling down. As someone who has been away from the real world for a sufficiently lengthy amount of time, I’m worried that after a few years away from school, it will be hard to go back. What if I have my own family by then? (I highly doubt it, but hey, you never know what can happen in 2 years.) What if I have a dog that I can’t leave behind? What if, heaven forfend, I get a job that I absolutely love and can’t bear to leave? On the other hand, what if I hate my job and have absolutely no friends and can’t wait to leave?
What if the real world is the Calypso to my Odysseus, and it seduces me into staying for way longer than I intended? One day, maybe when I’m 30, I’ll wake up and realize that I haven’t gone to graduate school yet, all because those real world wiles seduced me, and I didn’t even notice it.
Knowing where to go from here is difficult. If the Odyssey is a metaphor for my life, I know the goal is returning home. But I have two homes: one is physical (Palm Springs) and one is theoretical (writing). Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be a writer in Palm Springs, but until then, I have to make epic decisions.
It’s scary to leave school behind. If I could, I think I’d stay here for the rest of my life.
As an ardent fan of Modern Family, I was really disappointed with this week’s episode, “Leap Day,” not in the “this didn’t entertain me sufficiently” way, but in the, “they’re portraying women so inaccurately it’s kind of offensive” way.
So, introduction: every single Modern Family has three interwoven plots that are each resolved at the end of the episode. Such an arrangement is fairly paradigmatic in sitcoms. But this week, in “Leap Day,” one of the plots was: OH NO, ALL THE LADIES GET THEIR PERIODS AT THE SAME TIME. Claire, Alex, and Haley are weepy, angry, and full of mistakes all episode long, while Luke, Phil, and Manny struggle to handle the crazy ladies.
In short, “Leap Day” portrays women as people who totally lose their marbles every month. In the episode, even Alex, the smart one, pours orange juice on her cereal and accidentally puts two socks on the same foot. The three of them sit on the couch, sobbing over the Sarah McLachlan PSA. They all get in an argument with the clerk at the fair.
The entire part about the Dunphy ladies becoming a weepy and whiny “Satan’s trifecta” (as Phil puts it) made me really uncomfortable for two reasons. For one, the humor is entirely at the expense of women. Not that this should need spelling out, but no woman I have ever met in my life acts like that when she’s on her period. The Alexes of the world do not suddenly become non-functioning, weepy whiners once a month. Many of the expectations surrounding PMS are socially constructed, thanks to TV and urban legends passed down from generation to generation.
Is it really necessary for one of my favorite TV shows to add to this portrayal of women?
By the end of the episode, tensions were resolved… sort of. The Dunphy women are portrayed as heroes for putting up with their lady pains and Phil’s weirdness. In the end, they put their crazy to good use by intimidating the clerk at the fair into letting Phil go on the trapeze, even though they missed the cut off. But, in the end, Phil’s still really uncomfortable about ladies menstruating.
Comedy, by nature, pushes the envelope. But it can push in the wrong direction. Ask Tracy Morgan. TV sitcoms, like Modern Family, also inform societal attitudes, whether the writers realize it or not. And by portraying women as acting crazy when they’re on their periods, Modern Family does a disservice to its viewers.
I was planning to catch flight at 7pm on Sunday after the marathon, but because Caltrans spontaneously decided to do construction work on the westbound 10 on Sunday afternoon, I missed my flight.
The most interesting part of this story is not the “three hours of driving inch-by-inch through the barren desert” part– although this article definitely shows that crappy aspect when they mention that
Stranded drivers told vivid tales of motorists trying to escape by driving across medians, down shoulders and going the wrong way on entrance ramps. Some saw people urinating along the side of the road after being stopped for five hours or more.
For me, the hardest part was missing my flight– then getting on the next one, being totally sleep-deprived and acting really strangely allllll dayyyyy longggggg.
When I finally got to the airport, they said I could go on the next flight, which was 6am the next day. That wouldn’t have been too painful, since one of my superpowers involves being punctual even at ungodly hours, but after dropping off Gigi in LA, we got back to Palm Springs at 12:30am. We planned to leave at 3:30am. Yes, it was painful.
After a few brief hours of slumber, my parents drove me back to the airport at (thankfully, this time without traffic) and I flew back to San Jose. I made surprisingly few blunders in my sleep-deprived torpor and got back to Santa Cruz by 10– although I was incredibly zombie-like.
Because I had stuff to do, I got the brilliant idea to drink half of one of those 5-hour energy drinks (2.5 hours of energy! That’s all I ask!). God, it was a horrible decision. Don’t drink those things. Just say no.
Energy drinks might be good for driving because all the caffeine makes you hyper-aware (Behold! Pedestrians!) but they definitely make your social skills disappear entirely. All day long, I was talking more than I ever had in my life and laughing at all kinds of things that weren’t funny. It’s a little difficult to analyze whether or not I seemed normal to anyone because I was in my own personal vortex of weirdness, but I’m going to guess that I seemed really strange and slightly scary. Too much laughing. Way too much laughing.
When I first heard BOB’s song “Airplanes,” I was very struck by the lyrics:
So airplane, airplane, sorry I’m late I’m on my way so don’t close that gate If I don’t make that then I’ll switch my flight And I’ll be right back at it by the end of the night
I wish I could be this lackadaisical about missing flights. Dealing with change is much easier said than done.
The night before the race, I had a horrible nightmare. I was standing at the start line in tights and realized I had forgotten a water bottle and my watch. As the race started, I realized I really needed to use one of the pit stops. (I think most runners can agree that running in tights AND needing to stop at a port-a-potty during the race is the worst thing that could ever happen ever.)
Deciding to sacrifice my hopes of getting a PR, I got to one of the port-a-potties– but my tights wouldn’t go back on. It was like that episode of Friends where Ross uses all the lotions and powders in the bathroom to try to shimmy his leather pants back on, to no avail. So in this dream, I was trapped in a port-a-potty with a line of impatient runners outside in the middle of a race. Just when it couldn’t get any worse, I hear from a bleacher outside (yeah, in this dream, there are bleachers on the side of half marathon routes; don’t ask) my Greek professor reviewing a portion of Ajax that I desperately need to review. And I can’t hear her.
Needless to say, I woke up stressed out of my mind, feeling claustrophobic and tights-o-phobic with a bizarre urgency to look up Greek verbs. Aside from that, my cold returned and I was feeling kind of gross.
I decided to run anyway. I had been preparing for months, so I wasn’t too eager to just pass the race by, and I was really looking forward to running with my sister. I read somewhere that if you’re sick from the neck up, you can run, and if you’re sick from the neck down, you shouldn’t run. Honestly, I usually don’t run at all if I get the sniffles, and I definitely don’t run when I get a cold. But when I make weird life decisions, I like to quote hardcore stuff like this.
The race went exceptionally well. Even though I was sick-ish, I still got 2:18! My PR is 2:13, so it wasn’t my best time– but it wasn’t my worst, either. Afterwards, I took a two hour nap, ate an awesome goat cheese and tomato sandwich, and went to the animal shelter with my mom and sister. It’s great to be home.
Tomorrow’s the day I run my half marathon! I’m excited to run for three reasons:
1) My sister, Gigi, is running with me. I’ve been trying to convert Gigi to running since we were in high school, and we’re finally doing a race together! She’s doing the 5k this time, but I’m sure that with enough persuasion, she’ll be doing 13.1 miles next year. Right, Gigi? Right?
2) I’m in Palm Springs, the happiest place on earth. Even in the middle of February, it’s 75 degrees and sunny, or as the dude at the running store put it, “chilly.” Besides being surrounded with family, the sky is clear and blue and the hills are nonexistent, as always. A runner couldn’t be happier.
3) I just recovered from a cold yesterday, and I feel incredible. I mean run-50-miles-because-I’m-so-hyper kind of incredible. Two days ago, I felt beyond awful. I had a fever and my throat felt like a cat had clawed at the insides. Thanks to my magnificent immune system (and a few vats of tea) I’m feeling good again.
I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow at some ungodly hour and lace up my running shoes.
I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pounding on the sidewalk outside my window.
Of all the sounds to wake up to, cacophonous rain definitely doesn’t make my top ten. Not even my top hundred.
I went to class, my spirits dampened by the rain. I would have preferred to remain cocooned in blankets, of course. But if I cocooned my self in blankets every time it rained, I’d never get anything done.
I remembered that time a few years ago when I went swimming a few days before Christmas in the desert. The best thing about the desert? You can go swimming on Christmas. Without a full body wetsuit.
The desert makes you love rain. When I was younger, I’d run around outside without a jacket and get drenched whenever it so much as sprinkled. I eagerly looked forward to those two or three days in the year when I could wear my swim parka without working up a sweat.
Even in senior year of high school, when it was raining, our teacher let the class go outside and run around outside. And indeed, we did, jumping in puddles with the enthusiasm of seven-year-olds. Oh, desert kids.
But living in a rainy place can be tedious. My exercise regime– and, judging by the overcrowded gym, everyone else’s– has been relegated to treadmills and machines that look like devices of torture. This means I’ve been watching more than my fair share of 16 and Pregnant, but not by choice. I’d much rather look at the forest and the deer instead of watching something that throws my RA spidey sense into overdrive. That show should really be called “Situations Where People Could Have Done Conflict Mediations But Didn’t.”
It’s not all bad, though. In fact, I made a list of things I actually like about winter in the style of those perpetually-happy lifestyle magazines that fawn over every season ever:
Granted, not all these are strictly “winter” things. Personally, I think coffee is a nice beverage for every season. Blankets also have a consistent presence. Museums usually stay put, and no one’s stopping you from donning a parka in summer (though you might get some weird stares). But nothing makes these “not” winter things. Right?
My day is picking up swiftly. This afternoon, I’m going downtown to see an exhibit about book arts at the Museum of Art and History, and I LOVE book arts. Then, I’m going to a comedy show with some friends. Maybe afterwards, we’ll have hot beverages! All in all, I think it will be a nice winter day– despite the rain.
“Most young women, not only in politics but in most areas, are more cautious and more likely to say, “Could I really do this? Am I good enough?” I was talking to a friend and very successful businessman the other day, and he said, “The thing that still annoys me more than anything is that I see all these young women who are so much more capable than they allow themselves to believe. And I see so many young men who are so much less capable but who believe they are God’s gift to the world.” I would just say to women: Try it! Put your foot in the pond and see if you want to swim.”—Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Glamour magazine.
This morning, I went on my first 10-mile run of the year.
I do not exaggerate when I say it was a perfect day. The birds were chirping, the trees were green, and there was nary a cloud in the sky.
Now, when I go on a long run, I bring tons of stuff with me.
I like to think, with this much stuff, that I could survive in the wilderness for at least two days. But I’ve noticed most people don’t share my enthusiasm for running with an ungodly amount of baggage.
Being overly-apologetic is a horrible habit I’ve picked up. I remember having a conversation like this in high school with a friend:
Friend: You apologize too much.
Me: I’m sorry.
Friend: See, you just did it!
Me: GAH! I’m sorry! I’ll never do it again.
For the most part, I’ve stopped using qualifiers. But when things get bad, sometimes I relapse into apologies, even when apologizing doesn’t suit the occasion. Sure, it has a lot to do with socially-constructed gender norms, but it’s something that I can change. And I am determined.
Secondly, keeping track of things. I am constantly– I mean constantly– amazed that every year, millions of adults pay taxes, go to jury duty, and renew their vehicle registrations. The right way. How? HOW? (Okay, maybe it’s because you go to jail if you don’t. But still.) I just had to renew my driver license, and I had no idea that it took a month to ship. Oh, bureaucracy, you fickle mistress, someday I will understand your ways.
In other news, I turned 21 today! I had an amazing time seeing Cirque du Soleil with my family yesterday. Oh lord, the flips! Next year’s resolution: learn how to flip like those guys dressed like Teletubbies. My life would be complete.
May 2012 be full of organization and assertiveness! Happy New Year!
Traipsing Through the Magical World of Visual Writing
After reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’ve been thinking a lot about visual writing.
I could give you a million reasons I love visual writing, but mainly: I love art. I love seeing different art forms in the same place. I love the Warhol-esque duplication of images arranged like found objects. And arguably, it’s a socially relevant marriage of the forms, given our increasingly visual culture and the focus on individual perspective.
So why isn’t it more widely used? Visual writing is a good answer to commercialism and individualism, but you rarely see illustrations in novels, and when you do, they often don’t add anything to the story. Graphic novels are the exception, but that’s another post altogether.
The cool thing about Foer’s work is that you not only see things from the narrator’s perspective– you become the narrator. At the same time, your own experiences shape your interpretation of the images. The writing is in conversation with images and the reader is in conversation with the narrator.
Oh dialectics, I love them!
I’m integrating visual writing into the novel I’m working on, and I’m stoked about it. I have so many ideas. Photos! Lists! A wall of text that condenses into complete darkness for pages! The possibilities are limitless.