The triumphant return of Rantypants McGee.

I’ve been away. I’m back now, feeling much more human, for the moment. I don’t think I realized how much I needed this trip. I’ve got no further plans to leave the face of the planet anytime soon, though, so your bloggening needs can all be accommodated.

I wanted to write a bunch of posts before I left and post them while I was away. But I was brainfried and didn’t write them. And I don’t travel with a computer anyway, so the logistics weren’t great on my part there.

And then I figured it would be okay because I’d come home with all kinds of interesting and blogworthy things to say, full of energy and writery juices. Not so much. I am, miraculously, fairly angst-free at the moment, and my best work seems to be born of friction.

But I learned a lot on these adventures, so I thought I could just make a list of those things, both epiphanic and mundane. You people love a good list. It’s like you’re reading my mind. However, somewhere between #1 (guava flesh will make you constipated but the skin is a laxative) and #15 (the story about pulling over at two AM to take pictures of a church sign in South Carolina that read “Close our borders. Even Heaven has a gate”) it all started to feel bloated and selfish, like those torturous evenings of looking at someone’s vacation photos. Only way more verbose.

So I decided to take a breather and unpack, clear my head. From the Tetris-like depths of my bag I unearthed a tiny notebook that I had honestly forgotten about, and found a drunken scrawled mess that I forgot I wrote. It’s weird and it feels like kind of a downer, but I like it so I thought I’d put it up here. Also, apparently, drunk me likes to add 90s music playlists to her writing. She’s so clever. Here goes:

That one moment, or: culture shock.

I’m riding down a two-lane backroad with three other humans. I’m not quite drunk. I’m smoking. All four windows are down. Something metal is playing on the radio and we’re going very fast. It’s warm. It’s raining. I’m laughing. My arm is hanging out the window and a lightning bug slams into it and dies a hopeful, wonderful, laughter-filled death. Suddenly I look around and wonder what year it is. These are my friends, this is the right road, this is the appropriate beer, the right Volkswagen. But wrong model, wrong guns, wrong cigarettes, wrong album, wrong combination of couples. The song changes. I’m tired. I’m older. I can’t live from awesome moment to awesome moment anymore. I have a husband and bills to pay and places to be. Dogs to pet. Snuggles to receive. Plans to make. A life to build, so they tell me. I want to cry, to quiver for the girl with all that potential, not so very very long ago. The one who loved warm nights and fast cars and cute boys and cute girls and loud music and cheap wine. She was fun and I miss her. Lots of people miss her. Sometimes I think about her and I wonder where she went, what she’s doing, if she died, who the fuck this person is who took her place. Imposter, poser, usurper. On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t good enough to live in the first place. Perhaps she was a figment all along. Some retroactive construction of my adult imagination, a defense mechanism created to justify later bad decisions. I don’t believe in regret. I believe wholeheartedly in wasted and missed opportunities, just not the mourning of them. Our eyeballs are in the fronts of our heads for a reason. Keep looking forward because forward is all we have. Thus it has always been and thus it shall always be, amen. No amount of Nine Inch Nails and fast cars on beautiful backroads will ever change that. No reason to be sad about it. Just accept that it’s been twenty-five years and Trent Reznor has a kid and two Oscars and the march of time is massive and terrifying and unstoppable. It is not chaos. Let it wash over you like rain. Roll the windows down. Breathe smoke. Laugh. Hold your friend’s hand and tell him you’re glad he’s alive. Take a whole summer night and enjoy it from beginning to end. Your time is precious. Measure it in lightning bugs. Measure it in rock songs. Measure it in winding roads. But measure it. Don’t just let it go by unnoticed. Please, please, please. Measure it…

 

Mini infoburst, and a heartfelt apology.

Hello, friends. I realize it’s not blog day. And I realize that I’ve left you hanging for two weeks with no explanation. Sorry about that. I should’ve given some warning. I’m on vacation! Hooray! Trust me, we’ll all like me better after I’ve taken a month off from my life. I spent ten days in Hawaii, came home for two days, and this evening I’m leaving to hit up the east coast for two weeks. It’s crazytown. I have much to tell you about. Now your line is: “Like what, Vanessa?” Well, I’m so glad you asked.

- Reading Sherlock Holmes on a beach in Maui feels weird, and other summer vs winter book arguments.

- Missing ComiCon again but flying through LAX that weekend, celebrity hunting, and how fucking weird is southern California?

- Buying a new ukulele, my mother’s ongoing struggle to get me to pronounce “ukulele” correctly, real music vs tourist music, bluegrass.

-Travelling during fire season, road closures, rockslides, and other menacing environmental factors.

- The first of (hopefully) many installments of short stories written about pictures of abandoned buildings in Appalachia. If I can wrangle my little sister into a documentarian adventure while I’m there.

And many more! I’m so stoked. My brain really has enjoyed this bit of rest. But I am sorry that I left without warning. My bad. Mea culpa. Next time I’ll plan ahead a little better. Right now I have to go get ready to be slingshot once again off the surface of the planet. Yay, physics!

The cage is full.

 

I finished Orange is the New Black the other day. I wanted to write about it that week, but I thought I might go back and watch season one again first, just to be thorough (read: because I was really pissed that it was over and wanted more more more, dammit!). And then that didn’t happen because I went on a weird documentary bender. More about that soon. If you haven’t watched Orange is the New Black, you are missing out on a big fat heap of awesome, my friends.

A brief rundown: Piper Chapman is an average American young woman – early thirties, adorable boyfriend, lives in New York, runs a soap company with her best friend (a nod to Fight Club? Anybody? No? Is it just me?). Thing is, she’s a convicted felon. Her ex-girlfriend was a drug dealer and at some point Piper carried some money through customs for her, and the ex ratted on her. Such a low-class move. But Piper owned up to it and took the heat. The first episode is about her saying goodbye to her life and showing up at the penitentiary to serve a fifteen-month sentence. And then the madness begins. The whole premise of the show is that juxtaposition between a normal girl and a setting so outside her worldview. I think a lot of people from her social milieu would never expect to find themselves in prison (unless they’re perpetrating white collar crime), and honestly probably don’t think about prison that much at all (unless they’re lawyers). It’s a vaguely menacing, faraway thing. Like war or starvation or Detroit. This show is, essentially, about culture shock.

What I like about it most (besides the fact that it’s a Netflix original so doesn’t have to bend to the whims of any network bullshit – you go Netflix! Do you!) is the storytelling structure. Piper’s sort of Les Miserables-ish accidental felon situation is just the through-line, but there’s a huge cast of characters and in the tradition of prison culture, we do not ask what they’re in for. Each episode has flashbacks cut in between the main story, focusing on whichever character is most relevant to Piper’s plotline at the time, and one by one we get their backstories. But until that character has her individual episode, we don’t get any information about them. Only after her episode will she have explicit dialogue about her past. It’s very well done, and moves the present action along by showing us that character’s motivations or weaknesses, something that the people in the prison may not even know. There are a lot of “oh, shit, that changes everything!” moments.

So, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, Vanessa, aren’t stories about women’s prisons usually porn?” Why, yes, that’s certainly a thing. They even address it in one episode directly, when Piper’s boyfriend does a radio interview with an Ira Glass-ish reporter. Because of the whole bisexual thing, I think, there’s some relationship tension that the reporter wants to address, asking about “women’s prison tropes.” Such excellent euphemizing. There’s definitely some sapphic action in the show, so if you’re delicate about that kind of thing you should keep your fast forward trigger finger at the ready. I think they’ve handled the prison sex issue pretty well, overall. While it does seem gratuitous at times, they’ve done well to avoid any porn-ish-ness. Because none of us can deny that that’s a thing that happens, right? Might as well be realistic. This would be a completely different conversation if we were talking about a show about men in prison, though, so there’s that.

See how I dodged that Insufferable Feminist soapbox just then? I don’t know who keeps leaving that thing laying around, but I’ve been tripping over it a lot lately. On the other hand: this is the part where I’m supposed to say “something something strong female characters.” And sure, fine, that’s totally true. But in a cast full of women, using that rings hollow as a compliment. What I like more than the characters being female is that they’re, each and every one, bad guys. Some worse than others, granted, but how many other shows can you think of where even the hero is a villain to some degree? I can count, off the top of my head, only maybe six characters who aren’t convicted felons and a couple of them are more villainous than the inmates, without question. It fucks with one’s perception of the generally accepted standard of good and bad. Holy bigger picture, man.

The idea of good and bad is changing. I don’t know if it’s our cultural climate in general, or the success of Breaking Bad, but lately we love a story about good people doing bad shit to get by, don’t we? What’s that about? Maybe it’s our shitty economy or whatever but I think there’s a lot of “just keep your head down and get through this” kind of stories popping up in America right now. Audiences can relate. Things are tough all over. You gotta do what you gotta do. Pick an aphorism. The bottom line is, if we paid teachers what they’re actually worth and/or (preferably “and”) had a functional universal health care system, Breaking Bad would never have happened. We’re breeding bad guys by making it hard for good people to make it. At some point I want to get my anthropologist friend to write a guest post about our prison system. Now would be the perfect time, but she’s busy this week going off to become a teacher so she can more actively participate in the elimination of the school-to-prison pipeline. Good on her. Thanks, buddy. Some other time, for sure. It’s interesting, terrifying stuff.

Anyway. If you’re into character-driven drama/dark comedy with shit tons of ladies being bad guys (and really, who isn’t?), check out Orange is the New Black. There are two seasons on Netflix so far, with one more due out next summer. Be warned: you will want to binge watch them all in one sitting. Remember to take breaks for showers and food and sleep, okay?

 

An ellipsis only has three periods. Always. Seriously.

Last week I posted a long and ranty and semi-political diatribe about food. It is currently siting in the number three spot on the list of all-time most-read posts (after this one and this one). Thanks, you guys, for continuing to read my stuff even when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails. Especially when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails, I suppose. It’s why I keep doing this, despite all the many, many times I’ve wanted to stop. Giving up is always the easier path, and I’m going against my nature each time I don’t choose it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A special thanks to those of you who have chosen to share my work with others at some point. That’s the biggest compliment I could receive, honestly.

However. It does have a downside. Last week, a friend shared my ranty food piece on her Facebook page. She’d never shared a link to my blog before, so I was touched. A friend of hers (who, for the record, I do not know) commented on it thusly: “Hmmmmm…..this geek has WAY too much time on her hands….” Well. That’s a thing you could say. But why? Putting aside the fact that it’s patently untrue, it doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t speak to the subject matter or the quality of my writing in that piece. She could have given an actual opinion like “this is boring” or “I do not care about this at all” or “what a piece of shit,” and I would have been happier. Saying I have too much time on my hands is basically saying that I should have found a better use for said time, right? Better how? More in line with her personal interests? More in line with whatever it is people who live in normal civilization do in their free time, with their access to amenities and activities? Apparently working really hard on a piece I quite liked about an issue that means a lot to me was a waste of time. Who knew?

I spent two whole days resisting the urge to comment back. Since I don’t know her, and our mutual friend is someone I care about and didn’t want to offend, I struggled with this demon kneejerk snark reaction that will surely be my downfall someday. I fought that motherfucker hard. But seeing as how taking the high road comes even less naturally to me than taking the more difficult path, I decided to blog about it instead. Because if I’m going to burn someone down, I’m going to do it on my turf. Verbosely. And with vigor.

Insert malignant stare and steepled villain fingers here.

Ahem.

Dear Semi-anonymous Facebook Commenter:

I sincerely appreciate your reading a post on my blog last week. It means a lot to me to know that I’m acquiring new readership. Moreover, I’m glad to see that you provided me with some feedback. After all, art is defined by the boundaries of criticism and I welcome every opportunity to hear what people have to say about my work. I would like to congratulate you (if you haven’t done so already) on so immediately having such keen insight not only into the issues I addressed in that one particular piece, but also into my lifestyle. I do have too much time on my hands. Wallowing around in my golden pool full of money only eats up a small portion of my day, and I find myself having to wile away the hours by staring blankly into space, pondering life’s deeper meaning and speculating on human nature. Such pesky distractions. And a plight that you are most certainly aware of, having taken up some of your own copious free time to formulate your thoughtful and articulate critique of my writing. Tell me, how big is your golden pool full of money? I’m sure, with the Golden Pool Full of Money community being so small, that we would have much to discuss. And so much time in which to discuss it! I would also be interested to hear your further pithy deconstructions of the modern written word. It is up to us who are blessed with the luxury of too much time to maintain the critical standards of art, obviously, since the time requirements for free thinking are far too much for the common man. Their having to slave away brainlessly like they do saddens me, it truly does. Perhaps I will see more of your clear and very helpful commentary on future blog posts.

Lovingly yours,

Vanessa Howe

I feel so much better now, you guys. Yes, yes, that was petty and childish. But cathartic. And fun.

Look, I can take criticism. I’m not saying that people won’t or shouldn’t have negative reactions to some of the stuff I write. If everyone loved everything I wrote, I’d be a rock star novelist by now, right? I’m not, and the odds aren’t good I ever will be. Meanwhile, I’m pretty tough, and I know which comments to hang onto and which to ignore, what is useful and what I should let roll off me. Criticism is vital, or else we get lost in our own little world. No one can create in a vacuum. Furthermore, we as consumers need criticism; it’s often how we dig through the murk of an over-saturated media establishment to find the new thing we might want to try. But if you’re going to provide commentary, actually provide it. Have an opinion and a real point of view. I’m not one of those Pollyanna people with their “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” philosophy. If you don’t like a thing, say you don’t like it. It would be too much for me to ask for polite, cogent discourse, but don’t just say something, anything, to fill space. That’s like carving “Billy Bob wuz here” on a picnic table or a tree. It’s almost masturbatory, just acknowledging your own presence and not actually contributing anything to the conversation at hand. I think this is a huge problem in the culture we’ve created online, given the anonymity that commenters hide behind (*cough*fuckingcowards*coughcough*). The comment threads on the whole internet sound like one long nightmarish episode of Beavis and Butthead and I’m starting to feel like there is no escape.

Anyway. I just had to get that off my chest. I don’t know why it got to me so badly. As always, please direct all your rage and indignation to my comments section.

 

Illuminati Mayonnaise

 

I’ve been watching The X-files again. It’s comfort food for my brain, like Star Trek or Stephen King books. One of the side effects of being a 90s kid is that X-files taught us all to be conspiracy theorists. We want to believe. I think we do believe, and we seem less crazy doing it than folks in older generations. As with a lot of social stuff that would make our grandparents climb the walls (being gay, race relations, foul language, spaghetti straps), this seems normal, nothing to even blink an eye at. Believing in aliens or government cover-ups is kind of a given, completely reasonable. And we have the internet, so we never have to feel alone. There’s always someone somewhere who believes the same weird shit. Thanks, internet. I know I, for one, see plots and schemes and machinations everywhere.

And now I shall tell you a silly story.

The Husband and I went to the coast to run a bunch of errands last week (which is why I didn’t post anything here – sorry about that). Because I take advantage of every opportunity to eat food I didn’t have to cook, we went out to lunch at one of those horrible casual dining places. Sitting there, surrounded by fake swapmeet Americana, I was weirded out. I don’t get out into civilization very often. Clearly. Anyway. They forgot my mayo, so I asked for mayo, and the waitress brought me one of those squeeze bottles. I hate that. Mayo should never be squeezed. Gross. But I noticed that the packaging was weird, so I read the back of the bottle (it’s a compulsion, I would have read it even if the label hadn’t caught my eye). It said a lot of strange stuff. “For restaurant use only.” Why? “Does not require refrigeration.” Sweet Jebus, why why why? “Labeled as [a different popular brand] east of the Rockies.” Hmmm. “The Cartouche is property of Unilever International.”

Wait, what? That sounds like some global military industrial complex and/or Indiana Jones nonsense. It just felt sinister, somehow, that sentence, like “The angels have the phone box.” So The Husband and I spent the rest of our subpar lunch making awful mayo-related conspiracy theory jokes. And then the check came. Have you noticed that every receipt lately has a fucking novel at the bottom about how you can take a survey and be entered to win a contest? I hate that, too. Mostly because it means that every single cashier I interact with has to give me a speech about it and I will never take your surveys. Never. But I read the thing, because compulsion, and at the very bottom it said in teeny letters: “Canadians will be subject to skills testing.” Schwaaaa? Why just Canadians? Tested by whom? For what skills? I mean, I know Canada’s a little strange, but are they mutants? Is this ubiquitous restaurant chain tasked with sussing out the fucking X-men through some sort of nefarious marketing scheme? What the hell is going on? Clearly, eating a lame chicken sandwich in a room that felt like a schizophrenic alcoholic’s garage had put me in something of an odd headspace. Is this how normal Americans feel all the time? Am I having culture shock in my own culture? Because I honestly thought for a half a second that I had taken the brown acid.

So we made the long trek back to the top of our mountain and I, being in a Mulder-ish mood, set out to look into this Cartouche situation. A cartouche is just a blank field with symbols on it, but this Cartouche with a capital C is the official name for the logo of this particular brand of mayo and its sister brand east of the Rockies. (A classic division of labor maneuver. The east coast doesn’t know what the west coast is eating. Well played, food-that’s-really-bad-for-you industry. Well. Played.) Interestingly, my own personal jar of mayo (a jar!) says nothing about the Cartouche or any other logo being the property of any multinational corporation. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put that information on all the mayo if you’re really concerned about copyright infringement? Who reads the condiments at restaurants when distracted by booze and half-price mozzarella sticks? Me, bitches, that’s who.

Apparently this logo has a long and storied history. It’s bloody boring, but it’s out there. Deep in the inky depths of graphic design geekery, I found this little nugget and it blew my mind: “The previous design lacked food appeal and emotion. The new identity celebrates the heritage of [name brand] mayonnaise and its quality ingredients and engages at an emotional level which helps in justifying its price point.” (I left out the brand name because I don’t want to get sued. You understand. But I assume you can guess which one I’m talking about, if you’re a mayo connoisseur.) First of all, some of these words are probably being used as industry jargon, rather than their normal uses. I’m completely ignorant about both food marketing and advertising. But, what does “food appeal” mean? Because it’s food. Why does food need food appeal? As opposed to what other kind of appeal that food might have?

But let’s talk about some of these other words. “Heritage” and “quality” stick out, because it seems like that’s not the sort of thing that could be conveyed just by changing the shape of a logo and adding a blue ribbon. It’s rather like judging a book by its cover. However. That shit works. I have absolutely bought things just because I like the packaging of one brand over another. This is exactly why store brands have the super simple styles on their labels, because they want to justify their cheap prices by convincing you that they don’t spend your money on fancy graphic designs. Using terms like “heritage” and “quality” and expressing those ideas through some sort of marketing magic on a label makes people want to buy that product because those things feel old-fashioned and therefore better. Like saying a company is “family-owned,” even though that has nothing at all to do with their actual business practices. Or putting a gray-haired granny figure on a tasty baked good that’s full of preservatives and emulsifiers and fake colors and flavors your granny never heard of. It makes us trust that product. Or saying something is “natural.” “Natural,” in this context, is an industry term that has nothing to do with ingredients, but refers to the number of mechanized steps that it takes to get from raw material to sellable units. I could be selling cocaine mixed with gunpowder (both made from perfectly natural substances, but so was the atomic bomb), and if it only took four robots to get it into the box, I could label it “natural” and some idiot would buy it and stuff it in their kid’s mouth. Especially if it was in a green box. Double especially if it cost two dollars more than the one that didn’t say “natural.” Now, my mayo story is silly and paranoid and somewhat hyperbolic, but this kind of psychological fuckery is not. This is the real conspiracy. Mulder would have a field day with this shit.

It’s one thing to go on and on about how we’re controlled by the media or by advertising, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, the little things can affect us the most. Word choice, fonts, colors – we have lizard brain reactions to these things, and we don’t think about them when we go off on tirades about violent video games or boobs on billboards. But we’re being manipulated by them just as much, possibly even more because we don’t even realize what’s happening. Here’s the thing, and please forgive me if this sounds shitty in a white middle-class liberal kind of way: the dumber people get, the easier it is to control us using our emotions. The crux of this whole brand redesign was engaging “at an emotional level to justify a price point,” right? That basically says “Get their money by pushing the squishy spot on their feelings.”

Our school systems are failing miserably and we’re spoonfed vapid crap all day every day by tv and the internet and glossy magazines. But we’re happy with critical thinking and logic and reason going down the tubes, because we have emotion to fall back on. We’re a buzzword culture, perfectly willing to not pay attention to anything but the hot button words peppered in all the banal blah blah blah. We’re so outraged or inspired by such a small percentage of the words actually being used, we might as well speak in links and hashtags. (By the fucking way, while I have you here: I’ve seen a ton of folks posting memes lately about “In my day it was called a pound sign, not a hashtag, grumblegrumble…” It’s still called a pound sign, guys. You use it in a hashtag. They’re two different things. Slow your agro until you learn your terminology. Thanks.) My point is that the fewer people there are who care about real issues, the easier and easier it will be to get away with horrible, underhanded, monstrous shit. To quote John Oliver, “If you want to do something evil, hide it in something boring.” The line of what constitutes boring is moving, rapidly, to accommodate the lowest common denominator. So many of us don’t give two shits about the things that really matter, but by god when that cheesy music swells we know it’s our cue to cry.

And this isn’t just me ranting to rant or preaching intellectualism to an already pretty damn savvy choir. They’re not just mindfucking us for our money. This is directly affecting our educational system, our political structure, our economy, our health (that’s “schools,” “Obama,” “jobs,” and “abortion,” for those of you playing along with the buzzword game at home). But our food, man, our food. That’s the one that really pisses me off. This mind control stuff is everywhere, it’s desperately important that we be aware of it, but food is the way that it has the most immediate impact on us. We have to eat every day, more than once. Luckily we live in a country where that’s not particularly difficult, relatively speaking. And I’m not going to get all organic farmgirl on you here. Eat whatever the hell you want, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I will admit to having had nothing but Cheetos for dinner more than once in my adult life. I just told a story about eating crap restaurant food. I know that neither of those is real food. But they’ve made things that aren’t real food cheaper and easier to get. Therefore, the people with the least money (and, not coincidentally, the least education) buy that shit by the ton. Then these capitalist scumfucks make their money back through vertical integration when we get cancer or diabetes or heart disease because we’re working multiple jobs just to be able to afford Kraft mac and cheese and premade meatfood product and we don’t have time or energy to garden or even make a thing from scratch. We’ve given up control over what we put in our bodies and we think it’s normal. And over what? Money? Money is a fake, stupid system. Tomatoes are real and you can eat them to stay alive. Better than money.

A less silly story, as an example of what I’m talking about: I was talking to someone in my family at Christmas about how hard it is to eat healthy food when on food stamps. I tried to explain to her that frozen or canned veggies aren’t as good as fresh ones, but they’re cheap, they’re covered by WIC, and they’re better than no veggies at all. I told her I’d get her a spice rack for Christmas, so she could buy plain tomato sauce instead of that spaghetti sauce in a jar. It’s way cheaper and doesn’t have all the sugar and preservatives that Ragu or whatever has. She laughed and called me a hippie. And her four-year-old is diabetic. This is what I’m dealing with. “Normal” food is, largely, not great for you, but we crave the familiar, the comfortable, the easy, the cheap. “Normal” isn’t good enough. We’ve been trained to never expect anything more, anything better. Organic or wholesome food is for rich people. Obviously. It’s class warfare, dictated by business bigwigs: “Keep them stupid, keep them sick, keep them in debt, and they’ll work their fingers to the bone for the entirety of their miserable lives just to barely get by. They’ll pay our bonuses and spend all their money on shit they don’t need to furnish a lifestyle we tell them they want. They’ll fucking adore us for it because we’re rich and they’ll want what we have because we’re better than them. Praise Jesus.”

Fuck that shit. Fuck those people. Fuck their telling us all we have to have flatscreens and iPhones. Fuck their ninety-nine cent cancer burgers. Fuck their substandard educational system and their refusal to raise minimum wage. Fuck their making billions off our student loan debt and our medical bills. Fuck their planned obsolescence. Fuck their emotional manipulation. Fuck their arbitrary morality. Fuck tying your dignity and your self-worth to material things. Fuck living by someone else’s standards. Wake up and smell the bullshit. Then spread it on some dirt and grow tomatoes in it. That’ll show ‘em.

 

I’ll act my age when I figure out what that means.

I love the internet. It’s the greatest technological revolution since…what? The assembly line? Accurate timekeeping? The telephone? I don’t even know. It has its downsides, though. There are some dark and scary places online, and I think that a lot of people have learned that internet anonymity means they should act like fools and monsters without accountability just because they can. That’s not the internet’s fault, necessarily. But it’s leveled the playing field in a lot of ways. The music industry is different, the publishing industry is different, the way we do business has drastically changed. Most importantly, everyone has a voice. This is not always a good thing. For example, even just ten years or so ago, this article may not have gotten published. It would have probably been relegated to some op-ed column in a local newspaper, buried behind who won the high school football game and what’s on sale at the hardware store. Instead, the good folks at Slate put it on their website, and the internet exploded.

Now, I’m all for the First Amendment. Say what you like. I will loudly and unabashedly defend free speech and freedom of the press as basic human rights until the day I die. But don’t be shocked when you say something dumb and there’s backlash. I mean, come on. Your only options are to stand by your opinion and defend yourself, or keep saying dumber and dumber shit until someone suggests you run for public office. I don’t know much about Ruth Graham. Her Slate bio says simply that she’s a writer from New Hampshire. That could mean anything. Except for the New Hampshire part, those stereotypes are pretty spot on. Looking back at some of her former articles, though, she seems to be a wholesome, middle-aged, ostensibly upstanding American. I’m not here to fault her character. I’m just here to tell you that as far as that one piece goes, she is dead fucking wrong.

I’ve talked about kids’ books and YA books on the blog before. I’m a fan. It’s weird, though, that I didn’t read most of the ones I like until I was an adult. I think this is probably because I started reading adult books super early. I jumped straight from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series to Stephen King and never looked back. I read tons of Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz and stacks and stacks of weird crime thrillers that my dad left laying around for me. Then later it was all Kerouac and Burroughs and Nietzsche and Baudelaire. To my recollection, and according to everyone I’ve asked about this anomaly in the space-time continuum, YA wasn’t really a thing when we were growing up. There were books that teenagers read, books for and about them, but the category wasn’t the behemoth of marketing that it is now. In the golden age of Reading Rainbow, kids’ books were king. And then at some point someone handed you an adult book you could handle and that was that.

Culturally, the idea of the teenager is fairly new. Back in ye olden times, you were just a kid and then you were a grownup. At some point you went off and got married or joined the army or got a job. End of childhood, get over it. That’s assuming that you hadn’t already been working on the family farm or sent down a mine or whatever. But this idea of adolescence being a separate, pupal stage of life is pretty new. And it’s directly tied to the invention of the high school. Oh, that most horrible and hate-able of institutions. But putting them all in one place like that made it clear that they had tastes that were distinct from either children or adults. And lo! A market force was born. (But seriously, what idiot thought it was a good idea to put as many hormonal sociopaths as possible in one building against their will? How does that even make sense?)

So now we have all these books that are marketed specifically to teens and tweens. And I say fuck yes. Get those kids to keep reading. If you can snag them when they’re little and get them to like reading, the hard part is to maintain their interest through all that stressful, angst-riddled bullshit, so they come out the other side as devoted adult readers. It’s a worthy scheme and I support it. Are a lot of those books complete crap? Sure. But better that they read crap than stop reading altogether, I think. I still read crap occasionally and I’m in my thirties. A little junk food for the brain never hurt anybody, and there are plenty of grownups who read cheesy romance novels and bad whodunits by the truckload and nobody blinks an eye about that. Those people have to come from somewhere. My sister made a good point when I asked her about having a houseful of teenagers who were all voracious readers. She said, about her daughter: “reading all her damn sparkly vampire crap set her up for the classic stuff – Shelley and Stoker.” She also said that any book she told them they couldn’t read would immediately show up in her house, passed from kid to kid like prison contraband. I suspect she did it so that they would want to read those books even more, but that might just be because I know how damn sneaky she can be.

But the idea that adults shouldn’t read these books baffles me. First of all, what difference does it make? I’m very Eric Cartman about this: I do what I want! No amount of bah humbuggery is going to change my mind. I get scoffed at for reading scifi and comics, too, and I don’t care about that either. I still watch tons of cartoons, motherfucker! So there! Take that! Secondly, when you see someone of an inappropriate age reading a teen book, consider why they’re reading it. Maybe they’re a good parent, reading a book before giving it to their kid or (gasp!) reading it with them. Maybe they’re a teacher or a librarian or a writer. Maybe they’re just learning to read and they’re taking a big, scary step in grabbing a teen book rather than one for children. Or maybe, just maybe, people are allowed to read whatever they want in this country and you should keep your fucking judgmental mouth shut about it. We’ve had this conversation before. Remember the Comics Code? Remember Larry Flynt’s trial? Remember when that wacky German guy with the mustache burned books in the street? What was his name again?

Graham’s main point here seems to be that these books are beneath us, somehow, as adults. That we should be beyond the simplistic storytelling of teen books. While I can appreciate that logic, I say look at it from the other side. Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool. The teens and tweens who are reading these books haven’t been through this shit, and their little worlds are so small and self-centered (no offense, kids, but not everything is as dire as you think it is – you’ll figure it out). They’re rapt and focused on what’s going to happen, where we grownups are wincing and thinking “this will not end well,” right? Keep in mind that these books are, by and large, written by adults who are looking back on their own teen years. They know how they reacted in those situations, but their memories are blurred by hindsight. I think that the thing we forget first when we come of age is how mind-blowing every little thing was to us at that stage. To read those stories from that perspective reminds us, a little, what it was like to still have wonder and enormous freedom to fuck up.

Furthermore, enjoying those time-machine moments, or just good storytelling period, does not detract from the other books we choose to read. Is Anna Karenina going to seem more stodgy and boring because we read The Hunger Games? No, that shit is boring all on its very own. I can think of probably twenty books off the top of my head that we regularly give to kids that were written for adults. Does that diminish a modern adult reading The Secret Garden or Little Women? No. Contrarily, there are plenty of books that were written specifically for children that we now put in the “classic literature” or “literary fiction” genre. Tom Sawyer or The Hobbit or Treasure Island or To Kill a Mockingbird, for example.

Everything is fluid. Culture is porous and malleable. The idea of what an adult is has changed. My generation specifically has been accused of being a bunch of overgrown children with no drive and no morals and no desire to grow the hell up. But the truth is, we don’t have to do grownup the way our elders did. A lot of that shit didn’t work, y’all. So many systems are broken or obsolete and I don’t want to be a grownup in a world where I’m expected to uphold an outdated status quo that is not in my best interest. And how you judge my status as an adult has very little to do with my actual character, doesn’t it? What’s the answer? Money? Marriage? College degree? Graduate degree? Babies? Successful career? The appropriate amount of debt? The books I read? How about we just stop judging each other? Wouldn’t that be simpler? Wouldn’t that free up so much time? It’s not a race. We don’t need to be ranked by our possessions or our ideologies or our differences. Maybe we’d know that if we read more.

 

Stumbling along, or: existential crisis #8462 (give or take)

I’m bloody exhausted. It’s planting season, which is super stressful. But it’s almost done, so there’s that. I enjoy the work, don’t get me wrong. It’s lightyears better than putting up and taking down and rearranging and restocking displays of books over and over and fucking over. How zombifying that shit was. I like being a farmer, I like the sun and the dirt. But the spring and summer are rough for me. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. I like to work. I’m not lazy. I think part of it is that I’m not using my brain a whole lot. I spend most of the time I’m digging holes or watering plants thinking about books I want to read or things I want to write. Being intellectually understimulated makes me tired.

On top of which, like a fucking idiot, I’ve taken up running. So stupid. But it will help me to not drop dead at a young age like my father, so I do it. I hate every second of it, but I do it. It’s getting to the point that when I don’t do it I feel crappy. They tell me this is a good thing, that it’s progress. “They” in this case being people who also don’t want me to drop dead. I think they’re on my side? I believe that enjoying exercise is a myth perpetrated by athletic people who just don’t want to come across as masochists. Because that shit sucks. I’m a chair-oriented person. I’m a writer. We sit. We read. We type. We drink. We do not run unless something is chasing us. Which, to be honest, is not entirely out of the question. This is bear country, after all. Running makes me tired.

I’ve been doing some editing for that literary magazine I told you guys about a while ago. The few days I spent working on those projects I was pumped up and excited, full of energy. I think my brain might have thought we were doing cocaine, when really we were just thinking hard and using a skill we love which has, sadly, turned rusty. (And, yes, I do tend to think of my brain as a separate entity sometimes, my squishy little constant companion.) I’ve also been working on some stuff for another weird writing project. Apparently “memoir” requires catharsis and “narrative nonfiction” requires story structure. I do neither of these. I’m not sure what it is that I do, exactly. But, like the running, I’m soldiering on. Artistic frustration makes me tired.

I don’t sleep well in the summer. I’ve never slept well, really, but summer’s the worst. Occasionally I wake up shaking. When I was a kid I’d wake up with nosebleeds. Sometimes I have dreams where I can’t sleep. Exercising and eating better helps, and not having stupid, unnecessary stress helps, but it’s getting bad like it does every year. Maybe this is why I get depressed in the fall. I don’t know. I just reread Fight Club, and some of those diatribes about insomnia got me on a gnarly hamster wheel. At least I know my Tyler Durden is a real person. Hopefully. If not, everyone in my life is having a really fucked up (but adorable) mass delusion. Thinking about being tired makes me tired.

I got smacked in the face with a bad wave of homesickness the other day. It was my best friend’s birthday, and I called while she was getting her house ready for her party. Apparently it was a great party, and I was sad I couldn’t be there. Again. I’ve missed so many events. People I love keep graduating from stuff and having birthdays and getting engaged and having babies. I haven’t been home in a year and a half or so. And that was a year and a half after the last time I was there. I miss my friends and my sisters. I miss comfort and familiarity. I miss knowing which street to take. I miss back porches and endless conversations about nothing. I even miss Waffle House, which I don’t like to admit. I hate that I go days without laughing. I hate having to send birthday cards instead of giving hugs. I hate that I made a playlist of songs for a party I couldn’t go to and sat on my porch drinking a beer by myself. Being lonely makes me tired.

Anyway.

It’ll all be fine. Sorry if I sound like a whiny jerk. It happens. I’ve been called worse. New and exciting and happy stuff next week, I promise. Be well. Get some rest.

 

Is there a word for angry/sad?

*Trigger warning: this post contains references to violence against women.*

By now everyone’s heard about the shooting at UC Santa Barbara. I don’t have television news, so I’m sure you’ve probably heard a lot more about it than I have. It’s horrifying, as any killing spree is. When I heard about it I actually thought “Oh, another one.” These sorts of things happen often enough that I didn’t really react. That’s fucked up in and of itself. But when the guy’s motivations started to come out, I became well and truly ill. Literally sick to my stomach. I’ve been thinking about it for days, and I find I still can’t quite put my thoughts in order. There are so many intertwined issues here, so please forgive me if this post seems disjointed. I’m just going to blurt out a bunch of stuff that may not be logically connected. Somehow it’s all relevant.

This guy was deeply disturbed. We all have to understand that his actions were the result of a mental illness and a profoundly unhealthy fixation. We need to work on our mental health care system in this country. Urgently. That’s not an excuse, though. Most folks who suffer from mental illnesses aren’t necessarily dangerous, so I don’t want to seem like I’m dismissing the other factors here. But he definitely wasn’t just your garden variety misogynist. He was angry at women for not having sex with him, and equally angry at other men for getting to have sex or relationships that they, seemingly, didn’t deserve. I think it could be said that he hated men as much as he hated women. What’s most disturbing to me is that he felt that sex was owed to him, that he had somehow earned it, and that it was unfair that other men who act like assholes get sex while he didn’t. He assumed that women were sleeping with everyone but him, that they are all sluts and he didn’t get to take advantage of their sluttiness and that was their fault.

This is ugly shit. I’m fascinated by all the different things that could have contributed to such a flawed worldview. Like looking at a bad car wreck or an infected wound, it’s disgusting but I want to know how it happened. Where did these expectations come from? What was he taught about love and sex? What did he absorb or twist around from culture and the media? What happens when the things that are so ubiquitous get filtered through a sick mind? I’m not going to blame the media outright. Not just the media, I guess. I talked about this a bit in my last post, so I won’t go on and on about the same things here, but sex is everywhere. The message we’re getting is that everyone is having sex all the time and that should be our goal, too. This simply isn’t true. It never has been.

I spent hours and hours reading the #YesAllWomen feed on Twitter the other night (it’s still going strong, you should go check it out, right now). And I realized that not only is sex everywhere, but sexism is everywhere. In little, almost ignorable ways, like a low hum. I suppose I hadn’t really thought about a lot of my experiences as having been influenced by sexism because this shit happens all the time. You learn to live with it. You’re expected to just get used to it. You assume that this is just how the world works and there’s no way you can change it. Reading through the #YesAllWomen tweets, I just sat there nodding my head, saying “Yep. Me, too” more often than I thought was possible. Let me be clear here, though: I’ve never been abused or assaulted. I don’t feel oppressed on a daily basis. But do I always walk through parking lots with my keys between my fingers and my cell phone in my hand in case I need to call 911? You’re damn right. Do I keep a death grip on my drink at the bar so it’s never out of my sight? Absolutely. Have people asked my husband how he “handles a girl like her”? More than once.

I’m not the sort of woman who gets whistled at on the street. A few years ago I was on vacation at the beach with a bunch of my friends, all ladies. We were walking down the boardwalk after dinner and I had fallen behind because I was digging through my bag looking for a lighter. I passed a bunch of frat boy-looking dudebros and one of them yelled out “Hey, fattie, your friends are hot.” All I could think to say was “Yeah, they are.” What do you do with that? That’s the kind of shit I’m talking about being an everyday occurrence. Because people think it’s okay to talk to other people like that. Maybe this isn’t really an issue of sexism, but of manners. I wish I could really convince myself that’s the case, but it feels delusional. A shocking number of times I’ve thought “Damn, I’m so lucky I’m not beautiful. This could be much, much worse.”

Obviously not all men are like that. Of course they’re not. But those are the guys who are the problem, and that’s why we’re talking about them. No need to jump to your own defense or point out overgeneralizations, gentlemen. I’m aware that things like the #YesAllWomen tweets make you feel like you’re getting lumped in with monsters. I acknowledge all the amazing men in my life who have given me stellar examples of manhood and humanity. My dad, stepdad, brother, uncles, cousins, friends, these guys are the reason I can spot assholery from a mile away. They’re the kinds of guys who would put someone in their place for yelling obscenities at a lady on the street or stop someone from taking advantage of a girl who’s passed out. So the “not all men” argument is valid, sure, but it still feels defensive. Don’t defend yourselves, guys. Rather, try to change the minds of other men who don’t know how to act. Set a good example. Say something, and don’t let the shit that makes you uncomfortable stand. If you wouldn’t let some dude talk to your mother or your sister or your daughter that way, you shouldn’t let him talk to a stranger that way, either.

And of course I realize that these complaints seem small when compared to others. Hundreds of girls got kidnapped from their school in Nigeria and the kidnappers said they would sell them all off. Sex trafficking is on the rise. A woman just got killed in India for marrying the man she loved instead of the one who her parents had arranged a marriage with. Transgender women have four times the chance of getting assaulted and raped than cisgender women. A Connecticut girl was murdered last month for turning down an invitation to her prom. I understand that a little catcalling seems like something we should all just get over because really, what’s the harm? The harm is that the burden of responsibility seems to rest on women for men’s actions. He whistled at you? Well, what were you wearing? He raped you? Well, how much had you had to drink? He beat you up for years? Well, why didn’t you just leave?

And I’m not even getting into things like unequal pay or insurance covering Viagra but not birth control or how the Senate committee on abortion was all men, none of whom were doctors. These problems are systemic, friends. So huge. I feel like I can’t see the forest for the trees, you know? I don’t know what the answers are. A couple of things I do know, though, for sure:

- No means no.

- I’m much more likely to analyze a woman’s appearance if she’s unpleasant (what the fuck is that about, brain?).

- If you refer to someone’s profession preceded by “lady,” I will not take you seriously. As in “lady lawyer” or “lady doctor” (assuming you’re not referring to a gynecologist).

- No one owes anyone else sex, ever, for any reason.

- I don’t own a mirror or a scale. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about myself or that I don’t take care of myself.

- Feminists don’t hate men.

- Every article I looked up about the #YesAllWomen hashtag had advertisements for diets or workouts on the sides of them.

- This whole incident will probably be hijacked and made about gun control rather than improving mental health care and underlying cultural misogyny.

And I know that I’m sad. This all makes me so, so sad. I’m sad for the people who died in this fucking idiot’s rampage. I’m sad for the people who think he was right. I’m sad that it took a hashtag and a million Tweets for some to realize that this shit is a real problem. I’m sad that if I have kids one day, I dread them being girls. I’m sad that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is going to be all about her being a woman. I’m sad that I have to listen to my little cousin talk about how ugly she is all the time and how her fourteen-year-old life is ruined because a boy didn’t text her back. I’m sad that my roommate’s ten-year-old asked me why I didn’t want to be skinny and told me that skinny is better, people like you more. I’m sad that female writers routinely choose gender-neutral pen names so that they’ll sell more books. I’m sad that women talking about these issues makes some people angry. Like, reeeeeally angry.

Anyway. Like I said, I’m sorry this post is all a big jumbled mess. But I just had to get it all off my brain. This stuff is important. We should talk about it. All of us.

 

 

All your expectations are a lie.

I love indie films. I’m a child of the 90s, so folks like Linklater and Smith are my non-Tarantino heroes. With the internet equalizing artistic endeavors and the studio system only giving a shit about movies that will make billions, indie directors are having a credible comeback right now. A renaissance, if you will excuse my using the snootiest of snooty terms. Allow me to introduce you, if you’re unfamiliar, to HitRECord (that’s “hit record” like the button, not “hit record” like the album – inflection is important kids, not just spelling). You know Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he of Third Rock From the Sun and Inception fame. The cute one with all the nice suits. Who inexplicably has a New York-ish accent even though he’s from Los Angeles. Yeah, that one. He’s fantastic. He started this company called HitRECord, and it’s fucking genius. They’re basically crowdsourcing art projects, putting writers and designers and directors and musicians in touch with each other. Building a community to collectively create. Such a great idea. I love it. But that’s not why we’re here.

We’re here to talk about Don Jon, the movie Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, produced, and starred in. I’d heard about it forever ago when he was doing the podcast circuit for the movie’s release and was stoked about it. Then it got added to Netflix and since Netflix looks completely different on my new computer I remained unaware that it was there. We’re going to have to have a chat, Windows 8. A serious chat.

Basic rundown: seemingly average dudebro Jon is just living his life. He walks the audience through his normal dudebro day, then offhandedly mentions how much he loves porn. The scene takes a hard right turn, devolving into a film-student-level deconstruction of the different kinds of porn then bam, back to the everyday blah blah. This is the first two minutes of the movie, but one already gets the idea that this is how this guy thinks all the time. So he meets a girl. Of course he does. And she won’t have sex with him immediately, which is unusual, so he’s intrigued. Of course he is. And some time goes by, they’re doing the couple thing. Eventually they do sleep together, and one night she catches him watching porn while she’s sleeping at his place (a low-class maneuver, folks – don’t, just don’t). He insists that it was emailed to him as a joke, that he doesn’t watch porn, that he’s not that kind of guy. Proceeding to fall in love and get serious with this lie hanging over his head, he starts to watch porn on his phone and in weird places, including in a class that the girlfriend bitchily manipulated him into taking. Such a junkie move, but it catches the attention of a classmate, a sort of free-spirited older lady who it seems doesn’t even register on his radar as female because she’s not absurdly hot and scantily clad. They become acquainted and he starts to look at the girlfriend in a different light. Unfortunately, friends, the rest is spoilers. I know! I’m so sorry. I hate to do that to you.

It sounds like a pretty stereotypical sort of movie when I write it all out like that, but I assure you that I’m leaving out some juicy nuggets of awesome. It’s well-written and beautifully shot, with a weird, repetitive structure that forces you to play Where’s Waldo? with the changes in his personality. It’s flawed, though, in a few key ways. We can maybe chalk that up to Gordon-Levitt doing the whole project himself and being either overworked or lacking support. Not that I’m blaming him, but it might have been distractingly ambitious. For example, the girlfriend (played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson) is obsessed with those cheesy romantic movies. There’s one scene when she’s watching one in a theater, and it’s shot like and has the same effects as the scenes when Jon is watching porn. It only happens once, and if you weren’t paying attention you could miss it. But I think this is a massively important plot point that informs her character and everything that happens in the rest of the film. Drawing attention to the analogy could have been done a little more clearly.

Those kinds of chick flicks (sorry if that’s an offensive term, ladies, but let’s be real – it’s accurate) have never been my thing. They’re boring. They’re formulaic. And they’re bloody dangerous. I’m of the opinion that they could, in high enough doses, be worse for us than porn. Besides being brainless, they promote a false idea of what love and relationships are all about, what they look like, how they’re supposed to play out. They’ve created a culture of women looking for the perfect man who fits all of their criteria. He doesn’t exist, y’all. Furthermore, they’ve made the meeting and the chasing and the catching seem like the important aspects of relationships. We’ve focused our attention on that early part, when everything’s new and exciting, and then you get to have the big pain in the ass wedding planning phase, and then your storybook princess dress and blah blah blah. Let me tell you, that’s the easy bit. The hard work comes after all that cute shit is over. And there’s a whole other type of movie that covers that.

I’ve noticed that married men are largely depicted in a certain way in movies: he’s the miserable guy, tied down and pushed around. He tries to talk his buddies out of getting married, right? Tells them to run away, to keep their freedom. Because men like those early chase parts, too, it’s just that their goals are different. We put great emphasis on sex being the endgame for men, and romance or marriage or family being the endgame for women. We want to trap them, apparently. Women are sexualized in advertising and media because we think that’s what it takes to nab a man, because men are just penises with legs. Then we make movies and tv shows about unhappy married men, the implication being that women use sex to their advantage and only to get what they want. This is all fucked up. Really, really fucked up. The truth is that women like sex, and a lot of men are happily married and love being dads. But we’ve set up these very specific expectations, through both of these before and after types of films, and when shit gets real people panic. We’re unprepared. We’re crushed, disappointed, angry, resentful. This is why the divorce rate is so high and tons of people cheat on their spouses, because we were lied to about love.

There’s a nice nod to this phenomenon in Don Jon but, again, you could miss it. The couple is at one of those home improvement-type stores, getting curtains for her apartment. He says he needs to buy Swiffer pads and she goes off on a rant about how a grown man shouldn’t be cleaning his own place, that even talking about it is embarrassing her, that it’s not sexy, that she’s going to send her cleaning lady over for him. It’s an interesting peek into how she thinks about men, manhood, adulthood, home life. Her expectations of how he should act are shaken, and the look on her face is pure rage and mortification. She’s utterly baffled that a man would take pride or pleasure in keeping his space clean, while we all know that the dudes with the nice, tidy apartments get laid more than slobs. Meanwhile, every commercial for cleaning products has a woman in it. Hurm.

But I digress. Back to porn. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people watching porn. As long as everyone in it is sober, disease-free, paid fairly, and over eighteen, I really don’t care. My only problem is, again, it sets up unrealistic expectations about what sex should be like. Especially for young men, obviously. This gap between porn and reality is handled very well in Don Jon. He understands and appreciates the differences and spells them out in excruciating, nuanced detail. The only real reasons normal, non-addict-level porn use would be an issue in a relationship are if, like Jon, one person prefers porn to the real thing or if someone tries to have porn-like sex with their partner and the partner’s not into it. Which is also never addressed in those dumb romantic movies, is it? They’re always perfectly in sync and it’s magical and beautiful and never awkward or sticky. They don’t even show the two seconds it takes to put on a condom. Absurd.

The fact of the matter is that porn has existed since humans figured out how to scratch stick figures onto cave walls. It’s not immoral or wrong, in and of itself. It’s only taboo because of the walls we’ve built up around sex in our culture. Truthfully, I don’t even think we need proper porn anymore. We have music videos and Victoria’s Secret ads shoved in our faces every hour of every day. And we’ve always had the power of our good old imaginations. But you can get addicted to anything. Porn addiction is very real, and it’s about more than orgasms. Much like heroin, the ritual is half of the high. Habitually eliminating the need for consideration of a partner can make people think about sex in a selfish, destructive, or aggressive way.

Which is also a point addressed fairly well in Don Jon. The whole movie is one-sided. It’s all about him. We don’t get to really delve into the girlfriend’s romcom addiction because he honestly doesn’t care where she’s coming from or why she acts the way she does. It’s a good metaphor for chronic masturbation, but it might be too subtle and just come off as gender-biased. That’s why I really love the other female character, the one Jon meets in his class. The brilliant and gorgeous Julianne Moore rocks this part. I like that the two women are so diametrically opposed. She’s older, more sensitive, and more real than any other women he would have even looked at twice. She’s got baggage. She has intelligent, open conversations with him about sex and porn and relationships. She blows his mind, basically, because he didn’t expect her. He would have written her off, she would have just been a background prop in his life. It’s another problem perpetuated by romantic movies, right? The guy falls for the most beautiful girl in the room, every fucking time.

Anyway. It’s a great movie. Fair warning, though, if you have delicate sensibilities, there’s a lot of porn snippets and sex scenes in this one. Proceed with caution. Maybe don’t watch it with your mom. And, while I’m here, a little piece of unsolicited advice: don’t look for a perfect mate. Perfect mates don’t exist because perfect people don’t exist. If you have a checklist in your head of requirements that someone has to meet for you to love them, you’re going to be alone forever. None of us gets to marry Lloyd Dobler or Jake Ryan. That fantasy amalgam porn girl you imagine probably has annoying habits just like anybody else. And while that beginning part is fun, you shouldn’t judge the whole relationship based solely on that initial chemistry. Ask yourself if she’ll make you soup when you’re sick and gross or if he’ll bring you daisies from the side of the road because you hate roses. Would they remember your best friend’s birthday? Would they sneak whiskey into Christmas so you can deal with your crazy family together? Do they love your dog? Just deal with reality, is what I’m saying. It’s all we’ve got.

 

My awesomeness is genetic.

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend. I think Mother’s Day is outright bullshit. Like a lot of other holidays, it seems to only exist so that corporations can focus and predict the ebb and flow of certain products. That seems like a cynical, anti-capitalist sentiment. Let me put it another way: I love my mom every single day. I tell her I love her all the time. I try to do things that would make her smile, just for the sake of her smiling. If I were to take one day and make it specifically about showing affection for my mother, shouldn’t it be my birthday? Doesn’t that make more sense? None of which is to say that you shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day, or show gratitude for your mom by making her day special, or enjoy being lavished in flowers and kisses and breakfasts in bed if you’re a mom yourself. All that stuff is nice. I’m just saying that I’d rather it happened more frequently and without the icky feeling of imposed obligation.

But seriously, call your mom, or whoever fills a mom-like role in your life.

My mom is awesome. I’ve talked about her a few times here on the blog. She’s an odd lady, with a fascinating patchwork of quirks. For instance, she used to be a champion body builder. This health nut hobby turned into a successful career as a nurse. And now she’s doing hospice care. I can’t even imagine how strong a person has to be to do that job. It’s beyond me. I’d just cry, all the time, all over everything. She also teaches hula dancing. She can scuba dive. She can drive a semi truck. Her bartending skills are the stuff of small town legend. She’s annoyingly crafty, always sewing or crocheting or creating something out of nothing. She loves to use a chainsaw. And, bonus, through all of these weirdnesses she’s been rocking a killer afro. So, yeah. I love my mom. She’s great. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

In the spirit of this crap holiday, I’ve made a list of moms. Some are good and some are terrible, but they’re all memorable. And, for cultural brainfood: isn’t it interesting that there are way more bad moms in horror than good ones? There’s something intrinsically nightmarish about our mothers being the bad guys. Lizard brain stuff, that. Equally interesting that there are more good moms in scifi, being that there are fewer moms in scifi overall. Apparently shitty moms are rare in the future. Good to know. Onward! To the lists!

The bad ones (in no particular order):

Lwaxana Troi – Star Trek: The Next Generation: The elder Troi is truly awful. She’s snide and condescending and materialistic and just…awful. One of those cranky old rich ladies who would be mean to you if you were her waiter, you know? And not because you’re a bad waiter, just because you’re a waiter at all. Or someone who would use the old “Do you know who I am?” to get you to do stuff she wants. Snooty bitches like that drive me right up a wall. Her character wouldn’t seem so horrible if she were anyone else’s mother, though. Deanna Troi is lovely and sometimes overly sweet to the point of seeming spineless. Lwaxana, while clearly loving her daughter, just steps all over her. I fucking hate that.

Margaret White – Carrie: Oh, holy Bible thumping, y’all. I’m all for families using religion to bring them closer in a healthy way, or even just to be part of a bigger community. But this bitch? This is the kind of religious psycho who needs to have her child taken away. Putting aside all the psychokinesis and bullying and whatnot that Carrie went through to become the blood-soaked freak we know and love, her mom is really the root of her problems. Locking your kid in a closet and telling them to pray? Insisting that her body is evil, or that she’s evil because of her body (like she has a choice in having one)? Purification through pain? It’s ugly, ugly, ugly and I’m glad Carrie knifed her with her brain.

Norma Bates – Psycho/Bates Motel: This character is different in the movie than she is in the show. Mostly because (spoiler alert) she was already dead in the movie. More coming on this comparison soon; I’ve only got two episodes of the show left to watch. Apparently, she was based on Ed Gein’s mother, and Norman Bates was, of course, based on Ed Gein. But when I think of Ed Gein’s mother, the character who comes more readily to mind is Leatherface’s mom. Because she was downright crazypants. Crazypants in this case being the literal skin of other human people. (To that end, when I think of Ed Gein, I think of Buffalo Bill. My points of reference are maybe not to be trusted here.) What’s interesting about Norma is that she didn’t really fuck her kid up that badly. Not on purpose. She was controlling and demanding and overbearing and overprotective, sure, and maybe a little weird about sex. But I think Norman would have gone batshit anyway, even if she had been normal. Possibly. Probably.

Mrs. Voorhees – Friday the 13th: The most under-appreciated serial killer of all time! It’s always Jason, Jason, Jason with these movies. I’ve had many a conversation when I tell people she was the killer in the first movie, and the response is almost always: “What? Really?” I suppose a case could be made that it’s such a bad movie, no one was paying attention by that point. It is truly a horrible film. I’m much more of a Freddy fan, if we’re talking about 80s slasher movie icons. Basically, the relationship between Jason and his mother is the reverse of the Bateses, right? Perhaps it was an homage to Hitchcock, perhaps a ripoff. Either way, I like the role reversal, and I like the reveal at the end of that movie. If you can make it all the way through, it’s worth it. It’s easy to say that people’s moms fuck them up and make them crazy, but the death of a child turning a mom into a serial killer is a rarer horror trope and a damn effective one.

The good ones (also in no particular order):

Rosemary Woodhouse – Rosemary’s Baby: I picked this one because she’s a good mom before she’s even a mom. The baby doesn’t show up until the last few minutes of the movie. It’s that whole thing where a woman’s body and brain becomes so crazed with baby magic that they’ll do anything to protect a person they haven’t met yet. That shit is powerful. Not to mention that this movie has a ton of awesome 70s Satanist fear and paranoia in the best Roman Polanski way possible, so she’s got a bunch of supernatural mindfuckery going on. It’s a great movie, and even with the weird twisty ending, she’s a great mom. Even the antichrist needs his diapers changed, right?

Beverly Crusher – Star Trek: The Next Generation: Yes, I know. ST:TNG is getting undue attention here. But compare Dr. Crusher to Lwaxana Troi, and their opposing parenting styles put them both even more firmly in their respective mom categories. Crusher is the best! I don’t know if they wrote her character specifically to be a fan-fucking-tastic role model, but it sure turned out that way. She’s a doctor. She’s a Starfleet officer. She’s patient and supportive with her geeky genius son. She’s beautiful. She’s a ginger. She’s funny. She’s a damn good shot with a phaser. If that’s not good mom material, I don’t know what is.

Sarah Connor – Terminator 2: Why the second movie, you ask? I’ll be honest here, I’ve only seen Terminator a couple of times. Terminator 2, however, I’ve probably watched fifty times. I love that movie. And Connor is a badass. Her kid is kind of a dick in the beginning, but to his credit he’s pretty smart about stealing money with that ATM card number generator gadget. Oh, 90s tech. Adorable. Also, why does Edward Furlong always play an asshole? Is it just his face? Anyway. She’s a badass. It’s that protective thing again, but taken to the armed-to-the-teethiest extreme. She’s a little nutty and knows full well that the robot uprising will soon destroy us all. It’s a wicked combination. She’s got nothing to lose except her son, which would literally mean the end of the world. Not a mom to fuck with.

Ellen Ripley – Aliens: In the first (and best) film of this franchise, we have no idea that Ripley is a mom. She just kicks major ass and saves the day, by herself, with a flamethrower, in her underwear. For real. In the second movie, we find out that she had a daughter who has since grown old and died. It’s a bummer, but it adds a little something to why she fought so hard to get home in the first movie. Really good retcon. Those are words I never thought I’d use together. Losing her daughter, though, seems to make her more fierce when she ends up having to protect a space orphan from her Gigeresque nemesis. You know the line: “Get away from her, you bitch!” Classic. Weirdly, the alien in this one is protecting her eggs, so one could say that she’s a good mom, too. Toothsome and horrible, but doing her job.

I’m sure there are more moms who should be on both of these lists. Maybe we’ll do it again next year. Ooh, with books. Because Dolores Claiborne. Right? Meanwhile, happy Mother’s Day to all you mamas out there. And aunties and grandmas and foster moms and single dads. I still think it’s a stupid holiday, but you deserve to be shown appreciation and gratitude. It’s a tough gig. Much respect.