31 July 2010

Day 126: Color Blind

Colorblind by Precious Williams.  ISBN: 9781596913387 (Advanced Reader Copy - publishes August 2010).

When I was growing up, and even into my college years a bit, I always kind of envied the black and other raced kids.  I know, it's a little messed up, but they had this whole identity path charted out for them and they had what seemed like four or five ways they could fit into their culture.  I didn't realize at the time how limiting that can be to someone who doesn't want to follow the path they're expected to by their cultural/ethnic peers or family members.

This is probably not coming out right and I'm showing my Stupid right now.  The thing is, being white comes with so many options that sometimes the only option for a white kid growing up is not to fit in at all.  By the time I hit high school I had moved so many places and seen so many things that it was practically impossible for me to fit in with anyone.  For a while I tried hanging out with the punks, but I didn't drink or do drugs.  Then I got into the theatre crowd, but I wasn't really accepted there either because I was willing to accept male roles in Mississippi, and that was weird even for theatre kids down there.  Not to mention it was hard to land a lead role unless you had been groomed from 9th grade by the theatre teacher.  That's just the way it was and I had fun and sucked it up, but in some ways there was a lot more suck than fun.

At least with the skin color it seemed that you automatically had some common ground.  As an outsider it felt like there was solidarity and camaraderie where there probably wasn't.  It took me a long time to get to a point where I realized that all of the good that comes from having a pre-prescribed identity also includes all of the bad, and that the bad usually outweighs the good.  There are cultural trends, etc. from other backgrounds that I wish I could claim, but I also wouldn't want to be saddled with the negatives, and it's not fair that people who are born into those backgrounds are sometimes encumbered by them.

I am making broad sweeping statements here, and I recognize that not every person of color has to deal with pressures to fit in culturally with their own race.  However, I imagine most do or at least have to deal with similar pressures from other cultures.  I've certainly had friends who were told they "act too white" by both their black and white friends.  This mentality isn't right, it shouldn't matter and people should be able to behave how they want to (within the law) regardless of their ethnicity.

30 July 2010

Day 125: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. ISBN: 9780141310886.

It takes a page and a half before our narrator, Melinda, gives us a rundown of all the clans, as she calls them, that students at her high school separate into.  In my time, we called them cliques, and my high school didn't have quite as colorful a selection.  I labelled my peers as I saw them: Jocks, Nerds, Preps, Goths, Burnouts, Shy Girls, Artists, and all the black kids.  I, of course, didn't fit in with any group.

The Preps liked me because I did their homework, but I was poor and couldn't take extra classes at the university in summer. The Jocks picked on everyone. Most of the rest were okay by me, but I didn't fit their style. Nerds came closest to being 'my people', because I wore glasses and got good grades, but even then, I don't think I had the same motivations a lot of them did. Plus, nerds in large packs are
really annoying.*

Thanks to a chance encounter halfway through tenth grade, I fell in with a group of about thirteen kids, from all grades, and found my circle of friends. I like to think we were far more tightly-knit than the other social groups. Rather than letting ourselves be outcast by them, we wore our lack of fitting in like a badge, proud of not being part of the herd. We sat around before and after school, playing role-playing games. We dreamed big stories about fantastic characters. We laughed at the outside world.

We called ourselves the Fire Hazards; funny story, that. One of our first hangouts was in front of the second-floor elevator, which was only accessible by faculty. We would group together there before class and do what we did. One day, the principal came by and told us we had to find somewhere else to sit, because we were being fire hazards by blocking the elevator. (Of course, you're not supposed to use elevators during a fire, right?) Like our outcast status, we took the designation and owned it, moving into the cafeteria.

I was kind of amazed in the book by the character Heather, who was trying desperately to fit in with one particular clan, the Marthas. I don't remember that sort of social competition in my school, but then again, I didn't care about it. I mean, yeah, fitting in would have been nice sometimes, but I would definitely be a different person now. I still carry a lot of high school with me; sometimes I wonder if I still haven't left it behind. So many of my best memories are from school; many of my attitudes were formed from things that happened in high school, too. But then, who I am was irrevocably shaped by everything that happened to me during my public school days, and my identity is forever tied to those Fire Hazards I used to call friends. Maybe I'll never be able to give it up; maybe I shouldn't. Who knows?

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't unemployed. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Wright State University in 2004 and a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Kent State University in 2009. He will make some lucky librarian a wonderful husband someday.

*Post originally written July 11, 2010 so the regular author could get caught up on her own reading/writing.

29 July 2010

Day 124: Evermore

Evermore by Alyson Noel.  ISBN: 9780312532758.

I so wanted to enjoy this book. It's been a while since I read a book that I've just...oh wait no, nevermind, I really liked Little Women and Werewolves so I can't complain about not reading good books recently.  I think I'm so annoyed with this because, despite the fact I was able to read it in two days, it was so repetitive that it feels like I've been reading it for ages.

I am now convinced that Evermore is not the title, so much as the answer to the question, "How much longer do I have to read about Haven eating cupcakes and Damen pulling red tulips out of Ever's ass ear?"  Congratulations Twilight you now have company in the vomit club, as in the club of books that make me want to vomit.

Why do I have a problem with these books?  I don't know, I'm just tired of seeing young girls stay in relationships where their partners are playing mind games with them.  Yes, I know they're young women and they're going to make mistakes, but why do they have to make mistakes with people who live forever.  That is an abusive or potentially abusive relationship they will never be able to escape from.  This is a deeply terrifying thought to me.  Not only that, but these are decision that should not be happening between a 17 year old girl, regardless of the number of reincarnations, and a 600+ year old man.  Knock off a zero from the age, but keep the same level of hotness and tell me age is just a number.  No, 60 year olds think a hell of a lot differently about everything, but especially about relationships.  I know because I think differently about relationships than I did 10 years ago.

I am not saying that all relationships between younger women and older men are bad or automatically doomed to fail.  I just don't think they need to be romanticized this way, especially without a hell of a lot of additional parenting.  If you just hand this book out to your daughters without talking about the issues involved, you might as well be giving her the keys to a frat house and telling her the first hot guy she meets who messes with her head and is "perfect" is the one for her.  On one level I do realize that teenagers are not that stupid.

On the surface.  

A lot of that shit gets internalized in such a bad way that it takes years to scrape it from the inside of our skulls. Young women get told over and over again that they mature faster than boys and you know what, we believe it.  Which means we feel that young men our age are beneath us and not "datable."  These are exactly the men we should be dating, because they have exactly the same amount of dating experience as we do.  When I was 14-21 I wish I had been dating men my age.  Instead I was dating anywhere from 4-11 years older than myself.  The grossest and most regrettable being the 21 year old I dated when I was 14.  If I could go back in time I would beg my mother to press charges, to get a restraining order, anything to keep me away from that "man."  These are not the people we need to be encouraging our young women to wait for.

I don't care if they claim to be patient like Damen does at the end of the novel.  He sure as hell stuck his hands down her pants quick enough and manipulated her physically into wanting intimate contact.  He did not ask beforehand how far she was comfortable with going but waited for her to tell him to back off.  That is not the behavior of a gentleman or of someone who has your best interests in mind, and I don't know why we think this is okay or romantic.  It's not.

I would have less of a problem with these books if I knew that every single teenager who read them understood what is wrong about what is in them and had someone they could talk to about it.  I wish that these books came with required parenting, but somehow I doubt that they do, and that thought scares me and sickens me more than anything I've been through.  Because it means one more girl has to live through what I have and find a way to fix all the fucked up ideas about relationships she has.  And she may not be as lucky to get off as "lightly" as I did.

28 July 2010

Day 123: Firmin

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage.  ISBN: 9781566891813.

There's a moment when Firmin the rat describes the bookstore he lives in.  He mentions the organization system; some of the books are categorized, and others are strewn about.  People enjoy both and like the feeling of browsing, they love coming across something wonderful and unexpected in amongst the mediocre.

I think many readers can probably relate to this, not only with purchasing or browsing for books, but also with finding that perfect book — the book that changes your life the moment you read it and stays with you forever.  We all have those books, they are precious too us.  These are books that just come along and seem to save us at just the right time, even if we didn't know we needed saving.  There have been a number of those books for me.  I think I'll include them here, and as much as in order as I can remember them. 

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  Not only was this my first major chapter book, but it was the first "adult" book I read.  Yes, it's geared towards children, but it was the first book that I read that didn't try to diminish or dull the pain of loss, not only of a beloved pet, but of the moment in childhood when you become responsible for making difficult decisions for yourself and your family.  I think I may have read this book too young, because I took that message very seriously, but I don't regret the person it made me. 

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Apparently there are now sequels to this book.  Given that this book blew my mind when it first came out when I was...8 years old.  Yes, it was above my reading level, but there was so much to think about that I think about it almost every day.  I am not kidding.  I think about this book all the time.  It's probably time for a reread, which is something I very rarely do.  I'm almost afraid because what if it's not as life-altering as I remember it?  Well, I guess the last 17 years already say otherwise so I should stop worrying about it.  Once again this was more along the lines of making hard decisions at a young age. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.  This is the book that I recommend to anyone and everyone who wants to know me and how I think.  I discovered this book about the age of 14, close enough to the main character's age that it really got to me.  Both of our worlds were falling apart, and yes hers was changing a little more rapidly and dramatically than mine, but she was doing something about it.  It gave me the courage to do the best I could in preparing a better life for myself sometime in the future since I knew my life couldn't change right at that moment.  I was in a situation and a place that I had no control over, Butler showed me not only a way out of the dark times, but how to make it so the future dark times didn't seem so dim. This is an important book. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  This is one of several books I read by kerosene lamp while on co-op in middle of nowhere Tennessee.  This book came to me about 3 years after my brother had been kicked out of the house and I stopped speaking to him.  It was the book that made me think it was time to let go of the anger, even if I wasn't quite ready to forgive him and I definitely wasn't ready to let him back into my life.  It wasn't really until two years ago (more or less from today**) that I started talking to my brother again.  I was able to live my vengeance through the Count and let everything else go. 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I read this recently.  Some of you might even remember.  I almost wish that this was the book that made me want to be a librarian.  It almost saddens me that I didn't read it until almost a year after receiving my degree, and if you want to get a librarian a graduation present that isn't a Nancy Pearl Action figure* then might I recommend a really swanky copy of this book.  Preferably with a witty inscription and a couple of twenty dollar bills slipped between the pages.

 *I have my picture with the real Nancy Pearl!
**This means we didn't talk to each other for about 7-8 years.
**Dayna Ingram asked me to blog about this book, although she did not recommend a topic (this time).  Send me a recommendation at acampb8@kent.edu or my Twitter account @libs_lib.

27 July 2010

Day 122: Firmin

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage.  ISBN: 9781566891813.

Firmin is a literary rat, he eats and reads books.  There wasn't as much book eating and tasting as I was hoping for.  I really wanted more descriptions of what the books tasted like to Firmin.  The ones he did mention were from the perspective of a rat, so I thought I would share with you how I feel books would taste, by genre if nothing else.

Non-fiction tastes like broccoli.  The bad kind is super raw broccoli.  It's there on my plate, and I'm required to eat the roughage, sans ranch dip.  Stomach aches, bloating and gas to follow.  Good non-fiction is still broccoli, but it varies from lightly steamed, to covered in delicious cheese sauce (or humor as I like to call it) to make it more palatable.  I've read some fabulous non-fiction in my times and it seems to be getting more palatable all the time.  Part of this may because my palate has matured and I'm no longer forced to eat my broccoli and sprouts, but eat them gladly.

Memoir somewhat reminds of the Seder Plate.  I'm not Jewish, but as a Unitarian we tend to explore the traditions of other religions and cultures.  The Seder Plate consists of an arrangement of foods meant to symbolize the Exodus of Egypt.  To me the act of writing a memoir is itself a ritual, so I find this particularly fitting to "taste" ritual when I read ritual.  The plate is comprised of sweet, bitter, salty, and includes meat and egg.  This very much summarizes how I feel about memoirs: some are more balanced than others, while others tip more towards the bitter or sweet, but I think it's a very fitting analogy.

Science Fiction reminds of the exotic foods (at least to American palate).  It's definitely not for everyone, you have to have a taste for it, to be willing to eat squid and octopus and pigeon and rattlesnake (all things I've eaten by the way).  It has a flavor that you can get close to describing, but not close enough.  The only way you can truly experience it is to live it, but since you can't live science fiction (at least not yet), you can read the descriptions and imagine the reality as close as possible.  Some of the flavors you can taste, but unless you actually go to the county the food is made in, you will be eating the version that is adapted to your palate.  It is foreign and familiar at the same time.

Fantasy is kind of a hard one to peg down.  I'd say it's the Jello or perhaps the Gelato of the literary world.  It's delicious, that cannot be denied, but it's sort of amorphous as well, or it melts on the tongue too quickly and you feel compelled to shove another bite in your mouth.  When you're done with the bowl there's a sense of satisfaction and an anticipation for the next time you can get your hands on a good one.  As someone not overly fond of Jello, I would say that's what bad fantasy tastes like, but damn do I love Gelato.

Novels, they range in tastes.  Maybe they're a buffet.  Yes, a buffet like Golden Corral.  You mostly get the basic flavors, the mac'n'cheese, the green beans, roast beef, and some dessert to boot.  We also tend to glut on novels (or general fiction) and ignore other genres.  It's easy to do because they tend to be pushed on us as being closer to our lives than science fiction or fantasy, so they must be more "valuable."  But everything in moderation, dear reader (I know, I'm not very good at moderation either).

Horror/Suspense is kind of like the new dish you've been wanting to try, but it's so out of your usual tastes that you're never sure if you should take the leap of faith.  The pleasure of thinking about eating it is sometimes more delicious than the actual eating.  Even when it's good you sometimes regret eating it because of the results (oops, who knew I was allergic to conch?*).

Mystery is like bread.  White, tasteless, non-nutritious bread.  It's formulaic and dull and boring, but sometimes you can make a damn fine sandwich with it.  But then, the focus is never really the bread, now is it?  I prefer novels that have an element of mystery without it actually being A Mystery.  There are rare exceptions that are more like a nice pumpernickle or French loaf, maybe even some raisin bread if you're lucky.  Mystery lovers will disagree with me here, but to me - white bread.  It's obviously a library staple, though, and I respect it as such, but I wouldn't eat it on a regular basis.

Young Adult, oh I love YA Fiction.  It is dessert.  I try to eat sparingly, but I have such a bad sweet tooth.  Books like The Hunger Games are more of a cheese tray or a frozen yogurt - a slightly healthier choice, but oh so good.  You have books like Twilight, which are like penny candy: I'll eat it if it's around, but it's certainly not my first choice and sometimes I'll skip it altogether.  But I love most the truly enjoyable reads that have a certain denseness to them like a good brownie or rich cake.  I'm drooling, how about you?

Romance, strangely, is like whipped cream.  There is nothing good in those calories, but damned if I don't eat it anyway.  It goes well with other genres, but on it's own there's something shameful about just eating whipped cream.  At the worst it's like a Diet Coke: not only is it overly sweet and bad for you, but there's no caloric value at all.

*Surprise! Oh the horror.  PS: I don't know if I'm allergic to conch, but this is supposedly how most people find out...and on vacation.
**Dayna Ingram asked me to blog about this book, although she did not recommend a topic (this time).  Send me a recommendation at acampb8@kent.edu or my Twitter account @libs_lib.

26 July 2010

Day 121: Harriet Brown (author and guest blogger)

Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown.  ISBN: 9780061725470 (advanced reader copy, publishes in September 2010).

Six years ago, I thought I knew all about eating disorders. They were, I thought, what rich white girls did when they wanted attention, when their families were neglectful, or abusive, or otherwise dysfunctional. They were distasteful to me, eating disorders, and I felt judgmental about them. They represented a failure of parenting in my mind. But my family was neither neglectful nor abusive, and so my daughters were never going to get an eating disorder.

Wrong on all counts.

When my 14-year-old daughter, Kitty, began to get anxious and obsessed, I did wonder briefly if she could have an eating disorder. She was thin, but she’d always been thin. She hadn’t lost a lot of weight, and she wasn’t throwing up or using laxatives. And, well, we just weren’t that kind of family. Both our kids were fairly outspoken about what they needed, and my husband and I were pretty responsive parents. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to parenting, but it seemed like we were doing OK.

But Kitty was diagnosed with anorexia, and thus began our family’s long trip to the nightmare world of eating disorders. My husband and other daughter and I watched as Kitty became sicker and sicker, and we had no idea how to help her. Neither, it seemed, did the doctors who treated her. “Don’t be the food police, Mom,” one therapist told me. I was supposed to sit at the table and watch my bright, precocious, funny, outgoing daughter diminish into a haunted, angry shadow of herself. I was supposed to watch the light dwindle in her eyes, her hands turn into claws, her flesh become bone, and—what? Talk about the weather?

As a journalist, I’m used to looking for answers. And so I looked, all that spring, and what I found shocked me:
• Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness; 20 percent of all anorexia sufferers die from the disease—half from malnutrition, half from suicide.
• Recovery statistics were grim: maybe 30 to 40 percent of all sufferers recovered; many stayed chronically ill for the rest of their lives.
• No one knows exactly what causes anorexia, and so . . .
• There’s little to no consensus about how to treat it.
• With treatment, the average length of illness is 5 to 7 years. With treatment.

I used my journalist’s instincts to dig deeper, and discovered the one evidence-based treatment for anorexia in teens. We used it to help our daughter get well.  Over the next 18 months or so, as our daughter recovered—slowly, painfully, courageously—I began talking to other families who were going through the same process. I kept bumping up against the fact that there’s been very little research on anorexia and bulimia. One big reason is that most families who go through it are shamed into thinking it’s all their fault. And families who are shamed don’t push for more research, better treatments, better answers. They suffer and cope in silence.

So I wrote this book, Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia, to help break the silence. I wrote it to help the lucky families, the ones who will never have to go through this themselves but who know someone with an eating disorder. (Most people do, whether they’re aware of it or not.) I wrote the book to pull together the scientific evidence as I saw it and push forward a research agenda on these illnesses. Most of all, I wrote the book so families would know they had a choice about treatment, and so they would not feel so alone.

Harriet Brown is an assistant professor of magazine journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in Syracuse, NY. She writes often for the New York Times and other magazines and newspapers. She blogs about food, eating, and body image at Feed Me!, harrietbrown.blogspot.com. For a list of upcoming stops on her book tour, visit harrietbrown.com.

*Photo Credit: © Jamie Young.

25 July 2010

Day 120: Brave Girl Eating

Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown.  ISBN: 9780061725470 (advanced reader copy, publishes in September 2010).

"You don't deserve to eat.  You're weak, unworthy.  You are disgusting.  You don't deserve to live."  Page 2.

This is something that goes through the minds of anorexics.  What you might not know is that they are not unknown to fat people, at the very least not to this fat person.  Of course the reaction is often very different.  Oh sure, I try to eat small portions and eat healthy.  I try to avoid fast food and even restaurants.  I work out, sometimes obsessively.  But then I get to the point where I feel so bad about myself, I never lose the weight, and so something in my brain tells me, "You're disgusting and you'll always be disgusting.  Even if you lose the weight, you will still be gross, you might as well eat.  You should eat until you can't eat anymore, because at least if you're fat they'll hate you for that and not because you're who you are."

I don't even really want to be thin.  At my smallest I was 170 and a size 14.  That was acceptable to me.  I've always been pretty muscular, so even when I was that thin I was always hungry, probably because I wasn't getting enough protein to maintain my muscle mass.  I really just want to be a size where I can feel like other people don't think I'm as disgusting as I feel I am.

It's really not a matter of willpower.  I can tell you right now, willpower will not help in this situation.  Thin/normal people don't seem to get that.  Overeating in most cases is a compulsion.  Once I start eating, I have a very hard time stopping until I am full.  I eat slowly and this helps, but unfortunately I still have to eat to survive.  If I could give up food altogether, as much as I love the act and process of eating and the socialization usually associated with it, I would give it up to be healthy.  But it's not like alcohol where I could give it up and never touch a drop again if I had to.  Biologically I am required to eat food and consume calories, so I'm stuck in this cycle and there's this almost endless feeling of guilt associated with eating.  As a fat person, I feel like I'm not allowed to eat at all, because every bite I put into my mouth is judged by someone else.

These are the feelings I have on my worst days.  Generally, I'm a pretty happy person and I do actually like myself.  It took me a while to get there, but I am happy.  These thoughts only pop up when I'm at my worst, when I'm actively trying to lose weight (which is the main reason why dieting is so unpleasant).  Somehow I think if the self-loathing thoughts didn't occur so often during dieting I would be able to lose and keep the weight off easier.  Anyway, I'm disabling comments on this one, because trust me, I've heard it all before.

24 July 2010

Day 119: Brave Girl Eating

Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown.  ISBN: 9780061725470 (advanced reader copy, publishes in September 2010).

I'm not putting the cover where I normally do because I want to show you a little something that makes me slightly ill.

Okay.  Here it is:
Yup.  Nothing like having a book cover for anorexia piggy back off of a book about creepy, emotionally abusive stalker vampires.  I accept that the apple image is pretty common thanks to some artist figuring that it must've been an apple that was the forbidden fruit.  But if you think about the foods that an anorexic would find forbidden, I don't think apples are high on the list given that they're mostly comprised of cellulose.*  And if she's a brave girl eating, I think I would have found the cover more compelling if we could see her face and if she had a loaded fork (maybe with spaghetti that's turning into snakes, that would really represent anorexia to me).  This is so passive; the headless girl is offering us the food when she should be confronting her fear and eating it herself.

The whole point of this book is to supposedly humanize one particular family and their struggle with anorexia.  Why would you have such a bland cover as this?  Whereas the point of having photographs and videos of people with their heads cut out of the frame is to encourage feelings of anonymity.  We don't know these people, we've never known them, and even if we do there's no way to recognize them so they could be anyone.  Somehow I don't think that was the message that Brown was trying to convey.

For some reason these two covers in conjunction made me think of a webcomic strip I saw recently, I'm actually just going to link to it because it's a full panel: Sucks to Be Weegie.**

Yeah, that's about right.  This is the message my brain is hammering into my head between these two books.  If I want a super hot overly obsessive boyfriend who probably thinks I'm interchangeable with any other girl then I apparently need to be as skinny as possible.  Love that message.  I know I'm seeing things that aren't there, but I wish, wish, wish that publishers would think about more than "This cover will make my book sell" when they select cover art.

I wish our culture wasn't obsessed with deadly thinness, or with sparkly vampires.  I wonder how many girls are starving themselves (physically, emotionally, from actual healthy relationships or potential relationships) because they're waiting for their Edward.  And really Meyer is all about the emotional anorexia.  She's teaching girls not to have feelings or thoughts for anyone but Edward, who is obviously not good for us (you can argue with me, but a hoard of hungry vampires and a vampire tooth cesarean say otherwise).  We can love the things that are bad for us, but that doesn't mean we need to or should accept them into our lives.

*Added 7/27/2010.  One of my readers brought it to my attention that all foods are forbidden.  I specifically had in mind the passages in the book where Kitty would bargain with her parents to purchase or buy food that would not assist with her recovery so that even when she was eating, it wasn't "as bad."  I did not mean to imply that anorexics are thin because they only eat healthy food or any other nonsense.  I recognize it as the legitimate and terrible disease that it is.
**The rest of Kevin Bolk's work can be found on his deviant art page.

23 July 2010

Day 118: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.  ISBN: 9780441478125.

 I mentioned the dual-sex of the Gethenians in my previous post.  Let me explain that a little more.  During the average day a Gethenian has no sex drive and no particular gender.  However, they are not what I would consider androgynous.  Androgyny still works within a gender binary, and Gethenians have a gender, it's just that they only have one.  They are only sexually potent for a few days every 26-28 days (in keeping with traditional human fertility cycles).  This period is called kemmer and during kemmer Gethenians will transition into either males or females.  If a Gethenian is impregnated they will stay female for the duration of the pregnancy and nursing.

How amazing would it be to live in a world where gender only matters three days out of the month?  I mean, I love sex, I love having sex almost any day of the week, but it be would nice not to have to deal with the hormones and the awkwardness involved on a daily basis.  And since Gethenians aren't required to work during kemmer, it's easy enough to avoid awkward situations by simply not being around people you don't want to have sex with.

Also, I bet you if we only had one gender we'd have much better birth control options.  It seems that females have automatically been shouldered with the burden of not only having children, but also of preventing them.  We're often even expected to be the ones to make men to wear condoms, which is downright bullshit if you ask me.  And I'd bet that on the job childcare would be standard if everyone had babies.

But these aren't the only benefits that would occur from an Only gender society.  People would be free to be as emotional or stoic as they pleased, to be strong or sympathetic, or combinations of both in whatever mixes they want.  Genderization has done more to stunt our emotional and societal growth than any other problem I can think of off the top of my head.  It automatically limits the potential of every human being to be what they should be based on whether they can impregnate or be impregnated (and therefore how they should supposedly behave).  

Not to mention it seems to be almost criminal if a woman neglects her child (which for a woman means not putting her child at the top of every single list every single waking moment of the day), where as it is seen as normal for men.  Really, I think our society needs a little more accountability all around.  Women need to be more accountable for not breeding with assholes, and men need to just stop being assholes in assuming that a baby is "not their problem" just because they don't have to go through pregnancy.

If you're wondering if I'm a man-hating bitch, the answer is yes.  I hate men who think they're Men but don't actually know what it means to own up and be a Man.  I have bigger balls than many of the supposed "men" I've met, and that's just the sad truth of it.

What do you think your life would be like if you weren't a man or a woman, but both and neither?

22 July 2010

Day 117: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.  ISBN: 9780441478125.

I decided to read this with my fiance because I yanked it out of his hand at the library one month and shoved Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey's Elvenbane into his hand instead.  It wasn't until we decided to read this together that I realized I haven't ready any LeGuin before this.  

Readers, this makes me slightly ashamed of myself.  I am a huge sci-fi fan.  It is my genre of choice, and the fact that I haven't read someone who's been in the business for over 50 years is just kind of lame.  On the other hand, I do have a tendency to shy away from the founders of sci-fi because the writing tends to be clunky.  It's almost like they used a scientific method to write the books.  Not that they're formulaic, they wrote the formulae, but the sentence structure in Asimov, etc. is so stodgy it feels like they methodically cycled through a list of options before figuring out which one was the best catalyst.  Not necessarily the best way to write a compelling novel.

LeGuin is a tiny bit stodgy, but I think this has more to do with the tastes of the time.  She also wrote a compelling anthropology of a completely fictional race of human beings.  That is a fantastical feat.  Not only did she create myths, culture, history, politics, and gender for these beings, but she wove it into a readable narrative.  I've always been somewhat fascinated by anthropology because it actually involves the study of two cultural perspectives.  Despite any attempts to be neutral, anthropology by its nature cannot be neutral.  Even if no judgments are being made on the culture being studied, there is still the issue of presenting that culture in terms that the audience will be able to understand.  Some cultural differences are so alien to other cultures that it has to be explained in terms that don't define it exactly, but that get close enough that the concept can be retained and eventually digested in a way that is close enough to the original concept.

There are several elements of Gethenian culture and physiology that are so alien that they would be difficult to accept (particularly by anyone in the European mindset).  The first one is probably the concept of Shifgrethor.  Maybe twenty years ago I would say it was the dual-sex of the Gethenians, but transgender people are becoming more and more common, which is not the same, but I think it does make it easier to accept the idea of genders outside of male or female.*  Shifgrethor on the other hand is a kind of fluid concept; it seems to incorporate a sense of honor and decorum and hospitality and protocol and a couple of other things.

You can offend someone's Shifgrethor, which felt (to me) like it was the equivalent of calling a man a faggot.  Not in the sense that you are actually implying that a man has sex with a man, but that they are Unmanly, and negatively so.  Since the Gethenians don't have separate genders, you can't imply that they are less manly or less feminine, but you can imply that they are less Them.  It doesn't involve their humanity so much as it involves how well they fit in with society.  The same kind of goes for the terms faggot, nigger, dyke, and many, many others whose use I really don't encourage (including the ones mentioned here).  

Yes, on the one hand they are terms for differences between us, but they are also used in a way that singles out the Others.  They are a means of separating Others from the normal in a way that gay, black, or lesbian do not.  These latter terms are a means of defining without setting the individuals outside of the norm or insulting their Shifgrethor if you will.  Whereas the previous terms carry connotations of distaste and imply that these individuals are somehow inferior and unwanted, that is why they are so repulsive.  They automatically conjure up images and feelings of being cast out (or never included), and as social creatures that is one of the most offensive thoughts we can have.

*I recognize that transsexual people typically choose to be a different gender than the one they were born into.  And I recognize them as their chosen gender, however I know that the transitional stages have helped me to become more aware of different genders and gender options.

21 July 2010

Day 116: Hope Anne Nathan (guest blogger)

Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen by Mark Rudd.  ISBN: 9780061472756.

Oh, Mark Rudd. What am I going to do with you?

I've been reading his most recent memoir, Underground: My Life With SDS and The Weathermen. And reading it, I've been very annoyed with Mark Rudd. Mainly I've been annoyed by his lack of responsibility for his own actions, like, ever. The book is story after story about how he was just naïve; young, impressionable, and swept away by more charismatic leaders (who were really the ones who believed in violence; Mark Rudd was just confused).

And did anyone else follow the above link to the book and notice that he got the name of his own book wrong?

But today I found the sentence that just so summed up why this dude annoys me.

He was writing about a chance sexual encounter -- a one night stand (well, one afternoon stand) with a married woman, a liberal who was offering assistance to the Underground. And in describing how he felt in that moment, Underground radical bedding this more mainstream artist woman, Mark Rudd writes:

"My penis was a magic wand of liberation."

Oh was it now?

Yes, I know he was talking about how he felt as a young twentysomething radical, full of all the ego and bravado that comes with the package (so to speak). But seriously: there are some thoughts that should remain private (again, ahem). Your every inner monologue does not need to be shared with the entire planet.

Dude is a teacher now. How the fuck (cough, cough) could any student ever take him seriously after reading that?

Repeat it with me:

"My penis was a magic wand of liberation."

Hope Anne Nathan is currently unemployed and living in New York City. She received her BA in Communications from Antioch College in 1992, and has used her degree to work in a food co-op, a video rental store, and a haunted house. When not job hunting, you can find her blogging at http://hopita.livejournal.com.

*This post was taken as is from Hope's livejournal (with permission).
**If you'd like to read more about penises from guest bloggers, well, take a look at what Dayna Ingram has to say.

20 July 2010

Day 115: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. ISBN: 9780380789023. 

We Can Get Them for you Whole Sale, Page 204-214.

The basics behind this short story, man contacts "pest control" to have a person from his office removed, they offer him a bargain and this quickly spirals out of control to the point where the man asks how much it would cost to kill everyone.  The more people he wants killed the cheaper it is.

The idea is that human life is not worth very much on a whole.  We are not a particular inspiring species.  We've completely taken ourselves out of our niche in nature, so we aren't even contributing to the whole "web of life" deal.  We are a rather miserable group of animals who behave atrociously, and we don't even have "animal instincts" to blame for it, because we're more god damned evolved than that.

There are even days where I wish a plague would just come along and wipe out half of the population.  This is entirely selfish, because I think we've gotten to the same state of overpopulation that Europe faced briefly before the bubonic plague...you know... the Black Death (and it's lesser known sequel).  I sort of wonder if the scientists have it all wrong about cancer.  Maybe it's not because there are carcinogens in the air and we're consuming too many preservatives and eat out of too much plastic.  After all, humans have been doing stupid and harmful shit to themselves for millenia.  I propose that humans themselves are toxic to each other.  There are so damned many of us that we give each other cancer.  Maybe being around all of the pheromones and other chemicals our bodies put out triggers something in our bodies that says, "Holy shit, there are a lot of you wandering around.  Time to thin the herd!"  Hell, maybe it explains general stupidity or the ease at which we seem to make huge mistakes as a species (I'm looking at you BP Oil).

But yeah, I could use a little global population-reducing catastrophe right now.  As terrible as the Black Death was, things improved dramatically for people who survived.  The serf system was no longer supportable, so there went slavelike work conditions.  Wages rose, people had a chance to move up through the ranks and obtain land for the first time.  The times became a more liberal because you had a more diverse landholders (i.e. important people who had sway in politics).

Of course, when you shrink humanity down to the people you know, the individuals, it's not such a great idea.  I wouldn't want to see my fiance die (as much as I tease him about it), or my mother, or much of anyone I know personally.  And I know that everyone has their own unique talents and worth, but it's so hard right now.  It's hard to see that when I'm getting conflicting messages about how wonderful I am (family and friends) and how I'm just not good enough (pretty much any job I apply to).  It's not that my career of choice is obsolete, or that I'm not qualified, it's that I'm a number.  I am one more cover letter in a pool of hundreds, and there is no way I can showcase my individuality that way.  Human Resources has very little to do with the humanity of individual applicants or even employees, because the emphasis is and always has been on the resource.  Right now, there's just a little too much supply and not enough demand.

*Post originally written June 20, 2010.  I'm takin' a day off folks.

19 July 2010

Day 114: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  ISBN: 9780141181226.

I've always found the concept of group therapy interesting.  I actually participated in it for awhile sometime around 2nd or 3rd grade.*  In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the logic for group therapy is to show how the patients don't fit in to normal society by having the rest of the group critique them.  See, this is why I never really got group therapy (and on some level this includes AA and similar groups): how are you supposed to judge what is normal when the group consists overwhelmingly of people who have the same problems you do?

I do think it's valid to have these groups.  It is useful to have some feedback on your behavior and thoughts from people at different levels of recovery/craziness who have been where you are now and can show you that it is not impossible to be cured.  But it might be more beneficial to have a slightly higher mix of people who don't have the same problems, or possibly who are victims of the problem (because let's face it, those people need therapy too).  These people would not need extensive training, but would definitely need some and must be empathetic to the patients' plight.  I would be interested to see if there have been studies that used this method, and how successful it was.

I've also noticed that people who are drawn into psychotherapy tend to be slightly crazy themselves.  It's like you almost have to be a little crazy to want to help crazy people.  And most of the professionals don't seem to notice it about themselves, but I've talked to other patients of therapists I've had and they've agreed with me, "Yeah, the doc is a little off."  I'm sure that those who don't start out crazy eventually end up that way.  I know I had to do a little impromptu therapy at the insurance job I had, and by the end of my shift the last thing I wanted to do was deal with anyone's problems but my own.   It kind of makes you wonder if there are any "normal" people left: if the crazy people are normalizing the crazy people, won't they still bit just a tiny bit crazy?

*I was misdiagnosed with Depression, when I was actually just depressed.

18 July 2010

Day 113: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  ISBN: 9780141181226.

This is one of those books that I liked, but didn't like.  And yes, this is going to be a sort of review post, because I don't think I can let this one slip.  There are things I hate about this book, but unlike Catcher in the Rye, I can actually see a lot of value in it.

For one thing, there's quite a bit of blatant racism and sexism present.  This is not something I'm comfortable with.  At all.  On the other hand, this was a work of its time and I think it accurately depicts how people actually thought.  It was normal to casually harass women and throw around racial epithets.  It explains my grandfather's beliefs and put it into a context for me that I wouldn't otherwise have had.  Yes, my grandfather was racist, but at that time everyone (particularly in his economic class) was racist and slung around terms that I thankfully never heard from him first hand.

However, I also wonder if maybe this behavior was intensified because of the situation these men were in.  Most of the patients were white, and here they were being run by a large breasted matron (seriously, her breasts were mentioned often) and a squad of black orderlies.  In a time when these were considered inferior beings that was probably a difficult notion to wrap a straight white male head around, especially if already put into a situation of powerlessness (institutionalization).  In some ways they actually used racism and sexism to regain some amount of power, or at least what they perceived as power.  I'm not saying this is right, because obviously it's not, but it's interesting that this was part of the white male psyche at the time.

There was also quite a bit of insinuation that the black orderlies buggered the inmates.  I don't know if that actually happened on the ward, but this is another instance of the power play that goes on in this book, and it adds another element of race/sex/power/powerlessness.  Most white men aren't used to being buggered, and even more aren't used to being forcibly buggered.  This would be another reason to try to regain some sort of authority in a situation where they actually have none.  I somehow feel that this may also be a little bit of the author's racism showing through, because it appears that all of that black orderlies participate in this activity, and therefore all blacks must be sexual deviants* (but then, that may be because Nurse Ratched hand picks the orderlies).

This novel also helped me discover exactly why I don't like Catcher in the Rye.  The narrator is fucking crazy.  I can't get in to crazy head space.  It noticeably agitates me, both physically and my way of thinking.  It's almost like anyone who can write crazy that well has to be crazy/stoned/both.  I'm pretty sure Kesey was both.  Bromden was a little easier to deal with than Caulfield, simply because I liked Bromden better.  He actually had shit to complain about (being threatened with shock treatment and lobotomy), where the worst that Caulfield really had to complain about was "a bunch of phonies" when he was the biggest damn phony there was.  This is also why I didn't like the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  The crazy really seems to get to me.  I don't know if that means that I'm prone to craziness myself, or if it's so different from the way I think and see the world that it's completely disorienting and therefore unpleasant, but I think I'll be avoiding Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and anyone else who writes the crazy particularly well.  I salute your efforts, really I do, but I like my headspace where it is.

*I rather hope no one takes that out of context.

17 July 2010

Day 112: a general update

I'm having some trouble keeping up with my reading at the moment.  I have a part-time temporary job that is very labor intensive.  So I come home and I conk out for about 2 hours, and then I call my fiance and tell him to go do something with his life.  Needless to say, I'm exhausted pretty frequently.  No worries though, I'll do my best to keep up with the posting.  And if you, dear readers, would like to help me out, send guest posts!   Whatever you're reading right now, send me a post about it along with a short bio, picture, and link to a blog, profile, whatever (picture and link are optional).  I'll email you when I've scheduled them to post so you can tell family and friends to check it out.

I've started looking at other blogs for the Book Bloggers Appreciation Week.  There are some excellent blogs out there.  One of the more excellent blogs (which I've started watching) mentioned gaps in her reading.  Not genre-wise, etc. but alphabet and it made me curious to see where my gaps are.  Here's what I'm missing:

Q and X
I, U, X, and Y

I'm somewhat surprised by the I, actually.  Anyone who has suggestions about what I should read to fix this feel free to comment.  I'd prefer something good, but my ranty posts also tend to be pretty good.  Anyway, here's what I plan to read next, just remember, I don't always stick with the plan.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
This is one of the few classics that I know absolutely nothing about.  I feel bad about that.  And I really should make my way through the classics at some point. 

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Excuse me while I chew on that mouthful of a name.  I picked this up as an Advanced Reader Copy from the American Library Association Conference in DC.  Some of you may be wondering why I'm not just reading straight through everything.  Well, that could potentially be boring for the both of us.  Publishers tend to publish on a theme, so after awhile all the books would start to look the same to me.  Mixing it up with my regular reading list is beneficial for everyone.  Bet is going to go to school as Will, because she can't go otherwise.  It's a period piece, which are very hit and miss with me.  This looks pretty good though, let's hope it is. 

Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia by Harriet Brown
Wooo, more eating disorder books.  I'm not sure what our fascination with eating disorders is these days, but there's something so basic about it that the idea of giving up gained calories is completely counter-intuitive.  The cover of this is reminiscent of Twilight, which I find somewhat hilarious in it's inappropriateness.

My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big City Backyard into a Farm by Manny Howard
Ah Colbert Report, you add books to my list based solely on the personalities and how they interact with you.  I read books featured on your show in the hopes that that personality will show through in their books.  There have been a lot of these "I've turned into a farmer" books.  Publishing trend, see, here it is.  I feel like I should read at least one, and this guy seems to have a freakin' sense of humor at least.

Great House by Nicole Krauss
Another ALA ARC.  The description of this is actually somewhat confusing, so I will boil it down: there is a special desk which seems to hold some kind of power to make life grand.  The desk gets taken away from a writer who has been using it for a long time and now the writer's life is thrown into turmoil.  Yeah, that's the gist I got from it.  We'll see what it's actually about when I read it.

 The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Oh look, it's one of those talked about books.  That means I have to read it.  Poop.  I've heard both good and bad things about this, so we'll see how that turns out. 

The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
Picked up as an ARC at ALA.  Seems kind of Zoro-esque, actually.  Might be passing it on to my mother-in-law when I'm finished. 

Evermore by Alyson Noel
Holy Butts, this has over 13,000 ratings on Goodreads.  Someone must like it.  It's also a series...so...potential following up with additional novels if I like it.  And another publishing trend shows up: paranormal.  She can see auras, learn a past by touch, and a number of other things.  See, this is why I read a mix of old and new.

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
It's a retirement story about a guy trying to get his life back.

Firmin by Sam Savage
Another request/recommendation by Dayna Ingram.  I love it that people are giving me recommendations.  Keep 'em coming.  This one looks interesting, it's about a rat that eats books, but he really "tastes" them and apparently describes their different flavors.  Sounds good to me.  

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
I was actually ashamed to discover that I have not read any Ursula LeGuin.  I love sci-fi and I admire the women who got into the genre before that was the thing to do.  These are amazing people who tended to focus more on the human element, by emphasizing the importance of the human-to-alien dynamic and how awesome that really is (I mean awesome in the original sense of the word, not as in "cool").  I forced my fiance to read some Andre Norton instead of this at one point by forcibly shoving Elvenbane* into his hands, so it's only fair that I'm reading this with him now.

*I am still pissed that Lackey hasn't finished it, along with many other fans.
**Also, Hi new followers!  I see you lurking there with your lurk-y ways.  Welcome to my strange ideas and what not.

16 July 2010

Day 111: Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen.  ISBN: 9780375502248.

Quindlen seems to have a major hard-on for New York.  Fair enough, and to go along with my previous post, her characters don't like it when other people question their lifestyle choice to live in New York.  I will admit, I've committed the cardinal sin of asking a Native New Yorker why they lived there.

On one level, I can certainly understand wanting to be live in a major cultural center of the world.  It would be amazing to be able to pop into the Natural History Museum or the Museum of Modern Art.  I would love to be able to eat Ethiopian one night and Algerian the next.  And while I'm not big into music, I could very much dig going to a small coffee house to listen to some jazz or folk music every once in awhile.

But I don't like the idea of living so close to such a large number of people.  You know what they do in New York to get some privacy?  They ignore each other.  You can typically spot the tourists, because they are the ones that make eye contact.  I'm just not sure I'm cut out for that kind of lifestyle, the constant hurrying and frantic work that is require to maintain a 500 square foot two bedroom that barely has a kitchen and where the term "water closet" has never been so apt.

I like space.  I don't necessarily need a lot of it, but I definitely need more than the typical big city can provide.  I don't really need three dozen ethnic restaurants within a ten mile radius.  Would it be nice?  Hell yeah, but I'm okay with making a special trip across to another town for really good Indian food in order to have some peace and quiet in my life.  It's not that I couldn't survive somewhere like New York City, because I think I would adjust, I just don't have the drive to actually make that happen.  I certainly respect the people who do make it work though.

15 July 2010

Day 110: Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen.  ISBN: 9780375502248.

There's a conversation in this book that I've had with countless numbers of people, mostly family.  It basically goes like this:

"I'm not having kids."
"You'll change your mind."

You know what, fuck that.  It doesn't matter if I'll change my mind in the future, at the moment, I. Do. Not. Want. Kids.  Why not just take that at face value?  If you wonder why teenagers get so pissed off, it might be because you don't take them seriously.  I've had these feelings since I was about 12; that is over thirteen years that I've stuck with a decision.  That's longer than most people like their tattoos. 

Let's just pretend for a moment you really like doing things to your body that other people think are crazy, or you don't do things to your body that people think you should do.  It's still your body and those people have no right to make comments about what you should and should not do.  The only exception might be a doctor or other health professional, but even when it comes down to that you still have the right to fuck up your own body if you damn well please.  When it comes down to it, deciding to have or not have children is still a decision about what to do with your body.

People seem to forget that.  It's not just a decision about lifestyle, but also about my body and my health.  Children are great, I'm not denying that.  I love my nephew, but I am a greedy, greedy person and I love my sleep.  I am in no way prepared to deal with the little hellion that is likely to spring from my loins should I become pregnant.  And please don't give me the whole, "No one is prepared speech."  I've heard that one too.  I don't think people realize exactly how tiresome the whole conversation is.  So if you happen to be one of those people who condescends someone's decision not to produce children, please just bite your tongue and be thankful it's one less potential being to take up resources.

14 July 2010

Day 109: Little Women and Werewolves

Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand.  ISBN: 9780345522603.

I'll be honest and say that I can't remember why Jo didn't marry Laurie in the original, but I rather like her reasoning in this one.  Even though Jo knew Laurie was a werewolf, she refused to agree to marry him because he didn't tell her he was a werewolf.  Well, yeah, if you turn into a blood thirsty monster once a month, I'd like to know about it.

I think there are a lot of things we don't want to tell our potential spouses because we're afraid they won't accept us.  Well, that's kind of their right.  You know how pissed off you get when the used car salesman doesn't tell you the car has a bad alternator?  Well...you don't have to drive the car for your entire life, and support it emotionally, physically, and financially.  There are discussions that should happen between couples before they make a commitment to each other, because otherwise you're not operating on full disclosure.  If there are potentially serious problems that could arise from my mate's health, mental health, financial health, etc.; I want to know about it.

There are different schools of thought about whether partners should disclose the number of previous sexual partners they've had, and whether they've participated in risky behavior.  I think that, yes, this is absolutely necessary.  I don't need to know exact number of times and positions, but I want to know if there's anything I should be concerned about.  Also, if there's some wretched skank-beast in my future husband's past, I'd rather know about it up front than find out about it at his high school reunion.  It is definitely okay to ruin certain surprises.

I also think it's important to disclose mental illness or other issues that might cause social/emotional problems.  As someone who suffers from a fairly mild, but distressing seasonal depression, it is very hard to see my partner have to cope with the knowledge that there is very little he can actually do to improve my condition.  His support is obviously very helpful, but most of the time my depression just has to run it's course before I'm back to my "usual self."

These sound like things that are probably hard to hide, but medication and other treatments are so effective these days that it could very well be years before symptoms actually show.  I've made sure that Danny knows my history and my family's history with mental illness.  I know all about his issues.  We get irritated with each other about them occasionally, but I think we're both more fully prepared to deal with any future problems because we know what can happen.  Every couple deserves to have that kind of a chance, not only to be completely open and honest, but to make the decision to knowingly commit to a person's flaws.  Because it's not their strengths you're going to have problems dealing with, and the sooner you accept that, the easier it will be.

13 July 2010

Day 108: Little Women and Werewolves

Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand.  ISBN: 9780345522603.

"We all know werewolves.  They come from all places and all classes."  Page 127.

What if there really was a group of people who were outcast from society, who were more prone to acts of violence and exclusion from society, but who were also nearly indistinguishable from other people except for in very specific instances?  What if they were your neighbors?

Oh wait, there is a group like that.  They're called homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered, and other sexual/gendered minorities.  And while I hate to compare homosexuals to werewolves, there are similarities as they are presented in Little Women and Werewolves.  Werewolves have an appetite for human flesh which they must pursue in order to live, and homosexuals, etc. ...have an appetite for human flesh which they must pursue in order to have a normal, healthy sexual adulthood.

Sadly, despite the brutality of the Brigade, the werewolves seems to actually have more rights and privileges than homosexuals.  Granted most of those rights were more easily kept by wealthy werewolves, but at least they have the right to marry freely, pass on property, be attended by their chosen spouse, and a couple of other issues that I'm sure I haven't even thought of because I just happened to be born into an accepted sexual preference.

On the other hand, the Brigade wasn't all that picky about who they hanged.  If they assumed you were a werewolf or even a werewolf sympathizer you were strung up and that was it.  In some ways the fact that homosexuality is perceived by a large enough portion of our society as a "bad" thing has negative effects on those who are even just assumed to be homosexual.  Not to mention heterosexual children of homosexual parents, opposite-gender spouses who married or are married to homosexuals, and I'm sure there are a slew of other groups who could be included in this statement, who also receive short shrift from someone else's issues with what two (or more) people do in a bedroom.

To all the werewolf homosexuals out there, this blog post is for you.

12 July 2010

Day 107: Little Women and Werewolves

Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand.  ISBN: 9780345522603.

The subject matter of the following post was specifically requested by regular guest blogger Dayna Ingram.  If you would like to request a book/topic for me to discuss, hop over to the Contact Me page.  I will prioritize requests from readers (sorry authors/publishers, the little people matter more to me).

I am a big fan and supporter of reimagining the classics.  In some ways I view it as satire, not necessarily of the adapted literature, but of the people who praise the original too highlyAnyone who believes that certain things are off limits to mockery, satire, or ribbing of any kind is a dangerous person.  Not in the sense that they will commit a violent crime, but in the way that they are promoting censorship.

Yes, censorship.  It should be a dirty word to anyone who loves to read.  To me, censorship is a far dirtier concept than anything any of the Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television represent.

I actually think that Austen might enjoy the new renditions of her work.  It was after all, a commentary on the behavior of high society during her time.  She would probably be tickled with the idea of her works being "modernized" for current times, with new commentary on society (because zombies actually are a representation of our modern societal attitudes).  I'm not sure she would appreciate the fact that men were the ones who had a hand in it.  In fact, I think she'd be downright livid at that point.  Because men already have their greedy paws on everything.

That being said, I am concerned for the well-being of the classics.  My hopes is that people will read the originals along with the reCULTured Classics (see that, I just coined a phrase there).  The classics are beloved or hated across generations of readers.  This is a positive thing regardless of the reaction because it becomes a shared cornerstone.  We can use it to judge our intellectual equals, friends, potential mates and spouses, and conversation sparring partners.  For instance, I love telling people I hate Hemingway.  And Faulkner.  And Salinger.  And F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Then I love seeing their faces when I tell them one of my favorite classics is the love-to-be-hated The Scarlet Letter.  Good conversation usually follows.

I am concerned that the only conversation regarding the classics will be between those who have read the originals (possibly along with the new ones) versus those who have only read the reCULTured versions.  It worries me because, when it comes down to it, the people who have read the originals will be better informed.  It's the same principle as knowing your Bible stories, regardless of your religion.  It's a major foundation of our culture, so the more/better you know the easier it is to put important literature into context.

It's part of the reason I think Literature and History should be taught together.  Why the hell would anyone care about the huge chunks of whaling in Moby Dick until they realize that what Herman Melville is doing is preserving the history and culture of whaling in New England for future generations.  That is why it is the first American novel, because it so well demonstrates a facet of uniquely American life.

Still, I'm wondering when when we'll start seeing The Tell-tale Heart of Kittens.  Poe would be pissed.  What reCULTured classic would you like to see?  Even if it's not in public domain yet.

11 July 2010

Day 106: A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.  ISBN: 9780765326263 (advanced reader copy).

"One day it occurred to me that the warm, squeaky, smelly things squirming around next to me were my brothers and sister.  It was very disappointing." Page 13.

*Sigh.*  I get this.  I can't tell you when I first started to realize that having a sibling sucks all sorts of balls.  Especially if that sibling is The Needy One.  Actually, I was pretty needy myself, but no grease for this wheel because I wasn't as good as my brother at needling my parents for attention (of any variety).  It probably would have been very beneficial for me to have had at least some time as an only child; unfortunately my brother was born first and he's spent the rest of his life trying to reclaim that  one minute of Total Attention from our parents (yes, we're twins).  I actually strongly believe in the One Child household model.  I understand that you can't help it if twins come along, or accidents happen, but the only childs (and yes that sounds weird to me too, but it is correct) I've seen seem well adjusted enough, and in some ways better adjusted than sibling-ed children.

You would think that being an only child would lead to entitlement issues and possibly difficulty in sharing (particularly space, such as a dorm room), but I think everyone has those problems.  In fact, I think that is more of a generational thing than it is only versus sibling-ed children.  Most of this is probably due to television, believe it or not.  Look how many sitcoms there are where siblings are yelling at each other to get out of MY room.  Stop stealing MY clothes, MY iPod.  Holy shit, what happened to sharing, you weren't even using that iPod 10 minutes ago.  As long as they don't delete any songs, burn any holes into the clothes, or muck up your room, why the fuck does it matter if they're using it?

Well, the answer to that is of course boundaries.  But it's kind of a circular logic argument.  We don't have any sense of communal property versus private property because there is no real distinction between the two.  We're taught to share, so we assume that everyone is okay with sharing, so we get grabby with other people's things and treat them like they're our own.  People might be a little more welcome to sharing if they refrained from abusing the borrowed property (you should see the things people do to REAL communal property like library books).  I am always very apologetic to someone when I borrow property without asking first, and I usually only do so if I have a good idea that they would be okay with it in the first place.

All I want to say is, if you drink someone else's six pack, buy a freakin' new one.  If you borrow someone's Kindle, for the love of god say thank you and keep your trap shut about the crappy library they have on it.  Be grateful that there is property that someone is willing to share.  But if they say no, don't get all huffy and upset about it.  It's theirs and you haven't proven yourself yet, or you have and are obviously not trustworthy.  Or they are completely uptight and that's between them and Benjamin Franklin* so STFU already and get over it.

*Neither a borrower not a lender be.

10 July 2010

Day 105: A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.  ISBN: 9780765326263 (advanced reader copy).

First of all, let me say that I love the word purpose because it inevitably makes me think of the word porpoise, which usually makes me giggle when I exchange the first for the second.  I'm sorry, I am just that immature.  You know you like it.

A Dog's Porpoise (see, it's funny) involves several reincarnations of Toby/Bailey/Ellie/Buddy while he (or she depending on the incarnation) tries to figure out what his real purpose might be (Oh! It's a Huge Manatee).*  I really, really like the idea of reincarnation, not just for dogs, but for everyone.  I find comfort in the idea that we get to come back if we completely screwed up our lives and/or the lives of those around us the first time.

I very much believe in reincarnation.  To me it's the only thing that really makes sense if you think of souls as a kind of energy.  If energy is merely transmuted, doesn't it make more sense for them to be recycled into someone else instead of going up into the sky and collecting dust?  Why make more souls when you have some perfectly good ones floating around here on earth already?  Of course, I believe in the composting method of reincarnation, where our souls all collect together, turn into a kind of karmic sludge, and out of the sludge grows a new soul.  Hmm, soil = soul, even my metaphors are puns.

I think it's a better explanation than the traditional moving up or down the ladder depending on whether you were Good or not in a previous life.  It also explains why people make the same damn mistakes over and over again: if your essence starts of as sludge, how much are you really going to remember?  There have been times where I swear I've had flashbacks to a previous life, things I could in no way explain: dreams, feelings, snatches of memory.  I know it probably sounds crazy, but maybe the composting process isn't perfect and sometimes bits of soul are more intact than others, and that is why some people can remember past lives.

Do I take this seriously?  Yes and no.  It's fun to think I might have been a Spanish bull fighter in the 1700's (actually I was a drunk, syphilitic Russian living in France, at least in the latter 1700's), but I'm not going to rely on incomplete information and tell everyone I was a Spanish bull fighter... unless it's on the internet... where everyone can see.  Oops.

*I know that Manatees are not actually porpoises, but it makes for a funnier joke.  It's not my fault they're actually sea cows instead of sea swine.

09 July 2010

Day 104: The Alchemist's Daughter

The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon.  ISBN: 9781415927670 (audiobook). 

Emily's father kept notebooks on her.  When he died she found them and read them.  Given the man my father is, I really doubt that I would want to read anything private that he had written.  I already know my dad is a creep, I don't need proof.  But there are other people I would like to know more about: my mother's mother, my mother, my grandfather, a myriad of friends and amazing people I've met.  Would I still read their papers if they died and I had access to them?

Oh man, that is a good question.  I think reading someone's private papers would in some ways show me a different perspective and explain certain behaviors.  It's also a means of filling in the gaps in their history.  And let's face it, there are just some questions that are impossible to ask, and impossible for the other person to answer.  In fact, my mother refuses to answer any questions about her life before I came along.  I know pretty much nothing about her as a young girl beyond what she looks like in photographs.

Strangely, the fact that she is so close-lipped about it makes me think that there is something probably far more terrible than what actually lies in her past.  This is major reason why we had such a hard time during my youth.  I was trying to make the transition into adulthood, and I felt like there was  no one I could turn to, because for all I could imagine my mother had never been through what I was going through.  If I could read her journals, I might not feel as bitter about those teenage years, even if that information wasn't available when I needed it.

08 July 2010

Day 103: The Alchemist's Daughter

The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon.  ISBN: 9781415927670 (audiobook). 

"...the expectation of heaven can be no substitute for what happens here, it can't be an excuse for infliction of misery on others." 

I have met some truly wonderful and Christian people in my lifetime, both conservative and liberal.  They were polite enough to stop talking politics when it got to the point where friendships were on the line and kind enough to offer help, advice, charity when it was needed.  No questions asked.

Aaaaand I've been unfortunate to meet the other kind of christian.  The kind that will Bible-thump and preach all day long about how much they love Jesus and the American flag, but will just as soon run over you as let you cross the street before their SUV on a left turn, green lights and pedestrians be damned.*  They are careless in their thoughts and their deeds towards others, and still assume they're destined for heaven because they are Believers.

If hell is paved with good intentions, I don't think that means that heaven is paved with ignorance.  And really, this applies to all religions, but most of my contact with The Arrogant Sect involves christians.  But why do people who claim religiosity, who propose that they are the most pure and holy and god-fearing, why are they usually the ones who treat those outside of their religion with the most contempt, disregard, and disrespect?  This ranges from getting in a non-believer's face, shunning of family members who don't believe, and insisting that Creation and only (one) Creation be taught.

I'm actually all for teaching Creation in school.  It's a large part of what our society and much of our literature and art is based on.  However, I don't think it should be taught in Biology class.  I think religion classes ought to be, if not required, at the very least an elective like Psychology.  It should not focus solely on Christianity, but on the stories and principles of the world's major religions.  Yes, that includes Islam.  I am not implying that this should be taught to young children, but at about the age of 14, I think that students can absorb and disseminate information about other cultures and religions and think for themselves.  

If your argument involves the heathen-izing of good christian children, I would argue that your child's religious faith must already be pretty flimsy, and perhaps they have observed behavior by others of their faith who have not behaved in an appropriate manner.  It is so very easy to lose faith when you see the people who are supposed to be religious leaders going against the tenets of their faith and the words coming out of their own damned mouths.

*I realize that not all chrisitian drive SUVs, and I've met some assholes in Priuses too.

07 July 2010

Day 102: A Special Story

Happy 100th* post, everyone!  How awesome is this!  In honor of a special post, my fiance and I will present you with a very special story.  We began telling Rupert the Magical Pony stories in bed.  I had this annoying habit of asking Danny to tell me a story as we drifted off to sleep, and one night he asked me to return the favor.  And thus Rupert the Magical Pony was born.  His first story resulted in visiting the realms of man after encounters with various creatures.  After meeting with man, he ended up in a glue factory.  Other stories involved Rupert having a serious tummy ache and asking a wise donkey for help (he had a hilarious name and I'll be damned if I can remember it).

In any case, these are amazing anecdotes. As I type this my fiance and I are arguing over who told the tummy ache story which ended as a Magical Fart Joke.  He has capitulated and stated, "It was a fart joke and it was you.  Why must you be better at Rupert stories than me?"  First of all, a fart joke is me!  Second, "Because Rupert originated in my sick and twisted mind."  So now I present you with the first ever published Rupert story for you all to enjoy.  If someone provides illustrations I will love you forever.

Rupert the Magical Pony and the Pirate Adventures:
Once upon a time, there was a magical pony field, and in the magical pony field lived  the magical ponies.  One of the Magical Ponies was named Rupert, and he was a Magical Pony.  However, this story does not take place in the Magical Pony Field, but far, far away on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

The ship was not a Magical Pony Ship, but a mean and dirty pirate ship, that was run by mean and dirty pirates.  The mean and dirty pirates had captured Rupert the Magical Pony and his Magical Pony friends when they had decided to go out on their Magical Pony boat for a Magical Pony Adventure.  As the mean and dirty pirates hauled the Magical Ponies on board, they said in their mean and dirty voices, "Yarharhar, we captured Magical Ponies and we can make them slave away for us, and then eat them in a stew when they get too tired and old to work.  Yarharhar."  Rupert and his friends were very sad, and very afraid as they were loaded into the hold of the mean and dirty pirate ship.

The Magical Ponies were tied up and called mean and dirty names by the mean and dirty pirates, that should never ever be repeated by good girls and boys.  This made Rupert and the Magical Ponies even more sad.  The mean and dirty pirates were getting hungry, so they started to talk about carving up one of Rupert's particularly plump friends.  Porto the Plump Magical Pony started to cry.

"No!" Rupert exclaimed, "You can't cry!  We have to find a way to get out of here!"

Porto continued to cry, but as he did so, his Magical Pony Tears of Sadness slowly slipped through the cracks of the mean and dirty pirate ship, where they seeped into the water, where the sharks smelled it.  Now, as everyone knows, Magical Pony Tears smell like cupcakes and rainbows, which is way better than blood.  The sharks smelled the Magical Pony Tears and, through the hull of the ship, asked why the Magical Ponies were crying.  

Rupert replied, "Oh dear shark friends, we are but a small herd of Magical Ponies who have been captured by mean and dirty pirates who are now threatening to carve the plump Porto to eat for their stew.  Will you help us?"

The leader of the sharks, Mr. Scrubbers, replied, "Why yes, Rupert.  As you are a good and magical pony we shall help our new Magical Pony Friends."

So without further fuss, Mr. Scrubbers and his shiver of sharks jumped onto the mean and dirty pirate deck and began to eat aaaalllll the mean and dirty pirates.  When all the decks ran red with the blood of the mean and dirty pirates, the sharks helped their new Magical Pony Friends escape from their chains.  After they cleaned the mean and dirty pirate ship of all its meanness and dirtiness, the sharks and the Magical Ponies played together as they headed back to the Magical Pony Field.

Unfortunately, Mr. Scrubbers and his shark friends soon got hungry.  And everyone knows that Magical Ponies taste like gum drops and babies.  So Rupert and his Magical Pony Friends never saw land again. 

The End.  

If you would like to see more of Rupert the Magical Pony, please comment.  If you would like to never see him again...please comment.  If you think my fiance and I are very special people and deserve some very special treatment, particularly in the form of hospitalization, I won't fight you about that.  Please feel free to set up a fund in our name and we will gladly seek help.

*Oops, apparently this is actually the 102nd post because I somehow mis-numbered posts back in late June.  Crap.  Oh well.
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