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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mormon Women Bare

Hi! It's been a thousand years since I've emblogginated!

But look. What an interesting project. I am particularly intrigued by this statement from the FAQ:

What we are exploring is how a woman views herself and her body after spending the majority of her life, particularly her formative years, in the Church.
As a teenager in the LDS church often enough I found few similarities between myself and the other girls in my cohort, even my closest friends; looking back now, it's a bit easier to feel compassion for the younger woman I was, as well as for my friends, who almost certainly were dealing with the same doubts and fears as I was. We all had the same upbringing, after all. 

I wouldn't say that I am comfortable with my body. Certainly I am not properly appreciative of its health, its strength. It rarely gets bogged down with colds, and it's capable of walking two miles in work shoes. It can chop onions without crying, make love while laughing, dance with only twinges of embarrassment--but what I see in the mirror is a weird nose and flab and knobby knees. How much of that is from soaking in US beauty culture for twenty-six years, and how much of it is leftover confusion and assumptions from various lessons learned in fifteen years of LDS culture? 

"My body is capable of producing children, therefore it should, and since it hasn't, I am not a Real Woman (TM)." No, no, the choice is mine. Really. It is. Really.

"The way that my body is maintained is not attractive to some men, and I should probably change that." No, no, I was not born onto the earth to be attractive to men. Really. Really.

Run-of-the-mill Western kyriarchy dosed with dogma backing up the immutability of sex and the eternal significance of gender roles; a culture that--overtly or covertly, intentionally or accidentally--promotes a certain body and code of attractiveness for female members. I have a new litany now, one I'm conscious of, one that reminds me of all the ways I have found joy in my body. May we continue to rebuild ourselves.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The survivor's prerogative

I saw this article linked recently on Twitter, read it and enjoyed it very much, and kind of intended to write something similar from an LDS perspective.

And then I realized that my list of what not to say to a recovering Mormon would be almost identical. Even the mainstream LDS church has strands of fundamentalism, in its doctrine and its culture. This is not something I realized until I was an adult; in fact, fourteen-year-old Diana piped up indignantly in a history class when the teacher included Mormons in a list of US fundamentalist religious (just one of many reasons why "every member a missionary" is, say it with me, flagrant bullshit). Members in many areas, in Utah and the mission field, are survivors of spiritual and sometimes physical abuse. Many outsiders don't consider the LDS church a Christian institution. The jargon, the doctrine, the peculiarities of Mormonism cause it to stand out in the religious landscape, but in practice and in effect it is damningly similar to other fundamentalist Christian groups.

I don't know about you all, but "fundamentalist" was not a nice descriptor in my household, growing up. After 9/11 I heard my parents use it to refer to Islam. My older sister--never baptized, always political--spoke scornfully of the "Moral Majority" and "religious right" (it wasn't until later that I realized she was in fact including the Church in those phrases). It took some doing to rewire my understanding of the term, to get to the point where I could separate my complex feelings about my upbringing and beliefs from the reality of subtle, institutionalized manipulation. 

All fifteen of those statements linked above have been said to me--some while I was still in the Church, some as I was leaving, some quite recently. None of them are constructive, no matter how much love and insight the speaker intends. One of the most pernicious attitudes I have encountered in the last seven years, from both members and non-members, is a certain carelessness: the idea that leaving X Religion is a relief, something to be shucked with a laugh. Sometimes it was like that and I could joke with people, talk smack and shake my head. Sometimes it felt like the world was ending. My experience is my own, is the point, and it's not going to be the same from day to day, which is the survivor's prerogative.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Crescendo of gratitude

There are two parts to enjoying a live concert: the anticipation and the experience. Savoring the idea of what's to come takes up weeks or even months beforehand for me, the feeling growing as I drive to the venue. It builds and builds throughout the opening acts (Eklipse, you are awesome; Delain, you are delightful), and finally you get to let go when the headliner takes the stage. And when the act in question is your favorite in all the known multiverse, the entire shebang levels up. As mentioned in a few previous posts, Kamelot's got a new lead singer, and while they technically toured last year, that was a supporting tour. With a truncated set-list, and no new album to promote.

(Karevik and Alissa White-Gluz, taken by glitzandshadows)
But this year is different. This year is the tour of the first post-Khan album, and the band's first international headlining tour with a new singer. THIS YEAR IS A BIG YEAR. I'm so glad they chose to kick off their continental US road trip in our own Columbus, Ohio. There's a lot to be said against live music: eardrum-destroying, obnoxious people talking behind you during the ballads, waiting in all kinds of weather to get inside, $7 beers and expensive merch. But the ecstasy of a crowd and the chance to sing along and the goodwill that communal excitement fosters are more than enough reward. Live music gives you a chance to see performers' most glorious heights, but also their foibles--fumbling a bow, screwing up a lyric, recovering with a smile. Live music is cathartic. Maybe it only lasts four hours or so, but the hangover is legendary, to the point where there's no listening to other music for a few days after, for fear of blurring the amazing performance still going on in your head.
(the band, taken by marssimons)
And it was a great performance. If there was any doubt that Tommy has the stuff, this tour will kill it. If there's resentment or even apathy toward him, I didn't see it in the crowd in Columbus. We might not have filled the (relatively small) venue, but we were loud. We sang to every song, we headbanged and air-guitared and yelled. The next day at work, someone asked me if I a cold. That's a successful concert experience. May the rest of the tour be as awesome for Kamelot as Monday night was for Columbus, and may their new frontman continue to help carry and build Kamelot's legacy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mind-walk with me: dérive in Pacific Rim

Recently I've been reading a book about walking--not an exercise manual but a general collection of thoughts on the literature, science, history, and psychology of walking. At one point the author, Geoff Nicholson, attends a conference of psychogeographers in New York City and talks a bit about the origins of the movement (har har). Before beginning this particular book I was familiar with the tenets of psychogeography, being someone who walks a lot in certain cities, but I haven't read any of Guy Debord's foundational works on the topic. Nicholson quotes from "Theory of the Dérive" the following passage:
One can dérive alone, but all indications are that the most fruitful numerical arrangement consists of several small groups of two or three people who have reached the same level of awareness, since cross-checking these different groups’ impressions makes it possible to arrive at more objective conclusions.
Given this, and the fact that "dérive" translates directly into "drift," what else was I to do but conclude that the concepts of the drift and drift-compatibility in Pacific Rim derive from Debord's theory? Of course I have no idea whether this is accurate, whether Guillermo del Toro is familiar with Debord's writing and used it in his own, but the similarities are there. What is drifting in the film if not walking: in another's consciousness and memories, in your own, in the bulk of a jaeger, in tandem with another individual to whom you are closely attuned, or in the case of the Wei triplets, another two individuals? 

(the Becket brothers)

The necessary core of drift-compatibility is that the "same level of awareness" has been reached by all parties concerned. A jaeger can't be piloted alone. Debord indicated that it was preferable for groups bent on dérive to change line-up each time, and this is where the two media diverge, as Pacific Rim emphasizes that although a jaeger pilot can be drift-compatible with multiple other pilots (as in the case of Raleigh and Yancy, and then Raleigh and Mako), when you've found a person to drift with, they're your co-pilot until things go belly up. The larger goal of this drifting is different from Debord's--the hip young things of the dérive are interested in viewing the concrete in new patterns and fractured ways, while the jaeger pilots of the drift have to take broken images and tender memories and build them into a cohesive whole. But the ultimate goal of dérive and drifting is to step out, to tread familiar paths made new by trust and heightened awareness.

(Mako and Raleigh)

Friday, August 09, 2013


The Hairpin and The Toast recently featured posts about Mormonism, the latter written by yours truly. I thought I would say a few words here about why I chose that particular frame for my piece, the twelve steps. Initially, as I was scratching down my memories, I thought it might be amusing to see if some of the major ones matched any of the steps, and lo, they managed to be hammered out that way. But as I refined the piece, I realized that the core of my leaving was really coming into view--that at that time, I would have benefited from any kind of framework to show me the way out. I was flailing, with no one to talk to, no one I knew who had done this and made it and was ok. Not to say that religious belief is an addiction; however I think when it has been part of your life forever, when it has shaped and molded and convinced and guided as firmly as the LDS church had for me, when that changes it is almost on a chemical level. What do you do? With what do you replace the words of the prophet?

That's the whole point, of course, that suddenly there are more options and you're making decisions for yourself. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom and all that. But navigating them was difficult for me, without some sort of map. A more sincere, more structured Twelve Steps to Leaving the Church would probably include things like "Make a list of people you can talk to about your doubts and decisions" rather than "Make a list of people to avoid." That would be the healthy way. These days, there are plenty of resources online for people having doubts about the church, or starting to make their exit outwards, and I hope that their journeys are smoother, but no less interesting and soul-shaking, than mine has been.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Tramping Tampa: Six Years of Tea

The place is called Kaleisia--none of us know how to pronounce it yet--and I'm afraid that there'll only be coffee and black tea, that I'll have to shuffle to make some excuse to my new friends, but once inside I see rows of herbal blends and fruit tisanes. Once seated and laughing over steaming cups, an older woman comes up and tells us how pretty we are. Gabby, with her long black curls and big eyes, is "exotic," Shauna is "like a Victorian doll" in her lace dress and creamy headband, and I, apparently, look like I should be in Channelside--a part of the city I know nothing about. Nevertheless, the odd compliment combines with collegiate chatter and aromatic tea to create my first real sensation of being out in the world.


My sister thinks it would be fun to bike into Ybor and so we set off, and by the time we cruise up Rep de Cuba we're sweating. Thankfully a cool new coffeeshop has opened recently at a squat brick building called the Bunker and now we have a reason to give it a test-drive. The homemade hummus is good, the iced hibiscus tea even better, and we feel unbearably hip, sitting on the back patio with an issue of Creative Loafing.


Record Store Day happily coincides with the opening of the better-faster-stronger-more-caffeinated version of Mojo Books and Music, and I am lost in the shop, strolling expansive stacks with an iced citron green tea in hand. It's everything I ever wanted from a used bookstore: vinyl and irrelevant hardbacks and good tea and staff just unfriendly enough to be cool and just pretentious enough to play Rumours on the turntable (but skip the best tracks).


It's late morning on a Sunday, humid as balls and bright. I am on an errand to pick up a friend from across the bay, a vastly hungover friend who requests a sharp cup of something-or-other, and so we jaunt down Beach Drive to a place I've seen but never had a chance to visit. It's there that we discover the miracles of Dr. Feelgood, Hooker Tea Company's famous detox tea, and gigantic muffins, and cush places to sprawl in the dusty sunlight and gossip lazily as the vagaries of the previous night seep away.


When Anna texts to see if I want to go study at Sacred Grounds it finally sinks in that I've never been there, despite living ten minutes away from it for the past five years. Out we roll, because it's 10:30 on a Tuesday and Kaleisia is closed and neither of us can bear to be in the library any longer. And if we study less than we lounge, if we find reasons to get refills and snoop around the shop and study the pizza options for longer than necessary, well, that's grad school.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


In case you hadn't heard, Pacific Rim is basically the greatest action film ever made. There's nothing I can say about it that hasn't already been said, so have a few on the topic that I've particularly enjoyed:

  1. Pacific Rim, Raleigh, and Emotional Intelligence
  2. Is Mako Mori a Feminist Hero?
  3. my bud Nathan's review
  4. Simple Does Not Equal Dumb
  5. Beyond the Smashing
  6. in case you needed convincing
  7. Still not convinced?
(Mako will wait while you go buy your tickets)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shameless pimping

  • I wrote a silly thing for The Toast! 
  • And a slightly less silly review of the new Red Sonja title, written by Gail Simone.
  • And there would be a few links to Paper Droids items but my editor hasn't gotten back to me...
  • So herein ends this post in bullets.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The dynamic advantage of beauty (Tampa spoilers)

I felt like [the title] nicely represented the dualism of her character. With the text being so overtly sexual and boisterous on the inside, it seemed appropriate to title the book something ambiguously general—it mirrors the way Celeste represents herself as a harmless beauty with mass-appeal when she’s actually a complete monster. Alissa Nutting talks to Roxane Gay about Tampa. 
Florida was epithetically “south of the South" and racial incidents that would have likely attracted national attention had they occurred in Mississippi or Alabama somehow managed to escape national scrutiny because they’d taken place in the forgotten land of sun and surf." Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove.

Just in time for a scorching Fourth of July weekend, Alissa Nutting’s debut novel Tampa arrived to much anticipation and gossip about its female pedophile protagonist, based loosely on Debra Lafave, with whom Nutting attended high school. I’d heard of the book some weeks prior, its title being of interest to a former denizen of the Big Guava, and as the reviews rolled in I combed through them eagerly. Nabokovian! Raunchy! Balls-out! Good words, and interesting blurbs, and thoughtful interviews--but few of them addressed my burning question: is it about Tampa? Why is it called that? Does this book do that thing that I love, where the setting is a character all its own?

The short answer is: no. The longer answer is: yes, but obliquely. In two hundred-odd pages only three firm locales appear--the Price home, Jefferson Middle School (and, may I note, having gone to a Jefferson Middle School in central Florida, this was a deeply unsettling name choice), and Jack Patrick’s home. Yet the psychogeographic ideal of Florida bleeds out of Celeste’s tunnel vision; in the first pages she reveals her desire for her body to appear as a “model house,” perfect in every detail, on display and welcoming to select visitors. Flies and honey, tourists and Disney World. Worship of exteriors is the foundation of Celeste’s worldview--she’s cruelly judgmental of an overweight, aging colleague, and devotes much time and effort to cultivating herself as juicy, youthful, sunny, and enticing. The reward for her success at this venture is leeway to molest students, for even when she’s found out, even when the termite-infested walls crumble, the media, the law, and fellow coworkers dismiss her actions. She is young and beautiful and instead of a rape conviction and prison time, her lawyer scores lewd and lascivious battery and four years' probation. Debra Lafave went to trial when I was a freshman at the University of South Florida; many jokes of the “lucky kid”/”hot for teacher” variety were cracked, by students I knew as well as the local rags, in line with Jack’s father’s comments in the novel about teachers he had in school. Nutting has emphasized in many interviews the ways in which we handwave sexual assault of boys and men, and once Celeste is arrested, details from Lafave's trial are used in the text--including her defense's assertion that her beauty would make her vulnerable in prison, and the idea that her relationships with Jack and Boyd are the stuff of every teenage boy's fantasy and thus no real harm was done.

Incidentally, I was reading Devil in the Grove the week before picking up Tampa. An interesting cocktail of Florida stories, dissimilar on their surfaces, one outrageously satirical fiction and one Pulitzer-winning historical nonfiction, but complementary at the base. We don’t enjoy thinking that the beautiful female teacher is violating our boy children. We don’t like to consider who picks that ripe citrus, whose backs our destination industry is built on. Too, Florida as a paragon of Girls Gone Wild-style sexuality, spring break shenanigans, and bikini bodies lends itself to corporealizing in the form of one such as Celeste. Here is a woman who has completely bought in, from moneyed husband to red convertible to endless spa treatments to keep age at bay--and who commoditizes her sexuality for her own ends and turns conventional good looks into weaponry. Celeste is the dark reflection of the male gaze, the living embodiment of concealed carry. At times she is a victim herself--of her husband, of Jack’s father--but never for a moment does the narrative allow readers to forget her essential monstrosity, nor is Celeste herself unaware. The book has drawn comparisons to Lolita, but American Psycho is another forebear in terms of ruthlessness. Celeste acknowledges her deviance, then dials it up to eleven; covers up deaths; proceeds in every aspect of her life with nothing but self-assurance and focused pursuit. In a word she is exploitative: of her own body, of the boys she molests, of the power and comfort her husband’s money and her own appearance gift her.

Gratuitous in every sense of the word, intentionally so, Tampa interrogates expectations of female sexuality and male victimhood. But along the way it also holds up a mirror to the assumptions and cultural myths of a strange state. The beach is lovely--the parks are shiny--bring your families to this paradise, where we’ve been having fun in the sun since central air was invented. No Klan activity here, no racial violence, no rape of minors, no indeed. Celeste’s story is one that could take place in any American state, but it carries all the more weight for being set in Florida, reliant on surfaces and capitalizing on beauty.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A summation

He had worn a place for himself in some corner of her heart, as a sea shell, always boring against the rock, might do. The making of the place had been her pain. But now the shell was safely in the rock. It was lodged, and ground no longer.

p. 425 of The Once and Future King, T.H. White.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#SB5 and beyond

You'd think I would be used to being disappointed by American democracy by now. I'm just the right age for the 2000 and 2004 elections to stand in stark contrast to what I was learning in my AP Government class.

But the Texas Senate, man, they really know how to party. Were you one of the 150,000+ people who watched a live stream of Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster...and its fall-out of shouting, debating, and flagrant disregard for legislative process? It was good times on Twitter, let me tell you--and trust, social media had their eyes on the prize while CNN, CBS, AP, and MSNBC screwed around with penguins and low-cal muffins.

And we are still watching you, Texas Senate. We're very interested in how keen you are to disenfranchise voters of color, poor voters, and female voters, between watching Davis jump through every hoop for thirteen hours and then cheating in front of the eyes of thousands (who have a petition ready, thank you) and the nasty bits of business you rolled out immediately after the Supreme Court dismantled portions of the Voting Rights Act. Since we're in a post-racial, post-feminist America and all.

My thanks to the four women who spoke truth to power yesterday: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Wendy Davis, Leticia Van De Putte, and Judith Zaffirini. Your tales will not diminish in the telling. Let them add fuel to a righteous fire. Your efforts were not entirely in vain.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The best time I discovered erotica in my grandmother's basement

My step-step-grandmother’s basement, to be exact. My stepfather’s dad and stepmom lived in Virginia, in a giant house on a reasonably sized hill, just tall enough to get a good amount of speed pelting down it to fling yourself off the dock and into the lake. Picturesque! And I a Florida girl who had never been in a basement before, let alone one transformed into a veritable third floor of rooms, complete with a bathroom, storage space, and two bedrooms. I had thought all basements were cobwebby and contained killer clowns or giant spiders. This one was just where I was staying, sleeping in a double fold-out couch bed with my sister, two new step-step-cousins across the room in twin beds, and my parents down the hall in the other bedroom. There were bookshelves, lots of them, and crates of books piled haphazardly in the closets. The joy of swimming and the big hill to run down paled in comparison to ferreting through the books. I was That Kid in the corner, giant owl glasses peering over the cover of The Blue Sword or whatever it was that day. There had to be something in these boxes or on the shelves that would tide me over! I hadn’t brought enough reading for the road, of course. 

So there, between Maeve Binchy novels and a travelogue of Denmark, sat The Flame and the Flower, a hoary work of romance with that delightfully outdated ‘70s romance-novel cover. At the time I had no idea that romance novels even existed, let alone that this one had been downright revolutionary upon publication for its frank portrayals of premarital sex and “erotic subjugation,” AKA rape. At twelve years old in 1999, a Millennial child, I should have been bored when the pages fell open to the good parts (it’s not like I was trying; romance novels kind of only have good parts), but I happened to be a Mormon Millennial child who wasn’t even supposed to be watching Gilmore Girls because there were too many makeouts and children born outside wedlock. And lo, I was shocked! horrified! titillated! confused! by page after page of breasts in too-small bodices and swarthy, grumpy gentlemen in ships and murder and jealous mistresses. I shoved the book back into its box and went to watch Anastasia with my step-step-cousins, feeling shaky and guilty and weird. 

The book teased, though. I wandered past its box at intervals, snatching glances at the pages here and there, pretending to be looking at canals in Copenhagen whenever anyone else walked by. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but adolescent curiosity and hormones would not be denied. To my credit, I suppose, the book stayed in the closet when we left for Shenandoah National Park. Sneakily reading pornography was bad, but stealing pornography--from your grandmother--was probably worse. The discovery of The Flame and the Flower tipped off a career in clandestine erotica consumption, from easing a Nora Roberts compilation of fiery Irish beauties and their horse-obsessed manly men off my eighth grade English teacher’s shelf to rereading the novelization of The Wicker Man five times in high school, culminating, naturally, in the fanfic boom of recent years. Standing in a walk-in closet reading vintage Kathleen Woodiwiss isn’t so different from surfing AO3 on your lunch break.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sometimes you gotta make your own genre

What is Floridian Gothic? If it exists, how does it differ from Southern Gothic? I suspect that a Floridian Gothic subgenre would take those core themes of racism, poverty, decay, grotesquerie, and alienation and focus them more narrowly as stemming from immigration issues, a specific climate, the veneers of Disney World and other tourist operations, and attempted whitewashing of state history (for a variety of reasons). The values of Florida are wildly variable; sympathies, pastimes, and idiosyncrasies are striated according to region. Surfers and white supremacists exist in the same state, sometimes even in the same person, and the experience of a Cuban-American whose family helped shape Tampa's history differs greatly from that of a first-generation Cuban immigrant in Miami. Plenty of Floridians will tell you that “we’re not part of the South,” and plenty more will proudly wear head-to-toe Stars and Bars. Florida cannot be painted with the broad brush of "the South," and for a state with an image to maintain, it’s always been a chimera. 

(abandoned Splendid China, Orlando)

Florida is a liminal space. As a state with an immigrant and emigrant-heavy population, its continuing history is one of fusing beliefs, values, religions, cultures, and ethnicities. As a place unimaginable to inhabit without modern convenience yet vastly suitable for vacationing, its environment and physicality--the things we capitalize on--are a doomed honeymoon. As a mixed bag of northerners, southerners, and foreigners, environmentalists, real estate agents, and corporate bigwigs, its politics are a jungle. Ancestral magic lies cheek-by-jowl with Disney’s charms and goes out for shots with imported Afro-Caribbean beliefs. The hard history of Florida race relations and its ongoing racism are whitewashed for the benefit of tourists and boosters, yet memorialized in courthouse names; orange groves stationed on burial grounds are overtaken by McMansions whose inhabitants don’t stop to wonder what they’ll do when the citrus is gone and are baffled when bones show up in their backyard.

(strip mall botanica, Tampa)

Floridian gothic is “Everything That Rises Must Converge” on a Magic Kingdom tour bus, or Suddenly, Last Summer with a cast of holy rollers. The natural magic and destiny-making of Janie Crawford's journey is Floridian gothic. The mysteries of the Coral Castle; the gated community of Candor under mind control and its real-life analogue, endlessly creepy Celebration; the reclamation of the Bigtrees' gator park by the swamps: that's Floridian gothic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


In times of rain and chill and general un-June-like weather, I admire frivolous clothing and read frivolous books.


In defiance of overcast skies, today I'm wearing bright lips and reading Carl Hiaasen paperbacks on my lunch break...and maybe sacrificing a small mammal for some sunshine.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The boys of summer

I should probably wait two years to write this post, when Lords of Dogtown is ten years old and the legacy of the Z-Boys celebrates its 40th anniversary. It would appeal to my sense of symmetry. But it's summer now and the heat doesn't stick around in these parts. Not like Florida. In the Cleve you have to do the summer stuff while it's summer, if you have that compartmentalized mindset like me where eating a snow cone in a blizzard is unthinkable. June's one of the rare seasons I can tolerate nostalgia, particularly nostalgia for things I never actually experienced. 

In 2005 I was seventeen, deeply uncool, lonely and dreaming of the West Coast (look I am of a Certain Age I am allowed to quote terrible Everclear lyrics in my reminiscences, go read someone else's blog if you're looking for quality). Growing up in an area known for surfing, in a family of longboarders and Birdhouse devotees and people who have Kelly Slater's number in their phones, with no coordination and a pair of Weezer glasses, I was doomed to fall in love with a particular brand of dude over and over. My immediate vicinity had a good few specimens of this type: the girl-jeans trend hadn't hit yet but they wore their trousers tight; there were Mohawks and possibly-infected piercings. As your average hide-in-the-library dork I wouldn't have had a chance, but as a totally-devoid-of-swagger-substance-free-Mormon-virgin things were truly dire. But they were everywhere! Kickflipping off railings, recording crap videos of themselves faceplanting into concrete, smoking behind the band hall...you know. A lot of them were in bands too, various flavors of punk of course, which was A Problem for a girl obsessed just then with Michael Azerrad, who knew that such music was of the Devil, a girl who wanted to own a wallet with a chain attached, to wear Vans not just for show, to go to tiny rock gigs and not be desperately misplaced. There were stoner-surfer happy punks who played at German Club events and there were psycho-punks who lived in a shabby commune across the river and there were nerd-punks who wrote songs about WarCraft; there were crust-punks who smelled sort of bad but were weirdly friendly and a punk with the same birthday as me who submitted poetry to the literary magazine and had a t-shirt for every Dead Kennedys record. There were even a couple of charmingly anachronistic straightedge types. Every now and then I considered claiming to be straightedge to avoid talking about the real reason I couldn't partake of that rum and Coke (or, LBR, even the Coke itself), but never ground up the nerve. And there was something even beyond the allure of beach hair, snotty attitudes, and torn jeans; the girl punks seemed to be having a better time of things than other girls at school. My most admired lady punk peers wore riot grrrl t-shirts and argued with a history teacher who persisted in referring to the Civil War as "the War of Northern Aggression." One of them even had an egalitarianism logo tattooed on her person. All these intriguing, unquestionably cool people had one thing in common, though: a skateboard.

In 2005 I was of exactly the right age and inclinations to benefit from the release of a feature film about 1970s Venice Beach skate culture. I'd already seen the documentary Stacy Peralta directed on the same topic, the rightfully lauded Dogtown and Z-Boys, and though Lords of Dogtown isn't on the same level, at the time it was perfect, full of shriekingly gorgeous guys, cool skate segments, in-jokes, and adorably chaste sex scenes that were for little ol' me all too titillating. There was also the Heath Ledger Factor, which should never be downplayed because, lest you forget, I belong to the generation that came of age on 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale, and true love lasts a lifetime even when it's in the form of a drunkass stoned overalls-clad Californian hippie. What a method actor was Heath! Anyway. The 2003 Ataris cover of "Boys of Summer" blowing up my KaZaa account was not, incidentally, included on the Dogtown soundtrack or even used in the trailers (that honor went to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), but it blended with my mental image of southern California as the cooler version of my own familiar digs. The Black Flag line, cringeworthy now, really resonated then, man, for a mousy yet godawful pretentious teenager fixated on all things angry. There are NYC people and there are LA people--I've never been to either city but I'm an LA person, chiefly from consuming too many Pacific Sunwear ads and Gidget movies in my formative years. If people up north thought Cocoa Beach was the palm-trees-and-bikinis paradise of the continental US, that was well and good, but metro LA--Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, Venice Beach--that was where shit was real. The girls were tanner, the guys were more dangerous, the sun was brighter, the waves were bigger. Everything was sharper, harder, more vivid. Blood on skateboards, sex that looked how sunscreen smelled.

In hindsight, of course, I was not fit to be a punk of any sort--skate, surf, crust, or otherwise, because if I had been then I would have been. Recursive rebellion! It didn't occur to me, for whatever reason, to ask my cousins or uncles to show me how to skate and surf. But the aftertaste of secondhand culture remains, neon sunsets and sneakers with the rubber worn down, long hair and pot smoke. I watch Lords of Dogtown at least three times between May and September. I went alone to see We Jam Econo--at Tampa's skatepark, of course--and felt it an appropriate gateway to my adult life. I marathon every Endless Summer film on the hottest day of the summer. I listen to my uncle's stories of the year's Easter surf competition with rapt attention. I finally have that chain wallet.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Give them a reason to stay

Every two years the part of my soul that is a ride-or-die Fast and the Furious fangirl comes screaming to the surface like a sappy, excitable bear just out of hibernation. Now is that season, folks, since the latest installment--Fast & Furious 6--arrived in theaters last Friday. Did I see it opening day? Why yes I did. Was I sorry to not be able to see it with my Vin Diesel-obsessive mother-in-law? Yes, I was. Was it still awesome? Fuck yeah. See, despite not giving a shit about cars or even owning one, man do I enjoy watching hot people drive stick. I also like action movies where people hug a lot, Vin Diesel, action movies that make bank despite having only one white dude in them, Sung Kang, action movies that are set in places other than New York City and Los Angeles, Gal Gadot, and oh yeah, the Rock. And surprise!Gina Carano (whose acting is improving). And Michelle Rodriguez coming back to life, as her characters tend to do. And emotionally rewarding death scenes. And big-budget franchises with unexpected timelines, long-term plot goals, and mytharcs that boil down to "family is important; take care of yours."

(nine people on a movie poster and only one of them is white??!)

Yes, there are loud, fast machines. Yes, there are scantily-clad women...and men. Yes, there is a lack of non-heterosexual relationships. But when you stack Fast 6 against, say, other recent smash-hit action flicks, guess who comes out on top? The FatF series has, from the get-go, valued portraying people of color in a variety of relationships with one another. Women's relationships are given screen time and their characterizations are well-defined; Mia is not the same as Letty, who differs greatly from Elena, who is not a carbon copy of Gisele, who is not anything like Riley (except in terms of kickassery). You could expect a fight scene between Carano and Rodriguez to be half-dressed and hair-pulling, and you would be wrong; you could expect Elena and Letty to fight over Dom, and you would be wrong again.  Men's relationships, from the top-billed Diesel and Walker to Tyrese and the flawless Sung Kang, are also given screen time, significance, and depth, and director Justin Lin doesn't want you to forget that each film that came before--and the one that comes chronologically after--is important to character development. The attention to detail and relationships creates a film that feels like a real ensemble piece, with each character and their weight of history fitting into the puzzle. 

(my beautiful doomed OTP)

This is not to say that FatF is the be-all end-all of modern filmmaking, deserving of accolades, awards, and a place in the Criterion Collection. At its best, it's good action fun--but the action genre is a massive beast of moneymaking for Hollywood, and why should I bother with ridiculous Bay films when Lin and company have shown us that it's possible to make fun sexy blow-em-up flicks with a core of actual substance? A globally successful franchise, based around and respectful of a diverse cast, is worth talking about and supporting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another half-remembered amusing anecdote from Mormon literature

I heard "Land of Confusion" today in CVS and any time I hear that song, I remember that in Gadiantons and the Silver Sword, Garth disapproves of Jim playing his Genesis tapes because they drive away the Spirit.*

No really. I'm 99.9% sure that actually happened in the story. Reason #4,923 to leave the LDS church: secular fiction is so much better. That said, I would be totally up for a snarky reread of all the Tennis Shoes books...except I don't have any of them anymore, and I'm unwilling to spend money on them. If a dear reader out there has a few copies they'd like to unload, I'll pay for postage.

*little-known fact: the character of Garth was based on my stepfather.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Teaching creates all other professions

It's Teacher Appreciation Week! If you've been hanging around here for a reasonable amount of time, you know that I am in the library profession. So I'm pretty big on education and educators in general, and I'm taking this opportunity to count over the fantastic teachers in my life. 

There was the second-grade teacher who helped me create my first literary masterpiece (it was about dinosaurs, of course).

There was the sixth-grade teacher who blithely let her students set fire to things in the name of science. Polk County, take note

There was the eighth-grade teacher who encouraged me to write down things, even if they were things my mother didn't want to read.

There was the eleventh-and-twelfth grade teacher who was the image of everything I wanted to be: sardonic, learned, independent, bookish, strange. 

There was the English professor who was so smart, so articulate, such a good teacher--not always something you get in a brilliant individual--and a natty dresser to boot.

There was the anthropology professor whose excitement for his subject was palpable, contagious. He taught me new ways of thinking. I owe him a lot.

There were librarians and remedial math tutors and my best friend's mother who is a consummate educator and who, though I never sat in her classroom, has taught me more over the years than anyone.  There were mentors who gave me books off their own shelves and sparks of inspiration who let me natter at them and ask silly questions. 

Who are the teachers in your life?

Monday, May 06, 2013

All Tammy all the time

So between Mark Reads continuing on his Big Damn Tammy Read (he started Protector of the Small! My squee could only be heard by dogs), the fytortall Tumblr folks putting together an anthology of fan writing, and the recently launched PierceFest blog carnival, it's a damn good time to be a Tamora Pierce fan.

Of course, it's always a good time to be a Tammy fan. Arguably my first fandom--I edged into the now-sadly-defunct Steelsings community a year before I hit the starwars.com message boards--readers of Pierce's books have consistently been a friendly, drama-free, and very talented bunch. But lately it seems there's been an upswing in activity: more fan-art, more fic, more discussion, and I'm loving it. The best thing is reading her books yourself for the first time; the second best is introducing them to someone else; and the third best is talking about them with people who love them as much as you. I'm looking forward to a summer full of Pierce!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A review of a book that doesn't exist

Recently I read Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, for participation in my branch of the Forever YA book club. It was good and I'm looking forward to discussing it with my book club buds, but when I began reading it something about the setting made me wish it was a different book. See, the story is set in Utah, and the main character is not LDS. She mentions this specifically, since it sets her apart from her elementary school classmates, who are nearly all LDS. She's the object of bullying for various reasons--her weight and appearance, her friendship with another strange, bullied kid--and it's indicated that her bullies are Mormon children.

(via Zarr's website)

Ah! thought I. This is going to be really interesting, reading about life in Zion from the perspective of someone who isn't Mormon! Of course the book went in another direction, probably because writing that story would have forced the book into a very specific niche. But I'd like to read that story, very much. My own perspective is that of someone who encountered mild bullying because of being part of a peculiar people; I was the only LDS teen in my high school until junior year. I could never imagine what it was like to be surrounded by church peers, to go to seminary in your high school as a class rather than getting up at the crack of dawn and going to the chapel or to a member's house. And it never occurred to me to wonder what it was like for teens in Utah who weren't part of that community. In the past few years we've been getting memoirs and fiction written by Mormons and former Mormons (can we just call ourselves Formons?). Maybe at some point we will see a few stories written from the other side. Or maybe they already exist--are you aware of any, beyond the lifestyle pieces that pop up occasionally? Is there even a There there? Would you read a novel or short story or memoir about a stranger in the strange land of Utah?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The house grew. It was not made.

Once upon a time there was a skinny arm of land wedged between a lake and a river, and upon a square of this land a man built a house. Five or so years later, after the man had died, the house passed to his oldest son's family, and so it went for some time. Children and cats in the yard, fishermen on the dock. 

(a cat long departed)

This is my family's home. Originally belonging to my grandparents, then to a set of aunt, uncle, and cousins. I spent my childhood and youth on the property, and I lived there the summer before college, after my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved north. The house had been for sale since my senior year, but with the market taking such a drastic downturn I didn't really think it could ever sell; it's a million-dollar property now, double waterfront, in an expensive area of my hometown. But it sold. Last week, in fact, to people who really only wanted the land, who plan to knock the house down and build something new. And so my grandmother packs up the remnant of strange oddities in the garage (my aunt and uncle are pack rats) and looks for a condo or a small house. It's very strange, unsettling and wrong, to think of going anywhere else on the island for a holiday dinner. It's selfish to think of myself, I suppose; it wasn't my house, didn't belong to my parents. But its sale and eventual destruction is the final tap of the hammer: now I truly can't go home. I can go to my aunts and uncles' houses, I can stay with DRSHEBLOGGO, but it's far too easy to envision a day when my town will be, finally, a tourist destination, when I will have to stay in a hotel if I want to visit old haunts. 

(Christmas 2010)

Not a nice feeling. But I am sneakily, guiltily glad that it took so long to sell. I'm glad I was able to bring my manfriend home and show off my history. I'm glad I had one last Christmas at home in 2012, with nearly all my family present. I'm glad my childhood had such firm roots, that there were treehouses and rambles and wooly damp forests for adventures. Many people don't have that and I was lucky. I am lucky. And I hope someday to be able to commit the house and its stories to print in the way that they deserve. 

Friday, April 05, 2013

Justify the malice, or, How many links can I fit into one post?

For awhile there I was distracted by Tegan and Sara and Leprous, but true love lasts a lifetime and my favorite power metal sneak feminists, Kamelot, are perfect for every season. Part of this is that Tumblr user thesiegeperilous is in the process of posting a series on the female gaze in heavy metal (one of which posts links to my own Kamelot superpost, oh my how I blushed!), and so I've been thinking about image, how groups in these genres portray themselves, and how they might consider their fanbase and fan expectations when creating those images. Though according to Deena Weinstein the male to female fan split is fairly even, the majority of metal performers are male and--as in most media--the product is largely aimed at male audiences...or rather, the default audience, which is assumed to be male. As Stephanie Green points out in her very good 2009 article on Strange Horizons, despite a significant presence female fans may often be marginalized or have their fandom policed (as I noted briefly a few months ago). If, as Green posits, "metal's themes center on untamed masculinity in all its forms," does a female gaze even exist within the music? Why would I refer to any metal band as feminist, even a sneaky brand? On the surface, Kamelot does not appear to meet the criteria: the major female characters in their songs have a tendency to die, and mainly male desires and character arcs are considered. However, two songs from very different eras present a more nuanced view into the band psyche--the "Elizabeth" trio and the four-part "Poetry for the Poisoned." Furthermore, the characterization of Ariel on The Black Halo can be read as, if not created for the female gaze, then an inversion of the male gaze. 

First, Karma's "Elizabeth": nominally about the notorious Elizabeth Bathory, the song is, in Khan's words, about beauty, vanity, and growing old. Within this frame, the song can be interpreted as an examination of beauty standards for women in place since time immemorial, and how straining to meet kyriarchal expectations turns women against one another and against themselves. According to legend and as portrayed in the song, Bathory murdered young women in order to use their blood to preserve her own beauty and youth. Kamelot's rendition is somewhat more sympathetic; the lyrics show a woman full of pride, doubt, and fear, trapped by actions carried out in order to free herself from "the vicious hands of time." American culture dictates norms for women, from our appearance to our sexuality to how we raise our children, and typically these norms are narrow indeed, based around an ideal of fairness (where beauty is white), thinness (where health is unimportant), innocence (where malleability is prized above self-esteem), and availability (to the right men, at the right time). It's easy enough to see myself in Elizabeth, to imagine the demands placed on me carried to their logical extreme. How far are we willing to go to make ourselves desirable, in a culture where a woman's worth is measured by her desirability? Authorial intent is always a murky topic, but I read "Elizabeth" as a song created by someone who was in fact interested in concerns like these, who saw a need to ask what would drive a woman to murder repeatedly, with a specific end goal in mind. As a listener I am free to derive my own meaning from songs, and while I have no idea if any of the band members would take the label "feminist," the "Elizabeth" trio is significant to me through the lens of feminism.

Next, the Ariel question. During Epica, Ariel is presented as a typical masculine hero-on-a-quest: he's active, he has goals, he loves but he sets aside that love in favor of his journey, his lady is fridged for his emotional testing, etc. The Black Halo continues the quest, but Ariel's position has shifted slightly. Beginning with the Epica song "Descent of the Archangel" and continued in "March of Mephisto," "When the Lights Are Down," and "The Haunting," Ariel is acted upon, placed in a position normally occupied by women. Indeed, "March of Mephisto" specifically indicates that Ariel is being seduced--by multiple personages, no less, as his seduction is two-fold and carried out mentally by Mephisto and physically by Marguerite. Now, the plot breakdown of this album as posited on Wikipedia diverges somewhat from my interpretation; it emphasizes that Ariel seduces Marguerite under Mephisto's influence, but it is also indicated that Mephisto delivers Marguerite to Ariel (is that enough italicization?). So for me, Ariel's mental/spiritual assault by Mephisto in conjunction with Mephisto maneuvering Marguerite like a chess piece trumps Ariel's autonomy. In effect the positioning of Ariel gives listeners a two-pronged fantasy: those attracted to women (Marguerite) can imagine themselves being seduced by her, and those attracted to men (Ariel) can imagine themselves seducing him. Ultimately, though the songs and accompanying videos showcase very beautiful women--including the flawless Simone Simons, who really deserves her own post someday--which is normative of androcentric heavy metal, the main male character is not in the typical position of power-over. Lyrically the songs don't stroke Ariel's ego or glorify his relationships; rather they pin the blame for Helena's death and his own downfall squarely on Ariel. Tracks like "This Pain" reveal an awareness of how non-sanctioned sexual relationships affect women, both in the medieval period Ariel is supposed to be part of and in good old 2013. On the flipside, since Khan's voice and appearance are the vanguard of Kamelot, suggestive lyrics come straight from the horse's mouth; the teasing nature of "Descent of the Archangel," the romance of "Forever" and "Temples of Gold," and the lust behind "March of Mephisto" all have an attraction magnified by the fact that they are sung by a beautiful and charismatic performer. Similarly, the "you will kneel before me" line from "Veritas" capitalizes on Tommy Karevik's physical and sonic appeal.

Finally, Poetry for the Poisoned's title track. It's no secret that I am fond of this album, a release decried by many fans, and part of it is that I hear it as darkly reflective of Ariel's journey on Epica and The Black Halo; the main character on the title track is very similar to who Ariel would have become had he fully succumbed to Mephisto. Beyond this, the record features two unnamed female characters who differ greatly from Helena and Marguerite. Though "If Tomorrow Came" is my favorite song on the album--largely for featuring that singular woman--more interesting to interrogate is "Poetry for the Poisoned" itself. The spoken word bit at the end of Part I sets the theme up nicely, making quite clear that this song is about sex and sexual appetite, but Parts II and III turn the female voice into the subject and the male voice into--well, not quite an object, but into someone who is acted upon as he acts upon the woman. It is rare enough in Kamelot lyrics to see a woman acting out, and rarer still in metal lyrics generally to see one whose sexuality is not necessarily objectified or demonized. Not to say that this doesn't occur in "Poetry," but presenting a female character who glories in her sexuality and her physical power is a noble goal--particularly if she is not ultimately punished for it. And even beyond this, the song can be read as a revenge story, as it ends with the male character's death and "life in slow review" as he considers what's brought him to this place. Not only is the female character still alive at song's end, she's been empowered to strike back at someone who assaulted her and assumed she would provide satisfaction for him and nothing more. Of course there are less charitable interpretations of this song, but as a fan of so-called weaponized femininity, I like mine.

No band, actor, writer, or filmmaker is perfect; most of the time I have to analyze the media I'm consuming and see if there's enough There there to make it worth my while. It's entirely possible to be a fan of problematic things; it's why the gods blessed us with critical faculties. And while there is material in Kamelot's catalogue to take issue with, there's also enough thoughtful, unusual material that I feel confident that the band are aware of their non-straight-male fans and are interested in not alienating them, in creating narratives that don't always privilege prototypical male sexuality and that present cognizance of  female desire. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Twin cities

I picked up the book Rust Belt Chic on a recent trip to the delightful Mac's Backs in Coventry, and have been enjoying it quite a bit. Not only is it a charming and smart tribute to Cleveland and other Rust Belt locales, but it's helping to elucidate what I suspect is the major reason that I have taken to Cleveland so well: namely that it's a lot like Tampa. Or rather Tampa is a lot like Cleveland, since the Cleve is a much older, larger, and more established city. On the surface they don't look much alike at all--Tampa is tropical, humid and killingly bright, famous for cigars and amusement parks, while Cleveland is possessed of Real Seasons and noted for the intensity of its loathing for LeBron James, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and an abundance of rust. But the two share some specific features that have settled them firmly in my regard. 

Industry: Tampa is the seat of heavy industry in Florida. It's home to the largest port in the state and functions as the shipping gateway to Central and South America. Evidence of this is everywhere, from the stretches of industrial ugly on Adamo Drive to the clots of semis flooding Interstates 75, I4, and 275 to the glorious view of shipyards visible from the new highrises in Channelside. Cleveland, of course, is famous or infamous for its heavy industry, chiefly steel manufacturing; seeing the ruin porn of factories and steelyards, the "unplaces" of abandoned warehouses and unfinished building projects make me feel oddly at home here. Fittingly for my Spacecoast USA pride, there's a NASA outpost in Cleveland too, the John Glenn Research Center.

Water: Both cities benefit from their locations on coasts, and the gladness in my heart when my manfriend decided that Cleveland was where his med school lived was initially due to the fact that I wouldn't be landlocked. Growing up on Florida's East Coast and then living for six years on its West Coast, with many sojourns to springs and many days spent on rivers in between, I'm not sure I would have been able to adjust to living in--say--Iowa. Lake Erie and the North Coast, as well as the Cuyahoga River (no longer flammable) and the many area creeks, are a relief to my eyes and to my sensibilities as someone requiring large quantities of water to live. A coastal elite I'll always be.

(downtown Cleveland; photo mine)

Climate/Geography: This is where you say, Diana I think you may have cracked, because yes, it snows in Ohio. In fact, it's snowing right now! (happy spring) However, the summers are just like home, and last summer the temperatures here in the Cleve rose past those in Tampa--I checked. My, it was balmy! My only other frame of reference for summers is New Hampshire, which...sometimes it snows during New Hampshire summers...so to find myself in a place with genuine summer is a blessing. Furthermore, though the geography of northeast Ohio is not at all similar to that of west Florida, the landscape of business is strangely familiar. Once outside the industrial centers of the cities, you'll find farmland and fruit groves in both Hillsborough and Cuyahoga Counties. And I like that a lot about my former and current cities: I like being able to go from the urban beauty of skyscrapers, train tracks, and warehouses to a more rural view of pastures, cows, and bounteous trees. 

Microculture: New Yorkers, Los Angelenos, and Seattlites may scoff all they want at midwestern bulwark Cleveland and southeastern ant-hill Tampa, but you'll have a good time in either city. Both contain fucking awesome breweries (Great Lakes, Market Garden, Indigo Imp, and others in the greater Cleveland area, and Cigar City and Florida Avenue in Tampa--perhaps more that I'm not aware of), a reasonable variety of food, museums and gardens, and theme parks if that's what you need. Perhaps they don't have the 24-hour-a-day beat of NYC, the historical patina of Boston, or the Hollywood glamour of LA, but--as Rust Belt Chic points out--a city should not strive to be like other cities; it should strive to be like itself. You can be a foodie in Tampa, a skate punk in Cleveland, a highbrow film nerd in either, and you can roll around in the local history of Eliot Ness (the dude who took down Al Capone) and Santo Trafficante, Jr. (of the Tampa mob family) or take in strange plants at the respective botanical gardens, both located near the cities' major universities.

(downtown Tampa; via tampashit)

Now it's possible that all cities are like this, that if I had moved to Des Moines I would feel the same way, or Portland, or Phoenix. But I'm not sure; I remain obsessed with London and Vancouver, but for very different reasons. I think there's some quality that Tampa and Cleveland have, some self-deprecation or carelessness, some stubborn local pride in our casinos and stadiums and suburban sprawl and most of all in what lies beneath that veneer: pierogi and Cubanos, old bricks pushing through concrete in Ybor City and historic settlers buried under a movie theater parking lot in Middleburg Heights.
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