Housework vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster

after Richard Brautigan

When I clean the house
it’s like a mine disaster.
I think of all the poems
trapped inside me

Was Terry Pratchett a Feminist?

Terry Pratchett is one of the most prolific authors of our age. When he died yesterday (March 12, 2015) he left behind a massive oeuvre: more than 70 books, most of them about the Discworld, a flat planet carried on the back of four elephants who themselves stand back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims through space.

About a month ago I began re-reading Pratchett’s Discworld books. As I did so, this question kept roiling around in the back of my mind: Is Terry Pratchett a feminist? Continue reading “Was Terry Pratchett a Feminist?”

The Poet According to Harper’s

This poet, first arrested by the implied promise of this passage (Buzzfeed headline: “How to become a Great Poet (TM) in three easy steps”), is struck by the subtle gendered irony contained therein.

We might say that three qualities are necessary to write superb lyric poetry. First, the writer must have something of a gift: she must be able to make music, command metaphors, compress sense, write melodiously when the situation demands and gratingly when need be. She must also have something to say. There must be some region of her experience that has transfixed her and that she feels compelled to put into words and illuminate. She must burn to attack some issue, must want to unbind a knot, tighten it, or maybe send a blade directly through its core.

Given these powers — the power of expression and the power to find a theme — the poet must add ambition. She must be willing to write for her readers. She must be willing to articulate the possibility that what is true for her is true for all. When these three qualities — lyric gift; a serious theme, passionately addressed; real ambition (which one might also call courage) — come together, the results can be luminous: one gets Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” or Plath’s “Daddy,” or Lowell’s “Sunday Morning” (or Wallace Stevens’s). But without that last ingredient, ambition, nothing great will come.

— “Poetry Slam: Or, the decline of American verse,” by Mark Edmundson, in Harper’s July 2013, p. 64. Full text behind a paywall here: http://harpers.org/archive/2013/07/poetry-slam/

Some relevant pieces of information about the text:

  1. A few years ago, Harper’s was one of the worst offenders on the VIDA list. It’s still not doing so well.
  2. The author uses the feminine pronoun to refer to the hypothetical Great Poet.
  3. Three out of four of the examples of Great Poetry are by male authors.
  4. The author of the article is a man.

Since I’d rather be a Great Poet (TM) than a Women’s Studies professor, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about these facts and whether or not they indicate that Harper’s Magazine has a long way to go before its head will be completely removed from its own posterior.

Is It a Date? Will There Be Cupcakes?

Is it a date, a friendly get-together, or an interview? The femme is zaftig and pale with dark auburn hair, a violet orchid behind her ear that matches her dress. So I’m guessing it’s a date. Because my own femme-dar tells me this woman might be wearing that fabulous dress, but not the orchid if she didn’t have a reason to. Why else would a femme and a butch — or is ze a transman — be sitting together on an October afternoon at Fiore’s Bakery, in Jamaica Plain, the the Ground Zero of our tribe? Why else would they be asking and answering all those getting-to-know-you questions? Are all queer women so matter-of-fact witht their first-date questions? Or is it an interview? Are they sniffing each other out as they consider collaborating on some performance art piece, or some vaguely charitable business plan, maybe a cupcake store that sources all its chocolate from a women’s coca collective in Ghana?

[Adapted from an October 2012 journal entry]

The Move: Before

Friday, December 16, 2011

Twenty minutes. Half the house in boxes, half my body in distress, half my mind in disarray. The movers come tomorrow. Yesterday I wrote the checks and opened the door and walked in to the empty apartment and it was bare and freshly painted and beautiful.

Relax and let it go. Move forward. Relax and move forward. Relax and let go and move forward.

So grateful for so many things right now. And I still (the manager in me sure loves this expression) have to do the work. Knuckle down and buckle under and do the work. When Lucy and Desi come today, I can go ahead and give them their Christmas presents, half-wrapped or almost wrapped. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Relax into the imperfection, keep moving forward, rest on the page, and do the work.

Work as a spiritual practice. Can I have fun while doing the work?

The Move (Introduction)

On a bright, cool day in December I packed up all my things and took the fool’s journey into a new cohabitation. The fool will say “it’s different this time,” but the wise fool knows when it’s actually true.

What follows are excerpts from my journal entries written before, during, and after the move.

Saturday 12/10/2011

The dream:

A tent full of women in folding chairs,
a table at the front

a buffet served over beds of ice

Me introducing,
talking about the interplay between dreams/words and reality,
the inner and the outer life

how this very event starts as a dream,
started as words on paper,
and moved through them into reality

how reality and our experience of it
sparks our inner life —> poetry

the experience of a bite of food
or running into a friend by chance
or hearing someone else’s words read aloud

informs our own inner life

the idea of delicious food served over beds of ice
and wildflowers perched in mason jars
and a room full of women — all these beautiful women!
young, old, mothers, crones, fat and skinny, smooth and blemished —
listening and speaking

it’s important that some of the
women have short hair

Emo femme shopping and what it won’t give me

A while back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she wanted to indulge in some “emo femme shopping,” but that she was resisting the impulse. And she summed up the post with a phrase I wish I were uninhibited enough to write: “world love me NOW!”

I knew immediately what she meant. This friend and I have a lot in common. We’re both queer femmes, we’re both plus-sized girls, and neither of us had Mrs. Cleaver for a mother. Her post also made me aware of how I’d been indulging in my own emo femme shopping for quite a few weeks. And what, pray tell, is emo femme shopping? It’s an attempt to lift one’s mood via the purchase of a pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable item. And given the nearly unlimited number of pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable items available via the miracle of the Intartubes and Paypal (not to mention the nice bump in salary I enjoyed when I came back to work full-time this April), it can reach dangerous proportions.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of attempting to change our moods via some outside mechanism. Some of us use booze. Some of us use food. Some of us use sex. And some of us use things like this! or this! or this!. I’m actually not very interested in any of these items, but they do a good job of representing the kind of twee, impractical things I tend to crave when I’m in a particular kind of mood.

Emo femme shopping can very quickly turn into the hell of the hungry ghost — a hell of intense craving that’s impossible to satisfy. A tiny mouth and a huge belly. Like most hells, it’s an illusion. In this case, it’s the illusion that more material possessions will fill the god-shaped hole inside of me.

My latest emo femme shopping streak started with a bona fide attempt to supplement my summer wardrobe. Since my initial shopping list came from one of my rare (and incredibly useful) visits with Julie Foley (consultant of style!), it had a patina of legitimacy. But the impulse to buy can very quickly run out of control. Recently I’d decided to give up completely on brick-and-mortar retail outlets. The few stores that even carry clothing in my size inevitably make my brain boil after 20 minutes. At Macy’s or Kohl’s, I traipse past endless rows of fashionable, reasonably priced outfits until I find the tiny corner reserved for “Women.” Apparently, most clothing retailers think “women” prefer polyester tents in unflattering colors. Compared with with the increasing number of online retailers offering on-trend clothing with decent deals (and free shipping), it’s a no-brainer. Of course, online shopping isn’t ACTUALLY more convenient. It just offers a different kind of inconvenience. When I shop for clothes at a store, I try on about six items for every two I buy. With online shopping, I have more options, but I also have the unlovely hassle of returns and exchanges via mail.

The unfortunate result of this new paradigm for shopping is that I never feel quite done. And this is where the emo femme shopping phenomenon — the hungry ghost — can quickly get out of control.

There’s nothing wrong with shopping, just as there’s nothing wrong with eating, or sleeping, or having sex, or watching TV. The problem arises when I start to think that shopping will give me things that it won’t.

Shopping will not give me peace of mind.

Shopping will not make me feel more empowered.

Shopping will not give me a sense of connection.

Shopping will not make me feel pretty (at least not for very long).

Shopping will just give me more stuff.

I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who’s had this experience. Have you ever had the emo femme shopping urge? Or tried to fill yourself up with things that won’t satisfy you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. My blog gets lonely and it wants to be your friend.