Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shrill by Lindy West: My Path from Devoted West Acolyte to Polite But Distant Fan

I'm terrified of Lindy West, and I think her book is one of the most important to come out this year.

Let's temper that last statement with the fact that, as we all know, my reading tends to consist of comedic memoirs, Victorian literature, academic feminist texts from the 1980s, and Fox Trot. But nevertheless, certain books stick out with the kind of prominence that makes you choose them rather than any of the others on the shelf. Shrill is one of these. It's an essay-based memoir that tackles feminism and internet trolling and fat-shaming. More specifically shaming a fat woman, because you can bet internet culture (and, let's be honest, regular culture) makes that distinction.

When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you put women against one another; keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world.

Lindy West is one of the most creative and clever writers I've ever read. She's able to meld excellent writing with internetspeak, WHICH I BELIEVE IS AKIN TO DANTE'S ACCOMPLISHMENT. Her review of Titanic is still something I want framed on my wall. Shrill is a quick read, an important read, and its ideas will bounce around in your brain weeks after you've read it. It's already made me check my thoughts numerous times, examine why I thought them, and start to reframe how I view the world.

Are there problems with Lindy West? Of course there are problems.

She – at least up until I unfollowed her on Twitter – sics her followers on anyone she views as badgering her. She answers seemingly well-intentioned questions with sneering insults, and is a terrifying person to try to have a dialogue with online.Which I did precisely once to call out the bullying thing and felt like hiding behind a cushion the entire time. And that's coming from this tweet that my twitter archive says I sent in 2012:

But here's the thing: IF I WERE LINDY WEST I WOULD HAVE CRUMPLED LONG AGO LIKE SO MANY WATER COOLER CUPS. I can't imagine the level of abuse she takes in every. single. day. So it feels dickish to criticize how she deals with it. So instead I don't follow her every word anymore, I don't look up her writing, and when she stood 10 feet from me at Book Con, I purposely avoided her. But she's still a brilliant writer, I still love her book, and you all should read it please go do so

And seriously, read her Titanic review.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why We Still Need Pride

Pride was always an act of defiance.

Even when I came out in 2011, and things were so much easier than when Chicago held its first Pride Parade (one year after the Stonewall riots) – even then, we still had civil unions instead of marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Act seemed to have an impossibly secure foothold in America, and the idea of protective bills for LGBT citizens passing was, if not laughable, quixotic. We're still working on that one.

At the parade in 2013, we celebrated United States v. Windsor, and the ability for people to have their marriage recognized at a federal level. In 2014 we were fighting for it to be recognized everywhere, and in 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy said "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

After last year, I was done being defiant for Pride. I wouldn't go to the parade anymore. Everyone accepts us now, it's over, we can just live our lives. 

Then Orlando happened. We've been beaten, mocked, and murdered in America, but never with that kind of single-minded, calculated, and targeted hatred, and never on that kind of scale.

I hated that I had some reservations about going to Pride this year. I hated that they weren't because I still felt "done," but because I was afraid of what would happen if I attended as a member of my own community. I hated that I heard friends saying they weren't going because of those same fears. 

What I loved were the people who were there. 

My friends who had been planning to go for months, gay and straight, showed up. We stood silently together at the very beginning as the Orlando memorial passed by. We cheered for politicians, gay bars, animal shelters, and the LGBT organizations whose presence was a reminder of all the work they've done over the years to give us the legal rights we have today. We mostly just smiled and hugged and shouted greetings happily at strangers who passed by. 

It was the best Pride yet, and it's because of what is at the center of the LGBT movement, and what was therefore at the center of Pride Sunday: love.

Love is love is love is love, and while the parade must most certainly remain a gesture of defiance, that defiance is saying "We are here, we are visible, and we deserve to be loved and to love others." That is the radical statement of Pride. And we will show up year after year after year until that statement isn't seen as radical anymore. 

Happy Pride.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Books I Have Bought in the Past Week

As a blogger, you're given books. A lot. Average-person-reviews are the new newspaper critic (good lord, why) and so publishers are totally fine sending out copies of their books to people with any kind of established presence in the hopes – I assume, based on my own experience – that they will write a capslock-filled, gif-laden post about the wonders of those books. That's fair.


In the past week I have purchased:

These two on a date that went immensely south, but LOVE PASSES, BOOKS ALONE REMAIN. (...that's the quote, right?) Then the following SIX YES SIX at Chicago's own Open Books's half-off sale. I mean. Look. They're used books already, and then they were half-off. What did you want me to do – not buy any? That's INSANE.

When I found myself trotting around the store with 6 books piled in my arms, I announced to my queer women discussion group that was also roaming around that I was cutting myself off and going home. In my defense, I'd been eyeing Century of Struggle for quite some time because Frances Willard AND Frances Ellen Watkins Harper are right there on the cover but I couldn't bring myself to pay $7 for something I knew I wouldn't get to for years. But $3.50? Absolutely. 

I'm currently reading Lindy West's Shrill, Colleen Oakes's The Queen of Hearts, and John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women, so I will get to the above approximately never.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Wonder Trail by Steve Hely: Incas! Ayahuasca! Many Varieties of Hot Chocolate!

With this book, Steve Hely reestablishes himself as one of my favorite authors after a years-long dormant period between this book and his last, How I Became a Famous Novelist. The Wonder Trail is a travel narrative as he journeys from Los Angeles all the way down through Central and South America to the southernmost point.

One of my favorite things about Mr Hely is that he is a giant nerd. A big giant nerd who not only references the most obscure but still relevant texts throughout his narrative, but also lists them at the end in case you were wanting to read them. 'And why wouldn't you?' he probably thinks. But he was right and before I found that list, I'd written down 8 books he mentioned, including Breaking the Maya Code, Down and Delirious in Mexico City, and the Florentine Codex, which is super old and "[t]he gods, the ways of living, hunting, fishing, lush drawings of plants. Old legends and stories. Beautiful princesses, styles of clothes, beautiful landscapes of special places" all related to the Aztecs (also called the Mexica here). Did I know about this book before? No! But now I do.

His one flaw in the book is never mentioning this film

Because of The Wonder Trail, I want to visit Machu Picchu, 'cause it sounds damn magnificent. I sort of want to see the Amazon, but I'm also thinking that in all these places I will get kidnapped/murdered. While I very much enjoy reading about other people going places, I am terrified to do so myself if they are not very splendidly touristized already with a Starbucks a maximum of 1 mile away. 

Which is why travel narratives are so perfect. "What a fantastically wonderful place that is! I'll go there someday!" I can say to myself, all while secretly planning to really go to Plymouth, Massachusetts and stare at the rock the Pilgrims might have stepped on or however it's related to them, then eat some french fries in a cafe 50 feet away while checking Facebook. This is why I am very aware I will not survive the zombie apocalypse, and have reconciled myself to that fact.

The negative reviews I've seen of this seem to consist of "he keeps talking about HISTORY," to which I just want to respond

Yes! He DOES keep talking about history! And guess what my high school never taught me? Yeah, that'd be the history of Central & South America outside of some reference to Montezuma while mainly focusing on the conquistadors. I came away from this knowing about the bounty of hot chocolate flavors in Mexico City, the reason Colombia is bananas (in a very generalized way -- the whole book's not very long, what do you want), what the hell the Darién Gap is, and how they built the Panama Canal. 

I mean, again, he there is the problem of him visiting Cusco and there being nary a reference to this stunning gem of a film:

But how much can you expect of one person.

The Wonder Trail by Steve Hely: Get it. Read it. Love it. Maybe travel to South America.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

2 Things That Make Me Happy

This week. Nothing like waking up in a hotel room, turning on the TV and watching with ever-mounting horror as a police chief says that now they are estimating 50 people have died in a mass shooting and the crowd of seasoned reporters in front of him audibly gasps.

The emphasis I have seen from almost everyone around me on love and joy in the face of anger and fear, and the renewed-with-a-passion demand to ban semi-automatic weapons, have both filled me with pride in humanity and a commitment to the idea that we are doing better and we will continue to do better.

With that in mind, what are things that make you happy? I looked around my immediate surroundings and found so many.

My Vertigo necklace.

When I went to San Francisco for my 30th birthday/Vertigo self-guided tour, I stopped at the Mission Dolores, where Scottie follows Madeleine, and I bought this. I just–I just love Vertigo so much, you guys.

When I wear this, it reminds me of that trip and how awesome it was traipsing up and down San Francisco and watching Vertigo for the first time with my friends in high school and saying the end was dumb and then becoming obsessed with it and writing pages about it in my journal during my study abroad in France when I was 21 because I had no access to DVDs and I just wanted to watch it and how I then had a Kim Novak film festival in my apartment that I alone attended.

(may contain Vertigo spoilers by which I mean does)

That necklace makes me feel grounded and connected to something that I just love all over. 

My SnapBack

I've always eschewed lesbian stereotypes, at least as regards appearance. I keep my hair long, I wear pencil skirts, and the one time I tried on Converse it felt like I was pretending to be something I wasn't. But it's Pride Month, damnit, and I'm a lesbian under 40 and I wanted a damn SnapBack. So I bought one. And it has an original Nintendo controller on it and it's great.

I bought it this past Saturday, so now it's forever bound to Orlando in my mind, not as a sad reminder, but as a determined "this marks me in a way that still seems to be dangerous, but I am choosing to embrace that danger because it is an intrinsic part of who I am."

The shirt just makes me laugh.

In the face of terrible events that seem to have no end, we have to also keep close to us those things that make us happy. Those things will keep us going and remind us why we aren't just giving up and giving in to those who want to keep us afraid. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in his beautiful, beautiful way: "Now fill the world with music, love, and pride."


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Not to sound like a dick, but when I see that a guy has written a female-perspective book, I get a little

But I loved this. It's a story about the 1980s and demon possession, but overwhelmingly it's a story of friendship. I enjoyed his first book with Quirk (Horrorstör) but Grady Hendrix very much ups his game here and makes you grab your face with alternating bouts of happiness and anxiety.

My Best Friend's Exorcism is about best friends Abby and Gretchen, who go to high school together in 1988 and everything is normal until Gretchen gets demonically possessed and shit gets real weird.

Strangely enough, one of the things I loved the most about this book was its 1988 setting. If you're an older Millennial (yes, I just turned 31) and were born in the '80s, then you have vague memories of life before the internet and cell phones and how you somehow managed to get things done in that near-impossible-to-survive environment. Swatch watches are mentioned! And B. Dalton! Remember B. Dalton? 

(Kids, back before the internet, there were bookstores in malls, and they consisted of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, and you would go there, order a book, and then wait for them to call you so you could joyously run there and pick it up)

It's set in Charleston, which I was extra-delighted by because I was just there, and I had to do a double-take because not only is some of it set on Isle of Palms (an island appx 25 minutes from Charleston, which is where I stayed) but it also references The Windjammer, which is a bar my friends and I stumbled upon when we were walking on the beach at 10 PM, trying to avoid stepping on jellyfish. 

All the characters are written wonderfully. Abby and Gretchen's friendship is real and vivid and believable, and I loved spending time with all of them. Also the cover is a rockin' '80s good time. Basically, you should read this if you like friendship and also maybe books about demon possession but mainly friendship.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Stop Killing Queer Characters

It's not 1952 anymore.

Why is television refusing to catch up to the realities of today? Why is it stuck in a way of being that is a minimum of 20, if not 60 years old?

I'm talking about the death of queer characters. I'm talking about the fact that 18 queer female characters have died on TV this year alone. That's 3 dead every month. Imagine that every time you liked a couple on TV, one of them died. Because that's been what's happened this year. This past week, another lesbian in a popular pairing died, and it hit me like a truck. This is not okay. This cannot keep happening. Queer women dying on TV should not be an assumption.


This is not our reality. This is not what we should expect. Stop making the LGBT community watch ourselves die over and over again when the truth is we have a chance for an actual happy ending in our world today. A really good chance. The culture has progressed and yet television stays mired in a world where the girl who likes girls dies, or is quietly shoved offscreen because she might make people who are watching uncomfortable.

Media teaches us how to see ourselves and our world. We internalize those messages without meaning to, and it's things like seeing lesbians die over and over again on TV that make you hesitate and look around before holding your girlfriend's hand, or make you combat the feeling that you were built the wrong way. That if you were just built normally, you'd get to be part of the people you watch survive week after week.

Television is clinging to the idea that queer people are expendable. That we don't need them for the happy ending; that they were a nice salacious ratings boost, but now that they've served their purpose, they can disappear.

This is not our reality. Catch up, TV.