Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”
Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.
That Cleary eventually ended up writing children’s books feels the way the paths of a great many talented people feel: both inevitable and magical, the result of a lot of hard work mixed with a certain amount of luck. Upon becoming a librarian after school, she recalls another librarian wondering about how she could get to be so good at her job:
“Miss Remsberg also said that she did not understand why the children had liked me so much; I treated them the same way I treated adults, of course. That was the way I had wanted to be treated as a child.”
Remember, as Cleary does, it would be years before “the labels ‘teenager’ and ‘young adult’” would even be used regularly. Back then, to look at young people this way, you had to be extraordinarily interested in understanding the emotional states of an age group that was almost always overlooked. Cleary did; she had a firm grasp of the reality that children have complex inner lives, and this sensibility made her books break through.
Happy Halloween! It’s the season of costume parties, trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving, and scary stories. The spookiness doesn’t have to end with the weekend—indulge in classic creepypasta, scary podcasts, and Ms. (Shirley) Jackson on your lunch break.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been in a reading funk. I start a book; I put it down; repeat. Instead of novels, I’ve turned to Reddit (for virtually the first time in my life), reading creepypasta and other weird stories into the wee hours. Bonus round: Every year, Jezebel collects terrifying stories from their readers—usually of the paranormal-it-happened-to-me variety–and this year’s is up! I think “Armoire” is the scariest. Read more…
Book-Twitter is deeply divided over the news that Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. It seems as if half the lit world is affronted that a folk singer has been acknowledged in the same category as literary greats like Rudyard Kipling, Pearl S. Buck, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, while the other is thrilled that lyrics to the songs that reflected and affected social change in the second half of the twentieth century are being recognized as poetry.
In a prescient post on Jezebel last month, Catherine Nichols wrote about how, in reading Chronicles, Dylan’s 2005 memoir, she came to see the musician her father had introduced her to as a true literary artist, and to answer the question she’d been holding in her mind: “What’s so good about him?”
As a writer, Dylan layers in triplicate: there are the things that happen, the loopy ways he imagines them and the art that informs his imagination all concurrently, which is a literary technique I would love to learn myself. The book Peter Pan does this layering, but it’s sorted out clearly in time: Barrie narrates the event first, then re-situates it in Wendy’s family dynamics, then explores it in Wendy’s mind, through art and imagination (that’s Neverland). Dylan writes all these dimensions at once. The human touch begins in this constant rendering of art and subjectivity behind the words.
I recently finished an advance reader’s copy of Perfect Little Worldby Kevin Wilson, which debuts in January 2017. Perfect Little World is the story of Isabelle Poole, a fierce but desperate single mom who applies, with success, to be a part of a utopian parenting project in which children will be raised communally by their parents and a team of educators and scientists in near seclusion. I was expecting Perfect Little World to transform from a utopia to a dystopia by its end—and there were certainly disturbing, sad moments throughout the novel—but Wilson resisted sensationalism and apocalyptic tropes. Instead, he’s written something quite genuine and powerful. Unexpectedly, I was moved. I realized my recent exposure to planned societies has been books like The Heart Goes Last and Children of the New World—stories devoted to satire, technology and dark prophesy. In other words, more dystopian than utopian.
Maybe that’s why Perfect Little World moved me. There’s so much evil in the world—racism meets unchecked authority meets gun, say, or a dangerous, dangerous man running for president of the United States—that any degree of optimism feels hard-won. At this point, hopelessness feels easy, logical, intelligent, but I am finding more and more power in a well-crafted happy ending, a redemptive final note. With that in mind, here are five stories about utopian societies. Read more…
On Sunday, the first openly gay Miss America contestant will vie for the crown on national TV. She’s Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, and her platform centers on suicide prevention—a particularly prescient topic, since LGBTQ-identified teens are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. I’m excited for O’Flaherty and hopeful her presence will increase awareness of the abysmal suicide rates among our community. On the other hand, I take issue with O’Flaherty’s declaration that “the Miss America Organization has always been open and accepting of women of all backgrounds.” This, as I learned during my reading this week, is simply not true. Black women were prohibited from competing until 1950. Women who had abortions or were divorced could not compete until 1999. Until recently, the “swimwear” modeling portion accounted for 15 percent of each contestant’s overall score; this year, it’s 10 percent. These are just the facts.
Miss America isn’t the only pageant out there, of course, and this week, I learned about Miss Rodeo America and Miss Gay America, too. In this list, you’ll find stories about drag royalty, the price of the perfect Western wardrobe, the perils of butt glue, and more. Read more…
When I was 17, in my last year of high school, I took a statistics class. Notoriously bad at math, I braced myself for a semester of angst. Instead, I found that I understood the course material, loved my classmates and had great rapport with my teacher. Encouraged, I signed up to take the Advanced Placement statistics course and corresponding exam the next semester. My parents were understandably wary; they’d witnessed a decade of temper tantrums and failed math tests. But, I stood my ground. I wanted to take this class, and I did. The class was tough, but not impossible. I passed the exam. Now, almost a decade later, this is one of my proudest moments. No one thought I could do the thing, and I did the thing anyway.
My recent fascination with hiking is ridiculous: I am an indoor kid. I love Netflix, snacks, sleeping, that Bubble Spinner game and owning a thousand books. Sweating makes me panic. I have never gone on a run for fun. I’m scared of bugs and the dark. I’ve never peed outside. What possible success could I have on the trail?
I want to prove to myself that my soft, pale, weird body can do hard things. I want to rise to the occasion of living. I want to learn to love the outdoors before I get some life-altering injury, or become too addicted to my phone, or die, or something else. I want to be able to say, I did that. I can do that, too. I am strong. I am capable. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m stable or hardy enough to learn to love hiking, but I want to give it a fair shot. I owe myself that much.
I can’t hike right now (excuses, excuses) because I’m out of town for a wedding. So I’m reading about hiking. Below are seven stories about the outdoors, outdoor apparel, hiking buddies, bodily transformation, body image, abuse and sufferfests. Read more…
There are no precise enough words or satisfying enough conclusions to fully account for her story, or any like it. It’s easy to see what Bowie represents here: a sexual norm that has always appallingly favored men, and the abuse that stems from and surpasses even that. It is easy to denounce the part Bowie played in this, even with any number of purportedly mitigating factors: the political context, Maddox’s story, the fact that he lived with generosity and openness, the less generous fact that his synapses were perpetually blitzed with cocaine. It is less easy to turn over what Maddox evinces in this narrative, from the late 1970s to her account of it now—which is that women have developed the vastly unfair, nonetheless remarkable, and still essential ability to find pleasure and freedom in a system that oppresses them.
The persistence of that reality—that we learn to have sex not in a utopia but within and around whatever norms we are presented with—is why it matters that things were different in the ’70s. It is possible to say that there don’t ever need to be any other Lori Maddoxes without saying that there never were. It is possible for me to read all the rape stories in my inbox and still know with certainty that something enormous is different—and, that acknowledging that is the only way to credit the second-wave women who forced that change with rhetorical fervor that girls now would find insane. It’s because of them that we have both the words to identify power and, now, the freedom to do so more ambivalently. It’s their stringency that spared me from having to know how I would have played it if I’d grown up at a time when there was no vocabulary to separate a party girl from a body for the taking, when grown men said fair game at the age of 13.