It’s hard to learn a new language. But it’s way harder to learn a new culture.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up.
This sums up my 20s and early 30s before I lucked into the NYTimes gig and started getting paid, modestly, but livable, to draw cartoons.
Excellent and important column on why the trend of not paying writers for their work is awful. Best line: “But they can get away with paying nothing only for the same reason so many sleazy guys keep trying to pick up women by insulting them: because it keeps working on someone.”
Congratulations to this year’s PEN Literary Award winners! See the full list here.
Wow, that’s some really awesome company. Everyone read Katherine Boo’s book, right?
Not yet, but it’s on my list since everyone raves about it.
The book: The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
The first sentence: “We left on a school day, so Esther wouldn’t see us.”
The bathing suit: Agua Bendita Bendito Amazonas Pareo
This is officially the weirdest Tumblr: “Matches between bathing suits and books.” Why would anyone do this
The people had another person in their larynxes when they spoke in loud voices in the arrival hall. Irene was familiar with this other person in the larynx.
Since the strange persons carried familiar persons in their larynxes they were not just strangers. They were stranger than strangers.
- Herta Müller, “Traveling on One Leg”
Schizophrenia is only a mental illness when the sufferer fails to fully understand the facets and dynamics of their own internal personality fractures. Most people I know are pressed into service as more than one person, or choose to split themselves for their own chosen reasons; that’s not schizophrenia, that’s just a “double life.” I’m fully aware of the sharp break that’s been occurring within me over the past year, and so therefore I know that I don’t require medication for the following symptoms.
In the days immediately after returning from an overseas trip, those around me have learned to steer clear, lest they be drawn into my reentry depression and melodramatic moodiness. People have all the right in the world to dislike the Traveler: jealousy, confusion, patriotism, whatever. Or maybe it’s because he’s intolerant of basic stereotypes and always impatient with the way things are at home in the United States. The Traveler is a pretentious, overeducated, overbearing dick.
1. It’s insulting to presume you cannot or should not represent difference in your creative work. This suggests that people who are different from you, people who are the Other, are SO different—so exotic, so mysterious, so unknowable, so beyond the norm—you cannot possibly conceive of their existence. Consider the implications of that belief. Consider the limits of your imagination if you cannot conceive of someone different than you.
2. The reason people get up in arms about how difference is represented on TV, in fiction, in movies, etc., is because all too often, people get it wrong and they get it wrong because they are lazy. They make half-assed assumptions or base their knowledge of the Other on popular culture which is a simulacrum, at best. I cannot let go of The Help (novel) and how Abilene thought her skin was black like a cockroach. That is some lazy bullshit right there. Black like obsidian. Black like a deep night. Black like still water. Black like coffee, I don’t know. Black like a cockroach? Get out.
3. It’s okay to not know but still try. It’s even okay to get difference wrong because what is right, anyway? It’s annoying to get difference wrong, if you bother to acknowledge difference at all, and then pretend you got difference right.
3a. You also cannot presume that anyone, from any walk of life is part of a monolithic whole. People may be different but they are also individuals and so much of representation ignores this and creates stock characters like Black Maid and Sassy Latina Friend. If you can assign your character a stock character label, you have found your first problem.
4. What sticks in my craw about Lena Dunham (and you know, mad props for her success, truly) is the claim she’s just writing what she knows. And that’s totally fine. But I know more Lena Dunham types than I know whatever she might be imagining people of color to be. You know what I mean? Most of my friends are hipsters or people pretending they are not hipsters is what I am saying. Most of the creative people of color I know, are part of Dunham-type circles. And what if they weren’t? That still wouldn’t mean people of color should just be ignored. And I mean, girl, put a writer of color on your staff. Dunham is a visible example but this goes to nearly everyone in the creative community. Have you seen a picture of a literary event lately? We can all look in that mirror.
Tangentially, this is why the phrases “white girl problems” or “first world problems” drive me crazy. Silly problems are not strictly the luxury of white girls or first world dwellers. Again, it’s this notion that people from other walks of life are SO different that they couldn’t possibly relate to your exasperation over some silly thing. I promise you there’s someone in Port au Prince right now, angry as hell about the data speeds on their iPhone. One such person is my kid brother who lives there part time for work and LOVES to tell me about how good we have it here with our 4G. The poor dear. Really, though, it’s a silly problem and he’s in the so-called Third World.
5. This isn’t really about Girls. This is a sweeping, widespread, long standing problem. When I look at Girls or movies like Django Unchained, it’s not that these texts exist, not at all. It’s that they exist in a cultural vacuum AND their equivalents, created by artists of color, are not ever supported in the same way, if they can even get off the ground. That is frustrating and maybe that’s just the way things are but don’t ask people to grin about it.
6. So how do we represent difference? The simple answer is, “I don’t know,” and the complicated answer is, “I don’t know.” When writing characters who are different from me (and this would be every character I’m writing as it’s called fiction for a reason), I start with the experiences and emotions people have in common. I tend to believe we are more alike than we are different. We get so stuck on this question of difference as if we’re from different planets. Don’t believe the hype. We all love and lust and want and know joy and darkness. We are all imperfect. And then I think, how would a given identity shape these common experiences and emotions? How would a given identity shape a person’s imperfections? From there, I try to write difference. I try to do research—what is life like in inner city Baltimore? What is life like in rural Michigan? What is life like in Los Angeles? And then what is life like in those places for a Latina woman? What is life like in those places for a black man? What do I know about these characters who are different? What do I assume? Where am I wrong in my assumptions? What do I need to know? I don’t have the answers but I also don’t think it’s as complicated as we make it. I suspect we try to make it complicated because it’s more flattering to imagine ourselves as unknowable, precious snowflakes.
7. How do you try to represent difference in your creative work? If you e-mail me your responses, I’ll compile them, with attribution.
Bill Murray on Gilda Radner:
“Gilda got married and went away. None of us saw her anymore. There was one good thing: Laraine had a party one night, a great party at her house. And I ended up being the disk jockey. She just had forty-fives, and not that many, so you really had to work the music end of it. There was a collection of like the funniest people in the world at this party. Somehow Sam Kinison sticks in my brain. The whole Monty Python group was there, most of us from the show, a lot of other funny people, and Gilda. Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.
So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams. We kept carrying her around, but like upside down, every which way—over your shoulder and under your arm, carrying her like luggage. And that went on for more than an hour—maybe an hour and a half—just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick—hello?”
We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And we said good-bye to the same people ten, twenty times, you know.
And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.
It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.”
Hey Tumblrinas (Tumblrites? Tumblrers?)! CCI alumnus and infamous Cleveland comedian Mike Polk Jr. will be signing his new book Damn Right I’m From Cleveland in the University Bookstore next Thursday from noon - 2 p.m. Save the date!
The Pulitzer Center is proud to announce the publication of its first iBook: “In Search of Home,” a multimedia exploration of statelessness that focuses on the Rohingya from Burma, the Nubians of Kenya, and people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic.
BOYS ONLY: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
How to Survive a shark attack
How to Survive in a Forest
How to Survive Frostbite
How to Survive a Plane Crash
How to Survive in the Desert
How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
How to Survive a Flash Flood
How to Survive a Broken Leg
How to Survive an Earthquake
How to Survive a Forest Fire
How to Survive in a Whiteout
How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
How to Survive a Snakebite
How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
How to Survive a Croc Attack
How to Survive a Lightning Strike
How to Survive a T-Rex
How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
How to Survive a Sinking Ship
How to Survive a Vampire Attack
How to Survive an Avalanche
How to Survive a Tornado
How to Survive Quicksand
How to Survive a Fall
How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
How to Survive in Space
GIRLS ONLY: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
How to survive a BFF Fight
How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
How to Survive a Breakout
How to Show You’re Sorry
(and chapter 3 is where we no longer care about “survival”)
How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
How to Take the Perfect School Photo
How to Survive Brothers
Scary Survival Dos and Don’ts
(“don’t throw things or yell at your ghost. it may react badly.”)
How to Handle Becoming Rich
How to Keep Stuff Secret
How to Survive Tests
How to Survive Shyness
How to Handle Sudden Stardom
More Stardom Survival Tips
How to Survive a Camping Trip
(“fresh air is excellent for the skin”)
How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
(are you #$&^%*@ kidding me?)
How to Turn a No Into a Yes
Top Tips for Speechmaking
How to Survive Embarrassment
How to Be a Mind Reader
How to Survive a Crush
(don’t wear heels. tie your hair back. sunglasses add glamour.)
How to Soothe Sunburn
How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
Surviving a Zombie Attack
How to Spot a Frenemy
Brilliant Boredom Busters
How to Survive Truth or Dare
How to Beat Bullies
How to be an Amazing Babysitter
I came across these books myself and remarked on them to Jenn, but didn’t pick them up to open them. Jackie did, and it’s her comments in italics there. These books were published this year by Scholastic. They are not, as you have have guessed by the insane sexism, published in the 1950s. Scholastic: this is not your proudest moment?
Maybe - MAYBE - How To Pick Perfect Sunglasses is actually in the same class as Surviving When Your Parachute Fails. And maybe the authors truly believed this but also truly believed these two identical classes of disasters (for some reason?) needed to be in separate books. If you ever find yourself in this situation, please oh please don’t say “THIS ONE IS FOR BOYS AND THIS IS FOR GIRLS”. Perhaps instead say “THIS ONE HAS A BUNCH OF INTERESTING REAL-LIFE DISASTER SURVIVAL AND THIS ONE HAS A LOT OF PERSONAL HYGIENE AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP STUFF IN IT, ALSO, TIPS ON GETTING YOUR CAT TO SIT DOWN, I DUNNO”.
The content of the book is what really makes it egregious, though I do recognize I react to “boys only” and “girls only” in most contexts really negatively (dating profiles and middle school sex ed classes being I suppose some exceptions). I can’t help subbing in other groups that have had privilege:
How To Survive Anything! STRAIGHT PEOPLE ONLY
How To Survive Anything! WHITE PEOPLE ONLY
Wow those book titles seem really horrible, huh? Weiiiiiiiiiiiird