Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day 2013. Now With More Unlikability!

Greetings.  It is March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, an occasion that I've acknowledged the last two years that I’ve had this blog.  It snuck up on me this year, just noticed it on my Facebook feed earlier and thought, “I guess this year I won’t be getting around to that.”  But here I am.

There’s so much to say on the topic, it can be a bit overwhelming.  Last year I wrote about the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke debacle and Barbie's rack and sexist advertising.  My initial impulse was to discuss the recent uproar about the Academy Awards, specifically about Seth MacFarlane’s insensitivity to women throughout the show.  Were we expecting something different?  He’s never billed himself as a sophisticated comedian to my knowledge.  It seemed a little ridiculous to me that people were outraged that he kept talking about how pretty all the women were and how degrading that was….folks, did you catch the million hours of Kristen Chenoweth on the red carpet?  She hardly commented about anyone’s intellectual prowess.  The Oscars are generally a vapid spectacle, in this case where Seth MacFarlane did the job he was hired to do. I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed his hosting for the hour or so I managed to stay awake, but I'm often a fourteen year old boy when it comes to comedy. I never met a dick joke I didn't like. Perhaps next year, they’ll bring back Steve Martin or Ellen Degeneres or someone with some observational comedy chops, or maybe Howard Stern could sink the whole ship, who knows.  It’s four hours a year, it hardly matters.  Where’s the outrage over STUPID, SEXIST SHIT THAT HAPPENS EVERY DAY?  Don’t get me started on the Kardashian situation again. Just my humble opinion.  But is it humble enough?  Which leads to what I’m really here to write about.

humble |ˈhəmbəl|
Adjective: having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance.

My wonderful friend Cindy, who continually makes me aware of lady power fueled goings on in the news, recently brought to my attention this article:

If you’re too busy to read it, let me break it down to brass tacks.  People have trouble dealing with female characters (in this case, on television) who dare to commit the ultimate sin:  THEY ARE NOT LIKABLE.  Tons of anti-heroes get embraced at large; the article mentions Tony Soprano, Dexter, Don Draper, to name a few.  But complicated, flawed, messy broads, AMERICA SAYS NO, THANK YOU.  Hmmm.  This brought to mind some data that was presented in Brene Brown’s TED talk that has stuck with me since I first watched it.  She talks of research done at Boston College where participants were asked, “What do women need to do to conform to female norms?”  The top answers were to be nice, to be thin, to be modest, and to use all available resources to be attractive.  Basically, to be likable, on a very superficial level.  To be pleasing when seen and not heard, and should you be heard, let it not be about you or your accomplishments and for God’s sakes, let it not be unsavory in any way.  What is this, 1955?

Fuck.  That.  Noise.

To counter, when the question was “What do men need to do conform to male norms?”, the top answers were to always be in control of their emotions, to make work a priority, to pursue status, and really disturbingly, violence.  

Sure, it’s just a limited study group, but I’m going to say that these answers are representative of popular opinion currently, to some degree. I see lots of examples of men whose identities revolve around career, status, and their ability to never lose their shit, unless, of course, they're punching someone in the face, which is totally acceptable, and women who just concentrate on being nice, thin, modest, and foxy above all else….oy.  Unreasonable expectations all around.

As I’m focusing on International Women’s Day today, my suggestion is that the nice, thin, modest, trying desperately to be attractive archetype lady take the rest of the day off.  And the weekend.  And the month of March and the rest of 2013.  Okay, she’s fired.  I’m not suggesting that we all let ourselves go and start telling off everyone in sight, but what if we were to loosen up our grasp on these traits and their societally imposed value?  An easy jump to patriarchal man bashing, but honestly, I see and hear tons of women busting each other over these very things ALL THE TIME.  If you are a woman and you dare to do any of the following on a regular basis:

Honestly speak your mind
Get pissed off when it’s warranted
Applaud your accomplishments (within reason, everyone still hates a blowhard)
Give up being obsessed about your weight as long as you are healthy
Accept the way you look without makeup/hair products/Spanx, etc (extra points if you rock it in public)
Decide what you need from your relationships, ask for it, and hold people accountable
Embrace other women for doing all of the above

then I say you’re on the right track.  I struggle with these things every day, in every way, as I was raised with the importance of being nice and thin and modest and attractive as well.  I still pursue them to some degree as they make me feel good about myself, but I don't center my self image around them any more. People who don’t like the fact that I cuss like a sailor and have caustic opinions and wear sweatpants to run errands don’t have a place in the life I’ve made for myself, and that’s perfectly okay.  And condescending assholes that tell me I’d be a lot prettier if I’d just “SMILE” can suck it.  I smile every time I acknowledge that I’m not married to some jerk off that would say something like that to a total stranger.  Whoops, there I go not being NICE again.  Until the tides turn, I guess I'll never make it on television.

Currently reading Robert McKee’s “Story” in an attempt to teach myself screenwriting.  He contends that “an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility", which has started some wheels turning in my head.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Next Big Thing Project

The Next Big Thing Project is an engaging undertaking where writers divulge their current book related news and suggest other writers to share theirs as well.  You caught me taking a break from doing anything besides catching up on season three of Friday Night Lights, but apparently The Next Big Thing Project requires that I scheme up an idea for a book.  FINE.  I suppose I could cobble together all of my personal narrative into some sort of kooky anthology, but that doesn’t really sound like a challenge.   I’ve only been writing seriously for about two years now, but they have been the most revelatory years of my life thus far.  Through writing and performing stories I’ve be able to recognize the power of my point of view.  When an audience member approached me after I told a story and told me that it made them think differently, I was instantly hooked on the medium.  MAKING PEOPLE THINK IS AMAZING AND FUN.  Of late I’ve been concentrating on ways to use my super powers for good instead of ego.  I’m working on some ideas to help young people to find their voices the way I found mine.

1. What is your working title of your book?
Dark Star.  Winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1953, CSN classic rock song circa 1977.  Neither has much to do with the book, really, I just like the way it sounds.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was a camp counselor at Rain City Rock Camp in Seattle last summer, and I intend to do another week with Girls Rock!  Chicago this year.  I met lots of fantastic, smart, super together girls of privilege who appeared to be headed for bright futures.  But the ones that really stuck with me were the ones who were constantly having trouble fitting in, that spoke of being bullied at school regularly, that often disrupted the camp activities with their need for attention.  They wrote the majority of the song lyrics for the bands they were in, and their prose was dark and haunting and lovely.  In them I saw the spirit of the next Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Queen Latifah, Joan Jett, Tina Weymouth, Kim Gordon.   I know my exposure to those music icons growing up taught me that women could be both strong and sexy, tough and vulnerable, sweet and sour.  Most importantly, they were heard, valued, and respected.  The girls at camp had immense potential to spin their pain into art, to embrace being angry girls with the guts to speak their minds.  They just needed proper support and encouragement.  I still struggle with the notion that it’s fantastic to be weird in my day to day existence, but when I see quirky young people, I go out of my way to cheer them on.

3. What genre does your book fall under?  
Is there a genre called Fictional Fantasy Life Do Over?  I’m game to invent one, if not.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
I want Alison Janney in it somehow.  She brings sass, smarts, and sex appeal in the right percentages.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After discovering her creative talents, a middle aged broad helps a pissed off teen develop her inner rock star.  

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Don’t really care, whatever gets the job done.  I have no dreams of becoming rich and famous.  Quoting Lester Bangs, “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.”

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I have to live it first!  Whatever happens will certainly be more inspired than anything I could make up.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Catcher in the Rye meets Charlotte’s Web meets The Virgin Suicides, with a rock and roll edge.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?  
Jill Howe, who tagged me on this project.  She continually drags me kicking and screaming down the creative rabbit hole, which is why I need to forever keep her on staff.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although I picture it as a tale of female empowerment, I would like it to be of interest to men as well.  All of my male friends growing up had gender-blind reverence for women who had the chops, artistically…it was never considered “chick” rock.  We listened to Patti Smith’s Easter as many times as we listened to Led Zeppelin II.   I’d like to write the novel equivalent of Patti Smith’s Easter.  Too ambitious?  Okay, I’ll settle for writing the screenplay for an all female reimagining of Stripes, as long as I get to be Bill Murray.

'Till Victory.....