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17 posts from June 2008

June 26, 2008

Having a Bad Week

Just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, which is terrific.

A lot is going on this week. Aside from all that, I'm realizing how wearing it is to participate emotionally in this election.

The Carl Brandon Society did a panel at Wiscon about identity intersectionality in an election year. It was called "Some of Us Are Brave" and focused on African American women.

That's how I've been thinking of intersectionality, too, and not really applying it to myself. At the same time, though, I've seen Asian Americans as a group called out for supporting Clinton, called racist. I've seen white feminists as a group called racist for supporting Clinton. I've seen my male friends, Asian Am and otherwise, supporting Obama and giving Clinton's Iraq War vote--and nothing else--as a reason. At the "Some of Us Are Brave" panel I've had a middle-aged male Asian American Obama supporter try to school me on how to manage Asian American activism--something I've been doing for ten years. And this week I got called out by an older feminist for disagreeing on a minor matter, and again schooled on issues I've been discussing and acting on for twenty years.

And another thing: I've gotten no second of public space to enjoy the ascendence of our first biracial presidential nominee because absolutely everyone, from white Republican to black Democrat and back again, is deeply invested in reading Obama as just black (except when it suits their agendas not to), despite the extremely nuanced reading of his own identity that he's offered the whole world for years now. I don't get to feel a kinship with him based on that.

I am extremely dissatisfied with every party, every Democratic campaign, and the behavior of every group of supporters in this election. There is no group, no campaign, and no candidate who has not been treated unfairly in public, and who has not also treated someone else unfairly. And because of the multiplicity of my own identity, group belonging, and loyalty, I have been able to come down nowhere.

My loyalty to Clinton has been treated as racist and suspect, because of hatred of Clinton herself, because of the stupidity of Clinton's supporters, and because of my own identities: my Asianness, my whiteness, my non-blackness, my gender, and my age. If Clinton had lost fair and square, i.e. not because she's a woman, I would be now recovering my joy at Obama's candidacy. But I feel no joy whatsoever, because I feel that every part of my public, political self has been attacked from one angle or another.

And it goes on even now. It's as if there's no joy anywhere at Obama's win, because we've already built up too much bitterness. The racial and gender watchdog machines are on red alert, the racial and gender offense-taking machines are white hot from cranking out product, but where are the liberal joy machines?

This is not all that's going on and stinking up my week. But it's a big chunk. I think I'm going to try ... try ... and take a break from politics for a week or two. Maybe that'll lighten things up a bit.

June 23, 2008

Betraying Hillary


So, after being bitchy about Michelle Obama last week, I finally sat down and watched Hillary's whole Obama endorsement speech. I'd been avoiding it without noticing that I was actively avoiding it. This is how out of touch with my own feelings I am: the moment Hillary walked onto the stage in the video, I literally burst into tears and continued sobbing sporadically throughout the entire speech. I completely surprised myself.

It's been a long campaign already.

It was what I wrote earlier about my experience of Hillary that triggered it. See, Hillary is my Hillary. She came onto the scene in a big way in early 1992, which was when I was getting ready to graduate from college and go out into the world and ... do what? We'd drained our already compromised coffers with a pointless war, added immeasurably to the national debt, and the economy was in the toilet. There were no jobs for kids fresh out of college.

Plus, we'd been at war barely a year before. The frenzy of that time and its immediate aftermath, the protests, the car-horn fights on the streets over bumper stickers, wondering if my friends were really going to be drafted, feeling utterly betrayed by my leaders in a very visceral and immediate way ... all of that exhausted the part of me that engaged in public life.

The war was a capper on a very long 12 years of incredibly damaging, nation-changing Republican rule. I'd been brought up at constant odds with the culture around me. My entire adolescence and young adulthood had been about being politically and even morally under the public gun. I couldn't bear thinking about entering adulthood in that atmosphere of hostility to everything that was important to me.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

By 1992 I didn't care anymore, and, in fact, left the country four days before the election. (I voted early, of course.) I didn't come back for six years.

But something else that happened in 1992 was that I got to meet Hillary. My parents are heavily involved Dems in their Midwestern town, so when Hillary did a charter plane tour of the Midwest to visit local party stalwarts, my folks got an invite. They brought me along.

The deal was that the local Dems would bring out the folks to the lobby of the chartered plane terminal at the local airport--usually a prettied up hangar--get their name tags on, entertain them with refreshments and local politicians (this was the first time I was ever glad-handed and it freaked me out), and then line them up along the wall when Hillary's plane landed. Hillary would step off the plane, go into the lobby, walk around the rectangle of people, shaking hands, get back on the plane, and go to the next town. She could hit five or six towns a day, if not more.

And the whole thing went off without a hitch. I got smarmed by local candidates, I ate some kraft cheeze on crackers, and then stood against the wall. Hillary appeared, short and smart in her pastel suit, headband in place (remember the headband, ladeez?) and started her circumlocution. She was good at it. When she got to me she managed to get my name without appearing to look at my name tab. "Hello, Claire," she said, and shook my hand, looking me right in the eye.

Hillary's the only politician I ever fell in love with, so I have nothing to compare it to. Of course, it's not like falling in love, but the only language we have for our intensely personal feelings for a public figure is the language of love and seduction. She "seduced" us with her charisma---and folks, let there be no doubt about it, the woman is dripping with charisma. It takes a charismabomb like Obama to make her look bloodless by comparison. Remember, she even held her own standing next to Bill Clinton, and that man radiates from a distance of a football field. It's why she sets so many men's teeth on edge: that's how you feel about a person you hate, whose charisma is unavoidable.

And anybody who wants to say that in 1992 Hillary was touring the country by herself as a wife and not a politician in her own right can go fuck themselves with a chainsaw. That was why Hillary was so profoundly hated by men from the git-go: because she and Bill offered her as a co-politician, not a wife. She helped get Bill into office and then was resented for doing so.

But more than her qualities as a politician (charisma and the ability to command loyalty, interest and collaboration among her colleagues, which, let's face it, she has in spades) it was the fact that she was outspokenly feminist at at time when the backlash against the women's movement in the 70's hadn't quite died down yet. She changed the paradigm of the First Lady. She drew attention to her own career and skillsets. She wasn't a helpmeet; she was a partner, at a moment in history when our culture was struggling to find a term for "life partner" that could apply to both women and men, both married and unmarried couples. She was a partner in every sense of the word. And she was the first First Lady who was a Ms.

Let's remember how important language and naming were in the Clintons' campaign. Hillary insisted on being called "Hillary Rodham Clinton," making it clear on a sub-verbal level that the "Clinton" part was the compromise, not the "Rodham" part. This is why she became "Hillary" to the nation at large--both to her supporters and her detractors: she was using language and naming protocols still too new in the mainstream culture for people to be comfortable with, so they stuck to her first name. Even this was a triumph: she did an end-run around people's feelings and got them on a first-name-basis with her out of sheer discomfort. From there on out, even the most vitriolic attack had a slight ring of familiarity, of affection, to it.

I can't tell you how profound having Hillary center mainstream was for me. I was just 22 when Bill secured the nomination and Hillary declared her cookielessness. The female-empowerment I was raised with was turning into a feminism that I didn't quite know what to do with. I was discovering that while I shared the concerns of my male friends--concerns that didn't always affect me directly--they were not sharing my concerns, even those that DID affect them directly, like reproductive rights.

I had no public leadership in these concerns. Don't get me wrong: there were the Gloria Steinems and the Camille Paglias (I love that she's so passé now; she wasn' t then), but they were considered either tokens from the margin, or special interest leaders. Hillary was the first outspoken feminist at the center. She was also the first Baby Boomer at the center, not a coincidence. To have my opinions and concerns reflected back at me for the first time in my life from the campaign stump---to see a person on the stump who "looked like me" in a profound way, who respected and shared my beliefs about myself---created a revolution in my thinking about politics, my nation and its possibilities, and even about who I was in the world.

I was a young woman in 1992 looking for a place in a world that had changed a great deal, but hadn't yet finished changing to accommodate me. And Hillary's leadership changed my view of how the world could work.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

If I was 22 now, I might well be feeling the same way about Obama. But I'm 38 now, and I don't believe that I'm young enough in mind to ever feel that way about a politician again. That so many of my male cohorts DO feel this way about Obama saddens me. It tells me that they never got to fall in political love when they were young enough to do it. They've had to wait too long. Their love is now tinged with an ugly bitterness: they couldn't, perhaps were not allowed to, love Hillary when they were young, and now hate her for trying to interfere with their overripe love for Obama.

I never realized that Hillary was a wedge driven between me and my male cohorts back then, because wedges start out in a tiny crack. It isn't until the wood splits that you can even really see the division. I can't ever care about Obama as much as I care about Hillary because Hillary has been with me for sixteen years. She's been a light on the political landscape for sixteen years. She's been my Hillary for all my adult life. Obama made a speech three and half years ago, two years ago started scrabbling at the position that my Hillary has been earning for two decades, and suddenly, I'm supposed to love him?

But I don't think men of my generation or older can love Obama as much as they hate Hillary, and for the same reason. They've been threatened by her for sixteen years. Part of Obama's appeal during this campaign has been that he has a chance of defeating a very strong Hillary. They'll never admit it, these men who have been living with Hillary, as I have, for sixteen years, but their votes until now have been as much a not-Hillary vote as they are an Obama vote.

My anger is the anger of someone who has looked around her and seen that her peers, her partners in the world, the men of her cohort, do NOT share her values ... not really. (I'm not talking about the fringe that constitutes my social circle. We're all freaks here.) But my sadness is all directed at myself. I did not acknowledge, did not even realize, how much Hillary meant to me personally until it was too late. I was intimidated by the loathing men I used to respect unleashed in public. Even while I saw how wrong it was, I allowed myself to be mealy-mouthed in supporting Hillary.

And I allowed the people of color who supported Obama, both men and women, to intimidate me with their covert and overt accusations of racism directed at all Clinton supporters. (Again, not necessarily those of my freakish fringe.) I have always refused to tacitly support the idea that a person's argument is only as good as their identity by refusing to present my credentials before I speak. But I've allowed myself to be afraid in this debate that my identity and my decade of full-time anti-racism work would not be enough. And I did not speak out clearly enough that this woman of color supported and loved Hillary.

My male liberal cohorts did not betray Hillary. They've always been clear about hating her. They betrayed ME, but that's almost another story. My sadness is that I'm the one who betrayed Hillary ... because all of this hatred--all of this hatred from liberals towards a successful, strong liberal ALLY--hurt and intimidated me and succeeded in making me less effective than I know I can be. I let it go too much, and I suspect I'm not the only one who did. And perhaps my failure in strong advocacy is what made the tiny percentage point differences that lost Hillary the nomination.

Feminists intimidated by male hatred into advocating their cause less strongly. Is there a more powerful argument for the continuing effectiveness of misogyny than that?

So last week, I mourned Hillary's lost chance, and my lost chance, the way I should have celebrated it while it was still alive. And I'm writing about it this week so that I can put it away in time to get the Obama campaign on the clue train. Yeah, that's right, I'm not asking if they want me ... I'm not asking at all. I'm there and they're going to listen to what I have to say about gender issues and what the fuck have they been thinking for the past year and half.

I might even write them an open letter. We'll see.

June 21, 2008

I'm Gaius!

How did I miss this quiz?            
What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Dr Gaius Baltar

You have betrayed humanity, for a blonde.  However you'd rather people learnt to just get past that.  After all, you never meant wipe out the human race.  Luckily you are cleverer than everyone else, so no one will ever know.  Even though they look at you with suspicion behind their eyes.

         

Dr Gaius Baltar

         
81%

CPO Galen Tyrol

         
75%

Tom Zarek

         
69%

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)

         
63%

Col. Saul Tigh

         
63%

Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)

         
50%

Commander William Adama

         
38%

President Laura Roslin

         
31%

Number 6

         
19%

Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)

         
6%
   

June 20, 2008

Fashion Meme

Meme via badgerbag. I'm pretty sure this doesn't accurately describe me, but none of the answers to the questions accurately described me, either.

I'm just posting it b/c this is the first time anyone ... or thing ... has described me as glamorous! Yay!

(And yes, I WILL consider retro style. Thank you.)

Your result for The Fashion Style Test...

Glamorous Soul

   
[Tasteful Original Deliberate Sexy]

You choose your outfits carefully according to many criteria. You don't like looking cheap, dull or random and you go to great lengths to avoid this. You are successful, too. People admire your taste and sex appeal. Many try to imitate you but not many can recreate your unique style. Sometimes, however, they find you too intimidating to approach. If you don't wear retro style yet, perhaps you should consider it. It would become greatly your sexy, mysterious self.

The opposite style from yours is Fashion Enemy [Flamboyant Conventional Random Prissy].


All the categories: Librarian Sporty Hottie Office Master Uptown Girl/ Boy Brainy Student Movie Star Fashionista Glamorous Soul Fashion Enemy Bar Cruiser Kid Next Door Sex Bomb Hippie Kid Fashion Rebel Fashion Artist Catwalk God(ess)

Take The Fashion Style Test at HelloQuizzy

June 19, 2008

wordle

Wordlenobble
Via Justine, this wordle word cloud of the most used words in da nobble.

Finish This Year

It's also occurred to me today that da nobble was conceived and drafted entirely within the Bush administration. That's why it's so damn dark. I need to get it finished before the election so I can maintain the proper mood.

Because, you know, McCain won't win.

June 18, 2008

Falling Us in Love with Her

Look at her. She's dooon it, just like Hillary did sixteen years ago. Winnin' us over.

Why is it that a candidate's wife ends up being the voice of reason more often than not these days? Funny that in that way they can only compare her to Laura Bush.

But then also: why is he the drama and she the class? That's classic politics. To compare her to Jackie.

Here's the thing: so far, she's comparable to Hillary as a person, but not in the role she's playing. Because Hillary aroused ire from the git go by being outspokenly feminist--i.e., being more feminist than the mainstream was ready to take, remember?--and by making it clear that her role wasn't to be classy but to be co-dramatist. She was going to operate drama along with her husband.

So far, the Obamas are not making that choice. And who knows what role Michelle really plays, or will play, in the political side of their marriage? So far, she's grounding his campaign, as well as classing it up. She's playing equality theater in gesture, but separate-but-equal in dress and family role. She's able to appeal to a generation of women still smarting from the mommy wars, no matter which side they came down on.

And already she's being felt as more feminine than Hillary, which in itself is a triumph against stereotypes of black women. I'm thinking that might be part of the point of how they're casting her. Because there's a Hillary, that makes it easier for Michelle to look "softer" and more feminine. It's easy to forget that she's a lawyer, like Hillary, that she's 44, exactly Hillary's age throughout most of Bill's first campaign. She didn't want in to politics, she says, so it's easy to imagine that she won't want in later, after her husband's been president. All that scary stuff is easy to forget as long as Hillary's on the scene.

It'll be interesting to see how her image evolves whether or not Hillary gets the VP nom. But I'm guessing that with Hillary will be different strategy from without Hillary.

And all this critique aside, I gotta admit, I love her. Not as much as I loved Hillary way back when. Way back when I wasn't yet seated in my adulthood and still screamed at my guy friends for calling me a "girl." Now I'm just six years younger than Michelle and realize that, given a real choice, she's a person I'd never socialize with, or trust at a local level. Hillary was a role model for me. Michelle is an elevated equal.

I admire the figure she cuts and her demeanor. But I'm not sure yet how she's earned further admiration, although I'm ready to give it to her. We'll see.

Wow

Da Nobble is about to hit the 200k word mark.

That's a lot. In traditional pages it's between 670 and 800 pages. That's a lot.

Wow, that's a lot. And I still have more to add.

June 17, 2008

Conversational Rhythms

I'm working in a cafe, as I often do, and my biggest peeve of working in a cafe, especially this one, where the inner room of the cafe is pretty much always colonized by people working, is when people take cell phone calls inside.

Folks, it's obnoxious to force everyone else to experience your phone call with you. Don't do it!

Anyway, I was thinking about it and wondering why cell phone calls are so much more obnoxious than face to face conversations, which are also common in cafes and usually don't bother me. It's partly because f2f convos are almost always carried on at half the volume of a cell phone call. But that's not the only reason.

I think the other reason is that hearing one half of a cell phone call means that you miss out on the back and forth rhythm of the call. And that's very disturbing and distracting.

Conversations, as anyone who has studied dialogue writing can tell you, have rhythms. I haven't done much reading on this, but I'm sure there are studies out there that show that people can only communicate when they set up an effective rhythm. Probably your brain can only take in information conveyed verbally if it's lulled by a rhythm into a receptive mode. Don't take that as given. I haven't read that anywhere, I'm just guessing. But I think that's why rhythm is so important in writing as well.

By rhythm I mean that you and your conversational partner literally set up a da da duh, da da duh back and forth rhythm with your speaking, only it's a little more complex than a poem. You can hear it best at the beginning and end of a conversation when the greetings and leave-takings are more ritualized.

Hello?

Hi, John, it's Marsha.

Marsha! Hi! How are you?

I'm well, thank you, how are you?

Great! I've been great, thanks. What's up?

Well, I'm calling because I was thinking of having a dinner party ...

OR

da duh?

da da, da da duh.

da duh! da! da da duh?

da duh, da duh, da da duh?

etc.

If I did the whole conversation in "da duhs" but with the proper voice inflection, you'd know exactly what was being said. Same with sign-offs:

Well, I've got a lot of work to do. (da, da da da da duh da duh duh)

Me too. I have  a deadline tomorrow. (da duh. da da da da duh da duh duh‚

Well, it was great talking to you! (da, da da da da duh da da)

You too! Thanks so much for calling! (da da! da da da duh da da)

Let's check in at the end of the week. (da da da da da duh duh da da)

Yes, let's do that. (da, da da duh)

Okay, take care. (da duh, da da)

You too. (da da)

Bye. (da)

Bye. (da)

Notice how the length and rhythm of each side of the conversation mirrors that of the partner? Notice how they spiral down, each piece getting shorter until they're down to one beat each, in the same way that the greeting spirals up from "hello" into complex sentences?

Interestingly, when the cell phone user gets into the long spiral down, I start to relax. They're no longer conveying information, but rather entering the get-rid-of-you ritual and I know exactly how the other side of the conversation is playing out.

The difficult part is the middle, where the speakers must, not mirror each other, but rather find a way to foster a mutual rhythm that is first of all, capable of keeping the conversation flowing without a hitch, and secondly, satisfying to both speakers. Usually, with most conversations, the second one isn't possible. The first one is essential, however, to the continuation of the conversation.

This can be done by one speaker dominating the conversation and delivering a monologue in discrete packages, each one of the same shape and length. The speaker will have to pause at the end of each package to allow the partner to respond, at least briefly. If the speaker doesn't pause, the partner is shut out and it's not a conversation. If it's not a conversation, the non-speaker will mentally disengage (no matter how good a listener he/she is) and then get bored because s/he isn't engaged.

Some really good conversations consist of two speakers taking turns dominating the conversation.

Another tactic is to exchange packages of information in similarly shaped pieces; equal on both sides. This is rare, however. I don't think most people operate this way. What I see most often is two people exchanging similar information in different shapes and pieces. One person will be more voluable and the other more terse. So the voluable person will speak for a longer time than the terse person, and they'll take turns. This works well if they can set up a rhythm of more, less, more, less, that feels rhythmic.

As the person who is usually more voluable, I can tell you that I know when it's time for the other person to speak when I get a sudden feeling that I've been talking too long. That feeling is not a scientific thing: two minutes of solid monologue is all that is allowed, for example. It has to do with the rhythm we've set up and my warning signals that if I exceed my limits, the rhythm of the conversation will be broken and we won't be able to communicate anymore.

It's a delicate thing. I've often been in conversations with really great people that just felt terrible because we couldn't set up a satisfactory rhythm. Once they got started talking, I really enjoyed hearing them. But they'd stop talking, it seemed to me, at a weird place, and I'd have nothing to respond with. Then there'd be a long pause while I scrambled for something to say and they waited. This awkwardness has to do with having incompatable rhythms.

I think the rhythms have to do with the speed and pulse of how your mind works. In a conversation, your mind is delivering up thoughts to you, turning them into packages of speech, processing the response, and then delivering up another thought. Often your mind will deliver two thoughts or more during the time you're listening and processing. If you have a jumpy, quick mind, you produce more thoughts than you can utter during a conversation. What happens to me during awkward conversations is that my partner will stop while I'm in the middle of a second or third thought, whereas in a good conversation, my partner will stop when I've just finished a thought.

I guess this means that you have the best conversations with people whose minds work at the same rate, or a half the rate or double the rate of yours, so that your mental rhythms can sync. I might be talking out my ass, though.

Back to work.

June 16, 2008

The Color of Money

Justine whines about the indistinguishability of American paper currency.

Yeah, yeah. It all looks the same to foreigners and is all the same color and all that. I'm sure it could be easier to use. And bigger. But then you wouldn't get cool stories like this:

While I was a student in Berlin, I was visiting the apartment of a German friend one evening and we got to talking about Hamburg and its red light district. She told me that after high school graduation she had gone there with a group of friends to party in the clubs. They wandered around all night and got drunk, then in the morning, she found a fake $100 bill in the back pocket of her jeans.

She assumed that some American serviceman had tucked it back there during the height of her one-on-tying, and she hadn't noticed. What she couldn't figure out was why. She'd kept it as a souvenir and showed it to me. There he was, Benjamin Franklin, in all his grey glory, with the green trees surrounding a green independence hall on the back.

It was real.

I had quite a time convincing her that the $100 she'd sat on for six or seven years--watching its value depreciate, although at this point it was still worth 150 German Marks--was the genuine article. She kept saying, "But it looks fake! It's so small! And it's only one color!"

Fortunately, the whole time I lived in Germany, I carried a single around in my wallet with me ... for luck, for homesickness, I'm not sure. I pulled it out and matched it up to her bill and they were clearly the same size and made of the same paper.

In one moment, it went from a treasured and wacky souvenir to nearly a month's rent (yes, Berlin was, and still is almost, that cheap.) I recommended that she take it to the bank tomorrow and change it, and I believe she did, although she may have been more nostalgic than mercenary.

The bigger question is: why would anyone tuck a real $100 bill into the back pocket of a stranger's jeans in secret? You gotta wonder if maybe an American dropped it by accident, and it was picked up by another German who didn't think it was real, either, and stuck it in a random (cute, blonde) girl's pocket for fun.

June 14, 2008

Thumb Twiddlin'

Started the newest Elizabeth George book, but got bored almost immediately. Now I'm reading Ford Madox Ford's Ladies Whose Bright Eyes. Still working on Hyper Border. Still rearranging my books. Going to see Naomi Hirahara read tonight.

That is all. Nothing to report. No commentarios or outrage. Fallow, currently. Waiting for the next thing.

June 11, 2008

Reading Update and a Long Detour About Indy Bookstores

Got a bug up my ass and spent all my free time in the past three days re-reading Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series. I was partly inspired by badgerbag's Moomin, who dressed like Kel (complete with birds glued to his tunic! so cute!) at Wiscon, and partly by finally getting to organizing my bookshelves (still not done)--which I put off for a year and a half, until I realized that not being able to find books meant that I was starting to buy second copies of books I already had, boo--and finding the books again.

Anyway, I loved the series again. It held up well. I'm still trying to figure out what that glow around it is for me. It might have something to do with the fact that Pierce was the first middle-grade/YA author I read as an adult going back to YA. When I was working at the lamented A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, our resident YA expert recommended the at that time incomplete series to me.

Indy bookstore people ... now there's a topic all of its own. Working at an indy bookstore was my first "real" job, after babysitting and a paper route, i.e a job where I had a boss present and coworkers and coffee and a break room. I was seventeen and had just dropped out of high school due to depression, ennui, and a whole buncha other issues I won't get into. My town in southwest Michigan in 1987 was the kind of place where 60 adults would apply for a position at an indy bookstore that gave a written test to all applicants, and a 17-year-old high school dropout would get the job because she was the only one who could answer half the questions.

(The test just gave titles and asked for authors, gave authors and asked for one title from that author's bibliography, then gave titles and authors and asked what section you'd shelve the book in. Many of the books I was able to answer questions about were books I hadn't read, but had seen on my family's bookshelves, so I could match author to title and title to author. If that isn't a demonstrable economic advantage that having books in the hizzouse gives a person, I don't know what is.)

In between 17 and 29, when I started working for A Clean Well-Lighted, I forgot what indy bookstore people were like. Don't get me wrong, I didn't leave the world of cultural capital behind me at all. I was in a German university, working for an international gallery, and then in San Francisco community arts. Smart, well-educated people, all. But there's a difference between people who read books, people who use books, people who write about books, even people who write books ... and people who sell books as a career.

Educated, cultured people are discerning about books. They know, or think they know, what is good and what is not. They have their blind spots and prejudices. They are afraid of whole categories of books, and love and depend on other categories. They say they love books, and mean something very incomplete and limited by that.

Booksellers love books with a completeness and passion that no one else has. All other relationships with books are partial: readers love what's in the book, for a time or forever; collectors love the physicality of the things; academics view books as extensions of colleagues, things to argue with, treasure, stumbling blocks and tools; writers understand how books come to be, and see in them the shapes, textures and histories geologists see in a landscape.

But career booksellers are like good kindergarten teachers: they have a more discerning eye about quality and ability than nearly anyone else except parents, but unlike parents, they love all the babies distantly and unreservedly. Every book, no matter how bad, deserves respect and place. And good books are to be found in every category and genre. When it comes to books, career booksellers are more democratic than anyone.

Which is why most of the ACWLP employees were reading YA, along with everything else. Had it not been for my second brief stint in an indy bookstore, I probably would not have gone back to reading YA, or gotten started on science fiction, or continued with mystery. None of my tastes were suspect at ACWLP. No one was embarrassed to debate the virtues of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, or Elizabeth George and P.D. James, or Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis. Some of the men in the store had read Georgette Heyer! And had opinions!

This is what we're losing to Amazon and the internet: a ground zero for a complete love of books. I'm not one of those who thinks that bookblogging is somehow less than: book blogging is an unreserved good, not to mention, something new under the sun. It's great and it's a great place to get people excited about books. But there's nothing like an indy bookstore to replace it; noplace to take your actual body and sit in a big armchair and drink some coffee, and browse the realm of physical books, smelling the print and paper, admiring the covers, looking askance at the displays, reading the shelf-talkers, and asking the staff to recommend something for you.

Okay, back to Tamora Pierce. I think the glow in rereading these books comes not just from remembering my first fun adult YA experience, but also from the books just being really good. It's not that the books aren't forumlaic. Pierce has perfected her own formula, and that's what makes her so popular. But within that, these books fulfill exactly what they promise, and don't overdo any of the elements. In the third book, Kel has to foster a stolen baby griffin, who scratches and bites her all the time and whose parents might kill her when they find him. This device is amusing for a while and then gets tiresome, but before it becomes boring, Pierce gets rid of it.

Likewise, Kel faces misogyny, as the first girl to try for knighthood without disguising herself as a boy, and in the first book her obstacle is the misogyny of her authority figures. In the second book, it's the misogyny of some of her peers, but it's also her own fear of heights. By the third book, although we know she'll encounter misogyny wherever she goes and we see it, Pierce doesn't tax us, or Kel, with it, because she has bigger fish to fry. The whole thing is perfectly intuited, perfectly shaped to please the reader ... and it does.

Pierce was at WisCon this year and I missed my chance to meet her, but I haven't forgotten what a surprise and pleasure a good YA can be and I'll definitely look her up next time.

June 07, 2008

Reading Update

I'm currently reading The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Láinez. Why had I never heard of this writer before I stumbled on this paperback translation in a used bookstore? He was apparently one of Borges' cronies (Borges wrote a brief foreword in this book), and a real devotee of both medieval romance and the Borgesian meta-encyclopedic view of the world.

He's also a kickass writer. Observe this passage, which describes the viewpoint character, an immortal fairy, watching over an unusual medieval family at rest. The fairy is the knight Ozil's ancestor. The family are a stonemason (Pons), his minstrel brother (Ithier), his wife, a former camp follower (Berthe), her son with Ozil (Aiol), her daughter (Azelais), etc.:

By moonlight and candlelight I saw the soft contours of the sleepers, pale as ghosts. Only the toil-worn Pons had a night-cap on. Beside him Berthe was a curving mound of generous hips and full breasts, voluptuous from her years of erotic exercise. Every immature line of Azelais, even in sleep, was wary and defensive. Her skin was marble-white, translucent, and her beauty almost too perfect, with something frightening, feline, and ambiguous about it. The servants were stocky peasant-girls with fetching dimples and dusky armpits, veins knotted in their legs by drudgery. Then the three tall forms of the boy, the knight, and the minstrel. The skin, taut across the bones, revealed the muscles beneath the matted grey hair on Ozil's chest; showed Ithier skeleton-thin from his courtly employments; showed Aiol, fifteen years old, like a statue in bronze. The soft glow on the brown skin, the relaxed sprawl, the absolute grace and proportion, belonged to the art of a later age than the twelfth century with its stern, compact creations of craftsmen such as Pon.

I loitered above them until it was late, partly from love of Aiol and partly to savour the knowledge that I was not alone. Instead of vegetating in the tower at Lusignan I was here, sharing their joys, doubts, and despairs; here with their breathing, their murmurings, snores and snuffles and broken words, the grinding of teeth and the smell of humanity in an overheated room. As I had felt that Aiol, sitting by the window, saw into the future, I felt that here, with these sleeping, vulnerable mortals, I was close to the deep, strange roots of the world; that the entire essential world was here, growing like a splendid plant with separate leaves and flowers in the fertile shelter of an inn at Poitiers.

Now that's what fantasy should be. The usual youth-and-beauty-worship is there, the romantic virgin/whore suspicion of women, the artisan/knight dichotomy alive and well here too, and the strange feminization of male beauty in the eyes of the emasculate witch/fairy. But Láinez writes all of this in supreme consciousness of what he's doing. He makes the archetypes complex, comments upon them, and connects the whole with the sublime purpose of fairytale and, by extension, literature. Well, the above is more fairy tale, and the below more literature:

These unpredictable human beings! Observing them in public, you would never suspect, unless you were unusually astute or cynical, the things they do in private. Much of the famous tension of today arises from anxiety as to whether some door which should be shut may have been left open. Admittedly, inadvertent revelations, shattering though they may be, add their spice to life---they provide new vistas, energize it enormously ... But enough of that. The reader will have gathered, I am certain, what was happening in the cowshed.

Indeed.

June 05, 2008

Institutional Power

Reading over the post I just made below, something struck me hard. Here's what I wrote:

If Obama is going to win, not only does he have to stop making bitter white people comments, but his supporters have to stop ignoring the desires of people tainted with the racism brush, since they make up the majority of voters.

I'm not 100% behind the argument that racism only applies to whites because of their institutional power, but I'm 98% behind the definition that racism = power + prejudice. I just tend to define power more broadly than others do. Institutional power can be found in national organizations like the NAACP, for example, albeit a very limited and endlessly embattled institutional power (and therefore, a very limited and embattled sort of a racism can arise from it. See "The Tsunami Song").

But what struck me about my comment above was that, without thinking about it, I had already made Obama an institution, and associated his black supporters with that institution. I automatically assigned them the power that the institution confers: the power to notice or ignore what the constituents are saying, and to have to take the consequences of those decisions. This power--the power to notice or ignore, the power to put a particular complaint on the national agenda--is exactly the political power, or maybe just access to political power, that has made, and can break, racism.

Suddenly, accurately or not, African Americans are represented in a race for highest office. Suddenly, Obama supporters or not, African Americans are representatives by association of a presidential candidate. Suddenly, what Obama supporters are talking about is important, because it affects Obama's public image. Suddenly, just because you're an Obama supporter, you have something to say, nationally.

Power. Institutional power.

So it just hit me: Fuck all this bickering over Geraldine Ferraro. We have a black presidential candidate.

Wow.

June 04, 2008

I'm SOOOO Tired of This

First, Geraldine Ferraro says reverse racism, and Harriet Christian says "inadequate black male."

They get reamed, as is proper and right, with a thoroughness that you can google yourself.

Then, Joan Walsh says,

Beyond Christian's deplorable reference to Obama as an "inadequate black male" was a wail worth hearing. She also said, "I'm proud to be an older American woman!" I can feel her pain. Reading the sexist attacks on Clinton and her white female supporters, as well as on female journalists and bloggers who've occasionally tried to defend her or critique Obama, has been, well, consciousness-raising. Prejudice against older women, apparently, is one of the last non-taboo biases. I've been stunned by the extent to which trashing Clinton supporters as washed up old white women is acceptable. A writer whose work I respect submitted a piece addressed to "old white feminists," telling them to get out of Obama's way. I've found my own writing often dismissed not on its merits (or lack thereof) but because as a woman who will turn 50 in September, I'm supposed to be Clinton's demographic. Salon's letters pages, as well as the comments sections around the blogosphere, are studded with dismissive, derisive references to bitter old white women.

Then, Ta-Nehisi Coates says:

Once I heard Walsh invoking the words of two bigots to make her point, I checked out. Physician heal-thy-mutherfucking-self. Ferraro is the same woman who argued that "racial resentment" was OK. Walsh apparently thinks Harriet's description of Obama as an inadequate black male, "was a wail worth healing." I'm physically sick reading that. I never much agreed with Walsh's take on the Clinton's, but for my money, she just fell into Pat Buchanan territory. Anyone who thinks there's something to take from someone who says it's fine to resent black people racially, who claims that there's something worth hearing in describing the first black man to ever win a major party's nomination as "an inadequate black male" is the moral equivalent of a racist to me.

Oh, HELL NO. Walsh specifically said beyond the deplorable "inadequate black male" comment was a wail worth hearing. It is NOT OKAY to twist that into her saying that "inadequate black male" is a wail worth hearing. That's just plain stupid. Walsh was VERY CLEARLY saying that these women had a message about sexism that was obscured by their racism, and NOT that their racism was okay.

And pointing out that a woman who is a forty-year democratic party stalwart, as well as a woman who is the nation's first female vice presidential candidate, might have something apropos to say about sexism in elections despite their manifest racism, does NOT put Walsh into the lunatic fringe. There are few women out there being loud and passionate about the sexism in this campaign who aren't outright Clinton supporters and, racist or not, all white women Clinton supporters have been accused of implicit racism in this election at one time or another. To say that a woman who approves the gender message of a racist commenter is herself beyond the pale is tantamount to an attempt to silence the debate on sexism in this election.

I'm sooooo sick of hearing people say that racism puts people completely beyond the pale ... that the moment somebody says something racist, you simply don't have to listen to them anymore. People can be--and usually are--vastly ignorant about everybody else's oppression, but very clear and articulate about their own. The poor whites who blame undocumented immigrants for their own bad education and healthcare and underemployment are obnoxious not because their situation isn't truly bad, but because they're blaming it on the wrong people. And ignoring the whole complaint because of its racism is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

This is EXACTLY the attitude that led to Obama's stupid and arrogant bitter white people comment. This is exactly the attitude that puts educated, powerful blacks like Obama beyond the sympathy of poor and working class, less-educated whites. If Obama is going to win, not only does he have to stop making bitter white people comments, but his supporters have to stop ignoring the desires of people tainted with the racism brush, since they make up the majority of voters.

If a misogynistic black man can be both held to account for his misogyny, and also listened to for his experience of racism, then racist white women who have just been treated to the year-long public spectacle of a wealthy, powerful, and respected white politician publicly pilloried by men of all races because she is a woman can be both held to account for their racism, and MUTHERFUCKING LISTENED TO for their experience of sexism.

And just like non-blacks don't get to tell blacks when they've crossed the line in their frustration with racism, MEN DO NOT GET TO TELL WOMEN when they've crossed the line in their frustration with sexism. If Coates wants to analyze, instruct, or ream Ferraro and Christian for their racism, more power to him. And yes, it's time for them to shut up. But to dismiss the just protest against manifest and obvious sexism made by these women is not okay. And it's not okay to dismiss Walsh's argument because she jumps off of Ferraro's and Christian's comments.

Coates says further:

I want to see Barack Obama out there courting the vote of all women. I want to see him talking specifically about what his plans are. But I've got no interest in seeing him court those who would use feminism, as a cover for their own blackaphoic views. Later for them. Let them vote McCain, and go join the party where bigotry is part of the platform. The rest of us have a country to save.

HUNH? Does Coates really think that Ferraro's and Christian's public brainfarts were about how afraid they are of black men? Their feminism isn't anything but a cover for their racism? Wow, that's gotta be the most sexist thing I've heard all year.

DUDE, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. I know it's shocking, but sometimes, even in a world Obama inhabits, even in an election that includes your wannapund ass, race isn't the thing people are focused on. These women are angry about a woman NOT getting elected, they're not really angry about a black man GETTING elected. They're blaming it on a black man getting elected, because they need something to strike out at, and this is something new that they don't understand. But their passion is all about the wimminz. Shockingly enough, they're passionate about THEMSELVES, NOT YOU.

Of course it's not okay for them to be striking out in this racist manner. And yes, they need to be called out for it. And yes, Ferraro and Christian need to shut up, now. They've lost their right to the talking stick because they can't seem to hold it without being racist. But let's be clear: if the race had been between Clinton and Edwards and the same thing had happened, the same campaigns had been run minus the racial element, Ferraro and Christian, not to mention Gloria Steinem, would be making just as loud public statements about the sexism of the campaign, and would be just as angry. And rightfully so.

At the end of the day, a woman's racism will not buffer her from misogyny. DO NOT tell me or anyone else that racism somehow makes a woman's testimony about sexism worthless. And Walsh does get to point this out because SHE'S got the talking stick.

June 03, 2008

Shut Up, Gerry

Oh. My. God.

I swear to you, I swear, Geraldine Ferraro is on either the McCain payroll, or crack. Observe (emphases all mine):

Here we are at the end of the primary season, and the effects of racism and sexism on the campaign have resulted in a split within the Democratic Party that will not be easy to heal before election day. Perhaps it's because neither the Barack Obama campaign nor the media seem to understand what is at the heart of the anger on the part of women who feel that Hillary Clinton was treated unfairly because she is a woman or what is fueling the concern of Reagan Democrats for whom sexism isn't an issue, but reverse racism is.

Note the lack of scarequotes around "reverse racism." Yes, she's using the term seriously. It gets worse:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don't believe he understands them an their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Wow. Just ... wow. I almost wanted to write that she doesn't get it, but she does get it ... or would be getting it if she were writing those words on behalf of blacks instead of random, unnamed whites. But wait, there's more:

Whom he chooses for his vice president makes no difference to them. That he is pro-choice means little. Learning more about his bio doesn't do it. They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate. His experience with an educated single mother and being raised by middle class grandparents is not something they can empathize with. They may lack a formal higher education, but they're not stupid. What they're waiting for is assurance that an Obama administration won't leave them behind.

Seriously? What does she think she's doing here? Telling people what to think? Fortunately, as we discovered during Hillary's campaign, nobody's listening. Will somebody please shut her up before anyone starts?

And to think, I voted for her. Well, no I didn't, really, only in my high school fake election. But still.

Reading Update

I just read The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot and I'm not ashamed.

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