23 Nov

I resist declarations of gratitude.

Though I understand, in everyone’s hearts, they are not, declarations of gratitude always seem a little boastful to me, each one a tiny little humblebrag. This isn’t about the declarations themselves. It’s about me.

I understand how much I have, and how many strangers’ backs the things I have were made upon, carried on. Still, I want things. When I was a kid and everyone else seemed to have things I couldn’t have, I learned this behavior fast. And not only because most of the kids I knew had more stable homes than I did; they also had more permissive and reasonable social lives than mine. By the end of high school, I wanted their grace, their ease in conversation, their freely-given laughter born of connection with other people, connection fostered by kindness in their own lives and lots of practice. It was this wanting, more than wishing for their toys when we were children or their clothes as we approached adulthood, that dug itself in.

Now, so much later, I have all the things I could ever have known to ask for: A house I love, beautiful clothes, an expensive haircut. Great shoes. But on most days, in most situations, I still lack social grace. I don’t know what to say when you give me a compliment, or tell me something meaningful about your life. I do know that, more often than not, what I say ends up being the wrong thing, too revealing or too impersonal, too detailed or weirdly off-topic. Classically, perfectly awkward. Most of the people I’ve been closest to in my life have been people who’ve pursued a friendship with me, even when I crawled inside my shell and hid from my own social ineptitude. Dogs learn best, I’m told, between the ages of five weeks and five months. My hands are aching as I type because the dog yanked me all over the place this morning on his leash, chafing my fingers as I tried to hold on: We didn’t get him soon enough, so teaching him good leash behavior is turning out to be kind of hellish. During what window of time should I have learned to connect fully with other people? How hard is it going to be now?

Tom Andrews’ achingly beautiful poem “Praying with George Herbert in Late Winter” contains some of my favorite lines, including one for which I named my little fiction press. And this: “I can say/there is a larger something/inside me. I can say,/’Gratitude is/a strange country.’ But what/would I give to live there?” I have been angry for a really long time about the obstacles placed in my path not by God or fate or any other such mysterious force, but by the people who should have been taking care of me, who should have been teaching me to take care of other people, and of myself. This self-pity is pointless. In the house where I live, Andrew and I have rescued every surface with our own hands. The work I do is entirely dependent upon a cultivated inventiveness and will to create that was, in turn, initiated by all that wanting–I taught myself to build the life I wanted, understanding early on that no one was planning to give it to me. But the ability to do so depended entirely on my being born in a place where that was possible, without disability or prohibitive illness. Still, there’s the anger, and gratitude is a strange country. What would I give?


Dog Update: Things Are Getting Normal

22 Oct

Pretty soon, these updates are going to get really boring: Dog is cute. Dog catches frisbees. Dog gets overeager and occasionally someone hisses.

So, here’s where we are now: aside from the fact that Mosley pretty much hates all humans with whom he isn’t well acquainted, we’re down to pretty normal stuff. He yanks on the leash. He doesn’t want to go outside without me much, and when I leave him out alone for a while, he pees on the side of the house. We had two accidents overnight last week, but those are the only two in the past few weeks. You’re not going to believe this, but they happened on the only two nights when Andrew didn’t ask the dog to please not mess in his den before bed. Every other night, Andrew has presented this request; every other night, Mosley has abided.

We have a clicker, a boatload of treats, and a dog nanny. We have some training tactics, and maybe will do some classes later. We have a head-collar, but that just makes him an asshole, and he still yanks on the leash, nearly yanking his own head off in the process, so we’ve given up on the head-collar. (Plus, we think it left some scabby skin behind his ear, so: no.) What we need are a few doggy play-dates and a good way to begin to introduce him to strangers so he stops the maniacal barking every time he sees one.

Did I mention that Mosley hates small dogs? I know this isn’t universal, because he used to live with a rat terrier, but yow, small dogs. They set him off. The other day during our walk, this mole-man looking guy with a little dog sneaked up on us from behind. (Which: on a public sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to announce yourself, I know.) Of course a crazy barking fit ensued. I’ve never seen Mosley

even nip at anyone, but when he gets to barking like that, you’d swear he was a vicious fighting dog. And this, I’m pretty sure, is the worst I’ve ever heard him. (Okay, the time the creepy utility guy came to the door and knocked really loud and Mosley got so scared he pooped was pretty serious.) So I’ve got him trapped between myknees, holding his collar as he barks his ass off, and Andrew hears Mole Man say to his ugly little sausage of a dog, “Don’t worry. I’ve got something to protect us.” And, hey. I saw a loose pit-bull down the way attack a lady and her two dogs one afternoon. I get that. But it still made me want to let him loose, or to bite the dude myself. So yeah: I guess I’m dog people now.

Anyway, if we take him to a dog park and he goes off, people are going to be pissed. If we take him somewhere around people, both he and the people are going to be pissed. (Holy hell did he have a fit one Saturday when we tried to take him to PetSmart, just to see how he’d do.) So short of asking everyone we know to come over on a revolving-door basis, this is one we still have to figure out.

He also needs more dog time. He’s used to play time with dogs from his foster home and from his days spent at his foster mom’s office for about a month, before our dog nanny took over. We’ll probably take him back there for a few hours to play from time to time, but we really need to find someone whose dogs want to come over to play, or who want Mose to come to their house for a few hours a week. Because not-small dogs: he loves them. So there’s a project, as well.

The relationship with the cats is coming along. Here’s another reason he needs some dog time: He wants to play with them, so he chases Griffin around. Griffin thinks this is not at all funny, but he keeps coming back, so I suppose there’s no damage done. The general pattern is a lot of sniffing on everyone’s part, much less active avoidance, and regularly increasing curiosity. Mosley seems to genuinely like the cats, perking his ears and wagging his tail when they show up, following them around slowly, and often laying down in a very dog-submissive posture when they approach. Most importantly, he is not afraid of the cats, the cats are not afraid of him, and the kitties’ eating, sleeping, and hanging-out behaviors have returned to their pre-dog patterns.

In all, I think this has been an incredibly quick stabilization. Mosley is affectionate and patient, and seems happy. If we don’t prepare him for bed (and the couch for him) by 11:00 or so, he jumps on it and goes to sleep anyway. I’m pretty sure neither of us has had to tell him to go to bed since that last update. He’s a ridiculously fast learner, picking up new tricks in a matter of two or three practices, and learning what to avoid (eating the cats’ food, for example) in almost no time. (Today he walked around the area where the cats eat, nibbling up spilled kibble, and didn’t touch the bowls or what was in them.) So I have no doubt that we’re going to get over these last few hurdles and move along just fine. Meanwhile, here’s some video of our amazing dog catching a frisbee. Twice. (Did I mention that he came with this skill?)

Dog catches Frisbee. Twice. from Victoria Barrett on Vimeo.

Dog Update: Four Weeks In

8 Oct

We’re still letting Mosley bark freely at the neighborhood teenagers. That’s bad, isn’t it?

So, in other interesting news, all that advice about showing him who’s boss? Doesn’t work for this dog. This dog wants love, not authority. In the last two weeks, he’s fallen almost as much in love with Andrew as with me. Because Andrew decided to start getting down on the dog’s level, hugging him, talking softly to him instead of trying to provide the structure that’s supposed to soothe his pack instincts. As usual, hierarchical behavior is overrated.

So, let’s see, what’s up? We’ve lost count of the number of times Mosley has caught his frisbee in mid-air. Neither of us has lost any more shoes to dog bombs. Mosley goes to bed happily, in his den (our library) every night between 11:00 and midnight. Last night he went outside for his before-bed business and got tucked into bed without me. The cats will sniff his nose and paws at length and hang out near him, but I wouldn’t call anybody friends yet. But Mosley sure wants to be their friend. When he sees them, he gets very quiet and gentle, wags his tail slightly, sniffs them back. A couple of times the mutual sniffing has freaked one of them, Griffin, completely out, and he’s taken off running. Know what a dog does when you run from it? So that hasn’t been particularly helpful. Still, there’ve been a number of evenings when we’ve all hung out in the same room together, both cats, the dog, Andrew, and I. Considering that our house is a 1920s bungalow, with a couple of rooms as small as 10 x 10, this is a pretty impressive feat, I think.

And here’s a detail I find hilarious: When he has peanut butter, he finishes off by methodically licking the fur on his front legs. Only with peanut butter. I think he’s cleaning it off his tongue, then cleaning it back off his legs, slowly. He seems like a pretty smart dog, no?

You can tell things have gotten easier by the fact that I’m running out of stuff to say. It’s still really hard to get up at 7 a.m., even more so now that it’s cold. Sometimes he refuses to act right on the leash, and there I am getting dragged all over the neighborhood before it’s even fully light out. He’s an absolute terror to the resident squirrels–I’ve heard two scream while he was chasing them recently, though I continue to hope for everyone’s sake that he will never catch one.

Oh, welcome home! Andrew just came in the front door after spending a day with his dad in St. Louis, watching our Cardinals lose. Note to self: Use the back door. ‘Cause the barking fit he just threw was ear-splitting, not to mention that he tinkled all over the floor and had a little turd scared right out of him.

Two Weeks as Dog People

23 Sep

It’s been two weeks and two days since Mosley came to live with us. I am now almost accustomed to the recurring odor of dog fart.

He’s a pretty great dog! He caught a frisbee in his mouth, plays fetch very nicely, and wears himself out chasing squirrels. (Though I do feel bad for the squirrels, who used to have free reign in the yard.) He’s not afraid of storms, even when they bring golf-ball size hail. He has now gone to sleep three nights in a row without protest barking. And he hasn’t growled at Andrew in at least a week. He and the cats are slowly making their way toward each other–we’ve had lots of sniffing, a little bit of hissing, and some tail-wagging. (And one mishap where we let the dog and one of the cats outside at the same time, which resulted in–you guessed it–the dog chasing the cat and the most intense puffing and hissing I’ve maybe ever seen in a lifetime as cat people. But the dog wasn’t hunting the cat. The dog was playing. The cat was…not playing.)

On the other hand, he’s been expelled from two different doggie daycares already. He’s fine with other dogs. He doesn’t actually like people. So that’s been tremendously stressful. The first time we took him, I watched the phone all day. We thought he was going to be fine. Turned out the PetsHotel people couldn’t deal with him so they left him inside a cage all day, alone, without walking him or taking him out to pee, he had messed on himself when we got there, and they didn’t bother to call us until 6:15. There’s not actually anything we could have done about it if they’d called earlier, but what if we could have? So we were not pleased.

I know that I can’t get an accurate picture of his behavior because I’m his security blanket–the minute I walk into the room, he calms down–but he can’t be that hard to deal with. He’s a 40lb dog who’s ridiculously food-motivated. Get a treat, get down on his level, and chill the eff out.

We tried another daycare on Tuesday. We took him first on Monday for an evaluation to make sure it would be all right, and he did fine–they took him to the back with the other dogs, and he was a bit shy, but all right. So I wasn’t thrilled when they called less than 20 minutes after we dropped him off on Tuesday morning to say–you guessed it–that they couldn’t work with him and he was miserable. They were kinder, though–when we got there to pick him up, he was outside in the play area by himself, and the lovely woman had been trying to play with him, even though he wouldn’t have it.

We’ve found a good short-term solution to the problem. The woman who fostered him is keeping him for us on the days we have to work away from home. When we dropped him off on Thursday, he was so excited to see her that he peed.

But here is the problem: Mosley needs to be in the same room with me. He usually won’t leave the back deck if I’m not outside, and he won’t walk on the leash with Andrew yet. He’s become very loving toward Andrew, and hasn’t growled in well over a week. But I have to be there for him to do, well, anything, and I didn’t exactly plan to take care of a young dog alone. I had imagined that I might walk him in the morning, and Andrew could take him out before bed and tuck him in, but that’s not happening. Last night is the first night of uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since we brought him home. But that’s progress, right? It’s only going to get better from here. Right?

For the long term, we’re going to have to find a person. Ideally, this person will be female (dog’s preference), and will come here to visit him in the afternoon while we’re at work twice a week, and sometimes house- and dog-sit for us when we’re away. And we’ll have to pay whomever we hire to come spend time with him while I’m here before we can leave him to her care, since it would be a disaster to have him freak out when she comes in on a given afternoon. I’ve been looking into a few resources, but really, it’s like a much less intense version of finding childcare. Which is to say, tiring and stressful. It’s no doubt true that one minor factor in our not having children is our lack of support network. I hadn’t quite realized that I also needed one to have a dog.

Still, all told, he seems very happy here with us, even though he’s got a little patch of poison ivy on his tummy and maybe
sort of still happy-tinkles on the floor now and then. He jumps on me badly enough that once or twice he’s almost knocked me over, but lovingly so. That’s all going to subside, at least a bit, in time and with a little training. (He can catch a frisbee, for shit’s sake. Certainly he can learn to stop knocking me over.) I’m sure the last week has seemed harder than it really was because I’m not getting enough rest, so I’m not quite lucid. I’ve only had less productive weeks when I’ve been sick, and I’m completely disorganized. It’s a lifestyle change, in the way that an effective diet is a lifestyle change: Now I am a person who gets up at 7 a.m. and takes a fairly long walk. Okay. That works. I just have to get the rest of the day to work, too.

The Pretty Bird reads some more books, sees a movie.

23 Sep

The first half of this post and the first asterisked footnote were composed on July 5, 2010. I have no idea why I never finished it, but upon re-reading it, thought that some of what I assert here is kind of relevant to the last month or so of discussions of books, etc. 

So, over the holiday weekend, I did that thing again where I read a whole book in a day. I did it twice, in fact, once on Saturday, and once on Sunday. The Pretty Bird does not publish or endorse negative reviews of books (and doesn’t think you should either, if you’re a writer), so we’re only going to talk about one of those books.*

The book I liked was Michelle Richmond’s Dream of the Blue Room. I also liked The Year of Fog, the only other of Richmond’s books I’ve read. I’m interested in this space between books we’d call “literary” and those we’d call “chick lit”; they seem to fit into this space labeled “popular” or “commercial” fiction, but use the tools good writers recognize as good writing. They don’t necessarily want to teach us a new philosophy of life. I am sick to death of books that seek to teach me, it turns out. The next writer I read whose work screams, “I’m smarter than you!!!!!” deserves to be punched. ‘Cause, well, you’re not. And even if you were, it’s absurdly bad manners to say so, you fucking show-off.

Michelle Richmond is not one of those writers. Her books are accessible without pandering. What happy endings they do have are tempered by realistic and difficult life choices and circumstances. They feel, to me, honest. I hesitate to read dead girl stories, since I’ve been writing one for like 8 years now, and Dream of the Blue Room is undoubtedly a dead girl story.

Dream of the Blue Room has, in fact, stayed with me, particularly the deeply moving backstory that serves as the impetus for the main action. That backstory is moving and emotionally challenging. The characters’ relationship does not conform to the expectations you might carry into a story about two inseparable teenage girls; its surprises are authentic and feel real.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember if I’ve since read a book in one day, unless manuscripts submitted to Engine Books count. I know that I haven’t read another title by the author above who shall not be named, which is a bit of a shame, since I was gobbling up her books like mad a the time, and she’s published more.

Which gets me thinking about the relationship between author and reader, about gaining and losing a reader’s trust. Writers know, generally, how to think about this in terms of individual books, how to consider whether a novel fulfills the promises it lays out, how to think about the surprising yet inevitable ending rather than cheap tricks, etc. And of course we’re all familiar with the old sophomore slump. But being an incredibly slow (and currently unpublished in book form) writer, I hadn’t put much thought into the possibility of betraying a loyal reader as perspectives and positions change. It’s one of my core beliefs that to write well–to write at all, really–means to continue learning and evolving throughout your life. We don’t get to be those people who get to a certain stage of life, where they’re making enough money and getting enough done to stop growing. (I sometimes wish I was one of those people, but it’s not in me. Wouldn’t life seem so much more fulfilling, though?) Instead, we have to continue acquiring knowledge, empathizing with positions we perhaps would prefer not to understand, and learning new stuff in general, or risk writing the same thing over and over again.

Which! If we were a rock band with a cult following would prompt the same irritation I expressed above/below. Which makes me feel like a bit of a whiner, but I’m going to let those thoughts stand, anyway, because they are obviously still affecting my approach to the writer’s subsequent titles, and therefore not something I’ve entirely gotten over.

It turns out I don’t remember what the movie was. Probably a super-hero/comic book thing. Evidently the books stick with me a little better than the films.

*…even though I really want to talk about the other one, because I’ve read other books by its author, and liked them, and am feeling a little bit betrayed. Because I think she knows better than to do a lot of the shit she did, shit that, to my reading, did whatever the opposite is of rewarding her readers for their time and dedication. I would like to know if the three well-placed and specific mentions, by make and model, of a particular shampoo (a shampoo that it actually seemed pretty unlikely that the character in question would even use) were, in fact, compensated product placement. I would like to know if there’s some particular goal being met by the blatant disregard for basic accuracy. (For example, there is no pregnancy test on earth that can detect an embryo five days after conception, a fact with which readers of this book should probably be familiar.) I’d like to talk about many substantially larger and, to my reading, anti-woman moves the narrative makes. But won’t do so in public, I’m afraid. Writers who publish negative reviews of other writers’ work seem to me, at best, to be tempting fate; at worst, they look petty, jealous, and small.**

**Which is not to say that I don’t think there should be negative book reviews. I just don’t think writers–especially those in the same genre–should write them.

There’s a Cat in the Dog Crate.

14 Sep

That is all.

Dog Update: Day 6. With reflections!

12 Sep Dog, snoozing with toy.

After several incredibly rough nights of crying over the likelihood that we’d have to give him back, we may have turned a corner with Mosley. Everyone I talk to seems to think that I should just chill out, that I’m somehow unprepared to have a dog, despite having grown up with a dog (me) and spent an entire upbringing and early adult life with a dog (Andrew). Sure, y’all. You chill out when a 40lb animal is barking in your house all night, every night. I don’t care how many dogs you’ve raised; when one of them barks at full voice all night, every night, your cats are hiding under the bed, and you haven’t slept in days, you are not in a “normal” situation that can be solved with “patience and time” or with (more) treats or (more) assertive training behavior. You are in a mess.

So we asked for help.

Dog, snoozing with toy.

Happy dog sleeping with potentially offensive toy. (He came with this thing that he carries around and gnaws on. Perhaps you can tell it’s a hand-made approximation of an orange tabby cat. Murphy is not amused.)

Unfortunately, I had the poor judgment to mention Xanax as a possible short-term solution to Mosley’s severe separation anxiety, which kicks in whenever I leave a room. Because there is dog Xanax, and this is precisely what it was made for and is used, regularly and safely, to treat. Clearly this is a great reason for the vet we’ve been taking our cats to for six years to be obnoxiously condescending. I think at one point she may have said, “Maybe this dog just isn’t for you.” No shit? I hadn’t thought of that possibility at all, every single night when the barking started. Thanks for the news. Now how about you fucking help me through the damn barking so that I can continue to work with the dog, who clearly wants to be my dog, seeing how he’s never bonded closely with another human (as far as the rescue organization knows) and he won’t let me out of his sight? Perhaps I’m unduly pissed about this. But why the hell would I be asking you for help if I wasn’t committed to keeping and continuing to work with the animal? It’s not his fault that he’s freaking out, and it’s not enjoyable for him or anyone else.

Fortunately, after the lecture, the vet offered a homeopathic solution, an amino acid supplement that calms dog anxiety. Chicken-flavored and chewable! But you can only have it if you feel sufficiently guilty for having requested information about a drug that thousands of people administer to their anxious dogs every day.

So that stuff seems to have helped. And we made a compromise: Mose doesn’t have to be crated if he’ll consent to being closed in the library, where his crate is located. We also popped him a Benadryl, in part to help him sleep, but also because the poor guy is covered with mosquito bites from an ill-advised stint hiding out under our deck steps the day we got him. Shortly after we gave him the supplement with his dinner, he seemed a little bit stoned. But, then, the city had just fogged for mosquitoes, and the windows were open, and we all felt a little stoned. He more or less slept through the night (some whining at first, but not too much), and judging by his energy level this morning, he is, um, perfectly fine.

I have to admit, I don’t get the compulsion a lot (say, 40%) of dog people seem to feel to 1) offer advice where none has been solicited and 2) to be ridiculously condescending when advice is solicited. While most of my friends–and pretty much all the ones I actually know in person–have been thoughtful and helpful, I’m a little flabbergasted by the tendency of others to say things even a child knows, like that you have to present yourself with authority around a pack animal so he thinks you’re the alpha, to two people with terminal degrees who teach research writing. No? You don’t say? Give him treats? We never thought of that, and certainly haven’t tried it 40 times already. Or, you know, that it takes work. (I’ve taught this dog “stay” and “come” in a matter of two days. I’ve already habituated him to two good peeing spots and one for pooping. He hasn’t left my side in five days. I think I’m aware of the work part.) Because, duh, we looked shit up before we brought a dog into our house.

I haven’t fully pieced together what I’m trying to get at, but it has something to do with the fact that none of the cat people I know exhibit this particular kind of condescension, and cats are leaps and bounds smarter than most dogs. They’re more complex, individual, and resistant to training. Yet we do train them, and habituate them to our lives and our environments, and that works out fine. So do cat people just trust other cat people to not be idiots? Or are there that many idiots who are dog people and have to be told the most obvious shit in the world, as though they are incapable of basic information collection and reasoning? I mean, do 40% of dog people assume that they are the only people in the world with access to Google?

Perhaps I’m overstating the point. This is the first day I’ve been allotted anything resembling a full night of sleep, which may result in overthinking some things, what with regaining the capacity for thinking at all. But yeah: Dogs! Not that complicated. Barking all night is an actual problem for which there has to be an actual solution beyond patience and treats, beyond firmness and authority.

Now, about those happy tinkles…we’ll have to figure that out later.


4 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all these dead young people. We seem to be entering a cultural moment where we’re all obsessed with bullying the way we were all obsessed with kidnappers in white vans after the Adam Walsh movie came out in the early 80s. I don’t necessarily mean to imply that this is a bad thing: It Gets Better is great, sure. Awareness is great.

But who, exactly, is not aware of schoolyard bullying? We’ve done it, or been victimized by it, or both. We’ve told the children we love to turn the other cheek, or to fight back, or to rise above. Still, these dead children. This is not the same thing as what I went through being made fun of for wearing hand-me-downs, or for being a nerd. This is something more. There’s a cycle at play here, a mean, nasty, low-down snake eating its own tail. There’s something serious going on.

To me, the snake looks like this: Our public and political rhetoric is mean as fuck–cynical, sinister, nasty shit; adolescents develop their understanding of language from media consumption and their parents, and that vitriolic language suits the horrible mood swings, jealousy, and rage that just about every adolescent experiences at some point; the language of rage pours out in the direction of any peer who is different, because difference already feels threatening when you’re in puberty, and our national discourse reinforces every imaginable notion that difference = danger; teachers and administrators, particularly those in small, closed-minded communities don’t just sit by–they often participate,* further alienating those adolescents who already suffer tremendously from their own sense of isolation; adult apathy and/or participation reinforces pubescent meanness, which snowballs; a child takes his or her own life.

It’s worth noting that the hatefulness and abuse so often revolve around sexuality. Sure, all those young men who may or may not have actually been gay or known they were gay yet were tortured; but Phoebe Prince was tormented for her expression of sexuality, too. In her case, that expression came in the form of sexual precociousness, something we explicitly encourage in our pre-teen and teenage girls in this country, and then punish when it shows itself. The first time a boy kissed me I was sixteen; the first time another girl called me a slut I wasn’t even out of middle school.

Meanwhile the “mean” kids act out, express their rage and angst and frustration at the expense of those less enfranchised with popularity, or family money, or talent, or whatever, and their actions are implicitly rewarded, and ten years later they scream back at their television screens and make posterboards depicting the President of the United States with a bone through his nose. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And we call the children bullies.

Sure, they have some culpability. They ought to learn to be nicer, to be more accepting, to exhibit some kindness. They ought to know one another’s limits. But let’s be honest. What we have isn’t a handful of bad seeds in a handful of small communities all around the country. What we have is a system–or a set of systems–that tells all of us that we are weak if we don’t fight, weak if we aren’t strong, weak if we aren’t the aggressor. Weak if we don’t topple Saddam Hussein’s statue. Weak if we don’t wipe out the Taliban. If we don’t take all the oil from those brown people across the sea. A bully holds up a fist and takes your lunch money. These kids are active participants in a system that victimizes anybody who’s gifted with less. A system designed to keep those without power powerless, to keep those with power standing on their backs. They are more than bullies. And they are less.

Somebody should teach those kids a lesson.

But in a world where none of us is qualified to deliver that particular message, who would that teacher be?


*If you don’t believe this happens, go ahead and visit my hometown, or any “tight-knit” suburban whitebread community. You’ll find it there.

The Pretty Bird is in favor of Wonder Woman’s new getup.

26 Aug

So this post is a little bit delayed.* Here it is anyhow: I’m a big fan of the reimagining of Wonder Woman’s appearance.

I’ve read the objections: That the new getup strips her of age, and implicitly, experience, and in doing so privileges youth in a capitulation to the beauty industry/absurd commercially-driven beauty standards. Or that the womanly appearance of the old costume was, in essence, a feminist text, whereas this new one is somehow not. Or, in a few cases, the de-emphasizing of the US flag imagery and/or increased subtlety as un-American, whatever the fuck that means. And, fine. Some folks prefer that we don’t mess with an icon. Some folks prefer that nothing change, ever. (They’re kidding themselves, of course.)

But what the hell, ladies? The first objection implies that younger women, or perhaps women who don’t stride around in pin-up costumes, are not valid feminist texts. Because young people are lacking what, exactly, that makes them less valuable? Wrinkles? This is one of my biggest peeves** in the entire world: The assertion that somehow the perspective of those who’ve been alive for a while is better than/smarter than/more valid than that of people whose lives are mostly still ahead of them. Guess what, ladies and gentlemen? You don’t take off the blinders through the simple act of getting older. You just change them out for a different pair. This assertion is a very, very close cousin of the fundamentally anti-woman assertion among white male writers that the kind of experience that makes for quality/valuable/literary (pick your qualitative abstraction) fiction can only involve fighting or killing another creature or human. Well, bullshit. The ageist assertions are, too. Take a look, friends, at the people in the news photos holding up signs with Obama drawn as a witch doctor, which is a certain declaration of stupidity: How many of them look to be 22-year-olds to you? There are stupid young people and stupid old people. There are people for whom experience has been a great teacher, and there are people whom it has left myopic, solipsistic, and embittered. There are 14-year-olds who’ve been through more in their lives than a good portion of US adults will ever face.

On the other points, well, Wonder Woman is not a feminist or patriotic icon. Wonder Woman is a fictional character who was created and drawn by men in an era when women in this country didn’t even have the kind of reproductive, employment, education, and public participation rights that we consider–rightly–to be a cornerstone of human rights in our culture. Like pretty much all female characters in superhero comics, Wonder Woman was drawn as an action figure in swimwear and bondage cuffs because it looked hot. If you are looking to superhero comics for feminism and/or patriotism, good fucking luck, man. The new costume, while it does, yes, make her look younger, nods appealingly to the redesign of Catwoman’s costume that debuted in February of 2002 (scroll down to this guy’s #1). That redesign, like this one, deprivileges the more explicitly porny features drawn for most female superhero comic characters. Look, they’re both still hot. And most of the readers are still pubescent boys and young men. Until that audience changes, sometimes you have to pretend the meatloaf is an airplane and find a way to get it into the hangar, so to speak. And, really: That old costume was ugly. This one is contemporary and beautiful. Its use of color and depth is gorgeous.

Initially, I was not a big fan of the rewrite of Wonder Woman’s character history that accompanies this redesign, though. It seems on its surface to strip her of power in a way that the costume doesn’t. She was an Amazon princess/queen who drew on her heritage for strength and power to fight crime, etc. Now, she’s unaware of that past and was raised in the US. An alternate reading, however, might suggest that, by drawing on more mundane sources of power–namely an upbringing not all that different than the ones women all over the US experienced–she is, in fact, celebrating the power inherent in all women.

None of this matters to the storytelling. As with all narrative art, we analyze after-the-fact, slap our own perspectives over top of whatever some creator/writer/visual artist did because it looked/sounded/seemed cool. Wonder Woman’s history has been conveniently reimagined so that she can have the quest of discovering where she’s really from, so that her larger story arc can take the form of the oldest kind of story: the journey of discovery. Interestingly, a kind of story that, at its core, almost always featured the male adventurer discovering what it meant to be a man.

*I’m sorry to say that this means I’m not going to link to some of the stuff I’m referencing. I can’t remember where I read almost any of it at this point.

**I’ve been called “kiddo” by administrative temp coworkers with half my experience and a tenth of my intellect and ability, and eventually quit relatively lucrative jobs because that’s not–ever–an acceptable working condition. I’ve stopped reading the work of writers who’ve publicly made loud pronouncements about the differences between “young writers” and everyone else. Because by the very act of asserting such idiocy, you’ve branded yourself incapable of the kind of empathy and logic that ought to drive the world forward.

For Your Perusal, a Much-Needed Corrective to that Awful Yahoo News Article a Few Weeks Back

2 Aug

In the most recent New Yorker, Atul Gawande makes essentially the same argument that shitty Yahoo News article made. Unlike the Yahoo assholes, he makes it with humanity and grace. If, like me, you’re going through a thing where you experience sudden glimpses of your own mortality like flashes of lightning in an otherwise clear sky, it’s sort of a heartstring-render, particularly at the end. But it’s smart, thoughtful, and meaningful in a way that our soundbite-driven (non-New Yorker) media never manages to be. Please read it.