Hello my chickadees! Given that my new website is under construction but up and ready to receive my blog-posts, I’ll be posting over there now. Forevers. Eventually, hopefully, this address will forward to my site, but for now, just follow the link, please!
I stopped caring about the much-lauded but in-reality-questionable entertainment value of Super Bowl ads after the year I saw a beer commercial featuring horses farting on a woman (hilarious!), but this year the blogosphere went up in a explosion of righteous feminist WTF after several mind-bogglingly sexist commercials aired, so I took notice. By which I mean I thought to myself “huh, it seems like people are really unhappy about the Super Bowl ads this year.” I didn’t bother watching the YouTubed versions of the commercials intelligent folks like Cat Valente critiqued because, again, after seeing those horses fart on that woman, what really was there for me to be annoyed by?
Well, a lot, it seems. After noticing that the A.V. Club posted a feminist video response to the now-notorious Dodge Charger ad that aired during the Super Bowl, I watched the original (holy fucking shit) and the gender-bending one (nicely done). Ugh, ugh, ugh. I am so very glad my TV broke years ago and now I watch shows I care about on Hulu or on DVD, years after everyone else. It’s less depressing that way.
Cat Valente was not exaggerating when she described the world alleged by these commercials as “hell.” It really is. And it makes me feel like I’m insane, because I like men. And there are men who like me. We like hanging out with each other despite the differences in our chromosomes. I do not find their presence infuriating and they do not find my presence to be soul-crushingly emasculating. Maybe it’s just that most of the men I know (hetero and homosexual) like to read stuff and talk and make food and eat that food and sit around and watch movies and argue intelligently about things like genre or politics or racism or whether Reign of Fire was a good dragon movie or whether or not we should go see The Wolfman even though the reviews are shit. Most of the men I know think it’s fair to split chores so that no one works a second shift, and most of them also think it’s fair to trade off movies or activities so both people get to do stuff they like if there are dramatic differences in taste with their female friends/girlfriends/wives. They do not feel such things as carrying lip balm or wiping down the sink after they shave or eating fruit (?) to be the equivalent of having their balls hacked off by a knife shaped like a vagina.
I dunno. Maybe I just hang out with a bunch of queerbos in disguise? I guess advertisers think so. That’s why I broke up with TV a while ago. . . and it seems pretty obvious we’re not getting back together anytime soon.
Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:
In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.
I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.
This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.
That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.
I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.
So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.
The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.
It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.
And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!
My dear friend S.J. Chambers, independent Poe scholar and all-around-neat-person, whose name you should recognize from her flash fiction “How a Blog was Born,” the Honorable Mention in my Bloggiversary Contest, and, more importantly, from various sundry locations around the internet (check S.J.’s website for a full listing of her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction), has a work of fiction over at MungBeing Magazine!
Stories like S.J.’s “Of Parallel and Parcel” are always of interest to me as both a reader and a writer of historical fiction. My personal take on the genre is this: there are holes in history, gaps where the curious mind wonders why? Those, for me, are some the best places to begin a story, especially if said historical fiction veers into the realms of science fiction/fantasy. S.J.’s story plays it mostly straight, with subtle hints of the fantastic affecting the internal motivations of the main character, in a narrative that treats a figure often overlooked beyond the rather cursory dude, Poe totes married his cousin! one often gets in high school.
S.J.’s love for Poe and Poe-related matters comes through passionately in her writing, in both the framing of the piece and the actual content. It’s worth your time. Go check it out!
I know, I know, but I fucking love Gone with the Wind. I also love vampires, so maybe I just love glamorized, inherently exploitive relationships, especially when they’re costume dramas, OK?
Big ups to whoever made this.
. . . is a movie. That I watched. It’s an old Hammer Horror film from 1971, and it was awesome. Really. I mean it.
In this version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a passionate young man who wants to cure every disease (okay), but when some older friend/professor/doctor person reminds him that such a task would take far longer than a normal man’s lifespan, Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with cheating death. In his search for the Elixir of Life, he begins investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties. I believe in order to explain the “huh?” moment surely every single reasonable person must have when hearing the phrase “investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties,” Dr. Jekyll poses a question along the lines of “what is it that gives a woman’s face that extraordinary bloom, the softness of her hair?” which, you know, is probably a good theory, and explains his scientific reasoning thoroughly.
But the problem for the good doctor is, of course, how to get those pesky hormones. At first he cuts glands and stuff out of bodies from the morgue, which is pretty cool because the guy with giant sideburns and a top hat who works at the morgue (coroner? gravedigger? WHO KNOWS?) gets to make some classy necrophilia jokes.
Alas, there just aren’t enough dead ladies for Dr. Jekyll, so he’s forced into doing business with the body-procurers Burke and Hare, who apparently travelled from Edinburgh to London, and through time as well, to supply him with the goods. When they’re caught (Burke is hung, Hare is thrown in to a lime pit, which dissolves his eyeballs) Dr. Jekyll has only one recourse, which is to become Jack the Ripper and start murdering prostitutes to get their hormones, which is a medical process involving a big shiny knife, just so you know.
But that, ah, plot is not the only fine thing about this film, oh no. Instead of creating the Elixir of Life, it turns out that the Ecto Cooler-hued substance Dr. Jekyll has distilled from cut up ladyparts is actually a means of changing a man into a woman, with titties, and yes, you get to see them. It also extends the life of a fly (after turning it from a male into a female) but the movie never really goes back to that particular plot point, instead choosing to focus on Dr. Jekyll turning into a woman– an evil woman, natch– and committing the murders as her, since everyone who’s out looking for the Whitechapel murderer is looking for a man.
Meanwhile, the nice family living upstairs is starting to worry about the workaholic Dr. Jekyll. The family consists of a matronly widow and her two adult children, a comely young lady of quality and her coxcomb brother. The girl falls hard for Dr. Jekyll for no reason other than he seems to be the only man she sees around apart from her horrifying brother, and she gets all plucky and stuff, bringing Dr. Jekyll dinner and looking mad when he won’t pay attention to her. Then the horrifying brother mentioned above sees Mrs. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll’s sister, as Jekyll hastens to explain) and is captivated by her, possibly because the first time he sees her she’s doing the maneuver illustrated on the left, though her hand isn’t in front of the goods, and the second time he sees her, I swear to god, after realizing she lacks proper woman’s clothes, she wraps a scarlet curtain around her body like a Greek goddess and sort of slinks about evilly while making bedroom eyes at everyone she sees, including herself, in the mirror.
Gender-bending high jinks ensue, especially when Mrs. Hyde starts taking over Dr. Jekyll’s body even when he’s a man, including a hilarious scene (outside a corsetry shop, again, natch) where Dr. Jekyll reaches for the brother’s face and whispers his name passionately. YEAH! Then it all culminates in a supremely lackluster chase sequence and a simply awful final effect. But up until the last 10 minutes, it’s a really weird cool little movie. I recommend it heartily, if you can find it, and I’m sure it implies a lot about topics that I’m not going to talk about right now because after 7 months in Boulder, I finally bought some homeopathic medicine (Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy) for my stress issues, and it’s actually working. So basically I’m feeling too relaxed to really engage with the fact that of course the split personality is a lady and she is evil and she is sexual and it emasculates Dr. Jekyll to have a stronger woman be a part of him and this probably says something about gender attitudes. Usually I’m all over that stuff, but not now.
The other day I was feeling like watching a costume drama set during the era I’m currently writing about in the novel, so I rented the 2007 version of Fanny Hill. I knew a little bit about it but never got around to reading it during my Master’s (moft likely becaufe I was focufing on Moral Novels written earneftly by Moral Women, about fuch ferious topics as Slavery, and not common fmut).
The movie was good, though despite the absolutely gorgeous, lavish costumes (see the image left, one of the prettiest dresses I’ve seen in a costume drama, ever) and good acting it had a rather, ah, Skinemax feel to it. I enjoyed it. Even better, oh joy of joys, certain things about the film intrigued me in terms of my ongoing 18th century research, so I immediately purchased the Oxford World’s Classics unexpurgated edition and read it with extreme quickness on my trip down to Tampa. Rarely have plane trips been so enjoyable.
First, a few issues regarding the actual text itself. For a while now, OWC has been updating their look: matte covers rather than glossy, sometimes cropping cover images to look more modern, adding a white bar with the title at the bottom rather than the old school red banner at the top, etc. Unfortunately, they have not upgraded their absurdly-easy-to-smear print, which I feel would be a nice thing to do for customers who care more about the durability than the appearance of their books. This issue of quality, and the fact that I find OWC’s system of endnotes to be distracting while trying to enjoy a text, has made me more likely to purchase from Broadview if I want a critical edition of an older novel, but unfortunately, Broadview has yet to release a Fanny Hill. On an infinitely more superficial level, I am freaking tired of seeing Boucher’s “Resting Girl” every time I pick up pornography from days of yore. There are plenty of other risque images from the 18th century if one looks a little– and if OWC wasn’t going to use something from Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, which would seem a natural choice, I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick something from, oh, one of the countless illustrated editions of Fanny Hill which aren’t exactly difficult to find (a quick Google search immediately yielded one NSFW site full of dirty pictures, another half-second’s worth of looking on wikipedia gives up a lone image from a collection by Edouard-Henri Avril). Many of those could be cropped down to something acceptable for a book cover– maybe not that particular Avril image, but there are others. So, just sayin’. On to more substantial matters!
The book is a good read. More and less filthy than I expected, Fanny Hill is not exactly one-handed reading, it’s instead one of those cultural oddities like Lost Girls, e.g. erotica for people who like to think in general and who also enjoy thinking specifically about the nature of arousal, what is and is not considered erotic throughout time, who like to occasionally be confronted with the discomfort that can arise from fantasy stemming from things that would be unacceptable in reality. So, yeah, I just wrote that ridiculously highbrow explanation for consuming vintage smut.
Certainly there are passages that read as pure pornography, including Fanny’s lesbian experiences, her voyeuristic observation of a prostitute servicing her lover, her later affair with the well-endowed manservant of her gentleman keeper Mr. H–, the bacchanal where Fanny yet again sells her virginity, the interlude where Fanny and a lusty sailor fuck in an inn. But there are doses of reality that interfere with pure enjoyment, especially for a modern individual, but that would likely have given most readers some degree of pause when it was published in 1748-1749 and then surreptitiously re-published and circulated before the Lady Chatterly’s Lover obscenity trial that made it widely available in the 20th century. For example, Fanny’s defloration is pretty grisly (like all other deflorations in the book, the pain the women experience is not glossed over, nor does it disappear after their first time), and then Fanny is raped by a gentleman while she is very depressed over miscarrying due to the shock of her true love being sent to the South Seas. In Volume Two, a fellow whore in a “cluck” of prostitutes Fanny becomes a part of tells of losing her virginity to a rapist, and another whore seduces a mentally handicapped young man, to name just a few things that made me say “huh.”
I haven’t read a lot of the academic criticism of Fanny Hill, though there have been many treatments of the book, including one by my personal academic heroine, Janet Todd. For myself, on both a critical and an uncritical level, I enjoyed it. I was personally unsettled by the casual way rape is discussed, and how women who are raped generally come to admire, if not love, their assailants, but given that Fanny Hill makes several references to Pamela, that sort of nonsense was not entirely surprising. I was also unhappy about the section toward the end of Volume Two that heaps vitriol upon male homosexuals, but it seems that John Cleland’s stint in debtors’ prison, where he wrote Fanny Hill, was due to a debt to Thomas Canon, who wrote a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, so there might have been an ulterior motivation to discrediting practitioners of the art of buttfucking.
That said, lesbianism is at least given some page-time, as is female masturbation, and some sexual fetishes are also explored without excessive jokes at those men with “peculiar humours,” such as the gentleman with a love of hair-brushing. There is also a simply delightful encounter with a birching enthusiast named Mr. Barvile. Also, throughout it all Cleland loves nothing more than describing with notable enthusiasm the male “machine,” resulting in several descriptions such as the following:
. . . behold it now! crest-fall’n, reclining its half-capt vermillion head over one of his thighs, quiet, pliant, and to all appearance incapable of the mischiefs and cruelty it had committed. Then the beautiful growth of the hair, in short and soft curls around the root, its whiteness, branch’d veins, the supple softness of the shaft, as it lay forshorten’d, roll’d and shrunk up into a squob thickness, languid, and born up from between the thighs, by its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure-bag of nature’s sweets, which rivell’d round, and purs’d up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect; and all together form’d the most interesting moving picture in nature. . .
I saw with wonder and surprize, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a may-pole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant: its prodigious size made me shrink again: yet! I could not without pleasure behold, and even venture’d to feel, such a length! such a breadth of animated ivory, perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish, and velvet-softness, might vye with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which, the fair skin shew’d as, in a fine evening, you may have remark’d the clear light aether, through the branch-work of distant trees, over the topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature; in short, it stood an object of terror and delight.
Jesus Christ. Yes, the whole book is like that.
Overall, I am pleased that I took the time to read Fanny Hill. I think it is remarkable that, though obviously written by a man (and wholly man of his era in a number of ways), this work is presented first-person from the point of view of a woman, and treats frankly her delight in sex and sexuality, as well as her ability to separate sexual enjoyment from feelings of love. This is problematic at times, especially given the uncomfortable moments with rape and sexual abuse, but overall Fanny Hill really does present a stirring and somewhat innocently bawdy picture of 18th century sexuality. The text also does much to contradict notions that sexual enthusiasm outside of reproduction is something people discovered in the 20th century, and that women’s sexual enjoyment was neglected previous to the sexual revolution. Though Fanny’s (and the other women’s) carnal appetites are presented for the titillation of a male audience, it is interesting to note that the notion of old-timey British sexuality being somewhat repressed (“close your eyes and think of England”) is really a misinterpretation of Victorian propaganda. 18th century notions of female sexuality recognized that women masturbate, that women can be active participants in the sexual act, and can (and should) orgasm during sexual encounters. Those same notions often presented problems for women– for example, though the female orgasm was considered important, it was considered such because doctors thought women must orgasm to conceive, which in turn was used to discount women’s complaints of rape if they conceived, since if they conceived, they must have orgasmed, etc.– but they also created a world in which female sexuality was at least talked about, if often inaccurately.
So, all in all, time well spent.
I am stuck. Seriously, mood-crushingly, tar-pit stuck. In the weeks surrounding Christmas and the New Year I wrote between 15,000-20,000 words on my current project, it flowed beautifully. Good stuff, natural dialogue, lovely. Then. . . nothing. For weeks. Literally. I’ve gone through all my usual tricks– research, new music, working on other stuff, editing the section from the beginning, but I think I’ve written maybe 1000 words since The Stop. I’ve since written three short stories (approx. 18,000 words), so nothing shabby there, but it’s not the same for me. I want so much for this project to come together, I’m in the home stretch (I think I’ll be “done” in about 20,000 words, and on to the editing stage), I just need to rally and push through but everything I write reads like zzzzzzzzzzzzzz and meh.
I’m not sure what’s wrong. I know what I want to do with this and why and (kind of) how, but I pull up my Scrivener file and just end up staring at it. It’s very disheartening, and it’s been making me really, really, really unhappy. It’s gotten so bad I’m worried everything about this project will be a wash, I’ll have to start over, and I know sometimes it goes like that, but I really thought I had something here. I mean, Christ, I do have something– I have a something that is currently 131,000 words (Jesus Christ, the editing down is going to be painful), so for it to dissipate at this point seems bizarre and stupid.
Hopefully something will happen and I’ll receive some sort of inspiration in the form of a chisel that can crack the concrete surrounding my creativity. Hopefully.
I sliced off the tip of my finger last night, thus preventing much typing (ugh), but this morning, just when I was starting to be annoyed by my injury I saw that Ekaterina Sedia posted the table of contents for Running with the Pack to her LJ, and holy crap! It’s so awesome. I know I’ve said it, but I’m honored beyond words to be a part of this project.
I had a lot of stuff in the queue to blog about today, including, but not limited to: some musings brewing about the recent debate over the alleged (in some people’s minds) knife fight going on between genre writers/editors and literary fiction writers/editors; my utter failure to keep off the internet though I had very much intended to do so; my delight over my switch to Scrivener; the news that Merriam-Webster’s has been pulled from some crazy fucking county in CA because it contains the definition of oral sex; the vastly depressing depths ex-vegans will sink to in order to discredit current vegans because. . . OK, actually, I can’t figure out a reason for such behavior, because vegansim isn’t anything like the Quiverfull movement or something that stands to be “discredited” after “insiders” break out and resume their normal lives as. . . as, uh, I guess as meat eaters.
But! I must burn those bridges; I will crush the ideas, drive them before me, and hear the lamentations of their women, because there is something more important out there: someone on the internet tried out the product called, horrifyingly, My New Pink Button, the temporary genital dye that I first heard about over on the PPK, but sourced back to Jezebel. For those of you still woefully blissfully unaware of “My New Pink Button,” it is, according to the instructions that come with it, “an Adult Novelty Cosmetic product and its use is to promote beauty of a woman’s genital area by restoring natural color.” Before hearing about this I always thought the color a woman’s genital area was by nature was its natural color, but as always, silly me.
Says SJ of “I, Asshole” (not S.J. Chambers, who I have mentioned on this blog in slightly different contexts than genital dye):
An overpowering sweet smell rose out of the vial as I sprinkled the powder. The ingredients say it is made from about every fruit that has been trendy for the past ten years, and includes cinnamon. There is also an ominous warning in the instructions that “for some, a slight ‘irritating’ feeling may occur upon application and last for about a minute.” An irritating feeling? Like the cosmetics industry telling me I should be self-conscious about yet another body part? Oh, wait, a different kind of irritating.
I heartily recommend reading about her experience trying a product which fills a insecurity-based market most women likely have never even considered because it is insane. I think (because I am a nerd) I appreciate most her posting the instructions so everyone can note the poor spelling and questionable grammar in them. See the instructions here. My personal favorite “bit” (heh) is right there in the introductory paragraph:
Occasionally, a woman is self-conscious of her Labia since childhood. A common concern amongst women about their Labia Minora (inside vaginal lips) and genital area, is the color loss and color change due to age, health and many other factors. When the question is put to the female population about what color is most appealing to the eye, for their Labia Minora, the answer is “Pink”.
What? I would love to get my red pen out and deal with this mess, but I’ll settle for publicly pondering why ‘labia’ is capitalized in every instance, what the sentence “Occasionally, a woman is self-conscious of her Labia since childhood” means (Since childhood what? Teasing on the playground about labia color? Since childhood viewing of pornography featuring waxed ladies with pink pussies? SINCE WHAT?!?), and why the author in question decided to treat commas as if they were punctuation’s equivalent of salt, to be sprinkled at random over a text. But let’s get to the true reason why this product was developed– it’s right there in the instructions; in fact, it follows the quoted paragraph above. While I will not deny that perhaps “occasionally, a woman is self-conscious of her Labia since childhood” (Who’s to say? I’m sure someone is worried about that), the makers of My New Pink Button have got ladies in the corner– even if you’re not yet “self-conscious of your Labia since childhood” you damn well should be, because:
[Pink] is also the majority response amongst males for what is appealing to the eye of their sexual partner.
So, ignoring that the grammar of sentence could be implying both that men want or maybe think women want their sexual partners to have conjunctivitis (just touch your eyes after being on a bus, people, you don’t need to shell out thirty dollars for that!), let’s talk about what the author is trying to tell ladies: that “males” want pink pussy lips (research source: the titles of some porn flicks at the local video store, maybe), so women better pony up for some of that there twat dye.
There’s a site called Topless Robot that I visit occasionally. The only reason I mention it here is because one of the tags the author uses is “things that make me drink.” Frankly, the fact that My New Pink Button exists should be enough to make me drink, but I’m too jaded. The atrocious grammar in the instructions for My New Pink Button, however. . . well, let’s just say it’s been a while since I considered going on a bender before lunchtime.