(The good kind of) trash day

West Wing fans and wonks all know that Friday is take-out-the-trash day. While none of the below is trash (quite the opposite really), they’re all items that have been prettily littering my desktop that aren’t going to get a full post from me because I’m short on time, words, or possibly both. However, I still want to blog them, and imagine they’ll hold some interest or appeal for you.

My good buddy and spec fic author Christian A. Young has launched a project called Hold Something. For a small monthly fee, you can get a story and images in the mail. You know, stuff you can touch in a world that’s more and more just bits and bytes. One of the awesome potentials of the Internet for artists is the removal of the middleman. That means both that you can be a patron of the arts for less and more artists can get paid for their work.

Lesley Hastings is a friend from fandom and has just published a novella, an M/M romance called The Dream Catcher. I haven’t read it yet, but congratulations are still in order.

Performance artist Justin Bond has written an essay to tell us about v’s name change, preferred prefix and other gender-identity related information. V’s the new pronoun. But it’s really the new prefix for which I link you: Mx. It’s bloody brilliant. As someone who is very, very uncomfortable with the Mr./Ms./Miss./Mrs. choices for both political and accuracy reasons, I am in love with Mx.

In my stats reports I see people keep clicking on my Palatine Crescent link. But I know when you get there you are discovering that there’s no there there. It’s the web page for the work I do with my previously mentioned writing partner Kali. I promise to throw up a placeholder soon. Right now we’re feeling a little more pressed on both our novel and a couple of treatments and a screenplay before I hit LA next month (full disclosure: that trip’s mostly to geek out a Doctor Who convention Gallifrey One, but it’s also the launch for Whedonistas and I’m planning to be doing a little bit of business in town too).

Meanwhile, A chemical in women’s tears dampens male desire, according to a New York Times article about a research study. The article is less offensive than you might initially imagine from this description, and, despite my including it in trash day, I may eventually get to writing something about men, women, tears and our new Speaker of the House.

Finally, no word from Patty yet, but hopefully she’s enjoying Gujarat. I don’t know a lot, but I do know that at least it’s not snowing there.

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logistical acts of faith

Patty left for India yesterday, and I’m going through the usual round of adjusting to life on my own for a few months. And as much as I absolutely find it hard, and always cry in the airport, for me this is just one of those relationship things you don’t really get to complain about, because, after all, I certainly knew what I was signing up for.

Because Patty’s travels usually involve remote locations, these periods of time are not like being in a long-distance relationship. During the 9 – 14 week stretches she’s away we generally don’t get to travel to see each other. Email, if available, is sporadic and limited; phone calls usually only happen in emergencies; and postal mail is rarely easier (in Oman her house didn’t have an address; in Syria they opened our letters before sending them on). The relationship becomes in these times what any relationship always is but is generally not acknowledged to be: an act of faith.

But eventually the letters do get through, even if she can’t read my handwriting or they arrive weeks after she’s already home. The calls come, even if it’s to say she’s in the hospital with pneumonia and is really gut-churningly bored. And the Internet works, at least on occasion, even if the connection kept dropping the time I asked her to move in with me (thank you, Cyprus).

She landed in Delhi about two hours ago and has probably spent the time since working on transferring on to her next flight, which will put her into Gujarat later today. She’ll be in a city there for a day before driving out to a remote site, and I can only hope in that time she manages to find Internet access or a post office. She might. Or she might not.

I, in the meantime, get to blog about this perfectly normal for us, but sort of weird for other people experience, especially with the last few months that had her in Cardiff for three months in the fall (at least there was Internet, and I got to visit as I had to be in Europe for part of that time myself); we barely spent a week in our own bed together between that trip and this one thanks to the holidays. I won’t lie; sometimes this sort of thing feels exhausting.

But right now, it also feels accomplished. We got her to the airport on time. I managed to get her a new glass cutter at Home Depot when we accidentally left hers at her parents’ place. We got almost everything done we needed to before she left, even if I’m still finishing the New Year’s cards and our attempts to book a non-working vacation have boiled down to hand-waving, putting a deposit down on something, and figuring it out later.

More than that, though, this was always supposed to be the big scary year. When we first got together and she told me about the structure of her PhD program, as opposed to those of all my friends doing the English Lit thing, there was this year out on the horizon where she might have to do field work for a whole year. It was our first or second date, and it was still terrifying. I knew, right then and there, I either had to sign up for that or get out while I could.

I signed up, and it’s meant that as Cardiff and India loomed back to back, that I really had to tamp down a bit on my pouty face. Yeah, it’s hard. We know it’s hard. But this is what she does and is part of who she is. And me, being at home waiting at her, despite my own somewhat onerous travel schedule? Part of what I do. It’s not that we wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s that we can’t.

I’d be a fool (and tempting fate) to say it’s all easy from here. Both relationships as well as planes, trains, and automobiles are hard work. But getting through this one is a bit of a milestone. So I’m happy. Even if I miss her. Even if I’m now waiting for word as if it were another age.

To celebrate, I’m borrowing her clothes again. Today, it’s a t-shirt showing UFO’s shooting lasers at the pyramids with the legend Teach the Controversy. I fear I’ll be having to explain archaeology humor, and why I’m engaging in it, all day.

Buffy, Angel, and a whole bucketload of spoilers

At least a year after we started, Patty and I finally finished watching Buffy and Angel. For her, it was a rewatch; for me it was a first time thing brought on both by the scholarly work I’ve been doing on mourning for fictional characters and a desire to understand more about the stuff she loves.

What a ride. As she predicted embarking on this thing, I’m more of an Angel person (even if I really hate the season of demon pregnancy incest whining) and she’s more of a Buffy person. It’s easy to say that’s about me liking the darkness of Angel or her being a teen girl when she first saw Buffy, and those things aren’t untrue, but on my side of the aisle it also has something to do with a sense of intimidation I feel in the face of the women — good looking, feminine and more popular than they think they are — of Buffy, which is something I write a bit about in the forthcoming Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them. Aside from being glad to be include because, Hey, writing about stuff! for money! Yay!, it means a lot to me to have my perspective included there both as a queer woman and a genderqueer person.

Early on in our watch, the Internet warned me: You’re going to love Wesley. You’re going to identify with Wesley. And it’s going to break your heart. I entered the shows with my teeth grit for that reason alone. I didn’t necessarily want the burden of anyone else’s stories right then; the journeys I’d been on as a fan and at least tangentally-related pro with Harry Potter and Torchwood had been exhausting and personal enough. There are only so many broken boys with strange codes of personal honor this heart can house.

Luckily, Buffy-era Wesley turned out to be a buffoon, and I was more worried that I was Spike and his obsession with the word effulgent (which you have to admit is great fun to say). Last night I cried when Spike got the reception he always deserved if not in talent, then in desire and ambition, for his poetry. And when Wesley just did the work — not because he maybe had nothing left to live for, but because the work is what he knows how to do well and with passion better than anything (he’s not a man with hobbies) — I just nodded.

Yup, that’s right, I don’t believe Wesley went into Angel’s grand plan at the end because he had nothing to live for. And it’s not just that he sort of liked Illyria in her own right (actually, can we talk about the her for a minute? Ilyria is describes itself as “godking of the universe” and inhabits a female body. It was, for me, daring and compelling stuff about gender, that I wish the show had had time and inclination to go farther with; Ilyria isn’t female. It’s not male. And it’s not sexless.); it’s that when Angel asks everyone if they are in on his suicidal mission the camera lingers on Wesley and his face seems to say I can survive this; I’ve survived so much else. It’s remarkable to me. Where I expected the smile of someone ready to die in the way that we so often see in these hero narratives, there was the smile of someone who was somehow, in spite of everything, ready to live. And then he volunteers anyway.

It was an absolute punch in my gut.

The last episode of Angel is sort of a mess because the season had to be wrapped up so quickly. It’s not, strictly speaking, emotionally satisfying, but it has a glorious symmetry. In the last shot and line we are told that this whole grand story — of heroes and watchers and vampires and desperation and of small people trying to do great things in an uncaring-if-you’re-lucky universe — is about to start all over again. As it always does and always will.

I won’t tell you the last lines of my piece for Whedonistas, but I will tell you that I am, having finally seen the end of Angel, remarkably satisfied and a just little bit startled by my essay’s conclusion. I managed to nail the thing I hadn’t seen yet; time is, it seems, always out of order.

And Wesley? I didn’t cry for him. But I sure felt like his brother there for a while.

2010/2011

2010 was the year that went in circles for me, with the starting point perhaps being the second of three trips to the UK when I got Be grand tattooed on my back after speaking about fan mourning for fictional characters at an academic conference. The mark seemed to be about one thing when I got it in July and another entirely when I was busy being tall and fragile and twelve at the New York Musical Theater opening night party. A stranger came up to me there, complimented the piece, and asked me if it was a reminder to myself or an exhortation to others.

Yes.

It would be awesome if I could tell you 2010 was the year I stopped being afraid, stopped asking for permission, and stopped caring about what other people think of me. It wasn’t. And to be frank, I don’t know if any year will ever be that year.

But 2010 was the year I realized other people were rooting for me. Not just Patty or my friends or folks I chat with on the Internet, but total strangers, not because I’m some sort of special or because they even know my name, but because the world is actually full of people who feel joy not just when they succeed, but when other people succeed. Believe it or not, I didn’t know.

A lot of 2011 for me is going to be about making good on the promise of 2010 — musicals and chapters and books and auditions (and probably all sorts of unanticipated) need to get done. And like 2010, 2011 is going to have a ton of travel — some professional, some personal, some a weird mixture of the two. But those things, like most everything else I could list, is just how my life is. They’re not resolutions or even grand plans; they’re what I do. Learning to calm down, treat art like work, and be grateful without getting distracted by viewing everything as a miracle has been a really important part of the last several years.

So actual resolutions for 2011? Vegetarian before dinner; less sugar; err on the side of kindness; bring joy; make sure the people I adore know how much.

Black Swan

Black Swan was one of those films I didn’t really want to see, but felt obligated to because of the reception its getting. But as someone who isn’t a horror fan, is/was a dancer and has sex with women, it seemed like a recipe for stuff I don’t care about getting it wrong.

Having seen it today, I’m still pretty ambivalent about it — in fact, I am grateful for how little it spoke to me personally — but I can say this: it didn’t get it wrong. At all.

The necessary full disclosure before I continue this is as follows: I was never a ballet dancer. I was never training to be a ballet dancer, although I did study ballet and do pointe work. My main focus was modern dance, particularly Martha Graham technique, and I was one of those people whose technique and athleticism were not perfect, but oh, I could make you watch me.

Black Swan is a horror film in the tradition of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. It’s about what’s real, external, supernatural horror, and what is a product of the mind. It’s a style of narrative that I understand both the appeal and horror of, but that has little interest for me. Everything I do is about the fine, fine line between fiction and non-fiction and to me what is interesting about liminal spaces isn’t confusion but overlap.

However, Black Swan is also a narrative about ambition, fear, mentorship, the rivalries of women, and what it means to be a dancer, a ballet dancer. And on those points, it nails the story its striving to tell.

The super, super weird thing about being a dancer is that you spend every, single second of the day making your body capable of extraordinary acts of beauty. It becomes a machine in serve to your art. And yet, it is never, ever yours. It is the dance’s, the teacher’s, the choreographer’s, the company’s, the director’s, and that of every single person who pushes you to do what it is a single hair from impossible.

Black Swan gets to that lack of self-ownership fast, and it’s not pleasant to watch. Because Black Swan isn’t about the beauty of submission or the (arguably) necessary brutalization of self in pursuit of high artistic success. It’s about abuse, debasement and the desire to disappear, not just into the work, but from the world. If you give up everything for the work, do you even exist without it?

The film is smart, stunningly so. As Nina seems to be slowly overtaken by the black swan, her skin ripples with goosebumps eager, it seems, to disgorge feathers. If you’ve ever been around a dancer as thin and spare as a ballerina must be, you know their flesh prickles like this easily at the cold — it’s damn hard to stay warm with virtually no body fat. The damage to legs, to feet; the issues of perfection versus desire; the self-abuse in the form of substances, sex, self-injury, and starvation; the acceptance of cycles of abuse, claiming, and disregard from others — if you’ve ever danced the way I danced, you’ve seen that stuff if you haven’t been involved in it yourself.

But here’s the thing — I don’t want to say that every dancer goes through this. I really, really don’t. And perhaps that’s why I’m so surprised that this film is such a success: why aren’t people angrier about this picture? Not of dancers, but of women? Can’t we have powerful female sexuality without it being the end of the world? Or mentors who use instead of elevate? Or women who are not starving, metaphorically or literally for love? Isn’t there any story of female ambition that isn’t about brutal, destructive, grade-school style rivalry? I get that good stories are all about anguish and extremes, but until stories about ambitious women have a narrative other than hate and self-hate, ambitious women are going to have to keep paying prices above and beyond the already terrible prices that the singular, monomaniacal focus that certain types of achievement nearly always require.

I liked this movie well enough. It showed and said true things and was well made. But one of those things is that achievement tends to cost women double. For me, that’s hard to watch.

But perhaps hardest for me to watch was the moment Nina locked herself in the bathroom to call her mother to tell her she’d gotten the part, and she’s whispering and sobbing because everything is different now. As someone who is still a performer and wants and wants and wants, I’ve pre-lived my own such moments in my head a million times. It was dead on. And even having gotten to the end of the film and being damn familiar with its truths, I’m writing this still wanting, still knowing, exactly what I’ll sound like the next time I get chosen.

I do a lot of stuff, in part, because “all I’ve ever wanted” is an idea that terrifies me, even if it’s an emotion I at least often think I feel. If it doesn’t already terrify you, Black Swan will probably fix that.

Really, really

A few days ago I linked to the story of Hadley Marie Nagel, a young woman who is about to come out at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. I posted the link because Ms. Nagel is a part of the world I grew up in, and I spend a decent amount of my time both on-line and off trying to convince people that my childhood really happened.

Not that I was a debutante. I wasn’t. That best that can be said about my breeding is that during an argument during the eighth grade a girl in my class said to me, “You can’t talk to me that way, I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution.” In the world of my childhood, she was absolutely, positively typical, and also completely correct. I did it anyway, of course, but it only served to prove the point. Should you want a shorthand version of my childhood, run out and rent Metropolitan immediately.

At any rate, I posted the article about Ms. Nagel not just to showcase the matter of the apparently secret to most people world of socialite culture, but also to make a drive-by statement about my own over-achieving ways, the hothouse of my childhood, and why I really do tend to feel like whatever I’m doing is not enough.

What absolutely shocked me was the responses — all no doubt well intentioned and sincere — my post received. Many people posited that Ms. Nagel must surely be miserable. Or that she has pursued the intellectual and creative activities she has solely due to parental pressure. People spoke snidely of the way the photographs were staged and told me I was surely happier than her.

And to me, it just seemed to weird, since there isn’t a single line in that article that implies Ms. Nagel is unhappy or is controlled by her mother. I’ve been dwelling on the matter for a few days, and have come to a few conclusions:

First, we never do see articles about the exceptional and varied achievements of young men. Ms. Nagel is, as the article presents it (I don’t know her or her family; I can take only the word of the The New York Times) exceptional, and arguably quite worthy of the relatively fluffy piece in question. However, surely young men like Ms. Nagel exist too. But as a culture we never seem to display them like show ponies, do we?

Second, while I have neither Ms. Nagel’s breeding or wealth, and therefore had somewhat less opportunity that her growing up (although I would argue I was more hampered by social awkwardness and not being P&G pretty because we are a “pretty girls are good girls” society), I’m not that different than Ms. Nagel. That’s sort of a weird thing for me to say, considering I first linked to her story as a way to tell people about how and why I feel inferior.

But the fact remains that I am a relatively successful overachiever. I’ve been in feature films, have a book out, have published essays, fiction and poetry in places of note. Have been and continue to be successful as a scholar despite a lack of training in that regard. Raised $6K to create a musical. Ran away to Australia to study acting. I have sampled and been reasonably competent at a wide range of somewhat obscure or rarefied activities. Let’s also not forget the travel all over the place all the time, often for professional reasons (and if not mine, then my partner’s whose adventures are even wider ranging than my own). Finally, let it be said, that even with its somewhat narrow appeal, I have a remarkable face.

The only reason the people in my journal think I’m different than Ms. Nagel is because in my journal I freak out about stuff and say fuck and worry about the crap anyone worries about. When I write about me, I write about my fear, a lot. When The New York Times wrote about Ms. Nagel, the thesis of the article was different, that’s all. I’m quite sure Ms. Nagel gets scared too; and that’s okay.

And to respond to articles about people who are Ms. Nagels with “Don’t forget she surely has all sorts of worries and insecurities and stresses that aren’t highlighted here” is entirely different from saying she’s miserable, not actually gifted, or controlled by her mother.

My point here is two-fold: Despite how I initially felt in response to the story about Ms. Nagel, I’m pretty awesome (that awesome, in fact, just in my own way), and it is time to stop cutting other people down. Specifically, stop punishing people for achieving more or differently than you and stop punishing women for being exceptional.

Because seriously? I’m sick of it. It doesn’t make people who have done exceptional things undo them. If it does make people who have done exceptional things stop doing them, then shame on you. And it doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t make you bigger. It doesn’t make you get the work done. On the list of things I want to be really good at, making other people feel poorly isn’t one of them, no matter how much I dig JK Rowling’s Severus Snape.

Yes, remembering that significant achievement can be the result of internal or external pressure and bring unhappiness is valuable. But some people do extraordinary things out of joy, boredom, or even reflex; there is a different between inquiring and judging, between cautioning and condemning.

When I was a kid, people bullied me a lot. I was funny-looking, awkward and had a terrible smile. I was too skinny and often assumed to be other than my biological gender. But my mother would always say that the other kids were just mean to me because they were jealous; I thought my mom was a liar.

But to a certain extent, she was right. It galled the other kids that I was good at stuff without effort. It galled the other kids that I’d work hard at some things just to be better than them out of spite. And it galled the other kids that despite all my not off the right menu traits, that I never quite felt sorry enough for myself to stop.

Sadly, I wasn’t just bullied as a kid. I’ve been bullied as an adult, and no where so much as online. I’ve heard I’m not really an actor because I’m an actor. I’ve heard I’m not really a writer, because I’m a writer. I’ve had my photos stolen and emblazoned with ugly model because I used to model for artists and even once appeared on a billboard in New York City. I’m told I’m not really a scholar, because I produce scholarship. I’ve been told I don’t really have a right to speak at conferences, because I speak at conferences. And that no one really likes my work, whatever it is, precisely because sometimes people do really, really like my work.

I am 38-years-old. I’m freakishly accomplished in non-traditional and varied ways. I have supportive friends and an utterly bizarre relationship with the Internet. I am ambitious both because I am still nursing childhood wounds and because I am skilled. Also, it is a reflex — I am bored if I am not.

Bullies are liars.

And parading accomplished girls around like show ponies is obnoxious.

But cutting people down to make yourself or your friends feel better is a societally-induced weakness that often has a remarkable amount to do with misogyny.

I’m going to try to knock that off. So should you.

Ms. Nagel, keep being excellent. You’re too busy for this nonsense. And so am I.

Tangled

Over the last several years, the week between Christmas and New Year’s has become an orgy of media consumption for me. A not insignificant part of the reason for this is that I usually spend the week visiting with my partner’s family in Ohio. Since she and I are both non-drivers, our activities here are usually governed by factors we can’t control, which means we spend a lot of time watching DVDs at the house and a decent amount of time going to movies that we — or at least I — wouldn’t ordinarily see.

Tangled was one such choice, although Patty had gotten me excited about it via her favorite movie blog (sorry, dude, I don’t actually know what it’s called, so no shout out) when we were in Cardiff in the fall. For me, even the faintest desire to go to this thing was pretty odd as I tend to go for wrenching drama over family fare and I claim, despite my parents being artists, not to have the receptor sites for animation.

So when I tell you that you should stop what you are doing and go see Tangled immediately, you should absolutely listen to me. If you’ve seen any marketing for it at all, you know it’s the Rapunzel story. And if you’ve paid any attention to that marketing you may have walked away with the sense that the boy is an idiot and the girl falls in love with him anyway and isn’t that just revolting?

Well, that’s not what happens. It’s more like Rapunzel is Buffy Summers. She’s super feminine, and she doesn’t want to make her mom sad (okay, her mom turns out to be evil, and Joyce was never evil except when she was a fake Joyce), but dammit, she wants to leave her tower, even though it seems scary, and see these lights that have been calling to her, her whole life. And how’s she going to do that? Well, a thief named Flynn Rider (odd and confusing after having seen Tron: Legacy a few days ago — who wants to write me that crossover?), who’s sort of super competent but complete crap at applying that competency, has just stumbled into her tower. She’ll get him to help, and so they set off on an adventure.

And this is where, despite entirely forgettable songs Tangled becomes completely awesome. Because it’s not a story about a scared girl in the big bad world. It’s a story about identity, and the gulf between who we are and who we want to be and how we get caught up in stories and use them to make and remake ourselves. It’s also a story that absolutely celebrates physicality, both in the slapstick way one expects from animation and in a simple, real, glorious and human way as Rapunzel sees the world outside of her tower. The dancing in this film, especially in the one musical number without words, really does feel like dancing, to the point that for someone like me it was hard not to be up on my feet in the theater.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the film, however, is how much the tyranny of Disney gender roles almost isn’t in play. And it’s not a simple reversal either. Both our lead characters have traditionally male and female traits. The boy isn’t weak for being gentle and liking stories. The girl can defend herself physically, but isn’t held up as, or worse, vilified as, a tomboy (hence the Buffy Summers comparison). And while other people keep framing Rapunzel and Flynn’s interactions in the context of relationship stuff, it’s really the B story.

At the end of the film, the two do live happily ever after, and for half a second, Disney does the most daring thing I could have possibly imagined in a Disney film, and it made me want to stand up and cheer. However, after a pause, the characters inform us it’s a good-natured joke. Weirdly, though, I still wanted to stand up and cheer, because for Disney it was a revolution.

I often walk out of films wanting to conquer the world. I don’t often walk out of films wanting to do it wearing a dress.

Run, don’t walk, to this one.