Art Work #1: Dame Darcy, Cartoonist and Mermaid

Hello hello! Welcome to a new interview series I’m working on. (I’ll publish it here and on Medium and Goodreads, so follow it wherever feels right.) In it, I’ll be talking to people (mostly wimz [a cool new abbreviation for “women” that I just invented]) about how they get their artwork done and what the work of art looks like and how they feel about it all. Topics will range from the practical (income) to the spiritual (muses, religion). I find myself with a nearly insatiable appetite for learning what artists honestly think about their own processes, but I’m also sick of interviews that focus heavily on daily routines (I DON’T CARE THAT YOU MEDITATE FOR TEN MINUTES EVERY MORNING), so this is my small and honest contribution to our rabid human obsession with knowing what other humans are doing.

still from a film by Joel Schlemowitz, featuring Dame Darcy as a fairy

Dame Darcy, subject of this first installment, is impossible to describe in just a few sentences, but I’ll try.

She’s an illustrator, a graphic novelist, a musician, a filmmaker, a sea captain, and a doll-maker who once made a doll for Francis Bean Cobain using an actual lock of Kurt’s hair. She has met and worked with people like Edward Gorey, Tiny Tim, Courtney Love, Margaret Cho, John Waters, Neil Gaiman, Anna Sui, Tori Amos, and Tim Burton. She has completed over 50 published works along with countless short films, fine art exhibits, albums, and three optioned screenplays—and has had her work knocked off by Forever 21—yet is still unfairly delegated to the “underground.” Her art is full of beautiful undead ladies, pirate kings, and a fascinating girl named “Richard Dirt.” Her neo-Victorian aesthetic has been hugely influential for the past 2+ decades. Her collected works, published in Meat Cake Bible, were recently nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award. And I’m incredibly lucky that she also happens to be the illustrator of my book, for which she drew 14 of the coolest, goth-iest, witchiest female serial killers you’ll ever see. 

PS: I’m gonna buy this Alice in Wonderland print from her Etsy shop and you should, too.

via instagram.com/damedarcy

TT: Your work has a distinct gothic/Victorian undertone. Have you always been drawn to this aesthetic, even as a kid?

DD: Asking me interview questions about why I’m goth is like trying to take a sip of water from a blasting fire hydrant. When I’m on the subway, old Russian guys speak to me in Russian, they think I’m from there. That’s because where I am from is like Siberia. Dark, cold, and isolated behind the largest mountain range in the US, and run by a cult. Continue reading →

Forgotten Towns

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One Saturday in August, Charlie and I spent 12 hours driving toward, along, around, and away from the Texas-Mexico border.

The first thing to know is that our entire “day trip” was informed by a very devious, very outdated, and quite frankly UTTERLY FALSE AND DIABOLICAL flier that we picked up at an overly hip hotel in Marfa, Texas. The flier urged us to visit the nearby hot springs—turns out you can only soak in the springs if you rent a cabin, like, decades in advance. It went on to recommend that we swing by Presidio, a quaint Texan border town filled with charming hotels, lots of restaurants, and “outstanding shopping.”

With visions of colorful woven baskets and kitschy Texas-themed merch dancing in my head­, we packed three types of film cameras, bagel chips and cheap spreadable cheese, hiking shoes just in case we came across a mountain, and a gallon of water I happened to have on hand. Then we peeled out of town.

Presidio

An important thing to know about me is that I LOVE things that are objectively depressing (though what’s more subjective than the declaration that something is “objectively depressing”?). I get a distinct thrill from them. This isn’t an ironic “hipster” consumeristic thrill, either—it is real, it is poignant, it is unexplainable. I love Dollar Trees. I love sketchy motels. I love happy hours at TGI Fridays. I love half-abandoned buildings, failed businesses, dusty opera houses. So when it became clear that Presidio was not a bustling little town, but rather a stopover on the long and lonely highway from Death to Hell, my first thought was: maybe I could love Presidio. 

We drove around and around, admiring the broken signage and faded lilac buildings, but soon it became clear that Presidio was nothing but dust and “Closed” signs and sketchy restaurants located in people’s actual houses. Eventually we made our way to a dollar store and bought peanut M&Ms in order to get a crisp $50 bill via the “cash back” function.

Why the money, when Presidio was otherwise business-less? Because we were about to cross the border to Ojinaga. And in Ojinaga, the mendacious flier promised us, we would find even better shopping.

Ojinaga

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Okay, this trip wasn’t just about indulging in a rampant consumption of “authentic artisanal crafts” with “Made in China” stickers on the bottom. It was also about spectre of The Border and the archetype of The Border Town. These things loom large in our cultural imagination, and I think it’s very important to see things like that IRL, to see as much as you can, no matter how far removed it all seems from your regular life, no matter how many miles away your real home happens to be.

The border itself was like something out of a dystopian novel. Looking at it—the military green uniforms, the huge white buildings, the mysterious “under-construction” structures that seemed destined for strange and foreboding purposes—you really got the sense of the magnitude of the State, the cruel, cold efficiency of Law, and the pointless stagnancy of Bureaucracy. The soldiers seemed . . . well . . . overdressed. I felt odd about the ease with which we whipped across the line.

Where Presidio was dead, Ojinaga was alive. I’ll give it that. But the town was confusing, sprawling, full of dead ends that spilled out into gravel pits. It was stuck in the hot humid gunk of transience that characterizes all things that live on the edge. Sure, there were schools, and stores, and men selling hammocks by the side of the street. My favorite part was the graveyard—festive with color, bleak with wire fencing. But you got the sense that people didn’t want to live there, that they were coming or going (or unable to come and go, trapped under the great black boot of the American Border Patrol).

The above paragraphs demonstrate a fallacy: my tendency to filter my experience of things through my own preconceived ideas of them. Is the Ojinaga/Presidio border actually foreboding? Are people in Ojinaga really stuck in a gunk of transience, waiting to cross over? Why is it so easy to convince yourself that you’re picking up on real human woe and boredom and despair? We all like to think we’re some beautiful empathetic channeler of pain, quivering like a dowsing rod, so tuned in to the agony of the world that by simply glancing at a colorful graveyard we feel—nay, we TASTE—the pain of a thousand border crossings, THE AGONY OF IMPERMANENCE, THE VERY CLASH OF NATIONS THEMSELVES!

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Getting back across the border was characterized by a flurry of confusion. We had to pay $1.50 to get back into the States (an oddly petty fee) and only had our infamous $50 bill on us—and the people at the border toll simply didn’t have any change. We looked at them in disbelief as they told us to make a u-turn and go back into town and buy something to break up that albatross of a $50. So we went spinning back into the streets of Ojinaga, where Charlie sidled up to a currency exchange and I bought three beaded bracelets from a woman who had given us directions earlier. Then there was some waiting in traffic, some brief and disinterested questioning about our citizenship, and we were across.

Big Bend State Park

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The Rio Grande is muddy and slow. The road snakes alongside it, mimicking its curves. We curved along the road. I looked for falling rocks, since the signage implied that there was a 75% chance we’d die that day under a rock fall. We got out to look at the hoodoos—rock columns that have been eroded on the bottom, so that the rocks appear to balance on top. Two women were taking a selfie. I thought about offering to take their photo, knowing how often I wish someone would offer the same to me and Charlie. But I didn’t. I was feeling awkward, sensitive to other humans, content just to nestle against Charlie and look at the mushroom-shaped rocks.

Later, I broke the law of the park by filching a purple rock, studded with crystals. In my defense, the rock was already sitting on the road. The next semi truck would have crushed it. You could say I saved it. You could say I was truly a Good Person in that moment. Couldn’t you?

Terlingua Ghost Town

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If you want to commune with the ghosts in Terlingua, I have a recommendation: meet them in the cemetery just before a rainstorm, when the wind is making the milagros rattle against the hand-hewn wooden crosses.

It wasn’t raining when we got there. We scrambled into the incongruous gift shop (no ghosts there) where we snagged a map of the tiny town, put a dollar in the “suggested donation” box, and set out to explore Terlingua on foot. The sun was brutal.

Terlingua used to be a mercury mining town, and now it’s mostly laying in beautiful ruins. The town seems sensitive about mercury poisoning and insists that very few people actually died of it, despite the size of the graveyard. My favorite ruined building was the former house of a very rich man, which was tall and thin and gorgeous (the house, not the man), and is now half-hotel, half-ruins. I’m sure the insurance company has a field day with that. The windows on the top of the house were built purposefully narrow, to protect the house against Pancho Villa. How these narrow windows protected the inhabitants against Villa was unclear to me. Less glass, less chance that a bullet is going to fly through a window and snuff ya out? See, I would want big windows, massive windows—not just because I love natural light, but because I want to see my enemy coming.

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The church was also beautiful, and seemed to be still in use. But it was so hot and humid and airless that we moved around slowly, dripping sweat. I liked these little pictures that narrated the walk to the cross. I know other people would find them cheesy, or tasteless, but somehow they managed to strike me as very sorrowful—perhaps because they were so small, and tacked so high to the wall.

Residents

In the ghost town, as we were staring at what looked like an abandoned movie theater (but was actually a functioning restaurant housed inside an abandoned movie theater), a man in his 70s asked us if we were enjoying Terlingua. He was wearing a shirt that said “My Indian Name is Runs-With-Beer.”

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“We’re living in Marfa this summer, then Chicago in the fall,” I said.

“I hate both those places,” he replied.

I laughed and didn’t say anything.

“Okay, Marfa has like three cool things about it. But this place has eighty thousand cool things about it.”

He told us that his house was the one with the rock sculptures around it. “Are you an artist?” I asked.

“No!” he scoffed. I really dug his denial.

The residents of Terlingua have a vague truther vibe. You have to be a little bit cracked to reject the venerated cultural capital of Chicago and Marfa and settle among ghosts in one of the most striking and desolate parts of the world. I think it’s admirable. The town’s population is, like, 50 people.

Police

Our stint with the border patrol was far from over. At night, on our way back to Marfa, speeding down some lonely and flat highway, we were waved into a border patrol checkpoint. A huge drug dog with a manic look in his eyes smelled the wheels of Charlie’s car and gave some mysterious signal to his handler who gave another mysterious signal to the man who was interviewing us who, in turn, informed us that our car had drugs inside it.

No, we said.

They looked at us sternly. “It will be so much easier for you if you’re honest with us,” they said.

We speculated afterward, racing away in our drug-free car, that they were bored, that they had a long night to kill, and that the dog was just hyped up on all the human attention.

It’s hard to know what to take away from that interaction, as it is with most things in life. There were five of us: two men, the dog, me, my husband. Who was just doing their job? Who overreacted? Who tried too hard to be right? Who could have tried harder to be kind? Under the fluorescent lights, in the Texas night air, we were all looking warily into each other’s eyes, trying to read the situation, wondering how real it all was, striving to calm our animal selves as the beautiful mad dog leaped around, panting, confused, happy to be alive.

Brief, Impassioned Book Reviews in Capslock

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Want to know my favorite thing in the world that I’ve loved since I was 12? Sleeping in on Saturday mornings, rolling over groggily, and picking up a book. O! for the days when that book was Harry Potter! I may never know such passionate investment in a world again. (I’m like 20% invested in this world.)

I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately (Charlie and I are trying to finish The Office and hoping that Jim and Pam die at the end), and the difference between zoning out in front of the TV and reading a book is just MIND-BLOWING. TV-watching doesn’t even relax you! It stresses you out more! My brain literally feels better when I’m reading—relaxed, aware, empathetic, intrigued. When I’m fully engaged in a novel (which is hard, as I now have an iPhone and my attention span is more gerbil-like than ever; have you seen how I use parentheticals?)—that is, when I’m experiencing la douleur exquise of wanting to know what happens next and needing the whole thing to be real, well, friends, that is absolutely the greatest thing about books and really the only thing I want to accomplish in my own writing. So here’s how I feel about my latest reads IN CAPSLOCK, BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.

Endless Love – Scott Spencer: AMAZING CULT NOVEL FROM THE 70S ABOUT OBSESSIVE TEENAGE LOVE.  JUST EXQUISITE AT THE SENTENCE LEVEL; SOME MIGHT THINK IT’S OVERWRITTEN BUT I FOUND IT IMPASSIONED, AS THE NARRATOR IS ONE OF THOSE GUYS WHO SORT OF CAN’T BEAR FINDING THINGS SO BEAUTIFUL. I’LL NEVER FORGET THE IMAGE OF WALKING DOWN A HALLWAY AND HEARING THE “SWEET WHITE NOISE” OF THE SHOWER RUNNING. THE PLOT IS CRAZY AND BY THE END YOU SORT OF FEEL LIKE NONE OF IT EVER HAPPENED. INTENSE EMOTIONAL EXPLORATION. NOT TO BE A TOTAL SEXIST BUT IMPRESSIVE TO SEE THIS SORT OF ACCURATE EMOTIONAL PITCH COMING FROM A MALE WRITER. THE ENDING MADE ME CRY.

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert. I FOUND THIS IN A THRIFT STORE AND I THOUGHT, “WHY NOT?”  A SMALL ACT OF REBELLION AGAINST THE LITERARY ESTABLISHMENT ON MY PART. DIDN’T EXPECT TO ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS BOOK. THE WRITING IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU’D THINK. IT’S A CLASSIC STORY OF BREAKDOWN AND REDEMPTION. ONCE SHE GETS TO INDONESIA I WAS KIND OF DONE WITH THE STORY BECAUSE EVERYTHING WAS SO PERFECT AND READING ABOUT PERFECTION GETS OLD. STILL, I JUDGE YOU IF YOU JUDGE THIS BOOK WITHOUT READING IT, BECAUSE THEN I KNOW YOU ARE A LITERARY SNOB WITH NO SOUL.

Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout. ELIZABETH STROUT IS MY HOMEGIRL. SHE’S BASICALLY THE NOVELIST VERSION OF ALICE MUNRO. AN INCREDIBLY SENSITIVE WRITER. ONE OF THOSE AMAZING AUTHORS WHO KNOWS WHAT EVERY CHARACTER IN THE ROOM IS FEELING AT ANY GIVEN TIME. THIS IS A HEARTBREAKING MOTHER/DAUGHTER STORY. A LITTLE SLOW AT FIRST, BUT PICKS UP QUICKLY. THE INTERNAL LIFE OF THE MOTHER IS JUST UNBELIEVABLY RENDERED. THE ENDING MADE ME CRY. ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LAST SENTENCES I’VE EVER READ. SHE’S PROBABLY NEVER USED CAPSLOCK IN HER LIFE BUT DON’T GET ME WRONG, ELIZABETH STROUT IS NO PUSHOVER: SHE’S NOT AFRAID OF CHARACTERS WHO CURSE, YOUNG GIRLS WHO SEDUCE OLDER MEN, OR PUTTING DEAD BODIES IN CAR TRUNKS.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – Karen Russell. THIS COLLECTION MIGHT BE BETTER THAN SWAMPLANDIA. THE MOST IMAGINATIVE STORIES ABOUT CREEPY CHILDREN YOU WILL EVER READ, ALL BRIMMING WITH THAT POIGNANT PAIN THAT’S SO PARTICULAR TO CHILDHOOD AND THAT I ALWAYS TRY TO WRITE ABOUT BUT SINCE KAREN RUSSELL IS THE MACARTHUR-WINNING QUEEN OF CREEPY EMOTIONALLY SENSITIVE CHILDREN I GUESS I SHOULD JUST BECOME A HEART SURGEON LIKE EVERYONE IS ALWAYS TELLING ME TO BE. ANYWAY, SOME OF THE ENDINGS HAD THAT DISTINCT WORKSHOP-ENDING FLAVOR, BUT OVERALL AN INCREDIBLY ENGAGING READ.

Atonement – Ian McEwan. THIS IS THE FAVORITE NOVEL OF TWO OF MY VERY BEST FRIENDS SO I FEEL LIKE I PSYCHED MYSELF OUT BEFORE I EVEN STARTED IT, LIKE, “I NEED TO LOVE THIS I NEED TO LOVE THIS.” I ALSO THINK SEEING THE MOVIE FIRST MADE THE READING EXPERIENCE POORER. STILL, AN AMAZING BEAUTIFUL NOVEL AND I LOVED THE WAR SCENES. THEY MADE ME CRY.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman. AMANDA PALMER WHO? I AM THE ONE WHO NEIL GAIMAIN WAS SUPPOSED TO MARRY. I HAVE LOVED HIM FOR A LONG TIME AND I THINK HE’S JUST THE BEST. INSANE IMAGINATION. HAS THAT LOVING SENSIBILITY THAT ONLY GOOD CHILDREN’S WRITERS HAVE, BUT ALL ADULTS SHOULD READ HIM TOO. HE DEFINITELY BELIEVES IN THE MAGIC HE WRITES ABOUT AND I BELIEVE, TOO. I FIND THAT OCCASIONALLY HIS BOOKS START FEELING A LITTLE FAIRY-TALE-DERIVATIVE, BUT THIS WAS A QUICK FUN READ. STILL, IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ANY GAIMAN, YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST READ “THE GRAVEYARD BOOK” NO QUESTIONS ASKED IT IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME. AND SEE “CORALINE,” THE MOVIE, IT’S AMAZING.

 Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple. MY FAVORITE NOVEL RIGHT NOW. YOU WANT YOUR POP CULTURE-INFUSED, QUICK-PACED, FUNNY BUT STILL EMOTIONALLY RESONANT, MULTI-MEDIA-TYPE WRITING? PUT DOWN “A VISIT TO THE GOON SQUAD” AND PICK THIS UP.  I REALLY HOPE THIS WINS THE PULITZER ALTHOUGH THERE’S NO WAY IT WILL BECAUSE IT’S NOT “LITERARY.” EXCEPT IT IS LITERARY, IT IS QUINTESSENTIALLY LITERARY. RICH CHARACTERS THAT YOU DEEPLY CARE ABOUT DOING HILARIOUS, UNEXPECTED, BIZARRE THINGS WHILE FREAKING OUT ABOUT LIFE? WHAT’S MORE LITERARY THAN THAT? YOU CAN READ YOUR TAO LIN ALL DAY BUT I BELIEVE NOVELS WERE MEANT TO BE ENJOYED. YES, I’M BITTER, ONCE A SEMI-FAMOUS CHICAGO AUTHOR WAS REALLY RUDE TO ME AND MY FRIEND OUTSIDE A FALAFEL JOINT. IT CREATED A WOUND IN MY HEART THAT WILL ONLY BE FILLED BY POP PSYCHOLOGY AND FINDING THE TRUE GREATNESS IN SEEMINGLY SHALLOW ART FORMS. THIS IS WHY I LOVE MILEY CYRUS AND WILL DEFEND HER TO ZEUS HIMSELF. THIS IS SERIOUSLY AN AMAZING BOOK THOUGH, THE BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR, READ IT, YOU’LL LAUGH YOU’LL CRY YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PUT IT DOWN. JUST DO IT.

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PS: HAS ANYONE NOTICED I’M HAVING A MOMENT WITH SEMICOLONS? NO? FINE.

The Internet Makes Me Feel Sad, Part 2

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Some writer-type people are very vocal about their depression. Some are vocal about their sexual orientation, their childhood traumas, their totally misunderstood penchant for offering small children a lift in their nice, clean, white van. This is all part of this thing writers attempt to do called “connecting,” which, yawn, whatever, but there is one issue of mine that I want to be perfectly honest about because I don’t see many people talking about it: my reactions to the internet.

I wrote about this same issue a year ago, and not much has changed–except I like checking my email now, because every now and then someone says, “I would like to send you my Rwandan inheritance via money order!” and I’m like “Okay, here’s all the info you’ll need!” In this way I have become very, very rich.

Speaking of wealth, I have wanted to be a freelance writer for a long time, and things are finally happening. I got a paid writing job. A PAID WRITING JOB: rarer than a unicorn, rarer than a female director in Hollywood, rarer than finding quality saffron at the dollar store. As a hippie archetype in a lazy film full of one-dimensional background characters might say, “Cool, dude! I’m wearing a tie-dye shirt…Woodstock!”

My once-dark summer has turned into a pretty good time. I write articles in the morning, I write fiction in the afternoon (TOTALLY JOKING, I NAP), I waitress at night. I had a near-brush with a serial killer that I need to tell you all about, and I got to hang out with my little sister for like a week. “Far out, man,” says the hippie in the corner. “Why is everything you say so exhaustingly cliche?” we respond, but the hippie is silent inside his cloud of pot.

Unfortunately, doing online-type things has caused me to morph into a human-shaped mass of buzzing anxiety covered in a thin, easily-bruisable layer of skin.

The internet makes me sad. I can’t deal with the mediocrity of the internet, I can’t deal with the disposability of writing on the internet, I can’t deal with the thought that I might be adding to the worthless noise, but I need to be online to do the type of writing I want to do (quasi-journalistic, quasi-creative shortform writing that was designed for people like me: narcissists who can’t maintain an argument. OMG THAT WAS THE MEANEST THING I’VE EVER SAID ABOUT MYSELF, I’M LIKE EMINEM IN 8 MILE).

Let me be simultaneously more specific and more melodramatic. For the past few days, I have had intense physiological reactions to the thought of going online. My stomach has literally been in knots. YES, LITERALLY. IT’S A RARE DISEASE THAT ONLY I HAVE. I started crying in front of my sweet boyfriend yesterday evening as I attempted to do anxiety-relieving accupressure on my own arm. If that’s not the saddest thing you’ve ever heard, you must read the news.

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I think that flowers are the opposite of the internet. The feeling I get when I’m filching black-eyed Susans from a community garden, ransacking my neighbor’s lilacs after midnight, or snipping mint leaves from my grandmother’s herb patch to make the best chimichurri this side of the Panama Canal is an incredibly centered, grounded, relaxed, inspired peace. It’s the feeling of participating in a physical world as present, tangible organism.

…#biologymajor

The internet is none of those things. It’s not physical, it’s not dependent on time or place, it appeals to three senses at most (sight, sound, and touch, and that’s stretching it). Sure, it’s possible to be genuine–even genius–on the internet, but it’s all technically intangible, and to me, intangibility is a close cousin to the unreal, and though I’ll always be the kind of girl who flirts with spirits, I like my unreality in very specific forms: fiction, nighttime walks, and the best parties. Online, phrases and intentions are stripped of their weight and subtlety because of how easy they are to create and how devoid they are of dimension. Everyone is engaging through a screen, both literally and figuratively, and the whole thing has a frantic but non-vital hum. I find it hard to sustain a concentrated thought on the internet but very easy to contribute meaningless content. And now that I get paid for writing content, the temptation to be throwaway, quick, and depthlessly catchy is greater than ever. I try to hold myself to some sort of standard with the following formula: say something interesting, analyze it beyond the superficial, and conclude something new. But then…Buzzfeed exists. And I know this sounds dramatic, but I feel the effect of the whole thing in my body. My spine knots. My heart speeds up.

This afternoon, I went on a walk with my boyfriend and picked a huge tangle of wildflowers and after a minute of silence, I told him I understood why so many older writers have gardens. Believe me, I know the internet isn’t going anywhere and I wouldn’t want it to–I don’t think. I like being able to stay in touch with my childhood best friends on Facebook. I love some of the writing freedoms it provides and I like being able to work at my own open window (and not someone else’s) because I have a computer and an internet connection. But I am trying to figure out how to live without being hateful and anxious and scattered. And I know that I’m going to need a garden.

In Defense of Babies’ Rights

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In this day of hyper-stylized political sensitivity and outrage over perceived “income gaps” and “gender inequality,” it is truly appalling how willingly society turns a blind eye to the terrible plight of a huge portion of our American population. I refer, of course, to babies. These silent sufferers are objectified, victimized, and discriminated against on a daily basis. How long will we ignore their high-pitched cries? If the following list of outrages moves you to tears, please consider signing this petition.

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STOP THE MASS EXPLOITATION OF BABIES!

We, the undersigned, urge the Government of the United States to CEASE its SHAMEFUL conduct toward the infanta americana, colloquially known as BABIES. We hereby protest the pervasive and unjust treatment of this valuable people-group as demonstrated in the following abusive societal trends that are TO THIS DAY unrecognized by those in power:

1. Babies are victims of sizeism and unfair beauty standards.

Our society professes to accept alternate shapes and sizes, yet babies are glaringly absent from this dialogue of tolerance. If you are unfortunate enough to be an American baby, you live under crushing social pressure to be “chubby,” “roly-poly,” or a “butterball.” Woe to the skinny baby who just wants to drink green juice! A baby who does not conform to our outdated, narrow-minded beauty standards (characterized by offensive adjectives such as “cute,” “squirmy,” “squishable,” and “drooly”) experiences blatant discrimination, while his/her chubbier compatriots receive the preferential treatment that has characterized the privileged class from time immemorial.

2. Babies are denied access to higher education and better-paying jobs.

There is a shocking dearth of federal laws in place to protect the educational and employment rights of babies. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin–yet what of the ambitious baby who applies to Lehman Brothers? No law prohibits discrimination against him. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older–yet even this so-called “progressive” law turns a blind eye to the plight of those 2 years of age or younger. The situation in colleges across the nations is much the same: while it is federally forbidden to discriminate against a college applicant based on disability, race, gender, or a host of other qualifiers, Harvard has existed for 377 lauded years without once admitting a baby.

3. Babies are forced to learn the dominant language of the privileged heteronormative white Western male.

Generation after generation of monolingual Americans have ignored this issue for long enough. It is time to implement the study of Baby in language programs across the United States. Not even Rosetta Stone has addressed this problem.

4. Babies are objectified by the Adult Gaze.

Babies are presented in film, music videos, Anne Geddes photo shoots, and family gatherings as little more than passive, to-be-looked-at objects. The figure of the baby is fragmented into “tiny fingers,” “squeezable cheeks,” “dimpled thighs,” etc., fragments whose sole meaning is derived from and dependent on the viewing pleasure of the despotic Adult. Babies are clothed in useless accoutrements such as headbands (when they have no hair) and socks that imitate shoes (when they cannot walk). What benefit does the baby receive from these shallow signifiers of adulthood? They are nothing but tools to advance the scopophilia of the Adult Gaze.

5. Babies are subject to a restrictive, reactionary dialectic w/r/t  “crying.”

When a baby screams or cries, society reacts as it has for millenia: by naively assuming that the infant is expressing a basic human need. Politicians, social theorists, psychoanalysts, and biologists have purposefully and consistently refused to give the matter the scientific and academic attention it deserves. Perhaps a baby’s cry signifies more than the prevailing patriarchal/matriarchal interpretations of “hungry,” “tired,” and/or “dirty diaper.” Perhaps these babes in the woods are shrieking in existential terror as they gaze into the depths of the abyss.

6. Babies are forced to be nude in public.

Societal outrage abounds at the unethical actions of Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, who infamously demeans his models. But when a baby is placed naked on the beach by his or her parents, the world blinks nary an eyelash. We demand that the baby is first consulted about his/her willingness to appear nude, and then asked to sign a Nude Model Release and Agreement contract. This exploitative parental behavior must be stopped.

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Guest Post: Breasts & the Oscars (or, Because I Don’t Have Tina Fey’s Address, I Sent This to Toridotgov)

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HUNGOVER AFTER THE VANITY FAIR OSCAR PARTY, I WENT TO A NEARBY GREASY SPOON AND PENNED THIS PULITZER-WORTHY LETTER ON A NAPKIN WHICH I THEN USED TO BLOT THE HINT OF VOM OFF OF ANNE HATHAWAY’S LIP:

Letter of Interest
toridotgov
1051 Cyberspace Ave
This Laptop, IN, 00000

Feb 25, 2013

Dear toridogov,

As I read through this morning’s feminist ragings against the unabashedly lowbrow Seth MacFarlane, I began to question the very nature of my femininity (which is to say, the state of my breasts). Am I being gazed at enough? Perversely enough? Called “the lovely–” or “the beautiful–” enough? No. Of course not. I am neither dating anyone (yes, that’s right, let the gazing begin), nor am I friends with the cast of Jersey Shore. Who, then, will sing odes to my boobs (even when they are in dire situations cough cough The Accused)?

Blog after blog, live tweet after live tweet, I saw feminist movements being revived—the first-wavers getting huffy, the second-wavers reminding me that singing about boobs is really just a glaring denial of vaginas in and of themselves, and the third-wavers irate that women of many colors and ethnicities were left out of the misogynist gaze altogether. Don’t get me wrong: I love to get mad at misogynist men. Sometimes I make out with biddies to BOTH spite them AND arouse them (and from a pure love of making out with biddies). And as a budding (get it—it’s a flower word, so I’m relating to my gender, sexuality, and youth all at once!) filmmaker myself, shouldn’t I be upset that the only female directors invited to the club are daughters of the most valuable film estate (cough cough Coppola) or ex-wives of douchebag directors who we want to stick it to (cough cough when are we going to start making jokes about James Cameron instead of Kathryn Bigelow)?

But mostly, I’m just offended that Seth MacFarlane’s presence was so boring—so absolutely two-dimensional. After all, what high school bro hasn’t made up a song about boobs? Or been so desperately out of ideas that he has to make fat jokes about Adele? Or come up with self-incriminating homophobic jokes when Captain Kirk was around? I mean, isn’t this just like a shitty open mic night at the local townie bar–only at the Kodak, it’s not even ironic? If we really want to nab Seth MacFarlane right in the babymaker, the response needs to be exactly what his humor is not: sophisticated.

And so, toridotgov, I’m hoping you might help give us a new feminism—a feminism that listens to songs about our boobs and responds, “Hey boys, ever wonder why we aren’t singing about you?”

Your faithful, sexually-confused gal pal,

L. Hiton

 

Lisa Hiton is a current nominee for the Pushcart Prize and a master’s candidate in Arts in Education at Harvard University. She single-handedly introduced the word “biddies” into the lexicon of the Midwest.

A Few Thoughts on Nostalgia

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(Isn’t it great that we can title things “A Few Thoughts On…” and it gives us the excuse to totally abandon all but the barest bones of form and cohesion? I’m just so glad I live in 2013, you know?)

It’s nearing midnight here in the magical city of Bloomington, IN, and I have created a lopsided playlist of twangy-sad songs about loss and heroin addiction, and I’ve been feeling that vague and pervasive sense of unplaceable nostalgia that I believe haunts any person with the slightest religious and/or artistic inclinations who happens to live in the Internet age and/or happens to be Proust.

Then I made the mistake of looking at photos from my last visit to my Chicago home, which took place right before my parents moved halfway across the country and abandoned me to the wilds of the Midwest.

My parents aren’t even in the photos–much less my thousand and one crazed younger siblings who are all freakishly athletic, whatever, I can  touch my toes if I warm up for like 2 minutes–they’re mostly just photos of our neighborhood, bathed in this weird blue sunset light. It’s taken with my old camera (I have a new camera now) and I’m wearing my favorite summer shirt. And since when are sunsets blue?

Here’s the thing about nostalgia: I’m not necessarily longing to repeat the experience, or to see the people. I don’t even need to write about it because oh wait: I’ve written about this exact experience before. It’s just–it’s just–I was just wracked by the fact that it ever existed and now I am somewhere else. Do you see the difference? It’s not the desire to be there, it’s the little grief over the fragmentation of past and present selves. In a way, nostalgia is a deeply selfish emotion, but of course it will always be one of the most forgivable ones. For me, nostalgia is always going to be intertwined with love: I miss you because I love you, I love you because I miss you. You can feel nostalgia for things you have never experienced, and you can love intangible things, and you can miss people when they’re right next to you, and you can hold a million things in your heart.

Deconstructing the Deconstructionist: Graduate School Lingo I Cannot Tolerate

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All industries have their insider lingo. When I worked in publishing, we frequently burned huge piles of books while shouting, “DIE, WITCH, DIE,” but all it meant was, “Looks like we’re gonna be a little late on the print run this month.” When I worked at Starbucks, I would yell “DON’T YOU JUST HATE ALL THESE YUPPIES SO MUCH RIGHT NOW?” across the crowded cafe and whoever was manning the espresso machine would nod and say, “Double tall latte, got it.” I myself have my own insider lingo that only I am privy too, so anytime you think I’m insulting you to your face, I’m probably just indicating my desire to rewatch How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (my favorite movie ever).

But, my dear ones, while I do love a good romp in the linguistic fields every now and then—bro lingo, biddy lingo, lowbrow lingo, Kreayshawn lingo, euphemistic Shakespearean lingo—there is one type of lingo that I absolutely cannot and will not deal with: the nefarious thornfield of pretension that is Grad School Speak. I mean, I try to sound as terribly smart in class as the next guy, and I usually accomplish this by referencing specific outfits featured on Gossip Girl and then adding the phrase “…as Foucault grapples with in his Illuminations,” but even I have my limits.

Here are the top 6 offenders in my book (“book” being insider lingo for “a thing that truly smart people use to prop up the corner of their walnut dining room table”):

 Offender: “…troubles the notion of…”

Example: “The offensively bright yellow font on this bag of Doritos troubles the notion of consumption in grayscale.”

I’m sorry, what was that? Did you just use unnecessarily high-brow syntax to tell me that SOME THINGS ARE DIFFERENT THAN OTHER THINGS AND NOT EVERYTHING JIVES WITH EVERYTHING ELSE? Because I was pretty sure that I lived in a homogeneous, trouble-free world! I am so confused right now! Don’t we all get along no matter what? Isn’t everything perfect?

Offender: “…the act of…”

Example: “the act of consumption” “the act of discrimination” “the act of alienation”

God has given us a gift, my friends, a gift called Verbs. Verbs are already actions! You don’t need to turn them into nouns and then remind us that they’re actions! Unless…you’re purposefully padding your language as a way to compensate for the fact that the world is run by lean mean killing machine alpha males in finance who don’t appreciate what you do?! I get it, really. But come on.

Offender: “…calls into crisis…”

Example: “The concept of a ‘flavored’ snack chip calls into crisis the privileged Western notion of corn as the ultimate bland food group.”

A ‘crisis’ is something like a hurricane, an earthquake, or the fact that Anthropologie canceled my shoe order (don’t worry, I fixed the problem, I will have those boots). There is no crisis happening here. Don’t words mean anything anymore?

 Offender: “…the space of…”

Example: “Calvino works within the space of the traditional fantasy oeuvre in order to both subvert and manipulate the troubling notion of ‘other’ selves.”

My hatred of this phrase stems from a little peoplegroup I like to call “theater majors at Northwestern University.” Oh, you’re working within the space of the black box? Your character’s emotional problems originate within the space of the domestic sphere? Shakespeare just died a second death. Unfortunately, this insidious phrase is a popular one in the grad school classroom, so, if anything, my quality of life has deteriorated from those troubled days as an undergrad until now. The phrase is entirely redundant, people. Unless you’re talking about literal space, I don’t want to hear it.

Offender: “the Other”

Example: everything ever written about humans (and especially stuff about Caliban)

Ugh, do we honestly have to capitalize it?

 Offender: the terrible format of academic paper titles*

Example: “Snappy Opening Phrase: Huge Academic-Sounding Word and Huge Academic-Sounding Word in Specific Text and the Problem of Something That’s Not Actually a Huge Issue.”

I tried to title my last paper “Monsterz in Ur Closet!!!!” but everyone shunned me for six hundred and sixty-six days so I had to change it to “The Beast Within: Metaaural Dissonance and the Question of the Deformed Other in Feminine Domestic Habiliment-Centric Space.”

*I know this academic-paper joke has been made before but I HAVE TO CRAWL BEFORE I CAN SOAR, OKAY?

The Internet Makes Me Feel Sad

This post was kind of embarrassing to write and makes me sound like a total loser, so you can’t judge me, okay? Who are we kidding, you’ll judge me. IT’S WHAT WE HUMANS DO.

Every time I go online, I am overwhelmed with a constant, low-grade social anxiety. This anxiety stays with me for a while, even after I shut off my computer. I don’t like it. It’s not fun to feel that way. And the fact that this anxiety is so internet-specific, guaranteed to hit me the minute I open Facebook, worries me.

It worries me because I wouldn’t normally describe myself as a nervous, insecure person, but the internet turns me into a serious basket case. In real life, I am oft compared to Fabio (flowing locks, inexplicable allure, bronzed muscular thighs), but hunched over a computer, I turn into Edward Scissorhands-meets-Igor (stay with me here). I don’t understand why. I think there’s something deeply troublesome about the internet. It stresses me out, it ruins my mood, it makes me feel irrationally worried, it gives me this pervasive nameless fear. And I don’t get it, because there are pictures of baby animals on the internet and everyone is constantly uploading more within seconds of their birth. Why, then, do I feel sad and worried, instead of overwhelmed with a motherly mammalian love?

 Email: The thought of checking my email upsets me. For whatever irrational reason, I always expect to find something terrible in my inbox. Someone will be angry with me. Someone will have an irritating assignment that they want me to complete TODAY. Someone will tell me No. Someone will send a passive-aggressive response. WHY DO I FEEL THIS WAY?! I’m not a divorce lawyer or the CEO of BP. Who am I so afraid of? And yet I dread the sight of Gmail.

McSweeney’s: Apparently hates me. #whatever #overu2

 Facebook: holy shit. I think we’ve all experienced just how unutterably disturbing Facebook can be, and yet none of us can pinpoint why it’s so creepy. I’ve read articles that say Facebook ruins our moods because we see how happy and perfect everyone’s (falsified) lives look, and so we feel jealous. I don’t think that’s it, at least not for me. Unless you just had lunch with Marquez, I don’t usually look at your baby shower pix and think DEAR LORD WHEN WILL IT BE MY TURN?! Facebook makes me feel something much more pitiful and embarrassing—I feel insecure. I feel left out. I feel like Facebook is this buzzing world of people who are—what?! Actively ignoring me? Talking to everyone else but me? Reading NYT articles that I haven’t read yet?!? Please understand what I’m saying here: these feelings are DEEPLY IRRATIONAL. I’ll be the first to admit that. But they are also DEEPLY REAL. I feel them, I feel them vividly, every time I go online I feel them. I feel them physically. Something about the internet upsets something in my psyche, and I want to get away from it.

But what is it? I don’t know! Is the sense that the internet is one massive hive mind and we’re the only ones who are left out? Is it the glossy pictures? Does the strange back-lighting of the screen trigger something weirdly neurological? Is it information overload? Is it a general sense of instability—knowing that all your photos and emails and documents could be deleted and/or hacked? Is the internet a terrifying country with a million little rulers and we people, accustomed to monarchy and dividing lines, can’t deal with its fluid boundaries? Can a scientist please chime in? Maybe it’s a vague combination of everything. All I know is that it makes me anxious—and working under a vague, purposeless anxiety is not a good way to live. (Though to be fair, I do love looking up gruesome drug-related complications on Wikipedia, and without the internet, I’d have to actually melt heroin in a spoon to know what it smells like.)

 The only reason I’m saying this here (ON THE INTERNET, hey all-knowing Internet) is that maybe you feel that way, too, and haven’t been able to put a name to the feeling, and I just wanted to go first, so I can look like the awkward social loser, and not you. Yr welcome my friend. I know I’m sort of acting like a grandpa/conspiracy theorist. But it creeps me out, this cryptic worry, this low-grade fear. Maybe THIS is the mystery at the center of 2666, the nameless dread that Bolaño will never share with us. The internet. That’s the evil. That’s what’s killing the girls in Santa Teresa. Okay, sorry, this entire post was just an excuse to remind you all that I’ve read 2666. REMEMBER HOW I READ 2666!!!??!!! And guess what, friends? The internet didn’t teach me how to read. The internet didn’t give me impeccable literary taste. The internet only gave me directions to the bookstore. And once I got to the bookstore, I had to find the book myself. It wasn’t hard to find because it’s so big. I turned right at the Iliad and left at Infinite Jest and there it was. AND I READ THE WHOLE THING, MOM!!!!