Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

July 9, 2010

This Week in Patronizing Male Reviews of Women’s Art

I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Kids are All Right since hearing about its debut at Sundance. It’s out this week, getting reviewed positively everywhere.  The Times’s A.O. Scott says it’s “the best comedy about an American family since …” Because it is without precedent, he decides to “let the superlative stand unqualified for now.” He praises director and screenwriter Lisa Cholodenko for the way she “blends the anarchic energy of farce — fueled by coincidences and reversals, collisions and misunderstandings — with a novelistic sensitivity to the almost invisible threads that bind and entangle people.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle calls it “rich and psychologically truthful work.” Fresh Air’s David Edelstein considers the political implications:

Cholodenko has a female partner and a child, and in a political climate hostile to gay families it must be hard for her even to suggest that two moms might not be enough. But she’s a true dramatist. She tests what is presumably her own design for living; she bombards it with every satirical weapon in her arsenal. Then she picks up the pieces and rebuilds.

Reading and hearing these reviews today confirmed the unease I felt reading Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review last night. Lane loves the movie, too. But his review is marred by strange and patronizing assumptions about the director/screenwriter’s intentions. After noting that California of TKAA “is a greener, gayer update of the California that Woody Allen took such perfect potshots at, more than thirty years ago, in ‘Annie Hall,'” he declares that “Cholodenko doesn’t always know that it is funny.”


He goes on to tell us more about Cholodenko’s intentions

She wants us to laugh at Paul’s initial response when he learns of the family setup . . . and she rightly notes the casual, bantering racism of the liberal bourgeoisie . . .

Then he asks whether

the screenwriters not realize that half of the women’s conversation—”We just talked conceptually,” “It hasn’t risen to the point of consciousness for you,” “It’s so indigenous!”—is pure, extra-planetary prattling and nothing but? The prattle turns chronic when Jules, who fancies herself as a landscape designer, is hired by Paul to reshape his back yard; she suggests “a trellisy, hidden garden kind of thing,” or, alternatively, “you could go with the Asiany.”

The assumed answer to this patronizing question is no.  Cholodenko and her co-writer share their characters’ lack of self-awareness.

Is it me or is this the second patronizing review of a woman’s work from a major publication this week?

July 6, 2010

Facebook Stalking, Summer School Stalking, and One from a Stalkee

What not to say: “I know where you live.” Anon learned that the hard way:

My story also includes the internet. I was in total swoon-mode after I met him at a football game, so I asked for his e-mail– from there I added him on facebook, checked out all his personal details and spent the next few hours just googling and searching out what I could find out about him. His address and mobile phone were on his fb details (and still are, despite this). So, I added him, and then quickly messaged him. After a week or two of msn chats, phone calls, etc, I told him, as a joke, his house was close to mine (like, out of the blue, and he didn’t mention it at all). THAT freaked him out, and I never heard from him again. Hey, it was on his facebook details!

Paige also finds Facebook a great stalking ground:

I saw this girl on facebook. She knew a lot of my friends from my school, but she didn’t go there. I went to her profile page and kinda creeped around trying to figure out who she was. She had a very…unique last name. I ended up going to her profile so much, I learned about her dad and his job, and also her brother and sister. My step-sister came over one day and started telling us about her new boyfriend. She mentioned his last name and I instantly recognized it. I asked if his sister had just graduated and if his dad was a coach. My whole family was like, “Do you know her?”. It was really embarrassing when I had to reply, “I kinda stalked her on facebook…..” and then proceeded to tell them about her boyfriend (past and present) and the fact her birthday was the next day.

E takes the long way, just to get a glimpse:

I’m currently a high school sophomore (going to be a junior) in summer school. Since freshman year I’ve had this crush on a junior whose name I don’t even know. I don’t really try to find out what’s his name, but I keep wanting to see his smile. So I go and take the long way to my classes just to be in the same hallway with him to get a chance to see him smile. Right now he’s in my P.E class in my summer school, and
Monday-Friday, for 2 hours per day I get to see his smile. *melt*

While the competition is limited to stalker stories, today we have a glimpse from the stalkee‘s side. While the guy’s behavior does sound slightly scary, our stalkee readily admits that “It is kinda fun to make him jealous now when i’m having a bad day though!”

From “nostalkerswanted!!!”

ok..i know this doesnt count because i was the stalkee, but i thought i’d share it anyway. This guy i thought i liked, but didn’t, asked me out to the school dance- which i never go to. I said yes but then I realized i just wanted a bf, and that i didnt really like him. I had 2 classes with him, one of which i sat next to him, and i ignored him in school. but one day he ran up to me, and in front of everyone said:”I can’t do this thing alone.” I was thinking, wtf is he talking about?? So i told him i wasn’t going to the dance with him and walked away. After that day I saw him looking at me all the time, he was always somewhere, he got his friend to talk to me thinking i wouldnt know, and he facebooked me at least 4 times before i finally blocked him. Very creepy. It is kinda fun to make him jealous now when i’m having a bad day though!

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July 1, 2010

Driving, Walking, Stalking

Today we have pen names!

From “Gemini”

I’d seen her feed the meter so I knew her car: a red, beat-up Sentra. When she pulled out of her spot, I followed, keeping what I thought was a good distance.. When she got gas, I circled the block until she was done. When she stopped for groceries, I parked a few rows over and waited. When she pulled into the small lot of a video store, I circled that block a few times. When she still hadn’t come out, I pulled in and decided to accidentally/on-purpose bump into her inside the store. I’d finally get up the nerve to start a conversation. Movies would be a perfect topic! Then the next day we could talk more at the café. But before I’d even gotten out of the car she came out of the store, holding hands with a guy I call Badmohawk Boy. She didn’t even glance my way.

This writer says to call her “Sancho”

Not sure this counts as stalking. But I did follow a guy for about ten blocks once.

The summer between my junior and senior year I got a job at an ice cream shop in my medium-sized city. I worked from 12-5. Every day at 5, I’d walk to the bus stop and see this same guy walking the other way. He was older—probably in college, I thought. He was tall and good-looking and he wore a tie. One day we made eye contact and he smiled at me. The next day eye contact, smile and chin lift.. It went like that for a few more days and then I got eye contact, smile, chin lift and a “hey.” It got so I couldn’t wait for the end of my shift, not because I got to stop working, but because I’d get to see him. Each day I imagined him stopping and turning and introducing himself. But he never stopped, never slowed down. One day, without really thinking about it, I stopped and turned around and followed him. I stayed about twenty feet behind. After about three blocks I started to notice that a lot of girls and women were smiling, nodding and lifting their chins. This guy greeted every remotely good-looking female between the ages of 17 and, oh, about 25. Some of them went on smiling after the encounter just like I had. On their faces I could see he’d made them feel special, too.

At the time I was disappointed. I felt cheated. But looking back, I think he must’ve been a sweet person.

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June 30, 2010

Stalker Stories.

The first entries are in, and they’re fun.

From Ru, a stalking story with a happy ending:

Well, if internet stalking counts, I have a short story for you. I had a crush on one of my friends for the longest time, and as someone who spends way too much time on the internet, I often tend to do searches on my crush through social networking sites and other media. A couple of months ago, I did a search on this particular crush’s name, and it turned out that there was a porn star by the same name, which I found endlessly amusing, so I told him the next day. Only I stupidly started the sentence with, “So I was googling your name last night…” Lots of people heard. I turned beet red. He probably thought I was a total creeper, which I kind of am. But that’s okay, because the two of us are together now.

From R, a story of mallstalking:

I was vacationing in Florida, at the mall with my grandma, when I noticed a dashing young man walking by with two fellows at his
side. We made eye contact, he smiled, and I swooned.I kept glancing back until he disappeared into a store that sold sunglasses. I wasn’t focused on the name of the store, just the boy. I turned to my grandma and told her I would be right back. She smiled and told me she’d meet up with me later. I nodded, not paying attention, and scurried away to the store with sunglasses. Of course,as soon as I entered, he left. He caught my eye and I had another swoon moment as he exited.

For the next hour and a half, I followed this boy, entering every store he was in. He once bumped into me, and apologized. I was so embarassed because what I said in return was “you…it’s…eyes-I mean, it’s okay”. He gave me a funny look, grinned, and left. I followed him into one more store when my grandma found me and took me to lunch. My head was still spinning.

And from “JMTW,” who says, “I’m not a YA, so this one’s for fun, not a prize,” story with a most unhappy ending:

I had a terrible, painful crush on a boy whose locker was next to mine. I’ll call him B. He was shy and I had no idea how to talk to boys and so despite the locker proximity, we hardly spoke. B was a football player and got badly injured one season. Badly enough that they put his leg in traction and kept him in the hospital. The same hospital where I donned a candy striper’s uniform every Sunday and rolled around a little cart selling candy and newspapers. My friend and candy-striping partner, P, had much more experience with boys than I did. She insisted we pay him a visit, pretending we were just doing our job. To do this, we had to take the cart to a floor we weren’t supposed to be on because they had all this special equipment and they didn’t want us bumping into stuff. When we finally found B’s room, P peeked in and reported that he was asleep. We should go do the rest of the floors we were supposed to do and come back. An hour later, we were back on B’s floor. P ran ahead to see if he was awake. He was. She waved me over. “Come on! Before they catch us.” I froze at the threshold of his door. This was nuts. I was wearing a red and white striped jumper. I never knew what to say to him at school, what could I possibly say now?

Just give him the spiel,” P said. “Pretend you don’t even know he’s in there. Just say ‘Hi, would you like anything from the cart today? Candy? Newspapers?’ Then, look surprised and say, ‘Hey. Don’t I know you?’ or something like that.”

It was so easy for girls like P. If it was her crush, she’d go in, plop herself on the bed and start rubbing his feet or something.

Me, I froze. P put her hand on my back and pushed me in. I got as far as the foot of his bed and gave the spiel while staring at the leg that was strung up in the air. “Hiwouldyoulikeanythingfromthecarttodaycandynews-paper?”

Silence. I looked up. He was awake all right and so was his mom, who was standing next to the bed with a—is that? yeah, it is—a bedpan in her hand. From the way she was holding it, and from the smell that only hit me then, it became apparent that I had, shall we say, come at a bad time.

I turned on my heels, returned to the hall and the cart and P, blushing more deeply than I ever knew was possible.

B returned to school three weeks later, on crutches. P volunteered to help him get around. They were a couple by Christmas.

Is that a stalking story? Or a YA novel? Or something to tell my therapist?

Keep them coming!

June 28, 2010

True or False: “There’s a little stalker in all of us.”

I was visiting a Las Vegas high school last spring, just after finishing Stalker Girl. During the Q & A, a student raised her hand and declared that she believed there was “a little stalker in all of us.” I nodded, remembering all the glimmers of recognition I’d seen in the eyes of people I’d told about the book.

But a funny thing happened in that auditorium. “Girls stalk,” one of the boys protested. His buddies nodded. Some of the girls nodded, too. But some of them fought back. Everybody, it seemed, had an example of stalking by the opposite sex.

But my book is called Stalker Girl, and if you google (as I have done—just once!) that phrase, you’ll get over a hundred thousand hits. Stalker Boy, by contrast, gets about thirty-five thousand.

A few months ago I found myself at a table full of male colleagues in the faculty lunchroom. I’d just gotten the Stalker Girl galleys and had a copy with me. In the conversation that followed, I explained that part of what I was trying to do in this novel was show how slippery the slope that led to full-on stalking could be. To illustrate my point, I confidently asked, while raising my own hand, “Who here hasn’t googled and ex?”

All but one sat motionless. Were they holding back, embarrassed? Or was it, as one of them suggested, that they didn’t have that many exes? They were mostly Math guys. One was a priest. The one who raised his hands taught a romance language.

So . . . is stalking a girl thing?

Not according to the National Center for Victims of Crime which reports that 70% to 75% of stalking victims are female and 85 to 90% of stalkers are male.

Why then is the phrase Stalker Girl so much more common than Stalker Boy? Am I contributing to this false perception with the title of my book?

To be continued . . .

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October 18, 2007

Four Paragraphs

Novelist and memoirist Diana Abu-Jaber visited the college where I teach yesterday where she told us the story of her recent experience with a high school in Texas. The parents of three students objected to the teaching of her novel, Crescent, which has been praised for, among other things, presenting Iraqi-American characters “as real people.”

This wasn’t what bothered the parents, though. Rather, it was the presence of four paragraphs of sexual content.

The principal at the school ordered the teachers to stop teaching the book. The teachers protested and were offered a compromise: black out the four offending paragraphs and you can still teach the book. The teachers asked Abu-Jaber’s permission to do so, arguing that while they were loathe to succumb to such pressure, they felt that there was so much else to be gained from this book, they hoped she would understand and assent to the practice.

As she considered the bargain, Abu-Jaber consulted with writers and “publishing people.” The writers were adamant in their insistence that she say no. The publishing people, and even her own husband urged her to accept the compromise.

In the end, she came up with a compromise of her own. She would not give her permission, but she would not stand in the way if the teachers themselves wanted to do the blacking out. And if they did choose to black out the paragraphs and continue teaching Crescent, she would post the excised text on her web site.

Here’s the story, straight from Diana Abu-Jaber’s website:

Awful as censorship is, I’d always thought there was a reassuring familiarity about banned books—Huck Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lolita—classics powerful enough to frighten people into wanting to silence them. After all, isn’t that’s what censorship is all about—fear—of controversy, sexuality, difference, of questioning the status quo?

Then I received a sensitive, beautifully-written email from Texas. It was from a high school teacher, informing me that my novel, Crescent, had been banned from her school due to the objections of the parents of three students over the sexual content of four paragraphs in the book.

Her principal was behind the ban, but after teachers protested he offered a compromise. This is an excerpt from the teacher’s letter:

“If we obtain your permission to black out the four offending paragraphs … we are allowed to include the book in our curriculum….I am willing to ask you to do the unthinkable – will you allow us to mark through these four paragraphs in the interest of introducing a discussion of a culture so frequently demonized and belittled in our part of the country? Will you help me bring into a politically conservative community a sympathetic view of Iraq and Iraqi people?”

And so, after much thought and much asking-for-advice, I thought I’d share the response I gave the teacher:

October 2, 2007

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful email. I’ve spent several days considering your question.

Ultimately, I find that I can’t condone your principal’s offer to censor my novel in order to make it more acceptable. That said, you do have my permission, to do what you think is right for your students.

In a strange way, I suppose, I think this discussion is an encouraging thing. I find it fascinating that, in our culture of war, macabre violence, and shocking cinema, a literary novel could still carry enough of an impact as to make someone want to silence it.

My husband pointed out that censors are always with us, determining the limits of morality and conventions, in every source of art and information, from books to film to music. He argues, along with you, that it’s better to allow students to read some of a book—indeed most of a book—rather than none at all.

Even though I see the excellent sense of this argument, I couldn’t find a way to feel right about crossing out text. I became a writer in large part because I felt like I couldn’t otherwise make my voice heard. To agree to blackening out such passages feels like colluding in my own silencing.

I once had a debate with a student from Saudi Arabia. I’d complained to him that the problem with America was that nothing was sacred. He’d laughed at me and said, on the contrary, that the great thing about America was that nothing was sacred.

I worry, though, that the American problem is that the wrong things are sacred.

I won’t belabor pointing out the obvious irony of blacking out scenes of love-making in a book that’s concerned with the depiction and the violence of unjust wars and dictatorship. We all already know this—in America, love gets bleeped, the violence stays. The two main characters in Crescent are in love, the few sexual passages in the book are far from graphic. Indeed, the scenes in which they cook and eat together are nearly just as suggestive as the contested passages.

But a friend, upon hearing about this debate, postulated that the real reason the students’ parents are upset is because the book gives a human face to Arab Muslim people.

That might be the part of this that unnerves me the most – and like so many forms of subtle discrimination and racism, we’ll never really know if that’s the case or not. The people who want the book banned may not even be entirely conscious of it themselves.

So I thank you for giving me the chance to think out loud a little about such an important issue. If you decide to proceed with blacking out hte passages, I’ll be happy to post the offending text on my website, so those students who might be curious, can decide for themselves if they’d like to see what the fuss is about.

Please feel free to share my response with your principal, the parents, and even with your students. It’s a wonderful object lesson in the free and open exchange of ideas vs. book banning, especially during this, Banned Books Week.

With great respect for wonderful teachers, like yourself,

Diana Abu-Jaber

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April 1, 2007

Compare and Contrast

How much do I love this girl for letting the New York Times take this picture for an article about the perfect, “amazing girls” of Newton, Mass? The admissions committees at the colleges where she’s applied ought to let her in just for this. And hats off to her mother for getting out of the way.

I have a feeling the mother in this picture wasn’t so relaxed fifteen minutes before the photographer arrived.

The article was so depressing, for so many reasons. Chief among them the knowledge that were I applying today, I’d never get into my alma mater. Not even on the wait list.

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March 28, 2007

The Difficult First Novel

The UK version of too many writers, too little readers.

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February 18, 2007

You Won’t Find Men’s Genitalia in Quality Literature

Nor will you find it in the Newbery Award winning novel, The Higher Power of Lucky. And yet, a New York Times article on the “controversy” over the word scrotum in that book ends with that pithy, but wrong (in several ways) quote from a librarian in Colorado. This librarian also compares Susan Patron to Howard Stern for her use of the word.

The article also contains this curious statement, apparently from the reporter, as it is unattributed:

Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.

Yes. That’s exactly how it happens. We sit there at our computers, looking for places to sneak in those touchy words, just so we can shock shock! unsuspecting librarians.

Elsewhere in the article, another librarian offers his belief that the flap is a “case of an author not realizing her audience.” If by audience he means prudish, censorious adults who are afraid of uttering the accurate, non-sexualized term for a part of a male dog’s anatomy in front of nine- and ten-year-old children, half of whom share this anatomical feature with the canine in question, then I suppose he has a point.

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February 12, 2007

Hoo-Haa Brou-ha-ha

Personally, I’ve never heard the vagina referred to as the Hoo-Haa. Maybe it’s a regional thing?

A theater manager in Atlantic Beach, Florida decided, after a motorist complained to a local television station that her niece SAW THE WORD VAGINA on the theater’s marquee, that Eve Ensler’s play needed to be euphemized. And so they re-named it “The Hoo-Haa Monologues.”

Yeah, well. It turns out the organizers of this production are law students and their right to perform the play is contingent on their not changing a thing and so those H’s O’s and A’s came down.

I read this in today’s New York Times, and my curious eight-year-old wanted to know what I was laughing about. And so I first had to tell her about the original name, at which she scrunched up her face and said, “Ew.” She thought Hoo-Haa was pretty funny.

I decided now wasn’t the time to tell her the cute story of how, when she was three and we had friends over, she came bounding out of her room, naked, asking “Who wants to see my ‘gina?” (And I probably won’t leave this part of this blog entry up for long.)

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