Sunday, January 27, 2013

Austen Forever


A recent post over at Jezebel.com, with the needlessly inflammatory "Is Jane Austen So Popular Because Her Books Are Just Highbrow Twilight?" title left me with a few feels.

1. Ugh, Jezebel, what a bait-y headline. The only reason to do it is to try and get Austenites cranky, and congrats, you did. Well done?

2. The article itself is just sort of...there? I generally like the writer, but this is about as "lite" a comparison as could have been made and required some really lazy generalizations, comparisons, and overall kind of blah writing. The "point" of the article was apparently that Austen's work have become a popular, oft mined "franchises" because of the romance. I strongly disagree and so did just about every other commenter, with incredibly valid, obvious reasons to back those objections up. The writer just didn't bother to consider them and, honestly, if that was the point of the article, it got pretty convoluted when she compared Darcy to Edward like they have -anything- in common other than being male leads. I don't care if Stephanie Meyers is producing a modern story about an Austen fan, that doesn't make Twilight anything like Austen's work. Jennifer Love-Hewitt being in some apparently modern adap of Pride & Prejudice for Lifetime doesn't mean they "get it" either. There's a reason the most popular Austen adaps are usually BBC mini-series, period films, or something like Clueless or Bridget Jones. Because they -don't- just concentrate on the romance. Even though Bridget Jones has some issues, it's mostly about Bridget figuring herself out and that she deserves better in a relationship. And the love story still hinges on them getting to know each other, flaws and all. Anyone who is only reading/watching for the kiss at the end is A. not really a fan of the work B. missing the entire point of it, like completely. I don't know anyone who is actually into Austen's work strictly for the romance. They're in it for the character exploration. I know everyone remembers Colin Firth wearing a wet poofy shirt in the BBC adap all those years ago, but that's not why it was popular and continues to be watched now. It's because it got the WHOLE story in there.

Austen's works are meaningful exploration of characters that also have romances. They don't work without the former. They are also incredibly acerbic, insightful commentaries on human nature, gender, class, and society, cleverly woven into a tight storytelling package. That's what people are invested in.

3. I think the author really lost me on two points:

A. She generalized Darcy as being like Edward (and Christian Grey), as "famously swoonworthy because they're arrogant, aloof babes who are secretly sensitive and end up saving the day when they're unexpectedly overcome by love." Holy shit, NO. Not only does that generalization hold up under no scrutiny whatsoever, it's absurd. Darcy isn't actually "secretly" sensitive. Elizabeth doesn't know about that side of him because she never bothers to find out and she's too busy nursing hurt pride, so she believes Wickham, who's the actual asshole in this scenario. It's not a "secret" so much as someone she would've noticed about his character sooner if she'd been paying attention. That's kind of the whole point of his letter later on when she suddenly realizes she's been unfair and blind. Because she is a flawed character, too.

Darcy is arrogant (or prideful), but then so is Elizabeth in her own way. It's also fairly clear in the book that Darcy has a general dislike of forced social situations and, due to raising his younger sister at a relatively young age, (with, again, a great deal of love and kindness that's obvious to anyone who knows him) he takes himself a little too seriously. That's the sum total of his flaws. As Lizzie later states to Wickham, his essentials do not change, it's her awareness of them that do. Also, Darcy doesn't "save the day" because he's unexpectedly overcome by love. He helps Lizzie's two sisters because he wants to, when he has no hope of her loving him back, after she's already told him where to stick it. Which is a MAJOR difference between Twilight and anything Austen ever wrote. Love is earned, it is NOT instantaneous, and it is never, ever, based on looks. She is highly critical of people who love for superficial reasons.


But perhaps the most important difference between Darcy and those other two; HE'S NOT AN EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE/MANIPULATIVE STALKERY CREEPSTER. None of Austen's heroe's ever display these traits.  The worst they ever get is a bit prideful and distant if they've been hurt. That's as bad as they get. If you're looking for that, you need to check out Rochester and Heathcliffe (and even then the similarities are highly superficial). 


However, the worst thing the article does is this:


B. " I always found Austen's female characters one-dimensional and lacking in passion and energy;". I just. I can't even. What is this. No.


Aside from the fact that most of her novels directly deal with characters who need to balance sense and passions (Sense & Sensibility is ALL about that, yo, look at the title), describing her characters as "one-dimensional" is objectively wrong. It might be the writers subjective experience, but I seriously have to wonder what she was reading and what mood she was in when she read them. You don't have to like any of Austen's work to know that her female characters are incredibly nuanced. They're also not interchangeable from one another. Lizzie Bennett is not Marianne Dashwood is not Emma Woodhouse is not Fanny Price is not Anne Elliot. And that's just some of her main characters. Her ancillary female characters also run the gamut. Hell, Pride & Prejudice is like a crash course in how many different female characters you can have in one family, let alone in a village and beyond. Austen was, I think, interested more in how people really are than overly dramatic plots. If you want that, the Bronte's are your girls. Expecting Austen to give you that is missing the point of her work.


And I say all this as someone who loves Jane Eyre and some overwrought drama, but Rochester is a HUGE asshole. You'd be excused if you wondered just what Jane sees in him for the majority of the book, because he's kind of really manipulative and shitty a lot of the time. He does "get" her, which is his one redeeming quality. He spends a lot of the book deliberately making her think he loves someone else, just to make her upset. The dude then tricks her into nearly marrying him, and it's only because he gets caught that he comes clean. He's punished for it later, but, you know, that's a seriously dick move. Instead of rising above the hardships in his life he indulges in them and then expects Jane to "fix" them. He only becomes a better man because she leaves. And as much as I respect the ending, the fact that Jane doesn't accomplish things she wanted, like traveling, makes it a little down for me. It is her choice, though, so I can't fault that. 


But in terms of realistic portrayals of layered, multi-dimensional characters, I would hold any of Austen's up to Jane. They may have different dispositions, but they're no less nuanced.


I just can't take a writer seriously who is unable to see past their own biases enough to write that Austen's female characters are "one-dimensional". Which brings me to...


4. A major pet peeve of mine is when people use their personal preferences as an excuse to not "get" a work or a writer, or the value of said work. I'm sorry, but, no. There are plenty of things that are not to my taste that I'm able to recognize as objectively important/worthwhile. I have zero interest in Wuthering Heights and The Age of Innocence, while incredibly important and well written, just doesn't grab me. That's my subjective experience with them, which is in no way an objective "truth". I would never, ever, say either of them were boring or had one-dimensional characters, even if I don't like them, because that would be incredibly obtuse on my part. If you're going to engage in lit critique or comparison, the least you can do is not let your personal preferences completely overtake your ability to be reasonable. What I "like" or "prefer" is not really all that relevant. The work and what it accomplishes is.

5. I'm way over comparing Twilight to every other work written by women that involves romance somewhere in their plots. First of all, it usually results in uncritical link bait, and doesn't do any of the works any justice, including Twilight. Second, it's really easy to dismiss Twilight, but it's probably not a good idea to do so. Millions of girls and women have read it. I may dislike some of the messages and the writing, but it obviously speaks to a lot of people on an emotional level or it wouldn't have become so popular. If you think about it even a little, Bella as a character clearly resonates with how a lot of girls -feel-, which is ignored and boring and plain. Dismiss the relevancy of that at your own peril. Do I personally prefer more "aspirational" or inspiring characters? Yeah. But wer'e not talking about my personal preferences. I read a lot of Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey as a teen. I also loved Hamlet.  Teenagers are capable of nuance and variety, I promise.

Is the romance deeply problematic? Hell yes. And that should be discussed often and in depth. But I don't think it necessarily means teen girls are going to emulate it, and in any case, our culture teaches them way more problematic messages than the books, which mainly just mirrors them. You could argue it also perpetuates them, but again, you'd have to acknowledge life in general does as well.

About the only comparison worth making between Twilight and anything else is how superficial it is. It doesn't really explore any issue all that deeply, including love, and is mostly just a lot of teenage navel-gazing. And honestly, that's fine. Not everything needs to have a big deep message. But it also doesn't mean you can compare it to Austen or the Bronte's in any particularly meaningful way, other than showing how much better you can explore human nature, life, death, and love. That doesn't change that some teens may just prefer Twilight for the high drama and angst. They're allowed, being an adolescent sucks, I'm not going to judge them for reading anything. Again, I cite my reading of Piers Anthony as proof-positive that you can read that stuff and turn out just fine.

6. Finally, I'm epically over with people dismissing Austen's work because it's "light". Just because she finds humor in the utter absurdity that is humanity, and didn't write giant tomes about moors and characters who constantly lament their looks, doesn't mean she was any less of a keen observer or commenter.

One of things that I think people forget most about Austen's work: she makes it look easy. So it's also easy to take what she did for storytelling for granted. She was way ahead of her time in a lot of ways, and yet incredibly present and observant of her time. And she did so in a lively, witty, even acerbic way, without having to get overly dramatic. It's probably why I love her work so much, she did NOT rely on heavy, overdone writing to accomplish insightful social criticism and accurate character portrayals. One isn't better than the other, but what she did is deceptively simple -looking-, but actually incredibly difficult to pull off. Her writing is also still very relevant today, with themes and characters we can all recognize easily. Her stories are accessible and there's a reason we're still reading them over 200 years after they were written. Longevity like that is not an accident. 

So to sum up: boo on uncritical lit discussions, yay for Jane Austen and her work still providing insight and wit on the ridiculousness that is humanity to this day. I bet you would've been an awesome tea buddy, Jane. We miss you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gnaw

Lately I've been having serious trouble with my eating disorder resurfacing and my body dysmorphia being off the charts. So much so that I honestly had no idea that I hadn't eaten anything in over 12hrs last night when I finally sat down for dinner. It had not occurred to me that the reason I felt shaky and terrible and cranky and on the verge of the crying was, in no small part, due to not eating anywhere near the amount of what I need to live.

This is not uncommon for me and I really hate it. I hate the twisted mental gymnastics I'll do to justify restricting. I hate the obsessive "checking" behavior, the dark and nasty thoughts that become a relentless din. I hate the way I feel like a "better" person when I'm not eating.

But I think what I hate most of all right now is that I think/know I'm kind of fat and I don't want to be, but I can't find any healthy way of losing weight that doesn't trigger all the worst kinds of thoughts and behaviors. And I don't really know how "fat" I am because I can't weigh myself, plus my self-image is so distorted that what I think of as "fat" for me is who knows what in reality. I can't join any of those programs because they rely on calorie counting, exercise tracking, and even food journaling, all of which make me worse, not better. I walk every day now, which is good, but if I don't walk 2 to 3x I start to get angry with myself.

And then there's the binge eating. I absolutely do this. I'll go most of the week without eating very much, then the weekend hits and I can't hold out any more and I end up eating things I probably shouldn't. And it's not even binge eating the way it is for other people, I've seen the movies, I've done the research, I know what I do isn't nearly like what most binge eaters do. But I -feel- out of control and desperate and hungry and awful.

So then I eat. And then I hate.

What all of this always come down to, really, is self-loathing. I know it, deep down. There is this part of me that just desperately, angrily, stubbornly, hates who I am and how I look and it is poisonous and willful and gross.

I call that part Ed, and he's a shitty little Brain Goblin who just will. not. go. away. He's been here, fucking with my head and my body for 20 years. I hate him, but I just can't seem to let him go. Sometimes I think I've shook him loose, but his claws are spiteful hooks. He is tenacious and determined and invested in me being miserable.

Yet, Ed is still really me. A part of me, a part that hates and resents and is ugly and awful and mean to me, always. If Ed was a real person, he'd be the frenemy, the abusive partner, the street harasser, the blight, the cut, the sore that never heals.

If I could pluck him out, I would, and I would stamp his horribleness into oblivion beneath gleefully booted feet. But I can't, or won't, or can't again.

So he sticks here, maddening and capering and gnawing...always gnawing. His teeth, they are sharp and god, do they bite deep.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Thoughts



Sitting in a cafĂ© this morning, watching as snow lightly falls and businesses start to open. People are heading to work or school, with determined steps and set, neutral faces. Lots of parents with children, all bundled up like tiny human packages. They’re fond of hats with animal faces and ridiculously cute, bright, bobbing pom-poms on them here. Everyone has rosy cheeks and coats that look like quilts on. It’s cold but not windy so I kind of like it. I feel awake.

I’ve been spending too much time inside, thinking the same thoughts, going over the same worries, obsessing over the same things. My brain defaults to cycles, I guess. It doesn’t seem to know how to switch tracks without a lot of angst beforehand. It wants to tread the same grooves, turning them into deep troughs of well-worn concern. Sometimes I think I need a mental shovel to dig out.

Granted, we’ve only been living in Germany for a little over a month. I don’t know why I always expect myself to instantaneously adjust to everything, with no lag time. My frenemy, ye old Unreasonable Expectations, has been really fond of me lately. She’s been hanging out a lot, taking up room, leaving shit on the kitchen table, lecturing me on all the Should’s I haven’t made into Done’s. She tells me to take a nap so I can be more productive, then yells at me for needing sleep.

The problem with Should’s, really, is that they seem simple. They seem harmless. What’s wrong with having goals? What’s wrong with expecting more of yourself?

Theoretically, nothing. That is, when you’re expecting more from yourself in a way that actually let’s you accomplish those goals, not set you up for impossible ideals you can’t reach, so you continuously fail, and feel like a failure. Because instead of supporting yourself and what you really need to do to accomplish what you want, you’ve been self-sabotaging with inevitable failure. With the belief, at core, that nothing you do is really worth doing, no achieved goal is really an accomplishment.

Why do I do this? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I was never satisfied with a single thing I ever did. It’s not something I developed in adolescence or adulthood. It’s always been there. This constant, nagging, doubt.

So. What do I do about it? It changes, from day to day. Some days I basically just shut down and make very little progress and feel a lot of self-disgust. I do not recommend this strategy.

One of the things I find almost always works to snap me out of it is getting the hell out of wherever I am, going for a walk,  turning up music and dancing around like an idiot, watching something I love, or otherwise breaking whatever routine I’ve gotten into that isn’t currently helping. This idea that we should never take breaks and clear up our brains because that will “kill momentum” is, I think, ultimately counter productive. Obviously don’t mess up a groove that’s working, but if it’s not, do something else for a while. Read. Go out for a coffee. Talk to a friend. Get your brain on some other track.

When I worked at a desk job I had this unhealthy attachment to my workspace. No matter what company I was in, it was extremely difficult for me to unglue myself from the computer, chair, and environment, for any amount of time during those 9-10hrs. Normal people at least take lunch. I felt guilty if I spent a minute in the bathroom. I get into this place where I feel like I must always be DOING WORK, like if I stop for a second, get some food, take a little walk, or chat with a co-worker, suddenly I will no longer be able to function and all work will cease and I will become the dreaded UNPRODUCTIVE. I have absolutely no idea where I picked up the idea that I must be doing something that leads to something else every second I’m awake. No one in my family is a workaholic. I was not an overachiever in school. But wow, has it become a hard habit to break.

Part of why I think this way is because of what I do. Editing and writing are, in most ways, all about the details. They require concentrations and chunks of time dedicated to focusing on the task at hand. The kind of editing I do is less about the finer points of spelling and grammar (obviously, I mess up on that all the time), and more about the detail work of storytelling. It’s about nuance. In some ways, it’s almost like solving a puzzle. You are trying to figure out whether the story you are getting is the story the writer is trying to tell, and if it isn’t, why it isn’t. Depending on what kind of story it is, you may also have to consider continuity (especially important in ongoing monthly comics), character development, narrative arcs, etc. That’s actually quite a lot of things to be keeping balanced in your head. And what’s more, you’re not just thinking about them, you’re coming up with solutions for a given problem. In my case usually in the form of a suggestion, I don’t tell writers what to write.  I give them my interpretation, ask questions, and make sure I’m facilitating the whole process. If I’m not then I have to figure out why not.

But this isn’t all you do when you edit. Every day is usually a combination of known tasks, new ones, and surprise crises. The latter are never exactly a surprise, in the sense that something is always going wrong in publishing. It’s just that the shape isn’t always the same.

Maybe that’s where it comes from, the idea that I must always be doing something. You rarely have a “slow” day in comics. There are certainly days when you’re not approving a book or having some immediate, this must go out now moment, but there’s always something happening. Something that needs doing. You can write a to-do list and hope you get to all of it, but I find most days get derailed. It’s just the extremity of it that changes.

The thing is, though, that if you never take a break, your work WILL suffer. You will stop noticing the finer points. Details will go by you. Nuance will get lost. I always make the most mistakes, miss the most obvious forest for the trees, when I haven't been taking any time away. Your brain needs to reset. You need to switch up your route, otherwise it becomes a senseless, autopilot, groove, where you're just going through the motions. Which, in the end, is the opposite of being present and and active in your own head.

I still don’t know where the ( I don’t know, terror? ) of Not Being Productive comes from, though. Maybe it’s because I’m an atheist and, as such, believe this is it, this is all I get. With that kind of “what I have is now” motivation, it’s hard to justify wasting any of it. There’s a drive to make it count. Which is fine, in so far as it actually results in doing things that matter to me. It’s not okay when I spend my limited time constantly judging myself and turning everything into a neverending litany of “not good enough”. It’s okay to say “I like this thing I did. It matters to me. I am glad I made it and I am proud that I did.”

It’s harder to say, think, and feel that than it probably ought to be. And here we are, back at should. Dammit.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nerd+Cats=awesome

I wrote a "song" about our cats, sung to the same tuen as the dwarves sing their "Misty Mounatains" song in The Hobbit.

Why yes, I am a big nerdy nerd. Want to make something of it?

Kitty Mountains


Far over
the kitty mountains bold
Through litter deep
and funky old

They must away
Ere break of day
To find their long
Forgotten balls

The kitty’s mrooowed
On the heights
The kitties groaned
In the night

Their eyes were big
Their breath was stink
The kitties like goobers
Went back to sleep

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Adventures in Germany Part 2

It's been an interesting month here in Hamburg, although we haven't really done that much. When we got here it was COLD and snowy, which being from the East Coast originally wasn't entirely awful, but was a shock to the system after being in SoCal and NoCal for the last 4 years. It's gotten more temperate and Chris started his job today, so now I'm working out my own schedule and getting back on track. The only downside to living here so far is how dark it gets and how early. The sun doesn't rise until well after 8am and starts setting around 3:30. By 4:30 it's midnight dark. Although a lot of people seem to assume I hate sunlight because of my pale skin and gothy fashion choices, it's just summer sun I don't like. I've never liked daylights savings in the US, but this is even more extreme and a little depressing. But since I have no control over when the sun rises and sets, not much I can do.

We have gotten to know our neighborhood a bit, found some great eateries (big shout out to the super friendly Greek restaurant around the corner, they are SO lovely) and went to two Christmas Markets. The enormous one by the Rathaus was like SDCC level crowded, but I got some spices and a beanie squid. Germans do not mess around when it comes to these things, they are huge and splendid and smell like the most amazing baked goods.

Random differences I've noticed between here and the US so far:

1. Germans stare and are not even remotely shy about it. And if they don't approve of you, they will make a face not unlike Grumpy Cat. Mind you, I have blue-ish hair, but odd hair colors aren't that unusual here, I've seen lots, especially on college students. It just seems to be a cultural thing where Germans look at you directly and judge you. Or that's how it feels.

2. People do not get out of each other's way on sidewalks. I'm from NYC so I'm used to offensive/defensive walking, but it's still a little odd. Even if you clearly have nowhere to go and they do, they are not going to move for you. I watched two grown men do this and walk into each other and then get cranky about who should have made space.

3. Biking is a way of life. Although plenty of people drive, biking is extremely common. There are even bikes you can "rent" on the street, though you don't actually pay anything. They usually have fleets of them set up on street corners.

4. Germans really love their fireworks on New Years. People were going kind of banana's with them for at least an hour on NYE. Cats were unthrilled. You can buy them at the grocery stores here. But you can't get aspirin unless you go to the Apotheke.

5. Vitamins are not as common, and they don't come in jars, they come in pack sleeve things.

6. "Light" or "low-fat" options are not real popular here. There are a few, mostly in milk and cheese, but in general stuff has fat in it and they are completely fine with that.

7. Sugar. They really like sugar here. Our landlord left us like 3 different types when we moved in. HFCS is not a thing so soda and sweets taste MUCH better. By a thousand miles.

8. Yogurt. This is like the biggest section in every store that sells food. They have more types of yogurts than I have ever seen before and they will make it in just about any flavor.

9. Cherry or "kirsche". This is a big ingredient here, which makes me VERY happy. Much more common here than in the states.

10. Pre-packaged frozen meals exist but they don't take up several aisles. They might take up half of one. In general there aren't a bajillion brands, so it's a little simpler to shop because you aren't overwhelmed with options. Except if you're buying yogurt.

11. Chocolate here is AMAZING. I'm a dark chocolate girl, but I even like their milk chocolate. Probably because it's real chocolate and not the stuff they try to pass off as chocolate in the US.

12. Germans eat when they are hungry, while walking, in public, and do not give a crap what they look like. I'm not used to this, especially women. But here no one cares about trying to look dainty. They just eat and crumbs be damned.

13. Other people have noted the truly prolific amount of drinks with carbonation here, but it's definitely true. Which is awesome for me.

That's it for now. As we get out more and wander I'm sure I"ll notice more stuff.