March 2018: Spectacle, or Spectacular

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Illustration by Maria Fabrizio via STAT (more about the article farther down this post)

If I’m being cynical, Boston’s inferiority complex as a“top U.S. innovation city” is why we have a city-wide partnership between 14 museums and galleries called “Art + Tech”…. In truth, there is nothing to suggest that “Art + Tech” came down from local city government, no “presented by Mayor Walsh” or “made possible by the General Electric” tagline…. But why mount this initiative now, Boston, when new technology is so thoroughly interwoven into every aspect of our lives that we barely acknowledge it—and Boston’s personal art history doesn’t seem to be featured?

I wrote about a few venues in the “Art + Tech” initiative for Aeqai this month. The review is more positive than the intro cited above, but I can’t get over my initial reaction, surely stemming from my own personal Boston hang-ups.

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If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the bean’s verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices.

I LOVE the “bean war” happening between Chicago and Houston right now. The above is an excerpt from bitter Kim Janssen of the Chicago Tribune. This article in the Houston Chronicle is a good print-friendly distillation of the barbs, and two funny Chicago protesters picketed with #notmybean signs last week.

While the Chicago bean is better for selfies (I even have one somewhere), I like the Houston bean better as a piece of art. Public art, anyway. I say this from a very safe distance.

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“Skeleton Crew” by Dominque Morrisseau
Huntington Theatre Company, closed March 31

“Skeleton Crew” is the third most-produced regional play in the 2017-18 season nationwide, and it’s easy to see why: great writing that features four affable characters enduring a depressingly American experience. The auto factory (door stamping, specifically) where they work in Detroit is slowly approaching complete closure. I thought the female half of the cast—Patricia R. Floyd as Faye, union rep and crew matriarch mere months away from her retirement benefits, and Toccarra Cash as Shanita, a heavily-pregnant model-worker—shone particularly brightly. Wilson Chin’s slowly disappearing set, with car doors on conveyors hanging above the main break-room action area, was also a highlight. Check out Josh’s review on Talkin’ Broadway for more.

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“And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy” by Adrian Shirk
2017, Counterpoint Press
Memoir – 261 pages

Adrian Shirk’s book is a memoir guided by the lives of religious women throughout U.S. history, highlighting the weirdness and survivalism inherent to woman’s American existence throughout the past 250 years or so. Mary Baker Eddy, Flannery O’Connor, Sojourner Truth, and Marie Laveau intermingle with her troubled brother, an independent, letter-writing aunt, and Shirk’s own tarot-reading, church-going, chain-smoking self as she journeys back and forth across the country. I enjoyed the journey, though I was admittedly more interested in the historical figures and her personal interactions with their histories than the author’s own chapter-long stories. The book also isn’t a great choice for someone looking for more typical, popular memoirs—while Shirk’s artful prose is clear-cut, there isn’t a tidy narrative, no defining moment, no clearly stated truth. That’s part of the point, though, and I appreciated the book as an exploration, and a celebration of overlooked women mystics through a personal lens.

To illustrate Shirk’s tone, treatment, and research, here’s a bit about Linda Goodman, who wrote the first astrology book to make the New York bestsellers list:

[Goodman] wasn’t writing about astrology in 1953, so what was it? Metered poems or short stories? Perfecting her top-notch copy? Coming of age in postwar America, during the years women were being filtered out of the workforce and into the suburbs, into a domestic ideal most closely resembling the Victorian era, I wonder if she knew in advance that shed have to write something larger than life, that in order to do anything professionally creative, she’d have to make a spectacle of herself, or be spectacular. 72

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“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
1963, Harper Collins 50th anniversary edition
Novel – 244 pages

I remember the older cover of this book vividly from my high school library, where I had free periods as a senior. I think I was a little afraid to read it, since I knew that the author had committed suicide. It felt invasive. But, I probably would have loved it then, as I loved it now, despite its sickly sheen; Plath’s prose is a total joy, deftly, innocently leading us into incredibly dark depths. I certainly would have read it differently in high school than I did now.

I can also see why it’s been labeled “the female catcher-in-the-rye.” The comparison between the two books makes me think of a film article I read a few years ago, “‘Bird Man’ is ‘Black Swan’ for Boys.” Although Holden and Esther are roughly the same age in their respective books, unlike Michael Keaton and Natalie Porter in these films, their woes feel like a similarly gendered handling. It is the thirst for authenticity and—in “Bird Man,” anyway—the quest for exceptionalism that drives the male protagonists to madness/suicidal tendencies; with women, it’s a loss of self, a disappearing.

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After Richard Linklater’s Slacker became an unexpected box-office hit in 1991, every major studio in the United States dropped untold amounts of money trying to clone its success…. These films relied, without exception, on two crucial tropes: the cynical cool of rejecting ambition and popularity, and the mopey, tortured Gen X man-child who embodied that cool.

“You’ve Reached the Winter of Our Discontent” by Rebecca Schuman, part of her “The 90s Are Old” series for Longreads

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There are fans who seem to think Rick’s horrible behavior is justified because he’s cognizant of the damage it does and the cycle of self-loathing that attends each bout of emotional abuse. A charitable read on the sitcom, however — and BoJack Horseman probably does this better — would find an argument against taking such dour satisfaction from one’s moral indifference. At their best, both BoJack and Rick and Morty attest that you don’t get points for merely acknowledging how you’re a bad person; you also have to try to change. 

“‘Rick and Morty’ and the rise of the ‘I’m a Piece of Shit’ Defense” by Miles Klee for Mel Magazine

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When we study our participant before planning an Odyssey, we take many approaches. The first is a questionnaire that takes hours to complete…. Next, we conduct phone interviews with the friends, family, children, parents, coworkers, lovers of the participant, after which we go on retreat to spend a week as a team thinking deeply about our subject. We drink their favorite beverages, watch their most beloved films, listen to the albums they get nostalgic over, and even try to dream about them. The goal in this process is to fall in love with them. Yes, they are a stranger to us, but when someone is that vulnerable with us and we have the energy to give them our undivided attention, it is surprisingly easy to become enamored.

“What I’ve Learned from Turning People’s Hopes and Fears into Private Immersive Performances” by Ayden LeRoux for Electric Literature

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Writing, to me, has always been the duty of anyone in proximity to culture…. Words can be our tools for building the architecture of cultural memory, and art without the written word is like a protest without its organisers. Inciting changes requires commitment. And so, I show up, sometimes as a sheepish writer and sometimes as an interviewee. Since the beginning of my career I have been taught that it is an honour and privilege to record and be recorded, but sometimes I dream about how different the questions could be.

“why we need to radically need to rethink the power issues of the art world” by Kimberly Drew for i-D

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It is difficult to admit making a mistake, dear celebs, but this is an insufficient reason to double down on a mistake when it poses a true mortal danger to people in the sex trades. Time is running out as this bill gets closer to a vote in the Senate, threatening to isolate people already at the margins and deprive them of the means of doing their work safely. Now is the moment for celebrities to give up the fantasy of saving “Jane Doe” and do the hard work of seeing and listening to people in the sex trades as fully formed, complex individuals who have actual names. 

“If You Care About Sex Trafficking, Trust People in the Sex Trade — Not Celebrities” by Alana Massey for Allure. This was published on March 7, and unfortunately, SESTA passed in the senate on March 21. The negative consequences Massey and many others predicted are already happening.

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Ostaseski remembers Agnes as a woman of quiet determination who smoked Camels and kept the pack tucked into the pocket of her short floral apron. It’s tempting to try and imagine her at the moment she fully comprehended the minefield she was about to traverse with both men on her shoulders, while also carrying the grief of a wife and a mother. She stood out to Ostaseski. He trains those who care for the dying, and is interested in the role that family caregivers like Agnes play in the health care setting — how ill-equipped they can sometimes be, and how our culture and medical system might remedy this shortcoming.

“With the help of a loved one, a family finds what is essential in the end” by Bob Tedeschi for STAT. Side note: I loved the illustration for this story, it’s the featured image for this post.

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People justify video game bad behavior … by invoking the pseudo-scientific notion of “blowing off steam.” While I do find what is called the “catharsis hypothesis” to be more than a little troubling, I also find video games to be an effective means of temporarily eschewing real world concerns…. But the PC game A Mortician’s Tale (2017), in many ways, is the opposite of catharsis. In it, you assume the role of a recent funeral direction graduate tasked with operating a mom and pop funeral home. 

“R.I.P.: A Mortician’s Tale”  by Lee Matalone for The Rumpus

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Much of science fiction deals with imagining dystopia. I’ll talk about why that is later, but I strongly believe that, at this moment in time, we need to remember that one of the highest callings of science fiction is imagining utopia. I don’t mean starry-eyed visions of a fairyland that drops out of the sky. I also don’t mean a static society built on some fundamental irony like panopticon or the suppression of free will. I mean honest, earnest engagement with the question of what a better world looks like.

“Instructions for the Age of Emergency” by Monica Byrne on her blog. I’m smitten with this longread/keynote address and the future vision it presents.

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In March, my bi-monthly blood donation coincided with the Bleedin’ 4 Amina blood drive, organized by the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Beloved co-host Amina has endometrial cancer, and while the blood donations obviously don’t go directly to her, they do help others in need. I’ve been donating or attempting to donate  since the Pulse nightclub shooting (after years of thinking I wasn’t eligible because of living abroad), and went on St. Patrick’s Day this year. I was dehydrated, so it took longer than usual, but thanks to persistent technicians, I managed to fill the bag. If you’re eligible, consider donating, this month or anytime!

A pink rose with beady eyes and fanged mouth drawn on

February 2018: The President of Love

A pink rose with beady eyes and fanged mouth drawn on

Angela Deane via The Jealous Curator

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That horror [of Sandy Hook] cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch.

Ann Friedman shared “Our Moloch” by Garry Wills, originally published in NY Magazine in 2012, in her recent newsletter in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. I can’t stop thinking about it in these terms, now. God stepped in to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. Can’t see guns, the NRA, or GOP doing that anytime soon.

The students behind the Never Again movement are mostly theater kids, and there’s been some good writing about that (on blogs and in the New Yorker). And now seems like the right time for some Gawker-ish rudeness, and there’s always a discussion to be had about mental health in schools.

Seriously though, do you get Ann Friedman’s newsletter? (I found the rudeness article there, too.) I’m becoming increasingly dependent on newsletters for reading recommendations as social media becomes less and less palatable. WTF Just Happened Today (news), Jocelyn Glei (creativity/productivity), Submittable’s Submishmash, Literary Hub… all chock full of good (or at least informative) stories and delightfully devoid of internet commenters.

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A line I wrote this month: “In 2018, who even does a double take at a 51 ¾ x 84 inch close-up of a hairless mons pubis?”

Read more about “HARD: Subversive Representation” in my review for ÆQAI , up through March 9.

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I wrote a LinkedIn post for the first time, which is really just a little link round-up of a few cross-professional lessons (including one of my Lunar Cougar interviews): “But Isn’t This Supposed to be Fun?” A Few Widely Applicable Career Tips from the Film Industry

Click for the cute critter-on-video-camera picture I found, if nothing else.

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One way we judge the values we’re experimenting with is via exposure to their consequences. We all need to know how others feel when we treat them one way or another, to help us decide how we want to treat them. Similarly, an architect needs to know what it’s like to live in the buildings she designs. When the consequences of our actions are hidden, we can’t sort out what’s important.

“How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War)” by Joe Edelman. A comprehensive, heartening how-to guide for fixing social media.

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Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content…. It’s like if The New York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see. The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. 

“How Facebook is Killing Comedy,” an interview with Matt Klinman by Sarah Aswell for Splitsider

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“Hack your way to success.” “Meet the right people.” “Become a business superstar”…. What is missed in all of this is the mindset of craftsmanship; that one’s expertise and deliberate focus on one’s craft is actually the primary driver for success and not some crapshoot of a series of hacks.

“Craftsmanship ― The Alternative to the Four Hour Work Week Mindset” by Daniel Tawfik via Medium

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Nostalgia has a dark side. There is a toxic fetishism for the past in America, a yearning to return to a time before everything got so damn complicated. America seems always to believe the past was a purer time. This is of course bullshit; the past only seems purer because we don’t know it anywhere near as intimately as we do the present, and purity cannot survive intimacy.

 “In the Dark All Katz Are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia” by Samuel Ashworth for Hazlitt. Great long read with a “Dirty Dancing” hook.

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The debates over so-called “color blind” and “color conscious” casting have been heated in recent years, especially when a theatre’s decisions do not align with a playwright’s wishes…. More often, however, the shoe is on the author foot, so to speak. What should you, as a playwright, do when a theatre does ask if they can depart from your character descriptions, leaving you to determine how color- and gender-conscious the play must be?

“Conscious Casting and Letting Playwrights Lead” by David Valdes Greenwood for HowlRound. An thoughtful discussion that doesn’t come to any hard conclusions about this hot-button issue, but takes an interesting, playwright-centered approach.

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January is typically a month when even the most adventurous New York theatregoers brace for the unexpected at the many theatre festivals that coincide with the annual convention of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. I was struck this year by how many works of theatre I saw in January that used words (if they used them at all) in unorthodox ways.

“Do Words Matter on Stage?” by Jonathan Mandell for HowlRound. The whole “plays vs. film” argument is that film is more visual, while plays are dialogue driven, but the new works discussed here turn that notion on its head. It’s good to remember the visual, spectacular capability of plays, and the in-person jolt that films can’t provide.

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We often tell students to write what they know, but in practice, our classes teach them to write what we like. Instead, we ought to be helping them write what they want to read.

“Don’t Make Students Write What You Want To Read” by Michael Noll for the Pleiades blog

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As social practice has increasingly aligned itself with specific community activism—just as it tells you (also increasingly) what to think and how to feel—Bilal and Postcommodity embrace the gray areas thrown up by human behavior through the wider, longer lens of conflict. Their work doesn’t resolve in any pat way…. They make themselves almost painfully vulnerable to interaction and people’s very mixed reactions to the work. The lack of self-righteousness by these artists is—in our era of Instagram egoism, slick self-branding, and market-driven art (even market-driven ‘political’ art)—pretty dazzling. 

“Swimming With Sharks”: Postcommodity and Wafaa Bilal in a Sea of Hammerheads” by Christina Rees for GlassTire

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They fueled each other’s creativity, but Shigeko Kubota’s substantial legacy became overshadowed by her husband’s equally formidable work…. “Even when I did my own stuff, people said, ‘She imitates Nam June.’ I found it infuriating. So I headed further in the direction of [Marcel] Duchamp. When Nam June went populist, I went for high art.”

“How Shigeko Kubota Pioneered Video as a Personal Medium” by Karen Kedmey for Artsy. Another good (but basic) Artsy profile of a female artist I hadn’t heard of: “The Unlikely Success of Edmonia Lewis, a Black Sculptor in 19th Century America.” 

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I know several women who easily ignored the grim warnings, who used The Baby Book purely as medical reference. Not me. In those dark winter weeks after giving birth, I became increasingly gripped by the story’s central conflict: Mama’s desires are dangerous; Baby is vulnerable. 

“The Baby, the Book, and the Bathwater” by Heather Abel for the Paris Review

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The possibility of enormous ice caps melting, releasing pressure, and contributing to volcanic eruptions remains. And with the world warming and glaciers disappearing, the possibility of powerful eruptions to come is growing. 

— “Volcanoes Get a Kick from Climate Change” — Michael Tennesen for Hakai Magazine

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“Red Clocks” by Leni Zumas
2018, Little, Brown and Company
Novel – 368 pages

Hadn’t heard vaginas referred to as “red clocks” before, so I appreciated the yonic cover illustration here. But now I like the term, as I liked this book and its five central charactersyes, I count the fictional 19th-century Arctic explorer, Eivør Minervudottir, as a central character. She is the research subject of one the book’s four speakers (“the biographer”each speaker has a label), and excerpts from the biography-in-progress separate each speaker’s chapters.

Each character navigates a near-future where abortion has been made illegal, and the impending “every child needs two” act prohibits single parents from adopting. The biographer, a single high school teacher, desperately tries to conceive via artificial insemination before the act takes hold. The daughter, one of her students, seeks an abortion. The mender, a “young crone” who has separated herself from society, is jailed and tried for allegedly performing an abortion. And “the wife” deals with the middle class trappings of motherhood we’ve come to expect from novels like thisthe ones that hang their stories on complex (read “unlikeable”) female protagonists.

When the voices become too many, Eivør’s hardship in the wilderness is grounding. When the characters evade confrontation that would make for a more explosive storyline, Leni Zumas’s sentences and research save the day.

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“Some of Us Did Not Die” by June Jordan
2003, Civitas Books
Essays – 320 pages

Abridged feelings: every person should get a copy of “Notes Toward a Model of Resistance,” and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 feels like so long ago.  Probably a book I should buy so no one reserves it out from under me at the library again.

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“Priestdaddy” by Patricia Lockwood
2017, Riverhead Books
Memoir – 352 pages

It is hazardous to read “Priestdaddy” in bed with another person who is already asleep, as it’s hard to contain your laughter. Beyond that, I would often just *have* to wake up my husband sometimes because I knew he would appreciate some loopy anecdote or wordplay, namely about dad rock or pooping your pants while on a hunting trip. But “Priestdaddy” is not a run-of-the-mill check-out-my-nutty-family memoir; Lockwood’s poet heart makes sure of that.

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“Nomad Americana,” a new play by Kira Rockwell
Fresh Ink Theatre Company at Boston Playwrights Theatre

Love seeing new plays from Fresh Ink, and “Nomad Americana” had some beautifully rhythmic scenes and an especially wonderful performance from Khloe Alice Lin as Stormi Echo, the younger daughter of the nomadic Echo family. But the play is pulled thematically in a few too many directions, and a lack of tension makes some storylines fall flat. Super enjoyable characters, but I think this one has another workshop left in it.

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Last week, it was my great honor to be elected President of Love, a tradition that began in 2014. I ran on a platform of reforming the love-bank, and abolishing all love-debt on an annual basis. It would be a bit too ambitious to propose a gold standard of love. Still radical, though, to admit love’s currency, and how much we have in circulation.

 

January 2018: Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places?

FakeWeatherHR

“Fake Weather” – photograph by Julie Blackmon, via Robert Klein Gallery. January was rough, weather-wise (six days in a row under 20 degrees), but I still don’t miss Houston heat.

 

A few months ago, I mentioned to a friend that it’d be nice to start a poetry memorization/recitation group. I want to go to the next level with poems I love, to carry them with me all the time. A different way to approach a poem, to really pay attention. She held me accountable for the idea, and three of us met in January with our first poems. I chose “Questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop (the title of this post is a line from it), which I frequently cite as one of my favorites.

What did I learn/realize anew? Mainly  that “Questions of Travel” is LONG, lacking a regular rhyme scheme, with Bishop’s trademark somewhat-impenetrable phrasing. I found myself dying to reword a few of her lines, and might have accidentally done so in my recitation. I realized how easily I skipped over the bits I’m ambivalent to (“Three towers, five silver crosses”) to get to the parts I like (“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?”). I think most readers are loathe to admit how much we end up skimming even our favorites, both poetry and prose.

Did spending more time with the poem make me fall in deeper in love, as with the staring-at-a-painting-for-30-minutes exercise? I think so, ultimately. I found much more to enjoy in the fourth stanza than usual (“Never to have studied history / in the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages”), perhaps because before I would be racing through it to get to the lovely ending (“Should we have stayed at home / wherever that may be?”). I still count it as one of my favorites: questions of travel, and whether a person changes depending on their surroundings, are all the more relevant in our hyper-mobile society.

That said, I’m going short and rhyme-y in February. /pulls out “Selected Stevie Smith”

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I recently listened to the Arthur Miller episode of “You Must Remember This”—part of the podcast’s Hollywood Blacklist series that aired in 2016. I love “You Must Remember This” and its host/producer, Karina Longworth—essentially everyone who has listened to an episode does. She turns a not-insignificant amount of research on “Hollywood’s first century” into extremely palatable, lunch-hour-length episodes. Her approach is both loving and journalistic, but she doesn’t hide her progressive leanings when appropriate, and while she gives her subjects their due diligence in research and fact-checking, she doesn’t hesitate to name their bad behavior. In short, it’s a loving podcast that does not necessarily invite nostalgia-induced hero worship.

This episode covers most of Miller’s career highlights from before the Blacklist. I learned that he had vowed to give up playwriting altogether if “All My Sons” wasn’t a hit (I think it might be my favorite of his). When that play was a critical and financial success, he took a job in a box factory so he wouldn’t lose touch with the working man altogether (he lasted one week). Then, he built himself a writing shed, determined that he wouldn’t be allowed to write more hits until he had earned another manual labor merit badge.

But since this particular series focuses on the Hollywood Blacklist and HUAC hearings, there isn’t as much real estate for Miller’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe as there is for his soured friendship with Elia Kazan, besides the fact that Miller received much more attention from HUAC because of his ties to the most famous woman in the world. Longworth does note that there is much more to that story, and Miller’s mistreatment of his second wife in both his written works and real life, and I guess I got a lot of that story from this story the next day:

A #metoo banner on a red background, with the T in "too" as a wooden cross, and a depiction of Marilyn Monroe is tied to it, with flames beginning to consume her.

Now there’s a lead image. Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway for the Daily Beast

Some coincidence—it’s only because I’m behind on the podcast that it coincided with #MeToo movement, and this article by Maria Dahvana Headley. The headline does most of the work: “Him Too? How Arthur Miller Smeared Marilyn Monroe and Invented the Modern Male Witch Hunt.”

Headley’s article is a feminist deconstruction that has a different thesis than Longworth’s Blacklist episode, so they’re not exactly comparable and neither deserves blame for the way they covered Miller. But one aspect that was not present in the podcast episode was the parallels between Monroe and the character of Abigail in “The Crucible”: the 17-year-old who has an affair with John Proctor, then vengefully accuses his wife of witchcraft. This mirrors Miller’s own torn feelings, as he fell hard for Monroe to the detriment of his own marriage. (He stayed married for years after he fell in love with her, as she conducted her own affair with his then-friend Kazan.) Headley’s analysis is a prescient one. I haven’t read “The Crucible” in years or ever seen it onstage, but Abigail’s villain-hood, as a hysterical spurned temptress who would “ruin” the life of a “good man” in a series of calculated, vindictive maneuvers, is incredibly apt in light of the #MeToo movement, and men’s bandying about of the term “witch hunt.”

In the past 20 years, feminist readings of “The Crucible” (with or without reference to Miller’s real-life parallels) reveal Abigail as a victim (raped, dismissed from her position) who is mistreated by the writer in his characterization, as is Elizabeth, the “frigid” wife. Abigail also makes me think of other female villains throughout history, both fictional and real, including my favorite temperance preacher/hatchetator, Carry A. Nation. The ways that disenfranchised women find and wield power—so often under the guise of “virtue,” the only acceptable label for them—is often not palatable, to put it lightly.

That’s about as far as I’m willing to analyze it without re-reading “The Crucible.” Instead, I will re-read Lindy West’s “witch” take from last October: “Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch, and I’m Hunting You.” 

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“Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins
2015, Riverhead Books
Novel – 352 pages

For a long time, I was fixated on a Californian landscape that I’d never actually experienced. That fixation hasn’t changed since my first visit last year, maybe because it’s culturally mythologized so effectively. The difference, now that I’ve visited, is that I have an unearned attachment to the Romantic wasteland of gold, fame, and citrus. Those are the three reasons people go to California, according the characters in this book.

So that unearned attachment is probably why I liked the story so much, though the author’s style was aggressively Literary at times. The apocalyptic, fantastical, and painfully simple break-down of society in the face of environmental catastrophe pulled me right in. I was as fooled as the main character, Luz. Definitely recommend—but you will feel sandy for days afterward.

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“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor
2010, DAW
Novel – 432 pages

Why yes, I did find this on the same “climate change apocalypse” reading list as “Gold Fame Citrus.” Okorafor also writes young adult fiction, and I think the only reason this book isn’t classified as YA is because of the amount of weaponized rape that occurs in this futuristic depiction of war-torn Sudan. The thing is, you don’t realize it’s the future until characters start stumbling upon ancient desktop computers—tribal warfare and theocracy is definitely something most readers will associate with the past, not the future. The presence of magic and countless twists and turns kept my eyes on the page, though it’s easy to become disoriented on this sprawling journey. I love the main character, Onyesonwu (which means “who fears death”), and her stubborn strength. Not to mention the fact that she’s a powerful-but-doomed sorceress who can transform into animals and bring people back from the dead.

I kept thinking how this book might be adapted as a film or miniseries, and which of the harsher elements they might have to cut, both for length and content. Then I saw that HBO has optioned the story, and George R.R. Martin will produce—so [Eeyore voice] I guess they’re keeping the graphic rape scenes. It is central to the plot and the main character’s identity, though. I’m sure I’ll be tuning in to see how they interpret the journey.

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“Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit
2014, Haymarket Books
Essays – 130 pages

I think that most of Rebecca Solnit’s now-huge fanbase came to know her through this book, or at least the titular essay. I had never actually read it before (although I can’t really claim to have liked her “before she was cool”—I saw her speak at a whim at UH in 2014). For my money, the best essay in this book is the one about Virginia Woolf, which also appeared in the New Yorker: “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable.” Great notes on criticism, the “tyranny of the quantifiable,” and the value of uncertainty.

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Choice articles/essays:

“Forgiving the Unforgivable: Geronimo’s Descendants Seek to Salve Generational Trauma” —Anna Badkhen for LitHub

“Swing Low, White Women” – Brigitte Fielder for Avidly, on the pink pussy hat placed upon a statue of Harriet Tubman during this year’s Women’s March

“The Women the Abortion War Leaves out” — Michelle Oberman for The New York Times

“Caseworkers, Stand Up Against Racism in Child Welfare Or Be Part of the Problem” – Alan Dettlaff, dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (probably my favorite UH college), for YouthToday

“Letter from a Target-Rich Environment” – Barrett Swanson for Guernica

“Watching Delores O’Riordan Dance on Yeats’ Grave” – Laura Passin for Electric Literature, in what is both a tribute to the recently departed Cranberries singer and Ireland’s rich tradition of history-reclaiming woman poets

“What a Year of Grief Taught Me about Monuments and Memorials” — Ric Kasini Kadour for Hyperallergic

“An Evening of Immersive Theater with the Dead and Dying” — Adam Dalva on an immersive theater version of James Joyce’s “The Dead” for The Millions

Letter to a Young Poet (the whole of your body is a vibing wire) — Patricia Smith for The Scores, as part of their “Letter to a Young Poet” series

“A Eulogy for the Headphone Jack” — Charley Hoey on Medium

“Materials, Man” —Austin Kleon’s blog, on how an artist has to love her materials

“Is There Such a Thing as a Good Book Review?” — Elisa Gabbert in her writing advice column, The Blunt Instrument, for Electric Literature

“Improving Ourselves to Death” — Alexandra Schwartz for The New Yorker

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I did go to muddy Cambridge Common with “several thousand” others for a Women’s Rally on January 20. Not quite as magical as last year’s Austin/Wendy Davis/Sailor Moon excursion, but heartening nonetheless. My best photo is of a sousaphone wearing a pussy hat:

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Dreary day, but the band brightened it up.