• Book Reviews,  Feminism,  Writing

    Shrill: a loud book review

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    Three years ago I sat in my car, in my driveway, listening to an old This American Life podcast. It was featuring a young woman working for an online publication who confronted her boss via email after his rant/article was published about fat women and the obesity epidemic. He never responded so she posted her own article.

    Listening to her read her writing brought tears to my eyes. I am not a crier but there I was because I felt her exhaustion from the endless pursuit to measure up to what men, women, society, the media, and internet trolls believe you should look like. People are cruel but unlike me, this young woman put herself out there online – it was her job.

    •     •     •     •

    I purchased Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman because I had seen several people talking about the book on Instagram. After a few hilarious pages in, I realized that Lindy West was the young woman from the podcast that brought me to tears.

    First, the hilarity:

    Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello, child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? … The answer was ballerina, or, for a minute, veterinarian, as I had been erroneously led to believe that ‘veterinarian’ was the grown-up term for ‘professional animal-petter’. I would later learn, crestfallen and appalled, that it’s more a term for ‘touching poo all the time featuring intermittent cat murder,’ so the plan was abandoned. (The fact that ANY kid wants to be a veterinarian is bananas, – by the way, whoever does veterinary medicine’s PR amoung preschool aged children should be working in the fucking White House.) Lindy West, Shrill

    But soon after that, West takes a hard right and tackles some of the toughest issues facing women today. Abortion, rape culture, fat-shaming, bullying, discrimination, misogyny, death, and grief – just to name more than a few.

    Her writing is raw, angry, and vulgar, but with touches of fantastic humor along the way. I stopped a few times wondering if these extremes were necessary, mainly because I was  hoping to let my 14-year-old daughter, Chaney, read this book. Spoiler: I’m not going to let her but I’ll be sharing passages with her.

    But back to the necessity – yes, it is necessary. Our culture and the world we are raising our daughters and sons in is that toxic. When our president is spewing taunts via Twitter at the suffering people of California in the midst of historic and horrific wildfires – yes, it is that toxic and necessary.

    •     •     •     •

    Necessary. I thought about our advice to Chaney in January after being assaulted at school. The old advice of kick them in the balls goes out the window when you are a tiny 14 year old girl and you are cornered, out of view, with no way out, and there is over a foot in height and 100 lb differential between him and her.

    Our advice to her if any other situation where she felt threatened should happen: SCREAM AND SCREAM PROFANITIES OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU GET AWAY, HE BACKS DOWN, OR HELP ARRIVES. AND THEN SCREAM SOME MORE. Why would we, fairly typical parents, tell our daughter to curse loudly in public?

    Because people pay attention when a small, young woman is screaming profanity.

    Why? Because we are expected to be sweet, ladylike, compliant, quiet, and non confrontational, all with a smile. That is the gender norm. Something has to be wrong if she’s spewing profanity. So pay attention when you hear women like Lindy West.

    •     •     •     •

    When West is crass and profane, I don’t mind. Because it gets people’s attention. It is outside the norm of expected female behavior and whether you like it or you don’t, she grabs your attention to address issues that are that toxic.

    A recurrent theme throughout the book is Lindy living life as what the world would call “fat”. She’s in good health, she is smart, funny, and beautiful but that doesn’t matter to some – especially the internet trolls who have been absolutely relentless in their bullying of her. Death threats, rape threats, and the worst – a troll impersonating her father who had passed away. They were all means of harrassment. I honestly don’t know how she has endured so much of the vileness that the internet, and even some celebrities, have to offer.

    Lindy is an excellent writer and there wasn’t a part of this book that I did not enjoy. One of my favorite parts was when she took on comedy and comedians and their perpetuation of rape culture by making rape “jokes” a regular part of their comedy routines. I can’t believe I even had to type that.

    Her honesty is refreshing and we need more books like this one and Meaty. I truly hope that the paradigm begins to shift with this next generation but until then, I’ll be over here not being afraid to be shrill.

  • Bookish,  Feminism,  mental health,  parenting,  Personal,  Wit,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: The Joy of Syntax

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    Have you ever felt like a second person narrator in your own life? What is a second person narrator? Here you go:

    This point of view is the least common of all three persons, mostly because it’s the hardest to pull off …. You’ll recognize this point of view by the use of you, your, yourself with the absolute exclusion of any personal pronouns (I, me, myself). The narrator is the reader. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

    This sounds like the parenting life!

    The past four years of my life have felt like they happened to me. Multiple situations completely out of my control but demanding every bit of strength I had.

    Severe mental illness, physical assault, death, grief, angry and grieving teenagers, a traveling husband, a third teenager who slipped through the cracks, sexual assault, PTSD/anxiety/depression, police interviews, suicidal ideation, therapy appointments, psychiatrist appointments, loss of a hobby, loss of a passion, being used, disrespect, entitlement, addiction, lost dreams, lost friends, a new school, brighter days on the horizon…

    How are you feeling? What do you need? How was your school day? Your orthodontist appointment is tomorrow. The school called about the assault on you. You have therapy tomorrow. Did you take your meds? Are those boys leaving you alone? You can’t drink as much as you are. You can’t do drugs in our house. It’s time for you to be an adult. You love high school?! You have overcome so much. You are fierce.

    You get the point.

    The definition of the second person says that it can be tricky but it can be done; it’s  exclusively you, they, them. That is 100% accurate and correct; it is tricky.

    The exclusion of  I, me, myself is a dangerous way to live. It happens but it’s not without consequences. You miss what’s happening in your actual life while trying to stay on top of everything else that is moving so fast.

    It took four years but it caught up with me. Don’t worry because I’m ok. I have a great therapist. And a fantastic husband.

    I’m writing again. And in my research, along with my favorite “Ferris Bueller” quote, I found the antidote to living in the second person: change the point of view. Tell my story and flip the script to the first person POV where I can ask for help, I can say how I feel, I can put boundaries in place, and I can tell my story.

    Please don’t take this as me making it all about me. Because every good story has a balance; multiple perspectives and plot lines. And if the book is good, they converge and tell a cohesive and relatable story. But it takes everyone, even the antagonist(s) to create a rich plot. Because without adversity, there’s really no story arc and it results in something flat and boring.

    Our life has been anything but boring. Would I change anything about the past 4 years? Probably not. I certainly have learned from these years and for that I’m thankful.

    But I’m also really, really thankful that what our family wrote doesn’t resemble a horror novel and something closer to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

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    And yes, I unapologetically admit to being Jeanie.

    Isn’t writing amazing? What surprising thing has it taught you about your own life?

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Feminism,  Writing

    Dead Girls Don’t Need True Crime Addicts to Rescue Them: Part Three

    Part one – my book review of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner

    Part two – my book review of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

    Welcome to part three of my discussion of the true crime genre and the sensationalism of missing and murdered women. “Dead girls” as they are referred to in Alice Bolin’s book.

    In Renner’s book, he took a personal approach to the case of missing woman, Maura Murray. Woven into his “investigation” were intimate revelations, such as him scoring a like a psychopath on a psychological exam given to him by his therapist. Then there was his own family secrets revealed and his “falling in love” with a picture of a missing girl when he was a boy. Besides the psychopath thing, Renner has issues for sure. Rage, alcohol, and stalking tendencies all come to mind.

    He claimed he lost himself in the investigation but what we really lost was a young woman full of life and potential. Renner made little to no progress (I’m being gracious here) in his investigation so he turned his book into his personal pedestal of redemption and the recovery of the (never) missing James Renner.

    He worked out some of issues through the Maura Murray investigation and in that process he harassed her family, made some terrible insinuations, and created a lot of questions around Maura’s character that had little to do with his investigation. The book went no where and I’m honestly surprised it was published. It was pure sensationalism.

    Alice Bolin wrote her book of essays to combat people like James Renner and the “websleuths” who do his bidding. The true crime junkies who can’t get enough and go as far a finding ways to insert themselves into the investigations. There is a fine line here because there are obvious benefits to extra attention given to a case.

    But that line is crossed when the attention is focused on the perpetrator, the gritty details, or the true crime addicts like Renner who make it about themselves. And then the absolute worst outcome: they distract law enforcement with far reaching theories that directly harm the progress of the investigation.

    A criticism of Bolin’s book was that it wasn’t only about the obsession with dead girls. She addresses the use and abuse of living women as well and that bothered some people just there for the “dead girls”. However, I think Bolin subtlety and brilliantly proved her point which brings me to my own opinion of this genre.

    If we weren’t so obsessed with the “dead girls” would there be as many of them? What if we focused on the treatment of the living women and the behavior of the others, turned true crime junkies?

    Now, there is certainly a place and time for the appropriate attention to the missing and the murdered but even that we have to get right. Just look at the news, it’s the pretty, young, white girls who captivate the nation. But what about women of color, women on the fringes of society, the sex workers, the addicts, the economically disadvantaged, etc.?

    There are good people doing good work, I wholeheartedly believe this. But the obsession with hurting women has to stop. It’s not entertainment to watch or read women being raped, tortured, murdered, abducted, etc. It just perpetuates the dead girl obsession and desensitizes the viewers/readers.

    And these dead girls don’t need to be saved in a 47 minute TV episode. The missing girls don’t need to be rescued by the true crime addict who wants to run a podcast or write a book. They needed to be treated better while they were living and because it’s too late, their memory needs to be honored.

    How do we honor them? By treating each other better. By speaking up for the marginalized. By not partaking in sensationalized accounts of murder, torture, and abduction. And when we do come across a tragic story, asking ourselves if it is told in a respectful, truthful, and necessary manner. Both books certainly caused me to examine my own approach to these kinds of stories and I hope other do the same.

    And finally, James Renner and people like you, leave these poor families alone and let the professionals do the real work. You know, the investigators who aren’t writing books for profit.

  • Feminism,  Personal,  Wit,  Writing

    Wednesday Words

    No, I’m not on fire. At least not for the sake of other’s comfort.

    Anymore.

    Last night after dinner my husband asked me about taking care of some rather mundane tasks that belonged to other people; other adults to be exact.

    My gracious response was, “I’m not doing it. I’m tired of doing shit other people are supposed to do.”

    No kids or animals were around to hear my sparkly words so at least there’s that.

    His response was actually gracious. Because he is a very smart man. Well, actually he just said, “ok.” But whatever. Still a smart guy.

    However, I do think my abrupt answer speaks to where a lot of women are coming from these days. Especially women with one or all of the following: jobs, families, pets, household responsibilities, personal care, etc.

    We have been told we can have it all and in the process we have set ourselves on fire. Or worse, we have let others set us on fire for their own gain. They have taken advantage of our warmth.

    Now we are left burned. And hurting. Yet life moves on.

    Kids still need to get to school and activities. We have careers we show up for with smiles on our faces. Our homes need to be clean-ish. Our families have this crazy expectation to be fed. Even our pets want treats every time we walk in the door, even if it was just to get the mail. It’s exhausting.

    So Sunday evening, after a particularly trying weekend, the thought crossed my mind:

    What if I just stopped talking?

    I spend a lot of time up in my head with my thoughts but this was a weird one, even for me. It’s now Wednesday and I have finally figured out what that my silence would ideally achieve.

    If I stopped talking, people would see me.

    They would have to look. Forced to make eye contact. Forced to read expressions. Forced to make gestures… some probably not so nice if we’re being honest.

    We don’t see each other anymore. Our noses are buried in electronic devices. Even as we are rushing from activity to activity or chasing the next big promotion, we are texting and emailing instead of seeing the other person.

    And this lack of seeing others; I don’t believe it’s a female specific issue either. But because I’m a woman, this is my own perspective. And because this is me, I’m going to tell you what I, along with most women, long to hear:

    I see you.

    I see your frustration. I see your tears. I see your hurt over the destruction of addiction. I see your worry over your kids. I see the times you clean up messes made by other adults you are supposed to be able to count on. I see your struggles because we all have them. I see the well-intentioned fire you started to keep others warm and I see the harm it is doing to you.

    It’s time to stop the madness. Put the fire out and help another woman put her fire out as well. Because there is more than one way to generate warmth. Community instead of competition would be an excellent place to start.

    Build a different kind of fire. One that illuminates and allows us to see and support each other. We can all do better.

    And one last thing, take a look in the mirror and see yourself. I did that this morning and saw a woman doing her very best, and purposed to keep talking. Without as many sparkly words.

    Maybe…

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Feminism,  Writing

    True Crime Addict & Dead Girls : A double book review and commentary on sensationalized violence against women – Part Two

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    This post is the second in a three part series about the true crime genre

    • Part One – background and review of True Crime Addict.
    • Part Two – review of Dead Girls.
    • Part Three – contrast the two books and discuss the positives and negatives of the genre.

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️.5/5

    I picked up Dead Girls by Alice Bolin up a few months ago. I typically read a few books and listen to an audiobook at the same time. A few minutes into the audiobook, True Crime Addict, I knew it was time to read this collection of essays.

    The subtitle of this book is: essays on surviving an American obsession

    Very interesting (and promising) given how popular the true crime genre has become. Case in point: True Detective on HBO.

    I think True Detective mania mostly owes itself to the complicated power of the Dead Girl Show. The Dead Girl Show’s notable theme are its two odd, contradictory messages for women. The first is that girls are wild, vulnerable creatures who need to be protected from the power of their own sexualities. True Detective demonstrates a self-conscious, conflicted fixation on strippers and sex workers. Hart [one detective] helps “free” a teenage prostitute from a brothel and, seven years later, cheats on his wife with her. – Alice Bolin, Dead Girls

    The book started out strong. The premise of murdered and missing women and the portrayal of the cases in books, podcasts, TV, and movies was one that I had been struck by in the past but couldn’t quite put my finger on what bothered me.

    As Bolin so succinctly put it, the murders and abductions were happening to the (mostly) male characters. These characters had their own issues that they attempted to work out in presenting or solving the case. The focus was on anything but the victim and the accounts were largely told from the male perspective of either the male investigator or perpetrator. Anyone but the victim.

    Yes, in real life the investigation has to focus on finding the perpetrator but how we present the case for information/entertainment purposes frequently misses the mark in favor of attention grabbing.

    Bolin also tackles how living women are also used and wrote brilliantly about Britney Spears. Remember her first big hit? You know, the one in the Catholic school girl uniform.

    Baby One More Time: the one where we were all so distracted by the visual sexual overtones of a 16-year-old. Enough so to miss the hook:

    My loneliness. Is killing me.

    My loneliness. Is killing me.

    You would have had to have been living under a rock to miss 2007 Britney Spears and it makes we wonder if she was the public personification of what happens to women that are used for entertainment and dare I say, art as some have claimed.

    She also addresses white women throughout the book but especially poignantly in her essay Accomplices.

    I was able to exist in his world as long as it felt like a game I was playing, one that reinforced the narrative of myself as able to fit in anywhere but belonging nowhere, privileged with a special separateness. It turns out that this is the mental game many white women play in social (and societal) situation that they benefit from but are ambivalent about perpetuating. My trouble came when I realized that I was playing for keeps- or not playing at all but living my real, only life. – Alice Bolin, Dead Girls

    Ouch. How many times have I found myself, in a male dominated industry, willing to go along with the guys for the sake of my own benefit? Plenty.

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    And we certainly saw this in the Kavanaugh hearings.

    This book was also, in my opinion, part memoir. Bolin chronicles her childhood, college years, and eventual move to Los Angeles. There are also a lot of mentions of her favorite author, Joan Didion, and this is where the essays became slightly repetitive and Didion a distraction for me.

    But that is also a general downside of reading a collection of essays; each one stands alone but when read together, can either drive home a point or become overbearing.

    I don’t want to focus on this issue too much because it detracts from the overall message of the book and that is an important message. But sadly, some readers may be lost in the redundancy. I moved past it and still want to read some of Joan Didion’s work.

    Lastly, as I was reading it dawned on me that even the title of this book had a sensational quality to it. That’s certainly what grabbed my attention, especially using “girls” versus “women”.

    At least Bolin had the self-awareness to admit her choice in the wording of the title. That is a far cry from True Crime Addict. I can’t help but find this a brilliant way the author chose to prove her premise of the entire book.

    From a pure book review perspective, I’ll rate the book 4/5. And more specifically I will rate these essays a 5/5:

    • Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show
    • The Husband Did It
    • Lonely Heart
    • Accomplices

    Bolin is a talented writer, well versed in the subject, and the essays are smartly written.

    Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone interested in a feminist commentary on the presentation of missing and murdered women for the sake of entertainment as well as so much more. And one last suggestion, approach this book with an open mind and more than likely you won’t be disappointed.

    … but I thought I was writing “about the noir.” That day was when I slowly began to realize that my book was maybe not about the noir but about those forces of which the noir was a symptom, not about dead white girls but the more troubling mystery of living ones. – Alice Bolin, Dead Girls

    I’ll discuss this and more in Part Three. Until then, go read Dead Girls, it will not disappoint!

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