Reading this obituary
of Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church --
Fred Waldron Phelps was born in Meridian, Miss., on Nov. 13, 1929. After his mother died of cancer, he was mostly raised by an aunt. His father, a detective for the Southern Railway, was often away on business. He was ordained as a Baptist minister at 17 and bounced around as a street-corner preacher while taking classes at various colleges.
-- made me think that maybe this guy is the all-grown-up version of Francis Tarwater, from Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away
Truly, would explain a lot. Don't let the door hit you on your way out, mister.
i.e. Heather Havrilesky, my favorite advice columnist working today (now that Ask Barf and Dear Sugar are ended):
"If you have a big, imaginative brain and you naturally think think think in circles anyway, obsession is like coming home to mama. Only mama is more like a vengeful, unforgiving god. Mama is the fucking Heat Miser
And when you have two people like this...
"Relationship questions on this site are littered with the bones of people who believed there was a way to decide how they were going to feel later."
"If someone had figured out a way to turn off unwanted romantic feelings at will they'd be a billionaire and you'd see it sold at pharmacies across the world."
"this is one of those questions where if you have to ask the answer is no."
Katy Perry's Grammy's performance of "Dark Horse" was visually fucking great
, but the song didn't come across so well. Which is not to say I think Katy Perry is any great vocal talent... but I really love this song, it deserves something steadier. I've been listening to it on repeat today. So here you go, enjoy this super kitschy lyrics video. Aside from the central question, "So you wanna play with magic?"
the best lines belong to Juicy J: "She's a beast / She'll eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer / be careful, try not to lead her on / shorty's heart is on steroids cuz her love is so strong / she's sweet as pie but if you break her heart, she turn cold as a freezer." Which of course, goes back to my favorite nursery rhyme: "And when she was good, she was very, very good / and when she was bad, she was horrid."
There's a lot of hate for Katy Perry -- do you ever feel like a plastic bag? --
but she's one of my favorite Top-40 pop stars. I think I just really enjoy her imagery. I really like "Roar."
The video is quite great. Any video that has a tiger eating an asshole earns points from me. I love "E.T."
for being as creepy as a Top-40 can be without being, you know, (too) rapey. Then there's the songs I don't like that much, like "The One That Got Away"
and "Part Of Me,"
but I'm still like, okay, that's an acceptable pop song that's a little different, has a little bit of an attitude. Still have fun videos. I like the girl, what can I say. And I was not expecting to, considering she started off as a Christian artist
. It's okay, she's evil now
(title is from a disappointed Christian, but I mean it sincerely!). She's with the Illuminati.
And then there's "Hot N Cold." Oh, how I love "Hot N Cold." The veil, the raccoon eyes, the hair in her hip-hop scene. In my alternate reality I wear pink matte lipstick, see. I feel like Katy Perry would wear my fictional make-up line, Frantic. And then the lyrics, of course. Yeah, you PMS like a bitch. I would know.
On a related note:Are you ready for a perfect storm?
Well, are ya, punk?
New Year's Resolution #1
: Get serious about writing. It's put up or shut up time. Those novels are not going to write themselves.
You may have been wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past two years (aside from getting a Master's degree and working almost full-time). Well, I've been mulling. I've been outlining. I've been making playlists. I've been reading (not enough). And now, I am absolutely ready to make a serious go at a novel. But I'm at a crossroads: where do I start?
: Novel 1 out of 3 of my "American fascism" trilogy. Set in a contemporary city in a slightly-alternative, highly-corrupt and "materialistic" America, it's more in the vein of Lewis's It Can't Happen Here
than Roth's The Plot Against America
. One of my main characters, in law enforcement, is a "winner" in the current social landscape; the other one, a journalist, is struggling. A new religious movement, and a new political party, sweeps the nation with the promise of transformative, transcendental change. Now I love this story. I love the messy, desperate, self-deceiving characters. I kind of live and breathe them, actually - I stay up late tinkering with the outline, writing random scenes. I've spent so much time planning this story, and am so excited about this story, that I could probably write it fairly quickly. This is, hands-down, the option with the most momentum and passion behind it. But: it's pretty political, obviously. No John Galt speeches, and hopefully it's not a polemic - it's way more focused on characters' inner lives than the grit of political issues - but it's political. It might piss people off. And I worry that a potentially "controversial" book isn't the right choice for a debut.
: A stand-alone story about young Americans studying and working abroad in a fictionalized Indonesia. The overarching theme is self-discovery: discovering what truly matters to you, what you'd be willing to do to get it, and who you really are. The other theme is the interaction between the (naturally) self-absorbed post-grads and the politics of the foreign country that's hosting them, which is experiencing Sukarno-style turbulence. So we've got a few overlapping stories: an ambitious scholar falls in love with the girl of his dreams, but she's heading toward a psychotic break; a rich kid with poor grades finds his calling with the military general who knows his father; one dude turns into a prophet and starts his own (very small) religion. Now I "know" far less about Option #2
than Option #1
. I know the contours of the plot and the way each character develops, but I haven't spent as much time processing it. I just came up with the title today. I don't know the characters as well, and except for the girl on the verge of a psychotic break who becomes convinced she's possessed by the mask she's studying... I'm not as enthusiastic about this story. On the other hand, I feel like it would make more "sense" to start here - it's a stand-alone, I too just finished grad school, I don't think it would be at all controversial.
Both of these stories are concerned with the way the personal snake wraps around the political axis (or sometimes, vice versa) - it's by far my favorite thing to write about. Both flirt with horror (psychic powers in Option #1
, evil spirits in Option #2
), though that's not the main focus of either. But they otherwise feel very different.
If I had my way, I'd keep going full-speed ahead on Option #1
. But I worry that that's not the strategic
choice, right now.
One of the most common conversations I get into with friends who discover that I really like horror movies is this: "Why are the ghosts/demons always women?" It's an age-old question, one that I've probably talked about already, but once you point it out to someone you can't stop noticing it. I've even noticed it in my own writing: I'm way more likely to write a female ghost than a male one, even though when you watch those shitty ghost re-enactment shows, the ratio seems to be about 50-50. If these little testimonials are any indication, you're just as likely to be haunted by Great-Uncle Bob as Great-Aunt Millie.*
I have a few theories that I offer when asked the aforementioned question:
- Women are more likely to be disenfranchised with limited options in real life, so their only recourse for the plethora of wrongs done to them is supernatural vengeance (c.f. the rape-and-revenge ghost movies like Shutter and Rose Red, or even that old samurai ghost story retold in Kwaidan, as well as the occasional slow-burner like Lake Mungo or Ghost Story)
- Women are considered closer to wilderness, savagery, evil, insanity, magic, so they are either explicitly more susceptible to the supernatural or just the quicker, lazier, easier option for the creator (c.f. a whole bunch of stuff, from Evil Dead and Infection to The Ring and Noroi and The Haunting of Hill House)
- Women are more likely to die a violent death - this goes with #1 (c.f. Ju-On, Silent Hill, What Lies Beneath, Retribution, all them Korean Whispering Corridors movies)
Demon possession movies are an extreme version of Theory #2
, because demon possession in real life tends to be colored by the perception that young women are: 1) walking potential demon vessels, because they are the weaker/fairer sex, or further from God, or natural followers, or something - I really don't know, but something about Eve?; 2) really tasty demon food, sometimes because they can potentially bear the anti-Christ; 3) more likely to give in to temptation?; 4) so sweet and innocent and virginal and protected that it's more tragic and horrifying all-around (the same reason some Christians say believers are more likely to be attacked by demons: they're a more impressive conquest); 5) NO ONE EXPECTS THE LITTLE GIRL.
If you look at movies like Emily Rose
, The Exorcist
, and The Last Exorcism
, wherein you've got a pretty teenaged girl
writhing around in her nightgown and talking dirty to stiff, straight-backed male priests - and of course, the implication that the Devil has literally invaded this girl's body - you've got to conclude that there's some psycho-sexual shit going on, like the Devil is mocking and showing off our society's sexualization of young women who are, nonetheless, still absolutely required to be good girls (a lady in the street but a freak in the bed, and all that). Like we are so used to ogling and objectifying young women, well look at her now
. Like the most grotesque and disturbing thing we can think of, as a culture, is a wicked, furious, enraged sixteen-year-old girl - precisely because they are supposed to be pliant, happy, vulnerable, something for Liam Neeson to rescue. The irony is that she's still all those things, of course, because as the Paranormal Activity
trilogy sadly reminds us, it's the demonic spirit acting through her body. The Conjuring
is all about all this stuff, but also highlights a couple less common, but still pervasive themes:
- Ghosts and demons and poltergeists alike attack families when the father is out of town. Strangely, this actually does correspond to those ghost re-enactment shows. I always assume it's because the malevolent entity thinks the father is the alpha.** The father also tends to be the disbeliever/skeptic, compared to the histrionic mother.
- The truly most horrifying thing we can think of is an evil mother: a mother who kills her own children. I'm torn on whether this is seen as worse than or equally as bad as an evil father, because there are fathers-gone-rotten: Amityville, The Shining, Insidious. I think if you look at the news media, you get the sense that child-killing mothers are worse, because maternal instinct is assumed to be stronger, and men are assumed to be violent anyway. "Mother is God in the eyes of a child," as they say in Silent Hill, so naturally the topsy-turvy version of that Good Mother is going to be pure evil.
Put in this perspective, The Conjuring
isn't really especially right-wing. It falls right into place in a very old-fashioned, very Christian rendering of the supernatural genre. "God brought us together for a reason," Lorraine Warren says to her husband, who admonishes the besieged family for not baptizing their daughters. Note that it's also a very American Christianity here: the Catholic Church is no help because it's tied up in red tape, so if you want an exorcism done right you gotta do it yourself, Signs & Wonders style. It occurred to me last night that it's really quite incredible how much American demon possession movies align with the world view of a very fringe faction
of Protestantism along with other people who take exorcism and "spiritual warfare" into their own hands and are thus most likely to accidentally kill somebody in an exorcism. The most disturbing part of the movie for me comes near the end, when the demon is breaking the possessee's bones and Lorraine says, "We are now fighting for her soul!" This is in other exorcism movies too and I gotta say, few sentiments in horror movies seem as likely to lead to the deaths of actual people.
But I guess I've grown weary of movies like this - The Conjuring
even comes complete with a creepy haunted (girl) doll that needs to be kept in a glass case, how much more retrograde can you get? - especially when even Hollywood seemed for a while to be churning out new, different types of supernatural horror movies, like Insidious
, Cabin in the Woods
- not to mention the indies, like the extremely creepy and highly-recommended Lovely Molly
, problematic V/H/S
, The Moth Diaries
. I like to think that we can be more interesting.
* Speaking of Bob, David Lynch deserves credit for making one of the most frightening supernatural men ever, and one that clearly hates women, at that.
** Yeah, "malevolent entity thinks"... I know. Can never be too careful!
"Miles and miles of perfect skin, I swear I do, I fit right in. Miles and miles of perfect sin, I swear, I said, I fit right in, I fit right in your perfect skin."
- Hole, "Reasons to Be Beautiful"
This is an issue near and dear to my heart, so I'm actually going to respond to it: Can Male Writers Successfully Write Female Characters?
Rod Rees defends his female characters in a way that makes you really appreciate Cormac McCarthy's refusal to write female characters, because he just knows he can't pull it off. Because if there's one thing worse than a man who claims all women are incomprehensible, it's the man who claims to understand all women!
The old adage is write what you know and living in a house with two hi-achieving, confident and very ambitious teenage girls and having an intelligent and thoughtful wife (who happens to be beautiful to boot!) gave me, I thought, something of an insight into the female mindset.
Beautiful to boot! I'm sure that makes her easier to try to understand. Based on his descriptions of them, his female protagonists tend to be young, feisty, and ready and able to market themselves to men. They admire their breasts in the mirror, use their sexual wiles to get themselves out of a tight corner (the backseat of a Volkswagen?), and call themselves "a lush thrush with a tight tush." Rees protests that women do, indeed, objectify themselves. And yes, many women do - many women are constantly preoccupied with their bodies, but about 80-90% of the time, such preoccupation comes from a very scary place of self-hatred and envy. Even my most confident friends say things like, "bad news, I got fat :(" and when they tell their mirror selves, out loud, "I look hot," it's to combat the years and years of negative internal dialogue, their relatives' nitpicking, their boyfriends' secret stash of porn featuring women that look nothing like them, and of course, that ol' bugaboo, the media.
Rees also protests that women - grown-up women, that is, in the "visceral world of adult fiction" - use their sexual wiles. Yeah, also true; some women do. But again, it's accompanied by a whole host of other issues: flashbacks to uncomfortable/negative/non-consensual sexual experiences, fear of "something going wrong," and of course, the above body shame. There's also the issue of personality shame: "I'm too awkward," "I scare people away," "no one likes me," "I'm not popular." I'm not saying guys don't have this too - they do - but that this is a real insecurity experienced by many, many women (pretty much every woman I know) who are under pressure to be the kind of socially-adept coquettes that Rees apparently thinks is standard adult female behavior. And as I argued in my essay on Shirley Jackson
, women who fail to play the social roles assigned to them rarely if ever appear in fiction, and almost never as heroines. This doesn't mean there's not a hunger for them, among both men and women, which is why fucked-up, maladroit women like Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and Lisbeth Salander have proved so popular, and why I've got high hopes for Sonya Cross on "The Bridge." The issue, for me, isn't that Rees writes about women who don't exist. I'm sure they do, somewhere - there's a lot of women in the world - and they're probably fucked-up in ways that Rees can't imagine. The issue is that female characters like his are so obviously a male fantasy, and all they really do is contribute to the huge pile of excrement that is The Portrayal of Women in Media.
What it comes down to is this: spending your life looking at
women does not give you insight into what it's like to be
a woman, to think like one, to act like one. All it does is enable you to create avatars who fetishize themselves. When temporarily transformed into a woman for a movie, Dustin Hoffman came to the astonishing conclusion
that the world was full of interesting women that he had not deigned to talk to, because they didn't meet "his" standard of beauty - because he had been brainwashed. This is a really important discovery that more men need to make. To some extent, it goes both ways, but men have more social tools at their disposal: wealth, power, seniority, wit, or even just being "not creepy." By in large, women are still defined and judged by their physical characteristics.
Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype doesn’t work and hence struggle. Just a thought.
The stereotype, by the way, is the "ideal" heroine who doesn't "see herself as an object of male sexual interest" and doesn't "use her sexual charisma as a means of achieving an objective." This is probably the most woeful, enraging assertion of all, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Rees hasn't read a lot of books, or stories, or songs written by women. I mean, if he's really suggesting female writers write female characters who have no idea they're objects of male sexual interest, he really needs to listen to Courtney Love's entire ouevre, for one, and Catherine Breillat's, and Sylvia Plath's. Believe me: we know.
And actually, there are
female writers who write his type of self-fetishizing female characters: teenage girls writing bad fanfiction, copying what they've seen in some romance novels, some erotica, and male-gaze sex scenes. He's got plenty of company.
I'm starting to think that writing about contemporary politics (a political thriller!) from the liberal perspective is like trying to analyze security and war from a constructivist perspective: goddamn near impossible. Like a fish trying to ride a bicycle. Etc. My roommate says I will have bombs delivered to my mailbox if I publish this story, and I said nobody tried to bomb Margaret Atwood, but then again she could hide her true ambitions in extreme dystopia elements, which I'm not doing. This article
suggests I take my cues from David Baldacci, whose ads I sometimes see on the metro, or apparently turn to legal thrillers (also check out the conservative author's covers sometime. They are really very macho
Needless to say, I'm an Idiot Writer that does not think about readership
until it's too late.
As you can tell from the novel's playlist, it's mainly a love story. It's about the power of ideology, after all. Really more It Can't Happen Here
than anything with big block letters and the Capitol building engulfed in darkness and flames. It's not really about the people with fancy titles trying to stop plots - I don't even know what the President's name is, and anyway, can anybody really imagine me writing something where a politician is portrayed as anything but a half-cocked, rambling lunatic? House of Cards, this ain't. None of the main characters have any real national power, although the protagonists are Johnny-come-lately political activists. I also spend way too much time on interpersonal drama - I've been watching The L Word
and goddamn if that isn't the best relationship drama I've ever seen, although I am not surprised at all that the only thing that's come close for heterosexual relationships is the psychotic and unpleasant Nip/Tuck
- and rape culture and depression for this to be a true political thriller, I think.
- "Filth Noir" - Zeromancer: Sometimes you just have to risk it all to get what you want
- "Sometimes It Hurts" - Stabbing Westward: I hate myself when I try to get over you
- "Hey Man, Nice Shot" - Filter: I wish I would have met you, now it's a little late
- "Tensioning" - Sparta: The sky could fall, the bliss of beginning replaced with an ending
- "Not in Love" - Crystal Castles (Robert Smith): And we were lovers, now we can't be friends
- "Weapon of Choice" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: I won't waste my love on a nation
- "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" - How to Destroy Angels: Someone I could die for, there's no way I could ever leave
- "Bodies" - Smashing Pumpkins: Love is suicide
- "We Are The Lust" - Death in June: Hold the knife, bloodied, to the throat of love
Also, Glenn Beck's written another novel, and it's a (surprise!) dystopia
- as far as I can tell, the UN appears to be committing genocide in the name of protecting the Animals of the Earth.