Friday, December 31, 2010

RIP 2010

Overly knotty language repels me. If I don’t understand a beginning stanza, I will often just amble off to something easier. I can be a fickle squirrel who avoids the nuts that are hardest to crack.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for immediacy. A between-the-eyes blam of an opening line can be a sign of authorial confidence, and for me that’s as good a reason as any to bond with a book—or, well, portions of a book. It doesn’t even have to be a blam that brings my random scanning to a pause—it’s often a whisper.

I don’t harbor any guilt about the philosophy of Just Flipping Around—they’re only books, after all, and I can do what I want with them. But I have noticed, in conversations with friends of mine over the years, that a lot of people cling to a Clean Your Plate approach to the printed word. If these erstwhile valedictorians don’t dutifully read a book straight through, they feel they are doing something wrong.
Jeff Gordinier, Link

Happy New Year!

This is a post dedicated to the poor pitiful books that I did not finish in 2010.

Not all of them are poor and/or pitiful. I just didn't finish them. I'm really not one for putting certain books or authors down. If I can't get past a few chapters in a book, then it's just not the book for me. Someone else might get more out of it than I. But life is short, and I can't waste it on what doesn't work for me.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. No...I know I'm lazy. Lethargic is my middle name.

Books not finished in 2010:

Adulthood Rites, Octavia Butler
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace -- too infinite
Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Hamann -- I know! I even wrote a post about it.
Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier
The Queen of the Damned, Anne Rice -- surprising letdown from first 2 books
Neuromancer, William Gibson -- I'm going to try this one again next year...
The Dispossessed, Ursula LeGuin -- I'll also be trying this one again...
Dune, Frank Herbert -- Ditto. Seeing a pattern?

Here's to a more prosperous and committed 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Modern Stone Age Non-Nuclear Family

I was going to point out the historical inaccuracy of the Flintstones celebrating Christmas, but then I realized it's a cartoon where cave people speak English, bowl, and use birds as record players.

I've been on a non-fiction kick recently. Which is a first for me, since I've been an all-fiction chick since...Green Eggs and Ham, most likely. But I finally decided to listen to Sam-I-am, and dive into reality a bit. Now I like non-fiction. In a box. With a fox.

So I just finished reading Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, which presents several controversial ideas regarding human sexuality. Although they really needn't be controversial. Most are fairly obvious.

The book's biggest focus is around proving that humans aren't naturally monogamous. The authors use scientific data and anthropological studies of prehistoric and modern humans (and primates!) to back this up. Overall, it's very convincing.

Plus I learned plenty of new Jeopardy! worthy facts. Including more knowledge concerning gorilla genitalia than I really care to know (I can't unread what I've read!). One interesting tidbit was on the Mosuo society in China, which sports a matrilineal culture. There, they don't even have words for "marrige" or "rape" (interesting coincidence, eh?). Instead, they have "walking marriages," which is a replacement for the serial-monogamy cycle we tend to uphold in the west (marry/divorce/depression/rinse & repeat). They cut through that boloney and just do the "Hey, let's have sex! With whoever we want! Really, no biggie!" It's one of those fascinating cultures where you're like, wow. Why didn't WE think of that?

The book also got me on a pre-historic streak. Now I'm reading Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, which has been kind of boring and offensive so far. Probably won't be quoting it anytime soon. Also The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, which has been much more interesting.

But what I appreciated most about the book was it's insistence on the separation between love and sex. That there's a difference between the chemical and the emotional. That sexual exclusivity doesn't equal love. That you can love someone without being "faithful." It's a difficult subject, for sure, and everyone has their own opinion on it. But just how much of that opinion is you speaking, and how much of it is the society you happened to grow up in? We've had the the prince-and-princess, happily ever after, standard Disney fare shoved in our faces for generations. Of course we think monogamy is natural.

Unfortunately that same argument gets a little bit creepy towards the end of the book, when the authors start seeming like bitter divorcees, trying to convince women that they should be totally okay with cheating husbands. And I really wish they addressed the issue of pregnancy more. In an entire book about sex, they barely mentioned its biggest side-effect: babies. They really should have taken that into more consideration when addressing sexual reluctance (in both sexes). Because...babies! It's 2010 and we still have accident babies, don't-ya-know *Palin wink*.

So here are some passages:

No group-living nonhuman primate is monogamous, and adultery has been documented in every human culture studied--including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all this bloody retribution, it' hard to see how monogamy comes "naturally" to our species. Why would so many risk their reputation, families, careers--even presidential legacies--for something that runs against human nature? Were monogamy an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, as the standard narrative insists, these ubiquitous transgressions would be infrequent and such horrible enforcement unnecessary.
No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.

If the independent, isolated nuclear family unit is, in fact, the structure into which human beings most naturally configure themselves, why do contemporary societies and religions find it necessary to prop it up with tax breaks and supportive legislation while fiercely defending it from same-sex couples and others proposing to marry in supposedly "nontraditional" ways? One wonders, in fact, why marriage is a legal issue at all--apart from its' relevance to immigration and property laws. Why would something so integral to human nature require such vigilant legal protection?

From savoring saliva beer or cow blood milkshakes to wearing socks with sandals, there is little doubt that people are willing to think, feel, wear, do, and believe pretty much anything if their society assures them it's normal

Freedom (from war) is just another word for nothing to lose--or gain.

Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving our jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid, or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: it depends.

Before the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war on cancer, there was the war on female sexual desire. It's a war that has been raging far longer than any other, and its victims number well into the billions by now. Like the others, it's a war that can never be won, as the declared enemy is a force of nature. We may as well declare war on the cycles of the moon...

In this ongoing struggle between what is and what many post-agricultural patriarchal societies insist must be, women who have dared to renounce the credo of the coy female are still spat upon, insulted, divorced, separated from their children, banished, burned as witches, pathologized as hysterics, buried to their necks in sand, and stoned to death. ...

If psychiatrist Mary Jane Sherfey was correct when she wrote, "The strength of the drive determines the force required to suppress it"...then what are we to make of the force brought to bear in the suppression of the female libido?

Christmas Poetry, Oh Noetry!

Just pretend you are Marty McFly and you have traveled back in time in your DeLorean, way way way back to the distant date of December 25th, 2010. Things may seem strange and outdated (remember cassette tapes!? sheesh!), but just avoid your creepy incestuous mother and you will be fine.

Do that and this post will make sense.

Why hullo there! Merry Christmas to you! Because it is Christmas today. It is not two days after Christmas. So there!

Here is a poem for you. A poem for Christmas day. Even though only the last two lines justify it as such.

I Did This to My Vocabulary

The moon is my alibi. My tenders throw hissy fits.
My scalp’s at the foot of the precipice.
My lume is spento, there’s a creep in my cellar.
You can stand under my umbrella, Ella.

Who put pubic hair on my headphones?
Who put the ram in Ramallah?
I’m just sitting here spinning my spinning wheels—
where are the snow tires of tomorrow?

The llama is burning! My heart is an ovary!
Let’s chase dawn’s tail across state lines,
sing “Crimson and Clover” over and overy,
till wonders are taken for road signs.

My fish, fast and loose, shoot fish in a kettle.
The boys like the girls who like heavy metal.
On Sabbath, on Slayer, on Maiden and Venom,
on Motörhead, Leppard, and Zeppelin, and Mayhem . . .

By Michael Robbins, Link

And here is an Emily Bronte poem that is Christmas-y (because I say so).


There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning;
While evening pours its silent dew,
And sunshine gilds the morning.
There should be no despair--though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart for ever?

They weep, you weep, it must be so;
Winds sigh as you are sighing,
And winter sheds its grief in snow
Where Autumn's leaves are lying:

Yet, these revive, and from their fate
Your fate cannot be parted:
Then, journey on, if not elate,
Still, NEVER broken-hearted!

Bolded is what I submitted for BronteBlog's Christmas Contest, wherein you submit a Christmas-y Bronte quote to win wonderful goodies. The contest ends on December 26th, so you better hurry! (Because today is December 25th! Not the 27th! You can still participate*, perhaps!)

So Happy Festivus to you and yours, and may your stockings be filled with plenty of fruitcake and re-giftables (seriously, who gives a copy of Paul Blart: Mall Cop on DVD as a Christmas gift? I have a feeling I was at least the 4th person in line to get it. Anyway. Merry Xmas grandma! Hope you enjoy!**)

* No. No, you can't.
** No. No, she won't.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Internet Lovelies

It's snowing outside and all winter wonderland-y, which usually puts me in the Christmas mood. Unfortunately all that "goodwill towards men" has left me broke. Goodwill costs money! And I can't I pay back my student loans with holiday cheer. I've tried!

But maybe some internet quotes will lessen my Scroogeyness.

Teens have issues with object permanence. As in, every object is permanent. Every pain is everlasting, every pang of loneliness and despair will be with them for the rest of their lives. Teens can’t process the future...With no real experience other than misery and despair, it is hard to imagine a future that isn’t just more of the same. “He had his whole life in front of him,” confused bystanders might say. And yes, that is exactly the problem.

The (sad, sad) implication is that adulthood is some sort of prison, with all of those boundaries previously tested re-established in an incredibly confining manner. And while society desires conformity, it’s the adult who has the brain plasticity, the support, and the means to actually traverse those boundaries in a sane and balanced way. He or she just chooses not to, and calls this an impossibility. Adam Phillips writes in his essay, “Truancy Now”: “A part of this testing, this experimentation, that begins in adolescence and, if things go wrong, is given up on in adolescence. But the adolescents who give up on this fundamental project in adolescence may turn into adults who secretly envy adolescents; who believe that adolescents are having the best kinds of life available.”

Jessa Crispin, Link

I don't know if you noticed, but there was a quote within that quote. It was like literary Inception...

The twelve-year-old me had different taste in fiction than I do. She loved nihilism and muscularity. Camus was her favorite, but she had a lot of patience for John Updike and John Irving and Elmore Leonard. Suburban Florida was her Paraparaumu. She clung to her books until her fingers turned white. If she showered one morning and woke up in my body, in my city, in my life, she would be really mad at me for complaining. She would be so excited by my apartment in the Village, where I can stay up as late as I want and not go to school the next morning. She would like my clothes. She would love being able to read whatever she wanted, watch whatever she wanted, order pizza at midnight and drink lots of coffee. I know she would think it’s terrible that I don’t wear lots of makeup, shop at Esprit, use mousse, and read Vogue. I bet, if she had a choice, that she would pick the guy I said No to today over the guy the adult me has been missing so much. But in general, she’d be grateful. She’d think I’d been doing a pretty good job.

Elizabeth Bachner, Link

Oddly, I feel less weird taking part in the make believe of religion, than I do in the absurdness of nationalism. At least religion has people who throw lightning bolts and shit.

comment by chris r, Link

Jay Leno, not Conan O’Brien, is the future. Why? Because Leno is more devious, sinister, and craven. These are things to aspire to be. Jay Leno would reach through your skin and deep into your stomach to fetch an undigested Skittle if he were hungry for one. That’s the spirit of Ruthless 24/7 Careerism in a strawberry shell. Make a deal with Russia to not invade Russia and then, when Russia least expects it, invade Russia.

Jim Behrle, Link

If I, 28-year-old Lindy West were to be suddenly transported back into the body of 11-year-old Lindy West, but with my current adult brain, would that not be the creepiest child of all time? I'd just be running all over the place, drunk on gin and tonics, screaming expletives and trying to have sex with adult men.

Gross. Narnia is weird. (I love it.)

Lindy West, Link