Thursday, April 25, 2013

Music and Musings and Women

I've been reading an ongoing discussion about female characters in books, movies, and other forms of entertainment. It goes something like this: I hate female characters, especially when they seem to be usurping a man's place/role. Why do you hate female characters? Is it because you are sexist? NO! You're stupid and probably ugly. I don't hate all female characters, but female characters are so often written from sexist and negative perspectives that I would rather focus on good know, men. But don't you think that is detrimental to artists who are trying to write/portray "good" female characters? What about the void that this lack creates in reality? Can't we have good characters that are women as well as men? It's too hard trying to wade through all the bullshit lady characters out there. I've sort of given up. That makes me sad. I hate female characters! There isn't enough yelling in this section! AAAAAWWWWWWWW.

This inter-web conversation made me think of a real-life conversation I had a while back with a friend. My friend loves music. He has a connection with his music that I can only relate to because it is a connection I experience through reading. We were discussing musicians and the types of music we enjoy. He commented that he doesn't really like female singers, but I should listen to this one song by this one lady. [I don't remember details like what song or what lady.] I agreed; in fact, I remember saying something like "I prefer a male voice as well. The deeper the better." And then my friend said something that hit me like a donkey kick: "Women don't experiment as much with their voices. They just sound pretty."

And I realized, damn, women don't get to experiment as much in music or anywhere else. PERIOD. And all of a sudden, I was pissed and defensive. And I started naming all of the women who have unique, strong voices that I personally love--Nina Simone, Patsy Cline, Brody Armstrong, Brandi Carlisle, the Dixie Chicks, Joan Jett, my own goddamn voice--and that's only naming a few. And here's the thing, I wasn't pissed at my friend. I was pissed at myself. I'd been saying to myself and others for practically my whole life that I preferred men's voices. But what I was really saying is the same thing I meant when I bragged about having more guy friends than girl friends--"I'm cool. Don't count my femininity against me. I'm not one of those girls. I'm not a girly-girl. Hell, my favorite characters are men. I like a man's voice. I relate to DUDES."

And although there is nothing wrong with liking male voices or male characters or men in general, there is something wrong with dismissing anything feminine or feeling like you have to justify your love of feminine things or females in general. If you are dismissing female characters, or judging them more harshly than you do male characters, or dismissing female artists simply because they are female, you are part of the problem. I was part of the problem. This doesn't mean we have to love everything or everyone woman, but we do have to evaluate our feelings about women because of the sexist culture in which we live.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Importance of Narrative

My sister-in-law, D, moved to New York last year to pursue her education. The kid misses her a lot as do I. D and I have a lot in common. She's the baby of her family. I'm the baby of my family. We both identified as fairly awkward teens. We're both artists. And we both love Art Deco, sundresses, and Neil Gaiman. So when her boyfriend came home for his spring break, she sent presents--awesome earrings and a purse for me, gourmet dried fruits for her brother, and a book for the kid.

I feel like the book was also for me. It's Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman. It's this beautiful "prayer" for a little girl. Wishes for how she might grow up, and how the world might treat her. It's the perfect blend of fairy tale magic and real world scenarios. I love it, so does the kid. Great present giving from an awesome Tia...

I read a lot. In fact, my whole family reads a lot. Reading as an activity has helped define and shape me as an individual and has influenced my views of the world. If I love you, I have probably given you a book because books and the stories they contain are how I cope and concentrate. They are how I define myself. I can tell you the books I was reading in moments of change in my life. I'm not sure if they are books that made me change, or if they are simply the markers I use to record those changes. Either way, books are often the yardstick I use to measure my emotional and philosophical growth and development.

Stories help us grow. They activate our empathy and make us more open to other people's experiences and lifestyles. They help us articulate our own experiences and lifestyles. They let us know we are not alone. Which brings me to my point: there is a trend in education to remove fiction and narratives from our high school curriculum. Curriculum planners want the focus to be on non-fiction, informative texts. 

The idea of more science- or fact- based readings in school does not worry me, but our society's disregard for the power of stories does. I see this all over. My students love to hear stories, but they don't understand how the stories they read/hear/see affect their view of the world. And we aren't teaching this skill. They are reading--Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars. But they can't explain the difference between Katniss, Bella, and Katherine. They don't know how these female characters are shaping their personal views of femininity and women's roles in the world. They don't understand the connection between entertainment and personal beliefs. But they want to. This is what hurts the most, at least for me. This disregard does not come from our children. They are seeking out stories to influence them, but they haven’t been taught to understand and question this influence.

I want the written word to touch people’s lives, but I want more than anything for people to understand the difference between Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl and Bella. I want people—adults and children alike—to be able to critically look at the way language shapes perceptions. I want society to see the power of language, a power for change and beauty and growth or one of stagnation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Soul Mates

I am not a Romantic--not with a capital R or a lower-case one; I'm too cynical for that. Don't get me wrong, I love a love story, but I don't believe in a perfect soul mate or that every person has one "true" love. I married the first person I met who I could imagine talking to every day. I love him, and I am grateful that he is in my life. But in all honesty, I would be okay if he weren't. I like Elizabeth Bennett more than Jane Eyre. I hate Angel and Buffy as a couple. Romeo and Juliet makes me laugh (which I will argue was actually Shakespeare's intent, but that's a different blog post). When I was in high school, a friend of mine told me she wasn't going to get married until she found the person she couldn't live without. She wanted to NEED her spouse. We had a huge fight over this because I told her I wouldn't marry someone I couldn't live without. I would go see a shrink instead. This is actually something on which high-school me and present-day me agree.

There isn't one person that completes me, but there are a few people that make my journey way better. A few weeks ago, it was my birthday. My sister made me the coolest present--a Firefly cast cross-stitch. My friend, S, left me a message that brought tears to my eyes. Another friend, A, made a Hemingway coat of arms that he left on my Facebook. K, yet another friend, sent me a link to the Home Movies birthday song, which she has done every year since learning of our mutual love of the show. When I came home from vacation, I had a book that I have been wanting for ages waiting for me from another friend. And these are only a few of the kind, hilarious, thoughtful things people have done for me. I'm an introvert by nature. I prefer to be alone, but my life is richer due to the friends and family I have--people who refuse to leave me to my own devices entirely. I might not have a soul mate, but I definitely have bosom friends, which works out in my favor I think.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dealing with Loss

My daughter, a five year old, came in to the bedroom and told me, "Kibby died. I cried and cried." Kibby is a dolphin from the Dolphin Research Center. Kibby occupies some of my daughter's earliest memories. She loves him. Kibby died. Tears started seeping, but not from my daughter's eyes. From mine. My daughter patted my face and told me, "It's ok to cry, Momma. I asked, and Daddy said this is ok to cry about. I cried in the car." When she told her grandfather, she simply said, "He died because he was old. I will miss him."
It is amazing to see the way grief and personality interact. I'm a crier, sort of. When I read, when I get angry, when I feel stressed, I cry. But my daughter isn't like me--most of the time. Obviously, she's a five year old, so she gets her crying fits like most five year olds. But on most days, she's pragmatic. She became curious about death a few months ago. She wanted to know why, how, and when things die. After realizing that people die, she asked what we would do if Daddy died. I explained we would be sad, but she wanted to know "who would cook, and where would we live?"

When she was three, she asked for an Anatomy and Physiology cheat sheet. Sometimes we read it for a bed time story. She loves seeing the parts of her body and learning what they do. When her dad's car had a flat tire, she nearly jumped up and down in her excitement to see him change it.

After learning about Kibby's death, she was sad. She's wanted more snuggles this week, but she is dealing with her grief by talking about it and rationalizing it through her understanding of the natural world: e.g. when things get old, they die. It's amazing to me to watch her deal with issues that I still struggle with as well. It's amazing to see her personality and her personal processing.