Archive for October 2010
I like tattoos. I have two myself, and am planning on a few more eventually. I’ve been contemplating a book-related tattoo for a while now, but haven’t come up with anything particular yet. So, I was really excited to stumble upon this post last week at The Feminist Texican [Reads] about The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos From Bookworms Worldwide, a photo book by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor. These all take inspiration from specific books, whereas I’d like something generally bookish, but still: inspiration.
YES. Right up my alley.
What do you think? If you were to get a literary tattoo, what would you choose? And even if you’re not a tattoo person, do you have a favorite lit-quote or bookish image you could hypothetically imagine making a nice/interesting tattoo? Let’s talk!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Real post coming soon!
First ten songs on iTunes shuffle, plus a video:
1. Minor Threat–Fight Fight Fight
2. Ladytron–Blue Jeans
3. The Damned–Elouise
4. Etta James–All I Could Do Was Cry
5. Dead Kennedys–Pull My Strings
6. Sonic Youth–Hey Joni
7. Anni Rossi–Las Vegas
8. Rigo Star and Josky Kiambukuta–Bon Payeur
9. Dead Kennedys–Forward to Death
Sonic Youth performing “Hey Joni”
Big Corn Island, Caribbean 2005
San Diego, California 2002
It was very difficult to get decent pictures of these with iPhoto that didn’t distort the image with glare and whatnot, so I’m afraid these do Christopher Wilson a serious disservice. Check out his website for an idea of what his stuff is actually meant to look like!
So, somewhere along the lines–approximately at the beginning of this school semester–I fell way behind in the Don Quixote read-a-long. Sorry, everyone! But I did finally finish it last week. Which I’m a little sad about, because I had grown so accustomed to laughing along to new Don Quixote and Sancho Panza adventures on a regular basis, and had become quite fond of those two. In fact, yes, I wish the book had been even longer. But, better to be left wanting more, I guess.
A short synopsis of the story:
Don Quixote, a sixteenth century man living in the Spanish countryside, is enamored with books of chivalry, which he believes to be truthful in their entirety. Though a reasonable, practical man on all other fronts, his imagination runs wild on the subject of knight-errantry and he decides to leave his house and take up the traditions of knighthood, roaming the countryside to right wrongs in honor of his Lady Dulcinea of El Toboso (a neighbor who has no idea of Don Quixote’s proposed love or doings). He enlists his neighbor Sancho Panza to be his squire, and together they get into a great number of laughable situations and mishaps. They are a dynamic comedic duo who can’t stay out of trouble, and are often led into it due to Don Quixote’s delusions of grandeur and danger. Everything he sees gets incorporated into his fantasy of knighthood: a field of windmills is mistaken for a gathering of giants, a herd of goats for an invading army, and a washbasin for the helmet of Mambrino. Everything that appears as incompatible with his fantasy is interpreted as the work of a devious “enchanter” who is out to hinder Don Quixote’s fight for justice. The people they encounter find him charming and indulge him, others try to bring him back to his senses, and others still simply have no idea what to think of him and are swept along in his fantastical narrative.
What most struck me about the book was how modern it seems. The humor is almost slapstick at times, the author is self-referential, and there are plenty of stories within the larger story (which I absolutely loved–learning the back stories of all the newly introduced characters added meaningful layers to the many things that were going on, and was fun!). I’m sure, too, that it provides numerous commentaries on that period of Spanish history, which I would need much more background information to make a constructive comment about.
I wasn’t sure that this book was going to be quite my thing, and was a bit intimidated by it. So I thank Stu at Winston’s Dad’s Blog for hosting the read-a-long and inspiring me to try it. If he hadn’t, I may never have read what is now an established favorite! If you feel the same way about Don Quixote as I did, I encourage you to give it a try anyway–I almost guarantee it will surprise you! It is hilarious and easy to read, which makes the length no obstacle. And it’s a nice reminder of the powers of the imagination–for both good and bad.
I will miss my regular installments of Don Quixote, which had become an integral part of my weekly routine (when not busy otherwise). In fact, this is a book I can DEFINITELY see reading again, maybe even more than once. And I hardly ever feel that way. Sigh. Nostalgic for it already!
Is that not the cutest author name and cover combo ever? Adorable. Too cute, maybe. And quirky. Like the stories therein. I used to have a roommate who was really into Banana Yoshimoto, so I’d heard good things.
This book has two stories in it. Both feature young women narrators who are dealing with the loss of someone they loved. Curiously, both also deal with transfeminine gender expression, in sometimes interesting but mostly insensitive ways.
In the title story, Kitchen, Mikage faces her grandmother’s death alone, as she has no other family members. Yuichi, a pushy young man who had worked for Mikage’s grandmother, persuades her to come live with him and his mother Eriko (which I thought was strange and kind of creepy, frankly). Mikage, who has a thing for kitchens and falls in love with Yuichi’s and Eriko’s, agrees to stay with them temporarily but settles into a long-lasting comfort and together they form a family. Tragedy strikes again, though, and transwoman Eriko is murdered at the nightclub where she works by a man who had been stalking her and claims that she had deceived him into believing that she was a woman when she was “really a man” and that her murder was therefore justified and understandable.
Short rant. Now, Yuichi and Mikage loved Eriko and admired her, but even they laughed a bit behind her back and used the wrong pronouns in reference to her, even after her murder, without ever considering that they were contributing to a culture in which violence against feminine persons and transwomen in particular is so pervasive and trivialized and all too often fatal. I mean, really: make the connection. It’s right in front of you. What the hell, guys? This really bothered me, and took away from a story that…well, that I wasn’t particularly enjoying in the first place, honestly. End rant.
Anyway, so in losing the tie that they felt bonded them as family, they start to redefine their loving bond while simultaneously dealing with death.
There were some nice descriptions in this story, but the characters were all over the place and I didn’t ever feel like I understood any of them, even on a superficial level, which made it hard to care what happened to them.
I liked the second story a lot better, but that’s not saying much. In “Moonlight Shadow,” Satsuki is struggling to endure the loss of her first and only boyfriend, Hitoshi. She meets a strange young woman around her age while out jogging on the bridge near the intersection where Hitoshi was killed in a car accident while driving home the girlfriend of his younger brother. The woman on the bridge takes an interest in her, and seems to have some kind of supernatural powers or something, so she holds our young narrator’s interest long after she jogs away. While she has taken up running, Hitoshi’s younger brother, also dealing with the death of his girlfriend, takes to wearing her skirts. Kids at school make fun of him, but he doesn’t care. Satsuki does though, which is annoying since she recognizes that his cross-dressing and her running allow them each to cope in the same way.
Short rant. Attention, everyone!: If you feel threatened by someone else’s gender presentation or cross-dressing, it’s your own problem! You have no stake in anyone else’s presentation. I might have read this more generously–like, that Satsuki was just worried that he wasn’t grieving properly or something–if it hadn’t been for my experience with the first story. As it was, it read like she was more concerned with the strength of his masculinity than his emotional health. Maybe she’s trying to make some kind of statement about gender roles and loss with these stories? If so, I didn’t get it and I don’t like the she played it out on individual bodies. End rant.
Eventually, the mysterious woman on the bridge offers Satsuki a once-every-hundred-years opportunity to witness something otherworldly, and Satsuki finds closure.
So, okay, I didn’t mind the second story so much. It was much more cogent than the first, at least. But these stories didn’t live up to my expectations. The writing is a bit sweet and her words seem to flit aimlessy, falling into sentences that don’t align properly. Cute, quirky, kind of forgettable. People really seem to like Yoshimoto, but I don’t get it. Did I just start with the wrong book? Does anyone have a different reading of these stories? I’d be curious to know.
I went to the release party for this book last week, and devoured it that night and over the following few days. I stayed up late and put off doing schoolwork so that I could keep reading it. This post is going to be less like my regular reviews and more like an ode, or a declaration of renewed love. It will be long, and somewhat personal. And probably a little cheesy, because I always get this fuzzy feeling when I think about riot grrl or try to articulate anything about it. So, that said…
I was an incredibly unhappy pre-teen/early teenager (who wasn’t?) and I latched onto punk rock as the thing that would get me through high school. And, largely, though not singularly, it did. Instead of taking notes in class, I scribbled lyrics to my favorite punk songs in my notebooks and on the soles of my shoes, and for a while cared about nothing else. Embracing punk worked when nothing else did, and helped me to develop a strong sense of self from which to locate and resist the things in my life that made me feel helpless. And though I always felt like punk was mine and it worked for me on an individual level, the scene at large was not my home. I skirted its perimeter, but never quite penetrated it.
I switched schools in tenth grade, made wonderful new friends, and with them, developed a political consciousness. I realized that not only would I make it through high school, but I might actually enjoy it. I don’t remember where I was when I first learned about riot grrl or heard Bikini Kill, who I was with, or any of that–because at the time, I think, it was not a “click” moment–it was something I noted as punk, as political, and incorporated it into my personal canon as such. I was ten years too late to have participated in the heyday of the riot grrl movement. I was not there and I have to remind myself not to romanticize it. But slowly, over time, it only became more important to me, as something specific, unsubsumed by politics and punk at large, and it has only become more important to me throughout the years. The idea of it has remained and strengthened its hold on me while so much else from that era has lost, well…not importance to me…but spark.
So, okay. Riot grrl. The book.
Riot grrl was a U.S. feminist punk youth movement which took hold in and around the northwest in the early ’90’s. A generation of young women had been told that feminism had happened, that it had succeeded, that the backlash had already run its course, and that there was nothing left to “complain” about. Their parents’ generation had achieved gender equality and feminism could be laid to rest. But, of course, reality told them otherwise. In 1989, a man entered an engineering classroom in a Canada college, ordered the men out of the room, yelled “I hate feminists”, and shot and killed 14 women. In the next few years, Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual assault by Clarence Thomas once more forced the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in the workplace, in schools, and in the home into the public eye, and U.S. conservative terrorism had claimed the lives of many an abortion provider. This was not the feminist-egalitarian paradise their parents had promised them, and many girls felt this a particularly scary time to be themselves. Many of them were attracted to punk’s anti-authoritarianism and counter-culture, only to find that the punk scene actually replicated many of mainstream society’s prohibitive hierarchies and they faced the same discrimination there that they did everywhere else.
Though they have always publicly denied any leadership role, the “start” of riot grrl is often attributed to the formation of the band Bikini Kill, which used its platform to proclaim girl love and positivity while bashing sexist oppression over its ugly head with power chords and noise. Bikini Kill’s founders Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail were disgusted by the treatment of girls in their Olympia, WA punk scene. They were pushed to the sidelines of the audience at all the shows or groped in the mosh pit, denied real participation and relegated to the role of fandom, as if they were just there to support the boys. They were not satisfied. Though they didn’t have the same experience playing instruments that was so often offered the guys in their scene, they utilized the D.I.Y. punk ethos and taught themselves and each other. And then they got organized. Kind of.
They invited their girl friends to meetings to discuss the state of the scene and to strategize the REVOLUTION GIRL STYLE NOW. These meetings were simultaneously activist brain storming sessions, slumber parties, and ’70’s-style consciousness-raising support groups where girls could pick up guitars, confide in each other about experiences of sexual abuse or rape, plan marches on Washington, deconstruct harmful mass media messaging, and gush about their latest crushes. It was a place where they could get together and DO things with other girls who would help and encourage them. Girl bands began to multiply and sing–nay, scream–about the things that were important to them, and a reformation of the punk scene and, hopefully, society at large, was underway. At least, that’s how it must have felt in those early years, as more and more girls in their teens and early twenties got involved and radicalized.
This movement was pre-blog and online social networking and all that, so riot grrls would communicate primarily through zines, a cut-and-paste collaging/booking project, the distribution of which was pretty indispensable to the whole operation. They also identified themselves by writing on themselves with marker. Sometimes this would mean big stars on the back of their hands, sometimes the words “riot” and “girl” on their knuckles. Sometimes their messaging was more overtly political, and they would write “rape” or “property” on their arms and stomachs to confront the viewer with the effects of their judgements upon their literal bodies. Though riot grrl was most active in Olympia and Washington, girls around the U.S. started to get wind of it and were intrigued, especially as bands like Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy started touring through their hometowns.
The riot grrls had male allies who would sometimes show their support by wearing plastic barrettes in their hair or coming to their shows in skirts. There were boys in riot grrl bands. But, overwhelmingly, the response of the male-dominated punk scene was negative. Kathleen Hanna was laughed at behind her back by guys she had thought were her friends. The girls in Bikini Kill were heckled and threatened while onstage, criticized for being divisive, and challenged because of their “girls to the front of the stage” policy. All this was bad enough, but the girls were prepared for opposition from the outside. What they weren’t prepared for was destruction that would come from within the movement itself.
After Kathleen’s and Tobi’s friends in Nirvana went platinum almost overnight, their scene suddenly looked like a goldmine to certain corporate music entities and mass media outlets. After a few unsettling magazine interviews which had reduced the complex and still emerging movement to a de-politicized fashion trend and patronizing lifestyle piece about angry girls in combat boots and lipstick (how cute, this angsty teen girl rebellion, they seemed to say), the original riot grrls were horrified at how easily their ideas were commodified, non-radicalized, and sold back to the very girls they had wanted to reach, organically and truly. They asked that everyone associated with the movement deny interviews and called for a media blackout. They wanted to get word about riot grrl to the masses, but not through the efforts of capitalism. But riot grrl was a non-authoritative, non-hierarchical structure–there’s debate about whether or not it can even be truly referred to as a movement, both in and outside of riot grrl–and individual interests came into conflict. Riot grrl was loosely defined as whatever girls needed it to be, since it was by and for them and any girl who needed it could define it for herself. But without official leadership, certain rifts could not be healed, and the group splintered in many directions. At the same time that girls far from riot grrl’s hotspots were learning about it through magazine articles and trying to get involved, many of the original riot girls were already starting to see that riot grrl was becoming something they didn’t intend. It was out of control, prey to co-optation, and they were disassociating from it.
Riot grrl had grown from a small group of like-minded friends who knew each other personally, to a relatively large network of girls from all over. Some girls got involved because they were interested in feminism, some were drawn to the music/aesthetic, and others because they saw it as a factor for coolness and a certain kind of underground popularity. Others felt excluded from it because it was clique-ish, they didn’t feel punk enough, or because it was seemingly dominated by middle class white girls who wanted to bond over GIRL<3LOVE but were unwilling to examine their race and class privilege. These criticisms were entirely valid and all too true, and the author, a middle class white girl–now woman–with a personal connection to riot grrl which she states upfront, thankfully takes them seriously and does not let her critical eye rest in discussions of the movement’s internecine struggles. She also consistently points out that the title of the book is misleading, for of course there is not one true story of the riot grrl revolution at all; there are many of them and, I will add, she did excellent research in attempting to uncover as many possible tellings she could and compiling them into something cohesive and, hopefully, accurate for as many people as possible.
By ’95, the movement would be declared dead by pretty much everyone who’d been plugged in enough to know about it. The use of the phrase “girl power” to describe the Spice Girls phenomena was a capitalist dance on riot grrl’s grave.
I play multiple instruments. I play out in one band on a regular basis and might start a second, too. There is still plenty of sexism in music, in both mainstream and non-mainstream spheres, let me tell you (another time, though, because I could just rant about that forever)!
But there are also TONS of awesome women making all kinds of music right now (I’m talking non-mainstream specifically). Like, more than there have been in a long time, and noticeably so. I’ve read more than a few articles about the recent resurgence of indie “girl groups” in the last few weeks (though I would say the “resurgence” is not all that recent) and have heard plenty of (male) complaints about the girl-band “schtick” and blah blah blah I just don’t like female vocals blah bullshit in the past few years.
Maybe riot grrl never was what it was “supposed” to be. Without a doubt, it let down a lot of the girls it purported to be for and by, and grassroots activists need heed this reminder of what happens when privilege is left unexamined. And surely a movement that so many of today’s young musicians are too young to have really participated in at the time is not solely responsible for the proliferation of young women in music now. But it sure meant a lot to me, just to know that at some point, not too long ago, a group of young girls had gotten together and made this POWERFUL THING that took on a life of its own and ROCKED and SCREAMED and DID things and MADE things and CHALLENGED the things that made them feel helpless, and when I see the phrase “riot grrl is in you!” written large on the walls and in the bathrooms of the venues I frequent today, I’m assured that it meant–and means–a lot to others, too.
It was hard to read about the implosion of riot grrl. Honestly, I felt close to tears toward the last third or so of the book. I felt the girls’ frustrations so very strongly. But the stories of what happened raise questions that make me feel better at least to ask. Did the splintering of riot grrl really dilute it’s message, or was its radical essence just transformed and spread? Can the utilization of riot grrl by increasingly diverse groups of girls, for more diverse purposes, really herald it’s death, or might it signal necessary re-imaginings? I like to think the latter. That social justice movements everywhere are an ever-changing, flowing, struggling process and that riot grrl was one time bound, Western incarnation of feminist youth movement that will surge and struggle for reinvention, again and again, in many places and through multiple actors, for as long as girls need it to.
In conclusion, here’s a video of the UK band Huggy Bear performing on some TV show in ’94 (I think). I’ve been obsessed with it all week. As Sara Marcus said when she wrote in my copy of the book for me last Saturday, “keep rioting”.
A few cool book-ish links from Boing Boing:
1. Learn how to make your own secret hollowed-out hiding place in the book of your choice! Looks like fun, doesn’t it? What would you hide in a book? I would love to accidentally stumble upon somebody else’s one day…and I love the one they have pictured! It’s strangely spooky.
2. Check out these “portable lighthouse keeper libraries of yesteryear”. I have a thing for lighthouses, old things, and libraries too, of course. So, awesome!