Sunday Reading : Identity/body image, violence, death, & beauty

Closing the Loop : Aria Dean, The New Inquiry
Body Anxiety and a new wave of digifeminist art : Charlotte Jansen, Dazed
Visions : Kate Gaskin, Guernica
The Language of Violence : Danez Smith and Brian Russell, Poetry Foundation
Being Mortal : Zan Boag, New Philosopher
Beauty and Autonomy on the Bike : Claire Tighe, Bird’s Thumb
The strange, sad quest to match a severed, embalmed head with its story : Michael E. Miller, The Washington Post
Deadly Decisions : Ann Neumann in conversation with Sheri FinkGuernica
This Better And Truer History : J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz, Longreads
The Fruit of My Woman : Han Kang, Granta 

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Fury Road

 

 

Talking to people on a regular basis is more difficult when you’re perpetually angry. It’s also difficult to write about. There’s no way to dress up rage. Not unless you’ve got some righteous purpose, like your daughter was kidnapped or you’re Batman. Hollywood is good at making rage look fun, useful, or sexy.

The truth is that it’s ugly, generally useless, and always poisonous to the possessor.

Recently all of my female friends have been enthusiastically gushing about Mad Max: Fury Road. Many have described it as an amazing feminist film. From the previews I was looking forward to seeing it, too, and hoping to feel inspired by Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa just as I have been moved by powerful female characters since I was a little girl.

I suppose it started with Catwoman. Ellen Ripley. Sarah Connor. Dana Scully. Individual roles in movies that were not very good overall. The gist: Women who are (mostly) self-sufficient, tough, intelligent, passionate, and courageous.

At the end of Fury Road I found myself feeling… tired. Worn out. Wounded.

There was nothing wrong with the film and I really appreciated that the “wives/breeders” were not depicted as fainting, delicate little flowers under the protection of Furiosa. The fierce and knowledgeable crones were a great presence as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many women in an action film. Plus it totally passes the Bechdel Test.

The women I have admired do not have episodes of dizziness, weakness, disorientation, visual disturbances, and/or irrational anxiety. The problems they have can be fought with their minds and their fists. Maybe explosives or giant robot suits.

If I could fight my way to redemption, I would. I cannot express how badly I wish I had more than just a nebulous phantom to fight. I would bloody my fists on its face, bite and claw like a rabid animal. All the tension in my body craves it, something to push back against. As it stands, the very nature of it sometimes prevents me from walking down the hall to the bathroom unattended. I am perpetually behind in cleaning, emailing, writing, and art projects.

What does my fight look like? What are my weapons?

This past week I’ve been sick with a head cold that at times has made me especially weak, which means a lot of time in bed resting. First I read Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller, then A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman. In both instances each woman is faced with her own battles – Anne as an impoverished orphan experiencing fluctuating disability over the course her life, not to mention teaching the unruly deaf-blind child Helen Keller; Emma as a poor, Jewish Russian immigrant dedicated to the ideals of anarchy, art, and birth control for women.

Obviously their battles are much bigger than mine. I have always been grateful not to suffer chronic pain and it would be absolutely devastating to me if I couldn’t see my husband’s face anymore. Speaking in front of a crowd of strangers about subjects that will likely land me in prison sounds terrifying. The most I’ve ever done for any cause is write an article or sign my name to a petition online. (If only social justice was less social. Amirite?)

Rather than focusing on the dull subject of who is or is not allowed to feel like they are struggling or how that is to be experienced, predominantly what I selfishly take from these biographies is that if I can recognize the legitimacy of their non-physical, non-flashy fight, then what is preventing me from recognizing my own? If their real life sassy spitfire battles without guns are enough, why are my efforts not enough?

Anyone who has nebulous health issues knows that there is constantly a balancing act between pushing yourself forward and pulling back to recover. It’s one of the most insidious aspects of disability. What can I really do? What are my actual limitations? It’s hard not to trick yourself into feeling like a victim of your own body, or to put yourself in dangerous situations because you refuse to acknowledge your limitations. There’s bound to be missteps and failures.

At the moment, I am failing to recognize my own health and ability, even while consciously pointing to it, I suppose mostly because I have to keep trying and my reserve feels low, if not emptied.

I can say this for Furiosa – as I have tried to think of way to end this post on a hopeful yet honest note, a scene from the film comes to mind in which Furiosa’s will overpowers her injury and the circumstances surrounding her, and although it’s just a movie fantasy, it is a reminder that our will counts for something. I cannot apply brute force to change the reality of my episodes, but I can reach farther into myself and cultivate a will power that is not fueled by anger alone. In my spectrum of feeling, as a friend pointed out to me today, I am just as fierce in love as in rage. The women I have admired, both real and imagined, were not and are not cold automatons narrowly devoted to a cause. Passion and hope fueled and sustained their fight. If I burn out now, it’s because I’ve been feeding the wrong fire.

Things I’d like to see in 2015

  1. The end of white people claiming with desperate earnestness, “I don’t see color.” So many things wrong with that statement, I dare say, I can’t even.
  2. Jumpsuits. More jumpsuits. Everywhere. Except the kind that implies penal incarceration.
  3. Smut written by skilled, feminist writers. (Note: the gender and sexuality are not specified intentionally.)
  4. Whiskey rain storms. Preferably Woodford. Get on that, Jesus.
  5. The end to the necessity for lists on dating website profiles saying obvious things like, “Do not contact me if you want me to be your mom” or “Do not ever tell someone you have packed an overnight bag just in case.”
  6. Less “I don’t give a fuck” and more “I give the appropriate level of fucks most days because I’m a decent human being”.
  7. A study done to determine how cats make themselves 100x heavier when they are laying on a blanket you are “sharing”.
  8. For someone to call me a “mega babe”. I would also accept being grouped in with some “super babes”. I happen to know a lot of super babes so this seems more likely. Though none of them are in their early 20’s, so perhaps not.
  9. Any politician who makes blatantly incorrect claims about, say, climate change and does not within a few hours correct themselves publicly will immediately be removed from office. Kid President or Ellen Degeneres can take over until someone suitable replaces the former putz.
  10. Art trades that don’t involve me apologizing a million times for being such a slack ass about it. (I’m not going to start by apologizing again, but I will say that I have not forgotten those I owe work.)
  11. An orchid that survives.
  12. More singing. I love to sing. Did you know that? Probably not. It’s a secret. I don’t want it to be a secret anymore.
  13. For people to actually read their emails instead of skimming over them and making the whole effort at communication ineffectual for both parties.
  14. To come up with answer to “what do you want to do?” that is more than just “be a mermaid”.
  15. Three C’s: Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage. From me. From you. From everyone.

Happy New Year, everyone!