Monthly Archives: September 2009

on heartbreak and staggering genius

Dear Dave Eggers,

You and I have things to talk about. I read your book – you know, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – when I was still in high school. And it is pretty ballsy to name a book that, you know? And high schoolers are pretty judge-y. I was ready to judge. But you know what, it is a great fucking book. You are fucking good at writing books. It captured the self-absorption and self-destructiveness of our generation better than I thought anything could, and how sometimes you can love someone so much it feels like it is killing you, and how we live in a culture that consumes The Real World and revolutionary art with equal intensity and no sense of irony. That is a big deal! You did a wonderful thing! Using words to say things that have up until that point been impossible to articulate is the highest and best thing that any writer can aspire to.  I really, genuinely admire that.

BUT, but but but, then you went and wrote What Is the What. Publishers Weekly described it as a “fictionalized memoir,” and basically you took the life of Valentino Achak Deng, who is a real-life Sudanese refugee from the incredible violence that took place there, and wrote his story for him. I understand why you did this, I really do. You are a huge literary presence and a famous name. You knew that his story needed to be told and you knew that if he told it no one would listen; you knew that if you told it instead, everyone would listen. That’s not a despicable observation to make, and obviously your intentions were good. But I still don’t think that makes it okay to have written this book. Because, bottom line, it wasn’t your story. It was Valentino Achak Deng’s. And all the reasons why you were able to make it heard and he wasn’t – because you’re American, you’re white, you’re privileged, you’re literary, you’re a public voice, you’re “important” – are the same reasons why I don’t think it was possible for you to do this in an entirely fair or ethical way. You have so much more social capital than Mr. Deng in this situation that there’s no way for his voice not to have been drowned out by yours, and for his life story not to be overshadowed by the story of the Heroic White Man who recorded it even though he had no personal investment  in the matter. At least, that’s the story that I’ve heard everyone talking about. When it was over, this wasn’t really about Deng or about the Sudan anymore – as Publisher’s Weekly also said, “Eggers makes him an icon of globalization.” That isn’t your job, or your place. It’s not up to you go to making an icon of anyone, unless they’re you’re own character and you made them up. We spend a lot of time turning brown people who have survived violence in poor countries into icons of something or other, we white first-worlders, and I feel like this project was advertised as something different and more honest and important. But it’s not.  There’s already so much of a sense that people in our demographic – literature-obsessed white academics – are hopelessly elitist and privileged and white and that couldn’t get beyond that if we wanted to, and I hate that you’re making that come true, or at least making it look that way. I don’t want this to be the record of how people like us reacted to the genocide in Darfur – co-opting it to write bestselling novels that don’t accurately represent the people they’re based on.

And also, besides what I think is the more important question of identity and principles, there’s this: as a writer myself (ahaha that was so pretentious!) I have my suspicions about this project. The facts of the matter are that you are an author with incredible skill at expressing nearly inexpressible pain and tragedy in words, at communicating the authentic experience of hurt in an astoundingly effective way. And you took it upon yourself to tell a story of some of the most ruthless and appalling violence in human history. I find it really hard to believe that you could undertake this project and not be tempted to add your own little literary flourishes, to edit the story in tiny and mostly unimportant ways to make it exactly the kind of beautiful and demanding and uncompromising and awful book you like to write. And if you did that – I’m not saying you did, but there’s no way to be sure you didn’t – it’s not really true anymore, is it? Not even in the kind of soft-focus Life Imitating Art way that you meant it to be true. That bothers me.

I know you’ve heard all this before; you are an educated and literary guy who knows about post-colonialism and white privilege and white guilt and white burden and I’m sure that cranky liberal arts majors just like me have said all these exact same things to you a million times because they don’t appreciate the way that you chose to make a difference in the world. I’m basically just writing because of this: I was in a bookstore yesterday, and I saw a copy of your new book, Zeitoun. The synopsis bills it as “the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina…  Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management.” The “one man” is Abdulrahman Zeitoun, someone who stays behind in New Orleans to take care of his family. I wanted to read this book so bad, Dave Eggers. I feel like Hurricane Katrina was such a fucking important thing to have happened in my lifetime and my home and my country, and I feel like I understand it so little. And I process so much of the world around me by experiencing it in fiction, and I love your writing. But at the same time, I really didn’t want to read this book, because I feel like I can’t trust you to tell these kinds of stories anymore. I want to, but I don’t. There is a kind of truth about the world that you get by reading fiction: truths about how people feel and think and love each other and what we are like in our deepest selves, and you can uncover laws about how our social and cultural and moral universe works. But I’m uncomfortable with the way that you’re trying to blend that artistic truth and True Stories; maybe I’m just a stick-in-the-mud who isn’t with the times, but if I read Zeitoun I wouldn’t be sure whether it was an homage and testimony to those people who lived through Katrina or an exploitation of them. Maybe one day I will figure that out, or maybe you will go back to doing what you do best, which is writing books about the particular subculture that you know from your own experience and publishing awesome stuff at McSweeney’s. I wish you the best.

Love,

Rachel

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yes.

From Salon:

“Thin women don’t tell their fat friends ‘You’re not fat’ because they’re confused about the dictionary definition of the word, or their eyes are broken, or they were raised on planets where size 24 is the average for women. They don’t say it because it’s the truth. They say it because fat does not mean just fat in this culture. It can also mean any or all of the following:

Ugly
Unhealthy
Smelly
Lazy
Ignorant
Undisciplined
Unlovable
Burdensome
Embarrassing
Unfashionable
Mean
Angry
Socially inept
Just plain icky

So when they say ‘You’re not fat,’ what they really mean is ‘You’re not a dozen nasty things I associate with the word fat.’ The size of your body is not what’s in question; a tape measure or a mirror could solve that dispute. What’s in question is your goodness, your lovability, your intelligence, your kindness, your attractiveness. And your friends, not surprisingly, are inclined to believe you get high marks in all those categories. Ergo, you couldn’t possibly be fat.

But I am. I am cute and healthy and pleasant-smelling (usually) and ambitious and smart and lovable and fun and stylish and friendly and outgoing and categorically not icky. And I am fat — just like I’m also short, also American, also blonde (with a little chemical assistance). It is just one fucking word that describes me, out of hundreds that could. Those three little letters do not actually cancel out all of my good qualities. […]

[F]at should mean only having more adipose tissue than the average person, but it doesn’t. And every time you ignore what’s in front of your face to tell me I’m not fat because you can’t bring yourself to put me in that nasty, ugly category, you’re buying in to the idea that real fat people are all sorts of nasty, ugly things I’m not. Horseshit. I am a real fat person, and very few real fat people live up to the worst stereotypes wielded against us.”

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Stuff Heather Thinks is Super Great

Certainly not Maine.

“Ajab Si,” K.K. Even if I hadn’t seen the movie this is from –– Om Shanti Om, starring the always-fabulous Shah Rukh Khan –– I’d’ve assumed this was a love song. The way it’s sung, it can’t be anything else. And the fact that all the lyrics are in Hindi, a language I don’t speak? Even better.

The Genre Fiction Generator at Wondermark. Click on the link. I’ll wait to say, “I rest my case.”

This Bitch article on fat people battling eating disorders. I am all for size acceptance, as previously noted, but brushing aside FA activists with eating disorders because they “undermine” the movement? Treating the victims as if they’re making a political statement? Not cool, ladies. Eating disorders can happen to anyone, big or small, and they’re serious regardless of one’s size or stance.

Bring It On is becoming a musical. Brr, it’s cold in here! (clap clap) There must be a Tony in the atmosphere!

That even in this day and age, rats and leopards can luncheon together. I also like that this is considered news. Slow day, Daily Mail?

Karaoke. Boy howdy, do the Speedster and I spin a mean duet! Get us in a room with friends, a disco ball and a TV spouting lyrics, and we’re all over that junk. (Bonus points if the room comes equipped with Broadway numbers.)

Meeting new people. Rachel has a friend visiting, and what an A-OK guy he is!  Super friendly.  And I must say, I’ve never been so engrossed in watching someone eat in my whole life.  The dude is a machine.

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Stuff Rachel Fucking Hates

Parking tickets. I have gotten two so far this month. I don’t know that they were unjust, exactly – I understand that I parked my car in a lot for which I do not have a permit. Twice. Two different lots. I think it’s worth mentioning, though, that those are also the only two lots that are a) actually on campus and b)big enough to put multiple cars in. I think it’s at least worth asking why they won’t give me a permit to park there.

I think it is maybe fall now? I can tell, because sometimes I go outside and am cold. What’s that about?

Remember every crazy and patently false thing that Californians said in order to pass Prop 8? It is all happening again but in Maine. The thing that makes me craziest is the “schools” argument. What everyone is saying is that “if this bill passes allowing two consenting adults to marry each other in a private and non-religious ceremony, my child will learn about gay sex in school.” Which is a crazy thing in and of itself, and clearly baseless and insane. Except what’s even crazier that it turns out what they actually mean is “my child’s teacher may be forced to admit, if questioned, that gay people actually exist.” Like, can I show you this? This is the transcription of an actual TV ad being shown in Maine right now.

(Narrator) Some say that gay marriage doesn’t have anything to do with schools.
(Teacher) But it has everything to do with schools!
(Mother) After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, our son came home and told us that school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He’s in second grade!
(Father) We tried to stop public schools from teaching children about gay marriage, but the court said we had no right to object or pull him out of class.
(Teacher) It’s already happened in Massachusetts. Gay marriage will be taught in our schools unless we vote Yes on Proposition 8.

“His teacher taught him that boys can marry other boys.” Yes, s/he did, because that is factually accurate. It is a legal right that two men have in 2009. It turns out that you are angry, straight homophobic people of Maine, at the thought that the public education system will not be allowed to lie to your children the way that you presumably do in the home. I mean, you’re not even worried that people might say it’s okay to marry someone of the same sex. It’s not even about that. You’re concerned that they might admit it happens. This is so fucking crazy I can’t even deal.

It turns out I actually am completely unemployable. I went to a career fair at my school this week, and learned many things about myself. For instance, I do not look as hot as Portia de Rossi in business casual wear; in fact, I just look uncomfortable and poorly dressed, which is what I am. Also, I have no useful or marketable skills besides smiling widely and acting enthused. The only way I was even able to talk to anyone was by pretending that the fact that I have used Twitter and Stumbleupon for my internship makes it in “marketing.”

You know what? Hating a lot of things has made me tired. It’s been a long week, and to be honest this weekend is going to be pretty busy too. If you are in the same boat, maybe we should all just watch this video of football players dancing to Beyonce and tiny effeminate gay boys triumphing on the field of battle and call it a day.

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hey, i have an idea

Let’s not go see I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell when it comes out on Friday.  Or ever.

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wednesday night fever

HEY GUYS sorry I/we are not always great at blogging, it is 10 pm on a Wednesday night and I have four no five stories to peer-review and edit, six tiny programs to write, and a thesis to fuck up. Also I don’t know where my children are. I have just got out of the shower and still not put my groceries away and I told my boyfriend I would be free by midnight so maybe he could come over but it is starting to look like that was really wishful thinking. Anyways maybe you would like to read about lesbians instead? I know that is a thing I enjoy doing. Or watch this video of Julia Child making an omelet! You’ll love it! I can hear someone blasting Dave Matthews from across the fucking quad. I hope you’re having a better night than I am!

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Stuff Heather Thinks is Super Great

Sorry this is so late, you guys, but I had to go to a wedding this weekend and it left no time for blogging.  However!  That brings us to the first item on this week’s list, which is

Weddings. Man, I love love.  And I especially love it when the two people legalizing their love are people I like very much.  Such were the circumstances surrounding the wedding I went to this weekend, which involved a rose garden with sparkle-lit gazebo and several friends I haven’t seen in ages.  (The Filmmaker was there!!)  And the DJ who insisted that, instead of clinking glasses, a table of guests must sing a song with the word “love” in it in order to get the bride and groom to kiss –– cuing the wedding party to break into the Barney theme –– or the eccentric dancing grandpa-of-the-groom who ended the night singing songs he made up over the standard wedding-reception soundtrack?  Those were pretty sweet bonuses.  I danced so exuberantly, people may have mistaken me for a drinker.

Seeing the Filmmaker and the Soldier both in the same place at the same time. What a novelty!  Today after the wedding brouhaha wore off, the three of us met the Professor for lunch.  Weird and wonderful and honestly, kind of a whirlwind.

That’s Gay with Bryan Safi. Also on Current’s Infomania, this looks to be the homosexual male version of “Target Women.”  Sarah Haskins, scooch over a tiny bit.

Glee. I know all the critics are in love with this show, but I happen to be also.  Well, no: I am in like with it.  Some of the subplots are being rushed/not scooped to their full potential, and sometimes the “we are nerds/nerds are people too” message seems a bit too pointed (MERCEDES! When Kurt outs himself to you and says he’s never told anyone else before that he’s gay, you should HUG him!  Being all, “You should tell everybody else now, because glee club is for People Who Believe in Themselves!!” is not the right thing to say!), but… well, the covers are crazy-awesome.  Did you hear them do “Gold Digger” or “Don’t Stop Believin'”?  Man, the “Aca-fellas” episode got “I Want to Sex You Up” stuck in my head all day.  And I normally hate that song.

When I walk by a large bush and dozens of tiny brown birds whoosh out, only to settle on the tree two feet away. Always a nice moment, but particularly so on a sunny day (two of which we had this week).

The chorus of “Dead and Gone.” Heard this on the radio this afternoon.  I’m not a fan of T.I., the dude who apparently does this song, but damn, am I a fan of Justin Timberlake’s hooks.  Okay?  I said it.

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