writtennessa beautiful, brilliant, brash & delightfully bitchy Fri, 06 Jan 2012 18:31:42 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.1.1 Can we just pipe down a little about Gabor’s? /2012/01/06/can-we-just-pipe-down-a-little-about-gabors/ /2012/01/06/can-we-just-pipe-down-a-little-about-gabors/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2012 18:13:23 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=493 I may be the only one, but I am not heartbroken about Gabor’s closing.

Before anyone calls me a blasphemer, I’ll establish something. I am one of those ‘suburbanites’ treated with such disdain by Gabor’s enthusiasts, and I’d rather some of you all back up a bit because you’re getting your indignation all over me. [...]]]> I may be the only one, but I am not heartbroken about Gabor’s closing.

Before anyone calls me a blasphemer, I’ll establish something. I am one of those ‘suburbanites’ treated with such disdain by Gabor’s enthusiasts, and I’d rather some of you all back up a bit because you’re getting your indignation all over me. I was raised in the suburbs, and lived in downtown Denver for a relatively short time, during which I felt both like a student of the urban culture I’d been missing out on and an outsider. I moved to Pittsburgh, where I lived in a real urban area–you know, one of the ones without police. Now I’m back in a suburb. The fact of all these patronizing references to ‘suburbanites’ in the comment streams regarding the closing of Gabor’s just serves to reinforce that feeling of forever being a spectator and not a participant. Forgive me if I seem a little icy and unforgiving on the closure of Gabor’s. I don’t miss 404, either.

I understand complaints about losing pieces of history. But there are historical preservation societies that we owe just for keeping hundred-year-old buildings still standing. We have hotels that have been around way longer than Gabor’s. I would be able to stomach this better if I thought many of the people speaking out against the conversion (not destruction–conversion) of a gross dive bar gave a flying fart about any of Denver’s other history. Does anybody know, or care, that they’re turning Union Station into a transit hub with a hotel on the second floor? I don’t hear anyone talking about that.

Why? Because Union Station is not a place that people can go to drink cheap beer, have flights of fancy that they are just like Charles Bukowski, and surround the doorway with a haze of cigarette smoke.

I’ve been to Gabor’s once or twice. I suppose I can understand the appeal. It’s a dive. You go there to drink cheap beer and smoke and maybe stumble back to your studio two blocks away to spend the night with a stranger. I don’t find that particularly titillating, nor do I find it very historic, either. Please, someone give me My Brother’s Bar on 15th and Platte, where we so often run into old friends unexpectedly, where the bartender samples us scotch, the dark wooden bar top is shined to a high polish, the food is unfailingly delicious and dirt cheap–a real piece of history, having resided on the corner of that block for decades longer than Gabor’s. And Kerouac used to hang out there, too, fulfilling whatever inexplicable need you have to pretend you’re a famous drug-addicted poet. You can bet if something happened to My Brother’s Bar, many of us would be up in arms, including the neighbors. What My Brother’s Bar proves that 404 and Gabor’s don’t is that a bar doesn’t have to be so hip and urban that it’s exclusive to anyone other than wasted twentysomethings.

A jukebox is a souvenir. It may add to the ambiance, but it doesn’t create atmosphere. By all means, love Gabor’s, miss it when it’s gone, but don’t let a retro artifact and some wall decorations be the reasons you love it.

Has anyone actually looked at Sam Roots’ Edgewater venture, the Providence Tavern? Looking at the four and five star reviews from people who have been and been back and told their friends, the Providence Tavern seems to me to be pretty solid evidence that the guy at least has good ideas. Unlike many Denver residents, I have high hopes for the Marion Street Tavern. Maybe it will be able to find a middle ground between preserving a historic place and creating an inclusive venue that neighbors don’t complain about, but where they actually want to hang out. And can someone please tell me how the phrase “really cool old-style neighborhood saloon” implies that he’s turning it into a sports bar? Come on.

My only question is when Bender’s is next.

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Perhaps a job hunt is in order. /2012/01/05/cant-do-this-job-forever/ /2012/01/05/cant-do-this-job-forever/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 19:37:04 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=490 I hate it that I’m writing about Hurricane Katrina for 3rd graders six years later. I hate that I wasn’t writing about it when it was happening. I hate that now I have to write it stripped of the politics and devastation, just like I did with Jamestown. I hate that I feel like my [...]]]> I hate it that I’m writing about Hurricane Katrina for 3rd graders six years later. I hate that I wasn’t writing about it when it was happening. I hate that now I have to write it stripped of the politics and devastation, just like I did with Jamestown. I hate that I feel like my characters should all survive, should be reunited with their dog, should all learn the ubiquitous “at least we’re together” message when their house gets washed away.

I also hate that I had to take “The Study of Parapsychology” out of the Unsolved Mysteries unit for religious reasons.

I hate that there can’t be “Before Birth” and “Your Parents” sections in the unit on physical and emotional health.

I hate that having a section on the Big Bang Theory (not the sitcom, but the actual theory, worded exactly like that) has to even be a question.

But I’m not the Editor. Technically I don’t even really work here. I’m a temp in the Editorial department so I’ll do what I’m told. In all honesty I will go above and beyond; likely, I will do even more than I’m told. Until I’m an editor somewhere else and do my job operating on my fundamental assumption that facts are not a matter of taste.

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A study that shows what Christmas is about. /2011/12/24/study-taj-hotel-christmas/ /2011/12/24/study-taj-hotel-christmas/#comments Sat, 24 Dec 2011 17:08:57 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=482 NPR just posted an article discussing a study released recently. The study examined the heroism and selflessness exhibited by the employees of the Taj Hotel of Mumbai during a terrorist attack in November of 2008.

Here’s a link to the article on NPR.

Because many of the hotel employees stayed behind to aid their [...]]]> NPR just posted an article discussing a study released recently. The study examined the heroism and selflessness exhibited by the employees of the Taj Hotel of Mumbai during a terrorist attack in November of 2008.

Here’s a link to the article on NPR.

Because many of the hotel employees stayed behind to aid their guests at risk to themselves, many of them losing their own lives as a result, a Harvard business professor concluded that this level of nobility in the face of violence and chaos was deviant enough from standard human behavior to warrant a study, which is quite sad.

This is not to say that I disagree with the need for a study or the possible benefits of doing such. I very much identify with the need to understand people’s behaviors and the sources they are derived from. To know ourselves, we must know others. This is an important maxim to me both as a writer and as a human.

But still, how sad that the selflessness of these middle-class Indian folks was so notedly different from what we would expect from people in as hysterical an event as a terrorist attack that a study had to be done to figure out why. Nevermind the idea that perhaps humans are possessing of a quality of inherent bravery, generosity, and solidarity with others in generally sticky situations. It’s almost as if the idea that people are innately good without expectation of reciprocity is just complete tosh.

The American culture is not the only one that produces uncharitable people. But American culture is the only one–at least that I know of–that not only condones self-servitude, but expects it, frankly, demands it. I think non-American people may not see as much of a need for a study like this one because the behavior suddenly isn’t as foreign and strange when you remove the layer of American ambition that clouds our entire perspective. Here, we laud qualities like ambition, work ethic, scrappiness; we praise people with cutthroat sensibilities for “getting theirs.” Other cultures still value charity, generosity, empathy, respect, compassion–all things from which Americans are divorced, at least when it comes to relationships outside the immediate family structure.

The people taking this study may think that they’ve learned something about Indian culture, or about the psychology of heroism or whatever they choose to call it. But I’m a little dismayed, because it speaks volumes about Americans that there was a need for this study at all.

I’m reposting this partly because I thought it was interesting in itself and partly to talk about Christmas. I know this is a sensitive subject for everyone. Bear with me.

I am a very spiritual person, mindful of my “religion.” I question absolutely everything. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself Christian but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate (real) Christian values or love Jesus. I mean, really, who couldn’t love Jesus, knowing all we know about him, not even as God but as a human being?

That all being said, I don’t celebrate Christmas in many religious ways anymore because I think the holiday has evolved. Let me be clear: I said evolved, not devolved. I don’t think there’s anything missing from Christmas. Because for me, Christmas is about charity, kindness, warmth, togetherness, thoughtfulness, compassion. All things that are exemplified in the metaphor of Santa Claus, and all things that we celebrate when we honor Jesus, if that’s how we celebrate.

I get irked when non-Christian people complain about the words “Merry Christmas.” That’s like getting mad because someone said “Bless You” instead of “Gezundheit” or “Happy Halloween” instead of “Happy Non-Denominational Holiday celebrating death as a part of life and honoring our lost loved ones.”

There is so much hate speech out there, I mean, real, divisive hate speech, you’re really upset that someone had the audacity to wish you good tidings on a holiday you don’t happen to celebrate? The fact is, Christmas isn’t a strictly Christian holiday anymore. So when you reject that “Merry Christmas,” what I really see you doing is thumbing your nose at kindness and good will.

I do think it’s good that Christmas is a time when we celebrate the spirit of giving. I love this season for that reason. But it’s more than that. It’s almost like Christmas gives Americans permission to be charitable, kind, and perhaps a little self-sacrificing. We spend all year doing nothing but helping ourselves, only to console ourselves by giving to food drives or pledging to NPR or donating to Goodwill or buying a cow for an African village once December rolls around. Christmas is the only time of year that it’s not completely bizarre to be a person who cares about others. Even though the story of the Taj Hotel didn’t have anything to do with Christmas, it still reminded me that in other cultures, being generous is natural, not behavior warranting careful analysis and data collection. I’ve met many a “Christian” that I would not want to share my Christmas with–and many a non-Christian that know exactly what this holiday is about. So I challenge everyone reading this to celebrate Christmas by doing someone a favor, giving someone a compliment, donating to a charity, or lighting a candle in honor of Hanukkah, not as a religious gesture but as a show of solidarity with others. And further I challenge you to continue that spirit of giving after the lights and the tree have come down.

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Aimee Groth: “Working at Starbucks is Hard” /2011/12/20/aimee-groth-working-at-starbucks-is-hard/ /2011/12/20/aimee-groth-working-at-starbucks-is-hard/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2011 17:13:19 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=468 As a former employee of five different service or retail establishments, I wonder that people aren’t getting tired of Cinderella stories like Aimee Groth’s. How sad that to pay your rent in between gigs, you had to stoop so low as to work at a Starbucks, and then were apparently shocked to find out how [...]]]>

As a former employee of five different service or retail establishments, I wonder that people aren’t getting tired of Cinderella stories like Aimee Groth’s. How sad that to pay your rent in between gigs, you had to stoop so low as to work at a Starbucks, and then were apparently shocked to find out how much work it was before thankfully taking more lucrative, rewarding work at Business Insider. I’m glad you found somewhere else to work, because pretentious people tend to make really bad cappuccinos.

Here’s what Aimee Groth wrote about her Starbucks experience:


Why Working at Starbucks for Three Weeks Was the Toughest Job I’ve Ever Had

By Aimee Groth | Business Insider – Thu, Dec 15, 2011 3:37 PM EST

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to work for Starbucks as a barista.

I had recently moved to New York City, and I was freelancing at the time. But I had to get a part-time job in order to pay next month’s rent. So one afternoon, I printed off a stack of resumes,and hand-delivered them to nearly 30 Starbucks in Lower Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.

Only one manager called me back: the one from Brooklyn, just a few blocks from my apartment — and the last store I visited. She offered me the job at $10/hour; and if I worked part-time for three months, I’d be eligible for health insurance.

I’d later find out that the store is located next to the busiest transit hub in Brooklyn, which makes it the busiest Starbucks outside of Manhattan. My initial idea of working a leisurely part-time job was completely false. This was going to be hard work. And a lot of it.

My first day was deceptively easy – watching videos of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on the store’s laptop with my fellow three trainees, and taste-testing coffee and tea. We had some pamphlets that explained the drinks, and our task was to memorize all of them — including some several dozen variations of shots, sizes and flavors.

We tried making a few of these with our trainers at the bar, but it wasn’t easy. There was usually a steady stream of 20-some people waiting in line, and there simply wasn’t the space or environment to train properly. It was always chaotic, with several people on the floor, calling orders, shifting from station to station, and asking you to get out of the way. Not to mention 10 customers waiting at the end of the bar for their drinks.

My first real 7:30 a.m. shift was jarring. The intensity of what goes on behind the counter is simply not visible from the customer’s point of view. During the peak morning hours, we’d work through around 110 people every half hour with seven employees on the floor.

Since there was no chance my new colleagues — or “partners,” as Starbucks calls its employees — and I would ever memorize all the drinks, we handled everything else: brewing and changing coffees (staying on top of which ones are decaf, light and bold roasts, while rotating them via Starbucks’ “coffee cadence” using 2-minute timers and grinding the beans, having them all prepared to brew — and never leaving one pot sitting longer than 30 minutes without dumping, since it’s no longer “fresh”), marking drinks (there’s a complicated shorthand that you’ve got to memorize, while translating what a customer is saying into “Starbucks speak” and calling it properly), rotating pastries, the food case, and tossing hot items into the oven — all while managing the register.

Just as I was tempted to remind my coworkers that they were new once, too, I wanted to tell customers that I was way over-qualified for this job, and hoped they’d see me on the street in normal clothes, not in khakis, a black T-shirt, bright-green apron and baseball cap.

On my third day, my boss handed my fellow trainee — who would later disappear after a 10-minute break never to return — and me a mop and supplies to clean the bathroom, because the toilet was broken. It turned out not to be so horrible, but again, I quickly learned to swallow my pride.

We got two 10-minute breaks and one unpaid 30-minute break for every 8 hours on the floor, where we’d have to decide between running next door to use the restroom (because ours was always had a line of customers in front of it), quickly eating a bag lunch (there was never time to stand in line and buy something from the store), or making a cell phone call. If you’re lucky, you got to sit down on the one chair in the break room, or on the ladder, because there were never any open seats in the store.

Some of my coworkers were more demanding than others. Most were nice and welcoming. And there were office politics. On more than one occasion I walked into the break room to see someone crying, or talking about other coworkers. I mostly avoided this, until what would be my last week on the job.

I told my boss that I got a new, full-time job, and could work until I started at Business Insider. But the next day my name disappeared from the schedule.

For many people, service industry jobs are not a supplementary income or short-term solution. And hats off to them — especially those who do it without even complaining.


 

For what it’s worth, I’m really glad Ms. Groth got some perspective at her service job, realizing it wasn’t as cushy as she thought it would be.

But what really bothers me is why she thought it would be cushy in the first place.

Most service people I know would be offended at the idea that their jobs were easy, that because their work wasn’t highly intellectual that it was somehow a piece of cake. It’s evidence of the myth that if you’re not being paid well it’s because you’re simply not working hard enough, which is pretty much everything that’s wrong with this country right now.

I especially love this: “I wanted to tell my customers that I was way over-qualified for this job…”

Newsflash, Miss Groth: half the people you worked with at Starbucks are, likely, “way over-qualified” for that job. My husband and I both worked at Starbucks, and most of our co-workers either already had degrees–some graduate degrees–or were studying to obtain them. We worked with former businessmen. Civil and optical engineers. And a God-damn-shit-ton of talented artists and musicians.

Also rich is this one: “And hats off to them — especially those who do it without even complaining.” Yes, retail jobs can be hard. But another misconception is that they just straight-up suck, which is also not true. Don’t assume that the people in a retail or service environment aren’t there for the long haul, or don’t take pride in what they do, or don’t feel a sense of accomplishment where they work. That is condescending. Plenty of people enjoy retail work because they like giving people things they want, things that make them feel good, things that are well-made. One of my most favorite writers is currently employed folding t-shirts in a mall, and she LOVES her job.

And really, what job doesn’t occasionally suck? You’re going to write the job off because it made someone leave, or someone cry? Wonder how many people have cried over at Business Insider? I bet it’s more than you would think.

So I’m glad you had such a revelatory experience about how hard it is to be a service worker, Aimee Groth. Here’s hoping you’ve gained enough perspective to stop insulting and patronizing them.

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Contrition of a Twilight Fangirl: First Class /2011/12/19/contrition-of-a-twilight-fangirl-first-class/ /2011/12/19/contrition-of-a-twilight-fangirl-first-class/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2011 02:06:04 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=464 Seeing the Twilight novels in the horror section of the used bookstore two days ago nearly drove me to leave without buying anything. Judging by the horror shelf in the used DVD section of Twist & Shout, the idea that the Twilight series ought to be considered horror because it is about vampires is a [...]]]> Seeing the Twilight novels in the horror section of the used bookstore two days ago nearly drove me to leave without buying anything. Judging by the horror shelf in the used DVD section of Twist & Shout, the idea that the Twilight series ought to be considered horror because it is about vampires is a fairly pervasive one. I don’t even think Stephenie Meyer would agree that her novels are horror–not that her opinion matters a great deal.

Those books are not horror, nor do they even belong on the same shelf with horror writers, whom I consider to be participants in the bravest genre there is. Meyer uses vampires as a tool, a device, to gain interest and make these soap-opera problems seem otherworldly and fascinating. In horror, vampirism is horrible. Vampires are sad, lonely, bitter, resentful, monstrous, damned things. They don’t sparkle and they don’t love. They obsess. (Although obsession does sort of lean back into Meyer’s territory.) Meyer exploited a legend, and not courageously–she has no place in horror.

I have vociferously, often gleefully denounced Twilight as trash. I have nodded agreement to every argument that explains in meticulous, logical, thoughtful detail why the series ought to be relegated to obscurity for good, including call-outs against weak heroines and imbalance of power in relationships; I’ve added my own dissent to the flood of voices, one that thinks the tradition and canon of legends still count for something. I nearly blocked someone I knew for making the baseless, eyeroll-inducing claim that Stephenie Meyer was a better writer than Stephen King.

But behind these vocal opinions is not just someone who takes her ideas from a blogosphere that seems utterly reviled by Twilight; behind these opinions is someone who has actually taken in the texts–and who has been taken in. Indeed, I loathe the Twilight series with only the fire reserved exclusively for those who were fooled and who later came into the light. God, I hate to say this, but I liked Twilight before it was cool.

When I bought the first copy of Twilight I was a college student with a part-time job as a swim teacher who rarely bought books because she simply couldn’t afford them. It was a good thing the paperback was out, because I was really only mildly interested; I spent a great deal of time in the YA section, both looking for new things to read and fantasizing about that place on the shelf where, someday, my own titles might reside. It was the cover that first caught my eye–the design is attractive, glossy, a black background, ethereal white hands holding a bright red apple, not without biblical connotations that were not by any means accidental. It turns out that whole vampirism thing is an elaborate but unexciting, depth-lacking metaphor for abstinence, and our clumsy, fumbling, average-suburban-girl Bella represents, for her vampire boyfriend, the ultimate in temptation.

Looking back, I can see why this first novel and the series as a whole, for all its shortcomings, essentially did everything it was supposed to do. I devoured that first novel. I passed it to friends. When the second came out in hardback, I bought it almost immediately, cost be damned. I inhaled that one just as quickly. I wonder if that is how the fact of its weaknesses escaped me: I didn’t give myself enough time to even think about things like literary quality, or good writing, or lack of both. I get a small sense of consolation, mixed with what I could only describe as self-loathing, by the fact that “at least I was on Team Jacob.” Yeah, okay, so even then I wasn’t in support of what was obviously a controlling relationship, but come on–overlooking the mountain of wish-fulfillment issues spewing in prodigious volumes from an obsessed, repressed middle-aged woman with a dangerously inflated ego seriously undercuts whatever shred of credibility I may have had left.

It gets better: by third-book-time, I was at the signing.

I had gotten both my best friend and her little sister hooked as well, something for which I will never forgive myself, jokes aside. My friend couldn’t come to the signing with me, but I thought it’d be a nice thing to take her sister along. We went, waiting in line with a throng of people.

This event was the beginning of the end for my Twilight fandom. I suppose I should be grateful, but I’m really not. The whole thing upsets me. Not the crowd, because even the fangirls (and boys) were civil, not mobby in the slightest. No, what upset me was, unequivocally, Stephenie Meyer herself. After her reading and speech, she gave a Q & A session, in which not a single question was given a decent answer, and then moved on to the line of people waiting to have their copies signed. In front of Madi and I was a woman with first editions of each book who had hand-written a letter to Meyer detailing how important the books had been to her and how much she admired Meyer as a writer (a bit short-sighted for a bookstore clerk, but I gave her points for adorableness). By the time we got to the front, Meyer was clearly tired or something, because she set the girl’s letter aside with nary a syllable of thanks or appreciation or, God forbid, humility.

She was robotic: sign, next. Sign, next. I got my books signed–and even got through half of the newest volume at that time, Eclipse, before I lost steam. It was as if seeing Meyer for the egotistical brat that she was made me see Twilight for what it is: an exercise in high school fantasy, a stealing into the vulnerable hearts of young, clumsy, awkward, sometimes thoughtless and weak girls who secretly wish to be considered a man’s temptation. I won’t lie; I’ve wanted that.

Last summer I sold my signed copies of Twilight and made a good few bucks off of them, which is, quite frankly, more than they deserved. If I didn’t need the money at the time I’d gladly have used Meyer’s signatures to lay around my catbox to protect the floor from piss.

It’s not that, looking back, I can’t see what I found appealing about the Twilight series. So many young girls, particularly ones with low self-esteem (isn’t that most/all?) want to believe that in a society that so greatly undervalues them, someone will see them for their beautiful natures. We fangirls wanted to believe that Edward loved Bella because he saw who she really was. But it doesn’t work, and and that’s because we’re the ones who see Bella for the weak, obsessive waif with no priorities and no self-esteem that she actually is.

But these are all arguments that have been made and made again. I don’t need to reiterate them. I guess what I’m wondering is why it’s taking us, as a culture, so long to move on from what is essentially a blemish on the face of the written word. It took me longer than I like to realize this. What is holding up the never-aged-out-of-high-school-fantasies faction from doing the same?

I guess this doesn’t sound very contrite.

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Rethinking the word “feminist.” /2011/12/09/rethinking-the-word-feminist/ /2011/12/09/rethinking-the-word-feminist/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2011 19:23:26 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=456 I knew I was a feminist long before I knew what that even meant. When you’re a young girl, “feminist” can be at once empowering and divisive; as a teenager I was an officer on the Speech and Debate Team and the Creative Writing Club, anchor on the morning announcements that came over our school’s [...]]]> I knew I was a feminist long before I knew what that even meant. When you’re a young girl, “feminist” can be at once empowering and divisive; as a teenager I was an officer on the Speech and Debate Team and the Creative Writing Club, anchor on the morning announcements that came over our school’s TV system, actor in several productions, opinionated, sometimes bitchy and self-righteous, and generally a pain in everyone’s ass. As a graduating senior I was voted “Most Likely to Win a Nobel Peace Prize.” Yet, because of my cropped hair, lack of boyfriend, and proclivity toward soapboxes, I was labeled, to my dismay, not a feminist but a lesbian. (What else, in high school?)

The thing that is hard about being a young feminist is that no one understands what feminism is, so they default to the crudest, most stereotypical definition they can come up with: lesbian. I had not known about feminism long enough to be able to explain it, either to them or myself. I knew it was good, and I knew I was one.

Even in discussing this subject with my husband years later, I have found myself ill-fitted to the task of explaining and defending feminism. We’ve discussed his distaste for the label of “feminist.” To him, I think, it seems loaded: a word full of assumptions, not just on the part of society looking at a person but also on the part of that person herself. It’s too much of a catch-all, too much bumper sticker to accurately capture a person’s perspective. It’s too much of an oversimplification. To some people, it reeks of self-righteousness and the malodor of someone who takes herself far too seriously. All of these, I think, are legitimate flaws to be pointed out. “Feminist” is not meant to be a person’s definition, but merely her descriptor.

The fact that feminism falls under the umbrella of the “social sciences” is misleading; there’s nothing scientific about it, nor about defining it. It’s about human beings, so, naturally, it can be ambiguous in places, fickle in others. I read a lot of blogs and a lot of news and watched my Facebook feed for evidence of the thoughts of my smartest friends. (Some of these were more interesting and helpful than others; some were just distracting photos of cats and autocorrected iPhone messages. LULZOMG.) I wanted to know why different people’s definitions of feminism were so widely varied.

This is a question of the lowest common denominator. I finally realized something, an idea helped along by a new perspective that a woman did not exist as a woman independent of every other trait–black, white, educated, not educated, rich, poor, third world or first world–but her entire existence as a woman is instead informed by those traits. Feminism is not really about women because womanhood is such a different experience for every woman. You can’t give a diverse experience a single, clean definition. Feminism is not about women at all–it’s about choice.

No matter how much is accomplished by strong, empowered women like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann, and conservatives can attempt to use them as evidence of (nonexistent) ideological progress in their camp, but regardless, they are not feminist role models, or even the products of feminism. The stances they’ve taken in almost every arena in their campaigns display a chronic distrust of people and a desire for the limitation of choice. This is decidedly antifeminist.

This is also why, historically and contemporarily, many feminists have squared themselves alongside movements that call for freedom in other contexts. In the 19th century, suffragists and abolitionists were not always mutually inclusive, but it was very common for abolitionists to show up on behalf of feminists and vice versa. Frederick Douglass was at Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and participated in a vote that would lead to the Suffrage Movement. Still, though, conventional ideas about feminism have caused it to fall short of defending the freedom of choice of all women and, by extension, people in general. The Black Feminist Movement grew out of the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements and the fact that black women were not sufficiently represented in either, that typical associations of those movements were, respectively, with black men and white women. Even amidst movements for freedom, women of color found themselves marginalized, excluded from activism on both fronts and making no progress for themselves but only for counterparts considered to be their betters. If anyone wanted to argue as to the legitimacy of the feminist movement, pointing out these flaws would undermine it considerably and I would find that far more reasonable than simply calling me a bra-burner (which, actually, never happened).

I reconcile myself with the movement by my belief that any cause is bound to imperfect and unfaithful at times as a result of human involvement, and that the people who made feminism exclusive were immoral and were ineptly and unfairly implementing the idea. My belief is that feminism has earned a stronger, more inclusive definition as time has passed, and that making it exclusive in any way was a bastardization of the ideal that the movement set out to realize.

Feminism = choice is the only way of describing it that I find accurately conveys everything I mean when I say I am a feminist. If feminism is about choice, it includes men, too. All of a sudden, sexual violence becomes the gender-blind issue that it really is. Racism is recognized for the obstacle to feminism’s goals that it really is. Classism is seen as the path back to exclusively female domesticity that it really is. But using choice as the standard by which acts can be considered feminist or not, we can finally call the woman who chooses to stay at home a feminist, we can call the woman who chooses to have a dozen children a feminist, we can call the woman who likes a man to hold her door and give her his coat a feminist. It is a fairer, more faithful, more scientific definition, one that revolves around a woman’s independence to make whatever choices suit her, rather than making the choices that a movement lays out for her, which is no better than a patriarchy.

This year, the French Senate banned the wearing of burqas in public. The nationwide ban included only those veils which masked the face, while the niqab is still permitted–unless, of course, you attend a public school, which are all secular and do not permit the wearing of religious garments of any kind. I was not surprised that the burqa ban passed. The wearing, and forced wearing (there is a difference), of the burqa has been decried endlessly as a form of gender marginalization. But in stunning, beautiful protest, several women were arrested because they refused to remove their veils.

Oppressive religious communities have a history of imposing marginalizing rituals on women, and the forced donning of veils on Muslim women is no exception. But many Muslim women perform this ritual out of respect, as a gesture of modesty in the eyes of God. Whatever a woman’s reason for wearing a burqa, she has the right to make the choice for herself–perhaps harsher punishments and more stringent regulations against domestic violence are more in order than this move was. At least then, you’d be dealing with actual oppressors. You’d be going after the cause of the ailment of female oppression, rather than what you perceive as a symptom. Because ultimately, forcing a woman to remove a burqa amounts to the same level of control as forcing her to put one on. Congratulations, you’ve replaced her patriarchy with a different patriarchy.

If we lay out feminism as a way of life for women that excludes certain possibilities, things that we deem “not good enough” for her, things that we dismiss because we find them to be “symbols of oppression”, what we’re effectively doing is replacing the patriarchy with a different brand of oppression founded on the presumptuous idea that truly liberated women should all want the same things. If we keep using this stale definition of feminism–letting people use it on us, judging other women’s choices by how “feminist” they are, as though every woman’s version of feminism isn’t different–we may not be subjected to starching a man’s shirts for a living, but we’ll just be moving on to starching someone else’s shirts.

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The Muse is a Myth. /2011/12/05/the-muse-is-a-myth/ /2011/12/05/the-muse-is-a-myth/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2011 22:00:04 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=447 As a writer, I have thoughts about writing swimming around in my head all day. I think about writing while I read books, which everyone should. But I am also thinking about writing while watching TV. Most commercials have bad writing; and without good writing, a sitcom dies a sad death.

So [...]]]> As a writer, I have thoughts about writing swimming around in my head all day. I think about writing while I read books, which everyone should. But I am also thinking about writing while watching TV. Most commercials have bad writing; and without good writing, a sitcom dies a sad death.

So I may not write every day, but I still think about writing every day, which works for me being that I am a very busy person.

But with the industry of self-publishing being in its still relatively nascent stages, and with NaNoWriMo just passed (and NaNoEdMo going on right now–NaNovelists, do you know you’re supposed to edit this month?), it seems that writing is growing more present in the cultural consciousness. Maybe because many of us have seen the process of legacy publishing as unfair and insurmountable, and the rapid pace of technology has made writing, and publishing, much more democratic.

A while ago I wrote a post about waiting to self-publish until you had covered every base. Some people assumed I was targeting someone specific. While I certainly wasn’t targeting anyone, I do think that anyone interested in self-publishing, including the assumed target of my post, should have taken what I said seriously, even if they simply disregarded it. I understand if they did just dismiss what I said–I was brutal. But I have no patience for things that are thrown together with no consideration for craft. That’s why I wrote what I wrote; I stand by it.

I read a blog post that took the same argument I used against self-publishing and used it to undermine NaNoWriMo. That it is helping to populate the world with bad fiction. (I’d argue that legacy publishers populate the world with plenty of bad fiction and reject plenty of good, but I don’t have to–it’s obvious.) But the one question I’ve heard, one that separates our arguments once and for all, is this: Why is it everyone thinks he has a novel in him?

I disagree with the fundamental premise of that question: that everyone thinks he has a novel in him. It’s baseless. Not everyone thinks so. But whether they think so or not, everyone does. Every person has something to say; it is merely the process that separates us.

All writing is like a shot of espresso. (This is how being a barista has paid me: in metaphors.)

Espresso is made when ground coffee is forced through a hot, intensely pressurized machine that squeezes out only the strongest of the flavors that it started with. When the espresso is poured into a glass in a tiny stream, the coffee separates into distinct parts. One is the body. It’s dark brown and can start out sweet–when it’s perfect–but quickly turns bitter. The other is the crema, or cream, which quickly rises to the top to form a sweet, delicate foam that I, among others, i think, consider to be the most delicious part of the shot.

In writing, you could have a great idea, but it’s only an idea until you put it down not haphazardly, not always passionately, but always systematically. You won’t produce good writing without a reliable, finely-tuned machine.

To any writer who sincerely believes he created his works with the aid of divine intervention, a belief which, at its heart, disregards the importance of the human mind and human hand in creation, this idea will seem insulting. But since this dismissal of humans’ contribution to art completely flies in the face of people who spend years and decades studying, learning technique, and establishing a system of discipline wherein they sit down to write every single day, I don’t care.

Muses don’t exist.

In Greek mythology, muses were the goddesses of creation of literature and art and the sources of centuries of oral history. Writers in the ranks of Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare have invoked the muse as the arbiter of their artistic choices. Many of these also believe that the whole of God can be summed up by an old man living in the sky welcoming his believers into cloud-land and banishing dissenters into the pit of fire. And I think that now, even the most unhinged of religious people would agree that it is not that simple.

No, claiming all of creation is bestowed by some mask- or lyre- or scroll-wielding woman draped in gauzy robes is a new level of crazy, one that any writer worth his hours of keystrokes ought to reject out of hand.

And further, the humble act isn’t fooling anyone.

You are not being humble when you claim that all of your ideas, all of your sweat, all of your hard work was actually helped along by the unseen hand of “inspiration.” It is nothing more than a relinquishing of responsibility for what you produce or do not produce. It is a refusal to be held accountable for your own creative communication (expression is a horrible word for this). This is dangerous; it lets you create, but gives you a convenient excuse not to stand by, or for, anything. If you can’t produce anything, or anything of quality, it’s not your fault, not the result of a lack of drive or discipline, it’s simply a case of “writer’s block,” an invisible, otherworldly impediment that conveniently excuses a writer’s own shortcomings. I’m no exception; I don’t write enough. But I do not blame it on a fictional disorder. I do not give myself an out.

Talk about “writer’s block” and “muses” seems so far-flung, so detached from the ideas of every skilled writer that I have ever known personally, that it smacks of amateurism. Seeing a dawning light of inspiration and being moved by an unseen force to begin to write is a way for a writer to compensate, socially and psychologically, for a lack of study, training, or skill in the craft. Stop talking about muses; instead, study and refine. You won’t need to blame a muse for your bad writing or let her take the credit for your good.

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Really? A realistic redefinition of rape, for me? You shouldn’t have. /2011/10/20/really-a-realistic-redefinition-of-rape-for-me-you-shouldnt-have/ /2011/10/20/really-a-realistic-redefinition-of-rape-for-me-you-shouldnt-have/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2011 16:19:57 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=440 In the current anti-women climate going on in this country right now, what with all the take-away-vital-health-services-by-defunding-and-telling-doctors-it’s-okay-to-refuse-to-prescribe-birth-control bullshit, it’s a wonder anybody got anything done with regards to a rape definition.

But I guess somebody heard that’s what I wanted for my birthday, so here it is.

The Criminal Justice Information Services Division’s Advisory [...]]]> In the current anti-women climate going on in this country right now, what with all the take-away-vital-health-services-by-defunding-and-telling-doctors-it’s-okay-to-refuse-to-prescribe-birth-control bullshit, it’s a wonder anybody got anything done with regards to a rape definition.

But I guess somebody heard that’s what I wanted for my birthday, so here it is.

The Criminal Justice Information Services Division’s Advisory Policy Board (APB) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Subcommittee just voted to replace the 1927 definition of rape as:

“The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”

With this new, much-more-encompassing:

“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

I’d say that about covers it.

The implications of this are vast. This means that the police will be reporting rapes to the FBI at a much higher rate than before, which they often didn’t because of the narrow definition. The new definition also, you may have noted, includes men and boys, the rape of whom would previously have been billed as merely assault or simply a “sexual offense.” The latter is an insult, considering this streaker at a high school football game was also committing a sexual offense, and so have you, if you’ve ever lived in a college dorm and gone into the wrong bathroom.

According to Annie Shields, of Ms. Magazine, who reported on the subject:

The new definition will now go to the International Association of Chiefs of Police and working groups for feedback before a final recommendation is presented to the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB) in December. Finally the APB’s recommendation will go to FBI Director Robert Mueller for final approval. Fortunately, he’s already received nearly 140,000 emails asking him to update the definition, so he should be very familiar with the issue when the APB makes its recommendation.

Thanks to all who participated in this campaign; your efforts truly made an impact. But it’s not over yet. We need to maintain pressure on law enforcement officials to make sure this change is officially adopted and put into practice by the FBI. To that end, please add your signature now if you haven’t already, and share this with your networks urging them to do the same. Together we can help make sure that all rapes will be counted.

Read the full text of Shields’ article here.

I’ll have to remember to send a thank-you note.

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Dear Mr. President, My Birthday is Coming Up and My Flatiron is Broken /2011/10/16/dear-mr-president-my-birthday-is-coming-up-and-my-flatiron-is-broken/ /2011/10/16/dear-mr-president-my-birthday-is-coming-up-and-my-flatiron-is-broken/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2011 19:16:54 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=432 Dear Mr. President,

I’ll start things off by saying I have a great deal of respect for you and I’m still glad I voted for you.

Also, my birthday is coming up and I’m about to turn 24–and since people seem to be in the habit of constantly asking you for unreasonable shit, I [...]]]> Dear Mr. President,

I’ll start things off by saying I have a great deal of respect for you and I’m still glad I voted for you.

Also, my birthday is coming up and I’m about to turn 24–and since people seem to be in the habit of constantly asking you for unreasonable shit, I figured I would join in.

So in case you were wondering, there are a few things I need.

For starters, I’d like decent health coverage for my hard-working self and my hard-working husband and our very-cute baby. Next time my baby gets a fever, I’d like my first thought not to be how we’ll afford to go to the hospital.

I’d like to find a manageable way to pay off my husband’s and my student loans in a way that we might be able to someday own a home. I would ask for you to send over one of your financial dudes to help me with that, but you guys haven’t even worked your own shit out so I am not sure that would work for me.

I’d really like it if everyone could just marry who they wanted. It’s about time. That way I won’t continually feel guilty that I care more about starving third-world children.

If you could just not defund Planned Parenthood, that would be sweet. Also, if you could just tell everyone to drop this war on women by way of vital health services and also maybe clarify a rape definition that is suitable to the world we live in right now rather than the one from a hundred years ago where that definition actually applied, I would really appreciate it. Actually, if you could make things in this country a little easier on women, all women–not just white, both systematically and ideologically, I would not ask you for anything else. I told you I would be unreasonable.

Also, you could politely remind people to ease up on illegal immigration since it’s likely we all immigrated here at some point and most of us are related to someone who did extremely nefarious things in order to steal this country.

In addition to these things, I could also use a new flatiron since mine doesn’t heat up anymore. I also need a new bottle of Moroccan Oil (that shit is expensive) and maybe some other hair products that are worth more than $3 at the Walgreens. Maybe some pillow rollers. My hair is becoming problematic.

A birthday dress would be awesome. Preferably one that makes me look like I weigh what I did in high school. One that is classy enough to take family pictures in but that also looks good on the floor.

Some Clinique would be AMAZING. Sensing a pattern?

I’d like a new Mac computer, a typewriter to replace the one I gave away, books of essays on writing and short stories. I’d love a job for my husband, as well as the complete Adobe Creative Suite.

You know, on second thought, I do really feel like I’m being unreasonable here. I mean, for God’s sake, I might as well have asked you for universal health care, rescue from devastating economic collapse, and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I guess it wouldn’t be too much to ask that you just please, please, for the love of God, GET REELECTED.

Sincerely,

Apparently the Only American Who Still Thinks You’re Exactly What this Country Needs

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Do Not Self-Publish Your Novel Unless: /2011/10/06/do-not-self-publish-your-novel-unless/ /2011/10/06/do-not-self-publish-your-novel-unless/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 18:00:04 +0000 Shaughnessy Conley Speirs /?p=420 I have a Kindle, and I love books. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A Kindle is great because it holds so many books, is lightweight, easy to read even when you’re doing other stuff, and you can get so many classics in the Kindle edition for free. I have dozens of books on my [...]]]> I have a Kindle, and I love books. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A Kindle is great because it holds so many books, is lightweight, easy to read even when you’re doing other stuff, and you can get so many classics in the Kindle edition for free. I have dozens of books on my Kindle and I’ve only paid for about four of them. But I will never not have books. The reason is because a book is an artifact, not just a tool. You don’t use the book just to have an out-of-body experience; otherwise we would be content to our libraries and never feel the need to own a book ourselves. Rather, actual books are souvenirs of those out-of-body experiences. I will never give up books. But I also love my Kindle.

The Kindle has made publishing more accessible and more democratic. People who might never have seen their books in print, because for some reason or another kept getting rejected over and over, have quit their day jobs as a result of their self-published ebooks. The immediate example is Amanda Hocking, who made like $10,000 in the first three months after her first book went live. She’s made millions of dollars. Say what you want about her writing, but girlfriend has made it.

With print books, the traditional process has been something like this:

First, write book. ===> Edit, Revise, Edit, Revise, Pine. ===> Query Agents. ===> Wait for response. Should none come, rinse and repeat. ===> If agent requests chapters or full MS, send it and try to distract yourself while you wait. ===> Wait. ===> Agents say no, revise once more, send more queries. ===> Agent requests full MS, upon receipt says he or she would like to represent you. ===> Agent starts pitching your MS to publishers. ===> They say no repeatedly. You cry yourself to sleep. ===> Finally one says yes. You will be published, provided you rewrite a new ending in which the protagonist lives and change your pen name to initials because you’re not a man.

I was going to make an infographic because P. Trunk wrote a blog about how important design is now and everyone was throwing around words like visual literacy and multimodal writing. But it was holding up this post and I decided to stick with my strengths. I.e., endless extrapolation of my personal opinions to people who disagree/don’t care/hate me. Whatevs.

So you can see how the frontier of self-publishing with ebook formats can be appealing. I can see it. Hell, I’ve got an in-progress YA novel and am considering it myself. Ebooks are the future of publishing. They are equalizing. They are leveling the playing field.

But there is something that can be said for a playing field that is too level.

It seems that many writers have taken the ease of self-publishing for granted and thrown their work out there into the internet, hoping to “see what happens.” This is the same excuse bloggers give for having a crappy blog. They don’t care about a readership, a readership doesn’t mean you’re good, they are just seeing how it goes, y’know? The result has been an overwhelming deluge of literary refuse, a handful of gems buried in a pile of stories that were either rejected for good reasons or not submitted altogether. (Not that you have to submit, but it is a good way to test for a reaction to your work.)

So which group is your book in?

Please, please, please do me a solid and do not self-publish your novel to Kindle unless:

1. Your book has gone through multiple drafts. You are not William Faulkner.

2. You are bringing something new to your genre. Of course, that would require having read the genre, but maybe I’m just being nitpicky.

3. Your book has been read by someone other than your mother. She loves you very much and that is exactly why she makes a horrible editor. Start a blog and get a small crowd of beta readers.

4. You have gotten someone else to do the shit you don’t know how to do. For the love of God, outsource. Your horrible-looking cover that you designed in Powerpoint makes me want to vomit. Hire a designer to make your cover. Hire an editor to check for typos. Hire someone who formats ebooks.

5. You have divorced yourself from your delusions of grandeur. I previously mentioned Amanda Hocking, who is a dramatic example of the possibilities in this new frontier of publishing. But Amanda Hocking is extraordinarily well read and has done an incredible amount of market research. She can also write a novel in two weeks. She has an idea and in nine days it is a novel. You are not Amanda Hocking either.

6. You have read everything in your genre. Okay, not everything. That will never happen. But if you are writing in a genre, and you haven’t read all of that genre’s best and most critically-acclaimed offerings, then it is like you are doing stem cell research in your garage. You didn’t do the homework.

7. You have read classics. I realize ‘classics’ is a totally relative term and so I use it very loosely. I mean Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Austen in that same breath. I mean Nabokov and Palahniuk. I mean Faulkner, Hemingway, and J.K. Rowling. And for the love of Christ, SHAKESPEARE. Do NOT think you can be a good writer without even a remedial background in the works of Shakespeare. And if you badmouth Shakespeare you are not reading well enough, and if you badmouth Shakespeare on this blog all of your diatribes will be swiftly removed.

8. You are willing to market but also know boundaries. You should have a Facebook, a Twitter, and a blog, at the very least. They are all free and take thirty seconds to create. There is no excuse. If you don’t utilize technology but lament a lack of readership and interest in your work, you have absolutely no one to blame but yourself. That said, if I “Like” you on Facebook, do not inundate me with posts reminding me about your dumb contest, reminding me that I won’t be eligible for a prize unless I repost, buy more copies, blog a review, or spin around three times while swearing allegiance to your authorship. It will make me “Unlike” your Facebook page, and probably a lot of other people too.

9. You are willing to read other people’s self-published work. The Internet is interactive. It is a trade-off. When other people read and pass on your work, they are doing you a FAVOR. Return it. Comme ci, comme ca.

Now go write. But if you feel the need to publish, always, always wait. Wait until your novel lay in a slashed, destroyed heap, a shell of what it once was, tired and slain. Until you no longer recognize it. Until you hate the sight of it. Until it has made you different for writing it, until it has made you hopeless and humble and you don’t even think you deserve to be in print. If you think you’re there, you’re probably not. If you want to publish, you are not ready. Pressing the last button should be the most painful part of the process. You shouldn’t feel exhilarated with pride. You should feel liberated to be finally freed from the spiteful, burdensome albatross around your neck that your novel has become. If you don’t feel like offing yourself at some point in the process, you are not invested and your work probably sucks. Go forth and suck, but don’t clog up my news feed until you don’t anymore.

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