Thursday, December 08, 2011

Comics and the U.S. South

Oh sad and neglected blog. Have no fear. Changes are under way.

In the mean time--check out the awesome cover of a new book on comics.  I happen to have an essay in it.

It's edited by Brannon Costello and Qiana Whitted and can be pre-ordered here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Things I Learned on My Trip to Charlotte

Patrica Williams Lessane and I went on an overnight trip to Charlotte to the Harvey Gantt Center to see Marcia Jones talk about her pieces in the Live and In Stereo(type) exhibit.  One of her images is below. I don't know if you can tell, but that's Michelle Obama's face on those million dollar bills.

Art by Marcia Jones

In any case, here's what I learned:
  • Hardee's has a fried bologna breakfast biscuit.  I didn't have one.  I'm kind of amazed that it exists at all.
  • Charlotte is a big city, with skyscrapers and everything. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I had the same reaction when I went to Cincinatti in March.  Clearly I need study up on my U.S. geography.
  • While I love being in a hotel so I can sleep in a bed without my children and my children's stuff, I still find it incredibly disorienting to wake up somewhere other than my own home.
  • You should definitely avoid hotels with a B rating.  I swear they were shooting porn in the hotel where we stayed.
  • And, finally, the other artist in the exhibit was Fahamu Pecou.  One of his images is below (it's called "Warn A Brother").  He wasn't at the talk, but I'm dying to meet him.  He may be my soulmate.  (Don't tell Brian.)
"WAB2" by Fahamu Pecou

Monday, July 18, 2011

Throwing Out the Script

There should be more stories about Cate on this blog.  Not just because Cate is amazing in all sorts of ways that still surprise me, but also because hers is a happy life and more parents with kids who have Sensory Processing Disorder probably need to be told that.

At a birthday party recently I talked to another mom whose son just got a diagnosis that's different than Cate's (she has SPD), but whose therapies are similar (OT, social stories, among other things).  I was struck in this conversation by two things.  First, she had all the same concerns and questions and feelings that I had before and after Cate's diagnosis.  I thought we had done something wrong (we didn't read enough to her in the womb, we should have put in her childcare earlier, we should have sung more songs), I didn't know whether I should tell people about her SPD, it continues to be difficult to explain to Frances why Cate has modified rules.  We had a great talk about strategies for all those things.

I was also struck, though, by how much of our conversartion was about re-writing the story we had in our heads about our kids.  We both have first daughters who are gorgeous and smart and outgoing and fabulous in all the ways you might want for your daughter.  Those first daughters have done very little to challenge our notions of what it means to be a parent or what it means to be a member of human society.  But these second kids--so many things we had planned, so many things we assumed to be true, so many things we took for granted are suddenly gone.  We are having to write this new story as we go along.

It's been more than a year since Cate got her diagnosis and I find myself loving this task of writing a new story (though it's not without its anxieties) and also realzing that Frances' life should also be lived without a script.  This mom just got her child's diagnosis and I sensed that she had a lot of grief about having to let go of her script and that it helped to find someone who understood how that felt.  And who wasn't still grief-stricken about the process.

So maybe I'll share some more stories about Cate in all her awesome-ness and about Frances, who also continues to be amazing (even if she is moody all of the time now), and how life goes on, even off-script.

Friday, July 08, 2011

5 Things I Could Live Without In Romance Novels

Before we begin: This is not an anti-romance post.  I read lots of romance novels. I adore romantic comedies. I'm doing academic work on romances.  I don't hate romance novels.  I'm only saying these things because I care.

1. Stop with the Alpha Males
I know. Strong, successful, assertive, masculine (in the most traditional sense), serious--all these things are sexy.  I tend to agree.  You know what's not sexy? Arrogant, entitled, possessive, taciturn jerks.  Romance writers, you've got to give me a reason to like the guy.  Otherwise, I'm going to hate him and think the heroine's stupid for swooning over him.

2. Passive Heroines
I don't need my heroines to be Lara Croft traipsing all over the globe for treasure or Scarlet O'Hara making dresses out of curtains.  I do need her, though, to do something other than think about the hero.  Maybe it's just me, but I think great drama can from two together people with a lot going for them being suddenly confronted with having to make space for a partner.  That kind of conflict can only happen, though, if the heroine is doing more than waiting for the hero to wander into her coffee shop.

3. Love at First Sight
Yes, it's romantic.  But when you're writing category romance and you only have a couple of hundred pages to get the guy and the girl together, love at first sight reads as rushed and unbelievable.  Maybe I've been reading too many category books lately, but I like romance that has seduction, where the two leads slowly fall, where they don't realize they're hooked until they're in too deep.  Love at first sight takes some of the romance out of romance for me.

4. Occupations that make no sense
You can not be a 27 year old college professor with tenure and three award winning books.  You just can't.  You can't be 30 with an M.D. in psychiatry and a PhD in psychology, a thriving medical practice, and a thriving career as a self-help author.  You just can't.  You can't be a successful musician who spends no time practicing.  Stop it.

5. Deep Dark Secrets That are Neither Deep nor Dark
Here is a good secret: at 17 you became pregnant with your boyfriend's baby.  You find out this information right after the two of you have a big fight and break up.  Instead of telling him about the baby, you have an abortion. After the abortion the two of you reconcile, but the weight of what you've done, the fear of how he might react if he finds out, keeps you from getting back together with him. You grow apart after the two of you go away to college.  15 years later you  meet up again and the attraction is still there, but you can't pursue it unless you tell him your secret.  You still don't how he will react, but you feel this relationship might be worth it. 

I'd read that story.

You know what else is a good secret?  The fact that you used to work as a professional escort.  I'd read that story, too.

Bad secrets:
  • you gave up a dead man's baby for adoption 16 years ago--so what?
  • your ex-fiance killed your father and now he is after you--why haven't you called the police?
  • your dead father is an alcoholic--again, so what?
In other words--good secrets have the potential to have a serious negative effect on the central relationship of the story, that of the hero and heroine.  Bad secrets are ones that would have no effect.  If you promise me a deep dark secret, romance authors, you'd better deliver.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Help, part 2

I love all the comments, folks!  I feel like I should say that I don't at all object to popular books.  I write about comic books and romance novels for a living.  My favorite thing about the new X-Men movie was how yummy Michael Fassbender looked (I'm linking because it seems gratuitous to to put his picture on the blog again--I can pause while you go look, though).  So, I went into this book ready to be won over.

And here's the thing--if it had only been about the white women (what is up with Celia Foote? Will it be a good reveal? I'm fascinated by her?  And I'm findind Hilly deliciously awful), the book would be bearable.  Stockett writes well.  I want to know what's going to happen to these women.

But it's not just about the white women.  It's about the black women as well.  And the biggest problem I'm having so far is (I'm about 6 or 7 chapters in) that these women, who are speaking to us from inside their heads, are speaking as if they are talking to white women. Aibileen calling Jackie O "Miss Jackie" inside her head, Minny needing Celia to act like the other white women--it's like Stockett hasn't given these black women any space outside of the gaze of their white employers.  I don't feel like I'm getting to know them.  I feel like I'm watching a performance for my benefit. 

So, the verdict so far: I no longer want to gouge my eyes out, but they may fall out of my head from all the eyerolling.  And, also, what does she say in the afterword? It's taking all the willpower I have not to skip ahead and look.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Really people? The Help?

When I'm on a plane or at a party and people ask what I do and I reply, "I'm an English professor," I get one of two reactions: either the person will start apologizing for their grammar (it's too much trouble to tell people that I'm a lit professor and really couldn't care less about their grammar) or they will ask what I'm reading.  For those of you who don't know English profs, let me clue you in a little secret: I'm rarely going to be reading anything you're remotely interested in.  (Except lately I'm reading tons of romance novels, but that's a story for another day).  The last two books I got excited about were What Was African American Literature? by Kenneth Warren (which was nonsense) and Pym, a novel by Mat Johnson (which was so so good, but probably only if you've also read Poe's Pym).  I never get around to reading the "latest" novel until everyone has moved well past it, which brings me to today's topic: The Help.

I agreed to lead a book discussion on the The Help because I'd intended to read the book anyway and I love a good book discussion.  One chapter in, though, and I want to gouge my eyes out.  You want it not to revel in tired, uncomplicated, misleading stereotypes. But how can it do anything else when it includes these unironic lines:

Fact, [Miss Leefolt] whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it's no wonder she can't soothe that baby.  Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in your armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too.  That I know.
And of course she knows because she's fat black woman who has raised 17 white children.  Good lord, people, have we really not moved past this?  Am I really reading a New York Times bestseller about a mammy?

To be fair, I've only read one chapter.  Maybe it gets better.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Is there any such thing as geek street cred?

One of the reasons it's been hard to keep up with th blog (besides, you know, the whole full-time job and two children) is that I often have way too many projects going on at once.  Sometimes those projects result in all kinds of geeky awesomeness.

If only any of this meant I got to spend my summer doing something other than driving children to and from various water- and sport-related events.  Alas.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Go See X-Men: First Class

So Brian, who is currently recovering from spinal surgery, does not take that fact as an excuse to miss a Marvel summer spectacle.  A week or so after his surgery, he hobbled to the theater and we saw Thor and yesterday, after a doctor's appointment, he insisted we see X-Men: First Class instead of going home.  We loved both films and the bar has been set pretty high for Captain America: The First Avenger coming out later this summer.  (Note: Lest y'all think the only movies I see feature *gorgeous* men with superpowers, I've also seen Bridesmaids and Kung Fu Panda 2 in the last month.  The former was hysterical; the latter was a video game commercial, albeit an entertaining one.)

The Good
  Michael Fassbender as Magneto.  Not only was he distractingly good looking, but his performance of a tortured survivor of a brutal concentration camp, not to mention his badassery in hunting down those who had tortured him, made his "kill all humans" philosophy completely sympathetic.  Also, his chemistry with James McAvoy's Charles Xavier was outstanding and a little a lot hoyay.

Completely unrelated to the film was the trailer for Hugh Jackman's new movie Real SteelIs it a sign of an unhealthy obsession with Jackman that I'm totally going to see this flick, which amounts to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie?

The Bad
Not really bad, but worth noting:  I cared so little about the first class of X-Men, outside of Charles and Erik.  Every time the story switched to the young recruits, I was eager to get back to the two friends destined to become enemies.  They all did a fine job, but we were all there to see Professor X and Magneto.

The Ugly
The one glaring misstep in the movie was the character of Darwin.  I won't spoil anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but considering this is a black blog and he is black character, you can imagine why I'm annoyed.

Still on the list to see this summer: Jumping the Broom, Winnie the Pooh, Captain America, Green Lantern, Harry Potter, Planet of the Apes (!), and probably some other stuff that doesn't involve superheroes or sci-fi.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Race at Spoleto (or, David Mamet is Full of It)

I think I should preface the snark that follows with this: (1) It occurs to me that the only plays I've seen in Charleston have been at the College of Charleston, which is a very particular (and quite nice) theater-going experience.  When you're in the Emmett Robinson, a guy comes out before the performance and tells you that the doors will be closed until intermission.  No one comes in or out.  If you leave at intermission and don't make it back before the door closes again, you're out of luck.  (2) I really enjoyed Pure Theater's performance of Mamet's play Race.  It's just that the experience was surreal.

So Morgan and I show up at 5:30 for the 6:00 performance of Race.  We were surprised to find the theater in a strip mall next to East Bay Deli (Morgan would point out here that she felt like we were marching to our deaths, but she's prone to exaggeration).  Because we were there so early, we got to observe some great theater even before the play started:
  • the theater itself was roughly the size of my bedroom, maybe a little bigger (but not by much).  Morgan decided it used to be a check cashing place.  Whatever it was in its former life, the building now serves as a really intimate theater experience.
  • the play's director greeted people at the door, lovely and warm and inviting, in the biggest summer straw hat I've ever seen.  She seemed to be in love with this hat--she caressed it and took it off her head to look at it and showed it to other people.  When she introduced the play, she took a moment to talk about the hat.  Reading this over, it doesn't surround surreal.  But trust me, it was.
  • Everyone in the theater seemed to know to bring something to drink.  Nearly everyone had a bottle of water.  Except for those people who had cups of wine.  I kid you not.  Cups of wine.  Morgan and I spent a long time trying to figure out where this wine came from and how it was legal to carry it from wherever it came from into the theater.
  • The couple behind us were having a *horrible* vacation.  The wife was annoyed at her hotel accomodations.  She was hot.  The play started 5 minutes late.  She thought it was stupid.  And her husband had no sympathy.  I know all of this because she talked *through the entire play.*  Morgan is convinced the guy next to us texted his mistress throughout the performance.
  • The couple in front of us, competing with Morgan and me for the "Youngest People in the Room" title, were clearly early in their relationship.  She was definitely into the play and he clearly was expecting sex for his patience.
  • At one point a guy came from behind the stage with two boxes of leftover doughnuts, to toss them out.  The director told him to keep them because once they get old, they get hard and shellack and you can use them as props.  She said all of this while fondling her giant hat.
  • The same guy came out again with a ladder, climbed it and tapped on a ceiling tile a few times.  He then took the ladder backstage and returned a second time with it and a flashlight.  Under the guidance of three gentleman in the front row, he shined a light into the tile for a few minutes.  Apparently the tapping worked.
  • The bathroom was behind the stage.  Behind the stage!
The play itself was incredibly well-acted and entertaining.  Liza Dye, who received this year's African American Studies Creative Expression Award, played the female lead.  So any problem I have with it has nothing to do with the production and everything to do with the fact that David Mamet is full of shit.  It's too much to get into here, but suffice it to say this: despite what Mamet seems to think, black people don't actually hate white people and it isn't at all unreasonable for a female junior partner at a law firm to refuse to put on a red sequined dress and play "the girl" in the reenactment of a sexual assault in court.

Two more Spoleto events to go.