When Stories Make Us Stronger

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2004) started as a horror-comedy TV show to make fun all the angst we went through in high school. As it gained popularity, and the writers and showrunner Joss Whedon got into their groove, it turned into a popular culture phenomenon with lessons about loving teamwork, sharing power, and having the courage of one’s convictions. It was about female power, strength and leadership, and most of all the redemptive power of love, friendship and community.

So maybe it is no surprise that nineteen years after the episode “Amends” aired, I saw my friend on Facebook saying, “It strikes me that there’s a Buffy episode about today… the one where she has a soliloquy on the work never ending. I forget which.”

I responded, “Amends.” And posted the following quote:

Buffy: You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it’s because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. …Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together.

My friend replied, “Shouldn’t this be your status today? And for all time?”

She’s not wrong. That quote comes from the middle of Season 3, when Angel, after having been turned evil, slayed by Buffy, sent to a demon dimension and then sent back by the Powers that Be, is trying to attempt suicide by sunlight, and Buffy tries to stop him. Then snow comes to Sunnydale, California’s Christmas morning and he doesn’t die, but rather continues to work for good.

The problem is, that this is a situation where she is fighting a friend to get him to fight for people’s safety. Previously, at the end of Season 2, when Angel was still evil and before Buffy had dredged up the guts to kill him and save the world, she is confronted by a neutral demon who is trying to help her. In a voice over, he says:

Whistler: Bottom line is even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what, are we helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come, can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.

That is where we are today, in the middle of a big moment, with a cascade of big moments ready to attempt to engulf us in the weeks and months to come. My friends—sad, terrified, ashamed of our brother and sister Americans who apparently hate us and want to strip us of our rights and safety—are trying today to take a ragged breath, wipe away their own tears and those of their friends and children, and get ready to take a stand. Count. Find out who we are.

So thank you, Joss Whedon. Your stories will help us to do it.

Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #3.5

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Raise your hand if you spent any part of the 1970s spinning around in your living room, hoping that this time, you’d gain superpowers, a golden lasso and maybe an invisible jet. Watching Diana Prince (Linda Carter) beat up the bad guys and save Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) again was very fulfilling and set me up for two decades of disappointed TV watching until the mid-1990s came around and Wonder Women’s spiritual daughters, Xena and Buffy, appeared kicking ass and dusting their enemies.

And while Linda Carter will always be Wonder Woman to me, the new DC comics movie is coming out this spring, with Gal Gadot in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Given that Gadot will be in the solo Wonder Woman film in 2017, I have hopes that the actor, writers and directors step up to the plate. I had always hoped for a Joss Whedon written/directed film with Lucy Lawless in the title role, but such vain hopes were not to be.

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I still want some bullet-repelling bracelets in case I need to travel outside of New England, but I suppose if they were out there on the market, the NRA would try to make them go away.

Badass Women in Combat Gear: Valentine’s Day Edition, Or, Dorothy Parker Was Wrong

((For those of you who, like me, were not Math Majors in college, I apologize. But this particular blog post seems to need a ridiculous number of parentheses and a rather surprising number of braces {curly} and brackets [square]. Be warned.))

There is a fairly famous rhyming couplet by the 1920s Algonquin Round Table wit, Dorothy Parker, that has been widely anthologized (and it suddenly occurs to me that a whole slew [this is a technical literary term] of the editors anthologizing this were {white} men], which says, “Men don’t make passes/At girls who wear glasses.”

I have been thinking about this since Mike Allegra (heylookawriterfellow) asked me to add to my BWCG series some BWCGs who wear glasses. I thought of this most recently after viewing a teaser for this coming Tuesday’s Agent Carter, in which Agent Sousa (the delightful Enver Gokaj) says to (an injured and therefore unavailable-for-the-mission) Agent Peggy Carter (the even more delightful Hayley Atwell) that what they need for the coming mission is someone who can “blend in with the glamour and throw down in the gutter.” Damn, Spanky, I LOVE the writers on this show!

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Any Gentle Reader who has spent any time at all reading this blog will recognize that this is not only the dual nature of what I look for in my Female Leads of TV, Film, and Life, but also a micro-blueprint of who I would like to eventually be. I have to admit that the second part sounds much less painful to me than the first part, because as Agent Dana Scully admits in the most recent New X-Files episode, running/fighting in three-inch heels is no country for really anyone, but absolutely not Women, Older Men or Sane People of any Gender. Okay, she didn’t say that.

But as Jane Austen might have said, “It was nowhere said, but everywhere implied.” Come on. Amy Acker has said that at one point her only “stunt ability was running in heels” (Citation, as Wikipedia would point out, desperately needed. My guess? A ComiCon. San Diego? Maybe. Who knows?).

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My point here is simply that Dorothy Parker was wrong and Mike Allegra is right. (Full disclosure: I wear glasses. So sue me. {Twenty-odd years at MIT’s Writing Center (some of them more odd than others) has made me as blind as my cat Musashi, if not as a bat or a possum. [If M. were a little boy, he’d be wearing Coke bottle glasses and a bowtie]}.

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So in honor of a Sunday-facing Valentine’s Day (black Tuesday meets the Lord’s day), I offer you some of my favorite female actors (Nope, don’t call me a teacheress, professoress, editoress or martial artistess; I avoid calling them actresses for the same reason) in glasses.

 

I tried very hard to chase down the pics I have seen online of Lucy Lawless as herself, rather than Xena, wearing glasses, to no avail. Similarly, her soul-grandmother, Linda Carter (the always-and-everywhere Wonder Woman, despite DC’s brilliant work with Gal Gadot).

And because I believe it is important to look back and forward at the same time, I also give you Ingrid Bergman and Scarlet Johansson.

Also, the classic, brilliant, unimitatable Katherine Hepburn on a skateboard, because duh.

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To my pal, Mike Allegra, men and women who love women in glasses or, you know, on skateboards: YOU’RE WELCOME. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. NOW WE WILL LET THE WEATHER BECOME WARM AGAIN.

Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #8

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Sometimes combat gear is a SWAT uniform. Sometimes it is a black leather catsuit. But if you are Eliza Dushku, a tank top or a denim jacket will also do.

As Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Dushku played a Slayer who had had it rough and made a lot of bad choices. As Wikipedia points out, “With Faith, the writers explored the nature of power, and the boundaries and consequences of its use. They wanted to address the issue that, whether the creatures a Slayer kills are good or evil, she is still a professional killer.[41] Co-executive producer Doug Petrie, and writer of Faith-centric episodes such as “Revelations” and “Bad Girls“, says one of the things he loves about the character is that Faith is not wrong in describing herself and Buffy as killers. He goes on to discuss a Slayer’s rights and responsibilities, and how Faith believes her contributions to society relieve her of any legal or moral responsibilities, a view which Buffy does not share.”

Like Natasha Romanov, Faith is a little broken to begin with and only gets worse with all the killing she does—and enjoys. The nice thing about the Buffy/Faith relationship is that we get to see that how you let the job affect you is a choice as much as it is about your environment and support system. So it is not that being a female badass necessarily comes out of brokenness.

In Dollhouse, Dushku played another sometime badass, the Doll/Operative Echo, a former eco-activist turned programmable person. Sometimes a thief, sometimes a hostage negotiator, sometimes a sex worker, the character eventually regains a sense of her original personality and works to take down the company that employs her, and by employ I mean “use.” And again, the pint-sized Dushku made it work.

“Faith (Buff the Vampire Slayer.” Wikipedia. 30 July 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

The Weirdness of Precipitation. Also Umbrellas.

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So a friend has pointed out that I have been veering from the straight path of poetry and investigating all kinds of apparently nonpoetic things, and she is not wrong. At first I thought this was simply a result of my writer’s block, again, and to some extent it is. Then I thought about how I started this blog in part to figure out my poetics, that is, what the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics defines as “a systematic theory or doctrine of poetry” (Preminger 636). What do I think counts as poetry and where do we draw the line? Is it enough to “not be prose,” i.e., to have lots of short lines, some of which may happen to rhyme? Is it likely to have more elegant language and imagery than non-literary prose generally uses? Must it be beautiful? And what do we mean by beauty?

And then I realized that some of what I have been unconsciously doing is figuring out my aesthetics, which oddly enough, Preminger does not define, although he does include aesthetic distance and aestheticism, this last of which he seems to define as art for art’s sake, although he takes several pages to do it. I think for me defining one’s aesthetics is about defining what one as an individual, artist and nonartist, find beautiful and not. What draws you, as the bagpipes drew me before my mind had realized that my legs were moving? What repels me, as the sonorous, groaning organ does, even though it has great symmetry and harmony and All The Things, and can move other folks to tears for Very Different Reasons?

And I have been fascinated by our recent popular culture projects, because they have been drawing me in a similar fashion. Some of what I like is the smart juxtaposition between apparent opposites that we often get, the mixing of deadly serious and light wit, or dark, almost Gothic environments mixed with warm companionship. Or just high school students reading 500-year-old texts in an actual library to learn about the demons they are about to face. These tinctures in the story-telling of our time fascinate me, and I hope are teaching me about how to tell a more beautiful story, whether I do it in poetry or prose or some other way.

But for those who came for the poetry, here is a poem from last Monday when I got soaking wet about three different times.

.

Suddenly the air

is awash front to back

with water, which once,

before today, used

to be ocean or cloud.

.

And walksign people

scurry and slosh across

sidewalks become rivers

for a moment or two

too long for dry shoes.

.

Only the dry ones, those

who planned ahead,

stay anywhere near dry

carrying their nylon roof

on a stick.

.

Preminger, Alex, ed. Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974.

The Lovely Blog Award!

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I was just nominated for the Lovely Blog Award by the lovely Writer Chick! Thank you for that, Annie.

The instructions are simple:

  1. Thank your nominator, if you’d like.
  2.  List 7 facts about you
  3. Nominate 15 blogs for the award

So here goes:

Seven facts about me:

  1. I once played the trumpet, but I never practiced enough.
  2. My cat is named after 16th century Japanese swordsman extraordinaire, Miyamoto Mushashi.
  3. My Musashi has had a blog for years, http://musashiguide.blogspot.com/, but has been oddly lazy about writing for it since I took up writing this blog…
  4. My party trick is writing sestinas, or, failing that, stealth refrigerator poetry.
  5. I have over 900 books, even with a yearly culling.
  6. I can pretty much identify Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes by season and episode.
  7. I can still read some French and speak some Japanese, so basically, I have 1.8 languages.

+8. BONUS: This picture is what I did on Saturday: Boston ComicCon 2015!

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Here are the blogs I will nominate:

  1. How to Fangirl for Adults
  2. Art-Colored Glasses
  3. FEMINI
  4. rachelmankowitz
  5. BY LAUREN HAYLEY
  6. annemichael
  7. Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
  8. Thomas H Brand
  9. writingtutortips
  10. heylookawriterfellow
  11. Meredith With Her Mouth Open
  12. Emily is an adult
  13. Alycat
  14. Luna, the Little Chomper
  15. Author Matt Bowes and the Dog’s Breakfast

Liebster Award!

I am honored to have been nominated for the blogging Liebster Award by Nicole from How to Fangirl for Adults. Go check out her blog! The Liebster Award is an award by bloggers for bloggers that is passed forward, and it has some other cool bells and whistles too!

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The Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog
  • Display the award on your blog–by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note: The best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then uploading it to your blog post)
  • Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  • Provide 11 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have less than 1,000 followers (Note: You can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
  • Create a new list of questions for the bloggers to answer
  • List these rules in  your post (You can copy and paste from here).
  • Once you have written and published it, you have to inform the people/blog that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Nicole’s Questions

  1. If you had unlimited resources and time, what would be your dream cosplay or costume? Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d have said Xena: Warrior Princess but I am way to short to carry it off.
  2. Your current favorite song? “On the Road of Experience”
  3. Do you have any pets? If not, what kind of pet would you like to have? Yes, a tuxedo cat named Musashi.
  4. What is a movie everyone needs to have seen in their life? The Princess Bride. Crazy quotes for ever occasion.
  5. When did you write your very first blog post? Late last November.
  6. Do you write outside of blogging? If so, what do you write? If not, what do you like to do outside of blogging? Mostly poetry these days.
  7. Where is your favorite place to write? Coffee shops.
  8. What is your guilty pleasure TV show? Like that really bad reality TV and TLC type of stuff? Xena: Warrior Princess and anything Joss Whedon does.
  9. What is your number one fandom? (yes, you have to pick one) Xena, but I really want to BE Agent Carter.
  10. In one word how would you describe your blog? Diverse.
  11. What is the absolute best type of ice cream out there? Starbucks coffee almond.

11 Facts about Myself

  1. I lived in Japan for two and a half years, teaching English and studying kendo.
  2. On a good day I can write a sestina in one sitting.
  3. I have a mini Stonehenge in my office at MIT.
  4. I never know what to do with Kale.
  5. I still have a dumb phone.
  6. I went on Pottermore and got put into Ravenclaw.
  7. I alternate months of ridiculously productive writing with months like a vast Desert of No Writing Ideas.
  8. I have almost four octaves when I sing.
  9. I have never owned a car.
  10. I have never had a cavity.
  11. I looooooooves Boston.

My Questions

  1. What is your favorite book to reread?
  2. If you could be any hero, who would you be?
  3. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
  4. How do you avoid writer’s block?
  5. What movie would you watch if you were feeling down?
  6. Do you speak/read a second language? Which one?
  7. What do you like best about blogging?
  8. Spartans or Ninjas? Why?
  9. Captain America or Ironman?
  10. What is your favorite summer drink?
  11. What weird writing rituals do you have, if any?

My Nominations

  1. The Insightful Panda
  2. Bookminded
  3. Pop Cultured Randoms
  4. Pop Cult HQ
  5. Like Mercury Colliding