Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #3.5


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.


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.

Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #4

Again with the Joss Whedon ladies. Now there’s a surprise. Number Four is Melinda May and All the Other Women on Agents of SHIELD.


Agent Melinda May is an older Asian beauty with badass combat skills and a lack of extraneous affect. The character went through some serious shit back in Bahrain and hasn’t been the same since. And although we are always wary of badass chicks with psychological baggage getting in the way of their having a normal life, we can’t not appreciate the badassery of May.

The thing is, though, that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is chock full of bad ass women, from Utterly Badass to Seriously badass to Gradually Badass to Occasionally Badass to–what?–Administratively/Categorically Badass?

And the rest, in order from Utterly Badass down to Eventually Badass are:


Isabelle Hartley. When Bobbi Morse says to her, “You know I just love your whole thing, right?” you know Izzie’s Utterly Badass.



MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – “A Fractured House” – The world turns against S.H.I.E.L.D. when Hydra impersonates them to attack The United Nations, and an unexpected enemy leads the charge to bring about their downfall, on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) ADRIANNE PALICKI

Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse. Her superpowers are sarcasm, escrima batons, and having sex with her ex-husband in the back of an SUV.


Skye. Sorry, Daisy Johnson. You will always be Skye to me.


Maria Hill. Hers is mostly an administrative badassery, but somebody has to do it. (Also, she looks so much sexier in the SHIELD uniform of Avengers than she does in the pencil skirt and four-inch heels of Avengers/Ultron. Bleh. Joss Whedon, you have disappointed me.)


Jemma Simmons. She has, as Coulson points out, “two PhDs in fields I can’t even pronounce” and a really cute wardrobe. Also, she loves Leo Fitz, who deserves to be loved by a super genius like himself.


Victoria Hand. Because how many administrators of huge national security operations can get away with red streaks in their hair?

Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #5


It shouldn’t surprise anyone that roughly half of my BWCGs come from shows helmed by Joss Whedon, since he practically invented the trope. The women of Firefly and Serenity represent a wide variety of badassery from the smart kind—Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is a mechanical genius and Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a woman who knows her way around blasters, swordplay and archery, not to mention the tea ceremony and light massage—to the more usual fighter kind. And once again the fighter kind include both the broken and the unbreakable.


River Tam (Summer Glau) is a bit like what Natasha Romanov would have been like if, in her teen years, the Black Widow Program had removed her amygdala, the part of the brain that allows you to ignore painful or worrying feelings. This is an operation that apparently makes for a good sleeper assassin, but man, can it just ruin the rest of your life.


In contrast is Captain Reynold’s second in command, Zoe Washburn. In boots and a duster, the tall Gina Torres radiates confidence and capability and a, hah yes, serenity that is in short supply on the spaceship on the outer rim of the galaxy. She shoots what I originally thought was a shotgun, but apparently is a “Mare’s Leg,” a customized shortened rifle. And she wears a string necklace that Torres speculated might have come from the combat boots that Zoe wore during the war against the Alliance. Which is pretty darn badass, if you ask me.

During a ComicCon panel a while back, Torres said that she has often been told by fans that Firefly saved their lives, that people with cancer or dealing with domestic abuse returned to the show and to her character in particular to gain strength. Which is also pretty darn badass.


“Mare’s Leg.” Wikipedia. 16 Sept. 2015. Web 20 Sept. 2015

Getting To Know Characters

firefly cast 364700

So I have been rewatching Joss Whedon’s brief, lamented TV show Firefly and I started to notice how, especially in the pilot, one of the primary ways we get introduced to the characters and find out who they are is by watching their interactions/relationships with the other characters. This may seem obvious, especially for folks who are more used to reading/watching/writing for stage and small and big screens, but my background is primarily in poetry, stories and novels. In poetry what you primarily have to show your characters is their language. Do they talk like Tennyson’s King Arthur or like Popeye? In prose fiction, you get narrative description and internal monologue in addition to dialogue. But in more cinematic stories, all you get is what you can see and hear: costumes, dialect, and interactions that show, for example, affection or power or the like.

So we see the disillusioned Captain Mal Reynolds keeping a lid on the man he relies on for muscle and automatic weapons, Jayne, who is not a bad guy, just pragmatic and occasionally a little mean, when he teases the innocent mechanic Kayley for her obvious crush on the upper class doctor, Simon Tam. Mal has a love/hate relationship for the stylish Companion (read: courtesan) Inara, as in, he loves the woman and hates her job. Kayley and Inara, although seemingly opposites, clearly share an affectionate friendship, in part because they are two out of three women on a ship full of Manly Men, and in part precisely because they are opposites: each woman sees in each other relief from the day-to-day reality of their lives. Inara provides vicarious excitement for Kayley and Kayley has the innocence that Inara lost long ago.

And, sure the costumes help, but even if this were a radio play, I think we would very quickly see who these characters are—in themselves and to each other—and why we should care about them.

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!


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

Just the Annoying Sidekick? Hardly!

jaynes hat

Here at San Diego Comic Con, the creator of Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse, and the director of two Avengers movies, just told us the nature and purpose of existence. He also revealed one of his next projects: a “Victorian female Batman” called Twist.

So during Joss Whedon’s big one-man show panel here at Comic Con, a fan dressed in a Jayne hat and a Sunnydale T-shirt asked what was the meaning of life, what was the nature of reality, and how we could be sane and happy in the world. And Whedon responded:

“You think I’m not going to, but I’m going to answer that. The world is a random and meaningless terrifying place and then we all—spoiler alert—die. Most critters are designed not to know that. We are designed, uniquely, to transcend that, and to understand that—I can quote myself—a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”

Whedon added that “the main function of the human brain, the primary instinct, is storytelling. Memory is storytelling. If we all remembered everything, we would be Rain Man, and would not be socially active at all. We learn to forget and to distort, but we [also] learn to tell a story about ourselves.”

And Whedon said, “I keep hoping to be the hero of my story, [but] I’m the annoying sidekick. I’m kind of like Rosie O’Donnell in that Tarzan movie.” He keeps hoping to be Tarzan, but finding that he’s that weird monkey that nobody can tell if it’s a girl or a boy.

“My idea is that stories that we then hear and see and internalize—and wear hats from and come to conventions about… We all come here to celebrate only exactly that: storytelling, and the shared experience of what that gives us.” The shared experience of storytelling gives us strength and peace, Whedon added. You understand your story and everyone else’s story, and that “it can be controlled by us.” This is something we can survive, “because unlike me, you all are the hero of your story.”

Anders, Charlie Jane. “Joss Whedon Just Explained the Meaning of LIfe to Us.” 11 July 2015. Web. 12 July 2015.


Icons & Action Figures


Every once in a while, I remember what this blog was supposed to be about: poetry. How to make it, how to fix it, how to think about words and lines and tropes and all that stuff. Somewhere along the way, my recent obsession with American popular culture has kicked in, in part because, duh, Joss Whedon, but also because I am fascinated with how we construct identity and community through interacting with symbols, whether the symbols be our clothes, as my friends Meredith and Amy have recently discussed in their blogs, or music, interior decoration, or their particular fandom.

It’s not just the Greek Orthodox Church that uses icons. We all carry around in our heads the picture of a grandparent, a teacher, a college friend, a movie star, and in different ways we refer back to them at different times. Whenever I write a long piece of nonfiction, I remember my high school English teacher, Sr. Kevin White, talking about conciseness.

In my first book, which is coming along eventually, I have poems about Barbie and Ken, Raggedy Ann and Dapper Dan, Amelia Earhart, Wonder Woman, Lucy Lawless, Sam Spade, and my friends at GreenFaith. In our modern world icons and action figures are increasingly interchangeable, for better or for worse. So I don’t have to write my poetry about some incredibly high culture narrative like Paradise Lost or the Ancient Mariner. Shakespeare was popular culture once; hence all the bawdy jokes even in the tragedies. And I’m not alone in writing about women warriors: Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene uses the character of Britomart, the virgin knight, to stand in for Queen Elizabeth I and British might (painting by Walter Crane). This reminds me of a folk singer who came to Middlebury College a million years ago. I still remember one of her original songs (in addition to the one about the Shrewsbury Moose):

A doll is someone who loves you,

Someone who hugs you when you cry.

I know a doll when I see one

And Rambo could be one

If he would only try!

So tell me peoples, who are your icons and action figures?CIMG1675

Tribal Connections


Somewhat appropriately for Mother’s Day, I was going back to something Writer Chick wrote in her blog a while back that interested me. She said:

“The idea here is that a writer or otherwise creative entrepreneur type person needs a tribe. A group of people so dedicated to them that they spread the word. Offer support. Pledge undying loyalty to the person, their products and/or their brand. Now aside from family, which I think is actually a tribe of sorts, isn’t this a little bit weird? Even your group of friends could be a tribe, I guess. Or your co-workers. But like total strangers?”

To my mind what she describes here is not a tribe. It is a fanbase. A tribe does not promote you; it supports and protects you, perhaps, or shares your particular brand of weirdness, or loves what you love or speaks a shared language. So Middlebury College alumni, who speak at least two languages and have traveled abroad and let it change them, broaden their minds, etc., are one of my tribes. Whedonistas (lovers of Joss Whedon’s prolific oeuvre) tend to be one of my tribes. Peaceful martial artists are one of my tribes.

For my money, your tribe is not there to promote you like a rock star. They are there to understand you when no one else does, to finish your sentences even when you think you are not communicating clearly, and to love you for your oddities, not despite them. Anyway, that’s what I think. What do you think?

What the Eyes Want


So I have once again been binge-watching Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) on Netflix. Now I understand why I binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS); it is a fairly aesthetically complete show, the writers quickly came to write with a consistent voice (Joss Whedon’s), and they were always, always true to the characters (no mysterious evil babies, unless you count Dawn Summers, as many people do). The villains are compelling and the power relations between Slayer, Scoobies, victims and other non-Scoobies get worked out in interesting ways; this last probably is held together by the high-school-as-horror framework that is the series’ origin story.

In comparison, XWP ranged wildly from overblown operatic tragedy to high camp, often from one episode to the next. The writers wrote narrative arcs that fans twenty years later are still lamenting. And there was not just one mysterious and/or evil baby; there were TWO. And do not EVEN get me started on the final two episodes; although they were aesthically very pretty, and Renee O’Connor handled her katana fight scenes with tremendous aplomb, the story-runners basically broke every rule in the book, betrayed the fans, and put a stink on something so many of us loved. I have taken to my self-styled deconstructionist friend, Jenna Tucker’s way of handling this and I write those two episodes out of the canon. Kaput.

Also, although the Hong Kong style of fighting was always very high quality, sometimes the production value was a bit cut rate or cheesy (think of the Evil Egg Men in “Prometheus”). So here is me with my master’s degrees and my interest in High Quality Popular Culture. Why do I keep going back to this show as a thirsty woman back to sparkling fountain?

And what went through my mind as I wrote that question is one key to the answer. My internal image was the cartoon man crawling through a desert; I had to consciously choose to replace the man with a woman to represent myself in the metaphor more accurately. XWP went off the air in 2001. Fourteen years later, the vast majority of TV shows and films still don’t pass the Bechdel Test, which is that a show must:

  1. Have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

(This is, one would think, NOT A HARD TEST TO PASS. And as other critics have noted it isn’t even the best test to see if a movie could be feminist, as a true feminist agenda has intersections with other groups striving for equality—race, class, LGBTQ, and disability are all groups who are institutionally under- or unrepresented in popular culture.)

So one simple answer is that XWP is still one of the best shows out there for showing strong women interested in a variety of things besides men—their work, their values, their artistic and redemptive goals, who catches the fish and who cooks it, and whether we ever owe the gods our allegiance. Male screenwriters would be surprised to find out what women ACTUALLY talk about, and that the large proportion of our thought really isn’t about them even if we are straight (and these two characters are arguably bisexual if you read the text and the subtext together). It is rare to see female friendship portrayed so richly (even if the two characters sometimes have epic fights, in part due to writerly manipulation To Heighten The Conflict).

Another reason might simply be the aesthetic appeal of seeing the beautiful and athletic Lucy Lawless, Renee O’Connor, and Hudson Leick doing this elaborate acrobatic fighting with the bad guys. And most writers enjoy seeing a writer as the maker of narrative within narrative, which Renee O’Connor’s Gabrielle the bard offers us, in both serious and humorous ways.

But what I think is more important is something I found in James Hillman’s book: The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. In a preface made of epigraphs, he quotes Vladimir Nabokov, who says, “Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that passed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap.” (From Speak, Memory)

I like this idea of a watermark on the soul, an image that resonates when it meets like images in the world. Hillman claims that the “acorn” of a person’s “genius” (in the Roman sense) often shows itself early in childhood. So I think back to the earliest period of insomnia I can remember, around three, when I would lie in bed and retell myself stories like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, generally recast with myself as the princess with the sword and the horse, racing off to save the kidnapped prince. Sounds like a just woman warrior watermark to me.

And the fact that I have studied martial arts off and on for two decades and been a poet for more than three decades, have studied voice, and teach writing: So Xena is the big, tough woman warrior I always wanted to be and Gabrielle is the short blonde bard I have become. I begin to think I watch the show to help me figure out how to integrate these images/roles within myself.

Also, it makes me laugh.


James Hillman. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. New York: Random