In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay is very timely.
Being a fan of Gay’s I knew Not That Bad would be a compelling and upsetting read about society’s deplorable rape culture. Gay is a survivor of a gang rape. Rape culture includes sexual violence of all kinds, incest, molestation, sexual harassment in the streets, the schools and workplace, and one’s worthiness based solely on one’s perceived sexuality and sexiness. And this rape culture affects women, men and children from all backgrounds.
Written by well-known (and should be well-known) writers these essays are painful not only for the sexual violence these writers suffered but also for the vile ways they were treated once they spoke out.
Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.
Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.
First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.
What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.
Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.
Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).
Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)
Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write). I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.
Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.
As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.
As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:
How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.
No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!
Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.
This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.
However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:
What did they read when they were little girls and why?
When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
When did they realize writing was their vocation?
What inspires them to write?
Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
What is the one book they wish they wrote?
Discuss their future plans.
Advice for writers.
After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.
Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.
I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!
Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.
I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.
I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.
Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.
The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:
Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”
Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”
What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”
As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.
Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?
Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….
Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.
As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.
But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.
Would you pay money to read the hateful, bigoted screeds of the Thinking Housewife? Nope, I didn’t think so. But apparently some people like hateful, bigoted screeds. FYI, if people don’t pay up the Thinking Housewife she’s going to pull the plug on her blog. I bathe in your tears, bitch, I bathe in your tears.