Literary Tropes

It bothers me quite a bit when, in order to make a female character interesting, writers make her some sort of damaged goods.  She’s been raped, beaten, her father never loved her, her mother never loved her, she’s an orphan raised by wolves/hateful relatives/on the streets, she had an affair with a prominent member of society and his bastard baby was stillborn, she murdered her abuser and buried his body in the garden, etc.  And from the pain of this backstory she manages to pull herself up by her bootstraps and carry on and this makes her beautiful/desirable/interesting.  It makes me a little ill that writers resort to this sort of storyline.

Are they really telling me that a woman can’t be interesting without being damaged in some way?  She can’t be interesting because she’s smart?  Because she reads?  Because she invented something?  Because she made a scientific discovery?  Because she’s really good at fixing cars?  Because she’s spent twenty years studying ballet and is now considered the world’s greatest dancer?  Is a woman really only interesting because of her sacrifices, because she’s overcome some sort of diversity?

I say all this because it’s true: but also because I’m a little annoyed with myself.  The story I’m currently crafting, which I really like, involves my protagonist’s (somewhat) dark past.  She never talks about it, and I don’t really want it to come up at all, really.  But I want it implied that she left America, in part, because she was leaving something [someone (a man)].  But she also leaves America (and this man) for herself.  I want that to be abundantly clear.  But she was also leaving someone and that is actually important.

The real trouble I’m having is plot.  I don’t know what causes the rising action or the climax.  I’ve had a number of ideas that bring her past into the story, but I don’t like that idea.  I don’t want to dredge it up because I don’t want her to only be interesting because of something she’s done before the story starts.

I think I really need to flesh out the rest of the characters.  Maybe something will develop there.

I also don’t want it to be a romance, or about the “friendzone” even though it sort of is.

I’ll keep working.

Hate, Racism, Using Me to Kill Black People: Things I Won’t Accept

It has come to my attention that Dylann Roof, that little prick who shot up a church in Charleston, is using me as his justification for his crimes.  He’s using me, my sisters, and our maidenheads like some antebellum, Jim Crow era rationalization to burn Rosewood to the ground.  This is some Emperor Palpatine-level bullshit.  I do not need some hyped up jerkface to protect me from squat.

I did not grow up with many black kids.  There were a few handfulls of black families in my town, but for the most part our diversity was comprised of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Haitians, and Dominicans.  Lots of Caribbean influence, lots of Central American.  Some Black.  Since leaving high school, I’ve met a wider field of people: I’ve met British, I’ve met Greeks, I’ve met Swedes, I’ve met Chinese.  I’ve met Muslims, I’ve met Jews, I’ve met Rastas.  I’ve met criminals, and I’ve met upstanding citizens.  I’ve met farm-boys, and inner-city ballers.  I’ve met friendly New Zealanders, and douchey Australians.  I’ve met black girls who can’t stop touching my hair, and Ghanaian pastors who invite me to visit their churches.  I’ve met vegan lesbians, and queer Persians, and trans men.  I’m only thirty and I’ve had thousands of students and dozens of roommates from a great many walks of life.  I have had many friends, people who will be my friends for life, and those who were well-needed friends for the time being.  No friendship is superior or inferior to any other.  I love all of my friends.  My friends get to know me and understand who I am.  They have my back if I ever need them to, and I theirs.

Recently, I went on a pseudo-blind date with a man I met on the Internet.  My friend D—- encouraged me to go out with him and not to worry because he’d be there watching if I needed him.  I laughed and told him I wouldn’t need him (and I didn’t) but his offering to be there just in case was appreciated.  I can hold my own with a man.  I know how to handle myself.  There was a time when I didn’t.  There was a time, when I was younger, when I didn’t know how to advocate for myself with men.  I was inexperienced and unused to people trying to take advantage of me, and I found myself in an uncomfortable situation.  He didn’t ask me if he could touch me.  He didn’t ask me if he could do things to me.  I was wise enough to push him away, and he was kind enough to stop, but the damage was done.  I felt dirty and violated.  By a white, mid-western boy.

In my experience, which isn’t singular or unique, I’ve been fucked over by white men.  Almost exclusively.  Black men, in my experience, have always had my back.  I don’t feel as though I need any protection from Black Men.  I don’t feel that I need any protection from White Men, for that matter.  Same goes for Asian Men and American Indians and Caribbean Men.  My vagina isn’t a thing I need a man to worry about.  Women (all women) do not need a man to stand up and, on behalf of us all, make any decisions about our well-being.  We most especially don’t need a man to murder anyone on our behalf.  I will not take on that responsibility.

Far too often Women have been the justification for horrible acts.  Not any specific woman, but Women, in general.  As if we’re all in constant danger and we need the Menfolk to eliminate that danger so we can feel safe.  Quite frankly, I feel less safe with a man who thinks that is a reasonable argument.  It is as twisted as the man who shot women on his college campus because other women wouldn’t have sex with him.  Women are not some abstract concept that can be invoked as a rallying cry.  We’re not “Democracy”, or “Freedom”, or “God”, or other terrible reasons to justify killing other people: we are people.  We are individuals.  We each have a unique point of view and our own opinions.  If Dylann Roof had asked a woman if she felt unsafe from the “threat of Black Men” he would have known better than to use Women as one of his reasons for shooting innocent people.  Rather than invoking the concept of Women (alongside the notion that Black People have “taken over” the country), he should have just stood behind his unreasonable hatred.  It’s no better a reason, but it’s honest.

I refuse to be someone’s rallying cry.  I refuse to be someone’s concept.  I am a white woman, I am not a White Woman.  You may not capitalize those words and do horrendous things because of me.  I love all of my friends.  I love all people.  I do not accept the burden of Dylann Roof’s crimes.  His unchecked hate led him to shoot people, not my sisters, my mother, my nieces, or my friends, and certainly not me.  Do not use me as your excuse to kill black people.

My prayers are with the Charleston community today.  My love for them abounds.  I pray to God to give them strength and compassion.  I also pray that people everywhere stop seeing women as a concept, stop using us for their own purposes, and start seeing women as people.  So many times I’ve read the questions: why do we focus on race?  And, Why do we need feminism?  Because, my dear, there are those out there who still don’t see us.

I Could Kill You


I could kill you if I tried.
It’d be so easy.
You’d never see it coming.
After all,
I’m just a ghost.

I could strangle you
with my two bare hands,
or a wooly scarf,
or a silken tie.
All I’d need is leverage
and the upper body strength.

I could hit you with my car
on a dark and icy night,
put a big old dent right in the fender,
your body sprawled on the side.
All I’d need is a car
and to know where you are.

I could slip poison in your soup.
Tile cleaner, rat poison, Drain-O;
Crime shows have shown me
all the deadly household items.

I could hold you underwater
use all my strength to keep you down.
Tie rocks to our ankles,
drown us in a poetic murder/suicide
agreed to by neither of us.
Or her, watching from the shore.

I wouldn’t do any of this, you know.
You know me at least that well.
After all, it’s not you I want to kill.
The memories of you,
the ghost you left behind.
The fucking bastard
that just won’t die.
No matter what methods I try:
crushing, poisons, knives, and guns,
Still, it won’t disappear.

All’s that’s left to me
is to wish you well,
for her sake, for mine.
So live well, my torturous ghost;
Be the man I loved
for her sake, and for mine.
Make her proud,
be good to her,
for her sake, for mine.

And maybe your ghost will
finally leave me be, and
one day, I won’t want to
starve you, slap you,
smother you, electrocute you,
punch you, spear you,
shoot you, asphyxiate you,
cut you, kill you
love you.

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Murder Most Fictional

When I was about twelve years old I had a dream in which my Step-Mother was murdered like Slutty Girl #1 in a slasher film.  I was on the telephone with the killer and heard the whole thing go down.  I was helpless standing in a lane separated from a meadow by a wooden fence.  The dream was interesting considering I haven’t got a Step-Mother, unless there’s something my family has failed to share with me, cell phones weren’t the norm in 1997, and somehow I could see what was going on as well as hear it.  It was very Hitchcockian.  She was in a shower.

It was then I decided I read too many murder mysteries.

VA mom wants to widen school policy requiring parental permission for “sensitive topics”

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Because her 17 year old AP English student son was disturbed by Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Now, while Beloved is the reading equivalent of running a mile in knee-deep mud, there’s really no reason to ban it from an Advanced Placement English course.  Ok, so it’s mildly disturbing, yes.  I read it as a college student and was pretty annoyed/disgusted/horrified pretty much the entire time.  Until I realized that as much as Beloved is about the dead girl and her mother’s guilt regarding the dead baby – it’s also about Denver, the living daughter, actually living her life — moving past her mother’s guilt and becoming a functioning member of society.

This novel is not easy and anyone who thinks it is has no idea what they are talking about.  This book is about a very tough issue.  But it’s no worse than any other book written in or about the mid to late 1800s America.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as lovely as it is, is the white, sanitized version of slavery.  Harriet Jacobs’ and Frederick Douglas’ slave narratives show a more real, more brutal, more honest side to what was going on.  Beloved shows readers the plight of women under slavery, how bleak a situation it truly was, and some really tough decisions women had to make sometimes.  It’s also a story of healing, of hope, of moving into a future without looking back.  It’s heavy.

Wherever there is prejudice and injustice and hardship there are going to be “sensitive topics” discussed.  The Grapes of Wrath was a book I had to read as a high school junior that left me rather uncomfortable – especially the ending scene; The Painted Bird tells the story of a boy roaming the ignorant and backward Polish countryside during and after World War II, some of the things he witnesses are highly disturbing; Night by Elie Wiesel shows what being in a concentration camp was actually like; In the Time of the Butterflies shows the fear of the Dominican people during President Trujillo’s dictatorship and what some brave few went through in order to gain some justice; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, pulpy, pop fiction, sure, is the story of rotten people perverting what is meant to be a welfare system on one hand, and a warped and twisted sociopath who abuses his own children severely screwing them up for the future, on the other.  What these books, along with Beloved, teach us is to recognize injustice and prejudice and, if we can’t do something to stop the greater problem in play, to have compassion for the people around us.  Do what we can to help the people we love who might be going through a hard time.  They tell us to be supportive of our friends and family.  To try to work toward a brighter future where these things don’t happen.  These books all end the same way: with Hope.

It’s idealist, maybe; some might say naive; but it’s a mature concept that is expected, and often demanded, by society, by authors, by critics.  If a high school student is deemed smart enough and mature enough to take a college level literature course you can bet your buttons that he or she is going to be expected to handle some “sensitive topics”.  The student is going to be asked to be mature enough to handle some adult topics, sometimes harsh and uncomfortable topics.  But being at a college level means acting and thinking like an adult, recognizing that you’re not a kid anymore, and starting to make your own decisions.  Taking a college level English course while in High School might be a “safe” way to introduce a student to college, but it shouldn’t expect anything less from the student than a college literature course would.

This Virginia mom might have a point about including parents in designing the curriculum to an extent, but I think the harsh reality is that her son wasn’t mature enough for Beloved.  There are worse books his teacher could have chosen, but it seems to me that he or she chose an appropriate novel to expect a teenager in a college level English course to be able to handle.  It might be disturbing at times, it might give the kid nightmares, but it hopefully is also opening his mind and getting him to think about the world in a slightly different way.  If high school students are expected to read The JungleNative Son, Johnny Got His Gun, Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies, and The Bell Jar, then a high school student in a college level class should be expected to handle Beloved.

If the student can’t, then maybe he shouldn’t be in that class.

*Click on the picture to go to the NPR website to learn more about Toni Morrison and “This Virginia mom” to read the Washinton Post article about Ms. Murphy’s campaign to change school policies.