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Get Inspired!

February 3, 2014
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This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL, and cross-posted at my blog Paper//Clay!

February is still the time when New Year’s Resolutions are fresh in our minds, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

Read this Book: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

November 19, 2013

This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL and cross-posted on my personal blog Paper//Clay.

Allie Brosh, author of the new book Hyperbole and a half : unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, and I are soulmates. I am absolutely sure of this. Not just because both of our names are Allie (spelled correctly), but because she gets it. She gets pets, she gets depression, she gets cake, she gets procrastination, adulthood, and spider fear, and she gets me. This book gives me all of the feelings.

This book is a collection of her writings and drawings from her website Hyperbole and a Half that cover just about whatever she wants. Her drawings are some of the best things to come out of MS Paint since the programs invention. She represents herself as a stick-ish figure with a pink dress a tuft of yellow hair that kind of looks like a party hat. It’s not high art, but it is hilarious. There is a bunch of stuff in there about her dogs, who are quite dumb but very very sweet. She also tells a hysterical story about a childhood run-in with some cake. Her stories can be incredibly funny, but also tender and meaningful.

One of the best things she does is talk honestly about her depression. On her site she addresses how she used to post a lot more but slowed down because she was depressed. It’s not something she dealt with and now it’s gone, it’s something she deals with all the time. She told the Guardian, “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.” YES. She doesn’t gloss over it; she dives in and brings you with. But it’s not all sad, and there is some truly priceless comedy in those stories.

You can read an excerpt on NPR. Let it be known, I like this book alot.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

June 13, 2013

There’s two things that I’ve learned in the last year. The first is vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous… Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk,exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I’ve come to the belief — this is my 12th year doing this research — that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage –to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest. – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame

My sophomore year of college I made the New Year’s resolution to “Be Brave.” It’s the only one I have ever kept. The imperative hung on a poster on my wall that year (along with a poor crayon drawing of a T-Rex.) And while the poster is now on another wall, the proposition to be brave has stuck with me.

Sometimes, it’s been a battle cry. I repeated it to myself as I first got up the nerves to audition for the Vagina Monologues. I needed fellow HBer Emily to come with me, but the audition was the beginning of a long involvement with V-Day and an ongoing connection with the play.

Sometimes, it’s been that push. A continuing nudge to not settle, and to take risks in order to attain my goals. It’s been my motto through starting new projects and making big moves and deciding to go back to school.

Lately, it’s an encouragement to be seen. To resist the temptation to hide behind social conventions and insecurity and instead fully connect with the people around me. It’s about the daily bravery of being true and honest with myself and to sharing myself with others.

I believe there is bravery in resisting shame. I don’t achieve this all the time, but it’s something I aspire to. In Weightless’s post on combating body anxiety, she quotes Shauna Niequist from Bread & Wine: A Lover Letter to Life Around the Table on how shame operates:

That’s what shame does…. It whispers to us that everyone is as obsessed with our failings as we are. It insists that there is, in fact, a watchdog group devoted completely to my weight or her wrinkles or his shrinking bank account. Shame tricks us into believing there’s a cable channel that runs video footage of us in our underpants twenty-four hours a day, and that all of the people we respect have seen it. Shame tells us that we’re wrong for having the audacity to be happy when we’re clearly terrible. Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist.

I recently came across a series of Ted Talks by Brené Brown about vulnerability and shame that ring completely true to me. She argues that  shame boils down to fear of disconnection:

Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

So how do we fully connect? We allow ourselves to be vulnerable:

This is what I have found:  to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Being vulnerable can be scary. We take a risk when we share ourselves fully – we risk rejection, ridicule, embarrassment. But there is a huge reward in allowing ourselves to be enough. To being who we are and connecting fully with others. So go ahead, happy bodies, and Be Brave!

On the Freedom of (Hate) Speech

May 31, 2013

I’m pretty sick of the Freedom of Speech argument being invoked whenever someone gets called out for being an asshole. Like recall the terrible humor of Daniel Tosh. When many, many people called him out for joking on stage about how funny it would be if a woman in the audience was gang-raped on the spot, his supporters cried that comedy should have no limits (yeah, but one problem is Tosh is not funny) and that he has Freedom of Speech. My response was largely: Yes, you can say whatever you want, but I’m allowed in return to call you an asshole.

The latest Freedom of Speech scandal is over Women, Action & Media’s open letter to Facebook to remove gender-based hate speech. (TRIGGER WARNING: The images posted here are very upsetting.) Facebook has agreed to take down the images in question, and has committed to “refine its approach to hate speech.”

In response, Jillian York of the XX Factor has written an article, Facebook Should Not be in the Business of Censoring Speech, Even Hate Speech. (Under the banner of “What Women Really Think.”)

Now let’s be clear what we are talking about when we invoke Freedom of Speech. There is the Law and then there is the societal ideal. As York correctly notes, Facebook is not the government, y’all. It’s a private company. They can regulate the speech on their site however they want. And they ALREADY HAVE a definition of Hate Speech from which to flag content. Women, Action & Media’s open letter  is simply asking Facebook to expand the definition of Hate Speech to include images and text that depict and promote violence against women. And if you want to see the images they have flagged at the above link, there is no question that they are abhorrent. In the letter they asked for Facebook to:

1. Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.

2. Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.

3. Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.

What York takes issue with here is the assault on the ideal of freedom of speech in the “quasi-public sphere” that is facebook. At the same time, she questions whether it is ideal for a company to be defining hate speech for the public. Now the problems and implications of embracing the corporatization of the public sphere is an interesting conversation for another time, but here I want to question what is our ideal of freedom of speech in the public spaces we create? The posters of this content have not been banned from the site or prosecuted, the content is simply being asked to be removed, based on site standards. I think this is more a question of community norms and inclusivity. In this quasi-public sphere do we want to restrict calls for violence? Do we want women to feel safe to participate in the community?

The fact is there already a limitation on Hate Speech on Facebook, created by the site. Users are asking for a refinement of these guidelines. Yes, it is still Facebook’s decision, but isn’t this the ideal way for the norms of this public space to be shaped? By a large group of users asking to change the guideline based on community values? Not according to York. Her final argument?

While the campaigners on this issue are to be commended for raising awareness of such awful speech on Facebook’s platform, their proposed solution is ultimately futile and sets a dangerous precedent for special interest groups looking to bring their pet issue to the attention of Facebook’s censors.

Yep. Violence against women is just a pet issue. We’re on a slippery slope to not allowing promotion of violence against all sorts of people on Facebook. A truly upsetting way to end an article under the banner of “what women really think.”


Quick Hit: “Public Fat Shaming is not Good Marketing”

April 1, 2013

I continue to resist the argument that shaming someone “for their own good” is ever an effective mode of changing behavior. Whether it be teen pregnancy (which is a whole other discussion), or fat shaming. It’s insulting, stigmatizing, and ineffective. To put it simply: you don’t take care of a body you hate, and more to the point, it’s no one’s right to make you hate yourself. As Rebecca Eisenberg says in her brilliant take down of internet trolls:  “Why does it hurt you if I don’t hate myself?”

Of course, there are some people who have a lot to gain from making you hate yourself: the weight loss industry. Fat Heffalump has a great article about being given a weight loss flyer on the street as some sort of targeted marketing campaign, in which she brilliantly takes down the assumption that anything done by the weight loss industry is about helping you feel better:

For some reason, it is believed by many people that weight loss peddlers actually care about us. That they care about our happiness, our health and/or our bodies. They don’t. They care about obtaining our money. They tell us our bodies are not acceptable, sell us a product that does not work, then blame us for failing, and sell us the product again, or a new product that does not work. In Australia alone they make almost $800 million per year. In the US, it’s $66 billion per year. They are taking your money and laughing at you as they watch you blame yourself for their product or service failure.

Don’t stand for that shit. Don’t let anyone dismiss what a horrible act it is to single out a fat person and try to shame them into buying a product. Don’t let the weight loss industry brainwash you into believing that they care about you, or that they are doing anyone a public service by pushing their product on to people who never asked for it in the first place.

All I can say is: Word.

Read this Book: The Religion of Thinness by Michelle M. Lelwica

March 17, 2013

The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women’s Obsession with Food and Weight describes a crisis of spirituality for American women. Author Michelle M. Lelwica asserts that spirituality is not the same as religion, although religion has been a way that traditionally spiritual needs have been met. She discuss patriarchy in the Christian church as one way that even women who are religious have had their spirituality stifled. She argues that many women have turned instead to the Religion of Thinness to get their spiritual needs met. I think her thesis is debatable, but  its very interesting framework from which to consider our cultural obsession with weight, and how striving for a beauty deal may be masking our other needs.

Let’s consider how Lelwica defines our spiritual needs, and the way striving for thinness and beauty can be used to (temporarily and insufficiently!) fulfill these needs. The Religion of Thinness:

1. Gives us what some theologians refer to as an ultimate concern or an ultimate purpose.
2. Gives us a set of myths to believe in regarding the rewards of thinness.
3. Presents us with iconographic imagery to which we can aspire.
4. Offers rituals by which to organize our daily lives.
5. Creates a set of moral rules and vocabulary by which we can judge ourselves and others.
6. Includes us in a community of women who are all trying to achieve the same objectives.
7. Promises salvation.

Reading the book I was continually reminded of my own personal experience with weight loss and with one of the early articles I read that got me interested in Happy Bodies as a project: The Fantasy of Being Thin by Kate Harding.

Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.”

Overcoming The Fantasy of Being Thin might be the hardest part of making it all the way into fat acceptance-land. And that might just be why I’d pushed that part of the process out of my memory: it fucking sucked. Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.

I think The Religion of Thinness correlates well with the “Fantasy of Being Thin”. Harding pushes the question, ‘When I’m fantasizing about being thin, what type of person am I fantasizing about becoming, and why can’t I do that now?’ Lelwica encourages you to ask, ‘When I am overcome with the desire to lose weight, what is the real need that’s not being met in my life?’ Her book both explains her hypothesis about the Religion of Thinnessand gives the reader tangible steps to fulfilling spiritual needs without falling into this trap. She emphasize acceptance, meditation and thoughtfulness about your body,  as well as engaging in cultural criticism, as methods to change the paradigm and create a positive relationship with your body.

So go ahead and pick up the Religion of Thinness! It’s a fantastic read.

Read This Book: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

March 13, 2013

READ THIS BOOK. I meant to write about it when I first read it, but I have a lot on my plate, books-wise, and it fell by the wayside. This Saturday I was at the library with a friend and she wanted to read a book by a woman. I handed her Beauty Queens. She finished it yesterday and our conversation really brought me back to everything I loved about it.

Brief plot summary: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash land on an island and they have to survive. It’s a satire, so a lot of the plot and many of the characters are really silly, but every character (except maybe the villains?) has a very real side too.

That summary makes the book sound so stupid and one-note, but it is incredible in part because it covers so much ground. This book is for you if you love gender, bodies, female sexuality/female sexual fluidity, disability issues, trans issues, class issues, race issues, television, coming out, safe sex, pirates, and, of course, young adult literature. Seriously. And not only does the book touch on all those things, Libba Bray does it with nuance, grace, and validation.

Since part of the narrative includes the character’s thoughts, you get insight into each of their backgrounds: where they came from, what they’re working towards/against, and the feelings difficult situations bring up. These girls struggle, in a way that feels very earnest, with all the things that brought them to the pageant and with who they are.  There is one character, Shanti (Miss California), who meets Nicole (Miss Colorado), and they both have an internal battle and a few verbal battles about who has the contestant-of-color on lock. YES! They know the drill and that in the scheme of this pageant only one can come out on top, but obviously that’s not all they are! One of the girls struggles with her desire to break free of her straight-laced image and become a pirate queen, living a wild life on the high seas. Should she be ashamed of her passion and sexual desire? No! Duh! One of the contestants is a textbook dumb blonde on paper, but through the course of the book she really comes into her own and she contributes in a way that isn’t patronizing. Who she becomes (in the book and the epilogue) isn’t really earth-shattering, but it’s her and it’s valid and that’s so important.

The way that Libba Bray covers so much, so deftly is really beyond me. The silly bits keep you entertained, but everything is so infused with reality and RAD attitudes that even when it’s at its silliest it has so much heart. The best thing about this book is that there’s room for everything and everybody. I want teenagers to read it. I want every person I meet to read it! Read it!

What happens when girls are left to their own devices on an island? Anything. Literally anything. They are who they are, they do what they want, they live their lives, and don’t apologize.

Me and Libba Bray when she was in Milwaukee! On a scale of 1-10, how jealous are you?

If you want to read this, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU DO, I’ll open up a thread on the Happy Bodies Goodreads group for us to talk about it.