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Layered on top of Ariel’s narrative are the complex themes of violence and shame. Both are constantly experienced by Ariel, as they act externally on her body—by virtue of unfair welfare policies, a bitter mother, closing institutional doors and the occasional confrontation with the father of her child—and manifest as internalized beliefs on what is “normal.” Towards the novel’s opening, Ariel lists out her woman-shames of the physical body and connects them to what that body produces and experiences: art, sexuality, children, debt, success and failure. After witnessing a male doctor sharply slap the newly-born Maia to hear her first cry, Ariel becomes unrelenting in her commitment to breaking the cycle of shame and violence—to living in defiance of that list.

However, all this is complicated by Gore’s commitment to characters as complicated, fully-fleshed people—both inflicting judgement on Ariel while also offering flashes of support and understanding. The grandmother that is embarrassed for Ariel’s situation is also the family member that loves her best. The flighty ex-girlfriend that visits Ariel also leaves condescending poetry. Ariel is a dedicated mother who chain-smokes around her daughter.

From Sara Gregory’s review of Ariel Gore’s new book, We Were Witches in Ms.

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Probably should be watched annually.

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Essay writing at its finest…

When a chance came to visit Yellow Springs, I had no expectation that Chappelle would be there. But I wanted to see it. In Yellow Springs, I met Yvonne Seon. We had a good time. We discussed my wedding, we discussed Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and she introduced me to her family. It was a lovely day. Idyllic, even. On my way out of town, I felt tired, so I stopped for some coffee at a local coffee shop. As I was paying, I saw a few guys out back in the garden, talking, and then I saw Dave Chappelle, in a weird white tank top that strained to contain his muscles. No longer lean. Well-defended.

So at a cash register in Yellow Springs I stood and watched as the person I had so badly wanted to talk to walked toward me. But when he said hello, I made a decision that—until my plane ride home—I kicked myself for. Moving on pure instinct, I simply said hello, turned and finished paying my bill, and left.

Did I mention that the light is beautiful at dusk in Yellow Springs? The people walk the streets, going to the grocery store or looking at the theater listings. There is a café that was once a house on the Underground Railroad that now serves delicious Reuben sandwiches and plays disco music. People say hello in passing, kids with Afros zip by on scooters. It is small-town America, but with hemp stores. I didn’t want to leave, because it seems like an easy place to live. Not without its problems, but a place with a quiet understanding that conversation is the minimum for living in a better world. You know, simple things.

At a memorial for his father a few years back, standing next to his mother at the podium at Antioch College, Dave Chappelle ended his speech by thanking the community of Yellow Springs. “So,” he said, “thank you to you all for giving my father a context where he could just exist and be a good dude, because to be a good dude, as many good dudes have shown you before, is just not a comfortable thing to be. It’s a very hard thing to aspire to. And so thanks for honoring him, because sometimes it is a lonely, quiet road when you make a decision to try to transcend your own demons or be good or whatever he was trying to do here.”

From “If he hollers let him go: Searching for Dave Chappelle ten years after he left his own show” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in The Believer. 

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Letting Go
– Fay Zwicky
Tell the truth of experience
they say they also
say you must let
go learn to let go
let your children
go
and they go
and you stay
letting them go
because you are obedient and
respect everyone’s freedom
to go and you stay
and you want to tell the truth
because you are yours truly
its obedient servant
but you can’t because
you’re feeling what you’re not
supposed to feel you have
let them go and go and
you can’t say what you feel
because they might read
this poem and feel guilty
and some post-modern hack
will back them up
and make you feel guilty
and stop feeling which is
post-modern and what
you’re meant to feel
so you don’t write a poem
you line up words in prose
inside a journal trapped
like a scorpion in a locked
drawer to be opened by
your children let go
after lived life and all the time
a great wave bursting
howls and rears and
you have to let go
or you’re gone you’re
gone gasping you
let go
till the next wave
towers crumbles
shreds you to lace—
When you wake
your spine is twisted
like a sea-bird
inspecting the sky,
stripped by lightning.

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I can’t wait for this! I am in conversation with Miles Franklin shortlisted writer, Emily Maguire at a Queensland Writers Centre event on 22 September, 2017. We have a fascinating topic and Emily is such a great thinker.

A conversation on the fetishism of female victims and the limits to empathy. Maguire and Fox, both known for nuance in their writing, discuss the power of narrative in public responses to emotionally fraught events, the pathologising of risk-taking by women, notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ victims, and the way a rigid scope of sympathy can distance us from truth.

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Buy a ticket here.

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I’m really proud of this one and delighted to announce….

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The book will be available in stores and online from 17 July 2017.

In this revealingly honest collection, successful Australian women talk about the challenges they have overcome, from sexual assault and domestic violence to racism, miscarriage, depression and loss, and how they let the past go to move forward with their lives. Courageously, the contributors delve deep into how these experiences made them feel, what the personal cost was and why they may have chosen to remain quiet until now.

In a time when bragging about sexual assault doesn’t preclude being elected President of the United States, women must stand together and speak out against violence against women. Unbreakable shows that every woman, no matter her success, has a story, and that together we are stronger.

In Jane Caro’s words:
I want to pass on courage and hope to women who have also gone through such things by all of us speaking up about our own experiences. These things do not need to either define us or destroy us. We can find the strength to move forward, and this book shows how successful women have done just that.

Contributors include Kathy Lette, Mariam Veiszadeh, Tracey Spicer, Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, Rebecca Lim, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Susan Wyndham, Andie Fox, Dee Madigan, Catherine Fox, Zora Simic, Nina Funnell, Sandra Levy, Polly Dunning and Jacinda Woodhead, with a foreword by Tanya Plibersek.

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Stop everything and go read this short story, it’s amazing. Here’s a taste to tempt you…

There’s a man I hardly know, an academic. He began sleeping with a graduate student when his wife was pregnant, but everything was cool, because, you know, everyone involved read criticism and all three of them really wanted to test the boundaries of just how much that shit can hurt.

I imagine that shit can hurt a whole lot.

Every time I hear about another professor with a student, I think, Wow, that professor I know is way more messed up than I ever thought. Stealing confidence from eighteen-, nineteen-, twenty-year-olds.

Nasty.

This professor, he cleared the fucking of the graduate student with his pregnant wife, and for reasons I don’t understand the wife allowed him to dabble in younger, unwed women while she gestated their child, while her blood and bones were sucked from her body into their fetus.

Though the wife is an interesting part of this triangle, it’s neither her nor the husband I’m thinking of here in bed while Sam bleeds out his last drop of life on our living-room floor. I’m thinking of the poor, stupid graduate student.

She and the academic attended a lecture together one night. After the lecture, there was a party where she was in the insecure position of being a student among people who were done being students. And though everyone was staring at her—they knew the wife—no one wanted to talk to her or welcome the grad student into the land of scholars.

This was not acceptable. She liked attention. She liked performance. She cleared her throat—and the noise from the room—as if readying for a toast. She stood on a low coffee table. Everyone stopped drinking. In a loud, clear voice, one that must still reverberate in her ears, the academic’s ears, everyone’s ears (it even managed to reach mine), she said, “You’re just angry because of what I do with my queer vagina.”

On my living-room wall I keep a photo of my Victorian great-grandmother engaged in a game of cards with three of her sisters. These women maintained a highly flirtatious relationship with language. “Queer” once meant strange. “Queer” once meant homosexual. “Queer” now means opposition to binary thinking. I experience a melancholy pause when meaning is lost, when words drift like runaways far from home. How did “queer” ever come to mean a philandering penis and vagina in a roomful of bookish, egotistical people? How did common old adultery ever become queer?

I feel the grad student’s late-blooming humiliation. How she came to realize, or will one day soon, that her words were foolish. I remind myself there in bed, Dont talk. Dont say words to people, because words conjure images. Her words created a likely unwanted idea of an organ that, like all our organs, is both extraordinary and totally plain. Some flaps of loose skin, some hair, some blood, but, outside the daily fact of its total magnificence, it is really not queer at all.

From Samantha Hunt’s “A love story” in The New Yorker. 

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Nutrition

Set aside an hour for a real lunch. Not food. Ingest the ambient sounds of your workplace.

Interpersonal Connection

Who was your first friend? Dial tech support and whisper his or her name until the I.T. person hangs up. Relationships are important for well-being.

From Krithika Varagur’s “Self-care tips from Yoko Ono” in The New Yorker. 

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This is a good response to Jia Tolentino’s “The personal-essay boom is over” in The New Yorker from Susan Shapiro in Forward with “Taking it personal: A feminist defense of the first-person essay”.

While Tolentino and others espouse the simplistic, paternalistic view that women mining their intimate lives in public could be somehow exploitative and exploited, I quote Nora Ephron: “Everything’s copy” and try to emulate her grace and sense of humor. I always found revealing secrets in print cathartic and liberating, repeating my shrink’s mantra that, to stay healthy, you should “lead your least secretive life.” Indeed, I owe the career my conservative Midwest family hates to this form. I was originally compelled by this so-called 2008 “first-person industrial complex boom” decades before, as I devoured the audacious confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell and Nikki Giovanni in the staid Michigan Jewburbs in the sixties. Getting my MFA at NYU in 1981, I noticed one could turn poetry subjects into essays and books (like the brilliant Mary Karr, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Katha Pollitt.) After working at The New Yorker for four years, I wrote for The New York Times Lives and Hers columns, Newsweek’s “My Turn,” Cosmopolitan’s “Outrageous Opinion,” along with Glamour, New Woman, Marie Claire, which, at the time, paid $1,000 or more.

Tolentino attributes the shifting essay market to politics (a response to Trump’s election) but as her own piece demonstrates, it’s economics. She quotes former Salon editor Sarah Hepola saying the personal essay “boom” of her day was motivated by an online climate where content was needed and budgets were slashed. Yes, after Apple’s iTunes destroyed the feasibility of music albums, the Internet devalued paper tomes with e-books and hurt print. Cheaper shorter faster online essay versions did proliferate, along with internet trolls and pop up adds. Instead of 1,600 word, $1,600 carefully curated Jane Magazine pieces, suddenly XOJane paid $25 or $50 for quick takes, many silly, which I blame on editors (who are, after all, our bosses) and the higher ups in charge, desperate to keep their businesses afloat. I didn’t love all the Tampax and cat hair pieces or prompts from Hearst’s The Mix. Yet it seemed a worthy experiment since it gave young writers I knew clips, exposure, and literary agents. Cream rose, as always.

 

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Because blogging has felt increasingly uncomfortable for me for personal writing, I am going to attempt TinyLetter instead. It’s an e-newsletter platform and you can subscribe here. It will deliver my ‘personal writing’ posts directly to your email rather than on this blog.

This blog was always supposed to be a place for very honest writing.

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I am hoping with TinyLetter I can feel a little more free again, because I will know exactly who is in the room with me when I am talking. I will always keep this blue milk blog going, but the e-newsletter might be the place where I do more of my ‘thinking out loud’ style writing; the way I used to do on this blog.

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