Patronizing History: Rise of the Rocket Girls

I’m currently reading Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, the #wlclub pick for May. I wrote this post for the #wlclub google group and decided to store it here as well because it’s about a thousand words on how to patronize female historical subjects and exploring how/why that may happen.

Continue reading Patronizing History: Rise of the Rocket Girls

Poem: “Divinity through the Ages”

What would you do with unlimited power?

Over at Open Letters Monthly, I’m thrilled to have a poem in their February 2016 issue.

I do love this poem a stupid lot; it came out of a collection I worked on about two years ago. A lot of the poems and prose poems were unsalvageable, but I’m still circulating some in hopes of getting them published. The poems riffed on mythology and women from my favorite stories (female characters from history, myths, and literature) and I’m glad that if any part of that collection sees the light of day, it’s this one. (Maybe the Mary Shelley one, too.)

Read the full poem at Open Letters Monthly.

desk lunch – 2015-11-05

A short desk lunch because things are busy, between my day job and my month-long NaNoWriMo project (not a novel, but just a time when I write and complete something every day for 30 days). Fun times! Is it Thanksgiving yet!


From Vaudeville To Hamilton: Racial Minorities In Musicals

The runaway success of Hamilton has shown that this sort of “race-blind” casting can become an astounding success—and also how far we’ve come from the musicals of the 1940s.

Two things: ONE: I appreciate this piece because it makes the point that the days of Old Hollywood were lose-lose in their portrayals of POC and how they utilized non-white actors once they had them. Roles for minorities offered either deeply uncomfortable stereotypical portrayals, or POCs (and the roles they played) were whitewashed, such as my honorary grandmother Rita Moreno. I didn’t realize she was Zelda in Singin’ in the Rain until I had seen the movie roughly 16,000 times because she looked nooooooothiiiiiing like the way she’s looked the rest of her life. TWO: Hamilton is NOT a RACE-BLIND or COLOR-BLIND musical, and people need to stop calling it that. Race/color-blind implies (“implies”)* that the performers were chosen without considering their ethnic backgrounds, and this is not the case w/r/t Hamilton, where casting POC in every role (except King George) was an active priority because, in the writer’s words: “This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance — our story should look the way our country looks.” The word you’re looking for (actively casting POCs in historically/traditionally white roles to create a double conscious performance) might be racebending, but to the best of my knowledge, there’s no theater-specific term for this sort of thing. However: the term is NOT “race-blind” or “color-blind.”

*Ironic quotation marks because I doubt anyone, literally anyone’s ability to conduct truly “blind” evaluations of any work. For more on this issue (but from a different field) see this piece from Apogee Journal about blind submissions at literary magazines. Readers, especially, often think that “the work” will speak for itself in a pure and objective manner, and that taking the name off a submission will also rid their own brains of implicit bias, and that’s absolutely not the case, ever.

Oh, MAN, do I love anything more than giant compilations of primary sources? NO, I DON’T. I got this book used for about $10 and so far it’s WONDERFUL. It works from the compelling, strangely radical thesis: maybe people have always been people, and maybe same-sex attraction/romance/intimacy/sexuality isn’t an invention of the past 10 minutes, and here are 400 pages of historical documents that can be viewed in that light! Maybe we, the inheritors of this legacy, can take people of the past at their word when they wrote things like: “I have certainly never loved [a] man as I love you—and never shall” and “If I could have lived along side of you all the days of my life, I should have been happier.” (full excerpt) It’s a better solution than superimposing a century of institutionalized homophobia on legitimate emotional relationships that don’t suit an “idealized” concept of the past. (Ironic quotations ABOUND today—no regrets!)

Have you ever heard of the Omura whale? ….There’s a pretty simple explanation for why you probably haven’t; they didn’t technically exist until 2003. You see, until then they were not thought to be a distinct spacies of whale, merely a dwarf version of another species. But in 2003, after a team of Japanese researchers spent a good deal of time studying their DNA and bodily chracteristics decided they were distinct enough to be their own species, and named them after the deceased cetologist Hideo Omura.

THERE’S A NEW WHALE? THERE’S A NEW WHALE!


desk lunch – 2015-10-15

Brought to you this week by… oh it’s still Hamilton. It’s always Hamilton, and falling head over heels for Hamilton reminds me of the last (pre-Hamilton) new musical I loved, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. I love this gorgeous, weird little show (and I was lucky enough to see at Kazino in 2013), and the music and story are amazing. Not as epic in scale as Hamilton, but perfect in its way.

I just want people to love Natasha and the Comet as much as I do, okay!!!!


The Shoes Under the Art World

They didn’t have to worry or marry their way into support; and they didn’t have another project, always waiting outside the studio for them to put down the staple gun and canvas. That’s what Virginia Woolf meant: a woman who wants to write (or paint) must have an income. The room of your own is the room you’ve paid for with your own money, with no one needing you—the tug on your body—outside. You need that room, with money left over for art supplies.

Really interesting longread by Pat Lipsky, a visual artist working since the 70s, and the deep-seated sexism still found in the art world. The quote above stands out, as well as the repeated imagery of “whose shoes are under the bed”, i.e., who is the man every female artist must attach herself to in order to make her living?


So, the first Democratic Presidential Debate happened. I highly recommend Alexandra Petri’s rich Maryland/granite mythos developed through the night after a couple of strange comments from the Not-Berns. I kind of love and fear the circus social media becomes during Serious Political Events like these- love for the hilarious running gags and fear because, obviously, we can’t live in the circus.

…Syria is just one of many places across the globe where warlords, separatists, drug cartels, or terror groups have seized territory within a sovereign nation, leaving the government with little or no power—and the people to fend for themselves.

Not quite an interactive feature, but a great visualization of the long-term conflicts happening around the world, the ones intense enough to have destabilized the established government. It’s an awful portrayal of the daily violence happening all over the world, but also this strangely sobering reminder that history isn’t finished. Very often it feels like America officially stopped writing history with the end of WWII, and everything after doesn’t belong with our National Mythology; the same very much applies to our conception of the rest of the world. There’s no forever in empire. HAS NO ONE READ OZYMANDIAS?


desk lunch – 2015-09-10

My husband and I study history, specifically the late Victorian era of the 1880s and ’90s.  Our methods are quite different from those of academics. Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.

Earlier in the week, The Big Story that caught my eye was on The Awl about what freelance writers are paid, but then these pseudo-Victorians rolled into Vox and everything went out the window, mostly because 1) VICTORIANS! and 2) I write fiction and very short essays, not longreads based on hours of research and reporting, as almost every writer quoted in that piece. So it was like a quick glance into a place that didn’t hold much interest for me.

Anyway! The pseudo-Victorians are way more interesting because wow they fueled fascinating discussions on my timeline all day from all the historians and academics RISING FROM THE DEEP to provide their take on this complete nonsense.

I’m not a person to harp on about the importance of historical accuracy; we should think of historical accuracy as a thousand facets of the same stone. There’s no way to create one all-encompassing narrative of one life, let alone one narrative out of the lives of millions of people across decades, across a country and an empire. What I find more depressing are people who take their privileged arts-and-crafts 21st century “””organic””” approach to recreating life in the 19th century. The author of the piece takes the path of reconstructive nostalgia, where people of the past and their “simpler” technology are more virtuous than we parasitic Twitter addicts who don’t bake their own bread with homegrown sourdough cultures.

Like, I just washed and dried two loads of laundry in 80 minutes without leaving my apartment building!!! After a full day of work where I didn’t inhale poison chemicals or brutally die due to safety hazards!! I’ll keep glancing into the past through novels, primary sources, essays, whatever else I can get my hands on, but trading Wendy’s for debtors’ prison and the worst pies in London? Hard pass.

(I’d include colonialism, but I don’t think colonialism is the far-off fantasy we’d like it to be.)

Three excellent microfictions at The Offing, but the last piece is tremendous.

Yo, speaking of history and the rich tapestry of space-time that we wrap ourselves in every day of our lives.

And on other days, I didn’t write a single word. Yes, it’s true. Why? Sometimes, it’s because I was busy being alive. Other times, it’s because the story I was working on simply wasn’t ready to be written yet.

Just one more weapon in my arsenal of patience for myself and my self-loathing. I had a writing project I meant to draft over Labor Day weekend, but instead I outlined it, submitted work to a lot of places, and spent three days seeing friends and enjoying hot dogs and central air conditioning. That’s okay.


desk lunch – 2015-07-30

Brought to you this week by VACATION, so this will be short because the ocean is calling.


The position I offer, then, is a subtle one. ‘Born that way’ is a simple mantra, one that cuts through the concepts and challenges I have outlined. But it is also dangerous. For embracing the fiction of biological determinism risks consistently misunderstanding the most important part of our lives – our intimate relationships. We invented romantic love. And homosexuality. And just about every other kind of relationship. That doesn’t make any of these things less important or less real. But our inventions are not part of a biological nature: they are part of a conversation between a biological and social order of life.

~4000 words on the damning compromise LGBT rhetoric has made in order to achieve the thinnest veneer of acceptance in the 21st century.



“What about Remember the Time?” asked one of the friends I’m staying with at the beach. “Remember how it was a MAJOR TELEVISION EVENT that interrupted whatever we were watching and Eddie Murphy played a PHARAOH and it was AMAZING?”

“No,” I said, like a JERK.

And then my life changed and I’ve put the song on loop and my life is Better Now.


desk lunch – 2015-07-09

Brought to you this week by this chicken sandwich I had last Friday. It gave me strength.



One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.
Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency?

As I told the friend who shared this with me: not to make it “all about America,” but this article from an Irish writer/editor about mid-late 20th century Europe reflected a lot of wide trends we can see in American history and self-perception, too. This is a wider trend. This piece makes the argument that the post-WW2 vision of the world, developed after cataclysmic death and destruction, has slowly eroded away in the decades since. That vision included the myth of our benevolent, progressive nationalism, and social responsibilities people had towards each other as citizens of the same nation, but now we’re seeing the downward slope of that story. That other side involves a conservative policymaking rooted in this completely false idea of hyper-rationality- that the social nets and responsibilities developed after disastrous, world-ending war are immature fairytales that never “really” existed in the first place.

tl;dr: we’re choosing the grimdark, Game of Thrones brutality-oriented reboot for the next phase in our evolution and we’re too stupid to realize it. It’s going to be terrible.


locwpaposter2From Camera Clubs to Syphilis: The WPA’s Practical, Modernist Posters

The posters for the Federal Theater program, United States Travel Bureau, and other State Departments hold up surprisingly well with their direct messages and simple designs. At a time when unemployment was at almost 20%, these posters encouraged people to get out and explore their country and participate in local life in defiance of the hardships of the Great Depression.

Do they still offer tours of America’s Natural Dick Caverns? I WOULD LIKE TO BE IMPRESSED.


Screen Addiction is a new way for kids to be blithe and oblivious; in this sense, it is empowering to the children, who have been terrible all along. The new grandparent’s dilemma, then, is both real and horribly modern. How, without coming out and saying it, do you tell that kid that you have things you want to say to them, or to give them, and that you’re going to die someday, and that they’re going to wish they’d gotten to know you better?

I rarely have comments to add when I link to things from the Awl because everything on that site speaks for itself with such sadness and anger that I don’t want to get in its way. The Awl is a strange site that 1) has a mood and 2) that mood reads “the sad fury that I must be alive in a terrible city in order to accomplish all this nothing.” How do you curate and edit that?? I’m impressed. Or maybe it’s the font that makes me sad.


When the waiter comes over, Zac Efron orders a sandwich with the exuberant joy of a beautiful, thin woman freed by pregnancy. “A Reuben, please,” he says, “with extra corned beef. No, wait! And extra Swiss. You know what? Extra dressing, too.” He giggles and hands the menu to the waiter. “I’m so bad! But I can FINALLY eat whatever I want.”

Did you know Zac Efron has a brother? Did you know Zac Efron swims with sharks? Like, we discovered in an embarrassing way that Zac Efron has a brother (and a puppy) but now we know he has a brother. Interesting. Interesting.


desk lunch – 2015-07-02

Brought to you this week by Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It’s fascinating; I missed it during its original run and I think my excuse for not watching women talking loud and fast for 45 minutes every week was something like it’s too fluffy and unrealistic, blah blah blah #smalltownlife. NOW, I’m nearing the end of season 4 and texting my friend every 10 minutes THIS IS TOO REAL PLEASE LORELEAI PLEASE WHY WON’T ANYONE LET YOU BE HAPPY. Did you know everyone hates Scott Patterson (Luke)? This hasn’t stopped me from shipping Luke/Lorelai like a house I’ve set on fire with my mind.


For The Rumpus this week, I wrote a roundup about the SCOTUS marriage equality decision last Friday. Worth checking out are the historians in the wake of this decision literally rewriting the history of same-sex relationships. Specifically, I came across a lot of essays right now that focus on why some cultures did or didn’t “okay” these unions into their laws and customs. (Short answer: they did! but we ignored it! because history!) I’ve included links to the most interesting essays at the Rumpus link.

Also!! I have a story (“For Me, Seek the Sun”) in the new issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. It’s available to order in print, and the ebook is available to pre-order (avail 7/9).


POETRY REC!

Isn’t It Romantic (Jameson Fitzpatrick at The Offing)

IT’S EIGHT LINES. JUST READ IT.

Poetry is text, and we’re still very attached to the idea that language is supposed to communicate something clearly. But I do think all good poetry does communicate something clearly, it’s just that, for me—and there’s some narrative, very straightforward poetry that I really enjoy, but there’s a lot of poetry that I really enjoy because what it’s communicating to me very clearly is either an atmosphere, or a state of consciousness. A different degree of awake-ness to experience. And that can mean so many different things.

A long interview about poetry, the reading and writing and mechanics and teaching of it. It’s long, but if you know poetry well, it’s interesting to approach it from someone’s completely new point-of-view and think about this thing and how it looks in its broadest strokes.


All I want to know is if everyone else is really having a good time in our nation’s checkout lines. Because maybe that explains why none of you seem in any particular hurry to have your money or cards ready to go when your turn finally comes with the cashier.

I don’t get this, exactly, since it starts with an anecdote about David Foster Wallace despairing in a supermarket and how That Was a Sign He Was Unwell, but man, after the anecdote? The vitriol makes my heart sing. Bless The Awl.


desk lunch – 2015-06-25

Brought to you this week by a brain so scattered I’m reviewing twitter and my calendar to recall what exactly consumed another week of my life. Work? Panic? Naps? Work again? Discussions about homoeroticism in The Silmarillion like I’m 16 and living on livejournal again? Reading the juiciest parts of DID MY BOYFRIEND JUST GET MARRIED? (Girl. He did. He got married.) Yes, it was all these things, and probably more, but take this non sequitur: if you need a Comedy Central show in the background, start easing yourself over to Larry Wilmore and the Nightly Show, ok??


Carvell: Right. Well, when your entire history in this country has been about literally dying to be considered human, you have to develop a Christianity that enables you to fight while also “forgiving them” who hurt you. We have to forgive the sinner because the accumulated resentment could destroy us, but that will never mean that we don’t fight tooth and nail against the sin.
Mallory: So it has more to do with self-protection than it does with absolution, it sounds like.
Carvell: Absolutely. It’s nothing to do with the offender and it’s not about granting a pass to anyone.

Judging by the comments on this interview with Carvel Wallace at The Toast, I’m definitely not the only one who needed explained in great detail how the concept of forgiveness differs between white and black communities in America. And to be honest, this concept of forgiveness (making peace with something and also continuing to fight the offense and how it hurt you) makes a lot more sense than Catholicism’s sacrament of a third party wiping the slate clean for you and declaring it All Good. Which- nope! That’s not how my intricate resentment irrigation system works!

The Civil War was easy to misunderstand at the time, because there had never been anything like it. It was a total mobilization of society, the kind Europe wouldn’t see until World War I. The Civil War was fought not just with cannons and bayonets, but with railroads and factories and an income tax.
If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?
But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.

This essay (originally posted in August 2014) is a fascinating longread that examines the lasting culture of the Confederacy. Essentially, the idea goes that we’ve only just developed the correct language and framework for talking about the Civil War, now that modern warfare has moved from a “clear” capture/conquer model to sustained insurgencies. The Confederacy, says the piece, is just such an insurgency that managed to weave itself literally into the fabric of our national culture. HILARIOUS.



POEM REC! (excerpt)

You can’t see beneath the exoskeleton,
this stylized mockery of female form:
smooth cyberskin, DD breasts,
perfectly calculated 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio.
By your standards, it is perfect.

I see the overlap—cars, guns, violence, danger, chasing and escaping, a relationship that seems more than brotherly but not quite romantic—but I think Crush and Supernatural are products of a cultural moment, not products of each other.

HAHAHA, RICHARD SIKEN. I’m not joking when I say this interview covers topics that I’ve wanted to write about and explore for years. This isn’t just about Siken and Supernatural– more interesting is this longer pull quote that I scrambled to submit to The Rumpus’s blog with embarrassing speed.

Siken gets why fandoms and slash writers have latched on to his work; he gets it better than any other writer I’ve seen try to address fanworks and the give/take relationship with the original work.

Fanwork artists don’t borrow another creator’s fictional world, but expand its boundaries. In this case, fan artists use Crush and slash to push the dialogue between the show and its themes in directions the shows refuse to incorporate seriously. It’s especially important for shows like Supernatural and Sherlock, whose writers and showrunners build deep emotional attachments between men with one hand and deny every shade of serious homoeroticism/romanticism (queerbaiting!) with the other. Fandom and its fanworks imagine storylines without a virulent undercurrent of gay panic, stories that allow genuine intimacy to exist between characters without rushing to reinforce traditional masculinity. Frankly, that’s kind of the point: to undermine “traditional” masculinity in favor of characters who can experience the full range of human emotion! IMAGINE THAT.


desk lunch – 2015-06-11

Brought to you this week by several days of being outside and seeing people while also rounding up all the cats in Neko Atsume. (It’s free to download, but it will cost you minutes of your life every day, and you will seriously consider the economics of this planet of stray cats, and it will all make perfect sense.) And then Alexander wept, etc. Also!! Keep an eye on the blog at The Rumpus, as I’ll occasionally contribute more literary-minded links over there.

RIP Christopher Lee and all the great old dudes 2015 has claimed this year.


In case you couldn’t tell from my brief journey into the world of dinosaur romance: I love Jurassic Park. I look forward to Jurassic World this week because big screen dinosaur spectacles are so few and far between!! So prime yourself with this wonderfully earnest movie-and-book-canon love letter to Ian Malcolm.

Also, here’s my Jurassic World dream cameo: it’s during this scene full of chaos in the streets of the park, etc. Run, scream, run, scream: CUT TO A SIDEWALK CAFE WHERE DR. IAN MALCOLM SITS AT AN UNDISTURBED TABLE, SIPPING AN ESPRESSO, LAUGHING TO HIMSELF. I can’t ask for the filmmakers to dedicate five or ten or maybe 30 minutes of a film to Jeff Goldblum laughing to himself (remixed), but I can dream.


But despite our toxic relationship and his abusive nature, I pen this letter under a cloak of anonymity because my father, from what I have recently learned, is queer but not proud. And by no means is he out.

O’Rei, the author, draws a striking line between deferment and displacement- it’s a law of physics, that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and displacement will be the other side of deferment. Something deferred can fester or explode, but much more likely it’ll shift its power and weight in some other direction, a sustained force replenished as long as (in this case) there’s desire deferred to fuel it.


Like all such testaments, the Embroidery is both repository and maker of memory: source of the facts we resolve into histories, participant in the worlds that designed it and inherited it, tribute to and bearer of war.

IT’S A #LONGREAD. SAVE THIS TO POCKET. Alison Kinney writes a richly researched essay on war memorials, starting with the Bayeux Tapestry (EMBROIDERY). I read so much history and read more than my share of war narratives, and that’s just it: wars are often presented as narratives that have to be told and retold, from as many different angles as possible, the better to understand this chaotic rupture of life and the social order. It’s interesting to consider the temporality of war memorials, the way they don’t evolve as our stories or understanding of a war or battle does. That’s the surface fact of a memorial, but Kinney brings this into a new light: that these memorials capture a raw feeling of war that we, the survivors and inheritors, can’t narrativize out of the way.

We launch our memorials, as time capsules—ravens or doves—or bombs—into unknown futures, bearing our faults and stories, not knowing which will crumble or rot, be swallowed by weeds, mounted in museums, or blasted. We can’t predict whether, freshly restored, they’ll urge future soldiers to kill, or mourn another war intended to end all wars.

Remember NASA’s Dawn Mission, whose trajectory and bright spots I babbled about almost exactly two months ago? GUESS WHAT. THERE’S PHOTOS OF CERES. In fact, there are enough photos of dwarf planet Ceres for NASA to create this video showing us its topography. FULL SCREEN. VOLUME UP. The star field was added after the fact to provide visual relief from a dark background and the illusion of distance, don’t worry about it, ok? Here’s the full post from NASA and the twitter link to the video for your retweeting pleasure.


It’s real.