Author: mrs fringe

Words being Served

The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara, Lucas Cranach the Elder, ca. 1510 (yes, this photo is crooked)

Let’s talk about words. I was going to limit myself to “C” words, but I think I’m going to throw caution to the wind and use all 26 letters of the alphabet. Special focus though, on c words. Like cage. And f words. Like fuck, I was right, my country is turning into Nazi Germany. Or turn the clock back further, to pre-civil war legal slavery, or the atrocities visited upon Native Americans and their children, all in the name of white makes right. *excuse me while I puke* And yet, even with 26 letters to make an infinite number of words, they are inadequate.

Over the years, this little blog has provoked some reactions. Some, as I talked about the other day, positive. Other reactions have been scolding, “be positive!” “don’t talk politics, you could turn people off, offend someone!” Ah yes, the sword of offense. A few years back that caused me to shrug. If you didn’t like my politics or my honesty, you weren’t my reader–that goes for both blogging and fiction. By now, if you are offended by my discussing politics, I find you to be both offensive and an affront to humanity. I see too many supporting this ugliness, these atrocities promised and being perpetrated by our government.  And I see many more hiding behind the “virtue” of being apolitical. Some offering the Bible as proof there’s no need to worry about politics, God is in charge. That isn’t virtue, and in these times, it isn’t apolitical. It’s condoning. It’s support for conspiracy and crimes against humanity; in the names of greed, misogyny, and racism. It’s gaslighting of throwing around the word collusion–sounds so official and yet is meaningless in a court of law. It’s caging babies, turning a blind eye to the internment of thousands of children. It’s a lack of compassion signifying sociopathy spreading like genital warts.

There are those of us who are horrified, appalled by the images and audio coming out of these baby jails, those of us whose hearts are being shredded as we imagine being that mother, that father whose child has been stolen–for the sin of hoping to find a better, safer life than the one they left behind. As we imagine being that little girl sexually assaulted by a deputy, her mother blackmailed with threats of deportation. It helps no one to deny there are also those who are gleeful when seeing those same images, laugh at the audio, can’t imagine the terrified, traumatized child with Down’s syndrome as their own because they see her as damaged. Brown. Other. Not a “real” child. They prefer to snicker about liberal tears, pretend shock and offense at the language of Robert DeNiro and Samantha Bee.

I follow several lit agents on Twitter, and a smattering have always included some politics in their feeds, recently more, and in the past couple of days, a few have made reference to being told they shouldn’t–their response being a wholly satisfying fuck you. Some literally, some more politely. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who will not make a distinction between their business and their humanity. I don’t care what you write or represent, lit fic, sci-fi/fantasy or erotica, this is the literary world. Telling the stories that need to be told, offering illumination to darkness, offering opportunities for everyone–no matter their life circumstance–to find characters that reflect who they are and who they want to be, say the words they wish they could say, offer comfort to those who need it and provoke those who are too comfortable. Publishing is a business, and the business is humanity.

A nation of laws is only as good as the people writing and enforcing those laws. Laws are not just by virtue of being written. Currently, we aren’t living by the rules of a democratic society. We have a spineless GOP in control that has given away the power inherent in their branch of government, enabling this hateful windbag-in-chief and his misogynist, white supremacist cabinet. An entire administration that defines avarice and corruption.

Sometimes silence is strength. This isn’t one of those times. If we do not speak out, we are sacrificing human beings for the sake of…what? Words are what we have. Right now, they’re about all we have. They are the power of possibility, the power of reason, the power of change. Don’t give away any of them. Especially not the ones that make you uncomfortable.

 

 

 

Oh Sanity, I Barely Know You and I Miss You Already

So. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this city of mine. There’s a 91,000 word manuscript sitting and waiting for me to decide if I’m going to query it or not, and in many ways it’s my love letter to New York; the dreams it feeds and feeds on, the dreamers (not to be confused with yet including Dreamers) who so often go unnoticed but are the framework. While I hated the unique stressors that have gone hand in hand with raising kids here; the ludicrous public school process, not having the ability to say, “go play in the yard!,” having to lug toys and snacks to the park every day when they were small, it also meant Husband and I found amazing school opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise explored, spent enough time in museums that each had favorite paintings from the Met, a favorite dinosaur (given names) in the Museum of Natural History, knew the best way to have fun in the Guggenheim spiral without annoying everyone else, and that we spent thousands of those days playing in Central Park, Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Washington Square, etc–not a terrible backyard.

I’m here, I live here, at this point I don’t expect to live anywhere else. In all honesty, the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes have tarnished my lifelong beach house fantasy. Still, the constant energy of the city can be…a lot. I still dream about a little house in the middle of nowhere. And a garden. What I have–and yes, I know what a luxury it is–is a little terrace, shared with my neighbor, split by a flimsy partial wall thing. It isn’t big or fancy, but it’s my peace. I’m out there every morning, drink my coffee in my rescued-from-a-local-nail-salon-just-before-it-went-into-the-maw-of-a-garbage-truck chair, and watch the sun rise. I pop out throughout the day and evening with my tea to think about what I’m writing or just breathe. In the spring, I plant–and all summer, I close my eyes, smell the lilies and tomatoes, and imagine I’m in that middle of nowhere.

The other day we got a notice to clear off the terraces on this side of the building, they’ll be doing repair work. All. Summer. Long. No terrace access. I get it. It’s necessary, safety, blah blah blah, we’re lucky this is being done, imagine if it weren’t…. Today Man Child is going to help get it cleared off, most of my plants will go up the block to my mother-in-law’s terrace. Not terrible, right? I’m being ridiculous. Dramatic. But the thought of not having that access for the next three months takes my breath away. I wonder if anyone will notice if I drag my mug, my chair, and my tomatoes to a hidden corner in Central Park.

Squint and Look Sideways

Conch, eyes up and hoovering crap at the bottom of the tank.

Despite approaching each day’s news with a squinty side eye, I feel more like my conch, eyeballs overextended and exposed. Wishing I was more like him, and could go ahead and bury myself under the sand for weeks at a time. Did you think I was abandoning political discussion? Nope. I’m not sorry, either, and don’t understand how anyone can choose to ignore the news these days. I know some are doing so out of necessity, self-preservation bc of mental health needs. Part of me hopes they will be ready to take up the bullhorns when those who have been screaming for two years bottom out. The WH and Congress have been taken over by monsters, but for me, the biggest horror of this never-ending shitshow is the people who support them, and worse, those who just pretend it has nothing to do with them. Yes, I’ve said all this before, but it only gets worse as our elected monsters become more emboldened, and enact more and more inhumane policies. You know where I’m going with this.

Children. Children stolen from their parents and put in the equivalent of dog kennels in kill-shelters. Does that sound inflammatory? Good. We’re told those temporary shelters only hold the children for 72 hours, then they are transported to luxurious surroundings like this closed Walmart.  We’re told this is a necessary as a deterrent. These days we’re told a lot of things, most of which amounts to the static of doublespeak. This is what the United States has become. This is an embarrassment, this is certainly immoral, this should be criminal.  Parents undertake dangerous crossings and show up at the American borders with their children because they’re desperate. Teenagers leave their homes to try and gain entry because they’re hungry. These are refugees seeking asylum, and our country isn’t just denying them entry, our government is making the calculated decision to ruin thousands of lives by taking the most inhumane action and inflicting the most calculated, permanent damage possible. Yes, permanent damage. These children will not walk away unscathed. The psychological damage being inflicted is permanent, and I’m certain there is physical damage as well; I’m skeptical those patrolling these centers are coaxing the traumatized to eat, making sure any necessary medications are being administered on time, if at all, noticing a child who is ill before they are seriously ill, or one who is injured who is too afraid of what will be done to them if they complain.

America has a long, complicated, and contradictory history. “All men are created equal” is a battle cry sung while we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, yet disparage those all-too-few black citizens who have the wealth and platform (yet still not the security) to take a knee. We say women are equal, girls can do anything, yet cannot pass the ERA. We teach our children Rosa Parks was important because she was tired and wanted to sit. We watch Pocohontas while we build a pipeline on American Indian land. We tsk tsk about how wrong we were to build and implement Japanese internment camps during WWII, yet still allow openly racist, anti-Asian American candidates to run for office. We confuse the cross and the flag, while we reject the basic principles of Judeo-Christian ethics. We brag about freedom of religion while we make faces at a woman in a hijab. A woman in a hijab complains about the black woman next to her. A Haitian-American immigrant disparages the teenaged girl walking down the street carrying a Pride flag. We take to the streets to protest this turn towards isolationism and fascism, yet insist on Democratic candidates passing impossible purity tests. We pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants as we make it as difficult as possible for the “wrong” immigrants, over and over again.

If you are reading this, or my Twitter feed, or used to be a friend and are now thinking, “wow, that Mrs Fringe is a feminazi libtard, a snowflake,” all I can say is this–yes, yes I am. And I’m fine with it, because the alternative is being someone who reduces desperate, hungry, vulnerable children to chattel. I am a parent, and the pain of trying to imagine being in the position of a desperate mother at our border having her child taken as that child screams in terror and confusion is unimaginable. I’m an adult with adult/almost adult children, who remembers and understands the long term effects of having been a child in a tenuous and terrifying non-home. So yes, I have to squint sideways as I watch these news segments, read the news articles and scroll through the Twitter feed. I can spend more than half my days reminding myself to breathe and keep my howling silent. What I cannot do, what I will not do, is look away. I will remember I am a human being, as are these “illegal” children.

What We Bring, What We Take

I’m back! Didn’t realize I was gone? I boiled the water, poured it over the tea bag and…no milk. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t even read a post without a fresh cup of tea, let alone write one. One trip to the grocery store, one half-hearted clean-out of the fridge, one load and start the dishwasher and two hours later, sitting in front of the laptop again. With tea. I caught the most recent headlines detailing How-American-Democracy-Dies out of the corner of my squint, considered changing what I would blog about, and nope. Not today.

While I was on hiatus from the blog, I kinda sorta started a book club. I didn’t necessarily realize it was going to become *my* book club when I floated the idea to one of the more active tenants in the building. She got it started by posting a notice to see who might be interested, chose a date for an exploratory meeting, and then somehow, I’m the one spearheading it. Me and my big mouth, eh? In all honesty, so far it’s been great. There’s a good mix of interests/ages/backgrounds/and perspectives being brought to the discussions, enough people showing up to keep things lively, not so many that it’s difficult for anyone who wants to to be heard. This weekend I was chatting with a building friend, and she said she was enjoying the book club in unexpected ways because of those different perspectives. I’ve never done one of these clubs before (I know, you’re all shocked to discover I’m not a joiner of clubs), but I have to say I likely wouldn’t be interested in one that didn’t involve a mix like this one does.

Spent the weekend drafting pitches for a twitter contest coming up that I will almost certainly not participate in. As mentioned the other day, I’ve been generally obsessing over whether or not I’m going to try querying (through usual means, no tweeting required) this manuscript I’ve got. Even if the stars align and someone offers me a contract, it will involve lots of rejections first, and then during, and then after. I have to decide if I’m ready for it. What does this have to do with the book club? Perspective. Anyone who’s ever queried anything creative is familiar with some variation of the phrase, “this business is subjective, not right for me, etc.” It truly is subjective, and that subjectivity doesn’t stop with an agent and/or editor. Ultimately, once you produce words and put them out there, subjectivity lies with the readers. Not just the obvious of whether or not they enjoy the story/are glad they spent time with it, but the how and what of that enjoyment, or satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, what stuck with them and what their eyes skimmed over. Their interpretation of the story.

One of my beta readers referenced hope as something she took away from my story. My instinct was to deny it, nope–not about hope. I don’t do hope. Really. Except it is, if that’s what she saw. Because maybe her definition of hope is different than mine. Maybe what gives her hope is different than what might give me hope. What many others think of as dark I think of as honest. Interesting. The bits that ground us, what we hold in common through the human experience. (Yuck, that sounds grandiose, doesn’t it?) What connects us isn’t always love. Sometimes it’s hunger. Fear. The rage of feeling, being powerless in a given situation. The desire to laugh. Or maybe just to be transported for a little while; for a chapter or an hour or 90,000 words, out of our own world and into someone else’s. But when we do, we’re bringing our story to theirs, as sure as the reverse.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Hello all, it’s been a minute. How do I work this? How did I get here? Wait. Wrong song, wrong questions. Sort of.

I’ve been writing. And writing and revising and writing and revising. When I first began Mrs Fringe back in 2012, it was for all the lovely esoteric? ridiculous? reasons: a spot to be me, blah blah blah. It was also to see if I could get back to the discipline of writing. Which I did. In addition to the blog, I wrote a novel. I was pleased to have written it, queried it briefly, but I kind of hated it. I liked the very kernel in the center, but it wasn’t me. Not as a person, and not as a person who plays with words. Then I wrote another novel, which I loved. I queried that one, got an unexpected and deliciously exciting number of requests based on the query and opening chapters, but no offers, no hey-your words suck, please stop, no fix this-not that. I was fucking crushed, never going to write another novel, etc. Then I thought about going back to that other one, ideas for how I could rewrite it in a way that was me, but maybe include the potential to be commercially viable.

I started writing down notes on those ideas. Then in November 2016 the unspeakable but unignorable happened in the US, and I was crushed in a different way. At that point I took a break from the blog, feeling like America had voted for me to shut the fuck up, no-one was ever going to want to hear my words; not through Mrs Fringe and not through my fiction. Came back, blogged sporadically when I couldn’t stop the awful from spilling onto the keyboard, started seriously rewriting that manuscript. Too much awful, stopped the fiction, still blogged sporadically, then decided I needed to finish that novel. Talk about ludicrous. I had adult child telling me Mrs Fringe wasn’t fun anymore so obviously my answer was to write 90,000 words of political satire. Proof that no whips or chains are required to fulfill masochistic tendencies. This was also a different process for me. By nature, I’m a linear writer. First chapter, edit, second chapter, edit, and so on, until I reach the end, go back and edit the whole thing. I thought hey, this will be easier, I’ve got the bones from that original manuscript to use as a blueprint. Can’t speak for anyone else’s process, but for me, it was much harder, and I didn’t have enough words left at the end of each session to also blog. I will never do this again. Would I go back and revise an old manuscript, if there was a specific reason (ie: interest from someone in the industry)? Sure. But this? Nope. Seriously, I’d rather face the blank page.

Still tweaking, but it’s been written and revised and edited and edited and sent to beta readers and edited and edited. I even have a query letter. Because I’m Mrs Fringe, and the last manuscript (magical realism) was maybe a little too weird, naturally this one is eight times stranger. What can I say, I’ve got my own way of looking at the world, and my fiction explores that perspective. As always, the response from beta readers was split between positives “yes, send this out! I love your words! but maybe fix this first, and oh god what is it with you and commas?” and “wtf, Mrs F?” I’m having a hard time deciding the genre, I definitely veered left from magical realism, thought new weird might be right, but I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore (unless you’re China Miéville), so I’m getting used to using the term speculative fiction. It’s absurdist, kind of a fantastical satire set in near-future New York. Just the thing everyone is clamoring for, eh? Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. There are a couple of bits I want to add/clarify, and I’m not quite happy with the query, but I’m finding myself dragging my feet on fixing these, because I don’t know if I actually will query. If it’s as finished as I can/know I need to make it, I’ll have to decide. While it isn’t autobiographical, and maybe not the bookofmyheart that the last one was, it’s…Fringey. Much the way Mrs Fringe–eclectic as it is–has focused on what it is to live on the fringe of this city, this story explores the cracks of NY: who lives there, what they’re dreaming of, and how they survive.

I’m back here today because I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot. I broke the rules with Mrs Fringe. I don’t have one specific focus, I’m an expert on nothing yet have been forthcoming with my .02 on everything. I’m anonymous. I’m not consistent with content nor post production. I *gasp* don’t keep it positive. In almost six years of doing this, I haven’t built a huge following, but I do have a following. I think. Are you still there, readers? It’s me, Fringey. (I really did let it lie quiet for months this time.) If I was going to hit it “big” with thousands of followers, I figure it would have happened by now. But on a semi-regular basis–even during periods where I’m on a break and not posted anything–I get notes/messages from readers, maybe asking where I am, or telling me my weird words made sense to them, some have been generous enough to thank me. Every one of those notes has been amazing to receive, felt like both validation (yes! someone likes my words!) and bonus (it’s a blog, I have no expectation for anything to come of it). Can I find the same with my fiction? For all the years I’ve been playing with words, the question hasn’t changed: are my words good enough? Am I enough?

(Currently the working title of the manuscript, I’ve had this song on repeat for months. At this point I think it’s the soundtrack to my nightmares.)

People are Stupid. Love, Mom

Rodin at The Met

Every home, every family unit, has their own rules–what’s out of bounds to say or do, particularly when there are children in that unit.  For us, the absolute no-go was stupid. We never used the word to or about our kids, nope, not even kidding around, and there was a no-tolerance policy regarding them using the word about themselves, each other, or anyone else.

You won’t be surprised to learn that in our home, cursing (English, Spanish, or sorry to say, Spanglish) was not automatically against the rules. Yes, we wanted them to understand some words (ie, curse words) were offensive to some people, and wholly inappropriate in some settings, but we never pretended shock or offense on our own behalf.  Everyone’s got their own things, right? We were also ok with movies or video games that had some cursing/sexy scenes (no, I’m not talking about when they were toddlers here), but graphic violence was out. I don’t know if he remembers, but at the age of six my oldest, already reasonably well versed in museums and the nude art to be found on display, was traumatized when he was at a friend’s house and they had a sculpture from this biblical scene:

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, ca. 1530, Cranach

So, we tried to teach the kids that words are powerful and important, to be explored yet respected, but violence and harm to others was never, ever ok. For whatever reason, the idea that certain words were not to be used in certain settings, or in front of certain people, was more easily learned for the English curses than the Spanish ones. I may have told the following story before, if so and you’ve read it, sorry, I’ve been running Mrs Fringe a long time.

When Art Child was five, we experienced her first hospitalization, and after approximately 8,000,000 days in the PICU, she was doing much better and the team was deciding whether she could be discharged or sent to a step-down room. Her main nurse argued with the resident on the unit not to remove her IV yet in case bloodwork was needed for the decision (if you’re unfamiliar with this stuff, if the IV is in place they don’t have to do another “stick”, they can draw blood right from it), the resident insisted she remove the IV. Needless to say after it was removed the team said one last blood draw was required. I was pissed, the nurse was pissed. The resident said she’d do the draw herself so we didn’t have to wait for the phlebotomy team, and the girl was furious. She was a passionate kiddo to begin with, very verbal, and so she cursed the resident. Resident chuckled, “it’s ok, you can call me a dodo head, I’ve been called worse.” Nice, right? She was trying to atone, but clearly confused by the fact that the (Latina) nurse and I weren’t chuckling, we were downright cracking up. Because the girl hadn’t called her a dodo head, she called her a toto head (see the earlier apology for my home’s Spanish/English mixing). Toto is Spanish slang for–so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities–girly bits.

She didn’t, however, call her stupid.

But, well, here we are, living in a time where misogyny, racial slurs and racist ideas/ideals are not only considered acceptable by the White House, but these ignorant slurs and ideas are being used to create racist policies. So no, the fact that our so-called President used the term shithole neither surprises nor offends me; but that it was used in reference to large swaths of the world, millions and millions of people because they have brown or black skin, offends me greatly. He knows what he meant, his supporters know what he meant. That shit isn’t a dog whistle it’s a shrieking tornado alarm, heard across the world.  This isn’t cursing, this is verbal violence.

His millions of supporters? And if you’re one who hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon to use slurs yourself, but are remaining silent, shrugging it off, you’re one of them–are stupid. Not merely stupid for spouting, believing, and/or accepting ignorant nonsense, but stupid because odds are you’re next. He didn’t say, “why can’t we have more immigrants from China, from Argentina, from Italy, from Israel, Japan, from Ireland, from Poland?” No. He said, “why can’t we have more immigrants from Norway?”  I haven’t met too many people from Norway and I’ve never been. The few I have met were only here temporarily for work or on vacation. I’m sure they’re a lovely people across the board, god knows I’d love their health care and if I had their social safety net I wouldn’t want to emigrate anywhere else, either. Norway. Whiter than white. Think about that, and think about who and how many ethnic groups are not part of that Aryan wet dream. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, if you’re American, odds are you/your ancestors are not all part of that purity test. I’ve been saying this for over two years now; it will not stop on it’s own. Ignorance feeds ignorance, and hatred feeds hatred. Once you say it’s ok to slander, take away rights, human dignity, to hate one group, it’s going to be ok to strip rights from the next group, and the next. And if you’re a woman, well, it doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, if this continues unchecked and the GOP doesn’t find an actual ethics compass we’re fucked regardless.

For most of us, those of us born without millions of dollars at our disposal and/or the protection of aristocracy (real or implied) life is hard, and we face hardships that cannot be avoided. Some find their homes and communities lost to hurricanes or earthquakes, their life savings and opportunities stolen by corrupt officials, their loved ones and countries torn apart by wars, the victims of hundreds of years of systemic oppression; or some find themselves the victims of smaller, personal yet still devastating effects of catastrophic illness for themselves, or their children fighting incurable diseases, or an industry gone belly up so they can’t find a job that allows them to support themselves or their families, or the victims of random, violent crimes. These are the suck of life, things that are generally out of our control, yet we have the responsibilities inherent in figuring out how to make it through, or how to make it easier for our loved ones to make it through. But this? The position America is in now? This was in our control, and to some degree, it still is. This was a choice. A choice to make it harder, dangerous, impossible for millions and millions of human beings, a choice that purposefully ignored and distorted this concept of “other.”

So yeah, people aren’t just hateful, or racist, or toto heads. People are stupid.

Pilot Light and Irritation

Should have cleaned the stove this morning, oops.

If you’re young and/or never had a gas stove–or a professional gas range– let me explain. Before electronic ignition, in order to use the burners (or the oven) you had to start the flame yourself. (There were stoves in between that had pilot lights to avoid having to do this, but every so often the pilot light went out and you had to do it anyway. “Do I smell gas?!” was a common background chorus of my childhood, and one I sang myself in my first couple of apartments.)  You’d light a match, turn the dial corresponding with the burner you wanted to use and use the match to light the flame while cringing and bracing yourself to pull back in case of whoosh! and eyebrow singeing. More often than not, you’d burn your fingertips trying to get the damned thing to light long before flames were exploding in your face. This, the gut clenching expectation of scorched nose hairs and realization of singed fingers, was what I experienced reading Micheal Wolff’s Fire and Fury this weekend.

I haven’t read anyone else’s reviews, so it’s more than possible my thoughts aren’t in line with the majority. I’m also not a book reviewer, and I have a lot of thoughts, so even with limiting myself, this will run long.

I bought the book Friday afternoon. I tried to get the hardcopy in the morning at my local Barnes & Noble, but they didn’t have it in yet (snowstorm Thursday, everything still iced and approximately 1000° below zero) so I downloaded to my Nook. I really wanted to read this and I really, really wanted to support Wolff and Henry Holt & Co.  Much the way the first thing I did after the 2016 election results was to purchase subscriptions to the NY Times and The Washington Post, it felt important to use my wallet to support free speech and free press.  Trump using the office of the Presidency to bluster about forcing the publisher to stop publication/production? Fuck yes, I’m contributing to this legal defense fund. An in-depth look at the first 9 months of Trump’s tenure in the White House, written by someone who had spent considerable time interviewing people in the West Wing, someone who didn’t seem to be blindly aligned with this administration? Yeah, I’m in. Besides, with the excerpts coming across my twitter feed and just about every news article I read, a) how could I resist? and b) I wanted to be able to discuss the book with more understanding than choice quotes possibly pulled out of context. It took me all weekend to read it, a long time for me to plow through less than 330 pages. First it was slow going because I had to keep putting the book down. The first couple of chapters put me right back to the first days after the election; feeling nauseous, angry, betrayed, and helpless.

It continued to be slow going. Partially for the same reason as those first chapters. Much as nothing I read in Fire and Fury (I’d already seen the more shocking bits in excerpts online) felt truly new, having it all compiled into one book packs a hell of a psychological wallop. What a shitshow of an administration. If only half of what Wolff wrote is true, it confirms we are experiencing my worst case scenario (my vivid and dark imagination is long established). Some of it, though, was because I kept thinking the book would have benefited from holding off on the publication date while spending some more time with a content editor, a copyeditor, and then getting another once over from a proofreader. Separate from the subject matter, it didn’t read like smoothly crafted narrative nonfiction, yet it didn’t read like a compiled collection of essays/articles, either. I understand the need to strike while the iron is hot, and I kept reading until the end, but it was more put-downable than I had hoped. This is so important for all of us, collectively and individually that I wish the author and the publisher had taken the extra month or two to smooth it out, clean it up, and address what wasn’t in there.

Non-fiction or fiction, what an author leaves out is every bit as important as what gets put in. Some of what’s left in the author’s notes shouldn’t ever make it to the manuscript. Those decisions are shaped by the focus of the book, style of the author, and information available. The buffoonery and hubris of this administration is inherent in the very existence of this book, the author’s unbelievable access to the West Wing. But here I have to say I was expecting the author to address a few issues that he didn’t.

Given that much of Fire and Fury focused on the idea that this President takes everything personally and (it seems to me) many of his tweets and comments since winning the election have focused on Hillary Clinton, compounded by the above all threats pre-election of “lock her up,” I kept waiting for this to be addressed, and nope. This isn’t a matter of wanting a bit more juicy gossip. Threatening to jail opponents in what has until recently been a democracy is the mark of a dictator, not merely a bumbling, petulant fool. I understand that the revival of those threats didn’t hit the twitter feed and press until long after the book went to press, but hello?! That seems more than a bit important. Was/is this just a bit of political theater for his base, as unimportant as the other promises he made on the campaign trail that he can’t remember and doesn’t care about? Not understanding how our government works, admiring dictators because hey, they’ve got all the good bling AND good press, planting his equally unqualified family because of paranoia combined with a spectacular lack of comprehension  ≠ purposely, specifically wanting to create a dictatorship. That feels like a really important detail to leave out. Even if the author didn’t know if that is the President’s intention, how about the people around him and advising him? Was that purely Flynn, regurgitated now as a signal for him to stfu? A desperate attempt to distract from the Mueller investigation? A signal to the FBI that their silly laws and mores are passé? Intent matters. It matters for how wethepeople interpret his actions and statements and respond.

Healthcare. DACA. Freedom of religion. Gerrymandering. Separation of church and state. On reading the book, it seems that no one in the West Wing (or the barely mentioned but completely responsible and complicit GOP) addresses, acknowledges, or understands that these issues have tremendous impact on human beings. Does the author? These are issues that yes, are political hotbuttons, but literally have the power to destroy the lives of the vast majority of the American people. Wolff reminds us again and again that Jarvanka and several on “their” team are Democrats. Really? And none of them ever discusses the impact of repealing the ACA on little Johnny in Montana who needs his chemo?  If this is the case–it isn’t a stretch for me to believe it–how about a page, a paragraph, a nod from the author letting me know? The many meltdowns, tantrums, zillion instances of lack of attention to detail are important to the picture being painted, but I could have done with less description of who ate what and more meat.

Which leads me to Bannon, who was probably the one person portrayed in the book as coming closest to remembering these ideas and policies are more than theoretical–which of course, isn’t very close at all; he’s also the one with the closest to clear intent of dictatorship, and it’s Steve Bannon. Describing a conversation with him where he states he doesn’t believe Trump is anti-semitic but he isn’t sure about the “other” (insert dog whistle here) without restating this is Steve Fucking Bannon, master of the safe space for nazis, racists, homophobes and misogynists of all flavors feels like a glaring omission, no? Obviously, Bannon was the one who did the most talking to (at?) Wolff.  It isn’t a coincidence that the book ends with his dismissal. I wish I’d known going into it that this was more of a tell-all from Bannon’s perspective than a general “Inside the White House.” This, more than anything, is what kept my nausea going. I’m all in for an unlikeable and unreliable protagonist, but somehow, somewhere along the way, Wolff dropped the authorial hints and reminders that Bannon is Bannon, not a sympathetic character to hang your hat on. Yeah, I know, this isn’t fiction, and the characters at hand are all too real, but honestly, as it was written, it didn’t feel like clear and reliable journalism–neither investigative nor opinion. I’d still have purchased it, though maybe not rushed to read it, and my expectations would have been different.

As expected, Fire and Fury shows a disorganized, disinterested, and ruled by a brutal and unsupervised playground of a White House. I’m sick from spending the last year living under it, let alone the weekend immersed in it.

What about you, Fringelings? Have you read it, are you going to?

 

How Do You Measure a Year?

 

Seemed appropriate to keep the tree both small and bare this year.

Am I the only one who considers the soundtrack of Rent to be Christmas music? Seems more apt than ever this year, when marginalized people across America have been told they don’t count, and laws and policies are being put in place to ensure this. Like, yanno, women. And brown people. And poor people. And young people. And old people.  And the middle class. And the LGBTQ community. I’m not sure how all these people add up to a minority, but hey, math was never my strong point.

I hope everyone is finding some peace this season as we head into the new year. 2017 was one dumpster fire after another, wasn’t it? Plain old ugly. I’d like to believe 2018 will be different, but I’m not seeing anything to indicate that will be the case. Hell, as I was sitting and listening to Rent, I saw this bit in the news. Who needs to address HIV/AIDS? It isn’t like it impacts everyone, or matters for people to have access to healthcare. Yeah, I’m not expecting any miracles this year.

I’m not about beauty. Sure, I appreciate the look of a rose, but they make me sneeze, make my eyes water in ugly ways. I don’t like pretty poetry, don’t write beautiful characters, I can’t help it. It’s my nature to look at a scene–real or imagined–and be captured by what happened to create it; what went wrong, what’s about to go wrong, and find the scars and stretch marks we carry on the inside and out to be more interesting than a straight nose or flawless complexion.

I’ve always been about small moments, firmly believe these are what make a life; good, bad, or indifferent. A couple of weeks back, Art Child and I went to the Columbus Circle holiday market. We go every year, all kinds of local (and not so local) artists, artisans, and crafts. This year we weren’t shopping so much as just looking. This year more than ever the plan for gifts was about practicality and needs over anything else. It was freezing the day we went, and I wasn’t dressed for it because outdoor shopping hadn’t been the plan, so mostly I was breathing into the neck of my coat, trying to keep warm while hurrying the girl along. I paid attention to exactly one booth. I’m sure I must have seen them before, but this year it overrode the cold and made me stop. Peacebomb jewelry. Aluminum shrapnel from bombs dropped in Laos fifty years ago–by America during the Vietnam War, recast into bits of hope, bits of reclaiming what is ugly and destructive and turning them into beauty. I loved this.


Apparently I loved it so much Husband remembered. I can say without guilt or hesitation I didn’t ask or hint for him to go and get me something from them. Number 1, they’re out of budget. Number 2, we’re supposed to be focusing on the practical. I was so shocked, these were so the perfect gift to close this shitbomb of a year…it’s possible I scared our kids–I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried upon opening a gift before, and wouldn’t imagine ever doing so for any reason, but there you have it. Yes, I was surprised that Husband would remember me telling him about this organization and these artists. Yes, I was completely touched that he went down to the booths, searched out this one, and chose not only to purchase something from them, but a pair of earrings I would definitely choose for myself, but also something more. Dangling hope on hooks.

Not hope of magic rescue, or turning back the clock or turning over the election. That ship has sailed, and the damage is too real; ensconced in our government, new laws and overturning of regulations, sitting on judge’s benches for lifetime appointments. Frightening and most damaging of all, the realization and illustration of how vulnerable our democracy and democratic norms are. But hope that someday my children, your children, our collective grandchildren, will dig up these bombs and craft something beautiful out of them.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I’m wishing all small moments of peace and hope in the New Year.

Her Lips Say No, but Her Eyes say Back Off, Maggot

Have a seat, ladies. We need to talk.

On my way to the girl’s school this morning, I received no less than three text alerts from various online news sources letting me know Doug Jones’ win in Alabama last night was a “devastating blow” for Republicans.

Fuck. That.

It’s a blow (and not a devastating one) to misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic bozos who don’t view anyone remotely different from them as worthy of life, rights, or representation in government. Am I glad Jones won? Of course I am, whispered a quiet yes! to myself when I first saw it looking this way at 1am–but didn’t trust it until I read it with my morning coffee at 5. Then I smiled, and ok, a bit less quiet woot! It’s good news for sure, a glimmer of hope I’m pleased to see, but don’t be so quick to celebrate.

Think about it. This was a really, really close call in a Senate race between a man who successfully fought against the KKK, prosecuted them, and believes in women’s rights and a maggot (who’s been suspended from the judicial bench twice) credibly accused by multiple women of having been harassed/assaulted by him when they were teens and he was a DA in his thirties. Someone who thought he’d prove his lack of prejudice by having his wife state “one of their attorneys is a Jew.” Someone who has said on record the country was better off without any of the amendments that came after the 10th.  If you’re unfamiliar, these amendments he doesn’t like include some I’m pretty fond of;  like abolishing slavery, the right to vote regardless of race/religion, women’s right to vote, yanno, little things like that. He’s also been loud and proud in his belief that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal, Muslims shouldn’t have the right to sit in Congress, etc. And we cannot forget that while a few members of the GOP spoke against him, the sitting President rallied for an accused child molester and the RNC gave money to his campaign.

More than anything, what has me sputtering into my tea as I type is the fact that 63% of the white women in Alabama who voted yesterday voted for Roy Moore. Sixty-three percent. One of them even sent her 12 year old daughter to interview him.

Wake up, women! Moore doesn’t believe women should hold office, doesn’t believe we’re equal to men, doesn’t believe we should have reproductive choices, he called the women who credibly accused him of sexual misconduct liars and “criminals.”

Why? Why do so many white women in America hate themselves and their daughters this much? More than anything, how do we change this? Because this is self hatred. Internalized misogyny and voluntary subjugation that is doing great damage to all of us.

I have seen and heard many say their vote for Moore (and let’s not forget the 53% of white women nationwide who voted for Trump, so don’t even start with well, it’s Alabama/the South) is because of religious beliefs. Huh. I am 100% for freedom of religion, and can’t/have no desire to get into whose interpretation of the various religious texts is the “correct” one (though how anyone can be 100% certain they’re speaking for their God, I don’t know), but I am 100% opposed to anyone who feels it is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others. I was not born into/raised in a theocracy and I never want to live in one. I don’t care what religion we’re talking about; the perverted interpretation of the Koran as practiced by the nut job who thought blowing his balls off in Times Square at rush hour the other day was a good idea,  people like Roy Moore, or people like the extremist Christians who are all for further destabilizing the Middle East because they’re impatient for Armageddon.

Several years ago I wrote a short story called “Yous Girls,” and the first line is “Yous girls fucked yourselves,” poking at the idea of what women didn’t gain from the women’s movement in the 70s. Never has that line reverberated more strongly than it has this year.

This isn’t “just” religion. Religion has a strong and significant role in the African-American community, yet 98% of Black women voted against Roy Moore yesterday–despite gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression.  As long as white women continue to view themselves by their romantic relationships, how they reflect men, accepting and even volunteering for the position of “less than,” we’re stuck.  Somehow, the majority of white women in the United States believe they don’t deserve respect or equality.  The MeToo movement (dominated by a very specific segment of white women) doesn’t just illustrate how widespread sexual assault and harassment are, how many men are guilty of inappropriate behavior; it illustrates how many women continue to support these behaviors, even as they whisper, me too.

 

Sex, Lies, and Assault

The full quote engraved above is, “For the Improvement of Social and Living Conditions”

This morning Al Franken will be making an announcement regarding the allegations against him. Many believe he will be stepping down, many believe he should step down. Maybe this post will be up before he does so, but know it was written prior. I hear/see a lot of people saying this is a watershed moment in American history for women and women’s rights. Time Magazine’s person of the year 2017 isn’t one person, it’s the #metoo movement, the “silence breakers.”

I don’t have answers in regards to Franken, and I’ve been finding it impossible to read every detail coming to light about all of these men. It’s all so, so much. Not just so much in terms of the volume of accusations against the ever-growing number of men, but so much when looking at the many, many terrors happening on a daily basis. There isn’t one area of our society that isn’t under attack from within right now. All this said, I have thoughts. I’ve been speaking up and out about women, sexual harassment, and assault for a long time, and I’ve used Mrs Fringe as a vehicle to do so for the past five years. I’m not so sure this is a watershed moment.

Yes, there is much awareness and many important, necessary conversations happening. Yes, we are seeing repercussions for men who abuse/have abused women and positions of power in a way we haven’t seen before. I just don’t know that we can see this as a definitive turning point. Do I want it to be? Yes! But can it be, and why not? Because we’re only seeing this in very limited arenas. I understand that any/every movement has to begin somewhere, and the highly visible and well documented eyes of Congress and Hollywood are excellent places to start. But nothing happens or exists in a vacuum, and while the Left is celebrating, the Right is working. (I’d say the Right Extremists, but at this point it’s safe to say those who were considered extremists on the fringe right twenty years ago are now mainstream.)  Our current President is a man credibly accused of both sexual harassment and assault by multiple women over the course of many years. Accounts of him wandering into the dressing room backstage of the Miss America contest–with underaged contestants–are also documented. This was all well known and well documented long before the 2016 election, an audio tape of him bragging about groping women released, and millions voted for him anyway.  You could and should argue that the current movement is a well deserved backlash because of this.

But these formerly extremist Right Wing politicians have all the power right now, and they’re using it to harm women for generations to come, regardless of who’s on the cover of Time Magazine this month or how many Democrats are called to task for inappropriate, immoral, and sometimes illegal behavior. Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a pivotal Supreme Court seat after Scalia died by refusing to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s pick for nominee. Do we think this won’t have repercussions for women’s rights, for Roe vs Wade? The current monstrosity of an administration is also busy stacking the federal courts with more extremist, right wing, appointed for life individuals. In another time in our history…say, 10 years ago, this might sound hysterical. They’re judges, they have to be impartial and qualified no matter who they vote for, the GOP cares about women and sexual predators, right? No. No they do not. Not anymore. This is how qualified you now have to be to qualify for a federal judgeship appointment, and this is how much the GOP cares about women. I’m sorry, did I say women? I should say women and girls, because those credibly accusing Roy Moore were most definitely not adult women at the time of these incidents.  I cannot say this loudly or frequently enough, the damage being done right now is generational.

And that’s not all. Yesterday the House–and by the House, I mean the GOP members, since they are in control–voted to pass a bill allowing concealed carry holders to legally bring their guns into states where they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed these concealed carry permits. Like, say, from states where domestic abusers are allowed to purchase and concealed carry guns into states that care about protecting their citizens. Oh yeah, this is going to be awesome for victims of domestic violence. So much caring about women and children.

Should the Hollywood and media men who have been fired/suspended/called out and shamed lost their careers? Absolutely. But given our quickly disappearing legal recourse and support from the government, I don’t see this helping Suzy Q Torres working in middle management, or Mary-Sue Regular Gal after she’s cornered by her sweating, piggish boss in the after-hours kitchen of the local fast food restaurant. So I don’t see how we can say, at this moment, that this is a turning point for women’s rights and safety in America. Celebrity cases often bring light and awareness to issues, a starting point. Without follow through for all, they stop there.

There are other aspects to this. Due process–I’ll leave that exploration to those more versed in the legal system, though I question some of these cases.  Not because I don’t believe women, not because I don’t want everyone to believe women, but because the stakes are high. Higher than they’ve ever been, in light of all recently discovered about the manipulability (is that a word?) of public opinion through the use of social media.

And then there’s the distinctions I see too many glossing over. A lot of men are assholes. They make unwanted comments, gestures, use a beer and a crowded bar as an excuse to make unwanted advances. Some men are predators. Some men prey on children. Some men are pushy, refusing to accept no thanks when asking for a phone number. Some men are stalkers.  There are assholes, there are sexual harassers, there are predators, there are rapists. These categories are all morally wrong, an affront to women’s intelligence, autonomy, and safety. But they aren’t equal.

I’m fairly safely invisible now, but let’s pretend I’m twenty years younger for a few subway scenarios. If a man on the subway asks for my phone number and tells me I should smile, I can tell him to fuck off and he can call me a feminazi bitch, I get off at the next stop. It’s yet another unpleasant incident that I shouldn’t have to deal with, and I do dream of a day when women won’t have to. If a man on the subway uses rush hour as an excuse to rub against me, or uses the longer time between stops when going through a tunnel to take out his junk and masturbate, I can get loud, tell him to fuck off, try to move away, stomp on his foot/offer a sharply placed elbow, get off and report him at the next stop. (I can’t, apparently, expect other passengers to help me, since the current PSAs on the subway tell people not to get directly involved with these types of incidents unless they’re certain it’s safe to do so, they should report it to the appropriate authorities when they can). I’m disgusted, I’m shaky, I’m pissed off that this is the world I live in. If a man on the subway traps me on an otherwise empty car when the train is moving through a tunnel, or follows me off the train and drags me to an unpopulated stairwell and assaults me, well, now we’re in completely different territory, with lifelong physical and emotional repercussions shaping every single choice I make for the rest of my life.

The fact that men like those in the second scenario exist doesn’t negate the wrongness of men in the first scenario, and those in the third don’t make those in the second acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

These were “easy” scenes, clearcut. They didn’t involve people who were known to the victim, dates, boyfriends, spouses, relatives, child predators, gang rapes, positions of financial power and employment repercussions, drugs/alcohol, or any of the million and three ways women find themselves being negated and disrespected, abused, assaulted. They are all unacceptable, and should all be addressed by our society with repercussions. But they aren’t all the same.  If we on the Left are in fact taking the moral high ground, that has to include looking at each case individually, or we run the risk of becoming the twenty-first century version of the 1980s false moral majority. While many of these scenarios grow from the same root problem, if we on the Left insist they are all the same, we make it that much easier for those on the Right to ignore these very real, pervasive, and damaging issues women deal with every day, the systemic degradation of women; paving the way for legal and sanctioned support of predators.