Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Picture-Perfect Week

Wednesday night at QTU, Angela Davis spoke to a huge, rapt audience on a range of topics, including the killing of Trayvon Martin, Americans' resistance to seeing racism as a structural problem, and the cause of prison abolition. (You can watch the whole event here.) The Moms were in the house and on the second row, which gave Moose a chance to snap this shot of the scholar-activist listening attentively to a question from the audience:

(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/18/12, College Park, MD)

Friday, as many of you know, was the day of the big gay spring carnival Moose's happy little program hosts every year on behalf of DC Queer Studies. This year's symposium was extra special, focused on honoring the life and legacy of writer/critic Samuel R. "Chip" Delany, who turned 70 on April 1. The day was drenched in sunshine, the papers were uniformly splendid, and the guest of honor was genial, generous, and wise. Moose snapped this shot of Delany getting ready to read from his new novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders:
(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/20/12, College Park, MD)

What's the takeaway from this long, exhausting, yet deeply gratifying week? Maybe it's something as simple as the importance of finding work that feeds the soul and keeps one focused on a world larger than oneself. Both Davis and Delany have spent their lives as writers and scholars engaged with questions of race, sex, and justice, and both seem, at 70 or on the brink of it (Davis is 68), to radiate equanimity and an optimism that seems not naive but hard-won and fiercely guarded. At breakfast with a group of faculty women the morning after her lecture, Davis amiably entertained more than 90 minutes of questions on everything from prison reform to the politics of university catering. She was thoughtful, funny, generous, and sanguine about the prospect of continued, if slow, progress toward justice. She counseled patience and emphasized the importance of building movements from the ground up. She reminded listeners that the election of Barack Obama was a victory not for him but for those who voted him into office. She feels that the Occupy Wall Street movement, whatever else it did or did not accomplish, was a sign that citizens felt empowered by Obama's election to mobilize against rising inequalities of wealth and the rise of corporate power. In reply after reply, it was clear Davis refuses despair. She sees what's happening. She grasps the underlying problems with depth and nuance. And her years in the trenches tell her that it simply means we are all going to have to spend a few -- or many -- more years in the trenches. All right, then.

Look, darlings, I know it isn't always possible to find work that feeds your soul. Indeed, sometimes, to pay the rent and stay alive, you have to take jobs that make you worry you are selling or crushing your soul. You may find yourself in the devil's company, on your knees and on his payroll, but that doesn't make you a devil. Sometimes you do what you have to do -- but you do it without losing sight of what you want to do. You'll get there, my friend. Take the long view, as Davis and Delany have clearly done in the course of their own complex, amazing journeys. Keep your eyes and your heart open. You might have to do a little more than click your heels together three times, but you will get to where you want to go, even if it isn't on any map you've ever seen. Don't ask us how we know. We just do.

We'll end with what is perhaps Moose's favorite image from this picture-perfect week, because it celebrates not only longevity but clever design that tastes as good as it looks. Here is the cake she had made to honor Mr. Delany at the party after Friday's symposium. It's decorated with the image used on publicity for the event:

(Photo Credit: Moose, 4/19/12)

We offer a virtual piece of this pretty cake to one and all, as a way of saying, "Eat, laugh, never give into despair. That's the one thing we truly can't afford." Peace out.

* * *

For Will Danger, who is working.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Support the VEA

We had sworn off doing any more vagina-related posts because the traffic they bring is just too weird, but when my overworked typist stumbled across the image above (provenance unknown, alas) on Facebook, she couldn't resist. Longtime readers know that the preferred description around here for lady people is vagina-equipped (which we're pretty sure we started using during the 2008 election). Nonetheless, we appreciate the appeal to natural law in the VEA's claim that women are endowed with their lady parts as all persons are endowed with rights to, you know, life, liberty, and blah de blah de blah. We are also totes on board with the slogan, Screw us and we multiply, and the hilarious reclaiming of the creepy Masonic emblem on the back of the dollar bill as a symbol of the might of a million vajayjays. We're down with that, obviously.

So, who'll be the Mockingjay for this fiery band of vulvalogocentrists? Who are we prepared to declare as the VEA's Soldier of the Week? Who is endowed with or schooled in the perfect combination of media-savviness and sistah-hood to deserve this honor? So many sheroes, so little time to blog them.

We might have given the nod to the official go-to gal of Roxie's World, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had a brilliant week this week, achieving "late-breaking adoration" and "pop cultural ascendancy" -- in addition to the global domination she has enjoyed for the past few years -- by being cool enough to catch the wave of the Hill-arious Texts From Hillary meme launched by Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe. (That's the final image in the series there on the left, with Mme Secretary's actual texts to the site's creators. Here's the concluding "thanks for the meme-eries" message from Smith and Lambe.) How good was Clinton's week? WaPo declared her the Internet's "new queen of cool." Jezebel gushed that she had managed to "make herself seem even more badass than she already was. Well played, Hillz." Shoot, even the execrable Maureen Dowd, whose psychotic anti-Clinton ravings during the 2008 primary battle earned her this blog's undying enmity, had a nearly nice column on Clinton's "newly cool image," though she couldn't resist tossing off a couple of gratuitous digs -- e.g., saying that the pictures that launched the meme make Clinton look, "as Raymond Chandler would say, . . . 'as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.'" Ah, MoDo, you never disappoint.

Anyhoo, we take nothing away from Hillz's glorious achievement in opting instead to name actress and activist Ashley Judd the first (and perhaps only -- you know how lax we are about these things) Soldier of the Week for Vaginally Endowed Americans. Judd had a pretty awesome week, too, and not just because Becca Winstone, the character she plays on her new ABC series, Missing, added bank robbery to the impressive set of kick-a$$ skills the retired CIA agent has at her command. (Shoot, in the first episode alone, Becca garrots a guy, breaks into a jewelry store and a warehouse, gets through a couple of high-speed chases while wearing wildly inappropriate footwear, reconnects with a sultry, torch-carrying ex-lover, and does a decent job of speaking several languages. Also: She gets shot, falls into a river, and survives for episode two. Quel surprise, oui?)

Don't get us wrong. The Vaginally Equipped Americans of Roxie's World are devoted fans of Missing. It is totally formulaic and often gobsmackingly implausible, but it is utterly delightful to watch Judd's Winstone haul a$$ all over Europe in an effort to find her kidnapped son and solve the mystery of her late husband Paul's life and death. (Paul was also CIA and was killed by a car bomb ten years earlier.) The plot may not be believable, but Becca is, thanks to Judd's steely eyes and razor-sharp maternal instincts. What can we say? We think the world could use a few more vengeance-seeking soccer moms who can fight like a ninja and hack into a computer.

But that's not why Judd is our VEA Soldier of the Week. Nope, she gets the nod and perhaps a mockingjay pin of her very own for her righteous response to a flood of snarky commentary and speculation about the state of her face, which has been puffed up recently by steroids she took for a nasty sinus infection. Judd used the occasion to offer up an indignant yet nuanced reply that took on the whole machinery of patriarchy and the way that public as well as private conversations about women's bodies are used to rob them of their power and dignity by reducing their personhood "to simple physical objectification." It's a smart, fiery piece that acknowledges women's complicity in the problem. "Patriarchy is not men," Judd explains. "Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. . . .It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it." Sing it, sister!

Judd didn't just write her little diatribe and go back to the business of being famous -- and beautiful. She followed up by doing a powerful interview with NBC's Brian Williams in which she talks about the experience, contextualizes it through deft comments on the hypersexualization of girls and women, and invites others, men included, to share their own "puffy-face" or "big-butt" moments, stories of being shamed or hurt by judgments about their bodies. She's also continued to bang the drum on Twitter, with a steady stream of affirmations and links to other posts (by far less famous people) on the subject. You don't follow @AshleyJudd? Well, sucks for you, sweetheart. Melissa McEwan does, and so do we, as of this week.

Ms. Judd, paws up to you, for talking back to patriarchy rather than being shamed or silenced by it. You recognized a teachable moment and used the power of your celebrity to make the most of it. Vaginally Endowed Americans and fair-minded individuals everywhere salute you for your honesty and your astuteness. You are our VEA Solider of the Week. Peace out.

(Photo Credit: Richard Drew, via)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Remembering Adrienne Rich

As you have no doubt heard by now, another shero has left the building. The poet Adrienne Rich, whom Moose has lovingly described as the fairy godmother of lesbian feminism, died last Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, California. Tuesday, you may recall, was Moose's birthday, which adds an extra bit of poignance to the loss here in Roxie's World. Rich was only 82 years old. Only -- Yes, children, 82 sounds kinda young to the ornery 50-somethings who hang out here. Someday, you'll feel the same way. Swear to dog.

What can we say about Rich that others haven't already said in the outpouring of praise and sorrow that quickly followed news of her death? Simply that her poetry was and is, like certain pieces of music, part of the soundtrack of our lives. It is lodged deep in our heads and hearts. Lines come to us unbidden, in sleep, in crisis, in moments of intimacy. Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine. . . .I came to explore the wreck. / The words are purposes. / The words are maps. / I came to see the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail. . . .With whom do you believe your lot is cast?

The collage above features the autographed title page of Moose's well-worn copy of the book dykes of a certain age all had on their shelves in the 70s and 80s alongside their well-worn copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Moosewood Cookbook. You couldn't get dates back in those days if you couldn't quote most of the "Twenty-One Love Poems" from memory. While changing the oil of your girlfriend's car. Or holding a mirror up to your vajayjay in a circle of your closest friends. (Closest friends: That's lesbian-speak for ex with whom I am still complexly entangled or chick I am hoping to sleep with next.) Just kidding, kinda.

Moose isn't quite sure when she got Rich's autograph on the sacred text. She thinks it must have been at a reading at Womanbooks in New York (which is discussed in this totes excellent Signs article by Kristen Hogan on women's studies and feminist bookstores), when Rich was promoting her next book, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far. Yeah: Fall 1981. Moose was the scraggly grad student standing in line clutching the poet's previous book, which she had gotten as a gift from one of her closest friends. She eventually got around to purchasing A Wild Patience and writing a paper comparing it to Dream, because she took a course called Theories of Female Creativity and you could get by with that sort of thing as long as you threw in a dollop or two of French theory to make it all look legit.

Did you really expect this post to be about Rich? Here, let's try again.

We needed a fairy godmother, someone whose words had the power of incantation and a wisdom that seemed ancient. We needed that to counter all the voices in and out of our heads shouting "No!" to our every desire, our dreams, our ambitions, our longings for another kind of world. Rich was important because she gave voice to those dreams, even as she demanded that her readers attend to the world 
as it is     not as we wish it
as it is     not as we work for it
to be 
("The Spirit of Place")
For all the dreamy feminist utopianism of her lush lyricism, Rich always had a foot firmly on the ground of the world "as it is." Yes, she gave us permission to revel in the joys of erotic pleasure and outlaw love, but she also reminded us that the world was always with us and those private pleasures couldn't command all our energy and attention. In the nineteenth of the twenty-one love poems, the speaker reminds her beloved, "I told you from the first I wanted daily life, / this island of Manhattan was island enough for me." The remark is in parentheses, a graphic emblem of the tensions between separateness and connection that are the subject of the final poems in the sequence.

You hear in that "I told you from the first" something of the moral rectitude that could make Rich both annoying and bracing. She was capable of a prescriptivism that could be damaging to both politics and poetry -- and wrote about that risk in poems like "North American Time":
When my dreams showed signs
of becoming
politically correct
no unruly images
escaping beyond borders
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies' usage
then I began to wonder
What felt like righteousness, though, was also a consciousness of privilege and of the duties Rich obviously felt as a white, North American, middle-class woman to make use of the power she had to try to effect change. You could say she exaggerated the amount of control women had over their lives, as she seems to do in a line like, "Only she who says / she did not choose, is the loser in the end" (XV, "Twenty-One Love Poems") -- Or you could say she recognized that no amount of oppression ever let one off the hook. We are all to some degree responsible for our lives and accountable to our moment in history -- "the life of your tribe / the breath of your planet," as she puts it in "North American Time."

Adrienne Rich gave voice to our dreams, and she demanded that we work to make those dreams real. Rich has moved on, too soon, alas, but the work, of course, continues. We realize now it isn't just women's work, as we might have supposed in earlier, separatist moments. It's all our work, and we'd better get to it. Because somewhere, we might imagine, Rich and her friend and sister/warrior Audre Lorde are impatiently waiting for us "to perform the needed acts" ("Toward the Solstice"). Let's get started, shall we?

* * *