TOWOIT #233: What Happened Day

September 12, 2017… Day 236

Today, they arrived: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Unbelievable, by Katy Tur (who covered the Trump campaign for NBC).

In the under-the-radar, “actually-I’m-not-that-crazy-about-Bernie” corners of the leftwing Internet, there’s a buzz of energy surrounding the release of What Happened. What people don’t understand about the women and men who supported Hillary is that the book’s release has turbocharged their commitment to what they were already committed to and talking about. Most immediately, with everybody’s eyes on 2018, those topics are voting rights, voter enfranchisement, voter registration, and voter turnout. Because they are about that action.

I have a deliberate schedule to follow for the next year to maintain my work, classwork, writing, sanity and health. There’s sleep hygiene involved, there’s deliverable dates for finishing book chapters. There are final exams and there are important dates when the big boss is in town. There’s family stuff too. And a boyfriend. But now I know I need to work activism back in more than it has been, because when the election happened I considered every marginalized young person as my young person and I felt responsibility to do my best on their behalf. And I still have to do that.

I also know though, that I have to write like hell. Even when I’m tired and I don’t feel like it. Because I said yes to writing in order to run headlong in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. Activism and organizing are not in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. They’re the opposite, and I’m going to do some of that stuff anyway. But saying yes to writing will curb my time and energy for activism. So all writing has to be Hell Yes writing. There can be no dilly-dallying in this matter. No dawdling. No equivocating.

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(this decaf Americano is having a dangerous placebo effect on me)

I have barely begun to look at either of these books, but I’m already energized.

Hillary Clinton’s and Katy Tur’s author’s notes start out similarly. In What Happened, Hillary writes, “This is my story of what happened.” In Unbelievable, Katy writes, “This is a true story. It is also my story, which makes it a work of memory.”

Flip to the beginning of the next section a few pages later, and Hillary writes, “Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs.” It is Trump’s inauguration day, January 20, 2017.

Flip a couple pages to the beginning of Katy’s next section, and she writes, “I’m about to throw up.” It’s late on election night — November 8, 2016 — and a fellow reporter has just told her that Trump is going to continue to do rallies. Victory rallies.

These women felt it in their bodies. That’s the way I felt it — a lot of us did. It was a body blow. We were holding our breaths, waiting for an abuser-figure to finally fade away after a long year of Trump on television, Trump on the radio, Trump invading our nightmares. And instead we knew he would be everywhere, in everything. For years. And not just on television. He would be fucking with our very worlds.

And that’s why I want to hear what Hillary Clinton and Katy Tur have to say about what happened last year.

TOWOIT #221

August 29, 2017… Day 222

I love Twitter. I follow so many interesting people, especially reporters. But it’s all getting to be too much. The constant scanning and refreshing. The threads, the dipping in and out of bombshell reports, think pieces, and explainers. I have to put myself a little farther behind the flow of Twitter, start absorbing more things by listening to the radio and podcasts while I’m cooking or cleaning or walking or updating spreadsheets. Start consuming news in digest form. Miss some headlines. Miss some hot takes. Be a few hours or even a few days late on new developments.

After the election, I was like “throw all long-term personal goals out the window, hunker down, shelter in place, and shovel all discretionary funds and some of the savings toward non-profits full of professionals who can try to do something somehow to alleviate the sufferings and indignities of marginalized people in this administration. Bear witness, pay attention, watch, wait, look for opportunities to do something. But most of all, DO NOT LOOK AWAY.”

A few months of our national shit show seems to have hastened whatever mid-life crisis was already coming down the pike. Suddenly I’m taking classes, making big decisions, taking risks, starting projects, trying to change myself into a better version of myself, trying to expand.

It’s partly just the impostors everywhere. If Donald Trump can be President, I can accomplish A FEW of my fairly modest and sadly neglected life goals. I MEAN COME ON.

Also, there’s the sensation of impending doom. Authoritarianism. Climate change. Blah blah blah.

Also, there’s the hope that a bigger version of myself will have better ideas, more energy —  in some as-yet unknown way. This is probably bullshit in the same way that couples think maybe that extra baby they’re having will be the brilliant scientist that makes a crucial breakthrough, so it’s ok to people the earth further. Probably won’t even be a scientist. Your special scientist dream baby will probably just be average and befuddled like the rest of us, maybe even afraid of math! But you never know.

Also, there’s the feeling that other people who were already living their artistic dreams when Trump showed up have societal approval to make their art as if they are living the resistance through their craft or whatever BS you want to say about it — but for some reason I have to be a stooge in my cubicle tithing until it hurts? I’m going to make stuff too. I have things to say too, damnit.

So anyway, I’m too hooked on Twitter. I love it but I hate it. The time just slips away and disappears. I’m going to try to listen to national news and podcasts and just keep my eyes open for what I can see in my own city. Like what’s happening HERE. Not just have my head buried in the phone for every second of every bus ride, watching left-wingers battle each other to death via tweet.

(P.S. follow me @lilwould, obviously)

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All the Scarlet Witches: The Writing

Dear James Robinson,

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I can’t ignore your writing anymore. There’s no shame in needing to get better at writing. I need to get better at writing. My blog posts need editing, but I don’t get paid and I only have a few readers. You, on the other hand, have a lot of readers. As a writer for Marvel, you’ve achieved more writing success than I have. You’ve hustled to get where you are, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve met your deadlines and you’ve completed your task. You’ve given it a shot. You’re a writer.

You’ll need to work harder if you’re going to keep up at Marvel, though. Matt Fraction, Willow Wilson and Tom King have been roaring down the tracks. They’re making it look easy. They’re telling stories so tight and seaworthy that Marvel can say “suck it, Image Comics intelligentsia.” Your writing on Scarlet Witch is like Marvel saying “Comic book readers are kind of idiots anyway.” Or maybe just “No one gives a shit about Scarlet Witch. Let’s really phone this one in.”

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I put together a list of things to work on:

Words: how many and which ones.

Scarlet Witch #4 is loaded with words, but the ratio of words that mean something to total words is low. This clogs up the works and makes you look like an amateur. Here are some filler words and phrases that you lean on heavily: Although, though, certainly, if I’m truthful, oh, it does seem as if, most notably, it seems, it would seem, I confess, here is where, honestly, that is, I suppose, more accurately, I imagine, as I recall, actually, I’m sure, whereas, apparently. This kind of speech is common in the office world, especially when someone is a) insecure about their intelligence or b) trying to obfuscate their true meaning and avoid being held accountable. So you’ve got a case of business-ese. I think you thought it would add a nice razzle-dazzle of formality or authenticity but you are wrong. It reads as if you originally thought you would make Wanda’s speech biblical or Shakespearean, and then someone was like “Wait. Hold on. Wanda is Roma, and she’s a witch, and this is a comic book. So let’s make her sound like middle-manager in Toledo who is trying to sound more educated than he is while breaking the bad news to the team about health insurance benefit changes.”

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Try limiting the amount of word balloon space you’ll allow yourself per page. Usually when a writer is forced to make something shorter, it winds up being better. Then we could see more of the art and the art could do more of the talking.

Working dialogue to death.

The wordiness I mentioned above seems to be your way of trying to make people talking sound like people talking. But it’s backfiring. Agatha trails along endlessly dumping exposition into her dialogue. It’s exhausting. Wanda over-reports Every Single Feeling she has. She and Agatha have known each other for a long time. Agatha can probably read non-verbal social cues. And so can the readers. Let the art do some of the storytelling. Let Wanda and Agatha’s relationship breathe. And if you’re using dialogue as glue to make your plot followable, maybe your plot isn’t very sturdy.

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Interesting art from Chris Visions

P.S. When your villain says “I love power” that is what they call “too on the nose.”

Overdoing an accent.

Just because someone is Irish doesn’t mean we want to be beaten about the head and neck with a brogue.

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SW 2

The second example also shows an annoying sexist trope without proper sense of irony. So powerful and yet so flawed and broken, yadda yadda yadda.

Tone-deaf tone shifts.

Wanda has JUST had a jarring, life-changing encounter with the ghost of her mother. She’s beside herself. Two seconds later she’s saying “You mean bitch” saucily to Agatha. Makes no sense. Maybe, after getting silly on sidecars, Hellcat says “You mean bitch” in a teasy way to She-Hulk. MAYBE. And even then, I could see it landing with a thud. This just shows that you’re not feeling your own story beats (and maybe that you don’t know how women talk to each other, girlfriend).

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Notice how Agatha shifts right into dialogue as exposition again.

Neglect and mis-use of available themes.

This run of Scarlet Witch could mean a lot to a lot of people. Aging. Personal demons. Mother-daughter relations. Friendship. Sacrifice. The passage of time. Mortality. It’s so rich with potential themes that all you have to do is get out of the way.

And that’s the hardest thing—learning how to get out of the way. It takes imagination, restraint and skill. If you can learn to get out of the way of your artist, of your characters, of your themes, of your own writing, then you’ll finally be making it look easy. If you can’t learn to get out of the way of all that stuff, then you’ll have to get out of the way of someone who writes sharper and snappier than you do.

 

I’m So Not Freezing My Eggs

When I was a student at Princeton in the 90s, people advertised in the school paper for eggs. They were willing to pay as much as $80,000 for the eggs of Princeton students. More specifically, that was the price for eggs from young women with “blonde or light brown hair and blue eyes.” Women fitting my description (“brown hair, brown eyes, Jewish-looking”) could only get about $30,000 for their eggs. I never saw any ads for non-white eggs.

We girls talked about it around the dinner table. Nobody wanted to do it. It seemed shady. “It’s invasive,” said one girl. Another one said, “It could mess up your fertility later—it’s not as simple as they make it sound.” Back then I was idealistic and not motivated by money. That was also a place of privilege, because I had a lot of help with tuition and school costs. I thought about what it would be like to have a biological son or daughter out there, being raised in a New Jersey Jewish or Italian household, going to private school probably. I didn’t want to do it. I saw everything ahead of me—enough money, enough eggs, enough opportunity.

Years later, when a 401k was finally a thing that mattered to me, I thought about that long lost theoretical $30,000. I thought, “If I had invested that $30,000 back then and allowed it to compound, what sort of nest egg might I be on my way to having?” I also began to think, “What if I never have kids, and so it never mattered about keeping my own reproductive system in good shape?” The answers didn’t matter, because I would never have changed my thinking as a kid. It was all hardwired in to my youthful sense of self and integrity.

Now that I’m 37, I’ve spent years churning and cycling through different thoughts and mindsets about having kids. I’ve been single for several years, so I had to call my own bluff about wanting to have kids badly enough to want to be a single parent. I don’t think I do. Mostly, I’ve concluded that I can’t bear to be on the fence. That never having kids is better than this agony of waiting out your last child-bearing years in indecision, with the over-thinking and jealousy and fear and the feeling of being empty. At the end of the day, I am still more afraid of being a parent than of never being a parent. I mean, yeah – I hear there is great love involved, and also that you shouldn’t be ruled by your fears. That doesn’t mean I have the hubris to summon new life into the world.

My wandering back and forth across the line of wanting and not wanting kids has been milder lately, but I still flip flop several times a day. I think about pregnancy. I think about foster-to-adopt. I think about money and fatigue and danger and oceans of regret. Every day I build a case, watch it crumble, build an opposite case. I feel rattled, I feel bad about myself, and I retreat from the subject again. I’m alone with it, and it always seems to come down to the meaning of life and how we’re all hurtling toward death.

Today I heard a radio story about women my age and younger freezing their eggs. How much it costs. What it entails. What the big plan is. Without any dithering or doubt, I thought “I am NEVER doing that.” Twelve hours later, I feel the same way. I think I’m still going to feel this way when I wake up tomorrow.

After the radio made me realize I am unmotivated to see my DNA running around, I thought of all the times something on the radio has motivated me. I’ll hear something and want to rush to produce some answering expression of my own. But I don’t want to reproduce. I know I’m not supposed to freeze my eggs and that any resulting sadness will be livable. I might just bloom too late for things, but I know I’m interested in all of us who are here now. In a few years, maybe I’ll see how much room is in my personal life boat—and whether it seems like I should try to fish someone else out of the muddy water and towel them dry.