A Grief Interlude

It seems so strange to interrupt an ongoing tribute to a now deceased famous person who affected my life significantly…to talk about recent deaths of similarly significant celebrities. And yet here I am, writing this post rather than writing one of my Cravenous reviews as I continue to make my way (very slowly) through Wes Craven’s oeuvre.

There have been several deaths recently within the celebrity circuit. It’s rather alarming, actually, how many famous people have departed the realm in the past month or so—and not celebrities who we might have anticipated leaving us. It’s one thing when someone tips the scales into the upper 80s or even 90s and then leaves us still wanting more but grateful that they were there to inspire and entertain us for as long as they were.

No. These have been wholly unexpected (at least by the general public) and wholly depressing. These have been the deaths of people still active in their crafts, be it music or acting or writing or art. These were early deaths. Painful deaths from an illness far too prevalent among us all. For me personally, I find that the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman have been almost as upsetting as Craven’s unexpected death in August of last year. Both were 69 years old. Both succumbed after lengthy yet quiet battles against cancer.

For Bowie, I confess that I didn’t start actively getting into his music until a few years ago. To me, he was first Jareth the Goblin King.

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I’ve already written about the significance of Jim Henson and his Muppets to my early years. Make no mistake that I consider Bowie to be a crucial part of that significance. His performance as the Goblin King to Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah is what made Labyrinth as captivating and memorable as it was. Plus, Bowie wrote all the music for the movie, which he of course performed.

It was his appearance as Jareth that I found most compelling, with the whimsical (though slightly lewd) costumes, the magnificent hair, and the most stunning makeup, made all the more ethereal by his one eye with the forever-dilated pupil. He was beautiful. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it wasn’t just Jareth who was beautiful. It was Bowie himself. Androgynous, feather-light, stick-thin, snaggle-toothed, and stunning. Whether as Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, any of his movie roles (several of which are standouts among my beloved genre fiction, such as The Hunger or The Man Who Fell to Earth, which seems as though it was written with Bowie in mind), or simply Bowie, he was always gorgeous.

David Bowie (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
David Bowie (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

(Also, from the look of this photo, Tilda Swinton owes him significantly as well…do you think she knows? Oh. Yeah, I think she does.)

As I learned more about his career, I realized that Bowie also was one of the most influential artists within the rock world to which I was first introduced. Even when I didn’t realize his impact, I was feeling it. Every time I turned on a Culture Club video and swooned at the sight of Boy George in all his early gorgeous glory or fell under the spell of similarly androgy-gorgeous Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox, I was reaping the benefit of Bowie’s influence. Any time I fell in love with an artist for being unabashedly, defiantly unique, what I was really falling in love with was how Bowie burst through the doors that continued to remain open for all these subsequent acts who fell within the purview of my growing attention to music. Bowie showed that it was all right to be different. It was okay to be flamboyant, to be a “Space Oddity” and not fit in. He showed the way for so many artists who walked the peculiar path whose bricks Bowie helped lay.

Even when I had no idea who or what Ziggy Stardust was, I was enjoying his short existence that continued to benefit all of us who were, just as he was, delightfully left of left of center. And even in my nascent naivete toward music and musicians, I was grooving to songs laid down by the Thin White Duke. I didn’t know who sang the songs (I predate the ease of holding up a smartphone to a radio and having the ghost in the machine tell me what I’m listening to), but I knew I liked them.

I liked David Bowie. His creativity was immense (almost as immense as Jareth’s cod piece) and left an indelible mark upon the creative spaces of sound and image. His influence shaped the musical landscape to which I arrived in all my unknowing glory and continues to enthrall and influence even now.

Many of these same sentiments can extend to how I feel about Alan Rickman’s equally unexpected passing. Rickman, with that striking singular voice. That voice will always, to me, be the Voice of the One True God (beware, NSFW for language):

Whether he was telling you to “shoot ze glass” or threatening to carve your heart out with a spoon or trying to teach you a new spell to protect you from the Dark Lord, Rickman’s dulcet timbre was always captivating and instantly recognizable. His performances were always satisfying, his range always astounding. By Grabthar’s hammer, he could bring gravitas and pathos to any character he played. He also breathed life into some of the most momentous genre fiction characters we’ve had the pleasure to meet on screen, be they Metatron, Dr. Lazarus, the Sheriff of Nottingham, or that most infamous Death Eater of all, Professor Severus Snape.

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For me, while it was all about these larger-than-life roles (of which, I do believe the Metatron was my favorite) to some degree, I think I loved Rickman most of all in a couple of his quieter, lesser-known roles: Dr. Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made and Alex in Snow Cake, which paired him once more with Sigourney Weaver.

Regardless of his role, Rickman was always watchable (or listenable, if it were one of his voice-only roles). His talent made many a movie more enjoyable and it will be sorely missed. He will be sorely missed as well, for his humor, his kindness, his depth of care and compassion for other actors. From what I have gleaned from recent words of kindness spoken of him and Bowie, both men were exceptionally generous with their time, attention, and advice. They were solid, solicitous souls who brought light to all they did. Both he and Bowie have left irreparable holes in the fabric of creativity as well as in the hearts of many a fan, including this humble and sorrowful wolf.

CSI: Catherine Still Incompetent?

Visitors to the lair know that when I’m devoted to a show, I’m in it to win it until the very end. I’ll even follow you into continued “seasons” in book form if I’m really into you (which reminds me: I need to finish the “eighth season” of Deep Space Nine before I completely forget the first three books from the run). It’s no surprise, then, that I have continued to watch the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation through every bump and dip the show has seen in recent years. And, even though I confess to no surprise from the announcement earlier this year that CBS had cancelled the series after 15 years, I still felt a pang of loss. This show has meant a great deal to me for myriad reasons—so much so that, even though it had become only a sliver of its former self, I mourned the inevitable loss of the comfort I took from its familiar presence in my life.

It was, therefore, with no small amount of sadness that I tuned in this past Sunday to watch the final 2-hour movie that CBS green-lit to wrap up story lines and give fans one final Vegas hurrah. The final movie was, indeed, written almost exclusively for those of us who had watched the show with any sense of religious devotion. It was all about the characters, as it had become within recent years (much to my dismay, TBH). They brought back numerous characters, including Detective Jim Brass, “fan favorite” Lady Heather (who I found entertaining at first, but then quickly found irritating), and one-time show stars Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows.

Clearly, from the title of this post, I’d like to focus primarily on Catherine Willows as well as, more generally, how CSI ultimately failed many of its female characters as well as its female fans. I charge that its biggest failure in this regard, however, was to Ms. Willows.

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When the series began in 2000, Marg Helgenberger and William Peterson clearly were marketed as the stars—sort of the Scully and Mulder of the forensic world, with the sassy headstrong redhead and the nerdy-hot socially awkward loner. As the series got its footing, it became more and more clear that, while Grissom was the technical leader of the team (read: He was the one making the bucks and getting all the attention), Catherine was the engine that made the operation run. However, there was a far less progressive message being conveyed in the depiction of Catherine’s “behind the scenes” role. She wasn’t in charge, but everyone on the team, including Grissom, depended on her to keep everything on track—paperwork completed, assignments passed out, reviews given, etc. In essence, in addition to being a high-ranking and capable CSI, Catherine Willows was Gil Grissom’s administrative assistant, taking care of all the clerical duties that Grissom felt were not what he should be focusing on.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with anyone who performs clerical tasks. There isn’t even anything wrong with setting up a scenario in which Grissom is completely inept at such tasks and Willows steps in to provide him the support he needed to keep the team on-track. What was wrong, however, was the turn of events that started at the beginning of Season 5, when the lab director decided to split up the grave shift, setting up Catherine as the new swing-shift supervisor in charge of Nick and Warrick. With Willows and Grissom separated, Grissom continued on as he always did, and no attention was paid any longer to his clerical ineptitude. He was simply the grave-shift supervisor. Period.

However, almost from the start, TPTB wrote Catherine Willows as unable to perform her supervisory duties with any degree of aptitude. She bungled cases, her team (two people previously under her supervision on the grave shift and previously possessed of respect for her skills and supervision) disagreed with her constantly, and the generally accepted presentation to viewers was that she was not suitable as the swing-shift supervisor. This was disappointing, of course, but also problematic. When the team was together, it was very clear that Grissom cared far more for cases, evidence, and investigations than in his supervisory duties. Catherine was the one who took care of all that, and Grissom trusted her implicitly. Plus, he trusted her implicitly as a CSI, often deferring to her as the next senior-ranking investigator on the grave shift. Nick and Warrick respected her as well while they were all on the same team. Splitting her away and making her their actual supervisor should not have changed any of what had already been established—should it? And yet, it did. The implication, of course, was that Catherine Willows could only be successful if she was supported by Grissom, who actually gave her no support at all. But clearly, she couldn’t handle all the things she used to handle without someone there to give her no help at all!

It was no surprise, then, that the next season brought them all back together as one team, Catherine once more serving as second to Grissom. Now, I get that this “breaking up the team” story arc was just a one-season ploy to begin with—something to stir up some controversy, shake the dust of familiarity off everything, and whatnot. What was frustrating was the fact that the ploy had to come at the expense of showing a previously capable member of the team fail so dramatically that no one even questioned her unspoken demotion at the beginning of the sixth season. Or at the beginning of the 12th season…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve already gone off on a tangent about how CSI treated its female characters. And while some of my thoughts from that post have evolved with time, they’re still pretty on-target. However, what I point to from that post is the fact that Jorja Fox and Marg Helgenberger were the ones to call for a truce between their characters. They saw the value of ceasing and desisting with the continuation of discord between Willows and Sidle. It’s just one of the many reasons that I admire both of them. Of course, the writers’ solution? Stop having Willows and Sidle interact. Instead of climbing out of their clear comfort zone of supporting the notion that women cannot work together in the same collegial way that male characters often do and writing Willows and Sidle into two representatives of a new idea…a fantastic idea…the amazing notion that women can work together without sinking teeth into each other, figuratively or literally…they just gave up on having the women interact at all unless they had to. And usually? It was to spark some kind of fight between them that required male intervention to solve.

Again, all part of the process of pushing stories forward, but it’s trite. It’s demeaning. And it reflects the perpetuation of a misconception that deserves to DIAF. Women work together all the time without fanging each other or deceiving each other or betraying each other or just in general hating each other, “because women.” I do it every day. Even better, my female coworkers and I can pass the Bechdel test with almost every single conversation we have—something that, even by the last episode of a 337-episode run, Willows and Sidle failed almost completely.

But I digress. This is about CSI Willows. Fast-forward from the sixth season demotion to William Peterson’s departure in the middle of the ninth season and Catherine Willows’s subsequent promotion-by-default to head of the grave shift. Again, a shift she’s been helping to run for many years, supervising people she’s worked with for years—she’s got this. Right? And yet, at the beginning of Season 10…the beginning of Season 10, when Catherine Willows has barely been in charge for half a season, we learn that one of her staff has left after filing charges against Willows, for what? Incompetent management.

Again, the writers needed to cover the fact that an actress they’d cast the previous season either left or they let go because the character wasn’t working, but notice how this is the second time they’ve made Catherine Willows incompetent to fix the flow of the story? Sara even tells Catherine, in one of those delightful yet sadly rare moments when these two characters interacted amicably, that she’s a great CSI and that “the only thing that Grissom had that you don’t, is you.” (P.S., this was yet another instance in which Sara and Catherine also failed the Bechdel test, because apparently the only way these two could see eye-to-eye was if they first discussed Sara’s relationship with Grissom…but we’ll get to that in a moment as well).

[Loba Tangent: By the way, this could have been an incredible moment in which the writers decided to make Sara Sidle the second-in-charge to Catherine Willows, thereby having two women in supervisory roles. Can you imagine? Instead, they had Catherine make Nick Stokes her second-in-command. Look at there: Catherine Willows, supported yet again by a man. Surely, she’ll be successful this time!]

So was Sara lying? Or was it simply the fact that the writers at some point decided that the best way to fix major story changes was simply to make Catherine Willows the default incompetent scapegoat? Don’t believe me? Head on over to the beginning of Season 12. Laurence Fishburne had decided that serial television was not to his liking so he departed, to be replaced by Ted Danson. Arriving as D.B. Russell, Danson’s character quickly was established as, what? The grave-shift supervisor. Apparently, being He Who Was Sam Malone trumps the status of the woman who has been on the series since the beginning, and once again Catherine Willows becomes too incompetent to lead.

What’s even worse is that this time her incompetence stems partly from her emotional response to actions that took place at the end of the previous season—actions that a few of the male characters were complicit in carrying out for equally emotional reasons. But it was Catherine Willows who fell and served in demoted silence for all of one season before Helgenberger finally called it quits and left the realm. At least they replaced her with another woman when they brought Elisabeth Shue on as CSI Julie Finlay. Strangely enough, Shue didn’t get to become the head of the team. You’d think that being an Oscar-nominated film star would trump being Sam Malone. Guess not.

Jump, jump, jump ahead to the end. Catherine Willows returns in her new capacity as a field agent for the FBI’s Los Angeles office. Incompetent as a state employee? Don’t worry. The federal government has got you covered, bae!

Seriously, though. By the time Helgenberger left the show, the writers had written the character of Catherine Willows as someone whose personnel file was so riddled with problems that she should have been shipped back to the strip club where she started. And yet, they felt it was appropriate to send her off to the FBI? Forreals?

Right.

So Willows comes back to help during a time when Sara Sidle, by dint of reason that she’s literally the last remaining original CSI left (even though she didn’t appear until the second episode), oh and the show is ending, is up for consideration as the director of the crime lab. WHO’S THE BIG DAWG? Winning by default is still winning, AMIRITE?

Never mind that she’s up for a job that we will never get to see her actually work. No, scratch that. That’s one of the things that really pissed me off about seeing Sara Sidle up for this huge promotion. Pardon my language, but big fucking deal. Why didn’t the writers consider her for the promotion when they decided to demote Willows a third time? You want to give these women reason to fight? There would have been your reason. You know, because women never support each other in the workplace. Instead, she’s not up for any kind of promotion until the last episode. A promotion that she gets (spoilers) and then just as quickly gives up (spoilerz) because love interest is love interest and nothing more. Sara Sidle was always meant to be, first and foremost, Gil Grissom’s love interest. All that time that Sara Sidle was on the show after Grissom left? Well, none of that counted. All those cases she worked and victims she helped and suspects she put away. Meaningless. Everything about her was meaningless until Grissom could return and woo her away once more.

So who became the director after Sara rode off into the sunset with her Prince Charming (literally, spoilers)? The intimation was…it was Catherine Willows. Third time’s the charm? Again, though, big fucking deal. Not only do we not get to see Director Catherine Willows, we don’t even get to see her take the role. It was far more important to see Sara Sidle give up everything to fulfill her ultimate destiny as “Gil Grissom’s love interest.”

Wow. That’s a lot more than I anticipated writing. And yet I barely scratched the surface. Not to say that the show didn’t have great female characters. It honestly had many wonderful female characters come and go through the years. For instance, Julie Finlay was a fascinating character—you know, up until the point where they had her beat into a coma by a serial killer, stuffed into a trunk, and then confirmed as dead in the last 10 minutes of the final episode.

Whatever.

Why does any of this matter? After all, it’s just a show. Just a show that not only ran for 15 years but inspired the creation of at least a dozen knockoffs, including three spinoffs. A show that helped change the course of television in highly influential ways. And yet, when TV Guide dedicated a cover to Helgenberger and Fox? This was the photo they felt was most appropriate:

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Nothing like women on their knees, eh?

Oh, and if you’d like to dress like a CSI for Halloween? Better just put your own costume together, because this is what you’re going to find in the stores:

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Positive representation matters. If you think it doesn’t, then you probably are lucky to belong to a group that has never had to worry about any kind of representation, either in the media or in reality. To everyone else, it’s a big deal. CSI made a huge impact in many positive ways, but it also missed the opportunity to make the same kind of impact on how women are depicted in popular culture. They could have taken the character of Catherine Willows and made her an example of a woman who brought herself up from a life she no longer wanted to lead to a life that could have inspired. Instead, she was Catherine Willows, forever destined to make poor professional and personal choices and never ever ever learn from any of them. She—and we—deserved better.

There’s still hope, even in this particular franchise. Patricia Arquette is the lead in CSI: Cyber, which returns this upcoming Sunday. Of course, Ted Danson is shifting over to that show now that the Vegas crew has investigated their last crime. So help me, if he somehow ends up bumping Arquette to second-banana, hell will truly have no fury like Loba unchained.

Go ahead. Try to demote me again.
Go ahead. Try to demote me again.

Rant Me the Serenity…

Talk about much ado about nothing. I relaunch the blog after so much time and effort to rebuild my online lair and then…nothing. Pfft. Fizzle. A couple of Flashback Fridays, some book reviews, some PhotoShop trickery…but no meat. Just sides.

I want more. Truth is, though, that I feel sometimes like there are so many variables against “more.” My job has evolved into something far more consistently all-consuming than before, which means that by the end of the day, there’s not much intellectual energy left. I mean, come on now, I’m practically running on fumes all the time anyway…now, I’ve reached the point where by the end of the day, I simply can’t brain anymore.

Please don’t make me brain anymore.

Seriously, though, I work out my focus all day long, trying to keep multiple projects on track, on time, on budget, on fleek. I come home and I got nothin’ left. The jam jar is empty and all that’s left is the dried-out jam crust around the lid. No one wants that.

The other problem (beyond my tendency to make really disgusting analogies) is that I’ve lost my indignant fire. In my Angry BloggerTM Days, I had no dearth of anger for fueling myriad rants. I’m old now, and I see the futility of ranting. Not to say that I don’t still go on rants…but they’re usually about things meant to incite wrath from the geek community. I’m really good at that.

Ranting about things that matter IRL though? Ranting just deepens the divide. I’m more into (or I’m more into trying to be more into) seeking solutions. Trying to find the problem and fix it. Trying to find answers to questions that I’m quite frankly tired of asking and tired of watching everyone in charge ignore simply because the answers aren’t…simple.

The problem is that this path isn’t easily packaged into a navel-gazing blog blurb. And this path shouldn’t be easily packaged or reduced or simplified. It’s a path of thorns and brambles. A path abandoned for too long because choosing this path requires serious work, and who wants to do that? It’s way more fun to keep ignoring this path and taking the easier one that solves nothing but lets us all be utter cockwombles from the anonymous comfort of our Internet-trolling couches.

[Loba Tangent: In other news, my British friends have taught me the word cockwomble, and I now try to fit it in whenever I can. Because cockwomble.]

So that’s where I’m at. I’m still here, pacing the lair, trying to figure it all out. I’m still writing blog posts. I’ve got a couple saved as drafts (which I couldn’t do before I repaired things, so progress!!). If it makes you all feel any better, I’m not just ignoring the lair. I haven’t even really been reading all that much lately either. Again, jam crust.

And just so I don’t leave you all with that disgusting image in your head, have this. Uzo Aduba is one of my new favorite people in the entirety of the universe. If you don’t know why, then get thee to a Netflix account and stream the hell out of Orange is the New Black. Hers is one of the most captivating characters from what is one of the most delightfully diverse, female-centric shows ever (a shame, though, that we can only get diversity behind bars).

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The Man of My Dreams

It would have to take something big to finally pull me out of the morass of work in which I’ve been trapped all summer. Something bigger than book reviews or navel gazing or even the insanity of the current political landscape (a landscape I’m already tired of looking at, and we’ve still got more than a year to go).

No, it had to be larger than that. It had to be something personally moving…something so important to me that, no matter how many evenings and stolen moments throughout the days that I have stockpile to write this, it will be done. It’s the least I can do for the man who played such an integral role in my conversion to the tried-and-true horror apostle I am today.

True, I credit Poltergeist as being the first modern horror film I ever saw all the way through. That was my gateway film, so to speak. But if I were credit one genre director as being most responsible for completely converting me to the Church of Horror, it would have to be Wes Craven.

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I give John Carpenter full dues for the brilliance that is Halloween. And I attribute the state of the horror genre as I knew and loved it growing up to a particular set of directors/writers who ruled the horror landscape throughout the 80s: Craven, Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, and Sean Cunningham (with honorable mention to Clive Barker for the glory that is Pinhead).

These men understood the visceral nature of fear and they harnessed that to full unadulterated effect through some of the genre’s most unsettling movies. They were the fathers of evisceration and unrest, pushing the boundaries of, at the time, a mostly staid genre into territories that even they found too disturbing to explore…which is what pushed them to explore them in the first place. Craven himself stated that The Last House on the Left was one of his movies that he could never go back and re-watch because of how horrific it was to him.

And then came Freddy Krueger. As much as I love Michael Myers and Pinhead and Jason, Freddy was my first horror villain. I actually first met him through the fourth Elm Street movie The Dream Master, which was not one of Craven’s films. However, I loved Freddy from the very first flick of his silver-knived hand right down to his inimitably painful puns. He was horror kitsch of the killer variety, compelling and charismatic and amusingly unique even among the high-caliber villainous company he was keeping at the time. I needed to know everything about him.

I was not anticipating the Freddy Krueger I met in the first film. Craven’s original 1984 movie was disturbing in the ugliest of realistic ways (strange to say of a killer who is himself dead and offs his victims in their nightmares). This character came from the mind of someone who understood that true fear resided in the deepest, darkest, most depraved corners of ourselves. We create the worst fears, whether through our own thoughts or our own deeds. No matter how much I love the campy, “lovable” Freddy of later films, my allegiance will always rest in the gloved hand of that original Krueger. He was only on screen for 7 minutes that first movie…less time than even the Wicked Witch of the West got in The Wizard of Oz…but oh, those 7 minutes.

Thankfully, Craven did return for The New Nightmare, one of my other favorite Freddy films. Additionally, New Nightmare was one of the earliest examples, that I can remember, of that meta take on film-making that blurs reality and fiction into a tasty melange of horror savoriness that I clearly find addictive.

And then there’s Scream. True, Craven didn’t write it and he almost didn’t direct it. But thank the horror deities that he did. Talk about meta savoriness. I have written about this film and franchise many times here at the lair. Two of my Ladies of Horror May-hem come from this film (two other Ladies come from Elm Street). The original film works so well in part because of its clear respect for and indebtedness to the time during which Craven and that previously mentioned collection of amazingly demented directors ruled the horror genre. And while the series holistically was never as solid as the first film, Craven did his best to make it as solidly scary as he could with what Williamson gave him.

Of course, these are only the movies that often rise to the top of any discussion of Craven’s contributions to the horror genre. Let’s not forget, he also gave us The Hills Have Eyes; Deadly Friend, which includes one of my all-time favorite character deaths ever; Shocker (I still refer to Mitch Pileggi as “Horace Pinker”); The People Under the Stairs, which gave me a whole new outlook on Twin Peaks and turned so many traditional horror tropes upside down and inside out in ways that I don’t think many appreciated at the time; Red Eye (sure, I’d like to find flying even more traumatizing!); and The Serpent and the Rainbow, which ranks still as one of my favorite “zombie” movies.

Craven was sharp, well-read, curious, creative, kind, and witty, and he made my horror-loving adolescence ironically brighter from all the darkness he brought to the genre. I have mourned his death every day since I learned he was with us no more. He left behind a brilliant legacy, but his time with us was still far too short.

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LobaBlerch

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, denizens? Not a while since I paid any love to the lair. I’ve been banging on about books and beers and strange ephemera from my youth that once (and forever) made me happy. But it’s been a while since I wrote something navel-gazey, eh? What better day to change that then the auspicious 11th birthday of my bloginations?

One of my favorite online stops every now and again is The Oatmeal. Funny, dorky, irreverent, and grammar sticklers.

During a recent perusal, I ran across the section The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. True, I don’t really run all that much. Sometimes, if I have an abundance of energy, I’ll bring it down a few notches with a jaunty jog here and there, but mostly I walk. A lot. Uphill, downhill, on paths, on trails, in cities, in the woods, wherever. I love to walk. The longer and more strenuous the walk? The more I’m going to dig in. I don’t take glucosamine every morning for nothing, dammit.

But why? The unglamorous reason is that I started walking four years ago as a means to outpace having to deal with my mom’s death. I dealt with it some, mostly through blogging here, but when the edges got too sharp and the feelings got too raw? I moved on. If I just plugged in my earbuds and kept moving, then I could focus on the music, on the pace, on the sweat and exhaustion, on the physical pain and not the deeper hurt. Basically, I tried to walk away from dealing with it all, not accepting that it was chained to my ankle and following right along with me.

But that’s a whole other story.

Funny thing (and I’m always one for gallows humor), is that when I started to resurface from the fog of my self-enforced avoidance through exercise…I really liked the physical me I came back to. I’d “avoided” myself down 50 pounds and up several metabolic notches. I had a reduced appetite and increased energy. I was toned and muscular and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to run away from the reflection in the mirror.

Thus bringing me back to the Oatmeal post on running. Bet you thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you? Some of the post made me laugh and some of it passed right over me without any response. One panel, though. One panel punched me right in the solar plexus:

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“I grew up a fat kid.”

When I was in the safety of my own world (as any good introvert will tell you, we all have two worlds: the outside one in which we have to live, and the inside one in which we choose to live), my weight wasn’t an issue. It never stopped me from battling Cobra Commander and Destro or using my proton pack to fight ghosts or calling for K.I.T.T. before the bad guys found my hiding spot. I could be anyone, do anything in the confines of our yard…although, looking back, I would love to have known what the neighbors thought of my strange antics, swinging from tree limbs, running and rolling and ducking and dodging, none of them able to see the fantastic adventures my imagination was creating for me.

Outside of my own world? I was fat. And others made a point of informing me that I was fat, as if somehow this truth eluded me without constant reminding. Because somehow having to shop in the boys’ husky section for jeans or the women’s plus-sized section for school clothes when I was 11 wasn’t enough.

[Loba Tangent: Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Yes, kids bullied me for being fat. The sad truth, though, is that when someone else came along, even lower on the popularity food chain than me, I didn’t step up and defend them. Instead, I reveled in the feeling of finally giving back some of what I’d been taking all those years. Kick a dog too much and sometimes the wrong person ends up losing a hand when the dog finally bites back. I bear the weight of that truth even now, because introspection is deservedly cruel sometimes.]

I’ve tried since my teens to tame my weight, but almost always in that half-assed, “miracle diet,” snap-my-fingers-and-it’s-done-right? way. You know what that approach gets you? A boatload of disappointment and discouragement. Intellectually, I understood that being healthy was more important than being skinny, and that being healthy was a commitment (that I obviously wasn’t ready to make).

But the part of me conditioned by years of fat-shaming and societal demands to fit into one generic mold, regardless of the multitude of body shapes women should have, had left me convinced that I was never going to be attractive as long as I had a double chin or my thighs rubbed together when I walked or I had bingo wings—and these were the reasons that I had to be skinny!!11!!!1

[Loba Tangent 2: That’s a whole other post as well: realizing that society’s expectations, especially for how women “should” look, are bullshit. Okay, so maybe that’s not a whole other post…but I bet I could turn it into one. Because wordy.]

Worse yet, I was never going to consider myself attractive. I was only going to see these “flaws.” I was always going to feel terrible and let those acidic feelings erode my self confidence, thus trapping me in a cycle I simply didn’t have the strength from which to break free. Truth is, at the point when my mom died, I was still overweight and still unhappy about it…but it was an “I can’t do anything to change it so why bother trying” defeatist unhappy, which feels as sucky as it sounds.

And then I finally pulled my head out of my ass after a year of running from the sorrow of my mom’s death and, I’m not going to lie, denizens…emotionally, I was still a mess, but physically, I felt fantastic. I had the energy level of a hamster on speed, my joints and back no longer hurt after I did any physical activity, my cholesterol was no longer a worry, I’d developed muscles in places I’d never had them and strengthened the muscles I’d previously had—I had let go of my erroneous focus on weight and ultimately ended up letting go of the weight as well. Not the ideal way to finally get my ducks in a healthier row, but sometimes we just have to go with what we’ve got.

Also, in my need to outrun my sadness, I’d finally outrun the shadow of my arch nemesis: “The Fat Girl.”

See, Mr. Oatmeal Running Man Matthew has his Blerch. I have the Fat Girl. I joke about her all the time, saying that she’s still back there, WAAAAY behind me…too out-of-shape to catch me now. But she’s persistent, and one day, she’s finally going to close the gap between us. I “joke” about her, but secretly, she is my greatest fear. Wounds heal, but scars remain…and if a wound goes deep enough, the scar is just that much uglier.

The Fat Girl is my ugliest, deepest scar.

Do I let her control me still? Not often, but sometimes…sometimes I can hear her breathing right behind me. And so I strap on my sneakers and I go. I go walking. I go work out to some shockingly bad 80s movie. I move in some kind of positive way, because as long as I’m moving, those admittedly juvenile fears won’t catch up…even when I stop to drink half a bottle of wine in one sitting or eat ice cream for breakfast while at the beach (because what else should I eat for breakfast while at the beach?).

I’m always going to have a damaged image of myself. I’m always going to worry about my weight, always going to pay attention to what I eat. It is what it is. However, I’m not going to let that damage stop me from enjoying myself. Even in the not-quite-how-you’re-supposed-to-do-it way that I typically employ, I’ve learned that it’s not about dieting and meeting external ideals. If that were the case, I still wouldn’t look the way I do (but I finally look the way I like, so nyeah). No, I don’t always eat what I “should” or stick to some kind of tortuously limited diet. But, no matter what I eat or drink, I always make sure I keep moving…moving way more than I ever moved before.

“I run because it’s the only way I know how to quiet the monster.”

I began walking to quiet the sorrow in my head. I still walk, only now it’s to quiet the sound of a past that I can’t change but that I can continue to outpace. One step at a time.

Unleashing the Writer: Doppelgänger Digits

Funny what we find while cleaning.

Seems as though I have let all my e-mail accounts fall into various levels of disarray. I finally have my work account relatively under control (I consider being able to see all my messages in one window without having to scroll as “under control”), so I’ve turned to trying to organize my primary personal account. While tackling my Drafts folder (a far easier task than either the Inbox or Sent folders), I found the following snippet of…I’m not really sure. I remember the inspiration for this piece: a waitress at a restaurant near my office. She honestly looked nothing like my mother minus her hands, which I couldn’t stop staring at as she cleared our dishes. The time stamp on the draft message this was saved in marks this as more than a year old. I’m not sure what I was going to do with this or even if I had planned to write more. It feels both finished and lacking.

Somehow, that seems…exactly right for this particular topic.

A stranger has my mother’s hands.

Rather, she has a convincing enough set of forgeries that they warranted two…four…six furtive glances as I watched her go about her tasks. They were almost flawless in their mimicry: wide, fleshy backs; short, thick digits that ended with a soft, rounded bluntness and tipped by impossibly short fingernails; cuticles worn ragged from nervous, obsessive picking. All that was missing was the galactic spray of color that always freckled my mother’s skin.

My mother’s touch was intense, heat almost constantly radiating off her skin in a corona of unseen shimmers. My mother was intense. Volcanic. Tempestuous. Emotive. Her colors were neither blush nor bashful, M’Lynn. Her life was a blend of bright, bold, vivid swirls.

Yellow was her favorite color.

Her hands were never part of my inheritance. My hands are perpetually cold—narrow, with long fingers tapering away from too-large knuckles and tendons and veins that undulate beneath my skin in serpentine patterns. My rings shift and spin in ways they never could on my mother’s fingers.

She always thought I wore too many rings.

Personal Aesthetic

The woman who taught us how to apply theatrical makeup for our high school play one year chose me for the “old age” portion of our lesson. She told me the lines that formed around my eyes when I winked provided her an “easy template.” She also let her 4-year-old daughter run around the classroom wearing a greasy chicken bucket on her head. I should have taken her words in that context. A 16-year-old kid already equipped with low self-esteem doesn’t understand context.

I think about that woman and her bucket-wearing child every now and then, usually when I’m washing my face in the evenings or applying eye liner in the mornings. I’ll wink and watch the lines feather away, arrow fletchings along my skin. I’ve gained new lines since those “easy template” days…lines that curl upward and join the creases that undulate along my forehead or loop across my nose. If I crinkle my brow and wrinkle my nose in just the right way, I can form ridges like a Bajoran. I’ve practiced this move several times.

I notice the lines. I rub them with SPF lotion (for I am pale and freckled and love the sun). I clean them with face wash. I sometimes run my fingers along them. Every now and then, I confess that I try to smooth them away, revealing for fleeting moments that younger me, only now with a perpetually shocked lift of her brow.

Better to look shockingly young than dour and old!

And yet. I like my lines. They tell me stories. They mark my worries, my thoughts, my moods, my years. They remind me parenthetically that I love to laugh, that whole flocks of glee have marched across my skin. They map summer journeys and connect the dots that sunshine left behind.

And yet.

These lines tell you nothing. They are my prologue to the story I know. They tell you nothing of my joys or my sorrows. They don’t tell you who I have lost or who I have found. They don’t teach you anything about me deeper than those superficial creases.

These all seem like obvious statements, logical sentiments.

And yet.

Your body does not define you. Your body is not beautiful. It is not ugly. It is a shell for the beauty or ugliness you choose to cultivate within.

You are you. Make that mean what you want it to mean.

TL;DR

I give this my vote for one of the ugliest acronyms in the indecipherable sea of txtspk brevity: “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”

The first time I ever saw it was in regard to an article that was, admittedly, longer than one typically has time to absorb during work-day downtime. However, recently I’ve been seeing it with more and more frequency, sometimes in reference to pieces that dare to be more than the length of a tweet. And that greatly bothers me.

I’m old-school in a lot of ways when it comes to words. I see beauty in words the way many see beauty in a Van Gogh or a sunset. Words unlock my imagination in ways that no amount of CGI manipulation ever will. Want to not hear a sound from me for an entire day? Place a stack of books on one side of me and a fresh supply of coffee on the other. You’ll forget I’m even there. The best part? I’ll forget I’m there, too, because I’ll be in myriad other locations and times…wherever those beautiful words lead me.

Sometimes, I feel as though I am a dying breed…that I’m the awkward, bloated blog post in the room full of fit tweets, all silently judging me for not shedding my verbal lumpiness and joining them in their snappy bon mot runs every day because I’m too busy gorging myself on wordiness.

Other times, however, I feel as though I am succumbing to the wordless void. It’s so easy. Open up your social media account. I’ll bet one of the first things to pop up in your feed is going to be a photo or a video posted by one of your friends—probably something they’ve shared from one of the innumerable sites out there, designed solely to produce “share”-worthy photos and videos. Sometimes, they have cultural, political, or social merit. Sometimes, they’re designed to tap into geekdoms or childhood memories. Sometimes, they’re just stupid. But you click. And then there’s “you might also like…” and you click that…and click…and click…and before you know it, you’ve spent the better part of the evening binge-watching cat videos.

Don’t get me wrong. I tweet. I post random photos or videos to my social media pages with nary a word of description. I understand the appeal. Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing a treatise on that random Captain Janeway photo you came across or that snippet of some horrible 80s flick you enjoyed as a child.

I also acknowledge that part of why language is so beautiful is because of its mutability. Txtspk is simply another variation on a theme. So is the transformative influence of Web trends on modern language, which has left us with so many feels. Because teh Interwebz.

I suppose what bothers me is the fact that, for some, “TL;DR” is becoming their standard response rather than the occasional “Sorry, I couldn’t get around to reading that article you sent me, but I’ll try to make time later.” Instead, it’s a simple dismissive not just of saving it until later but even of the concept of reading it at all. I’ve encountered a few people who have sprung a variation of the phrase “I don’t read” on me with spurious pride, some even looking at me as if I’d asked them if they think Yetis like twerking.

I know, I’m being curmudgeonly and paranoid. People aren’t all going to stop reading. Still, we’ve seen in the past 20 years a virtual demolition of the newspaper industry. Even once-esteemed papers such as The Washington Post highlight online content that is top-heavy with photo galleries and cutesy videos but lean on actual news. Add to this how once-stalwart news magazines have shuttered their shops, and we’re left gleaning our information from Upworthy videos and cable “news” channels that are nothing more than cesspools of unfiltered vitriol and unsubstantiated bile. Why use actual facts to discuss topics when you can just insult your co-host? Because YOLO.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I suppose if you’ve made it this far, you’ve at least not deemed my latest rambling rant “TL;DR.” For that, I thank you. I also suppose that my point is merely a plea for MOAR READZ. Even if it’s just perusing Yahoo News or maybe picking up a copy of Entertainment Weekly to read about some of your favorite movies or television shows (you know, they even do book reviews in there, too!). Even better, track down a copy of the book on which the latest (or possibly next) hit movie is based. I hear rumor that, almost always? The book is better.

Whatever you read, just read. Expand your mind, engage your imagination, tackle philosophical ideas, wrestle with theology…but just read. Because while a picture can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words can be priceless.

#Read. Because words.

Throw Your Hands Up At Me

All the voters who are Independent? Your ranks just grew by one last week.

That’s right, last week, I changed my party affiliation. No more Donkey Blue for me, at least not for the time being. For the now, however, I felt it was something that I needed to do. While the ideals of the Democratic Party are still the ideals that closely match my own, the truth is that it’s all lip service. They talk a good game about hope and change and moving forward…which, I suppose, is at least a more uplifting message than the one of divisiveness and exclusion that the Republican Party has embraced of late.

Ultimately, however, it’s the Democrats who prove more disappointing. See, I actually want to see all those wonderful promises come to fruition. I want equality for all, whether it’s for civil unions or equal pay or a college degree. I want women to continue to have the right to choose what happens to our bodies, whether it be through the provision of birth control or abortions. I might not believe in either or I might believe in both…doesn’t matter. I want the choice to be available. I want universal healthcare (not the muddled joke of Obamacare, which was doctored by the insurance companies who’ve helped make a mess of the system in the first place). I want decent public education, affordable higher education…I might not like kids, but I know that an educated youth becomes a knowledgeable and inventive workforce and might even give us a qualified leader or two.

Obviously, we’re in a bit of a shortage on that front.

I want all these things, and for years I have bought into the delusion that the Democrats were going to make good on all their promises.

The only thing that I have learned, however, is that Democrats and Republicans are alike in one significant way: They will make perfectly crafted promises as a means of keeping us in line. Promises addressing key party platform issues like Equal Pay, Abortion Rights, Freedom of Religion, Taxed Enough Already…these all become nothing more than leashes used by the politicians to keep their constituents at heel.

I’m tired of heeling. So I became Independent. Actually, the state of Maryland calls it “Unaffiliated.” That’s fine. I have to admit, I had a moment of indecision when it was time to click submit and send my changes to the voter registration board. I remember how excited I was to be able to register to vote when I turned 18. I couldn’t wait! It was a bigger deal to me than finally turning 21. I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to be a Democrat. Donkey Blue, through and through.

Bill Clinton was my first. It’s been all downhill since.

Will I still reach a point where I regret changing my affiliation? I don’t know. I did consider the fact that the more moderates, like me, who grow weary of either party and abandon them for Independent or another party alternative means that only the hardcore nutjobs will be left as actual registered Democrats or Republicans. Prophets know what might happen then. Obviously, we’ve seen a small-scale version of this already transpiring, with long-time moderate Republicans being replaced by TEA Party hindrances to the system.

Of course, if more people start leaving the two controlling parties and joining alternatives, we might actually become a country that acknowledges more than just the two hot messes we have now.

We can have many hot messes! And then we’d be Canada 😉

By becoming unaffiliated, I’ve lost my ability to vote in any primaries. Primary season is over this election cycle, so I have time to mull over this fact. Right now, though…now that it’s done? I feel a sense of peace. I’m sure that will change once the politicians from both sides realize that I’ve become a “free agent” and start pelting me with mailings and calls. No worries. That’s why there are shredders and caller ID.

Would I encourage others to become Independent? Only if you’ve reached the same point of disillusionment with your chosen party that I have reached. Even if it’s just for right now, even if it’s just for a little while. Stop toeing the party line for yet another run at a race controlled by empty promises.

The Road to Independents

Ever since my last post, I’ve been thinking of ways to show that I’m serious (well, that and I took a little time to party for my birthday…priorities and all, you know). I’ve got an idea or two, but I’m letting them soak in for a bit before bouncing them off you all here (the title of this post may or may not be a clue).

However, I thought I’d share something I found recently while sorting through some random Word documents I had on my memory stick. I’m not sure when I wrote this…obviously, it was in 2008 and it was after one of the Clinton/Obama debates, but I’ve no idea which one, and no idea what the “XEROX quote” is all about. I’m sure I could look it up, but meh.

It doesn’t really apply to the now, but I thought it was interesting enough as a flashback to where I was politically four years ago: The disenchantment was beginning, but I still held steadfastly to my hope that something good could happen, if only the right person was elected for the job.

Person.

The 2008 Democratic primaries taught me an important lesson regarding my place in the Democratic agenda: Good enough to pander to for my vote; not good enough to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate because I might do something offensive…like age or cry or have “cankles.”

Of course, had Hillary won, it would have probably been four solid years of uphill battle after uphill battle while she was constantly critiqued and criticized for every decision, both politically and personally (probably mostly personally). At least she got to be Secretary of State. And at times more popular than the president himself. And be the inspiration for a really groovy meme.

And now it’s 2012 and women seem to have become an even greater…what? Mandatory voter demographic to capture? Asset? Threat? Our bodies apparently are incredibly threatening. You know what’s even more threatening? Our minds. It’s time, then, that we started listening more, paying more attention…not to what is being said to us, but what is being said about us, oftentimes without our input and without our consent…what is being valued, judged, ruled, overruled, controlled, and taken from us in a continuing attempt to reduce us to nothing more than…our bodies.

There are many things transpiring in this country that I find worrisome, but the ongoing ramp-up of rhetoric regarding what is ultimately politicians deciding for me what can and cannot be done with and to my own body is definitely of key concern. I’m not talking about the minutia; I’m talking about the overarching message being sent by every politician, from both sides, who thinks that they have the right to speak for women, to determine overall what is best for us rather than letting us decide for ourselves. Can’t stop us from choosing for ourselves? Then just limit our options across the board…you know, to make sure we’re protected from our own attempts at making up our own minds.

Whenever a politician uses rhetoric aimed at a woman’s body as a plank in their party’s respective political platform, they’re simply reiterating one of my steadily growing concerns: that we’re nothing more than something to walk over, to stand on. Use us to reach what you want and then pack us up until the next election cycle.

I’m tired of it. Are you?

We are more than our bodies. Just ask Hillary Clinton. She might answer you if she has a free moment while running the world.

I think one of the most telling moments of last night’s debate was when Senator Obama stated that he has been campaigning for the presidency for two years, and I have to say that I am very disappointed in how the mainstream media (MSM) has preferred to turn a blind eye to such statements and instead cram down our collective throat the “Xerox” quote. I suppose, though, that Senator Obama’s smartest move early in his campaign was getting a billionaire media mogul to throw down the race gauntlet for him, thereby bullying the complicit silence of the MSM.

(Side note to Ms. Winfrey: When I say that I think Senator Obama needs a little more federal-level experience, I do not mean your race-baiting interpretation that Senator Obama needs to “wait his turn.” I mean that if my car breaks down, I want the experienced mechanic to take care of it, not the guy up the street who’s looked under the hoods of a few cars and is really excited about what he believes he can do. Fixing a broken country is far more daunting and precarious than fixing a car, so why would I entrust my future into any less capable hands than I would entrust my car?)

Now, back on point. When Senator Clinton decided to run for her New York senate seat in 2000, the MSM and all her detractors could not wait to accuse her of being a “carpet bagger” and only thinking ahead as to how she could position herself properly for a run at the presidency in 2004. However, she was able, during a year when being a Clinton was by no means a positive point at all, to convince the people of New York (not a state known for being an “easy sell”) that she would serve them honestly and honorably, and that she would not desert them before her term was up. She kept her word and served her constituents well enough, including during the most horrifying moment of New York’s—and this country’s—history, that the people of New York thanked her with a second term as one of their U.S. senators.

Senator Obama, by his own admission, has spent the past two years campaigning for the presidency. I’m a word nerd and by no means great with numbers, but I believe that equals out to 80 percent of his time served as a federal-level politician. Beyond this marathon campaigning, we have heard recently that even some of his own supporters can’t point to one accomplishment that the senator has achieved while at the federal level.

That, of course, makes me curious about his state senate service, and when I look back into those records, I see someone who has run for the offices that he has held because they are the inevitable stepping stones to what he has desired most all along.

True, he has done good things. One must make a positive impact of some sort to continue to win votes. However, he also padded his state senate voting record with “present” votes—a lovely passive-aggressive way to keep a cheery, positive record. He also ran for his current U.S. Senate seat as the sole Democratic candidate against a highly unpopular Republican opponent. Since then, he has written two books filled with lots of personal confessions as a means of vetting himself to the people as being a “transparent politician.”

However, I see a more telling transparency when I look at how each of the senators’ states recently voted. Each candidate won the vote of their respective state. Look closer and you’ll see that Senator Clinton won every county in New York State except one. This is not true for Senator Obama’s win in Illinois. He, in fact, did not carry any of the counties that make up southern Illinois—a region of the state that comprises blue-collar workers who don’t possess college degrees or earn $50,000 or more. These counties went to Senator Clinton. That is a very telling transparency.

Contrary to the beliefs of the current president, the engine of this country isn’t its white-collar elite. Instead, the engine is the blue-collar workforce—people like my father, who worked often thankless time-clocked jobs for more than 30 years before injury retired him. I learned an honest work ethic from him. I also learned that the longest day’s work won’t amount to much if the people in power don’t listen to your needs. These are the people who need the most help. These are the people who should inspire real pride in our country. And these are the people who, after 10 1/2 years of familiarity with Senator Obama, cast their confidence in Senator Clinton.

At the end of the day, both senators are, as someone rightfully pointed out to me, “just politicians.” But when I look at Senator Obama, I see a politician who has spent the past decade carefully crafting the perfect launch pad for obtaining what has always been his ultimate goal.

When I look at Senator Clinton, I see a politician who doesn’t have the mostly spotless track record of her opponent because she has been willing to place herself in the line of fire for who and what she believes in. Yes, she’s made mistakes, but she has picked herself up, learned from her errors, and gone on to fight another day. She has sustained incredible professional and personal blows throughout her career, and yet, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, still she rises. That is true inspiration.