m.snowe was pretty outspoken a while ago about how some production companies didn’t seem to entertain ideas for strong female heros in their movies. But upon discussion with someone who knows way more on these topics than m.snowe ever will, she’s learned that her rants might be directed somewhere else, as it were: Directors/Producers. Instead of ranting, however, m.snowe is just going to leave you to your New Year’s festivities with the links below that she found intriguing, and let you pass judgment. And just maybe, at your Oscar parties in February, you’ll be a little more cynical. Because that’s m.snowe’s goal in life, really.
“Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary. That’s all we need to say about that. But I do think as 51 percent of the population we should be given a chance… It’s very boring to watch the same people coming from a certain kind of background make the same kinds of movies.”
m.snowe has a random query. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked those who manufacture plastic bags to voluntarily print the following message somewhere on the bags:
“Warning: Keep this bag away from babies and children. Do not use in cribs, beds, carriages or playpens.The plastic bag could block nose and mouth and prevent breathing. This bag is not a toy“
Well, that’s all fine and dandy. m.snowe appreciates that the bag manufacturers are being diligent when it comes to child safety (most print this message somewhere on their bags), and that the CPSC is getting such a good response from their ever-so-polite suggestion. But why, m.snowe wonders, did the CPSC decide to call out “cribs, beds, carriages or playpens,” as the necessary “do not use” zones? While these might be the areas where suffocation is most-likely to occur, m.snowe find this an epic failure of imagination. This call out isn’t really necessary, is it? Isn’t “Keep this bag away from babies and children” enough? The occurrences of suffocation reported on the agency’s website even describe some of the other ways babies met their demise via this unforgiving synthetic material (ex.: “child crawled into garbage bag”) Sorry if this is gruesome–m.snowe doesn’t mean to make light of it (mostly). It just seems that the inclusion of qualifiers is counter-productive and serves to disqualify other suffocation dangers, like the garbage bag. The possibility that suffocation via a plastic bag can occur anywhere there is a plastic bag and a small child is the reality of the situation.
Why does this simple problem of messaging bother m.snowe so? The exclusion of slightly extraordinary possibilities. Every situation is unique, and if it seems too crazy or coincidental to be realistic fiction, then it might, in fact, be reality. Imagination isn’t just for creative types–it’s useful in general. It won’t necessarily predict the future, but perhaps, just maybe, it will leave you a bit more open to, or cautious of, future possibilities, be they tragic or comic. This of course isn’t always a boon–getting caught up in an active imagination’s endless possibilities can easily make one go crazy (Hamlet?), or paralyze one from action (Hamlet?).
Is there a balance?
Typing away as sure as ever. I couldn’t make out what was being scripted on that tiny little screen adjacent, but I knew that the fury, or the flourish with which he stroked the keys was probably more emphasized than any flourish he might use to stroke his neat and close-clipped ginger beard. Upon quickly choosing his seat next to me, the man made a quick call on his cell phone to someone he was obviously riding the bus to meet, and then settled in his aisle seat and ignored my presence for the duration. This was fine, in fact, preferred. He was unobtrusive and didn’t smell. Of course, having not really gotten a look at him while he stowed his baggage, curiosity urged me to take sly glances while pretending to look in a slightly different direction. This was all to get a better picture of him, perhaps for a story. Who knew he would be the one able to type away and formulate some unknown piece with his practically microscopic computer. Well, the bus ride was without incident, and that little compact man bolted as soon as the bus got to under 15 miles-per-hour near the underground gate at Port Authority. Before I knew it, I was staring down at his computer, which had fallen out of his bag and lay like a miniscule plastic folder on the sticky, wrapper-ridden floor of the bus. Looking around, no one seemed to notice, as they jetted for the exits, that the man left his belonging, and no one seemed to care that I picked it up and deftly slipped it into my canvas bag. It added practically no weight to my person. I would’ve run after him, but I had to pick up my bag in the lower outside compartment of the bus, and felt a grim satisfaction in the idea that even though this man was guarded about what he wrote on his laptop, the technology willed me to read it. Read it I must. So here follows what I came to find as a list of notes saved as “Thruway” (the most recent document opened) on this dapper man’s computer:
Dialogue Notes: Two college-aged girls. One blond, the other brown-haired with highlights. Seat directly behind:
–So, I’ve got all these amazing ideas for funny youtube video sketches. Sometimes the ideas just pop into my head and they come too fast, I can’t even write them down. Like, this one–listen to this–So I stand in the middle of Union Street, you know, where Union College is? And I’m wearing this big puffy white wedding dress. And I’m crying and yelling and visibly upset. Well, my friend, this black guy, he’s actually more of a “friend of convenience,” since he knows how to shoot videos and download them on youtube, he’ll pretend to be Tiger Woods, and I’ll be screaming at him and all that. Isn’t that kind of funny? And then, if the cops tell me to get out of the road–well, actually, I’m a pretty girl in a dress, so they wouldn’t even, would they?
–So my friend _ _ _ _, she always complains how I’m sooooo much skinnier than her. Like it’s an argument worth having, as if I can’t just stand right next to her and be like, ‘Look, you’re thinner!’ It’s the stupidest argument in the entire world, don’t you agree? Aren’t I fatter than her? (Yes.) So I said–look, your label says ‘size four,’ mine says ‘size five.’ I’m obviously bigger! Def fatter, ugh.
–Seriously, if you find any those gold-colored thongs when you go shopping, please pick me up a size medium, and I’ll pay you back–now that Joyce Leslie is closed, I can’t find a decent place to buy them.
–What an asshole. It’s like we’re already married anyway. What is it, ‘common law’ or something? We’ve been together like 9 years… (Seven years is for common law). Yeah, so we’re practically wedded. His friend is totally into me, by the way–you know when somebody just gets you? When they think everything that comes out of your mouth is fucking hilarious? Well, that is this guy–every time we hang out. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I cheated on my boyfriend with his best friend? I mean, then not only would he be pissed, he’d have no one to complain to, because hey, that’s his friend. (Silence). But I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that mean. But it’s fun to think about.
–So my dad stopped me from using my cell phone all week, because I texted too many times. So he actually took it and turned it off. Now I have no way to know who called unless they left a message. And I got like two texts on Christmas from boys I like. Wouldn’t you, if you were those boys, think I’m a total asshole for not texting them back? They probably hate me now. Oh, so when we get in the city, if we get separated, we should meet at Rockefeller Center, because I have no phone and can’t call you. (That’s scary). I know, right!
–So I’m not going to post anymore status updates on Facebook for a while, because he commented and liked my last status, and I want Everyone to see it, because they will.
–Speaking of Facebook, did you see that picture of _ _ _ _ with her mom when she went home to visit? She was wearing a full on sari, and the dot. But her boyfriend wasn’t even there. And it wasn’t like his family was there–why wear that get-up for her mom? That guy is totally brainwashing her or something. I’m like ‘you’re white!’ I really want to comment on that picture, but I know she’ll just delete the comment. But at least she’d see it and know how I feel.
This was, verbatim, what the two girls (well, mostly the one) were talking about on the bus. I knew he was listening. I tried to catch his eye and bond over some type of mutual commiseration at this situation–I had tried reading, using my earphones, but nothing could be done but listen to these girls and their oh-so-interesting, yet un-self-aware conversation. I had scanned the circumference of the passengers that sat around them, and found that most people also gave up their pursuits of distraction and could almost see their ears bending in the girls’ direction. The girls weren’t yelling, or laughing, but their voices carried exceptionally well on this otherwise silent bus. As amazing as I found their conversation (while feeling a bit guilty because even though it was ridiculous, conversations also sound more crazy when standing apart from them), all the more amazing did I find their complete lack of awareness (or perhaps lack of concern) at the subtle attention and smirks they were receiving even three aisles up. The two men in front of my bearded cohort and I bonded at first just by simultaneous smirks and snorts. An odd couple–one was a co-ed lacrosse player from U Albany, the other a well-dressed, bespectacled, balding thin man reading a large volume by Ford Maddox Ford. Eventually, as the conversation of the girls two seats back from them progressed, they began to add whispered commentary, which I could not entirely make out. It was like Mystery Science Theater on the Greyhound.
While at first I envied the comradery of the two men, it got me thinking about irony, and who “gets it,” and the compassion that is missing from jokes not only at another’s expense, but at a whole, living personality. Surely, the girls were misguided, and hilarious to eavesdrop upon. But something about their innocence, their either blatant disregard for who heard them, or their ignorance to those around them listening and judging….
While it was depressing to think these were representatives of my gender, somehow, they came off that bus a little better than the “knowing” smirkers in front of me. At the very least, they made for a more interesting ride, and more interesting notes. Of course, that bearded man may never polish that story off.
m.snowe is back in the city. Get ready for some new posts. She hopes you and yours had a lovely holiday, and best wishes for the end of the Aughties!
We all complained the house was too cold. It’s the middle of winter in upstate New York, and he’s got the thermostat set to 62 degrees Fahrenheit after 10PM, and a cool 67 or 68 during the daytime hours. “Energy Savings!” he always boomed, as if the man knew or cared about Global Warming (this was before Al Gore invented the internet, or that rhetoric). Well, instead of fighting us, my dad gave up trying to explain himself as a tightwad and taped a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip to the bottom of the thermostat (the thermostat, like his electric razor or collection of Terry Brooks classics, was a known “do not touch” thing). To this day, my siblings and I realized and remember that comic’s dual purpose–to make us laugh, and to warn us of the mortal peril we face should we again complain that our toes, every night, were turning a more gray and ashy shade of blue.
My father is a direct man, someone you can count on to never be passive aggressive, or say one thing and mean another. Sarcasm and figures of speech, while I’m sure he knows what they are, are not part of his repertoire–and that is something to appreciate. He shuns them, and so despite my easy understanding of him and this character trait, I would often try out sarcasm on him, and see if he understood, and if so, whether or not he would play along. These moments of trial always ended in disaster–ten minutes of shouting, followed by my over-exaggerated explanations that I had not, in point of fact, meant that mom was anything like “Mummy Dearest.” But that is a story for another day.
So the Calvin and Hobbes. This strip was one of the lesser ones–it did not even include Hobbes, who I felt really carried the whole series of comics upon his striped and furry shoulders. The strip is a conversation between Calvin and his father, who apparently is the fiercest Patent Attorney this side of the Funnies Section. Calvin complains that it is very cold in his house. His father explains that this is just a matter of opinion, and can be fixed with a better sense of the full-scale of cold weather. And so, Calvin’s father locks him outside the house, in the snow, and makes some remark about how, when he comes back inside, he will have a new-found appreciation for the temperature of his house. The most sadistic part of this strip was that you never see Calvin reenter the home–you see him banging his un-mittened hands against the front door, screams of shock muffled with tiny squiggles in the margin, as the father calmly and indifferently walks away, towards his living room, probably to read the paper and smoke a pipe. But the message taped to the thermostat was clear: get in line, or get out. As a seven or eight year old, comic strips are perhaps the best way to learn such abrasive lessons.
This was all well and good, and we kept our mouths shut, and doubled-up on woolen socks and blankets. But we hadn’t learned quite enough. My father epiphanied–he understood the power of a simple act of reading, cutting, and affixing. Soon, our house became a repository for all sorts of comic strip lessons. By the doormat, he pasted a Hagar comic to express his wish that unlike pillaging vikings, we wipe our feet. Dilbert sighed at us by the computer. Snoopy did cartwheels near the dog food. Luann was found near our closets, cautioning us on the perils of dressing too provocatively. Garfield warned us not to eat the leftovers he would inevitably take with him to work the next day for lunch. Soon, we would have burned into our memories a picture of dad, hunched over the paper on Sunday mornings, scissors poised and ready for a new lesson. Ziggy, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Cathy, Heathcliff, Marmaduke–they were the ones who raised us, and threatened punishment. Dennis the Menace was our anti-hero, and never did we think for a moment that Mr. Wilson was out of line or too crotchety for his own good. This was a fine way to grow up–all the things you could or couldn’t do, plotted out and referable in either dialogue bubbles or visuals.
But it didn’t end there.
My mother, one year for Christmas, received a special gift in her stocking from my father. It was a tiny wooden plaque that said : “Today’s Menu: Two Choices: Take It or Leave It.” It was ornately carved, and gave the impression that instead of a ultimatum, a lovely sonnet about the joys of cooking was displayed upon it. Our mother was thrilled. She too had been a victim of this mass comic-strip propaganda (who knows what kind of strips he taped in various places throughout their bedroom). But now, she had been inducted into his special club of domestic message media. They were now a force, a pair to be reckoned with–she hung that tiny plaque above the oven and referred to it, almost daily (but most vehemently on “ham loaf night”). And it didn’t stop there. She found doilies and pillows and picture frames with other not-so-subtle messages, some about keeping a clean house, others about intangibles like love, family ties and “home-sweet-home.” These, although they filled the spiritual and sentimental gaps that the practicality and functionality of the comic strips left out, were in some ways much worse. These told us not only how to act, but why we should be acting the way we did. And most of them didn’t have pictures, or punishments. My mother, instead of telling me to do the right thing, would nod her chin towards the quilt on the rocking chair, or put a coaster with a scripture quote engraved upon it underneath my coffee cup.
As all this was happening, I was studying national propaganda in world history class at the time, and felt like any day, there would be family marches scheduled around our yard, and flags flying from the living room ceiling. I needed some way to fight what I thought was the systematic brainwashing of such overt messaging. But instead, I kept my head down and waited it out until college, and moved into a dorm.
Happy to have my own space, I kept the walls white and free from tacks. My roommates, and everyone on my floor–they went to the poster sale. Soon, Bob Marley, John Belushi and Dave Matthews Band reined supreme. I wanted Calvin and Hobbes back.
After attending last week’s n+1 panel on Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual, m.snowe wanted to know more about the relatively quiet moderator, Caleb Crain. She found his blog, and then a recent piece in New York Times Magazine on “Camel Case.” Anyway, m.snowe is enamored with this guy’s writing (so far), and his cooly grouchy vehemence when it comes to language and literature. Although m.snowe is less of a grammar and language nazi than some, she agrees with Crain’s sensibility (on the few topics she’s read by him). Why do we have to live in a world where “MasterCard” goes unnoticed by my Microsoft WordPerfect (umm, oxymoron?) spell check? m.snowe isn’t sure if today’s Camel Case is actually the regression into medieval written language that Crain makes it out to be, but it’s an interesting way to look at it, which is why m.snowe kept reading.
So, let’s vilify Camel Case as much as we do Camel Toe. Oh, please excuse me, my Iphone is ringing…
m.snowe is really jazzed by the all the different words one can pull from their arsenal when describing a fight or argument. And some of them are so fun to say! And not only that, but, in m.snowe’s mind, they’ve almost got a little bit of onomatopoeia going on. Well … sort of. What m.snowe means is that when she hears about how someone got into a “scuffle,” she pictures a fight with two wiry young lads squeaking and squelching their shoes on a recently bleached linoleum kitchen floor, arms locked yet flailing in unison, making noises similar to the actual word–they’re “scuf–fling.” Each word’s pronunciation has always seemed to give a clue to the type of battle (ex. brawl–bawdy and drawn-out, like the emphasis on the long “awl” sound). Of course, these are all assumptions m.snowe has leaped to by her own accord, and don’t necessarily have anything to do with the word origins or actual exact meanings.
But wouldn’t it be nice if each term for a fight had definitions that really buzzed like bees? Like a rules of engagement for correct verb/noun use? m.snowe wants people who are about to fight to shake hands, stand back, and agree on a word for the fight they are about to have, as if word choice was equally as important as weapon choice (p.s. always opt for the cudgel). They both yell: “Fisticuffs!” and proceed to engage in some old-fashioned pugilism, just as the good lord intended, with their sleeves folded and pushed up halfway to their elbows, flapping in the wind as their arms spin around their bodies like fast-pitch softballers. Now we’re talking. m.snowe wants “grapplers” to make their hands look like claws and grab hold of each other’s shirts until one fighter overpowers the other, and lifts the weaker grappler off the ground with sheer force, and holds him or her there, as their tiny legs pump back and forth, trying to run on the air that separates them from the earth. m.snowe wants a “row” to be rhythmic and charged, something that looks both improvised and choreographed all at once–oh, and it takes place on the bow of a ship, with the rocking of the boat dictating the fancy footwork that inevitably ensues, until somebody finally body slams the other, flattening them against the worn wooden planks, splinters in their back.
That’s all there is say about that. Skirmish!
A random rant from m.snowe to you. She makes no attempt to be completely concise or clear.
m.snowe isn’t averse to new ideas. In fact, she’s made it her goal to really get into more current writing out there, despite her lustful urges to just go home and read Madame Bovary every night. But there’s a distinction between new fiction, and the formats they use to try and entice readers. m.snowe has found that as much as she’s been contemplating books and stories, she’s also been talking about how they are packaged. And not only that, but how the packaging is in some ways dictating not only the methodology behind, but the shape of the story. m.snowe realizes that every era’s writers have had to fit their stories into the framework of the day (ex.–Dickens elongated his novels for serialization in magazines, etc.). But an interesting thing is happening now–writers are trying to control the formats, or fit their works into different formats that may or may not be suitable for enjoyable reading (Like this stuff, which we learned about from this guy). m.snowe is conflicted, because while she likes the idea of stories everywhere (as if they aren’t already!), she wonders if the quality suffers at the expense of being “the next new thing” or cutting edge, or just, quite frankly, the first to try that crazy shit. Experimentation is great, but where do you begin to compromise your square-shaped story to fit it into a triangle-shaped hole of a format? And if you’re not doing that, you’re writing a story explicitly for the format … so … is that cool?
Part of m.snowe feels like we’re putting the cart before the horse here, people. Lately, it seems all the literary folks are all so worried about “things” – the canisters that are essentially voids, or blanks, which hold our narratives. But can’t we see that our stories will automatically gravitate to the formats that fit them best? We don’t need to worry about some figurative death of reading, not really, though the look and feel of publishing might change (but that’s more a money thing, not a content thing). Why are some so concerned with format? Because any format is essentially a means of reading and disseminating, it will only survive if people find it useful. Ultimately, we steer its life cycle, not the other way around. If it sucks, it goes the way of Crystal Pepsi. Why do we have this need to “revolutionize” what we’ve been able to reinvent naturally anyways?
Even an oral culture, pre-paper, had ways of making people receptacles of story—and they were revered for the tales they weaved. So when writers or magazines try to be cutting edge, sometimes m.snowe thinks they’re just worried people will find their stories staid or tired (i.e. “pay no attention to the crap fiction behind the shimmery curtain!”). There’s a reason we read classics, whether using our mom’s old high school signet classic or on a brand new flat and shiny Kindle—because that shit is good, and it speaks to something that transcends the page or screen it sits on. Being innovative is nice, but honestly, m.snowe sees the touting of innovation over the actual story as some kind of marketing gimmick (speaking of gimmick, remember this crazy scheme?). But hey, it’s a tough world out there for writers, so anything to get noticed isn’t too bad of an approach…that is, if that’s all your writing for.
No one technology will be the harbinger of a story’s death, or its athanasia. Fiction, if anything, is an amorphous possibility. And yes, m.snowe is writing all this on a blog.
Today’s NYTimes ran this hard-hitting piece on the possible actual cause of death of Jane Austen. They say, she died of bovine tuberculosis. Well, m.snowe’s sleuthy, crack team of reporters, necrophiliacs, morticians and paparazzi have also given her the scoop on other inaccurate author deaths–of writers who previously were believed to have died of TB, but instead met their demise in some other ways. She shouldn’t share these, as they are shocking and perverse, but aw, heck.
Feel free to chime in with anything your own crack teams have dug up…pun intended.
Honoré de Balzac — asphyxiated in a large cup of cold coffee after falling asleep on his desk.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning — Died from internal injuries caused by a corset erroneously manufactured with baby seal bones instead of whale bones.
Franz Kafka — Trampled to death by a stampede of Edward-obsessed Twilight Moms.
John Keats — Botched Botox injection.
D. H. Lawrence — Severe infection from nipple piercing.
George Orwell — Gored by Christmas dingoes.
Sir Walter Scott — Static flash fire started by candy cigarette.
Henry David Thoreau — Hand grenade bocce ball game gone wrong.