A Brief History of the Cat Lady

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From the tenth to the eighteenth centuries, countless thousands of cats across Europe were tortured and burned to death alongside the women whose “familiars” in witchcraft those cats were presumed to be.  Sometimes the cats themselves were believed to be witches.  The women were usually single and often elderly.  Medieval and Early Modern society’s mistrust of single women, cats, and any bond between the two lingers in today’s conception of the “cat lady.”  Like her persecuted “witch” predecessors, the cat lady is our culture’s envisioning of the woman who has failed to remain within the social order, who lies precariously outside it.  Continue reading “A Brief History of the Cat Lady”

Shakespeare’s Heroines for the 21st Century

The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was this April 23rd; that date is also, according to tradition, his 452nd birthday.  In the spirit of celebrating the noble bard, let’s also celebrate some of his most memorable heroines.  Here, I consider their pros and cons as heroines, and imagine their lives if they were living in the 21st century.

Juliet from Romeo and Juliet

Pros: Juliet is as passionately romantic as Romeo, but a little more level-headed; she’s often the one who points out the practical side of their situation.  She refuses to marry someone she doesn’t love.  And let’s not forget that she’s the one who basically proposes to Romeo.

Cons: Juliet is thirteen.  Thus, Juliet is a little bit hasty and impetuous.

Juliet today: At thirteen, Juliet thought an unreturned text from her boyfriend meant the end of the world.  But ten years later and still very much alive, she and Romeo are still together, having ditched their families. Juliet fronts a rock band with angst-ridden but poetic lyrics, with the three Weird Sisters from Macbeth as her backup singers.  Romeo is her biggest fan.

Ophelia from Hamlet

Pros: Ophelia’s positive qualities are linked to her negative ones; she is affectionate, gentle, and eager to please. 

ophelia2.jpgCons: Ophelia is so submissive that she allows others to manipulate her like a pawn, ultimately at the expense of her own psychological health and even of her life.    

Ophelia today: Ophelia was a troubled adolescent, but years of therapy and journaling have helped her understand the futility of basing her own self-worth on the affection of emotionally distant men.  She is now an acclaimed poet; her latest volume, Sweets to the Sweet, was especially praised.  Now, if any of the mansplaining philosophy majors she dated in college were to tell her to go to a nunnery, or insulted women for wearing make-up and “nicknaming God’s creatures,” she would call them out.

Desdamona from Othello

Pros: Desdamona is a loving, innocent person.  She is admirably immune to the racial prejudices of those around her.

Cons: Desdamona is a little too trusting, and puts up with way more from Othello than she should (though, given the time period, wives didn’t have much alternative).  She is also for a long time surprisingly blind to how her talking about Cassio affects her jealous husband, though that’s obviously no excuse for his murdering her.

Desdamona today: Desi’s that impossibly gorgeous co-worker who is just a magnet for boy drama without even trying.  When you meet for martinis and she’s stressing over the conflicts between the men in her life, make sure you suggest a therapist who can help her recognize red flags of domestic violence that can quickly escalate.  And offer her a safe place to stay if she needs it.  Because she really shouldn’t put up with jealous and potentially homicidal tendencies in a partner.

Cordelia from King Lear

Pros: Cordelia doesn’t say much, but she’s honest to a fault when she speaks.  The catalyst for the play’s action is her refusal to flatter her father the way her sisters do when he is dividing up his kingdom.  Her unswerving loyalty to that father leads to her untimely demise.

Cons: She could possibly learn to be a little more tactful and diplomatic (without sacrificing her admirable integrity).

Cordelia today: Cordelia was that kid in your high school class who stayed silent all semester and then near the end came out with some zinger in the middle of class that was just so on point.  She’s now a family therapist, able to truly listen to her clients but also to tell them the truths they really need to hear.

Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing

Pros: Beatrice is a witty, sharp-tongued but warm-hearted heroine with a delightfully amusing love-hate (eventually just love) relationship with Benedick.  Some of her insightful comments on gender and marriage show that her humor is rooted in real awareness of herself and her world.

Cons: Beatrice is a little stubborn; she also initially hides behind her humor to some extent, afraid to open herself to love.

Beatrice today: Beatrice and Benedick now have their own talk show, and they’re hilarious sparring with one another on political and social issues.  Beatrice is the show’s producer as well as one of the two stars.  Like the best comics, B & B use their humor to skewer social injustice.  They’re a husband-wife celebrity power couple.

Portia from The Merchant of Venice

Pros: Portia is extremely intelligent and resourceful.  She disguises herself as a man to preside as a judge over a court case, saving someone’s life in the process.

portiaCons:  Portia is unfortunately part of an anti-Semitic culture and doesn’t fully transcend its prejudices.  She also takes a practical joke involving rings just a little too far.

Portia today: Portia was top of her class at Harvard Law School, and has now worked her way up to Supreme Court Justice.  She’s best friends with Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She has tirelessly advocated for women’s issues, but also refuses to tolerate anti-Semitism or any other kind of bigotry in her courtroom.  Her recent memoir, The Quality of Mercy, is a bestseller.

“What Are You?”: Let’s Talk About Asian-American Encounters

This is a bit of an anomalous situation, but once…my sister and I were on a horseback riding tour in Wyoming, and somehow it was just the two of us with the guide. He was a typical white cowboy-type, kind of dashing in his way, until he opened his mouth to say, ‘What are you guys?’ (Humans?) In this situation, where we were literally in the mountain wilderness alone with him, how sassy could I afford to be? So I just replied, ‘We’re Chinese-American.’ He seemed perplexed for a second before relaxing. ‘Cool,’ he replied. ‘I love sweet and sour chicken, I eat that all the time at this place in town.’ Was this a strange flirtation attempt couched in the language of…food? What was I supposed to say, ‘I’ve eaten mayonnaise before and it’s pretty good?’ Here’s a hot tip: don’t treat someone’s ethnicity as something edible. If you have to reach that hard to find something with which to connect, just use, you know, your shared humanity.

by B.C.

[to] customer service guy, fun fact: my race is not a conversation starter and I don’t care that your ‘best mate’ is getting married to an asian girl.

When I posted this status on Facebook about how a customer service rep unnecessarily remarked on my race, I was kind of surprised by how it blew up with ‘likes’ and comments — but also not that surprised. 

Among my friends, including those on social media, it’s pretty common knowledge that these types of comments are unwarranted. But I was reminded that it’s not common knowledge for everyone.

To backtrack, I was at a Verizon store getting a phone upgrade. This guy was helping me along and we were making typical small talk. Then, out of nowhere, he asked if both of my parents were Asian. I was unsure of where he was going with this but answered, yes, only to have him tell me he was surprised I didn’t have an accent.

As those words left his mouth, I felt myself cringing. Really? Did you really say that? I told him, politely, that there are lots of Asian-Americans like me without accents and that his comment was a little offensive.

He seemed taken aback, shocked, even; he immediately apologized and said he didn’t mean offense. Okay, I thought, well good. Glad that’s over. But then he continued the conversation by telling me that his best friend was marrying an Asian girl, as if that were a way to redeem himself.

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As it to convey, hey, I’m a nice guy. I didn’t mean any harm. My best friend likes your people, so I can relate and it was okay of me to say what I said. I wasn’t so much upset as I was flummoxed by his cluelessness. He was only making things worse without even realizing it. Continue reading ““What Are You?”: Let’s Talk About Asian-American Encounters”

A Hater’s Guide to New York

I’m not saying don’t go, I’m just suggesting that the actual city is basically a middling Woody Allen impression.

by E.L. 

New York Times Square
Image via Wikicommons

 There are some things you should keep in mind if you plan to visit the City.

What city, you may ask. Of course, it is exactly that attitude which betrays your embarrassing lack of cosmopolitan vision, and this is what you are coming to the City to correct.

You must first remember that there is no place for your bumpkinish awe at grand architecture. So don’t look up. If your eye strays above shoulder-level – better yet, above the pavement directly in front of your feet – you will look like such a tourist. Do everything in your power to hide this fact from real New Yorkers.

The best way to fool the natives is to go to Time Square and complain loudly about how much you hate tourists. And when you return to whatever sorry township you came from, you will carry this newfound disdain for the uninitiated home with you alongside your mostly-empty Metro card.

There is literally no destination that does not require you to wait in line. But the good news is that when you finally get in to whatever miserable hole of a dive pizza joint (alternatively, whatever New American swoop of artisanal foam) you’ve decided on, you will feel like you’ve really earned it. It’s as if the city is hazing you. Perhaps this is why natives love New York so much – some sort of post-hazing over-identification.

It’s called Stockholm Syndrome in kidnapping situations.

(Have you considered that you might not even need to go to New York to get the New York experience? I can make you a YouTube playlist of all the location shots from When Harry Met Sally and Manhattan for you to watch on your phone while you blithely ignore traffic signals.

I’m not saying don’t go, I’m just suggesting that the actual city is basically a middling Woody Allen impression. And wasn’t Woody Allen’s best work 35 years ago, anyway?)

There are bagels there. You may have heard that these are the only bagels worth the name. I can’t confirm or deny that. But if you’re going anyway, even after my YouTube playlist, you might as well try one.

You will notice that New Yorkers don’t make eye contact. Don’t take this personally. It’s simply a charming local superstition that the fleeting-est of glances into another human’s eyes will bring one’s alienated soul into contact with another and produce a brief but profound moment of empathy that threatens to lay bare the yawning loneliness of a life led among eight and a half million strangers.

Central Park is a thing, I guess. It’s really quite pleasant if you like golf course landscaping.

(If you’re in the market for seething masses of disgruntled people and overpriced food, have you considered your closest theme park? Everyone at Disney World is a tourist, so you’d fit right in! Just like Time Square only without all the New Yorkers there to hiss at you. Just think about it is all I’m saying.)

Discovering New York is like learning a new lover, so be patient and go slow. You’ll probably get used to the smell and if you’re careful you won’t catch a disease.

Definitely definitely go. Definitely go and don’t come back. Surrender your hayseed heart to the Big Apple. Don’t you read The New Yorker? Haven’t you seen Rent? It’s just like that. New York isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. New York is the Spirit of Christmas – if you keep it in your heart, even in the Midwest you’re a New Yorker for life.

Seriously, I think you should just stay home and watch Manhattan.

Why the Hell Not? Actor Sean Penn interviews El Chapo

Rolling Stone took a hard stand on employing white men who don’t need help by creating the obvious and very necessary journalistic pairing of actor Sean Penn and drug kingpin El Chapo. We read it so you don’t have to.

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A match made in journalistic heaven

Because the world is a totally normal place that makes sense, actor Sean Penn interviewed then-escaped, now re-incarcerated  Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” in October, and recently published his interview in Rolling Stone, the prestigious magazine famous for its responsible journalism and flawless coverage of my alma mater. The piece is over 10,000 words long, roughly 9,000 of which are completely superfluous. I wanted to do a breakdown of just how ridiculous the writing is. I really tried, guys. But I couldn’t get through more than a couple of paragraphs at a time without needing to lie down. If you don’t want to spend forty-five minutes of your life on Sean Penn’s attempt at radical-chic gonzo journalism, I have pulled out a few gems below, along with my rough attempt at translation:

Continue reading “Why the Hell Not? Actor Sean Penn interviews El Chapo”

What is Peach?

What is Peach?

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peach.cool is telling you: this is really cool, guys. Having cool in the url is the #1 youths-approved way of signaling your coolness. Continue reading “What is Peach?”

Boys in Cafés

More or less true vignettes from the lives of E.L. and S.A., of boys prepared to impress.

 

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Edouard Manet, Chez le Pére Lathuille

More or less true vignettes from the lives of E.L. and S.A.

Waiting for your drinks in a crowded café, the man next to you pulls a dog-eared copy of High Fidelity from his pocket, angling the cover toward you. You wonder if his bad haircut is a self-conscious attempt to emulate John Cusack, or is simply a happy coincidence.

 

 

He – stocking cap, linen pants, bemused smile – approaches the table where you are preparing for class with a volume of Kant only to say that he, too, once read continental philosophy before he discovered the true “embodied philosophy” of yoga. From now on, you read all books in public with the spine flat on the table.

 

 

On your first date he asks you what kind of soul you think you have. He’s a romantic soul, he says. A lover, like Jim Morrison.

 

 

He uses a $1 bill as a bookmark in his copy of Infinite Jest. This he keeps casually on his nightstand, though you’ve never seen the bookmark move.

 

 

Your seatmate on a flight to L.A. watches The Seventh Seal on his laptop. He makes a production of turning the subtitles off.

 

 

Before you have sex he tells you what all his tattoos mean.

 

 

A barista once told you that he decided to get a masters degree in Medieval literature because it “shares a lot of resonances” with Men’s Rights literature. You don’t tell him what motivated your graduate degree.

 

 

He finds your taste in music really impressive.

 

 

His okcupid profile begins with two quotes, one by Adrianne Riche and one by Ernest Hemingway.

 

 

Your neighbor invites you to a party that he calls a “salon” where you play surrealist party games. He tells you how much it would mean to him if you read Death in Venice. The copy he gives you is the one he borrowed from you months ago.

 

 

What a shame it is, he says wistfully, that he wasn’t raised more like Thomas Jefferson, who could read and write Latin by age 10. What he couldn’t have done with an eighteenth century education.

 

 

He says he wants to write a novel about the Human Condition.

 

 

You discover years later that all those profound aphorisms he used to write in your notebook were actually just unattributed Weezer lyrics.

 

Alternate Titles for Spectre

You forgot there was a James Bond movie coming out, didn’t you? Me too, until I found myself in theaters watching it. Minor spoilers for tone and the teensiest of spoilers for plot, but…you’re not watching this for the plot anyway, are you? Don’t.

  1. How much abuse can a middle-aged body take?
  2. A good soundtrack makes all the difference
  3. It’s about THE DATA DAMNIT
  4. This is definitely not an obsolete franchise, nope
  5. The world’s cybersecurity problems boil down to a personal grudge, surprise!
  6. Never neglect a German child
  7. This guy again
  8. What do you mean this is an outdated sensibility
  9. Here we are in North Africa living a beautiful khaki imperialist dream

    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING
    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING, OBVIOUSLY. PLEASE TELL US MORE

Halloween Thank You Cards

From WOC to their white ally friends.

From WOC to their white ally friends!