It’s true. Okay, well maybe not quite “all” (or, you know, nothing close to it), but with yet another friend heading overseas - in fact, the very one I saw the film I referenced in the first sentence of this post with - it seems like a good time to quote Mirah’s ‘La Familia’.
Hey friends don’t you think you better cool it down You’re always gettin’ curious and leavin’ town You know, I like it being in your family I wonder what would happen if nobody left We’d all stick around if we’d all stick around And here’s a question that’s been tested…
Then she goes on to wonder if having sex with her friends might keep them in the city/country/whatever, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but who am I to judge?
It’s often said (in this month’s CLEO, for one) that for our generation - and, I’d wager, the one who came before us - “friends are the new family”. How to maintain those familial bonds when we’re scattered across the globe is one the challenges we will have to find an answer to.
We should probably tackle global warming first, though.
People say that you have great self-discipline and that you never let a day go by without working. At what time do you start?
I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.
When do you see Sartre?
Every evening and often at lunchtime. I generally work at his place in the afternoon.
Doesn’t it bother you to go from one apartment to another?
No. Since I don’t write scholarly books, I take all my papers with me and it works out very well.
Do you plunge in immediately?
It depends to some extent on what I’m writing. If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.
(via Daily Routines, first published in The Paris Review, Spring-Summer 1965)
“Realising you’re in a cage doesn’t teach you how to get out of it. Whether or not someone believes those words from the article doesn’t stop that visceral (learned) urge to be someone different, to look different, to fade yourself away till you no longer offend anyone.”—littlesparrow
AKA: Got speakers for my Sydney Writers’ Festival panel?
It seems a lot of journalists view bloggers as one big “amateur night” - people who wish they were writing for the mainstream media but can’t get a gig (see Walkley Awards, 2008). Similarly, there are plenty of bloggers who view newspaper and magazine writers as under-exercised cows, complacent due to freely available grass (uh, that’d be their previously guaranteed - now threatened - audience).
I don’t see it that way, although I can understand why both groups do - there are plenty of third-rate newspaper and magazine writers, and plenty of lame-ass bloggers.
What I find most interesting is why good writers, who are successful in one medium (lots of MSM clips, lots of readers on their blog), so often don’t experience the same success in the other. Is it just that each has its own culture (or even operates in a bit of a bubble), or is it that different skill sets and personality traits are required?
To explore the issue in more depth, I’m chairing a panel at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, featuring writers who have worked in both mediums, but experienced more success in one than the other. I have plenty of ideas for panellists, natch, but I also know that there are corners of the Australian blogosphere (yep, they have to be Aussie, preferably in Sydney - I’m working on getting a travel budget, but it will be small) I’m not aware of.
Also, I tend to experience the opposite problem to men organising conferences, in that 80 per cent of the speakers who come to mind are women, so some gender balance would be appreciated.
My favourite is number two. Especially when dealing with long, complicated, constantly evolving arguments or narratives:
2. Delete nothing. Move it to the side, save it for later, or keep it for posterity. That includes ideas, points, arguments, sentences, sections, characters, etc.
I also like this one (know your narrative!):
4. Never write a list of things you want to “include” because you’ll find yourself skipping the meat between them. Have a general idea and concern yourself with flow.
And this one. For me, the writing process is all about how the words sound. And I firmly believe that writing ability - in terms of structure, metre and ideas - is highly correlated with reading voraciousness:
8. Read enough to know what sounds bad. This could be a lot. Most of us know that if we’re writing an essay, the first sentence shouldn’t be a definition. There’s a stigma attached to such a device because we know adults don’t write like that. Unless you’ve mastered ESL, your grammar proficiency is also tied to how much you’ve read.
It’s so good, I’ve reblogged the entire post for you (something I almost never do). He writes:
Rachel has some very interesting thoughts on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. As she writes, “Manic Pixie Dream Girls are bright, quirky and whimsical, bringing sass and joy into the lives of otherwise joyless men. The difference between MPDGs and real life friendly/sassy/quirky/whimsical women, however, is that MPDGs seem to exist for no other reason than to light up the lives of male protagonists.” It’s a remarkably common trope. The organized and slightly anal male lead learns to enjoy life the charmingly unpredictable female lead whose only consistency is her delightful inconsistency. She is the passion and he is reason—and though her he learns to embrace himself.
Rachel is exactly right that the manic pixie dream girl is defined only in contrast to the male. She is the unfathomable object of desire. For all her alternative bubbliness, she is a flat character. She has no motives. She is the force of nature that the male character cannot understand.
But I don’t know that this flatness is always a bad thing. Emperor Palpatine is evil. Buttercup is beautiful. Orlando Bloom’s character is dreamy and noble. The boy with the red sportscar and a cigarette is badass. Yoda is wise and also badass when he has a lightsaber. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. And this remarkably common female trope is quirky. The movie isn’t reallyabout them. The movie is about the rather dull male learning about himself. The manic pixie dream girl may not represent an actual person but may instead be the embodiment of passion. In trying to woo her, he learns about himself. In this way, she is both the other, in that he cannot understand her, and the self, in that he cannot understand himself.
There is nothing wrong with flat characters. They are tools for a work to study the questions it is really interested in. In order to have Hamlet, you have to have Claudius, Gertrude, and a whole bunch of unnamed players. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that these characters are not actual people. The romance with the manic pixie dream girl is not about romance and a healthy relationship between two breathing people. Rather, it is about self-discovery. One partner is a person and the other is a mirror that offers an inverted reflection of the primary character but is ultimately flat.
“People would come into it and say, ‘Oh wow, Warhol can make me famous - and he’s supposed pay me, isn’t he?’ No. I mean, they were supposed to come in and be made famous or make themselves famous by having this arena to operate in. It’s not like a Hollywood studio where we select you and you come in, you get paid and you do this stuff. No, here’s the Roman arena, you come in as the gladiator and conquer the whole thing if you can. I mean, it’s fine with us, if you want to be the superstar and overtake everything, do it to us. It was that type of free enterprise impresario that Warhol was.”—Photographer Billy Name on Andy Warhol’s Factory. The quote that has stuck with me from my Warhol research more than any other - mostly because it’s so damn true in my experience of indie media communities.
A really, ahem, interesting post from one of Tumblr’s favourite writers, mills.
We say: “I want to be a writer,” or “I want to be a photographer”; or we say: “I want to take interesting photographs,” or “I want to write interestingly,” or “I want to be interesting.” This is itself interesting. What do we really want when we want such things?
The beginning of creative efforts is always strange in this way: before we can express something, we must sense that there is something we should express, something not otherwise explored…
This pretty much sums up why I chose to pursue the book topic I’m currently pursuing. I never wanted - perhaps “don’t want” is a more accurate tense here - to be “the girl who wrote the sex book”, it just happens that sex is the arena in which I spotted a significant gap in the stories being told.
I could have just as easily chosen to write a book on “feminism” more generally, but there are books on feminism coming out all the time, and while I read them, most of them don’t tell me anything I don’t already know - as I allude to in this review. (There are books on sex coming out all the time too, but so far none have made the argument I want to make.) Linda Hirschman’s Get To Work is possibly the most recent exception to this trend, but again, that was on a very specific topic.
This doesn’t mean these books are without value. Plenty of people haven’t heard their arguments before, and for those people, what I find ultimately “uninteresting”, is thrilling.
Similarly, I could be writing about the internets, technology, identity - any of that other good stuff that thrills me - but again, a lot of people are already writing about that, and they’re probably doing it better than I could (comparative advantage, Zach might say). Really, it’s that - again - no obvious unsaid argument jumped out at me.
Mills’ post also made me think of all those people who say they want to be writers, but also say they can’t think of anything to write about. This has confused me for some time because, for me, the desire to write stems from the desire to write about specific things, which would eat away at me if I didn’t type them out. This is particularly true of blogging - here or otherwise.
Professionally, ego comes into it more (can someone remind me of that Stephen King quote on writers and narcissism? I can’t find it on Google, but I can guarantee it’s true) - I want to be the person getting that idea out there, I want people to be thrilled by my ideas - but again, it ultimately comes down to an excitement about a particular concept that I want to explore and get others to think about. Or best of all, respond to with thoughts of their own.
So, I’m a little cynical of people who say they want to “be writers”, but are stuck for something to actually write about.
But perhaps I’m being too cynical. Like Mills, I am also a novice photographer - much of the time a piss-poor one. I like to capture interesting and beautiful things on camera, but I also know that my photos are unlikely to be interesting to anyone else (unless they’re of my friends, who will enjoy looking at themselves and each other). And I don’t feel the same urge to take photos that I do to write.
Perhaps this inauthenticity - the urge to be good for the sake of being good, to be interesting for the sake of being interesting - is okay, though. As Mills writes:
It is more fun, more amusing, when one accepts the inauthenticity of oneself: a phony photographer trying to be interesting without any damn reason is more tolerable when he can laugh at himself, I hope; and the same should be true for a phony writer. It is all play, after all; perhaps, then, a disclaimer is in order: please know that the author of this site is comfortable with laughter.
What do you think? Why do you write? And why do you write what you write?
“Obama’s speechwriter is sooooo 2008. [Redacted] is so 2009. Happy Valentine’s Day. :p xx”—The lovely Jean Hannah Edelstein says text messages just don’t cut it when it comes to Valentine’s Day, but what can I say? I couldn’t resist.
I love this article, found via Racialicious's review of this blog’s current deeply superficial obsession: He’s Just Not That Into You.
I’ve written before about the “alternative” female stereotypes in films like Garden State and Elizabethtown, but I’ve never seen it articulated quite so well or completely.
Manic Pixie Dream Girls are bright, quirky and whimsical, bringing sass and joy into the lives of otherwise joyless men. The difference between MPDGs and real life friendly/sassy/quirky/whimsical women, however, is that MPDGs seem to exist for no other reason than to light up the lives of male protagonists.
As I wrote in my own analysis:
…while I understood Zach [Braff] and Orlando [Bloom]’s interest in Natalie [Portman] and Kirsten [Dunst] - they were open, engaging and adventurous - I didn’t quite get why the girls were so into the guys, other than the fact that it made for a good plot. What was it about these guys that made these girls want to invest so much time into charming them? Why would Kirsten Dunst’s Claire - a strange but, as Orlando points out, pretty fantastic girl - go to so much effort to connect with Drew, when he seemed to provide so little for her to connect with? Aside from the obvious of course, which is that the guy looked like Orlando Bloom, and most girls would overlook most personality defects for cheekbones like that.
Then there was the fact that, yep, I get quirky, I get friendly, I get being prone to doing all sorts of random crap that can be either endearing or annoying depending on who the person doing the perceiving is. Like I said, all characteristics I possess myself. But no one is provocative, open, engaging and whimsical all the time in the way the female catalysts of Garden State and Elizabethtown are. It’s simply not possible. Especially when you’re playing against characters like Andrew Largeman and Drew Baylor, who don’t give you all that much to work with.
In a way, it felt like Claire and Sam were male fantasies of an alternative ideal woman with about as much real depth as a paddling pool - on the surface, they seemed like women of substance, but they didn’t act like real people. Unlike the male characters, their actions didn’t seem to result from logical motives. They existed purely as catalysts to help their respective male protagonists along on their journeys.
By the by, has anyone seen Last Kiss (starring Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson)? Because based on the trailer, at least, it looks woefully bad. I wanted to throw a shoe at Braff based on those two minutes alone.
So, I finally saw He's Just Not That Into You last night (it's being released in Australia tomorrow)...
There were no big surprises (especially given Jezebel’s liveblog last week), but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it be. Judged solely on its merits as a romantic comedy, it was even amusing and enjoyable.
I’m still with Dodai on this bit, though:
"How can you trash a movie you haven’t even seen?" someone asked. I explained that I was insulted by the premise, and the trailer.
Not to mention the very notion that women need self-help books, but men should just go ahead behaving as usual. Then there’s the idea that all of these big-name stars would glom on to a film in which women are portrayed as idiots.
And for my part, here are the radio talking points I jotted down when I got home last night:
- You’ve got to laugh, because a lot of the situations in the film are relatable - and as I wrote in my article, it’s true that a lot of people do feel and act like the characters in He’s Just Not That Into You. But I also think it’s important to ask why people behave that way.
And while I think what a lot of women found appealing about the book was that it freed them from wasting their time worrying and analysing if a guy wasn’t calling them or asking them out or doing whatever they wanted him to do - because it just meant he didn’t like them - I also think the reverse is true. That the book plays to and exacerbates these worries, so that if whoever he is doesn’t call say, the day after you meet, you start to worry ”oh my god! is he just not that into me?” when in fact it’s quite normal not to be into someone you’ve just met.
And the ironic thing is that it’s these very anxieties that actually turn relationships bad and make men - and women - not into each other.
- What I thought was interesting about the film was that it actually went against a lot of the things book says: for instance, if he’s not marrying you he’s just not that into you, if he’s not asking you out, he’s just not that into you - in the film, both of these points are proved (well, as much as a romantic comedy can prove anything) to be untrue.
Jennifer Aniston, who’s in the film, did an interview with Jay Leno the other day, where she was asked about some of these philosophies, and she said much the same thing: that sometimes, guys do get shy about asking women out, that you don’t need to call someone right away to prove “into”-ness. And I know Jennifer Aniston is kind of the poster-girl for He’s Just Not That Into You, given Brangelina and all, but based on interviews etc, the woman does seem to have a pretty rational attitude when it comes to these things.
- Really, the worst thing about the film, and what ultimately makes it disposible, is the title. Something along the lines of Relationships are Complicated and Sometimes They Go Pear-Shaped But Sometimes They Work Out Too, and You Can Be Happy Either Way would probably reflect the plot better, but of course, that wouldn’t sell tickets like He’s Just Not That Into You.
“As everyone knows, the less complex and nuanced the positions on a blog are, the more comments it gets.”—Alan Jacobs (via Andrew Sullivan) Haha, so true. I think this is true of most media, though. Long essays in the New Yorker/Atlantic/Monthly etc - and quality books - excepted. And even then, these are usually distilled in other media to their simplest, often kind of bastardised, form.
He’s Just Not That Into You may have tapped into the Zeitgeist, but it’s time to move on.
Illustration: Simon Rankin
I NEVER really liked Greg Behrendt. You might recall him as the Sex and the City writer-turned-author who, a few years ago, was all over TV informing lovelorn ladies with no-nonsense charm that He’s Just Not That Into You. Simple advice (too simplistic, many argued), but that was its charm.
Now Behrendt — or his philosophy, at least — is back, this time on the big screen. If you’ve been to the movies recently, you’ve probably seen the trailer. If you’re internet-savvy, you may even have stumbled upon the cutesy US advertisements full of such wisdom as “hanging out is not dating” and “break-up sex still means you’re broken up”.
The film features a cast of A-list actresses — Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore — who, despite the fact that most men would jump at the chance to date (or hang out with) them, are hung up on relationships that are a lost cause. Actually, using the word “relationship” here might be being kind.
They’re also incredibly insecure. Ginnifer Goodwin chases after an obviously uninterested man in a bar, while Barrymore is humiliated when a guy she likes leaves a flirty message for another woman on her answering machine at work.
It’s a pretty dismal view of both sexes: men are either childlike and confused or heartless players, while women are uniformly needy and neurotic. But it’s hardly a unique view, either. Similar portrayals are everywhere — across the romantic comedy genre, in magazines targeted at both sexes, and in the advice espoused by self-proclaimed “relationships experts”.
And I’ll be honest: they’re not entirely baseless. Pretty much every woman I know has turned into an anxious puddle over some man who didn’t call (or who didn’t call when he said he would, or who didn’t do exactly what she would have liked him to do at the exact time she would have liked him to do it, which would have proved that he really did like her) at one point or another — myself included.
But women don’t occasionally turn into anxious puddles because that’s Just What Women Do, or because we happen to be individually neurotic, messed up people. I’d like to suggest it’s more political than that.
It’s broadly accepted these days that we live in a society that places a lot of emphasis on the way women look, and that this has negative consequences — eating disorders, compulsive dieting, preventative Botox and poor self-esteem among them. Whether it’s designed to or not, the nagging suspicion that without youthful skin and taut abs we are nothing acts as a form of oppression, keeping us insecure and absorbed in a battle we can never win.
It’s not such a stretch to apply the same logic to a phenomenon like He’s Just Not That Into You. A self-help book doesn’t get picked up as a major feature film if it doesn’t capture something of the Zeitgeist, after all. And this one does.
To be female is to be subjected to a constant barrage of relationship advice which, even if it’s not intended to breed insecurity, often has that effect. “Has he called yet? If he really loved you, he’d … Better get married before you’re 30 and become a dried-up old hag … Did you hear about the man drought? If only you’d played more hard to get …”
I’m not just talking about movies and magazine articles: these messages are reinforced by friends, family, well-meaning colleagues — you name it. Perhaps the reason Behrendt’s book was so successful was because it reaffirmed what a lot women already suspected: that we weren’t doing the right things and that no matter how great we were (He’s Just Not That Into You always went to lengths to reassure readers of how “foxy” they were), the people we liked most didn’t like us back. At least, not the way we wanted them to.
Cumulatively, these messages serve to erode our confidence. Is it any wonder that when we’ve had it rammed home that if a man is interested he’ll chase and chase, that men only want women for sex and the thrill of what they can’t have, a lot of women freak out at the first sign that he might not be chasing — no matter how unwarranted it may be?
But while we “get” the link between beauty culture and self-destructive behaviour, there’s a conceptual wall stopping us from making the same links when it comes to our personal lives. And even when we do make the links, the voices to the contrary are loud and omnipresent, trumpeting ideology as though it is fact. It takes strength to stand in opposition to what everyone around you takes to be self-evident, and even more strength to stick to your intellectual convictions in your most private, unsettled moments.
Awareness is the first step, but if we truly want to break out of this destructive mindset, we need to band together.
We can start by calling out those who purvey these messages, but we also need to stop being carriers of them ourselves. We need to develop an alternative framework: one that acknowledges that relationships are complicated regardless of gender, and that doesn’t rely on men being distant and sex-crazed, or women being insecure and needy.
Films like He’s Just Not That Into You are light entertainment, the cinematic equivalent of fairy floss. But like fairy floss, too much of them will only make you sick.
I started writing an essay on why writing about feminism is an exercise in futility. (The irony was not lost on me, which is why I will not post said essay here.) I don’t know if that’s true, necessarily, but it often seems like the only people it benefits are those who already hold feminist values. I learn a lot from reading the words of other feminists, and they open my eyes to many things I haven’t considered. But I sometimes feel like there’s no point to all of this reinforcement within the feminist community when everyone else seems to be shut off to what we are saying, to dismiss everything as a joke without examining how it might still be harmful, and to refuse to look beneath the surface of, well, anything, if doing so will require them to make changes to how they live or how they look at things or the behavior they will accept from others.
I don’t know. My decidedly non-feminist best friend told me that when she read my article on cosmetic surgery last year, it convinced her not to get botox. That could just be the “best friend” relationship talking, though.
Similarly, I’ve showed the article I’m publishing on Sunday to a few women I know who have a more traditionalist approach to relationships than I do (because we talk about these things a lot and I thought they’d find it interesting), and they all said it really spoke to them. One even thanked me for writing it.
Writing and talking about feminism might not turn everyone you know into self-identified feminists, but if it gets women thinking critically about their own lives and presents female experiences in a way that resonates, isn’t that as good an outcome?
To be female is to be subjected to a constant barrage of relationship advice which, even if it’s not intended to breed insecurity, often has that net effect. “Has he called yet?” “If he really loved you, he‘d…” “Better get married before you’re 30 and become a dried up old hag…” “Did you hear there’s a man drought on?” “Maybe you didn’t play hard to get enough…“
I’m not just talking about movies and magazine articles here: these messages are reinforced by friends, family, well meaning colleagues - you name it. Perhaps the reason He’s Just Not That Into You was so successful was because it reaffirmed what a lot women already suspected: that we weren’t doing the right things and that despite being great and all (Behrendt always went to lengths to tell his readers how “foxy” they were), the people we liked most didn’t like us back. At least, not like we wanted them to.
“Tracy Harper and Jessica Simpson show that there is no place where you are safe from the charge that you are fat — a line can always be drawn between “acceptable” and “too fat,” no matter what it looks like on either side. As long as we buy into the idea that fat means bad, lazy, unhealthy, unsexy, then we are always vulnerable to the images above. “Fat,” like “bitch,” is an insult designed to put you in your place; as an insult, it has little to do with you and your actual body, and a whole lot to do with marking some bodies and some modes of living as inferior.”—You’re not fat, redux redux (via sarahchristine)
The wary reaction of several male acquaintance of mine to this blog might suggest the latter, but the idiotic trailers I had to sit through the other week while waiting for Revolutionary Road to start (“Do you think we accidentally walked into the wrong film?” I asked Monica) suggest otherwise.
As anyone who knows me knows, I quite like fluff. I love Josh Schwartz TV shows (that’s Gossip Girl and The OC - early seasons - for the non-obsessed) and I pull out my Clueless and Legally Blonde 2 DVDs (okay, that last trailer is pretty embarrassing, but I like to see the film as a triumph of idealistic good over cynical evil) when I’m sad. I even didn’t mind Suddenly 30 - although it would have been much better if they’d cut the final scenes where Jennifer Garner quits her magazine editor job and moves to the suburbs with Mark Ruffalo.
Still, I think Amanda Marcotte (linked above) and Jezebel might be right in arguing that these films are growing increasingly reactionary, and increasingly essentialist. Or I could just be getting old(er).
Also getting on my nerves: people who fly to international conferences that are supposed to be about solving the world’s problems by private jet (producing carbon emissions to an extent that greatly exacerbates the world’s problems), and waste their time there skiing, partying and going on dates with powerful men. You could almost write a romantic comedy about it.
"Although your intuition might lead you (or might have already led you) toward a role that might not seem all that glamorous, it doesn’t make it any less important or meaningful or soul-rocking. There might be thousands of first-grade teachers, but only you can give hope to those specific children in that specific children at that specific time. Let’s face it, not everyone can be a Nelson Mandela, because as amazing as that man is, the universe doesn’t need millions of him. The universe needs, well, you. & only you can do what it is you do, in your unique way."