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Inspired by my friends over at Queering Motherhood, here’s a snapshot of where I’m at:

Loving: the feeling of being home in many places. And clean laundry.

Reading: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, by Chris Hayes, which is articulately and compellingly confirming my gut feelings about U.S. institutions and the pitfalls of meritocracy (read more over at Rolling Stone; definitely a post of its own to come upon completion). To balance out the wonkiness (uber readable wonkiness, but wonkiness nevertheless), I’ve also just taken My Antonia, by Willa Cather, off my shelf. Oh, and Labor Notes newsletter, Ms. Magazine, and Bitch.

Watching: political debates, the Rachel Maddow Show, If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (fascinating), Look Both Ways (heartbreakingly wonderful and moving), Winter’s Bone (intense and painful and good), Foyle’s War (British mystery! Sam and Foyle are my favorite characters).

Thinking about: how I am going to start eating healthier, the advances of modern medicine, the sorry state of health care, what I want my career to look like in the coming years, how cold my toes are, the word and the concept of weltschmerz, writing.

Stressing about: finding balance, the feeling I have right now that I am forgetting something, returning e-mails and phone calls, not having things done that should already be done, uncertainty (useless, I know).

Looking forward to: paying off my credit card debt, being part of a dear friend’s wedding at the end of the month, having three days off next weekend, movie night with my roommate, cozy knitting.

Making me happy: letters in the mail, end-of-dock conversations, homemade macaroni and cheese.

Bitch Issue 53

Bitch Issue 53: The Underground Issue

Looking for thought-provoking feminist perspectives, recommendations, and reflections on pop culture? Bitch magazine, a project of Bitch Media (they have an active online presence with blogs, podcasts, and more) is exactly what you’re looking for. I devour each new issue on my commute to work (don’t worry, I take the T), wondering how many people will notice I’m reading a magazine entitled Bitch, how many strange looks might be cast my way, and how many approving, conspiratorial nods I might be getting. I wonder this because I’m too wrapped up in reading to notice. From in-depth analyses of current pop-culture trends and politics to recommendations on the latest awesome music, movies, and books, they offer such a range of compelling fodder for feminists—and everyone else, too!

I love the frame that Bitch Media uses to look at our modern world and the ways they creates such rich dialogue. That’s why I was especially excited to open the new issue (53) and see a letter to the editor I wrote! After reading an article in the last issue that posited the word “victim” is a powerful tool for people who’ve survived sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, I sent the following response:

I appreciated Carrie A. Rentschler’s desire for powerful language that can describe “the harms, injuries, and experiences of oppression and domination” (“Waking Wounded,” no. 52), but I find it curious and worrisome that she doesn’t mention using “survivor” language as a way to do that (for cases in which the person is alive, of course, such as with survivors of sexual assault that were mentioned). Using “survivor” acknowledges the negative power of oppression and domination while also highlighting the strength of the person who has endured them. In work that I’ve done as an advocate and volunteer for organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, I’ve found such language important and empowering.

Language is so important and powerful—we use it to shape our worlds, our lives, our experiences. That’s one reason I think “survivor” is such an vital word when we’re talking about domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression. And that power of language is also one reason I am so glad that Bitch Media is out there, empowering people with their contributors’ compelling words, cultivating discussion, and just generally totally rocking.

If you are still making last-minute decisions re: end-of-year donations, definitely consider donating to Bitch Media—or if you’re looking for a perfect gift for your favorite feminist friend (or maybe someone who might not think of themselves as a feminist), a subscription is an awesome way to go!

PS. Goal for 2012: submit a piece to Bitch!

A few compelling articles I’ve come across in the past couple days:

What If the Tea Party Were Black?” by Tim Wise
Don’t think about white privilege? Well, read this article and you will. Tim Wise’s astute questions and role-reversal scenarios spell it out clear as day.

“Free Speech. Hate Speech.” by Shira Tarrant
I’m a big proponent of free speech. Which makes the questions this piece raises especially engaging. Who benefits from the right to free speech in the United States? Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? What about when free speech contributes so much to a culture of hate and violence that it overwhelmingly inhibits marginalized populations’ right to free speech—and consequently the very concept of free speech for everyone?

“The Surprising Reason Why Americans Are So Lonely, and Why Future Prosperity Means Socializing with Your Neighbors,” by Bill McKibben
In this excerpt from his new book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, McKibben explores how the price communities have paid for cheap energy goes beyond environmental degradation, depletion, and destruction—it has torn the very fabric of our social relationships. Also, he uses the Farmers Diner in Quechee, Vermont, to illustrate one of his points—never been there? Next time you’re passing through, I highly recommend the chocolate milkshake. I would even recommend a pilgrimage if only that didn’t defeat the purpose of eating and buying local (though I may admit that I did that myself once). P.S. No, the extra “a” in the book title is not a typo; the book blurb explains it: “We’ve created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.”

    American Wife

    Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel

    Curtis Sittenfeld is a brilliant writer. I was first introduced to her work by the short essay “Your Life as a Girl,” a heartbreakingly poignant—and arrestingly well-written—piece about what it can be like to grow up as a woman in this society. I was captivated by Prep, her coming-of-age novel about a girl with working-class roots that attends an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld’s adeptness at conveying the anxiety and pain and wonder of adolescence is remarkable. I am especially interested in the class and gender dynamics that inform and are repeatedly examined in Sittenfeld’s work.

    In her newest novel, American Wife, she takes on the perspective of a certain American first lady. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the novel follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a polite girl from Wisconsin who survives a tragic accident in high school and, through a series of events, finds herself in the White House. The narrative shows how, little compromise by little compromise, a person can get so far away from certain values they hold dear, in service of others, and what it’s like to live your way into a life virtually unrecognizable to oneself. It shows what it is to be charmed, swept away, and the long-lasting effects of that. It shows how hard it is to live a life of contradictions.

    This is a book that’s hard to put down and hard to let go of when you’ve turned the last page. That I would ever say that about a book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush is testament to Curtis Sittenfeld’s serious talent for effectively portraying the complexities and nuances of a person’s life, including the rich inner life.

    I just ordered the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection I’m excited to check out that includes a piece by Sittenfeld. It will have to wait until I’m done with my newest read (which I just started and am already mesmerized by), though—The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

    National Novel Writing Month

    Ready to write?

    Always wanted to pen a novel? Ready to make your own contribution to the literary greatness? Well, it’s your month: National Novel Writing Month—”thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon,” as they say.

    Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, the project aims for participants to start writing on November 1 (but you can still  start now!) and churn out 175 pages (or 50,000 words) by midnight on November 30. Intense. But just think of the great benefits: lots of writing (a whole book!), a convenient excuse to avoid any undesirable Thanksgiving obligations or social events you’d rather avoid (“Sorry, I have to write a novel. It’s due next week. Otherwise I totally would have loved to be there.”), and being able to say you did it.

    What I’d admire about NaNoWriMo is that it’s all about sitting down and writing. Getting it down on paper. Editing, crafting, refining—that can come later. You have to start somewhere, and NaNoWriMo gives you the opportunity to do just that. While I’m not participating myself (not this year, at least), I think it’s a pretty awesome phenomenon.

    If your answer is no, I’m not surprised. I had never heard of her until my friend Gabe enlightened me. Get this: first female Secretary of Labor, first female Cabinet member, hugely instrumental in so much of the New Deal that FDR gets credited for. I just finished reading a new biography about her, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, by Kirsten Downey. Highly recommended.

    The Woman Behind the New Deal

    The Woman Behind the New Deal

    As Downey lays out in the compelling (in that I-just-have-to-keep-reading kind of way) prologue, FDR called Frances Perkins into a meeting to offer her the position of Secretary of Labor. She told him that she would accept the position only if he backed her up on achieving the following:

    1. A 40-hour workweek
    2. Minimum wage
    3. Worker’s compensation
    4. Unemployment compensation
    5. Federal law banning child labor
    6. Direct federal aid for unemployment
    7. Social Security
    8. Revitalized public employment service
    9. Health insurance

    By the time she left office, items 1–8 were complete or in the works. She spearheaded programs that people today take for granted. She immensely improved the lives of working men and women in our country, in especially rough times. She even fought to allow more refugees from Germany into the United States as Hitler rose to power. All this in a culture that often dismissed her based on the fact that she was a woman. And a culture that barely remembers who she is now. Here’s to remembering, celebrating, spreading the word, and continuing the legacy.

    Check out the Frances Perkins Center.

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