Thursday, May 9, 2024


    It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that without moms there would be no stories. Not only is this statement literally true, and honestly a bit of an understatement because without moms humanity would likely not exist, but also figuratively. The inclusion of a mom in a story gives readers a character they can easily empathize with and relate to, as well as give new context or motivations to the other characters. And to no one’s surprise, moms often end up being some of the most standout characters in the stories they inhabit. They can be omnipresent matriarchs, like One Hundred Years of Solitude’s Ursula, certified plot drivers, like Mia and Elena of Little Fires Everywhere, or genuine eccentrics, like Mrs. Glass from Franny and Zooey.

    I could be here all day going on about all the awesome moms in fiction, so to save us both some time I’ll narrow my scope to some moms you might not be as familiar with: the moms of manga.

    To get us started I’ll be highlighting some moms from Yotsuba&!, one of my favorite series. Despite being a slice-of-life series about Yotsuba Koiwai, a 5-year-old girl who lives with her single father, there’s no shortage of mom action. Most of it is dished out by Mrs. Ayase, Yotsuba’s next-door neighbor and a mother to three daughters: Asagi, Fuuka and Ena. Mrs. Ayase’s first introduction to the series is in chapter 4, and I’ll let her first meeting with Yotsuba do the talking. (Side Note: Manga is read right to left)


    For the rest of the series Mrs. Ayase maintains this jovial and generous demeanor. Besides making her a pleasant person, this attitude also provides a fun comedic contrast with Yotsuba’s father’s moments of embarrassment. Mrs. Ayase is also always receptive to Yotsuba’s antics and is endlessly patient with whatever they might entail, though she still makes time for her own daughters.


    Besides Mrs. Ayase, Yotsuba&! also features Mrs. Koiwai, Yotsuba’s grandmother. While she’s a bit of a softie towards her granddaughter, Mrs. Koiwai’s country roots have made her tough. She’s quick to set her son straight and has even been known to discipline Yotsuba every once in a while.

    Ultimately, Mrs. Koiwai is a good reminder that, for the most part, age is a mindset. So if there’s something you want to do, you should go out and do it, whether that be travelling across the country for a concert or keeping up with the latest tech trends, like Mrs. Koiwai, or anything else your heart desires.


    Since we’re talking about grandmothers, it would be a shame not to mention Ping Pong’s “Granny.” While her full name, and technically her grandmother status, are unknown, I can say with 100% certainty that she is a mother. Even if she was not, though, the attention and energy she affords the students at her ping pong parlor gives big parental energy.



    A former ping pong star and current coach to Peco (right), one of the series’ main characters, Granny’s calm demeanor serves as a good contrast to many of the more hot-headed characters. She’s almost always seen with a cigarette hanging from her lips, which also makes her look like a bit of a badass. Beneath her cool exterior, though, she’s still watching out for her students, even when they might be taking a break from the sport.


    Granny reminds us that blood isn’t always what makes people family, and that sometimes the people you need most in your life can be found in unexpected places, like a ping pong parlor. So this Mother’s Day don’t forget about the other women in your life, mom or not, who’ve helped to get you where you are.


    So, we’ve talked about some moms in supporting roles, but are there any manga where moms are at the forefront? Truthfully, there aren’t a lot of them. Not a lot, however, does not mean zero, and Spy x Family’s Yor Forger is proof of that. 


    Yor is a deadly assassin who possesses the strength to kick a moving car out of her daughter's way and is willing to do whatever else it might take to defend her family. And while assassins are usually portrayed as being cold or calloused, Yor is the complete opposite. Her love for her family is even more impressive when you consider that she only got married at the beginning of the series to cover up her career. 


    Throughout the story, we see Yor become more accustomed to her new domestic life, and while she might fail when it comes to things like cooking, often to a comedic degree, it is heartwarming nonetheless to watch her strive to be the best mother she can be. Motherhood is a journey, and Yor’s own journey shows just how much a child can change your life.


    Blood on the Track’s Seiko Osabe shows us that this change might not always be for the better. At first, Seiko just seems like a stereotypical overprotective mother, but the lengths she’s willing to go might even make Yor Forger shudder.


    Within the first volume of the manga, Seiko pushes her own nephew off a cliff, and it only gets darker from there. Over the rest of the series we get to peak into Seiko and her son's pasts, and uncover what's really at the root of her nature. So if you’re looking for some evil mom action this Mother’s Day, consider checking out Blood on the Tracks.


    The final mom we’ll be highlighting is Fullmetal Alchemist’s Mrs. Elrich. To fully understand her significance, though, we first need to talk about the series she hails from. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, one of the manga’s two anime adaptations has been widely regarded as one of the best anime of all time since its release. For context, having one anime adaptation is something to be proud of but two is a monumental accomplishment. And if that wasn't enough, Hiromu Arakawa, the series' author, also found time to raise three children of her own.


     Sadly, though, Mrs. Elrich doesn’t get to spend much time in the story as she’s already passed away by the time the first chapter kicks off. In an effort to bring her back to life, her two sons, Edward and Alphonse, performed a forbidden alchemical ritual. There attempt ends in failure, though, and Edward’s arm is replaced with metal while Alphonse’s body disappears and his soul is subsequently bound to a suit of armor. So, while we never get to see what type of mother Mrs. Elrich was, we can infer the lengths of love shared between her and her sons based off how far they were willing to go her. 


    With Mrs. Elrich in mind, it's important  to remember those who, for one reason or another, can’t be with their mom this Mother’s Day. We should also take some time to reflect on and appreciate all that our moms have done for us, whether that be writing a genre-defining manga, teaching us a sport, hooking us up with some snacks or, you know, giving birth to us. 


    And to Hiromu Arakawa and all the other moms out there, happy Mother’s Day!

To check out any of the manga mentioned, click the links below:


Ping Pong

Spy x Family

Blood on the Tracks

Fullmetal Alchemist

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Mother dearest: what’s up with all the evil stepmoms?

I’ve recently been thinking about Hansel & Gretel. It’s so grim. The parents abandon their children for lack of food. The mother acts as if no other option exists. The father, though remorseful, spinelessly succumbs to her plan. After being kidnapped and starved, the children return twice to this toxic household. We’re to read this as a happy ending.

Hansel & Gretel falls into a large cannon of European fairy tales catalyzed by cruel mothers, or stepmothers. But also, the tales we nowadays think of as having cruel stepmothers often started out with just cruel mothers. The Brothers Grimm altered details of the folk tales they recorded, sanitizing them to fit contemporary 19th century values; biological mothers were to be paragons of virtue, so evil mothers became evil stepmothers.

In Hansel & Gretel, Mama gets her just desserts. After the kids return to an overjoyed father, they learn their mother had died, “offscreen.” Almost too easy a storytelling strategy, I think: killing the mom sidesteps the awkward interaction that would otherwise have occurred. But the father gets to share the spoils of a happy ending. Why? Is he not equally guilty of attempted infanticide?

I find similar questions in other Brothers Grimm stories. Cinderella’s father married the cruel stepmother, and did nothing to stop her abuse of his only daughter. Same thing with Snow White: where was her dad during Evil Stepmother’s jealous tirades? It is always the female parent who is punished.

I’m curious: why are the stories so many of us consumed as kids saturated by the evil (step)mother archetype? Perhaps it’s a matter of record, all the Brothers Grimm’ fault. For background, they, Wilhelm and Jacob, were academics riding a 19th century wave of romanticism and German nationalism that brought renewed interest to folk tales, which saw these stories as reflective of German identity. From both peasants and higher-class acquaintances, the Grimms transcribed (and edited) old stories. They popularized some of the most famous fairy tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapnuzel, and, of course, Hansel & Gretel. The brothers lost their father and grandfather at a young age, and, if Jungian analysis is to be believed, perhaps these early losses impacted their perceptions of women. Analysts Alistair & Hauke ascribe to their family deaths the “tendency to idealize and excuse fathers, as well as the predominance of female villains in the tales.” But, in an academic debate highlighted by Wikipedia, opponents of this theory remind us that the Grimms were mostly recorders, rather than authors, of the fairy tales.

Perhaps stepmothers in particular were seen as evil because of the circumstances often surrounding their entrance into families. The 19th century still saw many women die in childbirth, and so stepmothers would be associated with the death of a biological parent, with fairy tales being cautionary tales about how stepmoms ought not to behave. The BBC additionally writes that, perhaps, these stories allowed 19th century readers to process “taboo feelings – like maternal rage and resentment” towards the often-younger stepmothers widowers took on.

Motherhood is no fairy tale. Complex emotions color one’s interactions with the child, the co-parent(s), larger family and societal structures, and oneself; not to mention the visceral changes that rip through the body after childbirth for some mothers. Economic and sociopolitical structures skewer through motherhood, influencing relationships (why were Hansel & Gretel’s family starving? Natural causes affecting food supply, or inequitable feudal structures?). I am familiar mostly with Western fairy tales, and within them, it seems mothers seldom win, or even get much sympathy. I continue to be fascinated with the roots of the evil mother/stepmother archetype, whether they lie in some collective unconscious, or are the manifestation of societal/authorial bias. Either way: I invite us all to look at the evil (step)mother a bit closer, and consider what, or who, made her that way.

And if you want a refresher on the classic Grimm stories, click here to buy from us

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Beaver Fever: A Toothy Environmental Solution

Every few years, the public crowns a new peoples’ princess of the animal kingdom. Remember all those “Save the Bees” slogans, stickers, license plates, hashtags, gift mugs, and graphic t-shirts a few years back? Remember the early 2010s, when people couldn’t get enough of narwhals and llamas? Kids these days obsess over snails and frogs (perhaps watching too many slime TikToks before their skulls fully fused did a number on their subconscious preferences). Well, now, in 2024, I predict another regime change. Once the current monarch falls, we will unanimously select a new ruler: the beaver.

My proposition comes on the tail of great publications of nature writing of the past few years, particularly Leila Philip’s Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America and Ben Goldfarb’s Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. Plus, there’s the commercial powerhouse of Buc-ee’s, spreading through the Southeastern United States like a bad case of beaver fever. This beaver-themed chain of 120-pump gas stations attached to 74,000 square foot convenience stores has put many beaver-decorated hoodies, boxers, lunchboxes, sets of wrapping paper, plush toys, snack wrappers, baseball caps, ties, decorative cheeseboards, bathing suits, socks, and keychains into circulation. Perhaps my merch-and-literature case is shaky. Then, I also ask you also to consider how crucial beavers are to their environments. 

Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America: Philip, Leila:  9781538755198: Books
Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter

As Leila Philip explains, beavers are the only animals besides humans who create their own habitats. Their dams, built from trees and shrubs, reshape America’s rivers. Their resulting beaver ponds, where the beavers live, are rich in biodiversity, bringing in birds and bugs. “Pond” calls to mind something a step above a puddle, but beavers sequester, on average, a million gallons of water per pond. According to Philip, the ground underneath the ponds holds millions more gallons, which act as a reservoir during droughts. These earthy sponges also absorb excess floodwater, and filter out contaminants before the water can seep into aquifers.

Humans have a perilous history with this massive mammal. In the 16th century, European settlers trafficked heavily in beaver pelts from North America. According to Wikipedia, there was no tax or tariff imposed on these furs, and traders were further incentivized to hunt in America by the depleting beaver populations back in Europe. Philip says, this fur trade jumpstarted the North American economy, transatlantic trade, and westward expansion. The first American multimillionaire made his fortune in beaver pelts. But beavers are not infinite; overhunting nearly wiped them out.

In the present day, beavers are common again, and often treated as a nuisance. They ruin crops, roads, gardens, and more with their dam practices. But also, their role as environmental stewards is getting greater recognition. Consider the Beaver Drop of 1948. According to Wikipedia, post WWII, folks relocated from urban to rural areas of Idaho, bringing more people into contact with nuisance beavers. The state’s Department of Fish and Game was swamped with complaints of destroyed property. At the same time, central Idaho’s wetlands were in disarray, with beaver populations decimated by previous fur trade. For years, beavers had already been relocated between different parts of the state, but ground transportation proved stressful, with beavers overheating, freaking out, and even dying in the process. Then came the genius plan by Elmo W. Helm to reuse old parachutes and lidded boxes, WWII leftovers, to simply parachute the beavers from overpopulated Northwestern Idaho to the central, beaver-hungry parts of the state. A beaver named Geronimo was the first test subject, and so the rodents took flight. The operation proved successful: 76 beavers found a new home.

Parachuting beavers into Idaho's wilderness? Yes, it really happened |  Boise State Public Radio
Geronimo! Beavers parachuting down.   

Beaver safely landed.

Beavers are involved in other ambitious environmental plans. Philip describes beaver ponds in California acting as buffers against wildfires. A University of Wisconsin study concluded that bringing beavers into the Milwaukee River’s watershed would store nearly 1.7 trillion gallons of annual stormwater. Organizations like the Beaver Institute provide tips for coexistence with beavers: pond leveler, culvert diversion fence, sand-based beaver-deterring paint on trees.

Beavers are no angels. They spread giardiasis (a nasty intestinal infection colloquially called “beaver fever”) and rabies. They attack pets and humans when threatened, and even killed a man in Belarus. They exacerbate global warming by causing floods in the Arctic that melt permafrost (that’s supposed to be PERMANENT FROST), which then releases the greenhouse gas methane. But this rodent only does what it knows best: building, and staying busy. They are not at fault when their industriousness collides with our industry. We have much to learn from their environmental practices, and hopefully, we can continue to be co-conspirators in the fight against climate change. Beavers rule!

 Click below to buy beaver books from us:

Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America:
Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter:


6 Things you may not realize that have a large impact on climate change.

Jamille Christman

You hear many buzzwords surrounding climate change. You may remember a time when the subject was "global warming," and you wonder why "climate change" has become the dominant term. What you may not realize is that warming is only one effect of several man-made factors that are changing our climate in dangerous ways. Aside from commonly understood factors like burning fossil fuels and CO2 emissions,  here are some other factors whose contribution to climate change may be less familiar. 

1. The Newest Space Race
Not only does spaceflight spill fuel into the atmosphere, contribute to rising CO2, but it also contaminates the stratosphere with soot. The soot lingers for up to five years, absorbing heat and damaging the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects us from dangerous UV light from the sun. Not only that, other chemicals are changing the stratosphere, and scientists currently don't know what effects that will have. In 2023 there were 211 global orbital launches. However, while rockets are bad for the environment, the aviation industry burns 100 times more fuel than all the rocket launches in a year combined. Luckily, they don't travel in the stratosphere, and soot dissipates quickly lower down in the troposphere.

2. Crypto Currency Mining
You normally may not think of crypto as having such a large environmental impact, but it's utilization of block chain mining lends it a large footprint. To explain how this is possible, Bitcoin and many other crypto are decentralized, which means they aren't controlled by one entity. It is set up to create strong security by having a network of several servers mining simultaneously. Every transaction could be sent through one of many server farms through out the world. This process keeps the ledgers of the coins and transactions accurate and very secure. The miners are incentivized by the newly created currency they receive. While it is a very sound financial ecosystem, the amount of power consumed by this system is vast. According to the UN, "if Bitcoin were it's own country it would rank 27th in power consumption and that is just one crypto currency. The resulting carbon footprint was equivalent to that of burning 84 billion pounds of coal or operating 190 natural gas-fired power plants". Some cryptos are now using incentives for using renewable energies and lessening their environmental impact. Ethereum, the second largest coin, offers an incentive called "staking," which involves gaining interest on coins you keep as opposed to mining new coins. They also started using a different protocol that uses far less energy, cutting down its use of power by 99%. There are other "green coins" out there, like Cardano, Algorand, Tezos and many more.

3. Roads
Asphalt is an air pollutant. While it might seem innocuous, asphalt is made of fossil fuels and releases semivolatile organic compounds that affect air quality. Asphalt releases the most contaminates at 140 degrees Celsius, the exact temperature it reaches while it is being paved. Even moderate sunlight increases emissions from asphalt by 300 percent. While roads in their current state can be bad for air pollution, they have the potential to be helpful in mitigating the heating effects of climate change. According to MIT, "Reflective pavements could lower air temperatures by over 2.5 °F and reduce the frequency of heatwaves by 41% across all U.S urban areas."

4. Deforestation
There are quite an abundance of bad affects resulting from deforestation: destruction of animal habitats, soil erosion leading to increased flooding, long lasting damage to biodiversity, and acidic oceans from carbon runoff. The big result for climate change comes from the fact that our forests are natural CO2 scrubbers. They take in CO2 and store it till it is used. Between 10 and 15% of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation.

Not only do forests help to prevent global warming and climate change, they can also mitigate the affects of rising temperatures. In fact, according to the EPA "Trees, green roofs, and vegetation can help reduce urban heat island effects by shading building surfaces, deflecting radiation from the sun, and releasing moisture into the atmosphere. Research shows that urban forests can be 2.9°F cooler than unforested urban areas, and can lower air temperatures by around 10°F."

5. Farming
In 2021, U.S. agriculture emitted 671.5 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent, with 46.6% as nitrous oxide, 41.5% as methane, and 11.9% as carbon dioxide. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas and has a higher global warming potential. However, it only lasts 12 years compared to CO2's centuries-long lifespan, so cutting back on meat farming would have a rapidly noticeable impact. Grazing grass-fed cattle also do damage to land and add to deforestation, and feeding the animals consumes far more food than is produced. It isn't just livestock farming; machinery, transportation and synthetic fertilizers all contribute a large footprint on our climate, and will lead us to number 5 on the list.

6. Eutrophication
Eutrophication is nutrient runoff into water sources by industry, farming, and human waste that causes a proliferation of algae bloom and other plants. These blooms use up all the oxygen in the water, making areas of the ecosystem hypoxic and killing off marine life. The algae and decomposition of marine life then releases methane and C02. In fact, over 100 years the world's lakes will increase atmospheric methane by 30-90 percent due to eutrophication. The decomposition also causes the pH balance to change, making our oceans more acidic. This also causes CO2 concentrations to rise. All of this is compounded by the heating of oceans. As you can see, this is a dangerous cycle that feeds into itself. What can we do to lessen the effects? Lessening deforestation, making farming more sustainable and reducing fertilizer use, remove phosphates at sewage treatment plants, and use advanced wastewater treatment methods to remove nitrates and phosphates could be a good start.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Fool of April and their Origin Story

Easter is coming up fast and something that happens on Easter Monday this years is strange, unusual and some might say foolish. April Fools Day happens to fall on the same day! While Easter is an old holiday, it is relatively the new kid on the block in comparison to April Fool's Day. Not only does the holiday reach far back in history it is a tradition that exists in many cultures around the spring equinox.

In fact it is so old that its origins are merely speculated. Almost as if the whole holiday has lasted this long as a jape in and of itself. Many think of the origins of the Roman Empire due to a story about how Constantine made a jester an emperor for the day, but that story is largely thought to be as fake as an April fool's prank. However some of the origins might have started with the celebration of Hilaria which is the celebration of joy.

Most of the lore came from Middle Ages Europe. Rumors of where the origin came from was in the 1500s when half of France still celebrated March 25th as the beginning of the New Year after the edict of the move to January 1st. But evidence makes it seem like this is as false as a fish in a 3 piece suit, speaking of dapper fish in France, a tradition in France is poisson d'avril which means 'April's Fish'. Pranks and satire were carried out with Fish.

One of the oldest celebrations around April Fool's is from 536 BC from the Persian empire that is still celebrated today.  The lie of the 13 which are 13 days after the new year, around April 1st.  Pranking and fun celebrations are celebrated on April 1st and April 2nd even to this day in Iran.

While it has muddled origins it has shaped into a celebration that most every culture celebrates by tricking friends and loved ones.  It has worked it's way into media with news reports and radio station pranks.  Make sure you look at the date of a story before you believe it and as always use critical thinking when consuming news.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

horoscopes for april fools

March 19th marks the new year, astrologically speaking. Aries season springs down upon us after the equinox. It’s the first sign of the Zodiac, signifying new beginnings. Harness the assertive energy of this sign to get ahead on your new new year’s resolutions (we know you’ve already abandoned the ones from January). Below are your horoscopes for the month ahead!

Aries: Happy birthday, past or upcoming. This is your season to celebrate! Your zodiac symbol is the ram, like the sheep. But let’s consider the other version of ram -- a computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory). Not only is that the name of French electronic music duo’s Daft Punk’s definitive best, and final, album, it’s also an apt metaphor for your upcoming month. Computers once had to cycle through all available data start to finish to retrieve a needed bit, but RAM allows them to access anything at random, speeding up the process. Like an old computer, you may feel compelled to wallow in nostalgia this month, running through your autobiography in chronological order over and over. Don’t do that. Randomly access whatever lessons you need from the past, and use that information only to direct your future.

Taurus: Spring cleaning time is upon us. This is the month to get all your affairs in order. Clean everything, top to bottom. Leave not a speck. Organize those drawers stuffed with used batteries and old receipts. Shampoo your carpets and bleach your bathroom. Once everything is tidy, you’ll find you can think clearer, and finally make those big decisions you’ve been weighing.

Gemini: This is the month to let your inner child roam free, get messy, and be wild! Do all the things you couldn’t do as a kid: roll in the mud and track dirt through the house, lick chocolate frosting off your hands, and fingerpaint with abandon. Better yet, do it at a Taurus’s house. They’re in need of some fun and inspiration.

Cancer: Have you noticed Scorpio is down in the dumps? You know, nothing cheers them up like April Fools’ Day. Here’s a classic prank: take a pastry with white frosting, scrape the frosting off, and pipe toothpaste on top instead --- the mintier the better. They’re sure to laugh and laugh after they bite into it, and not blame you at all. Overall, this is a good month for refreshing your approach to friendship, and leaning into your most jokey self.

Leo: Sun’s out, and what a better time to nap? It’s a month for luxuriating and marinating, for being slow and lazy. If anyone bothers you about extra work, dismiss them! You should catch up on sleep, or do your favorite low-key activities -- the puzzles and the TV binges and, of course, the books. Rest rejuvenates. Doctor’s orders.

Virgo: Can February March? No, but April May. What does this joke mean? No one really knows. It’s a satisfying format, for sure, taking something so mundane, and making us see humorous patterns it, like when you spot “HI” and “NO” in the alphabet’s arbitrary order. But the vagueness here, it leaves so many things unanswered. How can a month march? It is no person, not subject to timing its locomotion to an imperial rhythm. April may? It has the option to, it has free will? It can weigh options, roads taken and not, consider the full gravity of every consequence -- even I cannot do that. I just don’t know. I’m sorry. I wish I had some advice for you this month, but I doubt I’ve anything wise to say to anyone.

Libra: Has Pisces been acting extra friendly lately? Don’t fall for it, it’s all an act! You’re best advised to keep your distance from anyone vying too hard for your attention this month. Sometimes your cold shoulder is the best remedy for another’s hot head.

Scorpio: Feeling a bit blue lately? Don’t worry: a sweet surprise is coming soon from a Cancer. They are a pure soul with only your best intentions at heart, and no secret schemes to speak of. You can trust them fully. Overall, this is a good month to let others in, and believe people when they say nice things to you. It can be hard for you to take compliments, but I’m sorry, you’re going to have to learn.

Sagittarius: You’re perfect in every way and can do no wrong. Keep doing what you’re doing and please never change <3

Capricorn: With spring springing soon, there’s much to get done. Is your garden in need of extra preparation? Recruit a Leo to help you out. Hard work is good for the soul, and even better for the physique. This month is not one for rest, and not one for letting others rest. Your plans are extraordinary, and you’ll have no trouble convincing others to do the grunt work with you.

Aquarius: April’s showers bring May’s flowers. The saying has a literal edge: it originates from the UK, where the jet stream makes April a soggy month and flowers don’t bloom ‘til early May. There’s a deeper meaning too, as an idiom where one’s present suffering brings rewards in the future. I don’t agree with that sentiment, though. Climate change will alter the jet stream, affect flowers' blooming times, and throw seasons into disarray. Why must we toil for some unseen future benefit when soon there will be no difference between April or May or December? Don’t put off your pleasure for the future.

Pisces: Has Libra been acting extra distant lately? Don’t fall for it, it’s all an act! You’re best advised to keep pursuing anyone acting too cool and aloof this month. If you keep going, even the most reluctant people will RSVP to your inviting nature.

And if you’re looking for more astrological insights, I recommend checking out “Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets through Capital, Power, and Labor” by one of my favorite astrologers of all time, Alice Sparkly Cat.

Click here to buy a copy from us:

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

memoirs & me or: how i learned to stop worrying and to love the first person singular

There is nothing I love more on God’s green Earth than YouTube video essays. Specifically, ones on film theory. My greatest pleasure is scarfing Cheez-Its in bed while watching someone halfway through a bachelor’s degree in media studies dissect Ratatouille through a Marxist lens or something. Recently, I’ve been looking deeper into the idea of The Gaze.

Allow me to bore you with a paraphrased Wikipedia definition: gaze is simply how one perceives people, either others or themself. Looking looks like an innocent act. But to quote Ms Wikipedia summarizing Jean-Paul Sartre: “the act of gazing at another human being creates a subjective power difference, which is felt by the gazer and by the gazed because the person being gazed at is perceived as an object, not as a human being.”

The male gaze in particular often comes under scrutiny in my beloved video essays. When it comes to movies, many of us are familiar with common tropes.There’s the raunchy comedies that separate women into the beautiful and objectified, or dowdy and deplorable, with any shred of personality parceled into punchlines. There’s the indie films where blue-haired women with manic tendencies exist solely to lift a boring sad male protagonist from his misery. There’s the arthouse whatever where women are converted into vague metaphors. Action movies with bland heroines sent into battle with guns and no clothes. You get the gist.

I myself am a big fan of seeing pretty people on-screen. I don’t take issue with revealing clothes or suggestive dialogue. What worries me is objectification, and the passive worldview that comes from being the perceived, rather than the perceiver.

We’re all constantly perceiving each other through our own flawed lenses. It’s just that historically, some gazes get more screentime, more book pages. We are taught to experience the world through a limited number of eyes (there were but a few non-white-male authors in the canon of my childhood literary education). The “I” of the first-person narrative is limited in who gets to occupy it.

The “I” is active. The “I” gets to tell you about others. You have to take the “I” at face value, in books particularly, because the only vision of the world you get as a reader comes from the eyes of that “I.”

I myself moonlight as a writer when I’m not a bookseller, and I love the “I.” To write a story from the first-person point of view cements the narrator as an active agent. The world becomes filtered through one’s consciousness. People exist only in as far as the narrator perceives them.

I had for years been hesitant to write in the first person point of view. It seemed too revealing, sentimental, juvenile, like publishing diary pages. That was in the same era of life when I read many novels by male writers. Many of them were smart guys, exceptionally so. I nodded along to their observations on culture, politics, history, all peppered with punchy metaphors and cutting analyses. And then their gaze landed on someone other than a man, and our silver-tongued orators’ descriptive abilities slid down to third-grade levels of basic. If I tried to imagine my place as a young woman in their otherwise-astute worldview, I’d be relegating myself to a two-dimensional character. And I exist at the intersection of many privileged identities -- whiteness, able-bodiedness, being cisgender -- so I already get far more space as a subject (rather than object) than many others have historically had in literature.

Later, I developed a taste for memoirs, particularly those written not by men. Memoirs as a literary form provide a handy excuse to occupy the first person singular: “My life as I see it.” “The world through my eyes.” Memoirs can take many forms, perhaps most famously as the dishy maybe-ghostwritten tell-alls of celebrities. I indulge in these too, but am particularly fascinated by memoirs written as complex, deeply personal pieces of art. They inspire me to think of myself as an active participant in life, not someone else’s observation, to be an artist rather than a misperceived muse.

Below are two memoirs of note for Women’s History Month, recent reads I’ve adored. Tragic and funny, poignant and perplexing, detailed and poetic, these are by no means definitive, just ones I happen to really like.

Brutalities: A Love Story by Margo Steines
Our narrator is quarantined in a desert landscape, facing COVID and a high-risk pregnancy. Her memoir bounces between an arid, sun-dried, nervous, uncertain present, and a visceral, violent past. Since adolescence, she’s worked in brutal jobs: as a teenage dominatrix, a sheep-butchering farmer, a high-altitude welder, a writer chronicling wrestlers. She’d gone through abusive relationships, disordered eating, intense bouts of self-harm, extreme exercise obsession, and chronic illness. Now, living together and in love with the father of her baby, a MMA fighter who perfectly balances gentleness and power, Margo reflects on her past, and what it means for bringing new life into a perilous world. Her prose is packed with imagery you won’t forget. This is a memoir you might need to take a few breathers in the midst of, but the piercing beauty of it is so worth it.
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In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
As a Machado fanatic, I’m biased; I’ll slurp up anything she serves with a spoon. I know I’m not alone in adoring this memoir though. Part of the appeal is its innovative structure: each chapter is a short snippet that represents a section of the nightmarish Dream House. Then there’s the fairy-tale imagery Machado weaves in with meticulous footnotes, and fables that bleed into her reality. Also key to its success is her chronicling an oft-silenced topic: abuse within queer relationships. Machado interpolates sequences of childhood, of a power-imbalanced connection with her youth pastor, a writing program in the midwest, friendships and meals and parties, but the overarching narrative concerns an ex-girlfriend who turned sour, switching from sweetheart to abuser. Along the way, Machado laments how her experience felt like a hidden narrative, as mysticized as her beloved fairy tales. To quote Roxanne Gay: “What makes this book truly exceptional is how Machado creates an archive where, shamefully, there is none.
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     It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that without moms there would be no stories. Not only is this statement literally true, and...