Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keggers and CliffsNotes: Passed the test!

Keggers and CliffsNotes was the best college party, ever. Maybe it was the keg, maybe it was the pizza, maybe it was the 4 awesome readers that made the night, well, magical.

After some boozing and schmoozing to the college-band soundtrack in the background, a crowd of about 50 people settled down to hear Amy L. Clark read 3 short shorts, one of which was brand new. Then her true skills as reader were put to the test as she read a CliffsNotes version of 'The Scarlet Letter' with mad-libbed words thrown in from the rather creative audience. Brian Foley, Urban Waite, and Janaka Stucky continued the pattern, each reading compelling literature, followed by audience-enhanced renditions of 'Paradise Lost,' 'The Odyssey,' and 'Moby Dick' ("Discover this American classic of Captain Mr. T on his maniacal search for the emu Schmoopy Dick who took his leg...").

It was the 3rd reading of the series, but the first under the new official name: Dirty Water Reading Series. We love that dirty water, love great literature, love that fizzy beer. The next reading will be December 16 at Grub Street...write it down! You won't want to miss it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Great cause, bad taste

There is a fantastic benefit the dames at LUPEC Boston have created this September: a number of area bars and restaurants are donating the proceeds from a specific woman-themed cocktail to Jane Doe, Inc, the MA Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. So naturally, when Julia, Janell, Joanna and I met up after work last night, we went to participating restaurant No. 9 Park, to splurge on a fancy cocktail and know the proceeds were going to help a great organization.

We had a lovely time. And then at the end of the night, someone from the restaurant approached Julia and me to ask how our drinks were. There was some awkward banter, and then he asked why we were there. Well, we like the idea of cocktails for this cause. Our literary magazine, Julia pointed out, is run by all women.

"Hopefully not battered women!" he quipped.

Ha ha, it's a safe joke, guys! Because everyone knows battered women don't drink cocktails at No. 9 Park! It's not their scene. Battered women don't go out in public. In fact, I don't know a single woman who's been physically or psychologically abused by a partner or parent, or witnessed the abuse of a mother, sister, friend... It's a them issue, not an us issue. And it certainly doesn't touch the editorial staff of Fringe.

I think this was an isolated case, as No. 9 Park is woman-owned and operated and known for civic engagement. So chalk it up to awkwardness, insensitivity or ignorance on this one employee's part. But I left feeling a little angry, and conscious of how much more work we need to do to build awareness of violence against women.

For more information about LUPEC Boston and Jane Doe, Inc, please click
and here:http://janedoe.org/

Follow the LUPEC Boston link to find out which bars are doing the cocktail promo in September. The Jane Doe site has info on how to donate directly.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beauty and the Geek

Sometimes late at night when I am freelancing, I watch dumb TV. I like the background noise, and the lame characters keep me company.

Well, last night I caught an encore of the season premiere of Ashton Kutcher's Beauty and the Geek. The premise of the show is simple: dumb, dumb girls who can't read or do math (but who are beautiful) are tutored by smart, geeky guys. And in return, the girls teach the guys social graces, like knowing about pop culture, buying jewelry and outfits, and how to do their hair.

Last night, though, there was a twist. This season, one of the geeks is a GIRL, and one of the beauties is a BOY. Oh my goodness, how scandalous. There are really smart girls out there? And of course, any girl who is as smart as these geeky guys has no hope of actually being pretty. No way. Pigtails and horn-rimmed glasses are no match for slutty outfits, fake boobs and a minimum of 5 hrs primping time daily.


What would Ashton do if he saw the editorial staff of Fringe Magazine? Would his idea of a pretty girl be shattered? I mean, is there a law against being pretty AND smart?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Heartbreak Hotel by Gabrielle Burton: A Review by Katie Spencer

This is the eleventh of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

Gabrielle Burton's Heartbreak Hotel runs each of its engines at full capacity. It is completely intelligent, completely feminist, completely hilarious, completely furious, completely compassionate, and it does the whole thing inside out. It is an exhausting book. It is worth the effort, and then you will force it on your friends.

This is a story of the rebirth of the straight white middle-class American feminist, written in the mid-1980s, and it takes place in Buffalo. It is dated, but to a feminist era and type I feel unlived nostalgia for: there's a Midwest-runaway New Yorkiness about this sarcastic, corny, male-affectionate, DIY feminism; little bits Gilda Radner and Silver Palate Cookbook. Characters are tortured by middle-class feminist questions like, does it bring me pleasure to serve others? I say this without mockery. It’s a good, often hushed question.

Heartbreak Hotel is intentionally written to be diffuse, not like those, ahem, linear books you're used to reading, and it has the guts to create two-dimensional characters and give each a voice, and through jokes, compassion, and a series of haunting witness-bearing litanies, resurrect the squashed third dimensions. Six women, each a type you'll recognize, live in a house attached to the Museum of the Revolution, in which they all work. They're resting, because they're all burned out from their roles. The Museum's humpbacked curator is in a coma, and they must decide whether or not to save her; also, Buffalo wants to close the Museum.

I quit; it’s impossible to explain the plot without sounding ridiculous. The book is a joyride. If you made it this far, you’re gonna love it.

Katie Spencer graduated from Skidmore College in 2004 and is tiptoeing toward a master's degree at Emerson. She spends most of her time in the kitchen, and likes to walk around with a cat on her head.

Keggers and CliffsNotes: A (Mercifully Short) Reading

THIS Sunday, September 23, (after the Race for the Cure) the Dirty Water Reading Series will present Keggers and CliffsNotes, a (free!) reading at Grub Street in Boston.

Readers on tap: Amy L. Clark (published in Fringe's feminism issue), Beth Woodcome, Brian Foley, and Janaka Stucky. What better way to kick off the school year than a college dorm party at Grub Street?

This is the third installment of our seasonal reading series, co-hosted with Redivider, Quick Fiction, and Black Ocean. Just like readings past, we will have (mercifully short) readings, audience-participation mad-libs, and of course, FREE pizza and beer (yes, there will be a keg!).

So if you'll be in the Boston area, come and reminisce those college days of scantrons and keg stands. And if you can't make it, we'll raise a plastic cup of fizzy beer in your honor.

DETAILS: Sunday, September 23, Grub Street HQ, 160 Boylston, 4th Floor, 7-9pm

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure

See me? I'm TOUGH.

I'm the first to admit that my life gets busy. I've got something planned every day, and it feels like I'm putting every minute to use. I spend my time commuting on the T knitting, I write emails while I watch TV, I eat while I walk. I even sleep with a book resting on my forehead just in case reading by osmosis is more than a pipe-dream. But this weekend, I am slowing down just a bit so that I can do something good for someone else.

Fringe copyeditor Karen Crosby pulled together a team to participate in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, taking place in Boston this coming Sunday, September 23rd.

I've already raised $345.00 for the cause, and I can't tell you how happy I am to be spending a few hours walking with a group of dedicated Fringies and surrounded by breast cancer survivors and supporters of all shapes and sizes. Look out your windows and watch your TVs, because the Fringe team will be sporting Fringe T-shirts that day.

I can't help thinking about the women I know personally who have dealt with breast cancer. Some have been lucky, and some haven't. Aunt Judy, Aunt Karen, Aunt Donna, Nancee Sherman, Gretchen Stark, and Anne Marie McAvey, I'm racing for you. This is a women's issue, and it's not going away. What is there to do but sink my teeth into helping any way I can?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Robert Jordan Dies, Leaving Fans on the Edge

James Oliver Rigner Jr who wrote under the pen name Robert Jordan died yesterday of a rare blood disorder at 58.

I discovered him through the Wheel of Time series in high school during my medieval fantasy phase, which I have still not outgrown.

The series, originally meant to be a trilogy surrounding the lives of three best friends, Rand, Perrin, and Mat, was eventually expanded into an eleven book series that remains unfinished. The first book, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990, and Jordan had long claimed that he began the series with the final scene already written in his mind's eye.

I loved the early books in the series for their depth of character, and the way Jordan deftly wove together elements from almost every myth cycle around the world. Even though it has been years since I've kept up with the series (I left off around book 8 of 11 completed volumes), the characters sometimes come to mind, vividly, and I am mad with desire to know what happened.

His writing had his flaws too. Around book five or six, Jordan's writing became baroque, filled with tiny subplots and characters too numerous to keep track of, and ultimately distracting to the reader. The way he enriched his world prevented my entry into it -- with several years between books, it was nearly impossible to keep the characters straight without re-reading the series up the new books (no small feat, as the books got longer and longer as they went on, some exceeding 900 pages).

His view of gender politics was juvenile. He wrote a large cast of female characters who had real power, but power achieved through maniuplation of traditional roles within the society he created. However, Rand, the main character, had the strongest magical powers in the book and, as in so many books in this genre, he had three beautiful, hot, and powerful women drooling over him -- the great adolescent fantasy. His earlier books about Conan the Barbarian were much worse.

The series' benefits outweigh its flaws through generous use of myth and high-fallooting vocabulary, and it captivated fans who started newsgroups, clubs, and societies. Many books in the series were bestsellers. Jordan chronicled his life and death on his blog, and I do hope someone will take up his notes for the final book, and write the ending his fans have long been waiting for.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lifetime TV: Who knew?

So sometime over the last few months, I seem to have morphed from a bar-hopping twenty-something into a Lifetime television-watching forty-something woman.

Shocking, I know.

But what's even more shocking to me is that the shows that premiered on Lifetime this past summer are much more than the usual Tori Spelling movie of the week. They're actually... good. The cable network which (I think) was famous for giving young actors and actresses a start with over-dramatized, based-on-a-true-story shows, has recently become the channel I flip to most often. Lifetime, which bills itself as "the leader in women's television," has really stepped up its game with addicting new dramas like Army Wives (I'm pretty sure you can figure out the premise) and Side Order of Life, about a young photographer whose outlook on life changes when her best friend is diagnosed with cancer. The characters are complex. The story lines are interesting. And, hey, any network that brings back Jason Priestly is okay in my book.

While this development in cable television may be old news to some of you, I've only recently come to terms with my change in attitude. Maybe I'm getting more mature in my old age--or maybe Lifetime just got some fresh and talented writers. Whatever the cause, I'm glad that a network that is dedicated to women and their families is finally one that I'm excited to watch.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Who likes pop art?

I do, I do!

Check out these modern interpretations of Wonder Woman.

Yay for artists keeping it real.

Which one do you like best? My favorite is Sam Kennedy's (pictured here). But did you notice that not one of these drawings was made by a woman? If you have your own drawing to add, post it here.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle - We'll Miss You

Madeleine L'Engle, the author of a popular children's novel, A Wrinkle in Time, died September 6. The Washington Post and the New York Times both wrote beautiful obituaries for her.

A Wrinkle in Time along with much of the rest of her Time Quartet series fed my early intellectual life. A Wrinkle was required reading in my elementary school, and it is one of the first required reading books I remember connecting with. L'Engle put great care into the main character Meg Murray, who was brainy but socially awkward, and totally a hero.

Madeleine, we'll miss you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How Mainstream Media Broke Its Contract With Readers, part II

In my last post I discussed the way main stream media (MSM) inevitably ran the small press out of business, and now I'm going to finish up my critique through a discussion of how I think MSM actively broke its trust with readers.

The press should operate as the fourth estate -- a check on government power through the free exchange of ideas. (But whether the public actually wants this from MSM is another blog post). Impartiality is embedded in the concept of journalistic objectivity -- reporters are supposed to check their biases at the door. Also, ideally journalism should give us the facts. MSM has failed on all three accounts.
  1. MSM has not provided the public with accurate information:

    • Many journalists have recently been caught plagarizing. Jayson Blair is the obvious example.

  2. MSM has failed to operate adequately as a check on government power, particularly as applies to the Iraq war, which broke the contract in two ways:

    • Because MSM didn't scuttle fast enough, we went to war. We didn't hear that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we didn't find out about torture soon enough to prevent it -- the Bush administration was not held up to scrutiny in the days surrounding 9/11. Journalists were sleeping on the job.

      I understand that the Bush White House, and perhaps other White Houses as well, grant better access to and answer more questions from favorably inclined reporters, as opposed to ones who ask tough questions. This is a plainly unacceptable situation, and I would like to see reporters banding together to boycott substance-less press conferences where only the softball questions get answered.

    • Because reporters rolled over and accepted the administration's press conference rules, they lost the credibility that objectivity brings. Right-leaning news organizations got great access but weren't very critical, left-leaning organizations got bitter and preachy. In a sense, Bush polarized the media, although I'm sure earlier administrations helped.

  3. MSM has failed to operate impartially:

    • In an ideal world, newspapers would disseminate information freely and reporters would not be paid. The absence of money would help ensure that reporters were in it for the truth, and not for cash. Obviously, we do not live in an ideal world and newspapers and reporters must be paid for their work, but MSM has taken things too far. My perception, which I believe others share, is that news corporations are owned by uber-conglomerates that hawk a wide variety of stuff, and I don't have time to parse these relations myself. I worry that this commercial bent is slanting news media, imbuing it with consumerism. The news is not the news, but PR information fed to me (and perhaps to reporters also) to get me to buy stuff.

    • Newspapers have money, and are often run by white men. The lacking diversity of op-ed pages in the nation's newspapers has been widely lamented -- few women and writers of color figure into these pages, although this has been changing for the better. However, I think that many people perceive newspapers as old boy's clubs, where the old boys hire and pay people who are like them to produce the news, which makes newspapers sound suspiciously like the establishment they are supposed to be covering.
So, I can pay to read inaccurate biased news written by white guys that subliminally tells me to buy stuff (MSM), or for free I can read inaccurate biased news written by a diverse population that is not unilaterally motivated by money (Internet).

Somewhat reductive, I know, but is there any wonder that folks have turned to media on the Internet?