Monday, October 29, 2007

Panties for peace

If you've already told the Postal Regulatory Commission you won't stand for a sellout to big media (and if you haven't yet, there's still time to weigh in before their hearings on Tuesday, October 30), perhaps you're feeling a little bored, a little blue.

Happily, there's a cure for such listlessness, and it even involves the mail. You can support the people of Burma by sending your panties to the SPDC! Dunno about you, but the image of hundreds of pairs of panties, lacy, frilly, variegated, winging their way through the postal system carefully packaged in envelopes and boxes, destined to freak out officials worldwide, just puts a smile on my face.

Andrew Buncombe writes in the Independent:
Activists seeking to pressure the Burmese regime are targeting the superstitions of its senior generals by asking for people around the world to send women's underwear to the junta.

In what may be a first, campaigners based in Thailand have called for supporters to "post, deliver or fling" the underwear to their nearest Burmese embassy. They believe the senior members of the junta – some known to be deeply superstitious – could be made to believe they will lose their authority should they come into contact with the lingerie.

"The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power," says the website of the Lanna Action for Burma group, based in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. The group says that Burmese embassies have already received underwear from people in Thailand, Australia, Singapore and the UK.
Lanna Action for Burma kicked off this campaign on October 16. You can find the nearest SPDC embassy here. Read more about ongoing protest efforts here. Happy panty-flinging!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Safe Sex, Indian Style

This video on safe sex and condom usage is from Nrityanjali Academy, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

I have to say, I wish Americans would let condoms be this friendly...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Post office: another chance for small journals!

I've written before about the U.S. Post Office's misguided (read: guided by TimeWarner) plot to raise postage sky-high for small periodicals and simultaneously lower it for huge ones. The Postal Regulatory Commission voted to put these new rules in effect on July 15; a massive petition effort has caused them to hold hearings on the new rates. They're scheduled for next Tuesday, October 30. Kudos if you spoke up and signed that first petition... let's all sign it again! To ensure that those hearings have the biggest possible impact, you can sign the new petition—and simultaneously have a message sent to your congressperson—to repeal the new rates. Also at, you'll find an excellent essay by Peter Rothberg, reprinted from the ActNow blog at The Nation. We've got to stop this bad idea before it's too late and the pages of dead periodicals start fluttering from the backs of mail trucks like sad little elegies.

Stamp Out the Rate Hike: Stop the Post OfficeIf supporting small journals isn't enough to convince you that this is an issue, remember that, if those journals go out of business—which many will surely do under the new rates—that means less mail volume and, as a result, fewer decent-paying post office jobs. Also, remember love notes. Subscriptions to Ranger Rick for 4th graders. The postcard your friend sent from vacation, where she couldn't remember your address so she just wrote the street but misspelled it, but it arrived in your mailbox anyway. The time you put stamps and an address label on a coconut and sent it to your friend—and it got there. Be warned! You know once you let TimeWarner make the rules, it's gonna cost fifty bucks to mail that coconut.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ms. Magazine Turns 35

I have a love/hate relationship with anniversary issues, particularly when they are celebrated in quarterly ones like Ms. Magazine. The issue quickly diverts from present day feminist politics to a historic trajectory of where we’ve come and where the heck we’re going. A who’s who list is cultivated to show the breadth of feminist leaders—which inevitably falls short.

But, I dutifully read through my Fall 2007 issue of Ms., feeling a twinge of guilt when I remember how I literally squealed when the last issue of Bitch hit my door, because surely I have much to learn from women who raised female wages, exposed the ad industry, deconstructed the definition of marriage, put more women in politics, title IX—the list is endless. (My favorite fun fact from the issue compares Pat Summitt’s salary in 1974, which was $8,900, to 2004, when she became the first collegiate women’s coach to be paid over $1 million).

One group of thankful voices in the issue comes from the Girls Editorial Board, editors ages 8-14 of New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams. My faith in feminism is further restored. New Moon is an ad free publication, where 80% of the content is written by girl readers. Now, I know Fringe readers are more likely to pick up a copy of The New Yorker rather than New Moon but how inspiring it is to see our youngest cohorts have a place where one is “Free to Be…You and Me.” I’m still a proud reader of New Moon even though I’m much older than 14 and not because I’m nostalgic for my youth (trust me, those weren’t my best years). I continue to read feminist publications because I want you and me to be free.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vote for the Best Novel of the Last 25 Years

Here at Fringe, we love novels, writers of color, and women writers (along with a whole lot of other things like feminism, culture, and judging from our blog tags, more feminism). That's why the New York Times' list of the Best 25 Novels of the Last 25 Years made us sad. (As the Guerilla Girls might say, "Hormone Imbalanced! Melanin Deficient!")

So we launched the 25 Books Project...and now we need to hear from YOU.

To vote, you must have read 2 or more books from the Pool, which we've been reviewing on this blog. For each additional book you've read, you get an additional vote, up to five.

All votes are write-in -- the only parameters are the ones set by the NYT list -- only novels by American writers written since 1981 are eligible.

Vote here soon -- the polls will close at the end of this year!

Flannery O'Connor and Heroes

So this is my first blog attempt and I'm assuming it's going to suck, but stick with me. Good intro, right? Now I'll talk about what kind of food got stuck in my teeth this morning (cinnamon apple sauce) and my favorite kind of toilet paper (whatever that commercial is with those red bears!).... I thought that was how blogs worked? You see, I did a little research. Dwight Schrute's blog is about a time capsule he sent to himself. No, really. I'm actually getting to something literary. Seems to me time's a pretty mysterious mofo. Heard about this study about how people like to see, in their movie trailers, everything that's going to happen in the movie? Not original. Flannery was doing that stuff ages ago. See "A Good Man is Hard to Find." You know damn well they're going to meet the misfit the moment the grandmother, and then the storeowner, mentions it. Or "A Circle in the Fire." Fire's in the title, even, and it's the protagonist's greatest fear. What she really pulled off is making us pant with anticipation (that's right, like a dog) until we get there. Why don't we see this in a lot of writing today (though, yes, there are exceptions like Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex--on our Best Books List)?

Actually, this isn't what I wanted to talk about at all. What I wanted to talk about was dialogue subtext. In "A Circle in the Fire" (really one of O'Connor's fastest moving stories) we've got this woman who's convincing herself the invading boys are only hungry and will soon leave vs. the boys who know exactly what they are doing but pretend to speak politely. The suspense is in waiting for the subtext to come to the surface, for the woman to realize (or let herself realize) what exactly is going on, in opposition to what is being said. That's a whole lot of suspense, a whole lot more than just wondering what physical action will play out. If you look back at pop culture, you'll see this at work in shows like Heroes, where characters will have whole conversations full of disparate subtexts, disparate levels of knowledge (though this is probably easier to do when your characters' identities/super powers are secret). Too heavy? My time capsule would include gay Albus Dumbledore, embryonic research, global warming in a tube, a copy of James Scott's OneStory, an issue of the latest Redivider, my upcoming issue of Mid-American Review, other shameless plugs, etc. And yours?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Cities: A Love Story by John Edgar Wideman: A Review by Katie Spencer

This is the thirteenth 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

It may be that the most enduring, affecting art produced within modern cultures develops when cultures are in crisis. Think about the greatest Russian literature. And think about the art that has come from black urban America in the final third of the 20th century. When beauty and destruction, oppression and exhaustion, history and outrage, love and grief combine, you get art distilled to such poignancy that it makes your heart literally ache. You get, for example, Funkadelic’s instrumental Maggot Brain, you get John Edgar Wideman and his brilliant, heartbreaking Two Cities.

Two Cities skips perspectives, delving most deeply into Kassima, a young woman who has lost a husband and two sons to AIDS and violence; Robert, the man who breaks the shell around her heart; and her tenant, ancient Mr. Mallory, a quiet man with a rich inner life and backstory.

The love between Kassima and Robert is a buoy neither expected to find, but one that nourishes long-dormant tendrils of sweetness and vulnerability in both of them. It's a love as sexy and sad as a doomed affair, as warm and kind as the strongest marriage.

These characters float between the decayed neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. They stay quiet and invisible out of self-preservation, though the cycle of young black men annihilating one another continues, and they are infected with sorrow and rage.

The subtitle for the novel is “A Love Story,” and this is the thread of hope that makes this novel so redemptive and powerful amidst so much grief – the relentless love of the characters for things that can slip away at any moment – each other, their cities, their culture, the homes they’ve built, the sons they’ve lost.

What's in a Name?

To change, or not to change, that is the question - my last name, that is. I'm getting married, and I am struggling with this decision. I should note before continuing that my fiance is totally on board with whatever I decide (and even has expressed the opinion that maybe I should keep my own). Also, I am not resistant because his name is long and unpronounceable or anything of that nature - Ott doesn't cause much confusion. I am, however, resistant to hyphenated last names, which feel a little artificial to me.

I'm really partial to my last name. It defines me. My first initial and last name spell a real word, and it's actually fitting for my personality. People call me by my full name all the time, because there are so many Sarahs out there. Yes, I share my name with an actress, but that's kind of good - when you google me, you have to sift through all her pages before you get to any mention of me, and I like it that way. When I imagine going by a different name, I feel uncomfortable. Like I'm masquerading as someone else.

On the other hand, it's cultural tradition. Our children would have his last name, but mine would be different. People will want to call us the Otts, but I won't really be one. Maybe his family will be offended. Actually, even my mom said I should change it - "it's easier with the kids," she said. And part of me wants to be the Otts, just the way I'm part of the Miles family right now.

Most of my family members have changed their names, except for my aunt (by marriage), who never took ours. I certainly don't feel offended by that, nor is anyone else, but I know part of her decision was that there were no boys in her family to carry the name. Of course, it is ending with her, since her child shares my uncle's last name.

Help, ladies, I need advice!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Advice to Submitters: Cover Letters

Here at Fringe, we see a lot of cover letters from submitters, ranging from the perfectly-composed traditional cover letter to the multi-page biography. A good cover letter allows your work to stand on its own, while a bad one can be off-putting to editors and start them out with an attitudinal deficit.

As a service to writers and editors everywhere, I thought I'd run through some of the most frequent pitfalls, at least by Fringe standards.

  • Keep it short, no more than three paragraphs maximum.
  • Send a two or three-line bio either within the letter's body text, or below your sign-off.
  • Tell us if the submission is simultaneous.
  • Use proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, the Internet is a casual place, but we haven't let our hair down THAT much.
  • Let us know if you are/are not previously published, and list a few of your most recent or most important publications.
  • Include a cover letter.
  • Send us a curriculum vitae or a list of all 57 journals you've published in.
  • Summarize the piece(s) you are sending. Doing so robs us of the pleasure of discovering your writing on our own. If you have a sentence of background you simply must put in there, or which is necessary to understanding the story ("I wrote this piece while living with Sherpas in Nepal and studying their myth cycle which relies on..."), that's fine.
  • Address us as "Dear Sirs" -- we know you don't mean to cause offense, but we are not male, and also we are feminists. We prefer "Dear Fiction/Nonfiction/ Poetry/ Etc Editor."
  • Tell us that your piece is exactly the avant piece of literature we have been waiting for.
  • Tell us who your literary influences are. This can be a turn-off, which makes it harder to give your piece the fair reading it deserves. Remember, it may happen that your most venerated literary fore bearers typify all we loathe about the hetero patriarchal canon. Also, Burroughs and Hemingway influenced everyone.
Remember, as my old adviser Pamela Painter says, the primary function of a good cover letter is to tell editors, "hello" and "I'm not crazy." Follow these tips and yours will do just that.

Happy writing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Olympic Games and Sex Work

In a WeNews article yesterday, correspondent Wency Leung reported on sex workers founding a brothel in Vancouver to help with the aid of “cleaning up the city” in time for the 2010 Olympic Games. Let’s try to put a dialogue of the politics of sex work aside (prostitution is legal in Canada but solicitation is not; while the co-op brothel if being founded by female sex worker advocates, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter has voiced dissent on the subject along with escort agencies threatened by the potential competition). The tourist trade surrounding an international event must both represent the city/nation as being “civil” while offering an abundance of debauchery for actual visitors at night. Leung reminds us that an estimated 40,000 female sex workers traveled to Germany during this year’s soccer World Cup. National events like the Olympics become a spectacle, where gender, race, and social politics are perhaps forced to momentarily surface, which makes me wonder why sex workers in Vancouver are finding a safe place only when it’s fitting to national interest...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Congratulations Doris Lessing!

Today Doris Lessing is the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. She’s the 11th woman to win this distinguished honor. Her extensive writing has confronted social issues such as feminism, race, and communism, yet her sophisticated literary style keeps her from being confined to a political writer. I’ve only read one of her many novels, The Summer Before the Dark, and was captivated by the main character's journey at a crucial point in her life to discover her true identity while old age lies waiting in the 'dark' future. Ms. Lessing’s first novel The Golden Notebook is next on my list to read: its historical impact on the feminist movement in the 60s is still important today.

So here’s a Fringe toast to this outstanding writer. We are thrilled that her literary achievements have been recognized and rewarded.

Bastard Out of Carolina: A Review by Elizabeth Stark

This is the twelfth 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.

Dorothy Allison's
devastating novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, was the last fiction book I read before entering journalism school. The day I started reading it, two different strangers on the train came up to me and said, "that's a really good book," and Bastard delivered.

The novel falls into the Bildungsroman category, following Ruth Ann Boatwright, nicknamed "Bone," who, like the author, was born to a 15-year-old unmarried waitress in South Carolina. The first person voice is compelling and takes the reader inside poor white rural culture.

Although the novel is about abuse, Alison writes against stereotype, keeping Bone's pedophiliac stepfather, Daddy Glen, looming ominously in the background for most of the book, which keeps the story from lapsing into the sentimental. This authorial choice makes the subject of the book Bone's early life, rather than the abuse, which shapes, but does not define her.

Due to the subject matter, it's not the easiest read, but the passion of this book makes its unpleasantness well worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's Banned Books Week!

And we've almost missed it, but fortunately Sam Baber, an Emerson grad and good friend who blogs about culture, film, and lit, among other things, didn't forget. Check out the American Library Association to find out more about what you can do to celebrate intellectual freedom, and see lists of the most challenged books today - go out and pick one up today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Intentions, Bad Word Choices: Conversations on Women's Bodies

I love my dad, but sometimes he puts his foot in his mouth. This morning he told me about a conversation he had with my mother, who recently turned 52:

MOM: I got my period again today – I thought I was through with this.

DAD: Well that’s okay – that just means you’re still all woman.

MOM: (with a raised eyebrow) So when it does stop, I won’t be a woman?

DAD: (stammer, stammer) No, no, I meant you’re still a young woman.

MOM: So then I’ll be old after menopause?

DAD: (stammer, stammer, and um, more stammering)

Now Mom’s been with Dad long enough to know he’s not purposely trying to be a jerk, and that, in his insensitive way, his intent was to make her feel better, but it did bring up an interesting question – why are conversations about women’s bodies – and I mean conversations, not commentary - often uncomfortable? I admit to feeling grossed out by what my body does sometimes, even though it’s always natural – is it a result of this discomfort?

The problem is that there isn’t enough open dialog about this, so it’s no wonder the men in our lives don’t know how to support us through these changes, or even the women for that matter. I can’t remember exactly what my dad said when I got my first period, but it was something like “congratulations – it’s supposed to be a good thing, right?” And my mother has trouble getting advice about menopause from my grandmother; Grandma can't shake growing up in a "don't ask, don't tell" atmosphere. We do have women’s health product commercials on TV, but let’s face it – those are often cringe-worthy, too, and don’t do anything to make having a period, or not having one, feel more normal. Usually these products (I’m thinking douches, estrogen pills, etc.) are focused on “fixing” the condition.

I’m lucky enough to have a Mom who will talk about any and all of this with me at great length, and I hope that others do, too. Let’s start the conversations now, with our children, moms, grandmas, partners and our dads, too – my dad may always be unsure of what to say, but at least he can learn what not to say, and why. What is this conversation like for you? How can we make it better?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fringe 12 is Live

Issue 12 focuses on image and icons. We've got pieces on hair and teeth, AIDS, and myth. Read on, brave reader, and don't forget to vote as part of our 25 books project. A gloss of this month's issue:
  • Brett Allen Smith's short story Needle! Now! Broken! takes what could be a horribly sentimental plot about AIDS and turns it into something subtly unsettling by fragmenting the short-story form. Is it any wonder that he likes David Lynch?
  • Ponyboy, Brad Gayman's short short, negotiates the bizarre world of the Internet chat room, and the lies we've all told there.
  • Tammy Ho and Reid Mitchell's collaborative dialogue, Perfect Teeth, explores a chance encounter in the dentist's waiting room, the ambiguities that lie behind judgements at face-value.
  • Self Portrait in Three Hairstyles, a nonfiction essay by Carrie Jerell, shows how hairstyles, often dismissed as superficial, can change both self-perception and others' perception of oneself.
  • Heather MacNeill's piece on Oulipos will surely introduce you to a new and avant-way of composing literature.
  • Craig McKenzie's work plays with image through photo collage, and the concentric circles superimposed over his figures brings to mind the halos of ancient religious icons.
  • You've read about the 25 Books it's time to vote! Leave us your contact info in the poll, and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Fringe's top book.
Stay tuned Fringe fans, we'll be back with another new issue, featuring sleek fresh web design, in two more months!