No Man’s Land (1)

Sometimes when we lose our heroes we lose ourselves. And the corollary holds.

Growing up I frequently got through the day (hour…minute) by fantasizing constantly. My mind was full of The Bionic Woman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Arthurian legend, V, Pern…pretty much anything other than the there and then. I could call it fandom, or I could call it fantasy-prone personality, or I could call it a creative connection to archetypal myth and legend.

But mostly for the last two decades I have tried not to call it anything at all and focus instead on being an ordinary human being.

I suppose it’s either understandable or cliche then that my midlife turning point came in the middle of watching Wonder Woman. I have been waiting for a decent female superhero movie for literally my whole life, The Incredibles notwithstanding. Lots of people wrote about this movie last summer, but I didn’t. I did talk about it with my friends but I didn’t invest too much money in themed merchandise or start writing fanfic.

I just quit my very nice arts-related job and became the operations manager at The Academy.

My adolescence spent hanging out at the Silver Snail and spending money on Alien trading cards is apparently nothing when weighed against the amount of perimenopausal havoc I can wreak.

I particularly blame the No Man’s Land scene. I cried through it every time I watched it in the theatre, and I found clips on YouTube and watched them, and now I have the movie via iTunes and I watch it still about once a week.

It wasn’t that it was Diana’s first steps towards becoming a warrior for humanity, although that will also do. And it wasn’t watching a female-directed movie allow a flock of men to support a woman’s vision, although that will do as well.

It was the moment Diana turns away from Steve with an absolute commitment to her own vision.

Steve: We can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No, but it’s what I’m going to do.

I’m turning 47 next week. I was raised in the days of Free to Be, You and Me and I grew up believing William Wants a Doll and Parents are People and all those things. And I gradually took fewer STEM classes, and came to hate trigonometry, and I studied literature instead, and I got several jobs and got promotions and got new jobs and got promotions. I spent 8 years working for mainstream women’s magazines, in time for geekery to become cool.

I have worked with many amazing women. And for many years I believed the time would come when the women that were a decade or two ahead of me, the stellar and ambitious ones, would be the CEOs and I would follow in their wake.

Instead, I have watched women I highly respect get worn down. Worn down by sexism and the old boys’ club. Worn down by harassment. Worn down by life-work balance that still meant they were responsible for the second shift at home, or caregiving for elderly parents. Worn down by the low-grade drip of having their ideas continually put down because they had breasts, or had taken maternity leave, or any number of reasons.

But worn down mostly by watching mediocre men get promoted past themselves.

And that is why I cried. Because Diana is – unbowed. And she did not wait for approval, or try to argue her team into listening to her or changing their mission. She just climbed the ladder and walked into the hail of bullets. Because that’s what she was going to do.

(And then, the men followed her.  Which will be another post some day.)

I didn’t leave my job to train Amazons exactly, although I have said on Facebook that a part of that decision was that I kind of did want to at least be able to say that. (My job is not instructional, and martial artists are not Amazons. But we do have swords and bo-staffs and perhaps even want to change the world.) It’s because that’s what my gut was telling me to do, and I listened to it, and then I got off the corporate ladder.

This is either one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life or one of the smartest, the jury’s out. But it was a recommitment to…my own quirky freak flag.

My job is still new enough that I feel a bit like I’m at the phase where Diana is under her shield. I know I can hold my own. I’m not quite sure, yet, how best to move forward. (Also Diana heals super-fast and I am still sitting here with my broken leg elevated.)

I still watch that scene and cry.

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Saved in the edit

Someday I will write a book about Christmas. I may start it today, in fact, since I’ve been threatening to for the last dozen years. But like most things I say I’m going to do around Christmas time, it either doesn’t get done or I half-ass it. April is really my month for stretch goals.

For me, the Christmas season always feels like being a beginning swimmer at a swim meet. Everyone else is diving and turning and passing me, and I’m just trying to stay out of their way and not drown. Since having kids, things have improved because it’s so much easier to make miracles for small innocent offspring than it is to make them for one’s self. But let’s just say before that, my goal was to minimize the number of hours between Dec 1 and Dec 26 spent sobbing in the bathroom.

This year Carl mostly made Official Christmas happen, helped by my mother-in-law, and I slept and tried to grow bone. He did a great job. It was one of the best.

And I don’t think my kids noticed that one of the Christmas engines was not firing off. I think this is of course because Carl is amazing, but also because as a family we have edited Christmas to the point that it is manageable. We don’t come close to doing it all. But we try to do enough to carry the through-line — peace, goodwill, and caring — forward.

So it’s in that spirit that I thought I would share this video around the importance of editing in the creation of my generation’s central epic.

Review: Unspotted by Justin Fox (short e-book, non-fiction)

unspottedIn summary: Worth picking up. Here’s the Amazon link and here’s the publisher page with all the other ways to get it.

One of my favourite books ever is Douglas Adams’s (yes, that Douglas Adams) Last Chance to See, a travelogue-quest to spot rare and endangered species around the world and which predisposed me to love the first-person account of chasing after animals in the wild in order to save them.

Unspotted by Justin Fox fits into that genre with an added twist (or bonus, if you are me and taking care of a 4 year old post-surgery as well as renovating 1/4 of your home for the arrival of your mother-in-law.) It’s a short e-book: 40 pages.

Fox recounts his time spent chasing after the elusive Cape Mountain Leopard at the side of zoologist Quinton Martins, founder of the Cape Leopard Trust. Seven reasons I give it a thumbs up:

  • Chasing leopards around is a pretty cool activity and Fox brings the reader inside the experience with a lot of rich detail.
  • The pacing of the book is pretty good; it does sometimes feel like it could have been a longform article but for the most part there’s not a lot of extraneous information, or a lot of gaps.
  • I got a good sense of the zoologist at the centre of the story, Quinton Martins. There are a couple of moments that made me want to go meet him, which is a gift in any story.
  • I learned a lot without ever feeling lectured to, with the possible exception of the scene that actually is a lecture.
  • There’s a strong sense of place without (mostly) being overwrought description.
  • Pictures!
  • It feels candid on the truth side of truth-telling, and controlled on the telling side…in other words, Fox (who is not a novice writer) is providing a true tale, well-told, or at least that’s the sense I’m left with as a reader.

Three ways it could improve:

  • I didn’t come away with a strong sense of Fox’s interior journey beyond details like mud in his shoes. This could be a feature for people who find The Serpent and the Rainbow-type books to be self-indulgent writing, but because the narration was quite close first-person, I expected a bit more. I felt a bit like I missed some of the journey, or like this was a smaller piece of a larger work.
  • Occasionally I felt pelted with adjectives/adjectival phrases, particularly in the opening chapters. It settled down well once the story got rolling.
  • I think Fox is a strong enough writer that he could have dropped the chronological narration and moved some of the stronger anecdotes to the start of the book or at least the start of a chapter. I mention this not just editorially but because my understanding is that as a money-making enterprise, e-books sold through Amazon are increasingly compensated for whether people actually read through them. I found some of the strongest material was buried at the end of the book.

Publishing digression: And with that last point I want to talk a bit about why I volunteered to review this book. I think the idea of small e-press publishing original works is a great compromise between “free” and “writers don’t get compensated and The World Ends.” But it doesn’t work if people can’t find them or aren’t talking about them, so I’m pleased to be a part of the conversation.

This particular book didn’t sell me on the format in the sense of wow, were it not for novella-ish-length e-publishing this completely perfect gem wouldn’t have been the ideal shape to bring me joy but given the crazy summer I am having, it absolutely was the best length for me as a reader.  And it costs less than a latte!

Here’s the handy publisher link if you want to check it out. 

Disclosure: I received a free review copy and I’m an Internet fan/supporter of Annorlunda Enterprises which is a startup enterprise publishing short e-books.

Mini-review: Ricki and the Flash

ricki-and-the-flash-reviewSo say Joanna from Kramer vs. Kramer didn’t actually come back and fight for custody of her child and win because she was the mom and instead she moved to California and became an 80s rocker chick and then came back home once she got kind of old, and smoked pot with Dustin Hoffman while spewing great Diablo Cody dialogue…but it all rang hollow because no one really bothered to flesh out any emotions other than guilt sucks, following your dreams is great, but it sucks when your kids suffer, but they’ll be all right because a strong black woman (see: nuanced discussion) will stepparent them.

Then you’d have a movie where all the parts are kind of fun and worth seeing if you don’t actually think too hard, but at the end you really actually do feel like you just spent a wedding with your narcissistic boomer mother and you’re left with that sort of fuck it, family’s family, but it’s hell feeling.

That’s pretty much what Ricki and the Flash is like. If you want to laugh a lot and contemplate whether Rick Springfield is hot and be prepared to feel just a little bit disturbed, I say it’s worth the price of popcorn. And I mean, Diablo Cody.

Byte sized #9: The judging women edition

There’s been some great conversation on the web lately about women and their work. My favourite by far is a two-for-one. Jess Zimmerman asks over at The Toast“Where’s my Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor. The article is thought-provoking but the discussion over at Metafilter about it is pretty stunning, if only for the list of emotional labour from various women.

And while you’re reading Zimmerman don’t miss her feature about her midlife crisis over at Hazlitt: “I realized that, like many women, I had made all the decisions of my life on someone else’s behalf.

Nick Levine over at Vice’s i-D encourages us (who is us? Nevermind…) to rethink Courtney Love. The point that her behaviour would basically be standard male rock star behaviour is a pretty good one, and now I need to dig out more Riot Grrrl tracks.

Maybe rock star men should start speaking more like women, or at least middle management should consider it…please? (Debbie Cameron at her blog language: a feminist guide)

Shameless plug: Melanie Nelson is running an online course on how to run better meetings.  It’s only $20! What?!

The Comic Con Batman vs Superman trailer does indeed have Wonder Woman in it. Briefly. I will scream if she does all the emotional labour.

Featured photo: from Pete via Flickr/Creative Commons

Byte sized #8: Healthy online communities edition

I’m a weird reader in that sometimes I read just the comments on things like advice columns; the actual advice is that not relevant to me but watching people duke it out over social norms is my reality TV fix.

One of the best jobs I’ve had was at the now-something-else 50Plus.com watching retirees chat and post on our forums. (Pro tip: People do not necessarily get wiser, but you can love them anyway.) But how to maintain great online communities can be tricky, even when you invest resources into it–which many sites do not.

This post over at Autostraddle about healthy online communities and the struggle to maintain them as we’ve moved from a homepage culture to a Facebook culture is pretty great, outlining top issues and their response to those issues.

There have been a lot of analyses of the big Reddit meltdown but I pick Davey Alba’s summary at Wired. I’ll also point you at Gina Bianchini’s piece for Re/code solely for the phrase “control is not an option.” Any brand manager or editor worth his or her salt knows that once you forget about the reader, you’re in hot water. But in online communities it’s your animator/moderators who are your bread and butter. When I was playing PernMUSH lo so many moons ago, I learned this one the hard way.

Josh Dzieza’s profile of The Awl at The Verge is a great read but buried in is this important quote which I would summarize as “communities of interest are currently winning, just not your community”:

The transition from media hosted on websites to media built around social platforms is more profound than people realize, Herrman says. As more content is published directly onto Facebook, users will gradually lose a sense of who’s producing what. The most consequential journalism becomes just another unit of content in a single stream of music videos, movie trailers, updates from friends and relatives, advertisements, and viral tidbits from sites adept at gaming fast-changing algorithms and behaviors. Readerships that seem large now will turn out to be as ephemeral as Snapchats.

And finally, an oldie but a goody…Internet Commenter Business Meeting

Byte sized #7: Being a better person is good for you

Here at casa Gruden, I’ve been mired in confronting our family’s stuff; my mother-in-law is moving in with us at the end of August (yay!) and so we are clearing out some rooms, in a house we’ve occupied for 10 years. It’s an amazing gift of time to be able to do it drawer-by-drawer, but it’s also an exercise in meeting my younger self…books that changed my life, books that didn’t; art supplies and home projects; notes for articles that didn’t take off.

Maybe that’s why this set of links turned out so airy-fairy.

Why Kickstarter is good for you! Over at The Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan looks at research into compassion and brain chemistry.

I linked to this piece on Twitter last week (follow me!) but it’s stayed with me long enough that here it is for posterity: Brett Martin’s The Chef Who Saved My Life. I have been gifted with a few moments like this at terrible times in my life, and I hope you have too. But we can’t all write about food and camraderie and dark times of the spirit this nicely.

A hat tip to Cloud at Wandering Scientist for sharing this ThoughtWorks piece by Ted McCarthy on why designing apps to be addictive might be, you know, wrong.

However, if you want a little adrenaline spike before your next meeting, try the Great White Shark Circles Around Surfer video below. My parents took me to Jaws at the drive through in 1975, thinking that I would go to sleep in the back seat. I only sat up for the parts with the spooky music, and once the attack was over my parents would realize I was sitting up and tell me to lie back down. As a result, I both have an irrational fear of sharks and I thought for the longest time, well past my teens, that the entire movie was filmed underwater.

Which is why I am sucker to click on any link like this one. Fear as a motivator: Check!