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Every year, Portland hosts Wordstock, a giant book convention celebrating writers, local small presses, and bibliophiles. Last year, going was something of an inspiration; I had an inkling that someday I wanted to be part of this group. I browsed the stalls with excitement, asked questions to the independent writer’s guild, and bought my first Chin Music Press book. I attended a panel on the future of book reviews feeling fired-up and ready to write.
This year was a little different. Having just applied to PSU’s really exciting publishing program (yes, exciting is an odd adjective, but, really, what else do you call a publishing school that lets you work at its press for credit,) I approached the stands with a little trepidation. The state of being in application limbo colored my mood; I wanted to be their peers, and though I don’t need a masters to do that, it feels like I do simply because I applied to the program. Somehow taking steps to accomplish my career goal made me feel more like I had something to prove, which was frustrating when I just wanted to enjoy myself. It probably didn’t help that there were less panels I was interested in/could make.
Nevertheless, I had a great time. I finally got to meet Bruce and Josh from Chin Music Press, which was great because, as I’ve said in previous posts, I really admire their ability to create artful books that are as focused on the text as the object. (*waves* hi guys!) I’m always floored by the sheer number of interesting publishing projects going on in the Pacific Northwest: Oni Press, which publishes Queen and Country (my current pleasure reading) is here in NE Portland, Fantagraphics in Seattle, Little Otsu, a clever graphic press out of San Francisco and Portland (and run by super nice people, btw,) a whole slew of literary journals, Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center, and Bitch Magazine, just to name a few. I hope someday to truly call these creative people my peers: their creativity, talent, and attitude really prove that paper publishing can still be relevant in the midst of today’s digital age (or some other such cliché name for it.)
I’m afraid I don’t have as many analytical things to say as last year because the panel I got to see was not on a particularly controversial topic. I went to see Karen Cushman’s panel on creating worlds in historical and fantasy fiction. She invited some of her peers of the young adult writing world: Susan Fletcher, Ellen Howards, Jodi Sensel, and Mary Jane Beaufrand. Strangely enough, I think this was the only all-female panel at Wordstock, though it’s difficult to know if this is because Karen Cushman knew more women who were well-suited to the panel or whether women writers find that they get more respect in the realm of YA literature because they don’t get dismissed as chic lit or niche lit. (I also sometimes get a sense that a lot of really good plot-based fiction gets published as YA because it’s not dismissed there either.). I’d like to do an entire post on this, but I don’t feel I know enough to write it. Maybe someday.
Now if I don’t suddenly get the plague again, and don’t die of “waiting to hear back from grad school” anxiety, you’ll hopefully get some more posts coming your way. I’ve got some thoughts about the depiction (graphically and textually) of Tara Chase in Queen and Country, some musings about writing about people who are different from you (Aka- I’ve just started reading David Mack’s Kabuki because I’m on a graphic novel kick, and for something that so far seems to be about a woman and her relationship to her identity and her face, I’m surprised that he does not list a single woman author or artist on his list of works that inspired the series. I can’t really make a judgment on the series yet as I’ve only read a few chapters, and I’m certainly not saying that this automatically dooms the work, but it’ll be interesting to see just how convincing he’ll be.) and, who knows, maybe some other stuff. Maybe I’ll do a giant rant about “The Big Bang Theory.” Who knows? I have the luxury of not having to post here uninspired, but I’ve been taking advantage of that too much lately. I’m still here, thinking, but life and work, for better or worse, have to take precedence.
Hope you’re all enjoying fall–it’s my favorite season. So gorgeous here in Portland today.
(I apologize in advance for any incoherence this article may contain thanks to my throbbing sinuses.)
“So this is what a real writer looks like,” was, I’m embarrassed to say, my first thought as I approached the Writer’s Dojo, a Portland writer’s resource center tucked away in north of the city. The woman who had caught my eye was wore an overcoat and carried a large Queen Bee Creations bag. I smiled, thinking of the Queen Bee bag slung over my own shoulder and feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t look entirely out of place despite the fact that I had gotten caught in a rainstorm on the way to the Dojo.
I’d like to excuse myself for these silly thoughts with such generalizations as “no one is immune to shallowness,” but that would be ignoring the truth of the matter, which is that I still feel as if I’m intruding on the Portland writer’s world instead of being a part of it. I pay attention to the way I dress because I feel as if maybe I can make myself look the part people won’t realize that I’m still an amateur. Perhaps it’s a symptom of my own mental transition from academic to writer. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the mental energy these days to devote much time to fiction, which I would love to eventually have time to do (it just feels irresponsible to dream about the lives of others while I, myself, am mostly unemployed.) But I think the most likely reason of all is that I am not yet published (though this will change in a small capacity shortly. I’ve landed a small freelance gig, but I’ve hesitated to post about it here so that I don’t jinx anything.).
This muddle of thoughts is actually central to a lot of what I got out of attending the Writer’s Dojo panel discussion on publishing, community and social media. Featuring writers, small-press publishers, and the owners of literary social networking sites, the discussion panel answered questions and posed new ones about the future of publishing: What does it mean that with technologies such as Twitter and blogs, anyone can be their own publisher? Does blogging about your day smother the seeds of stories by forcing them out into the open air prematurely? Do people still read books? And what about the fact that a lot of people need solitude to write and don’t want to constantly be able to communicate?
Despite my nerves, the atmosphere was genial and open, becoming more of a giant conversation than a lecture, and I’m sorry to simplify what was an all-together fascinating panel into this small write-up, but this was what stuck with me. This is the second panel I’ve attended on this subject, and I’m more than a little surprised about the one commonality between this one and the one I attended at Wordstock: The panelists at both were very concerned about what “the kids” think about print media, and yet, “the kids,” for the most part, didn’t attend these discussions. I don’t know what to make of the latter point, but I’d like to speak a bit to the former. Being on the younger end of my twenties, I’m more or less on the upper edge of the age group in question and felt a little awkward hearing such joking comments as “Yeah, you want a 20-year-old to do your marketing!” It’s akin to hearing relatives discuss your life at a family function, referring to you in the third person while you stand right next to them, staring at your shoes.
As the conversation moved in fascinating directions such as the usefulness of paper media for annotation, and the fact that children still grow up with books (and children books are amongst the most beautiful printed), I often wanted to raise my hand and offer a recent college graduate’s perspective. (Unfortunately, I’m short, shy, and was sitting behind tall people, so by the time I got called on, the conversation had moved in such a direction that I mumbled something about the kinds of interactive fiction I’ve seen on Livejournal, primarily in fandom, where people are supposed to respond to journal entries as if the characters were real people, and came off as a not particularly serious sci-fi dork, but that sorry tale is neither here nor there). What I had wanted to say though, is that the person who brought up children’s books hit the nail on the head: I don’t know anyone my age who sees books as obsolete. I heard of a few people who hate reading, but not even my constantly plugged-in little brother is ready to give up books yet (granted, he doesn’t hate reading.).
This brings me back to the issue of publishing and the question of what makes a “real” writer: yes, anyone can be published these days through blogs or twitter. There are sites designed to help you archive web comics and sites which which you can use to print small runs of your work for family and friends. Before all this, zinesters were self-publishing their work armed only with a copier and a stapler. But even amongst people younger than me, I don’t know if anyone considers these self-publishing tools to be “real” yet. From what I can tell, and I admit that I’ve never truly been in an online writing scene (there’s more than one), writing on the net is still seen as a prelude to a book deal. Getting recognized by a publisher still has a kind of mystique. When a fanfic author such as Cassandra Clare, both infamous and famous in the Harry Potter fandom, gets a book deal, people see it as having moved on to the big leagues. At this point, I think it’s both the seal of quality publishers assure for readers and the affirmation they provide writers that keep self-publishing in this manner less mainstream. If these attitudes change, well, the sky’s the limit.
I write a lot of articles on this blog. People have commented both positively and negatively, and it’s a lot of fun. I feel like my voice is being heard. Nevertheless, I don’t think of it as publishing my thoughts. I don’t consider myself a journalist or a published writer at this point, which is why I still feel like I’m performing something I’m not when I go to events like this panel. I still list myself in the “aspiring” category, someone who’s still striving make her output match her ideas, and then, with a little luck, her output match her dreams of publication. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll be published before I have to change my mind. Or maybe I’ll opt out of all of worry of when I can truly call myself a writer and join the publishing world (or try and make my way in both.) Until then, I’ll still worry that I’m out of place at writing events, checking out the aura of the authentic writers and wondering when I can walk among them with confidence. Even if our publishing media has democratized, I’m not sure our attitudes have. At least mine sure haven’t.
Last night, I headed up to PSU to to see Jennifer Pozner, founder of the Women in Media and News organization, speak as part of Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Perspectives in Pop Culture lecture series. The title of her talk was “Project Brainwash: Why Reality TV is Bad For Women.” In a show of what some would call heroism and others masochism, Pozner has been watching reality TV shows over the past few years in order to record and expose their dark subtext.
Pozner’s talk focused on exposing reality shows as the marketing machines that they are and revealing how they work to perpetuate incredibly damaging stereotypes of, well, everyone. Considering that I don’t even watch “American Idol,” much less “The Bachelor” (frankly, I didn’t even realize it was still running.), most of the clips Pozner showed merely confirmed my worst fears instead of forcing me to look more deeply at something heretofore dismissed, which is how her talk was set up. I learned more about why networks continue to make reality shows, but the actual analysis of show content was the same sad story that anyone dealing with media literacy can recite by wrote: Women are unintelligent, shallow gold diggers. Money is the key to happiness. Being single makes you worthless. It was actually impressive how shows like “The Bachelor” so perfectly walked the tightrope between a straight male harem fantasy and a straight female fairytale romance. But it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.
And yet, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. The story may be tired, but media outlets are still using it. Also, while most every feminist knows that reality shows are potentially terribly damaging, I don’t think many of us actually watch reality shows because we know them to be damaging. But anyone with a good journalistic instinct understands to actually make these claims, we have to be able to show they exist. To the very media literate, Pozner’s talk might have sounded like old news, but from a journalistic standpoint, it was very important work. I’ll be interested to read her book on the subject, Reality Bites Back: How Guilty Pleasure TV is Making Us Sexist, Shallow, and Socially Irresponsible, which comes out this October. As a friend said of the article Pozner wrote in the latest Bitch issue which covered many similar points as the talk, the lecture had the sense of trying to summarize a very complex longer work in an hour or so. I have nothing but sympathy for her on this point–it’s a near-impossible task.
I’ve never become immune to the energy that comes from being in a room of people who are, at least for the most part, passionate about a cause. I just love the sense of community it fosters. As we watched Pozner’s horrifying clips we gasped and groaned. It was cathartic to know I wasn’t the only one disgusted. Nevertheless, as much fun as I have being in a room full of like-minded people, understanding how dangerous and damaging these images are, I often wish there was a way to reach people who don’t understand. The fact is, probably no one who needed to hear this talk came to it. Why would they? There are still people, even commenters on feminist blogs, who don’t understand that the media we absorb affects us, even if our logical brains know to dismiss it. Until we can teach people media literacy, there will be those dismissing reality TV as “just a show.” I don’t have a good solution to this, but it’s always in the back of my mind.
On a personal level, I found Pozner’s talk to be rather inspiring. I’ve been reading obscene amounts of terrible fanfiction over the past few months in preparation for an article about the dumbing down and weakening of feminist-leaning female characters in fanfiction (It’s what privileged, unemployed feminist bloggers do when they’re not job hunting, volunteering, or blogging.).
There were some technical difficulties (the perils of new lecture series and using unfamiliar computers,) but overall I think it was a well-worthwhile night. I wish I could have stayed longer to talk to some other people about it–if any of you were there, please let me know your take on it. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to savor my spontaneous free cappuccino.
I’ve been holding off posting this week just because it feels weird to post non-inauguration-related things on or around inauguration day. If you really want to know my thoughts, well, I’m really excited to see what Obama’s going to do. I’ve got no illusions of perfection, but it’s a relief to have a president who values intelligence, cares about women’s issues, and is not afraid of science. But, for Cracked Mirror purposes, I figure the more news-centric blogs have all the election stuff covered. Instead, I’m going to talk about media.
For those of you wondering how an unemployed feminist blogger spends her suddenly free time (aside from desperately searching for jobs), the answer is: we volunteer for our local feminist magazine! (Or, at least, that’s what I’m doing.) I had a fantastic time this morning at Bitch‘s funky Portland office (It’s a wonderland of posters, awesome books, and puppies, let me tell you. I can’t wait to go back.) and doing research on feminist organizations (bookstores, community organizations, publishers, sex toy shops) they could contact for mutual advertising purposes. This was an oddly satisfying endevor, and not just because I was helping out one of my favorite magazines. As I dutifully searched, clicked links, sighed in frustration at finding stores that had closed (feminism isn’t necessarily a great money-maker), I discovered something odd: I barely needed to use Google.
Yes, I’m afraid that when it comes to looking for feminist places, Google only was of limited help despite my pretty decent google-fu. What actually was a huge help were the feminist bookstores themselves. Those with websites tended to link to fantastic organizations, stores, festivals, etc. in their community, providing me with endless links to savor, both for Bitch’s and my own purposes. Just through links provided feminist bookstores alone, I found enough feminist media/community/culture outlets to fuel a fantastic feminist-centered roadtrip, and that doesn’t even include the bookstores (and, believe me, I’d visit those too)! I’d love to listen to the spoken word artists of Fierce Words Tender in San Jose, CA, check out the programming put on by Charis in Atlanta, GA, and then have a great vegetarian meal at Bloodroot in Bridgeport, CT. Maybe I’d talk to some people at the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in DC or visit Ladyslipper Music in Durham, NC. On the way I’d probably hit up a concert put on by Indie Grrl.
This is why feminist media and feminist media outlets can stay alive, even in difficult times; I think, on a whole, we’ve (I say we, but I’m not really a feminist media outlet… yet) recognized the value of community. We’ve recognized that even if you want to call us a niche market, we’re a strong powerful niche if we support each other and get the word out to each other. I think what saved Bitch and In Other Words when it looked like closure was imminent was their intigration into the community (both Portland and Feminist community): We care about each other. How cool is that? I just wish there were even more link databases that were even easier to find on Google. The one slightly depressing part of the whole experience was noticing that the databases I found (not so much the link pages off of feminist bookstores/orgs./publishers) were often either way out-of-date, neglected, or really poorly organized. It’s a shame because the internet is a great way to create a community of feminists who will support feminist media (outlets)/orgs/etc. Let’s use it!
Welcome to 2009, everyone!
Last night, as the clock struck twelve, my friends and I banged pots and pans together to greet the new year. It had been a difficult year for all of us, and we were glad to see it go. Then, we heard a bang, and, a hush came over us. From the kitchen window, we could see the fireworks set off over the waterfront. We watched them in relative silence, with only the crackles of the explosions and the music we had been listening to playing in the background.
Finally, someone said, “I feel like we’re in the credits of a movie.”
Another agreed: “The opening credits.”
It did feel like a beginning.
So here’s to new beginnings! I hope you had a great evening whether you spent it in, out, or not caring that a digit on the calendar was about to change.
One of the main reasons why I moved to Portland is because it is a book-loving city, a literate city. The library is beautiful. Powell’s is a major tourist attraction. And, beyond that, Wordstock exists. Two weekends ago marked the first of what will hopefully be many times that I attended this giant book convention/festival in Portland, frequented by authors, small presses, bookstores, editors, magazines, and book lovers from all over the Pacific Northwest. It’s an entire weekend of everything book and print-media related, which makes it a simultaneously overwhelming and glorious experience for an aspiring writer like myself.
But books and writing, like any other act or object, change with the times. With the flourishing of the net, blogs, and other writing technologies, I think it’s important to consider the role print and digital media play in our society. Going to Wordstock brought up so many questions about art, elitism, and literacy that it’s taken me an entire week to craft this, admittedly, rather wordy post. So here I am, striving, in five short-ish acts, to address some rather interesting questions about books in our culture.