Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"What Teachers Make"

Taylor Mali came to my college campus on a Def Poetry Jam tour while I was an undergrad. He is ridiculously impressive live. Sometimes people get all squirmy about Slam Poetry, but I think they overreact. Seeing people like Mali live moves me the way good live music does.

This particular poem circulates in its written form at the beginnings of school years, but its better to hear Taylor say it himself. And it may be cliche to say this -- in fact, I know it is -- but this stuff? This is why I teach.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On "ordinary girls"

For a while, before we were even in middle school, Jon Bachman and I used to hang out together in the library. Which wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. I “hung out” in the library a lot as a kid. I mean, all of those books! In walking distance!

But Jon’s public persona was not much about reading. Or, really, girls. And especially not girls who like to read. He was tall and handsome. White teeth. Good at baseball. All of that stuff. And a little bit mean, especially as we got older. The kind of mean that boys are to survive middle school. He ended up being the sort of guy who would call you “gay” if he didn’t like the way you looked. Or if he had an audience.

But before then, we used to hang out together in the library. I had recently discovered the adult stacks, where all of the secret books about dreams and psychology were hidden. (Part of my personal legend includes checking out Child Psychology text books before I had graduated from Elementary School. Yeah, I’m exactly that sort of ridiculous.) Jon was fascinated by the copy machine. And information about scary things like ghosts and demons that he could uncover in the encyclopedias.

Once, I did a project about Rasputin, though I can’t remember why or for who. I just remember sitting at one of the big tables in our small town library, watching Jon trace a skeleton and telling him about the Russian Revolution. And the lost princess.

So that’s probably where my fascination with Anastasia stems from. And I remember when the Fox Animated film came out. I was 14 by then. I remember an ad campaign the summer before the movie was released. It showed an elaborate winding road and at the top it read, “An ordinary girl is really a princess…” and at the bottom, “Story sound familiar?”

And Yes! It did sound familiar! Even at 14, this was my favorite fantasy. And ordinary girl discovered for her hidden, extraordinary self. If I’m being honest, this is probably still one of my favorite fantasies.

There’s nothing particularly radical you can say about Anastasia. Its not an interesting movie from a cultural history perspective, either. Pretty basic. Even the music is good but not great. All in all unnoteworthy.

Except that an ordinary girl is really a princess. That you could be something other than yourself, secretly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I guess some people were excited to hear that J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay. I guess there's a way to read it in which it sounds like one small step for wizards and one giant leap for gay people. I just didn't see it that way, though.

"It would be like...."one of my kids started during one of the million conversations at school that followed Rowling's announcement, "it would be like if she said, 'Oh, Harry and Hermione totally made out. I just didn't write it." It would be like that. Exactly like that. Once you write a text or paint a painting or film a movie, its out of your hands. Anything that's not explicit, and even things that are, are up to the audience to decipher. Its why Jackson Pollock never said, "This one's about a dead cat." and why we're free to read between the lines of Hays Code era movies for covert references to queer lives.

But it was more than that, too. I couldn't figure it out. Shouldn't I pleased to learn that one of my favorite children's book characters was queer? Wasn't this a step in the right direction? Why did it make me so uncomfortable? I couldn't put my finger on it.

Luckily, John Cloud could:

"Why couldn't he tell us himself? The Potter books add up to more than 800,000 words before Dumbledore dies in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and yet Rowling couldn't spare two of those words—"I'm gay"—to help define a central character's emotional identity? We can only conclude that Dumbledore saw his homosexuality as shameful and inappropriate to mention among his colleagues and students. His silence suggests a lack of personal integrity that is completely out of character."
And that was it, really. If Dumbledore was gay, we would have known. He wouldn't have been ashamed. Or closeted. Or silent. Dumbledore fought for what was right. He was not one to hide.

I wish Dumbledore had really been gay. Like, in the books. Where I know him. That would have been awesome.

Monday, October 1, 2007

What this is maybe about

The thing is, I’ve been “on the internet” for more than 10 years now. We got a computer when I was in third grade, a Mac LC, and I loved it. KidPix, MathBlaster, so much Carmen Sandiego its hard to believe. This is pre-internet, though. Throughout elementary school I had very little contact with the newly minted world wide web. A friend of mine’s family had Prodigy installed and we used to sneak on to her older brother’s account (I still remember his password “bc” repeating til the field filled up) to troll message boards.

Sometime in the 6th grade my Dad brought his laptop home from work with America Online loaded up. I fell in love. He helped me create a screen named (I would be “Emerald216” for years) and I was hooked. For a long time we didn’t have a modem for our home computer and the only way for me to get online was to plug a phone cord into my Dad’s laptop. I used to perch on a step stool at the kitchen counter where the cord barely stretched.

I became a prominent poster on a message board hosted at AOL Keyword “60 Second Novelist”. It was a political debate board and even at 12, I loved a good argument. I signed my posts “Emma”.

By this time, we had a 28.8 modem hooked up to the main computer. This was back in the day when you still paid for AOL per minute. I like to joke that much of my adolescence was spent with someone yelling “Martha, get off the computer!” as I tied up the phone line.

Eventually, I became active in the AOL “roleplaying” scene. This is a fact I like to bust out when people are disputing my closet-geekdom. There really isn’t anything geekier than pretending to be a pseudo-medieval woman in a chat room. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Soon, though, I discovered I liked corresponding with people “Out of Character” (OOC) better than “In Character”. (Though I still played occasionally with my favorite partners for years, probably until I was 16.) AOL had whole OOC boards and I started writing a lot on one called “Random Thoughts”. Some of the people I met on Random Thoughts are now my oldest internet friends.

Random Thoughts dissolved years ago, though. And I’ve long since given up my AOL account. A lot of the folks I’d met there, though, moved to Livejournal, where I also set up shop my senior year in high school. My Livejournal is a lot like my paper journal. Angsty. A lot of feelings and whining. Showcases the parts of me that have remained the same since I was 17. Which is nice, I think, to an extent. But lately, I’ve started to feel a little….stifled.

And then I started to think, this will be the record of who I was? I wanted something else, something more. A space specifically for me to grapple with my queer identity, my feminist politics. To proselytize about my favorite books. To question gender and capitalism. To think “outside the box”.

I wanted it recorded for my future daughters. I wanted to leave them something more. So, here’s hoping I can do it.