Author Archives: mrswhatsit9

What Stories Do We Tell?






Still watching likely Oscar contender movies, and still thinking not only about the content of the movies themselves, but also the context.

I’ve gotten through many of the predicted “Best Picture/Best Director” movies – mostly, as I wrote about earlier, all about the dudes (even movies like Ma Rainey, that are ostensibly about women) – and am now working my way through the predicted “Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress” movies.

My main “context” observation?

The women’s stories that don’t seem to “merit” consideration for the “big” awards are quiet, personal, and intense, as opposed to the men’s stories that do “merit”consideration for the “big” awards. They are (mostly) Heroic Tales of Men Doing Big Things.

This, to me, begs (at least) two questions:

First, why are “Heroic Tales” the only ones that are considered to be Important Stories?

Pieces of a Woman deals with the devastating loss of a newborn and the repercussions for the mother and her nearest and dearest.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always addresses how difficult it can be to get the abortion care you need even in states where it hasn’t been legislated nearly out of existence. It also highlights the beauty and intensity of female friendship (and is one of the best cinematic treatments I’ve ever seen of how unrelentingly creepy and inappropriate adult men are towards teenage young women).

The 40 Year Old Version charts a woman reassessing her life as a milestone birthday approaches and using that as the inspiration to recapture something she loved – and was excellent at – as a young person. Bonus romance with a handsome younger man!

Nomadland tells the tale of a group of people we choose, as a culture, throw away, and how they make their way in the world after that.

Second, no women are heroes?

Confession time: I hated 2019’s “Harriet,” the biopic about Harriet Tubman. Why? Because while the film recognized her incredible courage and determination, it positioned her as some type of “holy fool” who heard the “voice of God” and followed it. It diminished her. I say no. She was a brilliant strategist who knew EXACTLY what she was doing (and happened to be religious). She was a hero, not some sort of possessed handmaid. So were/are lots of other women, some of whom I highlighted last week.

Both problems are reflective of the male gaze, male ways of viewing the world, and #OscarsSoMale (pop culture, too). Men’s stories are BIG, women’s stories are small. Men are HEROES, women are their adoring audiences (who make the copies and the coffee). Movies about men are IMPORTANT, movies about women are “chick flicks.”

Well, fuck that.

Women’s history month starts Monday, and I’m issuing a challenge to readers. Next month, watch women’s stories. Read women authors. Listen to women musicians. Seek out not just women’s history, but women heroes, actual and fictional. If we don’t pay attention to us, no one will.

Image of Wonder Woman found here.

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Happy Women’s History Month?

Facepalm: Picard, Riker, Worf

I recently received the March issue of The Atlantic in the mail. Cover story: Four people (two men, two women) writing on topics in Black history.

For the March issue.

Let’s be clear: I am not saying that the history of Prince Hall or the 1965 Voting Rights Act aren’t important. Absolutely not. The “Inheritance” project The Atlantic recently launched is also critically important. And there are eleven other months of the year in which they could talk about it. (I’d totally be up for a March focus on the civil rights movement, using the recent publication of The Three Mothers as a jumping off point to re-examine, re-surface, recognize, and elevate the role of women in the movement.)

But MARCH IS WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH, and there’s been some pretty historic shit going down lately.

Just off the top of my head:

Less than a month ago, after 244 years, the US inaugurated our VERY FIRST woman Vice President, Kamala Harris. Fun fact: She’s also our first Black *Vice* President. Fun additional fact: She’s also our first South Asian Vice President. Her story seems pretty historic to me.

We’re about to have our first First Nations woman in a Cabinet position when Deb Haaland is confirmed next week (Goddess willing). A First Nations woman will be running the Department of the Interior. Her story also seems pretty historic to me.

Speaking of First Nations women, they were integral to organizing the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline. They started work FIVE YEARS ago, and things looked pretty fucking bleak under both Obama and TrumPutin, but guess what just happened? President Biden shut down the Keystone Pipeline, and he’s being strongly pressured by the Standing Rock folks and the many, many allies their work has gathered to them to do the same for Dakota Access. That would be a great story to tell.

Speaking of organizing, the New South is a thing, and it’s women who are creating it. I’d love to see a piece on the tireless organizing work of Black women in Georgia (Stacey Adams, LaTosha Brown, et. al.), and what’s happened in Virginia, where Representatives Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton all flipped previously red seats in the House of Representatives in 2018 – and got re-elected in 2020. Women did ALL that (plus flipping BOTH houses of the Virginia state legislature in 2019, which has had ENORMOUS positive results for residents of the Commonwealth). That’s a hell of a story.

You know who else had a MAJOR impact on the 2020 elections? First Nations women in Arizona, who organized Navajo Nation and helped deliver the state to Biden/Harris AND give us two critically important Democratic Senators. It’s because of them that Madam Vice President Harris is getting to cast all those tasty deciding votes in the Senate.

Speaking of Congress, has anyone else noticed all the amazing “workhorse” Democratic women who’ve been elected to the House of Representatives lately and who aren’t always show-ponying their way into the spotlight? Women like Lauren Underwood, Lucy McBath, Val Demings, Stacey Plaskett, Katie Porter, and Ayanna Pressley? I’d love to learn more about any/all of them. And these are just the ladies who’ve been elected LATELY. Not for nothing, I’m ALWAYS up for a piece on Maxine Waters, Marcia Fudge, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Eleanor Holmes Norton, or NANCY PELOSI.

Speaking of historical elections, although we still have significant work to do at the national level, trans women have made huge strides winning state and local races. Women like Danica Roem, Sarah McBride, Taylor Small, Stephanie Byers (in KANSAS! KANSAS, Y’ALL!), Brianna Titone, and Lisa Bunker. I’d also love to hear their stories.

There’s also a terrific next gen of activists, well, “coming up” isn’t really the right way to describe them. They’ve come up and are leading already, shining young women like Amariyanna Copeny (aka “Little Miss Flint”), Emma Gonzalez, Amanda Gorman, and Stasha Rhodes.

Speaking of artists, I would love a graphic novel style piece about/from Gabby Rivera on creating art as a queer boriqua (in part because I think she’s terrific and would love to see her and her work getting wider recognition). I would also love to see a “how I did it” style story about the incredible work Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay have done to build the creative ecosystems they wanted to see around themselves – and the vision they had to even see it as a possibility in the first place.

Related to my post about this year’s (and every year’s) Oscar nominees and #OscarsSoMale, I would love to see Alison Bechdel (originator of the Bechdel-Wallace Test in her iconic comic Dykes to Watch Out For) do a graphic novel style treatment of why, in the year 2021, it is STILL the case that men’s stories are “universal” and “important,” and women’s stories are fluffy “chick flicks” and “chick lit.”

What about women in STEM making moves lately? Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s work at NIH was critical to the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. That’s pretty historic. So is “Astronaut Abby,” Abigail Harrison, founder of The Mars Generation. I think that would be a cool story for women’s history month. Or what about Emily Graslie? She’s no longer doing The Brain Scoop, but as Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum from 2013-2020, she profoundly changed the entire field of science communications. That’s a great story, too. So is the story of Kimberly Bryant, who founded Black Girls Code.

I recently read an article about how the roots of QAnon lie in Pizzagate, and sure, that’s true. But the roots of Pizzagate lie in #YourSlipIsShowing, which was the “dry run” for Gamergate only months later. It’s been seven years, and, as you may recall, the QAnon maniacs and their fellow travelers recently tried to overthrow the government. Something tells me that Shafiqah Hudson, I’Nasah Crockett, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu might have something important to say in this moment in our history.

I’m guessing Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, and the women who’ve been organizing #TimesUp might have something to say now, too, particularly in light of the fact that nearly all the pandemic job losses have happened to women, WILDLY disproportionately Black and Latina women.

Or they could’ve just gone to one of the many outstanding nonfiction women authors I’ve read IN THE PAST SIX MONTHS to ask if they had any ideas for pieces for WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Soraya Chemaly, Brittney Cooper, Isabel Wilkerson, Rebecca Solnit, Jessica Valenti, Rachel Louise Snyder, Kate Manne, and Ijeoma Oluo, just to name a few.

But nah. I guess no women have stories worth telling.

Image found on Pinterest.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

It’s Time to Recharge

electrical plug

Last night, I participated in a national strategy call with Swing Left, looking ahead to 2021 and 2022.

It’s hard to believe that Swing Left was founded only four years ago, almost to the day, out of rage and resolve – rage at the results of the 2016 election (and all the bullshit misogyny and racism that produced them) and resolve to turn things around.

Goal one was to take back the House in 2018 to put at least some checks on TrumPutin.

In the intervening 20+ months, thousands of people raised millions of dollars, wrote millions of postcards, make millions of calls, and knocked on millions of doors, and we won.

Goal two was a 2020 trifecta: presidency, House, Senate.

Even more people raised even more money, sent even more letters and postcards, and made even more calls, and we won again.

And people are TIRED.

The Swing Left team opened the call by acknowledging that, and reminding us all that it’s OK to be tired, it’s OK to need a minute, to take a break, to take a breath, before turning our minds to the next task at hand.

Yes, we talked about the CRITICAL state level elections in Virginia this year – and if you’re still not convinced that #ElectionsHaveConsequences, it was less than 10 years ago that then-Governor Robert McDonnell signed a bill mandating women undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before choosing abortion (it was a close thing around requiring a medically unnecessary and invasive transvaginal ultrasounds). I know Hecate’s going to continue her work organizing in Virginia, and I’ll be by her side (definitely metaphorically, hopefully literally once I get vaccinated).

Yes, we talked about 2022. Historically, the party in power loses seats in the House and Senate in the midterms, and the Dems don’t have seats to lose in either chamber. So we know we’re going to have to organize and fundraise and GOTV our asses off to forestall that this time around.

But the entire Swing Left team emphasized that it’s OK to take time out to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the past two election cycles and take a SHORT break from the hard, unending work of fighting for a more just, more equitable country. So make sure you do that, so you can be ready – strong, healthy, focused, committed, energized – for the next round.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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Imbolc Potpourri

Brigid's cross on a field of snowdrops

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling lighter in the past few weeks. I know shit is still pretty fucked up – pandemic, what feels like an agonizingly slow roll out of the vaccines to those of us at the back of the line, recession, continuing high unemployment, particularly for women and particularly PARTICULARLY for women of color, right-wing nutjobs running wild – and there’s a lot of damage to repair, but at least we’re being led by competent, empathetic adults, so we can get to work, and that gives me hope. What’s giving you hope these days?

(Also, the days are getting noticeably longer, which helps.)

Although I wasn’t able to leave town or go to my usual warm Caribbean location, I did still do my annual assessment and planning retreat for my business recently. Last year was BY FAR my worst full year in business since going out on my own going on nine years ago. I knew that going into my retreat, of course, but it was still hard to sit down and actually face the details. Now that was because, when I launched, my spouse and I agreed I would pay (and fully fund) my 401K first, so even if I was sacrificing take-home pay to the dream of being my own boss, I wouldn’t be sacrificing OUR retirement, and I have the reserves to more than cover it, but it was still sobering to see that red ink on my year-end management report from my accountant. As a type-A person who is used to pushing myself to succeed and then, you know, actually succeeding, it was a hard lesson for me to say “Last year was not successful, and THAT’S OK.” What hard lesson have you had to accept in the past year? What has it taught you?

I’m well known among my friends for making only fun New Year’s resolutions. I do keep a running list of ideas, and this year seemed like the perfect year for: I will see all the movies nominated in the major categories (director, picture, the acting awards, international, animated, documentary, screenplay) BEFORE the Oscar ceremony which, this year, is in late April.

Yes, that’s a LOT of movies – in the worst case scenario (little to no overlap, which is rare), we’re talking~60 movies.

But, one, it’s not like I have an otherwise full social calendar; and two, everything will certainly be available via one of the streaming services. Now, the Academy still isn’t going to announce the nominees until mid-March, about six weeks out from the ceremony, but insiders are already speculating about likely nominees, which means I can get a BIG head start, so I won’t be facing trying to watch ~60 movies in ~40 days.

And I have been, starting with the movies everyone is handicapping for Best Picture and Best Director. I’m ten movies in (some likely candidates are not available yet), and WHOA, IS IT A LOT OF DUDES. Mank. Da 5 Bloods. One Night in Miami. Soul of Metal. The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Even Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is mostly about Chadwick Boseman’s character, not Viola Davis playing Ma Rainey.

Good movies, all (well, not Da 5 Bloods, but the rest), but where the hell are all the ladies?

So I started looking into the movies that are likely to be up for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. And I realized something. If you want to be up for Best Picture or Best Director, it looks like you better be telling men’s stories, because the juicy acting roles for women don’t make it. So yeah, #OscarsSoWhite (although decreasingly so), but also #OscarsSoMale, and sadly, we don’t seem to be making much progress there.

Image found here.

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“I Appreciate You”

One of the many gifts Black culture has given US culture as a whole is an (if I may) jazzy approach to language. Poetry, rap, slang, playing the dozens, AAVE – Black culture shows us how to play with language, have fun with it, bend it and shape it to amaze, to inspire, to inform, to entertain.

And we all benefit.

One small thing that I’ve been working to add to my common speech patterns is the simple but profound: “I appreciate you.”

Not “I appreciate this thing you did for me.”

Not “I appreciate this thing you gave me.”

I appreciate YOU.

Hearing that – saying that – feels different. My appreciation is not about some way that you helped or benefited me. My appreciation is of you, as a person, in the entirety of your being and just for existing and being who you are.

I’d challenge you to do the same – and to find someone, today, and simply say, “I appreciate YOU.” I think it has the potential to change the way we see the world.

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Local Perspectives on the January 6 Insurrection

Flowers on the fence at the US Capitol

When most of us think of Washington, DC, we picture the monuments. We fondly remember that middle school trip to visit the Smithsonian where we also took in Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, or a family vacation for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Maybe you’re an avid follower of the National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam. Or maybe you’ve traveled to DC for the famous Independence Day fireworks and concert on the National Mall. Maybe you’ve even, pre-pandemic, visited your Member of Congress in her/his office or taken a tour of the White House or the US Capitol.

The thing is, more than 700,000 people, average people, REAL Americans (if I may), LIVE in DC. The US Capitol is right in a residential neighborhood, with thousands of regular people – some of whom had to evacuate their homes on January 6 because violent white supremacist Trump supporters planted IEDs at the DNC and RNC headquarters – living steps from the Capitol complex. As I’ve written about before, they lack representation in Congress, which includes limits on local control, self-determination, or their ability to protect themselves.

What I want to do today is link to writing and reporting from and about actual DC residents to help folks outside the area understand what our fellow Americans are going through right now, to empathize with them, and to remember that the thousands of people who live in DC are just as “real” as people who live in Kansas or Louisiana or Idaho or anywhere else in our beloved country.

(Yes, I understand that cops are, largely, problematic. But these particular cops, on this particular day, were heroes.)

To conclude, from a local reporter:

When you look at the iconic images of our nation’s Capitol, remember the real people who live there who are in real danger right now, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers, particularly in the coming week.

Image from DCist

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My Wish List

For the Biden/Harris, Dem House and Senate first 100 days (and I’m right):

  1. DC Statehood – it will make LITERALLY every other thing Dems want to accomplish easier. It’s past time to end this injustice.
  2. ERA – women are the ones who did the work to bring about all the change that we’ve seen in the past four years. We’re owed.
  3. Voting Rights Act – particularly in the past few days, many people have observed that the Southern states aren’t red – they’re purple states where Black votes are being suppressed. Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and a host of other Black women activists have been KILLING themselves organizing for years to produce Tuesday’s Senatorial wins in Georgia. They shouldn’t have to.

Yes, there are MANY other things that are critical to address: the TrumPutin admin’s disastrous pandemic response and equally fucked up vaccine distribution roll out, climate change, prosecuting the TrumPutin crime family, including holding them and Congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley accountable for attempting to overthrow the US government.

But first thing’s first.

Image from LaTosha Brown’s Twitter feed.

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An Afternoon of Normal

lattice top cherry pie

One of the few good things about the pandemic is that commercial food purveyors have opened up accounts to consumers.

Well, to be accurate, they ALWAYS allowed consumer – as opposed to food industry – accounts, but I can’t afford to place a $5000 order, nor would I know where to store that much food if it all arrived at once. Now a $250 minimum? That I can do.

This week, we were ordering for the traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

(No, neither of us is Italian-American, but I grew up in a heavily Italian area, so I have gleefully appropriated this particular tradition.)

Now, we have a VERY good open air fish market in town here, right along the wharf, but since our Seven Fishes was VERY small this year, I wanted to go fancy – ossetra caviar, bitches! – so while we got the oysters, clams, shrimp, and whole snapper at the fish market, we also put in an order to our favorite commercial purveyor.

While browsing around their site, I noticed something TRULY special: pitted, frozen SOUR cherries. Which are the queen of cherries, particularly if you want to do anything more than just eat them fresh, and are devilishly hard to come by.

Into my cart they went.

One other small fact to be aware of: while the commercial purveyors have dropped the order minimum, in many cases, they haven’t dropped the order QUANTITY.

Which is how I found myself with 40 pounds of pitted, frozen sour cherries on my stoop Wednesday morning.

I was already planning to bake Wednesday afternoon – chocolate almond biscotti, anise pizzelles, amaretti (an Italian meal deserves Italian desserts) – and after loading MANY MANY pounds of cherries into gallon freezer bags and making room for them in the chest freezer in the basement, I knew what I wanted RIGHT NOW: sour cherry pie, the queen of all pies, and, often, devilishly hard to come by.

So I finished up my work for clients and for my business for the year in the morning, and, after a workout/shower/lunch, changed into my Baking Clothes and spent a blissful afternoon in the kitchen working with chocolate and flour and sugar and sour cherries and butter and almonds to make delicious things to eat.

It felt….normal.

And that’s my wish for you this holiday season (whether or not it’s also a holy day for you): that in this uncanny year, you would find a few moments – or even a few hours – here and there that feel blessedly, delightfully, normal.

Photo by the author. If you copy, please link back.

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We’re ALL There

12/13/20 Pearls Before Swine comic strip

It’s pretty common, at this time of year, to reflect on what one has accomplished. And in the era of social media, when so many of us give in to the temptation to “curate” our lives for our platforms (lots of vacation shots and accomplishments, eliding the mistakes and failures), many of us are both seeing – and perpetrating – a highly edited version of our 2020 right now.

In short, lots of “I learned Italian” and very little “I haven’t changed out of my pajamas or showered in three days.”

And we absolutely should be celebrating ANYTHING we managed to accomplish this year, no matter how small. Because it’s been incredibly hard on everyone. Even if you haven’t lost someone you love to COVID-19, or lost a job or your home (or your savings trying to keep your home after losing your job), we’ve all been dealing with fear and isolation and sadness and loneliness and anxiety and boredom and rage.

And all those negative emotions? They’re OK, too. You do not have to be Ms. Mary Sunshine every goddamn minute.

I’m here to give you permission, if you need it, to feel all those “bad” things and to accept yourself right here and right now. In case you need to hear it – in case no one else has told you yet – whatever you have OR HAVEN’T been able to accomplish in this uncanny pandemic year, you’re doing great – amazing, actually, even if you didn’t re-tile your bathroom or learn how to make phyllo from scratch.

And don’t let anyone else tell you different.

Sunday, December 13, 2020 Pearls Before Swine comic strip from Stephen Pastis’s online archive

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May Your Holidays SWING

Little known fact, but there are TWO outstanding jazz versions of the Nutcracker Suite.

The one embedded above is the BETTER known of the two, arranged by the legendary duo of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

However, there is a lesser known version, arranged by Shorty Rogers, that is JUST as tasty and hip. Couldn’t find video, but AllMusic has the audio links.

Now normally, me and the spouse enjoy a night out in the neighborhood around this time of year, walking to dinner at one of our many neighborhood faves, then walking on to the neighborhood performing arts center, where one of our great local jazz orchestras performs Ellington’s version, Rogers’s version, or, if we’re very lucky, BOTH (yes, they did that one year and swore never to do it again because it WORE THEM OUT).

Well, not this year.

But we can still light up the tree, put these sweet, swingin’ tunes on the hi-fi, pour a cocktail, and take a listen. So that’s what we’re going to do.

What are some of your normal holiday traditions? How are you adapting them in this pandemic year?

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