The Pros and Cons of Hell, I Mean, NaNoWriMo

With 9,000 words to go, the end is in sight. I’ve been busting my butt since November 1st to get a novel out of my head and onto the page, and I’m afraid to look back. Though every word may be shit, they’re still words, which is good enough for most novels. I’ve learned that when you sign up for NaNoWriMo you sign a little bit of your life away, but it’s largely the bit you don’t want. I had to evict the perfectionist demons in my head if I wanted to get anything done, and for that I’m thankful.

I’ll admit, not everything about this past month has been a dream. In fact, it’s been a lot like hell! But what makes you agonize over third person vs. first person perspective makes you stronger. Here are some of the pros and cons of participating in National Novel Writing Month:

Cons

I’d really like to know who nominated the month of November. Next to December, it’s probably the worst month to attempt doing anything. Most people have family to see, beards to grow, football to watch, and piles of stuffing to regret eating. Writing a novel could not have come at a worse time, but when the going gets tough, your novel gets going…?

So hard to write when there are so many cookies to eat...

So hard to write when there are so many cookies to eat…

It feels a little like a scam when the website constantly prompts you to donate. Donate to what? The hope that I might get a “free” T-shirt at the end of this thing? Thanks, but no thanks.

Every word I write for anything else—an email, a grocery list, this blog post—feels like words I’m taking away from my novel. My inner monologue: I shouldn’t be wasting words on anything else! I might run out of them before I get to the finish line! (Side note: I don’t think anyone has ever run out of words, just like no one overdoses on pot, you just get paranoid about it.)

If you cut me open, I might bleed brown. Given the amount of coffee I’ve been drinking the past month, that’s a real possibility.

cozy

Pros

NaNoWriMo has given me the kick in the pants to follow something through from start to finish. Most projects I attempt start with enthusiasm and energy, only to veer off a cliff about twenty pages in. This way, no matter how bad the writing gets, I’ve just got to plow through. Because when you write 50,000 words, they aren’t all going to be winners.

There’s a bit of accountability when you’re logging in your word count every day. It calculates for you what date you’ll finish if you go at the rate you’re going, which can be depressing/sobering if you got off to a slow start. The bar graph doesn’t factor in magic or writing fairies showing up at the last minute to save you.

I’m building up the endurance to write through not feeling like it. In a lot of ways, it resembles training for a marathon. You have to build a tolerance and put in the hours. It’s also an excuse to eat high-carb goo in lieu of real meals.

I had to cut out Bravo to find the time to write. I don’t need real housewives after all.

Shame says, "You can do it, asshole."

Shamu says, “You can do it, asshole.”

Of course, there are a number of obstacles that could set me back this last week. I might go into a turkey-induced coma tomorrow. I could get trapped on NJ Transit in the middle of a snowstorm and have to finish my novel on the backs of ticket stubs. Or worse, I could be trapped in Brooklyn and have to finish my novel in a trendy café surrounded by hipsters. But if I’m this creative coming up with obstacles that might slow me down, I’m certainly creative enough to come up with an ending for this beast.

Hello November

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We are officially in the full swing of fall. Personally, I like the month of October best, but there are plenty of things to love about November. Maybe that’s “basic” of me, but I don’t care. Turning back the clock and getting an extra hour of sleep over the weekend has got me jazzed about autumn. It makes sense why so many people love fall. It’s the perfect time to take a deep breath and enjoy the cooler weather before the full-blown, holiday season shitstorm rolls in. Even in L.A., there are plenty of ways to soak up fall before scrambling into holiday mode. Follow these simple steps to jumpstart your fall mojo.

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  1.  Start your day with some pumpkin spice granola. This recipe is simple to make, or you can swap out the banana for pumpkin puree in my cluster recipe. If you really want to go full throttle with the pumpkin, pair your granola with a homemade PSLgranola
  2. Put your boots on and walk through a pile of leaves with your puppy. Only a monster wouldn’t enjoy the perfect trifecta of crunchy leaves, a crisp fall breeze, and a puppy-dog. I mean, c’mon. Is your own neighborhood lacking in sweet birches and sugar maples? Have no fear. Head to Beverly Hills where they have their own perfect fall microclimate–or possibly have their fallen leaves shipped from an organic farm in Maine. IMG_0264IMG_0342IMG_0247
  3. Wear glasses you definitely don’t need because they feel so winter-y. fall glassesIMG_0396
  4. Make that fall foliage last all season by picking a few (dozen) special leaves to take home and press. In a couple weeks, they’ll be ready just in time for Thanksgiving crafts.IMG_0446
  5. Use a pumpkin as a weight because you can.IMG_0465
  6. String twinkle lights from every imaginable surface.twinkle lights
  7. Have way too much fun taking intentionally blurry photos of those twinkle lights.twinkle lights fuzzy
  8. Get as comfy as humanly possible. IMG_0547IMG_0561
  9. Curl up with a book, the game, or a rerun of Gilmore Girls and sip on a fall cocktail. To make, add a healthy dose of whiskey to some store-bought apple cider and stir–preferably with a cinnamon stick. cider drinkcider drink 1
  10. Get creative coming up with ways to procrastinate writing your novel for NaNoWriMo. For example, watch your beard grow or try taking a nap on this street:elm street

And that should just about do it. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get your fall mojo on. Just be careful not to burn the house down with that pumpkin spice shrine to Gourd.

How To: Be a Feminist for Halloween

Sexy Pocahontas. Slutty Jasmine. Kinky Tinker Bell. Whatever the hell this is…

Money Pimp

Money Pimp – $223.99 on 3wishes.com

When browsing through your typical popup Halloween costume store, it can be daunting to find something that doesn’t scream Disney whore. I’m all for dressing up, but there has to be a way to get into character without appropriating different cultures, looking like a racist fool, or serving as a two-dimensional, sexual object. For me, that means staying white for Halloween.

Here are some easy, last-minute, DIY costume ideas that won’t break the bank or compromise your dignity. Use what you already have in your closet this year, and you’ll have plenty of money left for punch bowls at the tiki bar.

Brody DalleBrody Dalle, Rock Star

You’ll Need: Ripped jeans, a band t-shirt, red lipstick, and tattoos.

Quote: “They say women can’t play guitar as well as men. I don’t play the guitar with my fucking vagina, so what difference does it make?”

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Claire Underwood from House of Cards

You’ll Need: Pretty much anything tailored and grey. Bonus points if you can pull off a severe blonde pixie cut. Robin Wright mesmerizes with her performance as the ultimate female antihero. She’s a ruthless powerhouse and a master manipulator, effectively transcending the standard female sidekick in a political drama.

Quote: “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required.”

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Evelyn Mulwray from Chinatown

For those of us with riding clothes we were ashamed to wear in public as teenagers, now’s the time to whip out those jodhpurs. Played by Faye Dunaway, Evelyn Mulwray is your classic film noir woman. She’s cool, confident, doesn’t take shit, and managed to stay sane despite all the effed-up, horrible things that happened to her. Paint on some thin eyebrows for the full effect.

Quote: “I don’t get tough with anyone, Mr. Gittes. My lawyer does.”

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Bonnie Parker a la Bonnie and Clyde

You’ll Need: Grab a silk scarf, a mustard sweater, and a beret and you’re Bonnie Parker, another kickass character played by Faye Dunaway. Where legal, conceal a pistol in your Chanel tote to defend yourself against drunk bros dressed as Ray Rice.

Quote: “We rob banks.”

rollergirl_Fotor_Collage

Rollergirl from Boogie Nights 

If you’re like me and have some retro roller skates you can’t seem to wear anywhere, here’s your chance to lace up. Throw on some seventies gym shorts and heart-shaped sunglasses, and you’re good to go. I know you’re probably thinking, wait a minute, how can you be a porn star and a feminist at the same time? They exist. Don’t let your mind explode over it. Also, remember to drink and skate with caution.

Quote: “Amber, are you my mom? I’m gonna ask you, okay? And you say yes, okay? Amber, are you my mom?”

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Simone de Beauvoir, Writer/Intellectual/Political Activist

You’ll Need: A long skirt, a black turtleneck, and a cigarette. Bonus points if you can do her signature up-do. To really own the look, have a superior intelligence, be an expert on existential philosophy, and don’t suffer fools gladly.

Quote: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”

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Mrs. George from Mean Girls

You’ll Need: That old terry cloth Juicy jumpsuit you bought back in 2004. Bonus points for sporting a lazy eye and carrying around a tray of cocktails all night. She’s not just a regular mom—she’s a cool mom.

Quote: “Can I get you guys anything? Some snacks? A condom? Let me know!”

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Margaret Schroeder from Boardwalk Empire

You’ll Need: A drop waist dress and an Irish accent. One of my all-time favorite characters, Margaret Schroeder (played by Kelly Macdonald), epitomizes the strength and perseverance of first wave feminists while reserving her own set of complex worldviews. She steals the spotlight on Boardwalk, along with my heart.

Quote: “Here’s an experiment for you. Think about the things you want in life, then picture yourself in a dress.”

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Elizabeth Shaw from Prometheus

To Make: Grab some white underwear, splatter yourself with blood, run a few miles to get super sweaty, and you’re Noomi Rapace from the most intense scene in Prometheus. You might be scantily clad in this costume, but having just ripped an alien fetus out of your uterus, you definitely won’t be a sexual object. If you’re up for it, you can argue with conservative Republicans all night about why a woman deserves the right to abort an alien baby that’s bent on murdering her.

Quote: “We were wrong! We were SO wrong!”

Stoned White Girl with Pony - $19.99 at Forever 21

Stoned White Girl with Pony – $19.99 at Forever 21

Be Yourself!

You’ll Need: What you wear on the reg. Because I’m assuming we’re all feminists every day of the year and not just on Halloween, am I right?

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Happy Halloween, everybody :)

The Underwhelming World of Florence Gordon

When I heard a glowing review on NPR about Brian Morton’s new novel, Florence Gordon, I thought I’d give it a try. If NPR says it’s good, then it probably is. I was wrong. It was surprisingly bad, but at least I was surprised.

The book’s description goes something like this: “A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes.”

florence gordon book

On the one hand, I had the delightful image of Florence Henderson (the bubbly blonde mom from The Brady Bunch) barking orders at Duane Reade and coldly dismissing her adoring fans. But—spoiler alert—it was otherwise lacking in entertainment value, wisdom, and family catastrophes. There wasn’t a single catastrophe in the book, so I’ll call that false advertising.

Morton is obviously well-versed with feminist literature, but something rings so untrue about the way his female characters think about it. They say it’s complex without actually having complex feelings. They all seem to come from the same mind without any significant difference of thought.

In Chapter 44, Florence’s granddaughter reflects on her own views after doing an extensive amount of research on feminist icons for her grandmother’s memoir. “Emily wasn’t particularly political, and she had no idea if she was a feminist.” The fracture of inauthenticity cracks wide open here. If Emily is a precocious 19-year-old who’s read up on feminist literature, then how can she have no idea if she’s a feminist or not? She might have questions, she may even have a complex relationship with the ideas of feminism vs. the label of being one (!), but I seriously doubt she would have no idea. It’s as though Morton overheard one or two 19-year-old girls and assumed they all must be the same. As a young woman myself, it’s not so troubling that this character can’t commit to being a feminist as much as it doesn’t seem to fit her character.

In a similar vein, the relationship between Emily and her father, Daniel (Florence’s son), comes off as cloyingly annoying. There’s nothing witty about their banter or inside jokes. If anything, every conversation they have reads like a dad’s fantasy of what his relationship with his daughter could be like, and that makes me sad. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on this guy…

Except that it’s so cheesy because it’s trying so hard not to be. Taking pride in New York isn’t a bad thing until you try to turn it into another “character” or include something as cliché as “even walking was different in New York.” We get it. New York is the only place to be, who cares, etc.

The onslaught of references do less to make the characters sound intellectual and more like the author’s pitiful attempt at reminding everyone that he, the author, is really the intellectual. I guess you mention n+1 and Raymond Williams enough times and the reader thinks, “Wow, what an impressive intellect!” Except it doesn’t actually work that way. Needless references only shine a light on the author when the author should get out of the way and disappear behind the mind of the character.

Which reminds me—where’s Florence Gordon in all of this? She stands out decisively as the most enjoyable character in this book, and yet, the other characters have the maddening habit of bogging down her voice. Between the short, choppy chapters and flitting from character to character, it reads as though Morton can’t sit down with one voice and delve into something deeper.

As Maureen Corrigan points out in her review for NPR, this book “shoves the ‘likeability’ issue into the dustbin of beside-the-point literary debates where it belongs.” While the question remains whether a main character has to be likeable to be worth reading, I found the opposite to be true of these characters. The ones you’re supposed to like I despised and the clear villain was the only one with whom I could empathize. If only he’d explored that space and played with those expectations, I think Morton could have scrounged together some amount of emotional depth to make this novel worthy of the paper it’s printed on.

 

Emma Watson, U.N. Ambassador & All-Around Badass

Emma Watson, who first gained global recognition as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movies, has gone on to champion gender equality as a Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women. On Saturday, she gave a passionate speech before the United Nations, introducing HeForShe, a campaign meant to engage men in actively stopping violence against women. Since then, hackers have threatened to release nude photos of Watson in a disgusting attempt to silence her. It seems this has only made her voice louder, making her an all-around badass.

Watson’s speech is a thoughtful, comprehensive invitation for both sexes to dismantle gender stereotypes. She emphasizes that dismissing feminist concerns as “aggressive, isolating, anti-men, and unattractive” has negatively affected both men and women. Watson states her case plainly. In effect, she diminishes the remarkably silly debate over the “real definition” of feminism. She puts it simply and powerfully:

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me… I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.

Watson hasn’t shied away from labeling herself a feminist, unlike so many other actresses with social influence. With a broad appeal to young men and women alike, I think she has a legitimate chance at initiating change. However, she also faces the risk of not being taken seriously. She addresses this in her speech, saying:

You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN? It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something.

Her obvious passion and personal experience with sexism certainly qualify her to be an advocate for gender equality. But her message goes beyond equal rights; it’s about the way we perceive gender and perpetuate limitations for both sexes by reinforcing an unjustified dichotomy. I mean, how powerful is this:

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are—and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. … It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are — we can all be freer. And this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.

If that isn’t motivation enough to start speaking up about gender equality, then I don’t know what is. And for all the haters out there, launching insults at Watson only bolsters the necessity of this movement. Threatening to post nude photos of someone campaigning for equal rights seems so stupid, so insane, so laughably pathetic to me that I have no doubt the power behind her words will eclipse any wormlike attempt to bring her down. Alternatively, you could take the more innocuous approach and pick apart the pieces of her argument that are less than perfect, but I don’t see how that would be constructive. Emma Watson is not the only advocate for gender equality, but her speech is one of many that at least deserve our respect if not wholehearted support.