Running While Fat

This past Tuesday, Women’s Running magazine released the cover for their August issue. In almost all respects it is a normal magazine cover; there’s a picture of a beautiful woman, it’s covered with slogans like, “Run Strong, Stay Cool!” “The 6 Best Exercises for Runners,” and what could possible be a stunning feature on their favorite sports bras. Typical magazine fare. The woman on the cover is another genetic lottery winner (and I say this without anger, she is beautiful and I’m happy for her) and she looks happy to be sweating it out in the middle of Prospect Park. I can’t get her picture out of my head though.

Here is the thing; she has a tummy. And arms that jiggle. And this is a very strange thing to say, especially in print, but her butt and her legs, well, they look like mine. Maybe I see myself in her, so my fascination with this picture is really a form of narcissism, but I have to say, damn, girl. Our butts look good.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.57.54 PMI am so proud of this stranger that I don’t know and have no way of ever meeting. And I’m proud of myself too. Only recently, after a solid year and a half of dedicated work and trying, have I decided to start calling myself a runner. I am slow, but consistent. I have specific running-related injuries (hello, plantar fasciitis), and have worn out a pair of sneakers or two. I am also not thin and I’m not chubby. I’m perfectly plus-sized in every way.

Running is intimidating. That’s a fact, not an opinion. We remember running from gym class, which was boring, hard, and embarrassing because we had to do it in front of our peers or, if we were really unlucky, a crush or two. As an adult, we think of runners as being svelte and toned because we imagine that these are the only people crazy enough for that kind of torture. But perhaps that’s because we are only shown examples of slim people exercising. Under Armor and Nike commercials never show anyone in their clothes, who have to shop in a, “special section.” Why do Self  and Women’s Health magazines always have thin actresses on their covers? I guess that means that only thin women are working out? Wrong. I’m plus-sized by today’s standards, and I run. I swim too, and when I told my close friend, who is also in very good shape (and thin), how many laps I do she was thoroughly impressed. “I think I can do like 20,” she told me, “I could never do as many as you.”

I go to the gym about 3-4 times a week, and let me tell you, there are other perfectly imperfect people who are out there with me. I run in the park (Prospect Park, just like my friend on the magazine cover) and see women (and men!) with big bellies and big butts, or thighs that touch. Often, I see another soldier in the fight against running with big boobs. And yes, I can get insecure if I start trying to guess what other people are thinking about me as I run, but that’s a game that I can never win. So instead, I tell myself that people are staring because they are impressed with how well I run (a lie), or if I’m really trying to focus I tell myself, “no one is staring at you. They’re just trying not to run into you.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.58.26 PM  The problem with the discussion surrounding weight is that we only equate exercise with weight loss, when there are so many other aspects of exercise that can be pleasurable. Sometimes I run just to feel the U of the muscles in my legs (so, leg, butt, leg) pump hard and get stronger. Sometimes I run for that warm, flushed feeling in my cheeks. The first time I timidly tried running outside, I convinced myself to do so because it would be an excellent way to explore my new neighborhood, without feeling strange. Most of the time, I run because it makes me feel like a person who cares about herself. Running feels very adult. It’s a certain type of grown-up kindness to give myself a time and space to do something that feels good, and no matter how much I hate it while I’m doing it (because I do, don’t let all this feel-good language trick you into believing I wake up with my sneakers on my feet) I never regret getting out there.

If you are on the heavier side, it can sometimes feel that you are asked to lose weight invisibly – please shed the pounds, but please do so unseen. It’s a very confusing message, and is impossible without the use of a magic wand. If you have a day where you feel bad about yourself or you KNOW that people are looking at you, just remember that you are there for yourself. No one else gets the extreme privilege to live in your body and feel how wonderful it feels for your body to change and grow. There will be some days that will feel not as good as others, but the highs are really high, and the lows are not as often as you may fear they will be.

Okay, Genny, you may be thinking to yourself. That’s great that you have the confidence to run and call yourself plus-sized on the internet, but what about me? Who has never worked out before, never gone to the gym, and am afraid to be made fun of?

Well, first I would tell you that you don’t have to want to lose weight to start exercising. You can absolutely be fat and fit and just like the way exercising feels or want to pick up a new hobby. I hate to beat an old horse to death, but weight does not equal health, so you should feel no shame if you just want to try running a few days a week to get out of the house, only go swimming because it’s been hot out, or want to look at your butt in the big gym mirrors. Those are all fine reasons for going, as well.

I would also remind you that there are all kinds of people who exercise. We often don’t see a wide variety of body types because TV, film, and magazines are businesses that need to sell images that they believe are aspirational. But I personally believe that people would love to catch a glimpse of someone who looks just like them, but on their best day. In fact, when I first saw the magazine cover I texted my friend, “oh my good, look at how beautiful she is! She looks just like me! Isn’t it amazing? Someone like me could be on the cover of a running magazine!” Another person’s picture made me, personally, feel beautiful. So don’t let a small group of people who are only retreading the same tired ways of making money influence you too much. There are plenty of girls out there who don’t look like models, who are all living healthy and happy lives. If no one else is saying this to you, please allow me this final moment to offer you some support, YOU are amazing! I’m so proud of all your hard work! You got it, girl!

 

Guerrilla Girls aka Feminism Soothes My Quater-Year Crisies

“How can you really tell the story of a culture when you don’t include all the voices within the culture? Otherwise it’s just the history, and the story, of power.”

This weekend was the perfect storm of hard work and feminist news. I spent the entire weekend working, which usually doesn’t give me much free time, but I did get time to watch the first GOP debate, and read the NYT (fancy). I also saw the trending story on Kiran Gandhi and Free Bleeding – a term which I had never previously heard of before, but the concept is not foreign. I have free bled many a time in my life, but I usually call it, “forgetting a tampon,” or “not having to leave the house today.” Not to minimize Kiran’s message.

kiran-gandhiHow did people find out that Kiran was Free Bleeding for a cause? If I saw someone who was leaking from their period during a marathon, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that they were making a political statement. I can’t imagine a reporter seeing a random, period-blood soaked woman in the crowd and thinking, “ah ha, there’s my lead!” But none the less, Gandhi got her message to the masses and given the current conversation over reproductive rights I appreciate the attention that she is receiving.

I even followed her media trail back to her website, where, aside from her work as a drummer for M.I.A. and recent graduation from Harvard Business School (I know), I also learned that Gandhi is part of the select group of people who have tried to influence the world through internet public speaking – I’m talking Ted Talks. This is pre-marathon, in more innocent, and less bloody times (okay, I’ll stop). Karin Gandhi has an interesting life theory, which she calls, “living atomically” as in, living in the same way that atoms interact with each other.  Basically, the idea is that if you focus on six pillars that make up your life (six core interests or concerns) and allow those priorities to guide your decision making, then you will create a natural barrier that will propel you to the path that will make you happy. The idea is to not make 1, 2, or even 5 year plans, because you would be ignoring the possibilities of random occurrence . She gives the example of a typical Saturday when you are out running errands and you run into a friend who wants to chat or get some lunch together. Though you may like this friend and wish to spend time with them, you will also be thinking about the laundry that needs to get done, or the sleep that you had been promising yourself to catch up on. But Gandhi argues that it would be a mistake to forgo an opportunity to make a meaningful connection in order to do what seems like the responsible thing to do. She believes that that one moment of connection can lead to new opportunities or ideas that you hadn’t previously considered and that you can make better connections about what you want from life when you let go and move with the opportunities that are given to you.

As I’m rounding the last lap of being 24, I can reflect and agree that I’ve had similar thoughts to Gandhi’s, but I’ve been calling them, “experiences that I never regret.” As in, I never regret going to the park in my free time, I never regret going to a museum, and unfortunately, I never regret going to the gym. Don’t I always have the most fun at the party that I just didn’t feel like taking the trouble to go to? Those ideas seem to check out.

But getting rid of my 5 year plan… Or perhaps I should say, getting rid of my 5 year back-up plan….Well that’s a little harder to release. Maybe my critique is that Kiran is from an influential New York Family (she mentions that family dinner guests as a child were the likes of Hilary Clinton) and is obviously an incredibly intelligent and hard working girl, whose natural aptitude and brightness means that people will flock to her because she is extraordinary. She is not the typical pleb who is trying to plow their little plot of the earth while paying off their student loan fees. This doesn’t dilute her message, but I guess I recognize my own limitations and realize that for me, a little strategy is necessary. I can get on board with forgoing errands to go try a new experience, but right now I can’t shake the impulse to Google admissions requirement for grad school or say no to a night out because I want to write.

On Sunday, I was left Internet-less and tired from a long day of serving others coffee, but had luckily bought a fresh copy of the Sunday New York Times as a treat.  In the arts section, there was a feature on the radical feminist-arts group, The Guerrilla Girls. In the Donald Trump world we live in, where a female moderator can be criticized for her questions, because Trump accuses that “she’s bleeding from her wherever…” It was refreshing to see these old biddies still kicking. Though it sort of proves what Gandhi was arguing. The Guerillas were all artists in their own right, but they only made their most recognized work when they collaborated and combined their activism with their art. That would not have happened if they clung too dearly to their original plans and perhaps being part of something larger than yourself is greater pay than individual notoriety.

So what’s my conclusion? Relax a little if it seems like you’re not on track for your dream life. Plan a little, but anticipate that the unexpected will enhance the vision you’ve been dreaming of. You may be better off for it.

MY FIVE CORE CONCERNS FOR LIVING ATOMICALLY ( I can’t think of six)

  1. Writing
  2. Books
  3. Personal relationships
  4. Comedy
  5. Feminism

What are yours?

Sunday Night Pajamagram

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Shirt and shorts are from Forever21

I am, admittedly, a terrible photographer and an even worse selfie taker. There is just something that reeks of being deeply uncool to take a picture of yourself and post it on the internet. It requires a kind of vulnerability towards jest that I can’t access in myself. Nope. I am purely a landscape, clothes, and friends-out-to-dinner kind of Instagramer.

Last night, however, I was wearing some new pajamas that made me feel like Blair from Gossip Girl (I believe this to be a good thing). You can’t quite see it from the picture, but the bottoms are the perfect Blair shorts in the style of a mid-2000s Teen Vogue spread. Breton stripes seem to be a trend that can never die, so my shirt is both a throw-back AND very, very, current. Someone get me a headband and a rejection letter from Yale!

Here is my shame, my obsession, my selfie. I am not actually in the picture, I realize, but this is as good a first step as any. If I could just start an Instagram of my favorite clothing selfies, I think I might be able to get on board with the movement.

Do you selfie? What’s wrong with you?

Girl Told by Friends that New Haircut Does Not Make Her Look like Kylie Jenner, Enraged Phonecall to the Salon Ensues

“I thought I had done everything right,” Genny Glassman says. “I thought I had done all the right research, taken the time and care to prevent something like this from happening. But some things you couldn’t foresee even if you had a crystal ball.”

The incident happened around 11 am on Sunday morning. Glassman, an aspiring, creative-type from Brooklyn, had been texting a group of friends before she entered the salon Pulp, on 7th avenue. “Back in the day I would have called them my ‘Top 8,’ like from when Myspace was popular. They were my top 8, in my 5, and 3 of them were my sisters, so I felt particularly safe with them. I must have sent them at least twelve pictures of Kylie from when she had her short hair. Almost everyone had responded to my text. They seemed really enthusiastic about it!” The Imagine Ball Presented By John Terzian & Randall Kaplan Benefiting Imagine LA

“We told her that it was a definitely a ‘maybe,’ that if she liked it, she should get it. We never told her it would look good,” Glassman’s friend Anna tells us.

“One of my friends had even texted me, ‘Kylie Jenner is stupid pretty,” Glassman says. The friend in question, Ms. Christi Hutcheson, clarifies, “Yeah, I told her that KYLIE JENNER is stupid pretty. Genny is beautiful, but she isn’t… I never told her to get it.”

Glassman says that she had mentally been preparing for this haircut for weeks. “I blew up a picture from Kylie’s Instagram and cut the hair part out and took pictures with it. I sought out girls with similar hairstyles on the street and asked them how they style their haircut, if they like it, how often they go in to get it re-cut, if they like it on Kylie Jenner, and if they think it would look good on me.”

She shyly adds, “I even brought my hair cutout with me to work and asked my co-workers if they would enjoy working in the cubicle next to someone with hair like that. They all seemed really excited…though come to think of it, I was also holding a box of cupcakes.”

“Genny takes forever to chose a haircut. She is VERY – maybe overly- cautious when it comes to making any life changes. We just wanted her to get something done, for God’s sake, and stop texting us about it,” Hutcheson explains.

“I clipped some my hair back to create sort of a fake bob and wore it that way FOR MONTHS before I did this. I’m just so disappointed that this haircut did not meet my expectations.”

“She was expecting to look exactly like Kylie Jenner, like exactly Kylie’s face would manifest over Genny’s own. There was no way she was ever going to get what she wanted, because they aren’t the same people,” Anna says.

When asked what she will do now that the cut has been completed, Glassman explains that she is never going to do a long-bob or “lob” again. “I’m just going to go for something less complicated and lower-maintenance. I’ve been looking at a lot of pictures of Emma Watson lately, and I think I’m going try short hair next. That seems like it could look good on anyone.”

“Oh God, she wants a pixie?” Hutcheson laments. “She’ll never be able to pull that off. Her head is too big for that. I need to put a stop to this.”

Girl Discovers The Rifle Paper Company, Gives herself over to becoming a Foof

“I don’t know how it happened,” Genny Glassman says, as she shakily sips water through a Ball mason jar. “I mean, I guess I saw one of their calendars on my tumblr… And maybe I took one too many trips to Anthropology, but now I can’t stop myself. I have calendars, planners, note cards, pens… Even my phone case is Rifle.”Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.04.23 PM

“Their prints are just so happy. I guess that’s what it is. And I like flowers. A lot.”

“I first started out with their, “Famous Queens Throughout History,” calendar. Then I moved on to the occasional notebook. Now I have a pink, blue, and white tassel garland hanging around my room and I keep going into Papersource. My room looks like a damn blog post on A Beautiful Mess. It’s adorable – nay, adorkable – I hate myself for saying that- and completely infuriating. When did this happen to me?”

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.10.39 PM “There isn’t much I can do, in terms of therapy,” Glassman adds. “I’m just running out of money and space to keep all of these trapper keepers. My room has become the most beautifully stocked school supplies closet.”

When asked if her obsession with peppy stationary has manifested itself into other areas of her life, Glassman shakes her head shamefully.

“Yes,” she admits. “I recently signed on to be a Girl Scouts troop leader, I ran in the park for fun, and – I volunteered to read to the elderly. My crafting group can’t understand it, why I’m so cheerful all the time. I can never let them know my shameful secret.”

“I just want to live in a world where I always feel like a girl who takes on life, like it’s a big, colorful, adventure,” she adds. “When I invite people to my home, they think that I must have a twelve-year-old sister in the house. All I want is to color my world in Rifle Paper Colored glasses.”

When I ask she has any plans in the future to further pursue her passions, she answers, “Yes, absolutely.”

“I’m thinking about taking a tour of stationery stores in the US. There’s no formal tour or anything. I just want to be close to the art.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.23.43 PMI ask if she can even take the time off of work to take on such a long and detailed endeavor.

“Oh Mrs. Rifle. understands,” Glassman says. “She says, I’m her best employee AND her best costumer! We talk a lot during our company quilting sessions.”

“It’s a strange life,” Glassman admits with a long sigh, as a tear comes to her eye. “Loving stationary and paper goods. But someone’s got to do it. I’m just happy to give myself over to the teachings of The Rifle Paper Company. ‘C’est la Vie!’ ‘Don’t Worry be Happy’ and ‘When Life Gives You Lemons,”… well, you know the rest.”

 

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My Favorite Famous Jennys

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The divine Jenny Lewis.

There is just something about finding someone else who shares your name, isn’t there? It is oddly a wonderful surprise that someone else has been walking around responding to the same combination of sounds that’s so personal to you. It’s like someone else has been living at your home address for years and you now have the opportunity to ask them if they’ve noticed the same leaky pipes or how cold the floor gets in the morning. What kind of people are the collective Jennys of the world? Or Emilys? Or Sarahs, for that matter? Can you synthesize down to it’s most basic elements a theory that all people who share a common form of ID are more likely to share a set of characteristics and experiences?

I’m getting way ahead of myself.

Whether you believe in nameology (is that the right “ology” word for this?) or not, I know I always try to suss out whether another Jenny is good enough to share my name. Which I guess is a little unfair given that I am a Genny, not a Jenny. Ya’ know?

Based on absolutely no scientific evidence, and purely my own interpretation of the world that is completely biased, here is what I can tell about Jennys:

-We are funny and give a lot of our time and attention to fun

-We are profoundly weird, I hate to use the Q word, quirky (ew) women. Though I also think that all women think that they are weird in a profound way due to how white, male, masculinity is seen as the norm and the female experience is otherized if it doesn’t fit into a male-centered worldview. BUT ANYWAY….

-We are creative and have a hard time being serious.

Who are some of your famous name counterparts? And, if you can pull together some sort of thesis, what kind of people do you have in your tribe?

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Musician most famous for her band Rilo Kiley, but last year released an amazing solo album, “The Voyager.” Also a former child actress from the 80s. One time, while I was listening to her new album, I had the very embarrassing thought, that “Jenny Lewis understands the loneliness of being a woman,” which, again is very embarrassing, but sort of true. She writes about being a tomboy growing up. Getting older and not having any children (and worrying if she’ll regret it) and other things that are hard to say out loud to yourself, let alone to other people. Can usually be found wearing an Adidas (All Day I Dream About Sports, does anyone else still use that to help them spell Adidas?) tracksuit. I hate the idea that certain women only receive notoriety once they date a famous man, but she did date Jake Gyllenhaal, so “Yas, gorl. Get it.”

Jenny Slate. Comedian. Actress. Most famous for her role as Mona-Lisa Saperstein on Parks and Recreation, her viral video-turned-childrens’ book, “Marcel the Shell,” and her starring role in “Obvious Child.” Said the F word on SNL and got fired (I find this pretty funny and great). Once posted an Instagram picture of her collection of Elena Forrente novels, and I am currently reading, “Story of a New Name,” and think they are the closest thing we are ever going to get to a female-centric Godfather. Went to Columbia. Not afraid of a good poop joke.

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Fartin’ Jenny from John Steinbeck’s, “East of Eden.” So this is obviously not a photograph of a fictional character from a novel. And Fartin’ Jenny (as she is named in the book) is probably so minor a character that most people wouldn’t remember that she is the Madame of the brothel in Salinas. Here is an excerpt from a website that I found, which I think summarizes her completely, “She is known for her sense of humor and congenial nature. She is a “keeper of secrets, a giver of secret loans” (218). People in town know to go to Jenny’s if they are looking for a fun, light-hearted time, since it “jangle[d] with honky-tonk and rock[ed] with belching laughter” (522). (http://sits.sjsu.edu/curriculum-resources/east-of-eden/character-census/) If I remember correctly, the novel says that she ran a place where women could fart and belch freely and laugh without the reproach of men. At the time I immediately thought, “how wonderful.”

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Jenny, the bad girl, from a 1950’s after school special, my Philosophy teacher in high school made us watch to talk about Feminism. Again, this is not a real picture from the film (because FOR THE LIFE OF ME I CANNOT REMEMBER THE NAME OF IT AND IT’S KILLING ME), so I improvised with a vintage picture of a girl on a motorcycle. Jenny was a bad girl who was fast with boys, as the narrator explained, and therefore was going to get a “reputation” for herself. Don’t be like Jenny, the narrator plead. Don’t go out alone at night with boys and smoke cigarettes. Don’t flirt and always listen to your parents. In fact, only date boys who you’re parents approve of first. Never wear your skirts 3 inches above your knees. Never cut your hair or wear dark eye make-up. Never…. Can you see why I decided to root for her?

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Jenni Konner. Writer and Producer on “Girls.” Admittedly, I don’t know much about Jenni Konner aside from her work on “Girls” and her status as Lena Deunham’s bff. BUT from a little IMB snooping, I have sussed out that she was also a writer on “Undeclared” (hence the Judd Apatow connection) AND (more importantly) wrote an episode of “What I like About You,” which is on the better side of the Amanda Bynes ouvré. I also recently subscribed to Lenny.

Mistaken For Strangers: You’ve Got the Allergy

image found on madmen.com.au

In the landscape of popular music, there is a small minority who are listening to indie rock, smaller who are listening to the critically acclaimed band, The National, and smaller still who know that the lead singer, Matt Berninger, has a metal head younger brother. In fact, the only people who may know or care about Tom Berninger are his parents. It isn’t easy to see your older brother become one of the most celebrated musicians of the 2000’s while you toil away, living in your family’s basement.  So sets the scene for the film , Mistaken For Strangers, taken from the name of a song off The National’s fourth album, Boxer.

“I feel like the only reason why he thinks I’m on tour is because I’m your brother.

“Here’s the truth.  The only reason that you are here is because you’re my brother”

Filmed in 2010, while the band was on tour in Europe, Strangers outlines the tension of the family golden boy vs the underachiever, in a clear, but subtle way.  Matt was tall and athletic growing up (though I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Matt Berninger’s awkward teenage brace-face).   Tom was short and had a belly.  In an interview with their mother Nancy who is a painter, she shows us two paintings that she uses for inspiration.  One is a modern, abstract painting, clean lines and very sophisticated – Matt’s creation.  Then next to it is three panels of drawings, cartoonish figures (akin to something you would see on Adult Swim) that tells the story of a man who wants to make his own legs – Tom’s. God bless Nancy, who reminds her son, “I always told you, you were my most creative.  My most talented.  Matt was harder to raise. He was always moody growing up. But you were happy, you just took things as they came.” To which Tom says, “Until now, now I’m the depressed one.” Continue reading

My Mom and I Count: How Many Times Did They Say “Italian” on Last Night’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey

6.

 

Though we are also counting Nicole and Teresa’s father, Sal, who twice mentioned that they were having real Neapolitan cooking.  Neapolitan meaning Naples, not, if you are anything like me, the brain-fart question I came up with (for only a second) where is Neapoli? Don’t worry, I put it together.

On Bravo’s website this as the first line of the twins’ bio:

Nicole and Teresa are identical twins with an over-the-top Neapolitan style.

Papa Sal (wife of Santa) also reminded us that the Neapolitans, besides “the Hebrews and the Chinese,” are the only people who maintain their tradition.

Every housewife has to have their “thing,” I guess.

Here is Your Fall 2014 Reading List

August 5, 2014 Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

If you are even remotely engaged with the world of lit, you have heard of Roxane Gay.  Her second book, An Untamed State seemed to be on everyone’s summer reading list and was even The Rumpus’ official selection for their Rumblr Book Club.  Lena Dunham, John Green, Tyler Coates, the NYT, HelloGiggles…Oprah, long story short this book was everywhere.  Luckily we won’t have to wait too long before Ms. Gay’s next release, a book of essays called Bad Feminist which looks like a mixture of pop-cultural critique, feminism, and personal anecdotes.  Am I excited? yes. But only because I am an Impatient Reader.

September 23, 2014 How to Build a Girl: A Novel – Caitlin Moran

Perhaps I had seen a copy of How to Be a Woman at my local Barnes and Nobles, but I only really discovered Caitlin Moran when I spent the semester in England.  Moran is sort of like the UK’s version of Tina Fey if she hadn’t gone into TV and instead decided to write a book about her privates, in a funny way, and was a writer for The Times.   Everytime I think about the writing career I want to have, I try to imagine how I can be as quick, witty, and funny as Caitlin Moran.  Could there even be a columnist that is allowed to be as pointed as she is in a US national paper?  I’m not sure.  I keep her second book, a collection of her favorite articles, Moranthology, in my bookshelf section that I call, “Helpful Writing Stuff,” and I flip through when I need a little writerly inspo.  Her third book, a Young Adult, coming-of-age novel called How to Build a Girl: A Novel has a 4.02 (out of 5) rating on Goodreads and has received positive reviews… in England where it was released on July 3.  Unfortunately for me, I have to wait until September 23 until I can get my hands on it. ughhhhhhh.

September 30, 2014 Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

It feels like Lena DunBuns – which is the nick name I lovingly call Lena Dunham in my head and not some sort of commentary on her booty – has been writing this book for forever.  Though perhaps being a young successful showrunner, producer, and actress on your own TV show has taken her away from her novelist time.  Talk about a gig economy.  Even if you aren’t a fan of Girls or have gotten caught up in LD hate, you have to admire Lena Dunham’s work ethic and persistence.  Not that Kind of Girl is expected to be a collection of personal essays that will surely make people wonder, okay so are you basically Hannah or are you still acting?  I can only hope that at least a few stories include mesh tank tops, crackcidents, and also your dad is gay, it was nice to see you.

October 28, 2014 Yes, Please– Amy Poehler

I have a personal anecdote about the upcoming Amy Poehler book.  The first week of June I went to the final day of Book Expo America, and waited in line for over an hour to see Amy Poehler.  I was worried that I wouldn’t get a good spot to see AP because when it comes to someone like her, I want to be able to see every line and wrinkle or it wouldn’t have really felt like I saw her at all.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, I got inside the hall where she would shortly be “in conversation” with Martin Short and snuck up to the front where they had a limited number of tables set up before the general audience seating. I typically have very low expectations when it comes to meeting my heroes, due to an unfortunate Lauren Graham incident in high school (which is a story for another day) so I was cautious about how much I was going to enjoy the next hour. If she was rude, self-centered, had horrible plastic surgery (it just would have been surprising),  or said something even vaguely anti-feminist, I would’ve given up hope of ever having a hero again.  (Or, as they said in Whip It, I could “be my own hero” though honestly that sounds like sooo much work.)

On the table were pink fortune cookies, with words of wisdom from the book inside.  A very nice, and yummy, touch.  The crowd was mostly young (20’s) and female, but what more can you expect for Leslie Knope?

Soon it was time for things to begin, so Martin Short enters stage right and makes the introduction.  Everyone, naturally, cheers their little faces off and when Amy Poehler walked out it she was like the human embodiment of sunshine.  She looked just like how you would expect her to look and the next hour proved that she is exactly what you want her to be.  She was naturally hilarious, humble without seeming fake, had great anecdotes from her time on SNL, and there was even a moment when Martin Short asked her, “So why should someone buy your book and not someone’s book who’s terrible….like Kim Kardashian?” And I swear Amy Poehler shut that shit down in the nicest way possible.  She says, “I don’t like the comparison. I don’t want to compare two women.  Is there another way you can ask that question?” Nice.  Not punishing Short for going for a sort of obvious and mean-ish joke.  It made me really respect how clearly Amy Poehler sees her idea of feminism and how aware she is of what her words mean to other people.

There was also a moment when Short asks her about some sex tips she put in the book and Amy Poehler seemed to be grasping for the right thing to say.  He asks, “You wrote it didn’t you?  Don’t you remember what you wrote?” And she says, “I did!  But I can’t remember the exact way I said it and I don’t think it will sound as funny out loud as it does on paper. And I don’t want to say it if it won’t be funny.” Instead of a lot of celebrities who will peddle their personal lives to get attention and make their work secondary, this made me realize how seriously Amy Poehler wants to communicate that she is a comedian first, person of interest second.  Between this interview and some of the quotes I’ve read from her on comedy, I feel like she is the sort of person who wants to make the work first and then shut up about it.

This is a long way of saying that if there is one book on this list that I think the most people will enjoy and get something meaningful out of, it will be Yes, Please.   I could write pages of how fantastic and smart I think Amy Poehler is, but I will let you get to see for yourself when her book comes out in October.

 

 

Mad Men Ended it’s Mid-Season Finale with the Closest We Will Ever Come to a Mad Men Musical Episode

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I’m writing this four days after the mid-season finale of Mad Men, forever in internet years, waiting until the thinkpiece dust has settled and we have all had a moment of reflection.  In a this-show-is-almost-over-and-I-still-don’t-understandwhat-it-all-means kind of way, Matthew Weiner has left us with a lot to think about.  Ginsberg’s nipple, the student surpasses the teacher, we all become our parents, and finally, the best things in life are free. The last one sung in Burt Cooper’s stocking feet.

Here is what I know.  A year ago I read a Grantland article written by Chuck Klosterman, entitled Bad Decisions: Why AMC’s Breaking Bad beats Mad Men, The Sopranos, and The WireAs you can guess, Klosterman name checks the above four shows, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, and The Wire, as the greatest works of modern television.  Klosterman is the writer behind the New York Times column The Ethicist and is an acclaimed author of essays, yet I have some hesitations agreeing with him.  Given that this list is predominately white and exclusively features male protagonist (let me just point out that unlike Sex and the City, none of these shows are being shown on rerun six times a day…) to pair down all of the fantastic and wonderful television to just a measly four seems like  being choosey.  Not to mention it was written before George R. R. Martin threw daggers at morality in Game of Thrones. However, these shows do fit together like a puzzle, as if finding the real Literature amongst the genre-fic that you love, but are slightly embarrassed to admit to reading on Goodreads. Klosterman explains his particular list is based on each show’s widespread acclaim, innovation, and most interestingly their sense of morality (again, a female-driven show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores morality pretty much explicitly, but here is not a place where I want to argue with Klosterman’s semantics.) Which is a pretty loaded sentiment to unpack when it comes to Mad Men.

Is this a show about right and wrong?  Sort of.  I agree with Klosterman when he says, “Characters can do or say whatever they want without remorse, because almost all their decisions can be excused (or at least explained) by the circumstances of the period.” That is arguably true, when we look at the (very few) plot lines of race and homosexuality on Mad Men. This past season did not forget Dawn Chambers, the first Black employee of SC&P, who moved up to replace Joan as Director of Personnel and Bob (Not Great, Bob!) Benson, who asked Joan to be in a marriage of convenience. It is almost redundant to mention the closure we all felt when Don passed the baton to Peggy.  Though I will anyway because as hard as it was to watch Peggy be lost in her personal life, it felt so satisfying to see her win professionally.

I would argue that the show only concerns itself with morality because it is deeply character driven (as are the other three shows Klosterman highlights) and the reasons why humans act the way they do fluctuates constantly.  One day you proclaim yourself a strict vegan and ten years later you’re part of the steak of the month club. Mad Men just happens to capture the growth between vegan and carnivore in the slow, lingering pace in which it really happens.

Mostly this show is about change, cultural change, and unravels so slowly so that we here in the present can compare our modern culture to the shift in the 1960s.  Mad Men is undoubtedly obsessed with history, but not the facts and numbers.  The history of human creativity and expression.  Tracing our roots not along the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the uprising of the computer, or even the moon landing (though those moments are significant), but instead chooses to focus it’s gaze on the television’s soft glow on the human face.  The writer’s don’t hold back from watching the characters watch the world change.  And in fact, some of the most significant moments of the show are watching the emotions shift in the characters with whom we feel both love and hate.  Don’s glossy eyes as he watches Burt Cooper sing and dance his way to the other side.

It seems that the moment things turn, that churn from one state to the next, is what the show tries to capture.  It doesn’t play up the rise and fall of conflict like Game of Thrones.  One of my favorite tweets from the season premiere of Mad Men read, “First half of #madmen is just getting everyone’s real estate situation sorted out.” Which was funny given that half the cast was in California and half was in New York and we, the audience, had to wait and see who was where. However, the sentiment behind that joke is indicative of the show at large. It feels like we follow behind Peggy, Pete, Don, or Roger just to understand where everyone is situated, where their head is at in the moment, and then the conflict is revealed slowly and carefully.  Mad Men continually finds this crux interesting and plays the nuance of these moments well, like it was inevitable.

What Klosterman gets right is that with the rise of television there will inevitably be hierarchy.  The half-hour comedy, the network drama, the weekly procedural…will get relegated to low-tier genre shtick.  Reality TV will be like only reading US Weekly. And carefully, we as a culture are weeding out our high lit shows, aware that an HBO or a Showtime can give us a fulfilling hour of entertainment.  I worry that the canon of “good” television will be as white and male as any other list of “classic” media.  It feels like critics have more terrain than ever to shape will be considered essential in television history.  Especially when there is so much writing floating around about strong female protagonists.

But let’s dial it back to Mad Men. Matthew Weiner doesn’t ask use to sit through a documentary style show about the men who invented the McDonald’s, “Have it Your Way!” to see how that historic slogan was born.  We are looking through the lens the opposite way, people first.  Mad Men is not a good show because it is moral, it’s because it’s a study in human emotion.  It posits that creative work can be fulfilling and then shows us how that joy can make Peggy beam.  It reminds us that people saw beauty in that work, the stuff that lives on, even when their personal lives were a mess.  How Don always makes the wrong call when it comes to women, but you can see the elements of his personality shift into the right place when he makes a pitch. The work is what fuels everyone in the SC&P office, yet Mad Men does not care what the end result is because art is always temporary.  Not to get too shmaltzy, but perhaps this is the stuff of Burt Cooper’s dance number.  The best thing in life is creativity and that will always be free.