I found myself at the Portland Zine Symposium yesterday, talking with other very fervent, very impassioned, creators and wandering from table to table...moreI found myself at the Portland Zine Symposium yesterday, talking with other very fervent, very impassioned, creators and wandering from table to table, each awash in the fruits of some erstwhile thinker's labor of love. I'd traded away every copy of my own zine by the time I hit the Pioneer Press table and had to break my budget and plunk down actual cash for this tiny little tract. The brilliant cover drew me in, but flipping through it I knew that it needed to come home with me because it features some of the most concise advice I've found for dealing with your brain in those moments when you're teetering on the brink and about to succumb to another round of in the ongoing battle against depression. Adam Gnade has clearly fought many battles with the Big Sad and come out the other side time and again and he dispenses his wisdom in short and easily-digestible snippets like so:
"A Rough Guide to Surviving the Unsurvivable
1) If you live with monsters you'll become monstrous. This can be good and it can be bad. You need to keep your perspective and know when it's time to quit a bad scene.
2) Learn the difference between honesty and being a dick.
3) Once you stop looking for identity, you start to die.
4) Don't sabotage yourself. There are enough people out there who'll do it for you. Don't let the assholes win.
5) Read more than you drink.
6) When you feel the Big Motherfuckin' Sad coming on, scream as loudly as you possibly can. It's good medicine.
7) Remember: If someone is talking shit about someone else to you, they probably talk shit about you, too. If they're doing it on the internet, they're probably someone you don't want to be friends with. Know a vendetta when you see one. Shit-talkers are like black mold: they'll infect you and you might not even know it. You don't need that darkness in your life. Bitterness will jump from them to you."
I foresee the tiny book being pretty handy in those moments when I need a quick dose of perspective in order to avoid diving back down that rabbit hole of resentment, sorrow, and self destruction which has been my home for far too long.(less)
You'd think that with how much I read this would be old hat by now, but I always get a little bit anxious when a friend publishes something. What if i...moreYou'd think that with how much I read this would be old hat by now, but I always get a little bit anxious when a friend publishes something. What if it isn't good? What if I don't like it? How do you walk that line between supporting their work and wanting to be honest about your opinion of their work? I've lost a lot of sleep over how to review books of this sort, that complex dance of criticism, the "well i liked this aspect, but this and this felt like they were superfluous" waltz of carefully worded critiques. Fortunately, when it comes to the stories of Casey Plett, this concern never even crossed my mind. I was in love from word one.
No stranger to the written word, Plett has previously written a column on transitioning for McSweeneys and had a story featured in Topside Press' 2012 anthology, The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard. Both marked her as a voice to be watched, a writer whose spare style and conversational approach evokes many comparisons to Michelle Tea's fictionalized memoirs of lesbian living. With the publication of her first short story collection, Plett makes good on the promise hinted at in her earlier stories, also reprinted herein, and offers us a sampler plate of the myriad ways that trans women are living, loving, and existing all throughout the country.
These girls are beautiful, at turns both fiercely strong and defiant against a world that loathes or fetishizes them and also so frighteningly fragile and vulnerable, so breakable that you'd like to capture them in a bell jar and keep them tucked away safe forever. Like Lisa, the recently single cam girl haunted by memories of her ex and crippling social anxiety, who ends up having a kink-fueled fling with an older lesbian in "How Old Are You Anyway?", a story which had me both titillated and nodding along in recognition as her conscious narrative devolved to a catalog of sensory input, those amazing spikes of pain that shoot from nipple to groin to neck and back again and all you want is for that ache to never end because for a moment you're so mercifully free of all concerns and actually home in your body and actually feeling and what does it matter that it's pain and hurt because for so long you've just felt nothing that to be able to feel anything physical at all is just so fucking transcendental. And then it's over. And the walls come back up and your thrice-damned thoughts come rushing back in and that blissful nothingness is just the faintest blissful memory.
Or the dynamics between "Lizzy and Annie," two Brooklyn trans girls negotiating their own uncertainty and fears to find love with one another, bouncing from bar to bed to breakfast all whilst ducking the attentions of chasers and the leering stares of their coworkers. Or the unnamed narrator of "How to Stay Friends" out for dinner with her ex for the first time since transitioning and simultaneously wanting to make a good new "first impression" and deconstructing everything that you did wrong and regret while you were dating and trying to maintain the facade of being a virile straight man. That particular story hit a little close to home and necessitated me putting the book down for a few minutes to catch my breath and get some distance from the material before returning. We all have those things we really regret from the times before transitioning, but it's always a bit disconcerting to see your own thoughts writ so clearly upon the page.
By far my favorite story is the largest, "Not Bleak," about Carla, a trans girl living in a small Mid-Western town near the Canadian border working at a book store and her friendship with Zeke, a mennonite trans girl who may or may not have stolen her hormones and her passport but who also really needed a friend and a community. Carla, ever of the warm heart and willing to extend the benefit of the doubt becomes close with her to the point of posing as her girlfriend and returning with Zeke to the small Mennonite community she grew up in so she could see her grandfather before he passed. Zeke utterly broke my heart, this poor little trans girl who was willing to hide her identity and be seen as a boy so as to preserve the links she had with her family. This girl who needs support so badly but who is her own worst enemy and continually brings people to distrust her. I want to say more but I don't want to spoil the story, but Plett's portrayal of an insular small-town queer community where everyone knows one another and has for years and how the lack of anything to do leads to some enormously silly hijinks in the name of entertaining yourself is absolutely spot-on. Of all the stories, this is the one that I've come back to and read several times more.
These stories are all about trans characters, which I love because there's a frightening lack of creative work by and about girls like me, but they appeal to a much larger crowd as well- those of us who have ever stood on the outside of a party and watched the interplay between people and wondering why it seemed so easy for everyone else, those of us who have ever dealt with fear, anxiety, or isolation, those of us who have ever gotten sloppily drunk in order to feel more at ease in social situations. Plett has an amazing eye for the fragile foibles nestled within everyone's hearts and I think that any reader, trans or cis, can connect with her characters. This is her first collection, but I'm certainly hoping it's not her last as Casey Plett's voice is one that is desperately needed within the realm of fiction. Her stories are the sort that I long to read. I don't know that I could ever recommend a book more highly.(less)
Masturbatory fantasy for older white men who feel smug in their own sense of superiority. In which real rugged man's men persevere at the fall of civi...moreMasturbatory fantasy for older white men who feel smug in their own sense of superiority. In which real rugged man's men persevere at the fall of civilization to build a new world in the ashes of the old. Lots of "we need only one leader, not a committee" bullshit to justify strong arm tactics. Lots of colonialism, particularly in Stirling's digs at the Nez Perce tribes loss of traditional knowledge, portraying it as an aspect of how a people had degraded without any mention or even hint of the genocide and cultural whitewashing that went into ensuring that indigenous cultures were erased and assimilated. The casual racism that just oozes off the page is such a very recognizable NorthWest style of unthinking whiteness that I threw the book at the wall on more than one occasion. Even more sexism, because this book doesn't have a single female character who isn't condescended and patronized at one point or another by the alpha male, former marine, clan leader hero.
I picked this up because I read nearly all dystopian fiction and because it is set in Oregon and it's neat to match events to the real world geography I know so well. I kept reading it through the sea of toxic masculinity because there was a really neat coven of witches who was vastly more my style- overseen by the coven's matriarch but run on a consensus model that allowed all's concerns to be aired, rooted in the land and an appreciation of what it provides, valuing music and love. But this wasn't enough to keep me interested. There's more to this series but I strongly doubt I'll be picking any of them up.(less)