The Chris Brown Question

See? Ignoring everything else, this would be enough to make me not like him.

If you are a human-type person then you have probably heard about the Chris Brown/Rihanna ickiness.  The latest news in this non-scripted Hollywood drama is that Chris Brown and Rihanna are dating again and have recorded a song together that will be released on her next album. So, that’s a thing that’s happening. Of course, I don’t know if it’s really really happening but all the interwebs is abuzz with news of it so, for now, let’s assume that it’s a thing that’s happening.

In general, I’m not too involved in the lives of celebrities, unless we are talking about the Katy Perry/Russell Brand divorce because in that case I am absolutely devastated and hope those crazy kids can work it out someday. Other than that one exception, I usually skim through a Jezebel Dirtbag article every once in a while for kicks and giggles and only listen half-heartedly when people around me are discussing celebrity gossip. Lately though, it seems like all the talk has been about the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga and I have to admit that I’ve found myself listening and participating in the conversation, if only because I think there are bigger issues at play than who is dating who in Hollyweird. (See what I did there? I called it Hollyweird so people know how independent of social conventions I am.)  Out of all the discussion, and opinions, and judging that is surrounding this saga, there is one question I have heard/read over and over again, “When do we forgive Chris Brown?”

Ummmmm….we don’t. We don’t forgive Chris Brown. Not because he’s a violent person unworthy of forgiveness but because what he did wasn’t directed at us. Chris Brown didn’t beat the shit out of me, so what do I have to forgive him for? I really don’t think it’s a matter of forgiveness from the public’s perspective. I think the only person who has a right to forgive or not forgive Chris Brown is Rihanna. It was her face getting punched, not mine or yours. Let’s leave the forgiveness to her.

Now, having said that, it doesn’t mean that I have to like Chris Brown. Because I don’t. I really really don’t.  From what I’ve seen and read, he is violent, homophobic, volatile, sexist, and not that great of a singer, although, I will happily concede he is an excellent dancer.  I don’t have to like him but it’s not up to me to forgive or not forgive him. His transgression wasn’t against me. So, let’s drop this “Forgive Chris Brown” and “Don’t forgive Chris Brown” discussion unless your name is Rihanna and you’re a pop star. However, feel free to discuss how much you do or don’t like him – in fact, the comments section of this blog would be a good place for that.  😉

 

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Your Status Update Not Welcome

The other day, with the dreaded Facebook timeline looming on the horizon, I decided to be proactive and clean up my feed. I spent hours looking at my profile and past posts, deleting horrible things left and right.  Remember, I’m of the generation that pretty much started Facebook back in college.  I think we were one of the first universities who got to use it.  Yep, for those of you who may not know, Facebook used to be exclusive.  Anywho.  Horrible things.  Right.  So the clean-up also made me realize how times have changed.  Back in the day, we didn’t even know of the concept of a status update.  Now, you can count on me to give you the mundane updates of my weekend activities.  However, with all this change we never did get that dislike button.  And more than a dislike button (because that would just feel mean) I’d like to have a block button.

If I had block button, I’d erase from my feed:

Anything relating to babies.

This includes baby showers, baby blog updates, bump pictures, professional maternity pictures, status updates about food cravings, nursery progress pictures, rants about nursing, complaints about lack of sleep, gender announcements, and ultrasound pictures.  Some of us don’t like babies.  We don’t want babies.  We don’t want to have to talk about babies.  We don’t want to hold your babies.  Unfortunately, I’m of that age where it seems like this is the only thing other people care about and I’m subjected to updates on a daily basis.  Just shoot me now.  And for the love of God, why must people post pictures of the actual pregnancy test?  I don’t need to see the stick you peed on.  When you announce to Facebook that you’re pregnant? Yah, I’ll believe you.

Bible Verses

I don’t really get this one.  What is the reasoning behind peppering your feed with biblical messages?  Are you trying to advertise that you went to church? That you’re a better Christian than your friends?  I’m not sure about God, generally, but I don’t think she really gives a crap about your Facebook status.  God would probably rather you be out doing some actual act of good rather than writing about it.  When one lives in the bible belt it also means one gets bombarded with Christian messages just about every day.  Just for once, I’d like to open my Facebook feed and read in secular peace.

Mushy sentiments about having the best boyfriend/husband/wife/girlfriend EVER!

There are 7 billion people on this planet.  You can’t honestly believe the rest of us agree your husband is the best.  I’ll bet he picks his nose when you’re not looking.  Or maybe he’ll wash a red sock with your whites.  Plus, when being the best has anything to do with cooking dinner that just tells me you have low standards.

Any vacation picture without a person in it.

Well, alright, if it’s a picture of something humorous I’ll cut you some slack.  But let’s get real folks, the only reason I look at your vacation photos is so I can see if you wore a fanny pack or black socks with sandals.  If I’m not digging my toes into the sand, I don’t need to see the picture of your view while you were doing it.  You’re no Ansel Adams.  If I want to do a bit of armchair travel I’ll pick up a good book or visit a blog wherein they know how to use something other than an iPhone to snap pictures.

Please feel free to add to the list of blocked subject matter. It’s very freeing to finally get this out because you know I couldn’t post this on Facebook…

– Kate

Something Wicked This Way Pins

Readers, I have been betrayed. What started out as a grand passion has turned sour. It pains me to tell you, but Pinterest and I are on the outs.

Our affair started slow. Initially, it seemed an innocent enough idea – one website where I could store my inspiration, without cluttering up my hard drive. How could that go wrong? I pinned the odd dress here or that great pair of shoes there, but it wasn’t an addiction. I’d log on every night, admire the pretty clothes and the clever projects, but leave as quickly as I came. However, things soon heated up. Before I knew it, I had been seduced.

My boards grew, becoming little villages of personal interest. One filled up with places I wanted to go, pictures of Amazonian pink dolphins and Egyptian Dahabeyas,  while another caught all the clever Downton Abbey memes I ran across. Our love seemed so pure! Pinterest was a virtual land where anything was possible. I could find that Jason Wu for Target dress. I could eat that five-minute coffee cake. Surely, something that brought me closer to other fans of mildly incestuous British period dramas couldn’t be bad! Oh, poor naive Grace. How easily you were fooled.

You see, readers, Pinterest is not all Matthew Crawley paper dolls and Luisa Beccaria dresses. There is a dark underpinning. Many pins are projects you can do yourself. Cue gasps of horror. Every sane person knows DIY projects, whether upholstered headboards or retro makeup tutorials, are best left to the shiny, perfect bloggers and hosts of TLC shows. Us normal people cannot actually make cupcakes that look like Darth Vader. When we want a tufted ottoman, we go to Pottery Barn, not our “craft room.” This is where Pinterest ruins you. When you see enough clever projects, you start to believe they’re doable. Your friend from 10th grade choir camp wouldn’t pin that doily covered vase, if it wasn’t simple! You just need guts, Grace, the pins screamed! Do it yourself.

And so I did.

First, there was the five-minute pumpkin pie. Nontraditional baking is beloved on Pinterest. There’s a whole sub-genre of cakes-in-cups that threatens to outpace actual cupcakes. The concept was bewitchingly simple – put filo dough in the bottom of a mug, stir together some downsized pie ingredients, and microwave. Pie! In a mug! In five minutes! Why had I not done this before? I hadn’t done it, because – surprise! –  it doesn’t work. Perhaps my microwave is possessed or my mugs aren’t made for baking, but what came out of that machine was not pie. Just because something smells like nutmeg, does not mean it’s edible. Lesson learned.

Not to be daunted, I tried something I was familiar with: nail polish. Another perennial favorite of pinners, fancy nail polish techniques are everywhere. I picked something easy, a tutorial on triangle nail polish patterns. Apparently, all I had to do was paint my nails, frame a triangle with tape, then paint again in a different color! Easy. I have been taping things for years. What the pinners didn’t mention, of course, was that tape removes nail polish. Especially fresh nail polish. I ended up soaking my nails in acetone, trying to rid them of their overly ambitious varnish. I was going for Mondrian, not Pollock, Pinterest!

In the way of all doomed lovers, I started to question myself. Perhaps this was my fault, not Pinterest’s. Obviously, I’m just not as accomplished as previously thought. Pumpkin puree and artful taping were reaching too high, Grace. You must work up to such astounding feats, grasshopper. So, I tried once more. This time, I picked something really easy – no fickle dashes of cinnamon or treacherous nail polish. For my third and final trick, I was going to do my hair. Even I couldn’t completely blow this one. I’ve been arranging my own hair every morning since puberty. I know my way around a curling iron and a blow dryer. Why, I even know when to use mousse and when to use hairspray! Piece of cake.

After much examining of hair tutorials, I chose a no-heat curl method. Normally, I have thick, stick-straight hair, which refuses to hold any shape other than that of a pencil. My grandmother insists this is a sign of our Cherokee roots, which is a bit hard to believe when my hair is also unrepentantly blonde. I’m blaming the Swedes on this one. Genetic blame-placing aside, the chance to counteract Mother Nature was too good to pass up. All I was to do was twirl my freshly washed locks around a soft headband, then sleep on it. Hooray! I am excellent at both showering and sleeping. So, readers, I did it. Last night, I showered, twirled my hair about for ten minutes, then slept on dreams of my newly curly coif. This morning, I unrolled the headband in anticipation. Would I have Blake Lively’s lovely waves? Or the tighter curls of Sarah Jessica Parker?

As it turns out, my hair was more Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries…pre-makeover. It was frizzy. It was dry. It was completely Scar-from-Lion-King insane. The loose, lovely curls of the tutorial blogger were nowhere to be found. Even frizz serum wouldn’t work! So, I hopped back in the shower to wash away the bird’s nest. Alas, the last of my Pinterest love went down the drain with the deep conditioning treatment.

Pinterest and I are through. I may pin dresses I want to knock off or exotic vacation destinations, but I will not be coerced into that world of glamorous mugcakes and magic coiffures! I will stick to my Joy of Baking and hot iron, thank you very much. I am destined never to be a shiny blogger, my brilliant advice spread far and wide over Pinterest. That’s okay. I’d rather be known for my wit (and quickly Photoshopped satirical book covers) than my hand-painted china cats anyway.

– Grace

The Holy Grail of Face Wash

Say yes to tomatoes

Usually, I try to write something snarky, feministy, or astute on this blog. Unfortunately, I spent the weekend around a confirmed demon cat (I’ll tell you that story another time) and seeing as how I am very VERY allergic to cats, I’ve not been able to have one snarky, feministy, or astute thought in days because I’ve sneezed them all out. So, instead of something funny or thought-provoking, I thought I might just share one of my beauty secrets with you. And by “beauty secret” I just mean really awesome product that works really awesomely.

Here’s a shocker, when I was a teenager, I had acne. (I’ll pause for a collective gasp). It wasn’t so bad that I had to take hard-core medication but it was bad enough that my dermatologist gave me a prescription cream for it. Sure, I could blame the acne on the fact that I played tennis practically everyday and that makes a girl sweaty and sweat makes you break-out, but if I’m being really truly honest, I had acne even when I wasn’t playing tennis everyday. And I loathed it. All I ever wanted was clear, beautiful, glowy skin. When most girls were doing whatever most girls do, I was ransacking every cosmetic counter at the mall looking for two things.

1. The magic cure for my acne.

2. A good cover-up for when the magic cure didn’t work.

Seriously y’all, I tried everything. I tried every brand, every product, every anything that might possibly help. I took herbs. I stopped wearing make-up. I washed my face twenty times a day, at least I did until someone told me that was why I had acne, so I started only washing my face once a day. And you know something? After all that, I still had acne. Not all over my face but a few zits here and there was enough to drive me crazy. Zits were my enemy and they were winning the war big time. The only hope I could cling to was that when I turned 20 and officially ended my teen years all my zit problems would disappear. But they didn’t. Sure, my skin was a lot clearer and I had more days without zits than I did with zits, but I still got them frequently enough to feel as though my skin wasn’t really truly clear and it sure as hell wasn’t glowy. I had pretty much given up the search for the perfect combination of cleanser, exfoliator, and moisturizer and faced the reality that for me, perfect skin just wasn’t going to happen, until….

On a whim, I bought a new cleanser for my face mostly because I liked the packaging. Sure, I had a half-full bottle of another type of cleanser in my shower but what’s life without whimsy? So, I bought it and started using it immediately without even giving that half-full bottle of just ok cleanser another look. And guess what? I’m zit free! My skin has never been clearer and while it may not be quite as glowy as J. Lo’s, I can live with that. It’s soft and clear and actually pretty nice looking. Would you like to know what cleanser I bought? Well too bad if you don’t because I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s called Say Yes To Tomatoes and it’s mostly natural and smells quite nice and I don’t even really care that much about those things because it keeps my skin clear and for the first time in who knows how long, I actually like how my skin looks and even better it costs less than $10 a bottle. So, basically, I finally found the holy grail of skin cleansers and it’s called Say Yes To Tomatoes. The acne prone teenager in me is finally at peace.

Do you have any special products you love? Let’s not keep secrets people…

A Spirited Defense of Romance Novels

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a woman who reads romance novels must be sad, lonely, and own a house brimming with cats.

Or, at least, that’s what the trio of teenagers in Barnes & Noble this afternoon would have me believe. Bodice rippers, they called them. Smut, they said. Housewife porn, they tittered, flipping through the pages for any utterance of the word “manhood.”

Obviously, they had to die.

Just kidding. I didn’t kill them with my sword of literary righteousness. It would have made such the mess. Blood stains do tend to ruin books, after all. Not only did I not end them, but I also didn’t launch into a lecture. It was close, but I bit my tongue and kept on browsing, with only the briefest of quelling death glares. I would like to cite my well-honed sense of tact for this, but let’s be honest. I didn’t lecture those kids, because it would do no good. There would be a new crop of giggling literary voyeurs in their place tomorrow. People love to mock romance novels.

As a longtime romance reader, I’m well-acquainted with such literary snobbery. Despite having bookshelves similarly filled with mysteries, non-fiction, and young adult books, whenever people peruse my library they comment on the romance novels.The following exchange has happened way too often…

Friend: Grace, you read trashy books? I never would have guessed!
Grace: They’re romances, they’re not trash.
Friend: But they’re all about sex! I thought only bored housewives read these.
Grace: The one you’re holding is written by a graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale.
Friend: Look, it says “manhood!”
Grace: *explodes in fury*

Why is it considered socially acceptable to impugn romance novels? Despite it being the bestselling category of books, with over $1.3 billion in sales last year alone, it’s the darling of haters. No other genre has to deal with this kind of heat. Personally, I ascribe this to it being the only genre primarily written by and written for women. Classically feminine interests have always been easy to malign, after all. Alas, that’s a (long, rant-filled) discussion for another day. What I really want to talk about is the thing most haters of romance have in common: they’ve never actually read a romance novel.

Feel free to hate on a genre, if you’re well read in it. All too often, however, the people talking about how smutty romances are have never actually picked one up. From cover art and literary gossip, they make all sorts of ridiculous assumptions about the books and their readers. Since it would be impossible to force them to pick up a pink book, I’m just going to break some myths myself. How convenient that we write this blog, isn’t it? Get ready, captive audience readers, we’re talking romances today.

Myth One: Women read romances for the sex.

Oh, darlings. No. Romances are not porn. If I were reading a book solely for its erotic content, I’d be more efficient about it. In the average romance novel, there are like six total pages of sex. If the book is 400 pages, that’s 1.5% total. Y’all, I’ve read young adult books with higher percentages than that. In romance, like other genres, it’s all on a spectrum – they range from sweet romances (kisses only) to erotic romance (legit erotica), but most popular romances fall in the middle. One or two sex scenes tops, most of which I skim through. Because…surprise! That’s not why I, or most romance readers, pick up a romance.

Myth Two: Women who read romances have submission fantasies.

Ah, the bodice ripper argument. This is the reason I truly know most haters have never read a romance. Bodice rippers, books with overly-Alpha (read: chauvinistic asshat) heroes and unwilling waif heroines, haven’t been popular in over twenty years. Modern romances celebrate realistic characters. In historicals, you’re just as like to run into a pickpocket heroine as you are a countess, and neither one will be a helpless waif. Heroes also run the gamut, from sensitive Gammas to boy-next-door Betas, but the one thing you don’t find anymore are irredeemable Alphas. If a guy acts like a jerk to the heroine, he better have a good backstory about why and he better lighten up eventually. Heroines aren’t pushed around anymore. If anything, they’re the focus of most modern romance novels, something which my feminist core adores about the genre.

Myth Three: Romances are poorly written template novels.

Every romance reader has heard this before. Aren’t all romances the same? They’re formulaic, sentimental shlock that preys on women’s emotions. To this I say: No, you moron. The only thing romances have in common, one book to another, is that the hero and heroine must end up together. That’s not called a formula, that’s called a genre convention. It would be like saying all mysteries are the same, because a crime is solved. It’s just illogical.

Like in any genre, there are good romances and bad romances. They’re not all one or the other. However, like in other genres, there are brilliantly written books that just happen to be romance novels. Even my mother, who isn’t a romance reader, will pick up the latest Susan Elizabeth Phillips…because they’re wonderful, well-written books, no matter what genre they fall into.

Myth Four: Women who read and write romances are just bored housewives.

Oh, holy bejeezus. Let’s just stop this nonsense right there, shall we? From just my sampling of friends who read romance novels there are: two lawyers, one of whom graduated first in her class from a top law school, three doctors, and five women with “executive” in their job titles. Sure, some housewives read them too…because some readers are housewives, not because they’re all women’s weak little brains can handle. Have you met housewives lately? Did they seem dumb or bored to you? Because some of the smartest, busiest women I know are stay-at-home moms.

Beyond that, I defy you to find a group of better educated writers than romance authors. As a writer, albeit in a different genre, I annually attend Romance Writers of America’s national conference. Each year, I meet doctors, lawyers, and college professors writing in the genre. Eloisa James, one of my personal favorites, is the chair of Fordham University’s English Department. Julia Quinn, one of romance’s most beloved modern writers, was accepted to Yale School of Medicine, when her first book sold. Excellent credentials for anyone’s intellect, I would say.

So, why do we read romance novels? Just like other genres, it’s hard to pigeonhole readers, but I think it all comes back to characters.  Romance is the only genre whose conventions favor character over plot. Mysteries must have an investigator, but chiefly they need a crime to unfold. Science Fiction needs a hero, but even more it needs world-building and large scale plotting.  Romances are, at their core, about two people falling in love. Ergo, the people are the most important part. They must be three-dimensional, well-written characters to truly make us feel the emotion of their journey. Like in every genre, there are books that don’t succeed, but the great ones do so brilliantly.

If you’ve dismissed romances, I challenge you to read a few. You might become a lifelong fan or, perhaps, you’ll just bust a few more myths. Either way, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. Don’t worry, you don’t have to own cats to enjoy the books. I’m more of a dog person anyway.

– Grace

Awesome romance-centric sites:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Dear Author
All About Romance
International Association for the Study of Popular Romance

“Cute” Is Patronizing.

Penguins

See? This is cute.

Listen folks, I may or may not have had a few glasses of champagne and this may or may not be a rant. Just so we’re kind of clear.

I loathe being referred to as “cute” and I absolutely abhor my writing being called “cute”. Why? Because “cute” is patronizing y’all. It’s patronizing as hell.  Sure, being called “cute” used to be a nice thing, but around age 14 it stops being nice and starts being repressive. At age 14, “cute” hits its own form of puberty and turns from light fluffiness to ugly patronizingness.

At least, 14 is when I first remember feeling like “cute” was no longer a desirable adjective to be called. “Cute” was what all the popular girls called you when they really meant, “not cool”.  “Cute” was what boys called you right before qualifying it with “ but not hot”. “Cute” was what your art teacher called your final project when she really meant, “derivative and without vision”.  “Cute” was what your English teacher called the poem you wrote in iambic pentameter when he really meant, “lovesick teens are the worst”. “Cute” is what your Mother called the homecoming dress you had previously loved and then promptly had to trash. Around the age of 14 “cute” stops being cute and morphs into degrading, minimizing, dismissive, and patronizing. “Cute” means “Cute…but….” Once you hit puberty and meander your way into adulthood, “cute” always has a “but” attached and it is that implied “but” that is so patronizing. “Cute” is less than, “cute” is not really good enough.

So, when someone, anyone, refers to my writing, which I’ve put assloads of effort and time into as “cute”, I tend to get a little pissy. Call me sensitive, call me insane, you won’t be the first or the last person to do so, but I know when I’m being patronized and dismissed as “less than” and I’m going to fight like hell against it. How am I going to fight against it? I’m going to drink champagne, write this blog post, and say “Screw you” to anyone who calls it “cute”. Puppies are cute. Babies are cute. So are Lisa Frank notebooks, Shirley Temple movies, kittens, stuffed animals, cupcakes, and penguins. Feel free to call all of those things cute. But don’t call my writing “cute” unless you are looking to start some stuff, because I will start some stuff. Ya dig?

Girls Who Hate Girls Who Hate Girls

I believe in warning signs. Where there is smoke, fire is ablaze. Where there’s a siren in Kansas, tornado approaches. And where there’s a broad generalization about how all girls are bitches, there’s…a bitch.

“I just don’t get along with girls.”

You’ve heard that statement. I know you have. How do I know this? Because it is a much beloved catchphrase among a certain set. Often said with smugness, this statement is fraught with hidden meaning. It intimates that girls are catty, or that other girls have always been jealous of the speaker, or that this girl was done A Great and Terrible Wrong by female friends.The person saying this doesn’t mean she doesn’t get along with girls, she means she doesn’t like girls. She doesn’t care for half the people walking around on Earth. If you have a vagina, she’s out.

What a load of crap. This infuriates me. I wish to find a radioactive spider, if only so I could be bitten, gain superpowers, and trap people who say this in a prison of feminist rage web. While I am not the type to insist we all love each other, simply because we have matching chromosomes, I am the type to insist we not actively bash our gender.  Saying you don’t get along with girls is saying you believe gender stereotypes. Awesome. Here are just some of the opinions you have aligned yourself with:

  • Women are catty.
  • Women will do anything to land a man.
  • Women’s favorite topic of conversation: shoes. Preferably pink ones.
  • Women’s second favorite topic of conversation: men. Preferably rich ones.
  • Women are irrational, when on their period.
  • Women are dramatic.
  • Women aren’t as good at math and science.

The list goes on. I think we can all agree, these stereotypes are ridiculous. People are people. Not every woman likes shoes, just like not every man likes football. These are just traditional gender norms handed down to us by society. There’s not a single generalization you can make about the sexes that holds true. Even the ones presented by evolutionary biology don’t hold up from person to person. Not every man wants to spread his seed far and wide, nor does every woman hear a “biological clock.” So, saying that you don’t get along with a whole gender is not only awful, but ill-informed.

People, the rational ones, take others on a case-by-case basis. They don’t throw a hand out and say: “I don’t get along with people from Texas!” Even if they hate barbeque and cowboy boots, they know not everyone in Texas likes those things either. (Though, seriously, why wouldn’t you like barbeque? The mind boggles.) It must be miserable, not looking at others this way. If I seriously thought every girl was out to talk about me behind my back or steal my boyfriend, I’d probably throw myself off the nearest cliff. That’s just a lot of malice to see in the world.

Of course, I have a theory. I don’t think the women saying this believe it either. What they do believe is that saying they don’t get along with girls sets them apart from their gender. Doesn’t saying you don’t have girlfriends, because they’re catty, mean you’re implicitly not catty? They wear their gender discrimination like a badge of honor. Hating other girls means you’re above all that “drama” the rest of us supposedly live for. Well, I think it doesn’t. Saying you dislike your own gender tells me just one thing: you’re a bitch…and not in a good way.

Strewn behind this girl are the carrion of past friendships: other girls. They’re the ones who thought she was their friend, only to have her ditch them when she got a boyfriend. (“They were just jealous!”) They’re the ones who told her who they liked, only to have her go after that person the next week. (“It’s not my fault we fell in love!”) They’re the ones who suffered snide remarks over and over, until one day they couldn’t take it anymore. (“They were too sensitive!”) All too often the women saying this are the ones who actually do love female competition, as long as they win.

For most of my life, I didn’t see this. I had friends who said this all the time and I wouldn’t get it – they seemed so awesome, why did other girls mistreat them so? Each time, it took awhile, but I figured it out. Those friendships ended, because hate always furrows its way out. Thinking that all girls are evil, means you’re all too quick to throw another one of us under the bus. Now, whenever I hear those words, I hear what they really mean. I hear: Run, Grace! Run far away, as fast as your fancy red espadrilles can carry you! Because while I do love shoes, I hate drama.

– Grace