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Life of Brya
(the livejournal version)
My brain just exploded. 
Jan 19th, 2010 01:10 am
Phew. Earlier, LJ didn't want to post this for some reason and I was afraid I'd lost it. Hooray for saving drafts!

A long ramble on subjects such as these: literature, feminism, the ness-es of the experience of writing, my self-orientation in my contexts, introspection, speaking out, acting out, reading and book-vampirism, and unpacking.

My brain just exploded.

And this is why I needed a literature class and didn't know it, just knew I wanted one because I wanted to read and excite and get into a smaller class so I can be creative and be told good job.

But I forgot the sheer joy of awe in a piece of (nonfiction!) writing as it stretches my perception, conjures sadness and determination and confusion and a want to know. I'm in a Gender and Literature class, and we've started out with a few small selections from women writers about women writing -- Virginia Woolf (and her semicolon use doesn't seem so horrible anymore; barely noticed them), Gloria Anzaldua, hattie gossett, Nellie Wong -- the things they say rile me and pluck my strings so I resonate with shared indignance and grief and the gaping awed silence of a soul laid open and known.

Some writers can reach in and poke you right in the blindspot -- and you don't know if they even did it on purpose, because how can someone see down the years? She must have struck some chord of shared human experience, by design, or perhaps she just composed something approaching the songs in her heart hoping someone else would hear it and be able to hum along and it's incredibly lucky that she stumbled upon something of yours and you managed to find it, too.

And then I also felt so alone and sorry, because I couldn't identify with this woman and badly wanted to know what she was talking about. There's obviously a lot of emotion behind what she's putting down and I have a feeling that she'd agree with me when I say that, because I don't get it, I'm part of the problem -- or maybe the symptom. And those spaces where I could totally pick it up, identifying felt like appropriating. So I'm going to go back and reread her later, and hopefully acknowledging that I need my eyes opened is enough for now.

And I have the feeling that I'm going to come out of this with a distinctly feminist bent to my self-identity. I couldn't ignore it before now, honestly, because I was a tomboy and a "smart kid" and a bitch and am now a woman in a tech field. I've rebelled against unknowingly and outright resented subtle and not-so-subtle sexism. But I'm also not just any of that. I'm way too much for any of these damn boxes and I've been fighting boxes for other people since I noticed we kept getting put in one or another.

Just reading this stuff makes me want to go out and start conversations. My best-friend-from-childhood must have gone through the same thing much earlier, because she beat me by years to the outspoken feminism (not that I know now that's where I'll end up; we'll see), the NOW membership, taking it on the chin whenever someone decides "bait the feminist" is a fun game. Game. Aren't they cute, all riled up, see, aren't they ridiculous, hair-trigger tempers, must be PMSing, honestly it was just a bit of fun. "Well-behaved women rarely make history" -- act out! But for now some of us have to play by the rules to be taken seriously. Dress down, stay calm, defend your ideas like the men do, posture, swagger, demand your ego back in argument -- this is how to survive in a male-dominated field.

Just reading this stuff rekindled my enthusiasm for journaling -- introspection has an outlet, an end result. Virginia Woolf mourns the loss of generations of women; we can't access their mindsets, their personal lives; we can't see their fingerprints on history, not even in autobiography because introspection wasn't as developed then. Gloria Anzaldua calls out for the individual to come forward, validates the writer who struggles in her own milieu, demands no quarter be given in the expression of oneself as a separate set of experiences. hattie gossett fires off about the frustration of self-expression; Nellie Wong beckons to the woman searching for her place in all her contexts and offers immortality in writing: you write for the generations after you. Anzaldua and Wong speak specifically to... can I say "minorities"?... Hispanic women, black women, Asian Americans.

I'm in a place of relative privilege -- I'm white, heterosexual, cisgendered (if not entirely comfortable in some of the roles attached to my gender), upper middle-class, American, I don't have to worry as much as many about paying my way -- but I'm working on checking my privilege and knowing when I should. And I'm reaching for immortality just the same -- my creations are echoes of the establishment and I'm woefully insulated in my reading -- but I'm trying to capture individuality and the breadth of human emotion, too. I'm trying to recreate the texture of my emotions and deliver them to someone else, hoping I can come across the right weight and pressure to sock just one other person in their hidden heart.

I am a minority in some respects, and my feelings about them definitely overlap. I am a techie; I am one of the few fabled female nerds who really get down and dirty with programming and mathematics and the damn male-dominated internet subculture (don't get me wrong: it's damn fun there, until you step in some warm and odorous mysogyny). I am also an atheist, and I haven't got a clue why there aren't more girls out and about here but I'm not about to rampage. I am an academic, and the Venn diagram doesn't overlap too well here; ladies who do well in computer science can get some pretty uncool labels and unkind thoughts. "Stop whining," hm? "You get all the advantages," hm? Well, wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to; that's what I'm working for, help me out?

I'm still a tomboy, but I have a feeling that's not all that uncommon -- unfortunately, I also get the feeling that "independent (single, oh horrid word) woman" is getting more common because we're under the misapprehension that we can't have both academic/career success and love. I call bullshit, and I'm going to do my best to take down all the restrictions put on outspoken/boyish/unshapely/SMART/challenging/gasp-atheist! women, especially the insults delivered backhanded with velvet gloves: you can't expect to find someone to marry you with those opinions. Stuff that.

I'm so excited to be able to dive into a book and find home and come out and have my axes wobbled -- I'm so excited to be able to do that for credit-hours. I wish I could make a career out of it. Maybe I'll actually end up writing professionally, but I doubt it and it's a good thing I also like to program and analyze and even work with my hands; I'll work at anything boring so that I can support a life that isn't boring.

But I was reading One for the Morning Glory (picked it up because of TVTropes, probably via the Genre Savvy or Sweet Polly Oliver entries, sorry there goes your day) when I was in Texas and feeling so comfortable because of all the silly wordplay and trope-play, thinking at one point "this is my kind of novel, it's perfect". And honestly, so is The Lies of Locke Lamora -- more the sequel, I think now -- because both of them filled a function and overfilled the bonus cup: I got a roaring good story, complex and enjoyable and full of life (snapshots! both books have a different way of filling in details and more importantly tantalizing with blanks) and then they petted the word-nerd, the poesy-junkie. OftMG giftwraps smirk-worthy malapropisms and cliche-jumbles; TLoLL had a way of sweetening a sequence by the kiss of deft word-weaving, capturing elegantly an exact texture, smell, or interpersonal revelation.

Close runners-up in these categories are Sherwood Smith's Inda (from reading her journal, I know she's got a cinematic imagination and has to work hard for the ability to drop the scene fully-formed in someone else's head; knowing this made me respect her, and the craft of writing, more -- and part of the way I think about writing is from her entries on it) and the new Unseen Academicals -- I discovered again why I love Terry Pratchett's writing and why I've got to be careful not to over-re-read him again: he's got the same cliche-jumbles, but he weaves them together with a supremely admirable adeptness and the individual-ness -- the book was both at once a story about a city and a story about a couple of people. That happened with Perdido Street Station, too -- only it stuck with me because all the things I loved were molded by the weirdness, left-field-ness, of the setting. But Pratchett -- I love him to death but I've got to pace myself; I can't read hardly anything else of his anymore because I know it way too well. The amazing gift of a well-crafted story with his particular fingerprints all over... the shine's taken off by over-familiarity; I've vampired the books, sucking out everything new that I could, and I've tasted all 23 flavours in this particular Dr. Pepper, this one named Monstrous Regiment or The Truth and definitely Night Watch because I loved it so much.

My last re-reading of Pride and Prejudice (it was actually prompted by reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) turned up a new facet: Mr Collins became an object of huge interest and I actually sympathized with him and with Charlotte, who I thought utterly wasted in her decision, just like Elizabeth (or how I read Elizabeth that first time). That was fantastic.

And I love how I can do that. I love how everyone brings their own experiences to a book; in my "The Bible and its Early Interpreters" class, I was introduced to the idea that people themselves are books, in a way, and you can detail the interaction of texts with one another and with human-texts in this really interesting tapestry. A microcosm: a literature class. I'm so excited to experience that again and have my own epiphanies in and out of it. Like my philosophy class so long ago -- half forum, half expert-led brain-digging, and the whole walk back to the dorm with my head spinning in philosophical revolution -- but this time with the things I've loved since I could devour them one a day in daycare: books.

In 11th grade was when I started to wake up, reading-wise -- started to take notice, have meta thoughts, pay attention to the magic of words: their sounds and textures and impressions when stacked on each other in different ways. In 12th grade literature class I had the time of my life: being a word-nerd was exactly what I needed to be. I could be on fire every day with my reactions to all facets of a text and there was an hour set aside specifically for me to set other people on fire, or borrow their sparks of inspiration, too. Freaking paradise. And every day during freshman year of college (and some days during sophomore year, too) I wondered what the hell I was doing in computer science, which was hard and impersonal, when I could be glorying in literature for a degree. I no longer wonder; I love my field, but I still love the other thing.

I thank you for reading this far, and for putting up with what might be overly poetic and gushy phrases, descriptions, enthusings: this is how I think, this is how I revel in the written word (writing, reading, composing, picking apart) and I've had a damn good time. But the flow is exhausted (I've been writing for an hour and a half); I'm going to go put a summary at the top and then I'm going off to bed or something. If you've got any reactions to what I've written, I'd love to hear them.

I'm also just a college kid who has a documented history of navel-gazing and contextualizing and overthinking and overenthusing, and I'm under no delusions that I've actually accomplished anything here other than capturing a moment. It's relevant to me (oh, man, now I'm remembering all those "this is probably boring, but I'm writing this for me because one day I'll be interested how I felt right now" lines in old, old, old blogs) and it doesn't have to be relevant to you. See? Now I've effectively put myself in my place -- until the next time something triggers.
Jan 19th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Aha! 'Feminist' is a dirty word, isn't it? Nobody wants to be called it because it seems to mean 'man-hater'. The more I get into the history of it all, the more I'm finding that that characterization is wildly unfair and unproductive. It's supposed to be that middle point you're talking about -- every self-identifying feminist I've ever heard from says the same. Otherwise it's back to sexism.

And I think I'm at that middle point with you, and it's highly connected with the causes and results of my atheistic views. But I might be more radical in the fact that I think, for now at least, that 'roles' are a crap idea. But, basically, it's this: men, women, people who identify with neither specification -- we're all individuals who deserve respect and opportunity, but (white) men have held the privileged positions in society for so long that it's going to take some uphill work for that 'equality' to get spread out to everyone.

And I currently feel informed because in the last class meeting we watched a video about the roots of the feminist movement in the Midwest US and it was really eye-opening. I identified hard with the ladies who started things, and I won't argue that there aren't extremists but I'll always be looking to yank 'feminist' back into polite society where anybody can call themselves that and not be characterized as sexist towards men.

I can't imagine how much crap you get to deal with from some men with Bibles. And I really hate when enough of that trickles into government to affect me and women I know. That's a nice thing for atheism: I encounter far fewer guys who really think that women are inferior, but it's still a male-dominated philosophy publicly and they're still to different degrees steeped in the rest of society's bad attitudes. Happily, when we call them out on it, they don't have any higher authority to selectively interpret back at us, but some of them still react badly. My friend Jen just recently had a run-in with a guy who thought that a bikini contest was an appropriate activity for a conference of atheist/skeptic women.

Oof. I need to get to class. I meant to comment back on the first half of your post but that'll have to wait until later. (Thanks!)
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