the fatling

"Sexy" isn't a size.

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Why Kyria Abrahams Has the Wrong Approach to Feminism, Semicolon

Last night, a good friend shared an essay on Facebook called “Why Jezebel Has the Wrong Approach to Feminism, Period” by Kyria Abrahams.  Like most women my age, I have a love-hate relationship with the Gawker site that promises “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.”  Leaving aside the appalling grammar of that tagline, nothing in the “unapologetically feminist*” site founded by Anna Holmes in 2007 actually screams “feminist.”  The f-word itself doesn’t even appear anywhere in the site’s branding.  It crops up occasionally in headlines or the body of an article, but nothing about the site is overtly out and proud about feminism.

That word.  Abrahams wonders “what feminism is in the year 2014.”  It means the same thing it’s always meant.  I’ll take a page from Yoncé’s book and quote Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, economic equality of the sexes.”

Abrahams accuses Jezebel of “ruin[ing feminism],” which is ridiculous.  No person or editorial entity can “ruin” a belief system or ideology—just ask Richard Dawkins.  Abrahams’ argument appears to be that the ignorance of others is making her ignorant, and that she simply can’t bear to call herself a feminist when the “tightass, humorless cunts” at Jezebel insist on doing their jobs; namely, manufacturing outrage to drive pageviews.

That’s Abrahams’ primary point, once you wade through her meandering arguments, the bizarre inclusion of a Jezebel article parody that segues into a video for a Nick Cave song, and an anecdote about an “unapologetic rocking feminist with balls of steel” friend** who was apparently bullied by Gawker*** about her suicide attempt.  “Ladies?” She exhorts.  “Ladies.  They need you to be mad so they can make money.”  Yes, Kyria, haven’t you heard?  Capitalism won—David Simon said so, and thus it must be true.

I don’t harbor any illusions about what Jezebel is.  For me, they ceased to be a publication of merit once Tracey Egan went on maternity leave and they stopped running “Fine Lines.”  I never relied on Jezebel to educate me about feminism—I came to my understanding of feminism through sites like Pandagon, Shakesville, Feministing, Feministe, and I Blame the Patriarchy.  When those communities failed to sufficiently address my growing awareness of  intersectionality between sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia, I moved on to sites like Black Girl Dangerous, Colorlines, ThinkProgress, and The Atlantic.****

I look to Jezebel as a source of frothy, nominally gender-aware pop-culture filler.  As their popularity has grown, they take more stabs at “serious” journalism, but the aforementioned angry-making link-bait Abrahams correctly accuses them of cranking out to make money puts the lie to their pretensions.  Sure, they strike gold every once in a while—I don’t particularly care for Lindy West since I prefer to reserve ALL CAPS for Gchat sessions with my friends, but she absolutely deserves recognition for her tireless (and otherwise thankless) work in exposing the rotten core of misogyny behind the majority of standup comedy’s rape jokes.  But more often than not, their “hard-hitting” pieces are as uninspired as this limp “expose” of Lisa Frank and her sparkly, crumbling business empire.*****

But for other women, Jezebel serves as an important gateway to awakening the feminist thought process.  Magazines like Bust, Bitch, and Ms. (the great-grandma of popular feminist journalism), haven’t really made the jump into the digital age.  They sacrifice potential pageviews (and, not to be too cynical, but revenue as well) in order to maintain the subscription base for their print magazines and online subscriptions.  As a result, I personally couldn’t tell you the last time anyone linked to one of their articles or even mentioned picking up a copy at the local feminist bookstore.  And so Jezebel sits at the top of the feminist journalist heap by default because there are no other unequivocally “mainstream” voices willing to even whisper the “f-word.”

There’s too much pressure on Jezebel to be all things to all women.  Want a roundup of trashy magazines you’re too embarrassed to actually read?  They’ve got it.  Want to keep up with the horrifying domestic rape case du jour?  They’ve got it.  Want to find out whether you should eat at McDonald’s or the Olive Garden tonight?  Yep, they’ve got that, too.  As their position in the Gawker pantheon grows, there’s less room to have a real (if light-hearted) discussion of feminist theory and tactics for effecting systemic change.  Other sites exist, naturally, some created in direct response to Jezebel’s failings (what’s up, Persephone?), but without the bandwidth and ad-generated revenue of Gawker, what hope can they have of succeeding if all anyone does is whine about Jezebel without providing viable alternative publications to patronize or actions to be taken other than clicking “like” on Facebook?

Speaking of whiners, let’s take a look at the charges Abrahams flings at other women.  She posits that feminists cannot also be feminine, implying that all that is feminine is weak, yielding, and repulsive—not of a piece of her vision of feminists as “badass chicks.”  In criticizing Jezebel for alienating her from their POV, she seeks to do the same to anyone who dares to be a different flavor of woman than she is.  Again, feminism is about equality—one’s performance of gendered behavior shouldn’t impact his or her worthiness in the fight for true equality of the sexes.

She refers to the Jezebel staff as “cunts” (always a great way to get people to take your engagement with feminism seriously), shortly before complaining that they’ve accused a man who acted suspiciously of rape, called out racist white teenagers for using the word “nigger,” and made a case against Martin Freeman for suggesting that a hobbit should date rape an elf if she doesn’t want to do the Middle Earth mambo with him.  Part of social change is (and has always been) people with a platform identifying and exposing inexcusable behavior.  If the rape accusations against Bethanny Frankel’s boyfriend aren’t true, they’ll be deemed libel and removed from the site.  Racist teenagers need someone to tell them to stop being racist, because god knows the families and communities who inculcate their racism aren’t going to.  And it’s important for the public to see the way even popular celebrities contribute to pervasive rape culture.

Inexplicably, she also asks “Jezebel writers, what do you do for the world? Do you offer positive things? Do you write, draw, sing, run, dance?”  Of course they write—that’s the entire topic of Abrahams’ essay.  And why are drawing, singing, running, and dancing fundamentally positive actions?  Surely there are nobler pursuits for women, especially those who aren’t artistically or athletically inclined—lawyering or sciencing or doctoring, for example.  Solipsistic pursuit of a vaguely “positive” hobby doesn’t strike me as more effectively feminist than writing for a blog that has an incredibly large readership.

Abraham’s cruelest slight comes at the expense of women who don’t live in major urban centers.  “Unfortunately, we Mary Tyler Moore****** city gals present a real conundrum for the writers Jezebel, since we are mostly living out uneventful and drama-free lives as non-raped women who buy birth control and have jobs and get abortions as we please. There aren’t enough actual stories in metro area to warrant running a frivolous, highly trafficked blog that pulls in ad revenue from outraged feminists. And so, they manufacture them.”

This statement is an insult to everyone with critical thinking skills who can’t, for whatever reason, join Abraham in the rarified air she inhabits. Most city-dwelling readers of a site like Jezebel have no idea how life in the Midwest or American South works, or if they do, they’ve been sufficiently scarred by their upbringing that they can’t even explain it to others via the relative anonymity of the internet. It’s hard to grow up in those regions if you have critical thinking skills, and getting out can be really perilous.  For women (and men) who can’t afford to leave for more enlightened zip codes, or for those who live in poverty in urban centers without access to personal safety, birth control, or abortion, a blog like Jezebel can be a lifeline, a reminder that they aren’t crazy to want more, to want respect and equality, to expect empathy and compassion from others.  To suggest that a website has no value simply because your privileged demographic has no use for it is more specious an argument than anything Jezebel has ever posted.  

Abrahams ends her post by accusing the women who work for Jezebel of being sociopaths (because she’s probably their staff psychiatrist and can definitely fling such a diagnosis with authority), by reminding us that Jezebel’s most egregious offense is being the number two destination for people who want to know what a cronut is (I still don’t understand what they are), and finally, egregiously including some awful “poem” that looks like it was written by a men’s rights activist for an Angelfire site in 1995.

The poem is the most problematic aspect of the piece.  I can understand feeling like a publication is failing you and other women, and why that frustration might cause a person to just spew out a blog post that’s poorly executed.  But why on earth would a person undermine any coherent point she sought to make by including non-sequiturs about the writers and editors of Jezebel being racist and advocating for the rape of conservative men in a piece readers are supposed to take seriously?

Kyria Abrahams strikes me as a bit of a Riot Grrrl without a cause.  Blogs are easy to write—see?  I’m doing it right now!  A cat could walk over a keyboard, hit publish, and wind up creating Freakazoid.  Educating others through one’s writing is admirable, especially if the end result is disagreement—disagreement is the breeding ground for social change.  But we need more than just an instruction manual—we need leaders.  We need real-world engagement.  We need more than ad-driven click-bait, and I’m just not sure that a click-bait response to Jezebel’s click-bait brand of feminism moves us toward that goal at all if it’s riddled with so many attacks against women (one of Jezebel’s cardinal sins, according to Abrahams).

So sure, don’t read Jezebel.  Don’t share their links.  But do show compassion to your fellow men and women.  Volunteer to mentor a kid, feed the homeless, or clean up litter in your neighborhood.  Educate yourself about feminism, womanism, and all the other -isms on non-Jezebel blogs.  Read books about women’s struggle for equality.  Be active politically—vote, start petitions, correspond with your legislative representatives.  And if you’re going to post a cranky, malicious critique, please—cite your sources.

*This quote is included by Abrahams in the original piece without citation, so I’ll provide it here.

**Citation needed.

***Quote provided, but without an identity, link to the defaming Gawker article in question, or any other contextual details, this anecdote has all the rhetorical punch of an infant feebly thrusting its limbs into space.

****If you’re reading this and you don’t know who Ta-Nehisi Coates is, stop reading this immediately and Google him.  He’s much better than this nonsense you’re reading right now.

*****Sorry, Tracey, I wanted to like it.

******Nitpicky, but Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” and in real life is probably a more apt comparison. 

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75 Days of Fatling

All right, chickens! This shit is back on!  I started the Beck book in earnest yesterday and elided the first two days of tasks, so today is technically Day 3—Learn to eat sitting down.  I have very little issue with eating sitting down, but eating at the table, not in front of the television, is a huge challenge.

Days 1 and 2 are writing my Advantages Response Card and choosing my diet plan—creating an index card with all the reasons I want to lose weight, and itemizing my ideal food intake based on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, which is a more functional version of the food pyramid.  I’ll also be counting calories, not to exceed 1200 calories per day.

I am definitely feeling a little more optimistic about this whole shindig. I’ve downloaded some handy and fun-looking apps to help me keep things in hand.  I’ve been using Libra to track my weight daily, and will likely continue to do so. At the suggestion of Adoring Husband, I just got RunKeeper, which will allow me to track my runs and other exercise.  And I also downloaded a calorie counter, which will hopefully take some of the difficulty out of calorie tracking and meal planning.  I’m not totally up to speed on the functionality of all these yet or if there’s any overlap, but I am sure I’ll figure everything out as I go along.

This morning, I remembered how good it feels to exercise self-control. It’s difficult, especially since I’ve been riding the other end of the spectrum into the ground for the past few weeks, even as I’ve been officially doing this “90 Days” business. I remembered how good it is to follow the Beck solution, how much placing reminders about my goal throughout my day helps me to focus and stay on target.

Speaking of which, given the two weeks I essentially lost, it seems unlikely that I’ll achieve my 30 pound weight-loss goal in the time still left, so my long term goal will be knocked down to 25 pounds. If I want to drop the additional 5 after I get to the last day, it will be incentive not to go hog wild over the holidays.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at today!

Bonus: I was inspired to write this post after reading this article on Cracked.com, which actually makes me feel way better about how difficult I find changing my habits and provides some things to watch out for on the rest of this journey.

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76 Days of Fatling

So, clearly, I underestimated how dedicated I am to this here “90 Days of Fatling” plan.

I totally ignored updating this blog, and also completely ignored my desire to lose weight. The good news is that I haven’t particularly gained a lot of weight (although I am retaining a lot right now, most likely due to the ungodly amount of sodium I imbibed over the weekend), but the bad news is that I haven’t lost weight/implemented any life changes, either.

Instead, I’ve doubled down on eating huge portions of delicious food and going back to drinking beer a lot. It hasn’t made me particularly happy or healthy, and it certainly hasn’t made me feel like writing about this journey.

That’s really too bad, because I had this amazing, life-changing experience the weekend before last when I saw The Master. In that film, women with “real” bodies were featured in the nude—not airbrushed, not sitting passively, but walking around, dancing, clapping, fucking—and I felt like this enormous weight lifted from my back, chest, whatever. Somehow, for the first time since I decided I was “fat,
I felt like I just might be okay, just the way I am.

And frankly, why shouldn’t I be okay? I have a great job, I have a wonderful Adoring Husband, I have a terrific apartment, I have lots of sex, I have a group of friends who love and support me, and literally the only thing I don’t like about myself is that I’m packing a little more square footage than I’d like. Even my acne has gotten way more manageable since I realized that even the gentlest of exfoliating face washes was clogging my pores.  I am thisclose to being everything I always wanted to be, and if I could just let go of my obsession about my weight/size, I would already be everything I always wanted to be!

But as usual, my confidence dissipated after a few days as I continued to not exercise, to not plan my meals, to not monitor my alcohol/cigarette intake.  Finally, finally yesterday, I picked up The Beck Diet Solution in an attempt to funnel the chaos of my diet into something productive.  As usual, I found myself throwing up mental blocks, wanting to believe that I don’t have to change my behavior to yield different results. But as I worked my way through the early chapters, I remembered how proud of myself I was when I was doing the program, how good it felt to get all the way down to 146 pounds (nevermind that I shot right back to 155 within a month or so), and how good it still feels that I’ve kept my weight under 160. I wanted to try again, really try this time!

Fast forward to this morning, when I went to work with only the vaguest of plans w/r/t my food for the day. This resulted in eating a cup of applesauce, two bags of BBQ Baked Lay’s, a bag of pretzels, and two fun-size Milky Way bars. I feel like shit, and I have zero desire to eat the protein bar that’s been languishing in my purse for a couple days. I’m not happy about all this, but it’s reminded me again of how vital it is for me to plan my meals, even if I’m not trying to lose weight.

So when I get home today, I’ll continue re-reading the Beck book and count tomorrow as “Day 1” of the program. I’ll try to be more aware of what I’m eating, and remember that my reasons for wanting to be healthier, lighter, and fitter are just as valid when I am sticking to my diet as when they’re not.

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88 Days of Fatling

Oy.  This is hard, everyone!  I ran out of time to blog yesterday, and I haven’t had time to even begin getting back on the Beck Diet Solution bandwagon.

Remember how I was all worried that I’d have some miraculous weight loss right after I stopped drinking?  Yeah, that didn’t happen (yes, I know it’s only been two days. I’m a child of the 90s. I expect immediate gratification!) On the plus side, I haven’t had a drink or a cigarette for two days.  On the down side, yesterday I ate a bunch of unplanned stuff and had some candy, a Sprite, and almost an entire sleeve of saltines (I am so addicted to saltines. The ones I had are actually from our emergency earthquake kit, so it’s really going to suck when the big one hits and I’m craving saltines.  I even bought shitty, off-brand saltines for the kit so I would stop eating them for snacks, but it didn’t work. I guess it’s time to invest in some emergency crackers that aren’t so appealing to me). 

I also ate a bunch of peanut butter, almonds (which are SO GOOD if they are blanched and slivered), peanuts, and dried cranberries.  That wasn’t really on purpose—I walked down to the local Verizon Wireless store because I shattered my phone screen last week (because I am very responsible with my belongings) and I wanted to get a new one because shards of glass keep getting stuck in my face/fingers.  On my way back, I became SUPER HUNGRY and overheated.  My blood sugar was clearly crashing.  This happens to me on occasion when I am walking somewhere, and I suspect it also has something to do with being dehydrated. I did manage to get all the way home without buying any milkshakes, candy, bottled water (which probably would have been okay), french fries, or pies, even though I wanted to and had ample opportunity, so I still count it as a victory, even though I included so many add-ons to my snack of a nectarine and celery sticks (by the way, I LOVE celery sticks, so don’t get concerned that I am noshing on them all the time. They are crunchy and juicy and weirdly salty.  They make mouths happy).

So I learned a few things yesterday.

  1. Even if I have a tuna salad with hummus sandwich and salad for lunch, I probably want to have a handful of nuts or something before I go on long walks in the heat.  Or the cold, just to be safe.
  2. Ditto water. In fact, probably a good idea to find some sort of mini water bottle to take along for emergencies.
  3. Even if I experience a terrible blood sugar crash, I should try to stick to my food plan as best as I can, without throwing a bunch of high calorie extras in there.

I also learned that if there is junk food in my house, I will sniff it out.  I discovered a Hershey bar left over from some long-ago camping trip. I remembered the French Chews chilling in my freezer.  If I get desperate enough, I may eat the homemade 60% bittersweet chocolate ice cream left over from Adoring Husband’s birthday party.  That birthday party was in May, so I’m thinking I’ll pitch that before I get crazy.  So if I’m going to get serious about losing this weight, I gotta remove all this crap.  Preferably not with my mouth.

All of which is to say that I have gained a pound since embarking on this journey on Monday.  Granted, I haven’t been 100% perfect, but I am a bit surprised.  I’ve been relatively active, and nearly everything I’ve eaten has been “whole” foods.  But I also know that I’m expecting too much, too soon (immediate gratification!)  Looking back at my weight chart (I use the Libra App on my Android phone), I can see that I’m still 2 pounds lighter than I was on Saturday, and my goal is to lose just over 2 pounds per week.  So I’m kind of sort of on track.  Plus it’s probably going to take a hot minute for my body to really adjust and respond after being fed lots of junky stuff for such a long time.  The important thing is that I’ve been adhering to some of the goals I’ve set for myself, and I’m going to get better at that as I start using the Beck tools in earnest.  I keep sort of momentarily flashing on those and then not quite following through, but I feel pretty confident that I’ll do very well. The program proper only takes 6 weeks, so I’m glad I’ve built in some buffer time at the beginning and the end to make sure I can ease in and stay in.

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90 Days of Fatling

It’s here.

Today is the day my life changes…for at least 90 days.  Although I am still feeling pessimistic about my ability to sustain a healthier diet, lower calorie count, and more frequent exercise, I do feel more confident that I can stick it out for three months.

I haven’t done my Beck reading for the day, so I’ll post about that later, but I’ve been thinking a lot about a chapter that comes up much later in the book—“Decide About Drinking.” When we first went through the book, Adoring Husband and I joked that the chapter comes up late in the program because people can’t be expected to deal with their alcoholism and their food issues all at once.  But I’ve been considering it more seriously this time around, and my basic plan is not to drink unless I’m out with friends (one of the solutions Beck suggests).  I don’t know when drinking daily became “a thing” in my life, but I know it’s certainly time to reconsider.  I do feel that it’s going to be really depressing if I lost like 10 pounds immediately because I haven’t been drinking.  I mean, I’ll take it, but it will be a sad referendum on how much I’ve been drinking.

Anyway! I’m pretty happy with how the day is going so far, especially considering that my weekend was incredibly busy and I wasn’t able to cook/plan for the week yet. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted to eat on this, the first day of 90 Days of Fatling, so I’m working my way through a protein bar and some carrot/celery sticks.  I’m debating whether I ought to just eat something from the freezer for dinner so that I can go to the store without being super-hungry and then make a very yummy 3-bean chili that will see AH and I through the week.

I had a very good conversation with Her Fatness and our friend, 6-Pak about time management as it relates to dieting, and they have both expressed interest in accompanying me on this weight loss journey. I’m really glad, because this is going to be incredibly hard work. I think it will be rewarding, and I think I’m going to achieve a lot of goals, but it’s going to be damn near impossible to do without a support network around me.  So if you two are reading this, THANK YOU!

One down, 89 to go…

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90 Days of Fatling (T-Minus 4.5 Days)

I’m not feeling super-optimistic about this project today.

I love eating crappy food. I must, right? That’s why I keep going back to it after short periods of being healthier. Is there a difference between “habit” and “love” in this context?

I’ve never been much for self-control in any context. One of the unfortunate side effects of being raised by restrictive, religious parents is that control is something that gets farmed out to whatever higher power, which one’s parents tend to represent. In my case, I was always looking for a loophole, ways to act out without ever being caught—procrastinating on damn near everything but still managing to pull out excellent grades, for example.

One such loophole involves food. My parents didn’t keep a ton of “good” junk food in the house. We didn’t have a lot of money, so instead of Gushers, we got generic fruit snacks.  Instead of individual snack-size bags of Doritos, we got huge white bags of NACHO-CHEESE FLAVOR TORTILLA CHIPS (these were actually tastier than real Doritos, but as a kid, branding on snacks is a status marker). We never, ever got Dunkaroos, so sometimes, if I could manage it, I would just eat spoonfuls of chocolate frosting out of the can that was usually in the fridge after a church picnic or family party.

In general, my only opportunities to eat candy, brand-name cereal, and drink pop came at my grandparents’ houses. On both the maternal and paternal sides of my family, there was a special drawer or shelf in the pantry that was perpetually stocked with tooth-rotting, fatty, delicious snacks. This was always presented as a special treat, but like any greedy kid, I wanted these special treats to be available all the time. I remember sleeping over at my grandparents’ apartment in my early teens and absolutely blowing through their stash of mini-Twixes after they went to bed. I remember feeling guilty about it. I remember being unable to stop.

There was always this thing in the back of my mind when it came to food—maybe there won’t be enough for me. I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it’s primal, a leftover from a time when “survival of the fittest” was the order of the day.  Maybe I wanted as much junk food as possible at any given moment because I didn’t know where my next fix was coming from. Maybe I just have an addictive personality.  Regardless of the specific reason, I’ve carried this impulse with me into adult life, and with it, an attitude of helplessness that I can overcome briefly, but it always manages to creep in and derail my successes in diet and exercise.

So this, in part, is the reason for the 90-day time limit on this project.  I desperately want to cross the days off this calendar here, even if I just check in briefly, and at the end of 90 days be able to look back and feel proud.  I want to feel that I’ve changed somehow, and that I’ll be able to point to this period of self-control and chase that creeping doubt and sense of inevitable failure away.

I know it’s possible to change myself for the better. I just don’t quite believe it yet.

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90 Days of Fatling (T-Minus 5.5 Days)

All right, Fanlings. I’ve been posting the odd book review on here, the random other thingy (I really have no idea what I’ve been posting on here. Did I write an essay? Or was I just thinking about writing an essay and then I got drunk and—)

That’s it.  That right there. That sort of parenthetical, rambly, bad decision-making has to stop. It’s time to get in touch with my adorable, chubby roots as a crash diet/health & fitness blog. 

You see, Adoring Husband left town for 10 days a little while back, and I made it my personal mission to eat ALL the things while he was gone.  Yes, even the things I didn’t particularly like.  I did this, and it was pretty fun.  But I also gained some pounds.  Crucial pounds that have put me back in striking distance of all my cute clothes not fitting anymore.  This must not stand.


So here we are, with 90 Days of Fatling, a reasonably reasonable diet and exercise plan that should result in an approximate weight loss of two pounds per week, which should result in me looking really smoking hot when I go home for the holidays this year (at which point I imagine I will eat ALL the things again, but we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it). 

It’s going to be difficult, but to be perfectly frank, I am tired of carrying around excess weight, losing it, and gaining it back.  Part of the issue is the concept that I have to change my eating and exercise habits forever and never again know the joy of eating ALL the things.  But as you can see, eating ALL the things hasn’t exactly made me a happy (or healthy) human being.  There must be a road to moderation, and I think I may have found it.

First of all, I’ll be revisiting the extremely helpful Beck Diet Solution.  I completed most of the program a few months ago, and then decided I’d be fine without meticulously planning out my meals and limiting myself to eating just A FEW of the things.  Secondly, I’ll be focused on getting refined carbohydrate and dairy out of my diet and being sure to eat lots of veggies, protein, and fruit.  It’s going to be fairly restrictive, but I feel pretty confident that I can do it.  Thirdly, I will be increasing my exercise to about a half hour per day, plus running for an hour or so on weekends.

"But why is the Fatling telling me this?"  Well, I have been trying to come up with a good way to track my progress, and I thought that posting even a little something each day while counting down in the title would be helpful.  So you can expect posts like "Fuck this I fucking want a pizza roll and some sour gummies RIGHT NOW" or "Ow, working out makes my thighs hurt when I sit on the toilet!" on a daily basis.  This is my pledge, this is my quest.  I start on Monday.  I hope it works.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #18: America Pacifica by Anna North

I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately, author Anna North made that pretty difficult.

Set in a near-future dystopia, the story follows Darcy, a first-generation native of America Pacifica, the island where survivors of a sweeping North American Ice Age have decamped in an attempt to rebuild society.  Unfortunately, their founder’s plan to build out the island’s square footage with landfill and power creature comforts with an all-purpose fuel called solvent has resulted in staggering, widespread poverty for most of the population.  Darcy and her mother, Sarah, eke out a sad existence in a squalid apartment in a world where even a shower costs two dollars.

Scarred by mysterious events in her past, Sarah has sequestered her daughter in a world not much bigger than their shared home and severely curtailed her relationships.  Sarah is Darcy’s whole world, and when Sarah disappears, Darcy sets out on a journey to find her, uncovering America Pacifica’s seedy underbelly and her own inner resolve, blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The trappings of a good story appear fleetingly on the page, but they hover near the edges of the terminally dull Darcy’s quest.  There is a sense of growing unrest as Darcy moves through the island, but Darcy tendency to cower in her apartment limits the reader’s sense of how deeply the revolutionary spirit runs amongst the other restless residents.  Darcy is the protagonist, but she suffers from “Harry Potter” syndrome—despite having few heroic qualities, the other characters tell her constantly that she is Important, that she can make A Difference.  To her credit, Darcy takes a long time to believe them, but when she does embrace her destiny, the payoff feels strained.  The story of founding America Pacifica under the watchful eye of not-so-charismatic leader Tyson probably would have been more compelling on its own, but North simply has a cadre of characters vastly more entertaining than Darcy relay an incomplete version of that tale to Darcy as she bumbles from place to place.

There are some interesting ideas about economic inequality, class warfare, and government corruption underneath North’s carefully studied Iowa Writer’s Workshop style (no, tell me again which three smells and/or colors characterize this setting! Please, keep cutting people’s monologues off just when they become interesting!), but Darcy’s single-mindedness in her quest to find her mother and North’s obvious inability to truly relate to the horrific living conditions she’s created for America Pacifica’s underclass cause them to fall flat. Darcy herself just doesn’t make much sense.  She seems to be going through her paces, doing whatever the novel requires.  She is North’s puppet as the author ticks off dystopian tropes like a kid at a spelling bee—funky names for new products? Check. Menacing police force? Got it.  Sexual assault?  Cut and print!

Without spoiling anything, the novel’s ending is frustratingly vague.  A book that ends without offering up easy answers or tying up loose ends to satisfaction can be effective, but a book that purports to be about a young girl looking for answers without actually providing any is a cheat.  The paperback edition I read contains some interviews with North where she namechecks luminaries like Margaret Atwood and David Foster Wallace as her inspiration, which is a disservice to her work.  She appears to be teetering on the shoulders of giants, and in the end, she tumbles down without having distinguished herself.

Filed under america pacifica anna north cbr4

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A Side of Feminism with that Fart Joke

jessicalanglois:

The first sketch of local comedy group Femikaze’s Summer’s Eve showcase, “Go Fuck Yourself,” sets the mood for the evening. A girl asks her mom what do if a boy doesn’t like the way she maintains things down there, and the mom (Carinne Salnave), stirring a bowl of cake batter balanced on her hip, advises her daughter in über wholesome, after-school-special style to give that fellow a health dose of — you guessed it! — Go Fuck Yourself. Aaaaaand, we’re off and running.

In its current show, playing this weekend at Subterranean Art House, Femikaze delivers all the favorites—fart jokes, social media cracks, reality TV spoofs, F-bombs, infomercials, drunkenness—but with a fresh, feminist perspective that isn’t didactic, clichéd, or overwrought. The supershort sketches, performed by diverse cast of women, are just twisted enough to keep us hungrily clinging to each line. Pushing the “radical notion that women are funny,” Femikaze, founded by comedians Kelly Anneken and Isa Hopkins, not only intends to but actually does “create opportunities in comedy for self-identified women of all shapes, sizes, kinds, and colors.”

When I saw a sketch called “Peer Pinterest” in the program, I’ll admit, I was at first dubious, doubtful there were any new takes left on social media criticism. But the writers shifted the paradigm and kept it timely and local. A woman (Kristen Macaulay) who has just sprained her ankle after slipping in human feces (per last week’s story in the Chronicle on the ‘sheer volume of human waste’ found in the escalators) enters the BART station to find her friend and everyone else on the platform more interested in retweeting a Twitter star’s quips than hearing her malodorous story.

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