Friday, December 9, 2016

We've Come a Long Way, or Have We?

We’ve Come a Long Way, or Have We? by Debra H. Goldstein
When you checked out the Happy Thanksgiving listing of the Stiletto Gang’s books (, did you notice the one thing they all have in common?

The books and poems are written by strong women and whether dramatic or comedic, they feature women capable of finding solutions. The women writing these books and appearing on the pages can often be characterized as steel magnolias. Their independence, career choices, relationships, ultimately are of their own choosing.

What a change in society our style of writing reflects. Historically, women writers often tended to use initials or male names rather than their own names because they felt books by men would sell better. Think P.L. Travers, S.E. Hinton, P.D. James, J.D. Robb, or V.K. Andrews, to name a few. They also had to conform their writing to certain norms.

In Little Women, Jo could be a tomboy, but in the end, she still had to wear dresses and bonnets.
Books written in the 1940’s by Janet Lambert and others depicted women in supportive home roles or confined to becoming teachers, stewardesses, or nurses. Even young adult mysteries like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames limited the roles and interaction of their main characters. While they might step outside their norms because of curiosity or needed action to solve a crime, they usually ended the books with a jovial attitude statement looking forward to their next adventures.

Recently, I read Silver Wings for Vicki, the first in the Vicki Barr stewardess series by Helen Wells. I was struck by the contrast between the eagerness of the young women wanting to fly for adventure and their understanding of the responsibilities their job entailed. More than being a waitress in the sky, stewardesses had to be “able to handle all sorts of people, tactfully, in any sort of situation.” (page 18) They needed to know health, hygiene, psychology of dealing with people, nutrition and cooking to prepare and serve meals, languages, and geography. They also had to be
pleasant rather than aggressive, resourceful, able to wear a uniform with poise, and capable of representing the airline as window dressing when necessary.

What really caught my attention was when during her interview, Vicki asks if a stewardess must really be beautiful and is told: “Real beauty isn’t necessary, but you have to be nice to look at: well-groomed, pleasant, and not too tall or heavy. After all, a plane must carry the biggest payload possible, and the heavier the crew the less paying weight we can carry.” The interviewer then explains why a five foot eight woman whose weight is proportionate to her height would be unacceptable, “But the airlines do recognize that American girls are growing taller, and we’re gradually raising the height and weight limits. Besides, …bigger, roomier planes are coming into use, and with bigger cabins there’ll be space for taller girls.”

Reading this book made me appreciate, as the Virginia Slims slogan went, “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” Or, have we?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beaver Bums

by Paffi S. Flood

I can only imagine what thoughts must be racing through your heads after you read the title. Were you thinking beaver bums and holidays? Specifically, beaver bums and holiday cookies? Probably not.

So, a couple of weeks, National Geographic posted this article about how secretions from beaver bums are used for vanilla flavorings. They appear in everything from the aforementioned cookies to ice cream to candles.

Ah, yes, breathe in and smell the warm, homey feel of vanilla. Or a beaver bum. Let your mind fly as you think of all the possibilities to how we knew beaver bums smelled like this humble scent. Yes, go there. Or maybe not.

Supposedly, when beavers mark their territories, secretions called from their scent glands, castoreum, is mixed in with their urine. It’s the castoreum that has the vanilla scent and flavoring.

Generally anal discharge stink because of odor-causing bacterium, but this one doesn’t, since the beaver’s special diet is bark and leaves. It’s extracted from the animal after it has been anesthetized. Then, the brown goo, with the consistency of molasses, goes through a rigorous refining process.

Only after that can it be used as an FDA-approved food additive. Because it’s classified as such, it can be mentioned either as vanilla flavoring or just natural flavoring in the product ingredient list.

Great, right?

Happy beginning to the holiday season.

Oh, yeah, that “new car smell?” It’s castoreum mixed in with birch tar oil.

Paffi S. Flood is the author of A Killing Strikes Home. You can also find her on twitter and facebook.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Thankful for Positive Feminist Role Models by Juliana Aragón Fatula

Thankful for Positive Feminist Role Models.

My s-hero, Gloria Anzaldúa, one of the great icons of Latina Feminist Queer Theory Literature said, “A woman who writes has power, and a woman with power is feared.”  My tía Emma Aragón Medina was my feminist role model and I know she would be proud of the educator I’ve become. I wrote this poem to thank her.

There are two roads going nowhere, going somewhere

Some of us get lost in the dark with no guide

Some of us follow the way of the ones before us

who travelled the path and found the way

My tía goes to the University every day to become a teacher

I watch her grab her books, purse, head out the door, to catch her ride to Pueblo.

Someday, I’m going to catch my ride.  
I love writing. It is my sweet medicine. Whenever life gets too heavy, or to light. When I feel like I’m going to stop breathing if I don’t sit down and write. When I can’t sleep at night because I must write. That’s when I’m happiest.

I love to read, and if you want to become a great writer, you must first be a book lover. I found my unique voice from studying great writers I admire: Sandra Cisneros, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sherman Alexie, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Shakespeare. But the feminist role models in my life molded me into the strong woman I am today.

I’m a performance artist, a teacher, a writer, and a poet. I’ve published two poetry books and a chap book.  I’ve performed in schools, nursing homes, coffee shops, book stores, libraries, the Colorado Governor’s Mansion, Universities, in Colorado and Utah; also for Hispanic Awareness Month for the Department of Defense I told my stories in Sicily, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, los Azores, Kuwait, Bahrain, Camp Doho, Dubai, Abu Dhabi; and  I’ve written a couple of children’s plays that were produced at local schools. I edited an anthology for the Pueblo School of Arts and Sciences, I co-directed the Denver Indian Thespians; and  I spent a decade with Su Teatro in Denver learning about my history, culture, language and people.

I’m an artist. I need music, drums, dancing, shouting. I treat writing like a sport. When I teach writing workshops, we chant and cheer. We get in a huddle and put our hands in the center and yell, “Uno, dos, tres! Write! Write! Write! We sing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, everything gonna be alright and stomp and clap to I’m a poet and I know it and I’m gonna’ do the write thang!”

My students  ask for advice, or send me poems they wrote.  Now they are seniors in high school and freshmen in college and remember the Chicano History and feminist literature that I shared with them. I teach my students  to think about social justice, global culture and language, When I was a child, there was  no celebration of Chicano History,  Black History, no writers of color in the books I read.  

The first time I walked into the public library and saw the rows and rows of books, I felt perplexed. Who wrote all these books? I was determined to write a book and my name would sit on those shelves in this library along with Shakespeare, Whitman, Plath, Woolf.

I’m a writer; I’m going to write until someone tells me to shut the pharmacy and back door. I want you to laugh and cry when you read my words. I want to zap your brains with sweet memories and love. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Moment of Discord

by J.M. Phillippe

What makes a person change?

This is the question that fills my life -- my life as a therapist, and my life as a writer. How does a person grow and evolve? What makes them change their minds, their hearts, their views? According to Wikipedia, "a character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story."

In fiction, the character arc -- and the general plot of the story -- begins with the inciting incident, or the thing that starts the whole plot rolling. Without this incident, there would be no conflict, no push forward. Without the inciting incident putting events into motion, there would be no reason for the character to have an arc, for the character to change.

Real life rarely has a linear plot, and so it's really hard to find inciting incidents in it. Sometimes big events happen that force people to deal with them, like death or moving, or gaining or losing a job. And yet the event itself doesn't necessarily lead to any sort of lasting change. Events come and go in a life, and it is how people respond to those events that actually lead to change or not.

From what I've seen, the most common event in a person's life is a moment of discord -- a moment where something that someone thought, believed, or knew as an absolute truth gets challenged. In fiction this might be something as big as aliens landing on Earth, or a character seeing a ghost. In real life the moments tend to be smaller and much more frequent, like hearing a story that surprises you about your friend, or meeting someone from a group you were sure you knew everything about and discovering they are nothing like you imagined they would be.  

With every moment of discord comes a choice -- either a person can double down on what they thought they knew to be true, or embrace the discomfort and move to change. Often, in fiction, it takes several beats and/or chapters to get from an inciting incident to the thing that locks the character into the plot and toward the course of change. Even in fiction, we recognize the human need to resist change, to cling to old ideas or ways of being. We deny the ghosts in front of our eyes, the aliens walking down the street, or even the possibility that our long-held view of the world could be anything but right and true. It takes  more discord, more discomfort to lodge us from the path we were already walking and lead us toward something new.

Some people never lock in to their action, never embrace the change. They stay constant in how they act, in how they see the world, regardless of what events unfold in front of them. They likely don't make very good protagonists, since their arcs look more like straight lines.

I don't see many of those types in therapy, since the act of going to a therapist is about actively seeking some sort of change. But even if people want to change, it doesn't mean they don't resist it. There are barriers, there is push back, there are relapses and setbacks. In a story, this is the series of conflicts that creates tension while driving the story forward. In real life, these are the things that drive people crazy.

Change in a story comes at exactly the point the author needs it to come so that there is some sort of resolution. Change in a life is a process that may or may not have a definitive end. Both types of change take commitment, time, and perspective.

So what makes a person change? I'm still not sure. Lives are scattered with inciting incidents and moments of discord nearly every day. Events don't change people -- people change themselves.

In the end I think it comes back to my favorite social work joke: how many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?

One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Everything else is just the story of how.

* * *

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the newly released short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work. She works as a therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.