About B.

south mpls born and raised. 2015 UMN graduate. english + gender women and sexuality studies. queer, feminist, sXe. @bessmpls on twitter / @mngrrrrrl for sports talk.

STEP UP

I watched Step Up last week, in the middle of writing my final papers, and it was a beautiful break from thinking things. It’s so much fun, and nonsensical, and weirdly serious in parts as it tries to be all movies to all people, and also the dancing is great, and Channing is a babe even if he is basically a child here. It was a total blast, and my partner and I have real exciting plans to watch all of the sequels. I couldn’t understand how I had avoided this beautiful piece of millennial pop-culture trash.

And then I remembered when it came out, and what my life was like then. It came out in August 2006. I would have been almost fourteen, about to start eight grade, and I could not have enjoyed this movie, because this was what the people who were mean to me liked. They took it from me.

I realize this is a very childish coping mechanism, but in my defense, I was an actual child, and a weird one at that. Middle school was basically hell, and seventh grade was the worst year of my life. I responded to this misery by getting really into punk rock, and more into sf/fantasy books, and not liking anything that “popular” kids liked. This age is when you’re creating an identity, and mine was about not being like the kids who teased me. Also, because punk rock is great, and I’ve always been a big reader, and I like to think I would have found these things I love no matter what, but who knows.

There was a meme going around twitter last week, asking why people were bullied as kids, and like, I have no fucking idea. Because I was a weird kid. I read a lot, and wasn’t athletic, and went to a k-8 for middle school with all these kids who already knew each other, and my parents are recovering alcoholics, and I had a kind of sheltered childhood, and grew up watching classic movie musicals. Who the fuck knows. Really, it didn’t have anything to do with what I was, or what I did.

I got bullied because kids are horrible, and don’t know how to navigate difference. Lord knows, I was pretty bad too. I felt ostracized, rightly or wrongly, and responded by feeling superior and cutting myself of trying to connect with people I didn’t already trust. And like, that’s not a mature coping mechanism, but again, I was a child! We were all children, and we were terrible to each other, and that’s why I couldn’t enjoy Step Up when it came out! It’s a godforsaken tragedy!

My life would been better if it was like Step Up, which is about how you can still dance with someone even if they’re different from you. That’s a good lesson to learn. And maybe my whole life would have been better if I had watched Step Up in 2006 instead of… I don’t know what that year was? Getting Buffy the Vampire slayer dvds in the mail from netflix, or checking out cult movies from Cinema Revolutions (RIP). It was eleven years ago! Eleven and a half, almost.

I don’t regret doing those things, because they made me into the person I am today, someone who’s deeply nerdy about vampires and film culture. I might have created my identity as a middle schooler out of some protective need to be different, and that’s isn’t not sad, but I still like who I am. I’m just really glad that I’ve grown up enough that I can be someone who likes all of those things AND Step Up. It’s a real fun movie. You should give it a chance. Maybe the “popular” kids were on to something.

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Conflict Is Not Abuse by Sarah Shulman

I finished reading Conflict Is Not Abuse almost a year ago, and I still don’t know what to make of it, but something makes think about it probably once a week. Schulman’s main thesis is right there in the title — conflict is not abuse. But lately, especially on the internet, this gets muddled, by a lack of open communication, and a sense that someone must be at fault for any negative interaction, that there must be a victim and an abuser, instead of people who are making a mess.

(Today what made me think about the book was a post about the new Star Wars movie, describing all situations where characters hurt each other as abuse, which is… Not good literary analysis, to begin with, and also not worth my energy. I don’t think Schulman had Star Wars meta in mind when she was writing this book, but like I said, all kind of things keep leading me back here.)

The problem she identifies is really compelling: how we tend to frame all kinds of mutually created conflict as abuse, which stops people from working through conflict in a productive manner, and can also obscure real instances of abuse. She sees how framing things as abuse often leads to one side of the argument being shunned, which makes sense, because you don’t want an abuser in your circle. But at the same time, shunning someone does nothing to address what it is that made them behave in this way that made them cause harm. And maybe it isn’t your responsibility to help that person, but if they were a part of your community, and if you care about your community, then maybe you should? But then what does that look like? How do you find balance with this.

Schulman doesn’t have any real solutions. She says we should stop shunning each other, and talk to each other in real life instead of just on the computer, and while she might be right, we aren’t actually going to stop talking to each other digitally, and sometimes it’s hard to make space for yourself that feels comfortable without excluding others.

Even without an answer, this book is valuable for what it asks us to do — slow down and look at what is happening in our communities. Even if we don’t know what to do from there, slowing down and wondering what we aren’t seeing seems like a wise first step. I can tell I’m going to keep on thinking about this book, probably reread it at some point. Few books I’ve read this past year have made me think more, or stuck with me in this way.

can’t sleep, like really honestly cannot sleep or even make myself lay still long enough to try. something about the paper writing process is getting to me. I messed with the flux settings on my computer because it gets dark so goddamn early, and with the night-shift trying to read pdfs made me downright catatonic, but then I didn’t fix it back when I was done working for the night, and allowed myself to play sims and watch stargate for an hour before bed. this whole week has been challenging in a way that made me want to shove in the dumbest, most inane yet pleasant input into my head, as like, a counterbalance, and somehow that lead to watching the beginning of Stargate SG-1, a truly terrible show that I can’t explain why I’m fond of. I like a lot of shitty television, but usually I have a better explanation — hell, even Stargate: Atlantis (which is a better show, but still bad) I can explain what I see in it. SG-1, no fuckin clue. I watched it in high school, on really terrible illegal streams, and only ever bits and pieces of it. But I started at the start this time, and maybe I’ll get all the way through this time, through ten seasons of the immaculate garbage — not likely, but who knows. Maybe it will strike me differently this time, maybe I’ll be able to explain what’s good about it (besides Sam, Sam’s amazing, but that’s so obvious, it goes without saying.) Last time I was watching this I was a child and hadn’t thought about how racist it was to say that aliens built the pyramids — stupid, yes, I saw that, but wasn’t aware of the underlying p-r-o-b-l-e-m-a-t-i-c implications at play. I’m so much smarter now. I’m in grad school. I’m writing papers that aren’t trash, not at all, and especially not if the trash in question we’re comparing them to is Stargate SG-1. That’s actually a comforting thought. I knew sitting down and writing would make me feel better, but I didn’t expect to wind up here. Hey, whatever works, I’ll take it. Time to go back to bed, to lie down and resist the temptation of my phone, to try not to fidget and wake up my girlfriend. Time to be smarter and make better choices than Stargate SG-1.

Dunkirk

I went and saw Dunkirk when I was in the cities for Thanksgiving. I dragged my dad out to the late movie in Hopkins because I wanted to see all of the best picture nominees, and this was probably my best last chance to see Dunkirk on the big screen, and every prediction list I’ve seen so far has had it as a nominee.

I’m glad I went, because all of the good things about the movie were things that come across better in a theater. The sound design was excellent. I really liked the score, and the way that the music interacted with the explosions and the sound of the ocean. I know this comes across as a back handed complement, if the only thing I can single out for praise is the sound design, but all together it really is an impressive spectacle. I can see why it will probably get nominated for best picture. If it wins in anything that isn’t a technical category I’ll be pissed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a very impressive piece of filmmaking.

It’s just a shame that it completely fails to opperate on a human level. Nolan is not at all interested in people. He’s interested in the sweeping action, in the grand historical moment, but not the human beings. I don’t remember any of the characters names. There was Harry Styles, and Tom Hardy, and the blond pilot who wasn’t Tom Hardy. I guess the people in the boat were almost two dimensional, but barely. It isn’t that it doesn’t have a heart, because there is something, an uplifting nationalist message which we could critique, but still, it isn’t soulless. It’s just that the storytelling is incredibly alienating in a way that I didn’t find compelling, where I don’t think it was trying, to be alienating, it’s just that no one was interested in forming connections.

The best part was how much my dad disliked the film, and how afterwards I got to teach him who Harry Styles was. He had never even heard of One Direction! He was not at all impressed by the fact that Harry Styles used to date Taylor Swift! We got home from the suburbs and I pulled up some music videos, and I think it was a real important learning experience for him.

(for the record, Harry Styles is a fine actor. I think anyway. He had very little to do. This film really is not interested in individual people.)

writing papers + Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

It’s the terrible part of the semester where I just have to sit down and write papers even if I don’t feel like it. I like to think I’m a pretty disciplined writer, pretty productive even when I don’t have deadlines. But that doesn’t mean I want to produce 18-20 pages about a specific facet of modern poetry between now and next Thursday. I have my research all done, I have a working thesis, now I just need to sit down and put it all together into actual sentences that make sense, and hopefully, that I don’t hate the sound of. But that doesn’t sound fun at all. It will be good for me, I suppose, but no, it doesn’t sound fun at all.

Over Thanksgiving break I finally finished reading Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch.

a story about book hoarding: I first bought Camp Concentration ages ago, back before Magers&Quinn moved their sf section. I was Christmas shopping in uptown with Emma, and it was a couple bucks. It sat ignored on my shelf for years. I picked it up over spring break, either my sophomore or junior year of college, where I started it, and then brought it to the Como conservatory, where it got left behind, and then I was too lazy to go back and check lost and found or whatever. Last year, before Christmas, I was at Uncle Hugo’s, looking for presents for Emma, and there was a copy for a couple bucks, so I picked it up. It sat ignored on my shelf until last week, where I needed something good to read while I was home, and god, picking it up again was a great decision.

I don’t want to explain anything about the concept, because it’s complicated, and I think it’s probably more enjoyable to go in knowing nothing. Also, I could explain the initial set up, but it takes several sharp turns over the course of the book, including two very close to the end.

I cannot remember being more impressed by the end of a novel more than I’m impressed by the end of Camp Concentration. It reorientates itself suddenly, startlingly, but still in a way that is perfectly true to what preceded it, and casts the whole story in another more brilliant light. It was breathtaking.

If I was really sharp I’d do something to link the themes of Camp Concentration — appreciating poetry, coercement to productive genius, etc. It would be terribly pretentious, but I could do it. But if I’m going to commit any brain-power to in-depth literary analysis, it should really be in one of the papers I’m writing. So I guess you’ll have to read Camp Concentration yourself in order to make connections to my sad semester’s end complaining.

this is just to say

bad feelings. tried to be a responsible human, stuck waisting time on campus with shitty headphones and work I don’t want to dig into. throwing myself a pity party, dig into a cliff bar, wash it down with water from my dented metal bottle, the sticker chipping off.

two hours to kill at the library, and then a class on modern poetry. we’re reading the canonical modernist poets, so that means white people, only two women, too straight for my taste. well, the canonical modernists, and arthur symons. today: marianne moore. all the male poets except for symons get two weeks, but moore and HD only get a week each. I understand the reasoning, it makes sense if you’re trying to teach us what we need to know about the canonical modernists, but it bums me out.

trying to get through an article about william carlos williams and neuroscience, but I like my science a lot more fictional than this. it wants me to know things about neurons and synapses, and I’m all for interdisciplinary scholarship, but also I can’t hold those forms inside my head very well. my neurons and synapses will not allow that. I skimmed through it and gave up, it doesn’t focus enough on his early poems.

what I like about williams is that he’s just there. he’s simple, and present, and sitting on the kitchen counter for you to reach out and have however works best for you. there’s more too him, sure, but he’s so gloriously accessible, almost frighteningly so. modernist poets aren’t supposed to be this plainspoken, they’re supposed to be fucking eliot at his most extra.

it’s getting to the part of the term where I’m having to actually produce academic writing, and it’s reminding me how much I hate doing that. it hurts to give up my own voice and be subsumed into the style of academic prose. I resist it, or at least I try to resist it, I try to do my best, but there are conventions that must be observed. or maybe I’m just not fighting hard enough, hard to say. this is just to say I’m trying.

Todd Haynes Films Ranked

Even before I started reading Vulture’s list ranking Todd Haynes’s films I knew I would disagree with it. It’s probably fairly accurate judging by the strength of the filmmaking, but it fails to account for what I’m actually looking for from a Todd Haynes’s film, which is something more than strong filmmaking. Todd Haynes is my favorite director because he makes really queer films. His major in college was semiotics, and I swear, it shows. What follows is a list of his films based on how much I love them, which says more about the kind of things I love than how good any of the films are. But my list is still better than Vulture’s.

  1. Carol

Maybe this makes me a bad lesbian, but I don’t care — Carol is a boring movie. It’s very pretty, and I’m happy it exists, and that lots of straight people went and saw a film about happy lesbians, and all the memes are great. But it’s a kind of boring movie.

  1. Far From Heaven

There’s something restrained about this film which is a problem for me. It reaches towards all these things, but never quite touches them. It’s such a prestige movie — a well done prestige movie and everything, about issues, a period piece with accent design. But it doesn’t do anything surprising or exciting. It’s just well done, without making me care enough.

  1. Posion

I need to see this again, because I watched it before my Genet kick, and Haynes films are more fun when you recognize what he’s poking at. This was his first feature film, and it’s three different things braided together, and it’s super intriguing, but also baffling? I don’t know how well it works, or how enjoyable it is, but it’s thought provoking, and an important statement in queer cinema.

  1. Wonderstruck

I just saw this, and I’m probably going to try to write about it more soon, but it was a very sweet movie, and inspired me to listen to “Space Oddity” on repeat for weeks. It’s kind of precious, and there sure are a lot of tidy coincidences, but it’s a kids movie, and I don’t care. I don’t think it always succeeds, but at least it’s trying to do something special and odd.

  1. Safe

Objectively, Todd Haynes’s best movie? I’ve only seen it once, and I want to see it again. It’s very smart, and very cool, and Julianne Moore does this breathy little voice, and is so fantastic. (How good Julianne Moore is in so many Todd Haynes movies is another discussion, but just: wow, I love her.) The problem with this film is that it’s too a bit close to things that I worry actually worry about.

  1. I’m Not There

I lied. This is my favorite Todd Haynes film. But I couldn’t bring myself to rank it any higher, because on some level it isn’t very good? But I love it. It’s about Bob Dylan, and the many masks he’s worn. It’s very fragmented, and I have no idea how much sense it makes if you aren’t a huge Dylan nerd (which I am). But it has Cate Blanchett playing a version of Bob Dylan, and that alone is transcendently amazing. I’ve watched it more times than any other film on the list, and really, find it endlessly rewatchable, probably because the plot is really tenuous while the soundtrack is great. Which is actually a weakness, but whatever, it works for me.

  1. Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

This is a biopic shot with Barbie Dolls, and it’s brilliant. It’s just, so good? And so weird? And its legend is enhanced by its status as a cult object, circulating on VHS copies before the web, because he couldn’t get music clearance for a real release. Do yourself a favor and watch it right now.

  1. Velvet Goldmine

A feature length film of David Bowie/Iggy Pop fan fiction. How could I love anything more than this? The soundtrack is so good, the world is so bright and shiny. I honestly can’t believe this film exists, and the fact that it does, and is such a wild trip, makes me have faith in the universe. The reason why I love Todd Haynes is because he makes films I want to see that I can’t imagine anyone else making. Lots of people can make nice prestige films, but I can’t imagine anyone else making this, and that’s why I love it.