Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing Tip #324 - Take a Risk

Not that you need the visual, but I was standing in my shower this morning and the idea to write a horror movie flooded over me. I almost said out loud, “yeah, right!” I’m a person who does not do horror movies. I haven’t seen one since my boyfriend begged me to go with him to Nightmare on Elm Street when it was in the theatres. You do the math. I did accidentally see 28 Days Later (mostly with my hands over my face), but I’m told it is not really a horror movie, but more of a social commentary on world order… blah, blah, blah. I would like my social commentary with a little less zombies and gore. But I digress.

I shouldn’t be surprised that this seemingly random thought visited me this morning. Last night at mothertongue more than a few poets, who had taken a writing workshop with HBO Def Poet Regie Cabico, stated that they were sharing a poem that they were initially afraid to write (apparently a nudge from Regie). The one that struck me the most was from a Jewish poet who wrote a letter to her hometown (that turned out to be Israel) and ultimately a critique of their actions as it related to the Gaza Strip. The poem was devastating and raw and honest. By the last line I could absolutely see that this was a poem worth being afraid of, but the poet released it anyway and pushed it out into the world.

Now I know you are wondering why am I making such a big zombie mountain out of a horror movie molehill? Because writing is about taking yourself out of your comfort zone, about taking the risk and wrapping yourself around an idea that absolutely terrifies you. Maybe it’s a taboo subject or hits too close to home or you have to slip into some character’s skin that repulses you, but you feel compelled to tell his truth. Maybe the risk-taking will be a little more public: getting up on a stage and reading that poem that has been rattling around in your heart or finally sending out that manuscript that has been preened and perfected a hundred times.

What is the worse that can happen? In the nine years I have been going to poetry venues I have never heard an audience boo a new performer. In fact they have been over-the-top supportive of some poets that should never write another poem in their life! And if you are worrying about rejection from a publisher (including GirlChild Press), it is inevitable. Some of the most successful writers share how their work was initially dismissed with little fanfare or were encouraged to take up another vocation. But they kept plugging away, eventually broke through and now their publishers sit around hoping they’ll write another book.

Grab a piece of paper and make a quick list of all the artistic things you’ve been avoiding or at the very least hoping you would build up enough courage to try. Now make the commitment to try one of them on every week. I guarantee you will not get anywhere unless you put yourself out there.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Writing Tip #44 - Build Community

Claudia Jones: Black Feminist Reading Group

It is easy to let yourself get caught up in the isolation of being a writer. You spend a great deal of time by yourself (working on that next great blah blah blah) and before you know it days have gone by since you've engaged other people in any meaningful way. But I submit to you that this isolation is actually harming your writing. What can live and thrive without air, light, and stimulation? That is exactly what community provides to artists of every strip.

As you take the leap and try to find the right community, you must be clear about what exactly you are looking for. Is it feedback? Friendship? A sounding board? A great group of people to procrastinate with? You need to figure this out before you join up with artists that are not a match for you.

Join a writing group. Visit a few (you can find info on Craigslist, Facebook, library bulletin boards) to get a sense of how they operate and if the other members have the same goals and expectations as you. If you can’t find an existing group that works with your writerly quirks, start your own group. This is a perfect way to bring together a group of like-minded folks that will be helpful to each other. Now keep in mind, just because you started the group, folks may not be interested in a hierarchical system where you are the boss of everyone. Again, check in on expectations.

Get into a writing class. Almost every city offers classes. You can find free ones at the library, paid classes at community colleges or writer’s centers. Looking for a shorter commitment? Local authors and facilitators are always offering workshops in your area. Again, check out Craigslist, local libraries, and bookstores for leads. If you are in the D.C. area on May 2, 2009, I am offering a one day workshop from 10:00am – 1:00pm. Check out www.girlchildpress.com/workshops.html . We have two slots left.

Volunteer with younger writers. There is nothing like helping someone to recognize their skills and discover their voice. You would be surprised how many kids don’t consider the vocation of writer because they believe only certain kinds of people are allowed access to that world. I work in partnership with the Prince George’s County Women’s Bar Association to provide writing workshops for the young women at Waxter’s Detention Center in Laurel, MD. Every workshop is an extraordinary expedition into these young women’s lives and I am always the better for going along on the journey. Off the top of my head, here are a few organizations that would love your time and talents: Girls Write Now, New Moon Girls, Write Girl, and DC Writers Corps. If there are any other groups you think folks should know about, send over a link and I will post it on the blog.

Book clubs are still cool. They are not just for your granny anymore. There are thousands of book clubs operating all over the country. They specialize in sci-fi, Christian, mystery, erotica, African – American authors, women or whatever suites your fancy. They tend to meet once a month and spend a couple hours reviewing the selected book. Again, this is one of those communities that you need to really investigate before joining up. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who found themselves in groups where the memberships’ reading taste was so different that shouting matches and crying jags were a routine part of the book selection process.

Check out online writing groups. This route doesn’t necessarily get you from in front of your computer, but it does connect you with other writers (and sometimes in real time for a cup of coffee). A general Google search will yield literally hundreds of options. I personally belong to a screenwriter’s group, a publishing group, a local writers’ association, and a filmmaker’s resource group. Online memberships really allow you to express a lot of your writing interest and build up resources without having to run all around town.

And if all of that sounds way too stressful and formal, then drag a couple of your good writer buddies out to the park (they’ll appreciate being asked) and spend a few hours in the sun dreaming up new stories, talking each other off the “I’m not good enough” ledge or eating ice cream and getting a tan.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Woman's Work Call Extended - June 1, 2009

I have extended the call for submissions for Woman's Work: The Short Stories. I am looking for quality work from women writers. The submissions do not have to be about work or women. Let your imagination fly! See the call below.

Woman’s Work: The Short Stories

Part of the problem is that I treat writing like a privilege not an obligation. It comes after everything, after all my other responsibilities.
Maegan “La Mala” Ortiz
My Writing Life

Woman’s Work: The Short Stories is a celebration of what happens when women finally get to the page. About the extraordinary stories that spill out of these extraordinary, and often ignored, storytellers during those stolen moments when she surrenders to her burning desire to write, to create.

GirlChild Press seeks the fresh and exciting voices of writers that will entice the reader with intricate tales of shapeshifters and evil doppelgangers, rock and roll princesses in twisted fairy tales, broken gunslingers in deserted western towns, and political murder mysteries that lead to sex in illicit places.

We will follow her through rabbit holes and pop up as mermaids dressed in camouflage, all while reveling in a romance that bloomed on a long-forgotten battlefield in outer space. Surprises will await us at every corner. We will discover what is passionate, and pure, and complicated and be glad for it.

Ultimately, Woman’s Work is about women as master storytellers.

Submission Requirements

• Deadline: June 1, 2009
• No more than 2 previously unpublished short stories per submission
• Simultaneous submissions okay, but notify if your work is accepted elsewhere
• 4,000 words or less
• Double spaced

All contributors will receive a copy of the anthology and will be invited to read at the book launch in 2009.

Electronic Submissions

Title of submission should be placed in the subject line.
Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission.

Snail Mail
GirlChild Press
PO Box 93
Hyattsville, MD 20781

Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission

GirlChild Press publishes work that celebrates the triumph, defiance, and excellence of girls and women everywhere!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Writing Tip #16 - Tell the Truth

I was sitting at an open mic a couple weeks ago and the poetry was red hot, bawdy and funny. The poets had the audience eating out of their hands. We were clearly being entertained by some of the most talented and quick poets in town. The stand out pieces involved a zany coming out story that included motor oil, a game of ding dong ditch by a burly 42-year-old had us gasping for air, and the 21 year-old who realized her breast weren’t ever going to get any bigger was sad and funny.

Then a poet got up on the mic and did something that got my attention for a different reason. She disclosed that she had written a piece while she was sitting in the audience and wanted to share. Now before I tell you the rest of the story, I have to disclose that I am absolutely a snob when it comes to poets who share freshly minted venue poems. I simply have never experienced one that was worth writing down and sharing as a first draft. I think the whole thing is about showing off and trying to get in on the action. That being said - back to the story.

She let us know that the ding dong ditch poem had inspired this little ditty. The next two minutes were painful. The once rowdy and receptive audience became stone cold silent. At the end she got a tepid round of applause and we moved on as if she never even showed up on our radar.

I spoke to a few folks after the reading and every one of them brought up that poet. The unanimous feedback was that we did not believe her. Even setting aside the fact that she wrote the poem at the venue, it just didn’t ring true.

Now before everyone gets ready to hit the comment button, I am quite aware that poets/writers/painter/sculptors make up things all the time. Every day writers write about something that they have never personally experienced. But in order to be a really good weaver of tales, you have to remember, every story starts with the truth then the “lies” are smoothed on top.

Case in point: I was listening to a crime story novelist talk about his career and the interviewer asked had he had any prior experience in the law (or even on the other side of the law) because his work was so vivid and realistic. He said as an only child he created a private detective alter ego (he was/is a huge comic book geek) and he spent the summer of ’73 staking out his neighbors and “solving” crimes. That summer he saw all kinds of things; the woman across the street who was visited every day by her gardener as soon as her husband left for work. The college kids home on break that were growing and selling weed. The maid who had pool parties at her employers’ house while they were away on vacation. He wrote down everything he saw in his little detective steno pad. When he started writing crime stories/thrillers as an adult he decided to reach back into that summer and pull elements from it. As a kid he didn’t have the well of knowledge to guess what was going on behind the scenes once his neighbors closed their doors, but as an adult all that changed. He had developed language to go along with his imagination that allowed him to make up the rest of the story. This interview is a perfect example that at the core there is a nugget of truth that the writer can relate to and take that thread of truth through the entire piece. If you need a visual representation of this concept, rent a copy of The Usual Suspects.

I ran into the 42-year-old ding dong ditcher at a coffee shop a couples days ago. I teased him and asked if his ex-girlfriend ever figured out it was him ringing her doorbell at 2:00 in the morning. He laughed and reluctantly let me in on the secret. The poem wasn’t true. He had not ding dong ditched anyone in over 25 years. It turns out that Ashton Kutcher threatening to ding dong ditch Ted Turner’s house if he got a million twitter followers before CNN was his inspiration. The poet simply merged his experience as a 12 year old pulling this prank and fused it onto what he imagined the 30 plus year old actor would look like pulling the same stunt and changed Ted Turner into the unsuspecting ex-girlfriend.

Remember, the best liars always start with the truth.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing Tip #2 - Managing Fear and Doubt

Like all writers/artists (even the ones who don’t admit it) we wrestle with fear and doubt on some level through a good portion of our career. I don’t believe that fear or doubt is unique to artists, but I do believe it does a number on us that prevents us from doing some of our best work and can lead us down some self destructive paths.

The first level of fear (and probably the most legitimate): why have we chosen this often-lonely professional that you will probably starve from if you quit your day job? But then you can’t do what you need to do (to test out your writer's legs) from the exhausting and deafening self-defeating inner dialogue:
I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. What’s wrong with being a dentist (plug in your profession)? I don’t have to write/draw/dance/paint.

Then comes the fear of success. This is a complicated stew. When you have finally finished that poetry book, manuscript, painting, screenplay, you worry how the world will receive you and it. How dare you believe you are talented enough to spend hours perfecting your craft and that you have something to offer that no one has ever seen before? I think we get so caught up in what other people think about our work that we sometimes overlook the fact that we are our own worst critics and as Patti LaBelle likes to say, “blocking our blessings.” Or worst yet, that we have surrounded ourselves with people who we’ve unconsciously given permission to tear us down and are legitimately trying to sabotage us, and it is not the fear or doubt that is sitting on our chest.

And how can we forget about the quest for perfection. Trying to capture lightening in a bottle. Your first project took the world by storm, but how in the hell are you going to replicate that? You are a fraud, a one-trick-pony, or worse, a one-hit wonder.

What if all or none of that is true? Would it stop that burning desire in you to create? I think if you don’t attend to the fear, put it in its place, that ember will lose some of its heat. Ultimately, it is up to the artists to pull themselves out of this downward spiral. Reassess why you do what you do. If it is purely for the public accolades then there is something to be afraid of.

A few years ago someone introduced me to the quote “Do it like no one is watching.” The reality is that most of the time that we are creating and perfecting no one is watching. We are our only critics. We know when we have gotten it right. When we’ve put everything we have into it and done our best work. If we can live with that then what else is there to fret?

I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna here, I understand if you have decided to make this a vocation at some point you have to make a living. At some point the outside world will have to make a judgment whether they like your work enough to buy it, commission you, or write a glowing review. But why beat them to the punch, by beating yourself up before your work has even gotten the chance to see the light of day.

Remember when you first fell in love with your craft? When you couldn’t wait to get to it? Start your day with that passion, with that joy. I believe that light will help guide your work. Satisfy yourself first and the rest will come.

Today I’ve included a video of a wonderful talk given by the best-selling author of Eat. Love. Pray, Elizabeth Gilbert that speaks to the issue of artist fear and doubt (and a few other juicy tidbits).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell: Making a Case for Outliers

Since the first time I picked up Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, I’ve been a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker. Gladwell is one of those big brain guys who has a knack for storytelling. He makes computer programming, plane crashes and educating urban youth not only interesting, but compelling. I’ve gone on to read his first bestseller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and recently finished up his newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Outlier is a term used in the field of science to describe something that lies outside of a normal experience. Gladwell uses it to describe people (mostly men in his book) that are so accomplished and so successful they are considered outliers. Gladwell believes that it is not enough to be smart or driven, there must be a series of events that line up in such a way that makes success a possibility in these outliers’ lives.

Gladwell doesn’t go so far as to say that the individual plays no part in their own success; after all, preparation is critical in the face of opportunity. But he does make the reader consider the culture, community and generation that outliers are raised in in a more critical way.

The most fascinating “outlier” in the book is Bill Gates. Not because he is one of the richest men in the world, or that he has one of the most successful companies, but because of the way the stars aligned in his life to make it possible for him to become “Bill Gates.” I won’t ruin the chapter for you by laying out all the elements, but the fact that Bill Gates walked into his eighth grade class in 1968 and found a computer sitting there (when no other high school, including some colleges, had one) literally changed the course of history.

Another interesting element in the book is Gladwell’s fascination with the 10,000-Hour Rule: a concept that he returns to often throughout. In this extensive chapter, Gladwell provides page after page of research and examples that says simply: “10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.” So any “expert” that you can think of, if you were to interview them and find out exactly when they started on their path, without fail they would site the 10-year mark (10,000 hours) that they got really good at what they do. That goes for Michael Jordan, Mozart or Rachel Maddow. They each worked purposefully and single-mindedly in reaching those 10,000 hours of mastery and ultimately the top of their field.

One of the things that was the most difficult to accept in the 10,000 hours chapter was the idea that there are no “natural talents.” That being innately gifted in a particular task, sport, skill had very little to do with whether you would become a leader in that field. If you did not work toward those 10,000 hours, it would be quite easy for another individual, with average ability, to pass you, leaving you stunted with your “natural talents.” I’m still mulling that over.

As with all his books, Gladwell is trying to make us look at the world and each other in very different ways. To consider the impact we have on each other and how much control we really have to craft the kind of life that we want for ourselves and others.

Writing Tip #82 - Keep a Journal

The picture to the left is of all my journals I've been keeping since 2001. I favor blank journals (no lines), that aren't too weighty and that can be easily slipped into a backpack or tote. I use my journals for both personal recordings and projects. I've found over the years that my personal thoughts are great fertilizer for my writing projects, besides my life is too hectic to try and juggle and keep up with two journals.

Folks are sometimes reluctant to keep journals for fear that they will fall into the wrong hands, but I encourage you to at least consider keeping some sort of project/idea journal as you endeavor to give your writing life more structure and order. This journal is where you jot down story ideas, pieces of an overheard conversation, character names, peculiar sightings or pictures/drawings. I know it feels all Sylvia Plath to jot something down on the back of a matchbook, but trust me, you will eventually lose it and you won’t be able to recreate that genius moment.

Commit to taking the journal with you everywhere you go, you never know when inspiration or a wonderful meltdown by a five year old at the DMV will hit and you want to be able to record every vivid moment. My friends have gotten so use to me whipping out my journal to record funny conversations or bizarre people that they will sometimes email me funny notes of things they saw during their day. Cultivating the habit of journaling makes you very aware of your surroundings. Everything in your day becomes rich material for stories, poems, blogs, painting – or making a zesty pot of curried chicken.

For my techie people who consider pen and paper so yesterday; whip out those Blackberries (or whatever your poison) and tap out those moments of inspiration. You are already sending them to Twitter, but imagine how much more there is to say when you don’t restrict yourself to 140 characters.

Don’t feel like writing an electronic dissertation? Pull out those digital cameras, Flip Video Cameras, cell phone cameras and record away. Of course there is a higher chance of someone thinking your some crazy, paparazzi pervert, but do you.

And if you want to manifest that 1950’s private detective in you, get a voice recorder. There are some jazzy, digital models out there that are lightweight and allow you to plug into your laptop and transcribe away.

Don’t say I didn’t offer options.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Writing Tip #103 – ‘Cause Sometimes You Can’t Find the Words

This little tip comes courtesy of a note session I was involved in with a producer. He was not happy with the visuals (or lack thereof) I was using for the script we were developing. He asked me to spend a couple hours coming up with a picture portfolio for all my characters. I could put whatever I wanted in the portfolio – except words!

The portfolio had actors/models/every day people who I thought looked like my characters. There were pictures of cars and houses that they might live in. One had a Pomeranian. Another slept in his parents’ backyard in a green Army tent. Another had a thing for Mary Janes in various colors. By the time I was finished I had 20 solid pages of images that represented the lives of my characters.

The second half of the assignment was to integrate those images into the script using language that would pop and best describe what I had collected in the portfolio. I was surprised how much easier it was to write about an item once I had a visual representation right in front of me. My word choices were more vivid and spot on and improved the storytelling aspect of the script exponentially.

So go find those old magazines you have stacked up around the house and start tearing.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Writing Tip #653 - Dive Into a Hard Read

The old adage goes - Writers Write. Well good writers also read.
The more you read the more you open yourself up to other writing styles, concepts, and worldviews.

When looking for inspiration - try something out of your comfort zone. If you are into Zane take it up a couple levels and try on some Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude is sure to get those brain cells surging.

I attended a writing workshop a few years ago and the instructor offered a tip that she says really helped her improve her vocabulary when she was a young writer. She would get a copy of the New York Times, a highlighter, a pen and a note pad. She would spend a couple hours reading the various sections of the paper, highlighting and recording the $20.00 words that the NYT is known for, then look them up. She challenged herself to include the newly acquired vocabulary somewhere in her writing on a daily basis.

If you are feeling a little radical - dig into some reading from an author that you don't agree with. See how their mind works around the subject and how they've connected the dots and arrived at their position. There is always something to learn, even when you believe your positions are polar opposites.

I've recently taken up reading the Financial Times. Yes, I'm obsessed with the humungous financial crisis, but I also discovered that trying to keep up with the unfamiliar jargon, why "credit default swaps" are the work of the devil, and beginning to understand how the stock market works helped me work out the bugs for a complicated murder mystery that I had been struggling to write.

Reading work from an unfamiliar author or on a subject that you have no clue about can help you to think in new ways and absolutely improve your writing.

So go ahead, dive in!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bullying: Not Child's Play

I am still trying to internalize the idea that an 11-year-old boy hung himself in his home due to chronic bullying and gay slurs. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s mother found him hanging by an electrical cord from a beam in their home.His mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, reports that on the day of her son’s death, Carl reported that he was being suspended for five days for an altercation with a girl at his school.

His mother also reports that for the last six months she had been calling officials at New Leadership Charter School to report that Carl was enduring daily bullying and threats of violence. Some of his classmates believed he was gay and taunted him mercilessly for that. Ms. Walker says she never received appropriate support from the school and her child ultimately suffered due to their lack of responsiveness.

I’ve read various newspapers, blogs and online journals about this tragic incident, and what has been as upsetting as Carl’s death is the response by those who comment on the story. I am appalled by the number of people who see bullying as a rite of passage or that somehow Carl brought on the bullying because of his perceived sexual orientation. One commenter was especially perturbed because “those people who want to teach our kids about being gay are now using this situation to promote their agenda.”

Are people on crack?! Are you telling me that folks are only willing to protect kids from bullying as long as they are not gay? Or that being shoved around or kicked or embarrassed by a peer in math class is just what some of the “weaker kids” have to put up with?

That is unacceptable! That is crazy! That is irresponsible!

There are very few people who can report a pristine educational experience, but I believe it is more than reasonable that each child that attends school (charter, public, private) should have the expectation that their school day be free from violence. That the people put in charge of their education and safety do their jobs! That whatever your baggage is you leave it at the school house door and do your job! No child should feel sick to their stomach at the thought of having to go to school because that is where they can guarantee they will be harassed and threatened for whatever differences they bring to the school yard.

School officials should take a “zero tolerance” approach to ALL forms of bullying. If hurtful or disparaging language is used, it is to be stopped in its tracks. It should not be allowed to escalate or become a burden for the child who is being victimized.

We have no idea if Carl Joseph Walker–Hoover was gay, but we do know that he is dead and that is unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Visionware: Poetry as Testimony

In celebration of April as National Poetry Month, this is a perfect opportunity to spotlight the work of the gloriously talented Cuban-American poet Caridad Moro McCormick. Her newest collection Visionware (Finishing Line Press), is simultaneously heartbreaking and devious. The work is exquisite, but not so fragile that it cannot stand up to the rough-and-tumble of the reader’s inspection. Her narrative poetry is a trip through time and history. Once you agree upon the voyage, you will discover universal truths on every page, challenging and pushing you along. The collection has a generous and cohesive selection, intertwining English and Spanish in its provocative verses.

My Papi was too cheap
and my Mami too weak
to celebrate my quinces

The themes of family, separation and sacrifice show up throughout and are tripping points and anchors for poet and reader. In the first few poems it is clear that this is McCormick’s personal testimony of a life that has been riddled with disappointments and hard-won victories.

First night of our honeymoon
fists swirled around your head
like wasps in a paper nest.
You pulled me from my sleep
blow by blow

Food is also a starring player in this revealing collection. It is both love and prison. In the brave “Compulsion: A Chronology,” food is all a 3-year-old is able to mark as a sign of her grandmother’s love, by the time she is 15 she eats because I cannot cry with a Whopper in my mouth. And 30 offers nothing but canary yellow Phentermine and nose bleeds as a way of life.

In “Grilled,” McCormick’s diligence in describing the making of a grilled cheese sandwich allows the reader to fully understand and digest the larger stake at hand.

white-bread braving direct heat
for the sake of cheese
dependent on a
framework of flour
to keep from burning
on the unforgiving surface
of a wounded frying pan.

My favorite piece, “Coming out to Miami,” reveals her ability to deliver her work with precision and hope. The remaking of a life is never smooth, even when it feels so necessary.

She taught me to conceal irregularities
to pin them down
beneath the sting of a staple gun,
smooth skin over battered innards

What is most impressive about the collection is its ability to deliver on the promise of resilience. Doing the necessary work of pushing everything to the surface, despite the pain or circumstance, and standing in it to exam and determine what is worth keeping.

her pale sinking
into my weight
in that borrowed room
where bliss broke
into minutes

For those who distance themselves from poetry, I am happy to report that McCormick’s collection is accessible in a way that does not require an MFA to truly appreciate the stellar and truthful work that she has done here. At the center of it all Visionware is about love — recognizing it and finding a way to keep it.

Caridad Moro McCormick is a 2007 recipient of a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship from the state of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. She was a finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award in 2006 and 2008. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as The Sun, The Pedestal, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Crab Orchard Review, MiPOesias, The Seattle Review, CALYX, Slipstream, Spillway, Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual IV, Her Mark 2009, Appleseeds, Or, How We Got Here, An Anthology of Americana Poems, Susan B. and Me, Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta and others. McCormick teaches English for Dade County Public Schools and is a Professor of English at Miami Dade College in Miami. She resides with her son and partner in Miami.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Anorexia 2.0

While indulging in a nonspecific visit on YouTube, I stumbled across an alternate universe named Thininspiration aka thinspo. Here is where the 2009 version of Paris Hilton “could stand to lose a few pounds” and Mary Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie are gods!

Encapsulated in these 4-minute videos, which number in the hundreds, are beautifully lit images of the emaciated women that the viewers there aspire to be. They are clad in bikinis, or short shorts, or nothing but a demure hand over almost nonexistent breasts. These are the role models for girls and women who want to achieve the “perfect body.” This universe goes beyond, “oh, I wish I looked like Halle Berry” (whose banging post-baby body is considered by one commenter as “chunky”), but where protruding hipbones and skeletal arms are the must haves. I was on Planet Ana (short for anorexia). Where one video proclaims, “this is a lifestyle not a mental disease.”

This is a self-designed, if not self-indulgent, space. You come here to commune and share tips with other girls who have seemingly embraced the disease with open bony arms. The videos, with soundtracks of the latest pop tunes or emo flavor of the month, dole out advice like “bones are beautiful” or “take control” or “don’t let the calories kill you!” As I made my way (or weigh) further down the rabbit hole, it got stranger and stranger indeed.

The most fascinating videos were the “real girl thinspo.” Here is where we get a true glimpse of how everyday girls are translating the images of celebrities (dubbed by some as professional Anas) onto their own bodies. Flat almost concave stomachs are the prize. Multiple shots of girls looking down at their feet without their stomachs interrupting the plane of vision appears to be the glamour shot de jour. Where low-slung jeans hang off of what is left of hips, and thighs absolutely never touch. There are tons of shots of girls standing on scales, throwing scales, scales randomly in the background as the girls put make up on their ultra thin faces; all of them striving for the agreed upon perfect weight of 74 pounds. Obsessed with how close they are getting to their goal, they constantly inspect their little bodies, paper-thin skin stretched over exposed ribcages, in front of full-length mirrors, digitally recording from every angle.

For those who need tough love to stay on the thinspo wagon there are plenty of videos that threaten if you allow yourself to let food “win” you might look like this – a grotesquely distorted image of a overweight woman eating a cheeseburger flashes on the screen. Or worse yet, “do you want to be the fat friend?” A serene picture of two girls walking along the beach, one skinnier than the other, serves as exhibit B. There is even an Ana list of 57 good reasons not to eat: #3 – Guys can pick you up without struggling. #6 – People will remember you as the “beautiful thin one.” # 11 – Bones are pure and clean. Fat is dirty and hangs on your bones like parasites. To the right lost soul, who is looking for an Ana buddy, all perfectly logical arguments.

After about an hour of consuming jutting collarbones and toothpick thighs I wondered aloud why YouTube had not shut down this sideshow. It wasn’t hard to get to. Start by looking for how to do the perfect sit up, turn left at juice fasting and viola - thinspo! Wasn’t letting these channels exist like putting a baby in a crib on its stomach, surrounded by stuffed animals – a recipe for disaster?

Occasional a do-gooder/interloper comes along and tries to convince the thinspo followers that they are crazy, or wrong, or delusional, but they are summarily drowned out by testimonials of how being thin saved user tbonee’s life or that user minime was once in denial like the “fat pig” party crasher. And just like that they return to regular programming. Swapping links and websites, and pats on bony, fragile backs.