writing

Actually, Don’t

I’m not a big fan of these inspirational-poster-style meme type things in general, lovely lurkers, but this one in particular has bothered me for a long time. And I’d like to explain to you why, in a brief rant.

Ahem.

First, allow me to describe this image, both for the sake of any of my readers with visual impairment, but also so that we are all on the same page, as far as what we are looking at:

We’ve got a sepia-toned photograph, depicting a row of five little girls at a ballet barre. All five girls are dressed in ballet class garb (tutus, tights, etc.) and look to be around four years old. From left to right, four of the little girls are faced sideways to us, looking up at what we can assume is a dance instructor, in a neat row (well, neat for four-year-olds), all attempting some vestige of a ballet position. The fifth girl, on the far right as we look, however, is upside down, ass over teakettle, her knees hooked over the barre, hands holding on, smiling at the camera. A large caption adorns the top of the photo, declaring, “Be the girl on the right.”

No.

I mean, no. Especially if you want to learn ballet.

Look, I understand the sentiment of this message (saccharine though it may be). What the creator of this image is trying to say is that standing out from the crowd is more important than being like all the others, and that self-expression is better than forcing oneself into a typical lockstep with everyone else. I get it, I do; and being a lifelong denizen of The Island of Misfit Toys myself, I, too, value the great gift of being weird.

Thing is, this picture is bullshit.

That little girl on the right is not engaging in joyous self-expression (well, maybe she is, but that’s not the point); that little girl is misbehaving. Her hanging on the barre is not just as valid as the ballet techniques being learned by the other girls, just because it comes from an authentic place. She’s not learning ballet, she’s not paying attention to the adult in charge of her learning (and her welfare), and, worst of all, she’s hindering the learning of the other girls, who are actually there trying to learn a technique. Believe me, I’ve taught many a dance and a martial arts class to little kids–that teacher who’s out of frame has to stop class to get that misbehaving girl to join the group and do as she’s supposed to. If the girl continues to be “the girl on the right,” her parents will be called in to remove her from class.

Don’t be the girl on the right.

The girl on the right is never going to learn how to dance ballet if this is what she does in class. If she grows up like this, she’ll be an entitled little nightmare with no respect for authority nor discipline in practice for whatever she does.

But, Jenn, we shouldn’t be blind followers of rigid rules and authority, I hear some of you protesting. The best artists are those who flout the rules and go their own way. Well, sure. And you’re right, except for one thing.

Those rule-breaking artists who thumb their noses at authority? Those iconoclasts of cutting edge creativity? How do you think they learned how to do their art?

The best artists learn the rules, thoroughly and completely, and from a teacher (or master, or authority figure of some kind), before they can then break them. The discipline that comes with training, that is: learning technique, comes first. Then, once the artist is a master of doing it the same as those masters who came before him, then and only then can he break those rules and make something unusual out of his art.

Art, any art, that lacks technique is nothing but a wet rag (read up on Grotowski, the great theatre movement technique disciplinarian, for more on this concept). Hirschfeld, the great Broadway caricaturist, said how he needed to learn the precise anatomy of an arm, and be able to draw it with scientific precision, before he then could draw an arm using one curving line. Pure self-expression, with no technique or structure, is not art. It’s healthy, and good for you, sure, but its audience should be limited to a therapist, if anyone.

I went to grad school for poetry at Naropa University (google it, kids). While I was pleasantly surprised at the academic and technical rigor present in that MFA training program, there was still so much of this: “it’s authentic, coming from my heart/experience, and therefore it’s good art.” No. No, it ain’t. It needs revision, and lots of it. And, seriously: editing your authentic bit of self-expression will do nothing to diminish the power of your true voice; quite the contrary. If you construct the messy vomit of your raw self-expression into a good poem, then it will echo and resonate to your readers, as opposed to being a selfish forcing of them to watch you masturbate.

If self-expression is to be art, it needs technique. To learn technique, one needs discipline. And Yes, Virginia, that discipline comes with training, which might just consist of rote repetitions, drills, and copying your teacher (and/or other masters). I mean, can you imagine a martial artist, who has never taken a class but likes playing around by punching her couch at home, getting into the sparring ring with another, who has a black belt (and you can imagine what training and discipline that requires)? I don’t care how well and powerfully that martial artist can punch her couch, she’s going to get her ass trounced in that ring. Why? No technique. Authenticity is great, but it actually doesn’t really matter to anyone but you. And art is supposed to be a communication, something that goes out from the artist into the world to be shared.

No other way to be a master oneself, unless one starts from square one, there at the barre, in a neat row, trying to imitate one’s teacher as exactly as possible.

Don’t be the girl on the right. Not until you’ve mastered ballet, by being the girls on the left.

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New Year New Blog Who Dis

I’ve come to the face-slamming-into-a-brick-wall realization, lovely lurkers, that I needs must get my shit together writing wise if I want to get anywhere.

You’ll no doubt recall that I’m embarking on a career transition. Rat-like, I’m fleeing the sinking ship that is academia and swimming full force to bring my unique and extensive expertise to the corporate world.

I also want lots of writing gigs. Too. So.

Looking over my notes app today, I find a crapton of outlines, rough sketches, and etc. that are all itching to be articles. I have been cultivating a new writing habit in the form of my memoir-ish blog under my pen name but have not done much of anything under my real name (other than the PBFTs).

It still being the season of the new year’s resolutions, then, I’m going to go through each one of those nascent articles, compose them, and post them here. I’m not going to give you any guarantees re: frequency (baby steps, please and thank you), but know that I have created a daily notification for myself.

Am I insane for beginning this the week before the new semester, and mere days before my next performance? Maybe. But then I’ve never claimed sanity, after all.

It’s time to dilute the writerly jealousy and do something about it instead.

🎶Simon says: Get the fuck up…🎶

Ringing in the New Year

Sheesh, lovely lurkers. I need to take a moment and list my stuff coming up in the new year. I just wrote about New Year’s resolutions under my own name on my other, memoir-y blog, and it made me need to come here and share with you all the amazing shit that’s on deck, in the hole, and whatever other baseball or double-entendres you like.

Buckle up.

School: Regis’ next 8-week session starts mid-month. Those are all one-on-one grad students in all kinds of subjects, you’ll recall. So far, I’ve got a student who’ll be learning about Editing Non-Fiction.

Metro starts soon after. I’ve got an online section of Theatre History and Crit II, which should be great once I revamp and update it. I also have a Stage Movement class assigned to me, but as there’s only 8 students enrolled so far, that might not actually go. Good news is, the department chair is going to go into battle w the dean on my (well, its) behalf, and it is a required course, so I am allowing myself a modicum of hope.

It would not be a good thing for that one to be canceled, for more than one reason, not the least of which is: this is my specialty and I’d like to have something to show non-academics in that area. Also that I don’t know what’s up with DU; if they’re planning on ghosting me too or not. I have to function as though they are. Pray for me.

Writing: I’m slated to write the next series of Problematic Tropes articles over at Writers’ HQ, so stay tuned. If I can get disciplined, and get help from the SO, I’ll be putting forth one per month starting in January. So stay tuned there.

Performance: I’m doing lots of Blue Dime Cabaret, and a big fight direction project, all of which start in January.

Blue Dime Cabaret has three performances in January (starting on the 11th) over at Dangerous Theatre, and one at Full Cycle on February 16th. I’ll be performing on the 18th, and no idea what’s going on on the 16th, since we haven’t curated that one yet.

Somehow, most of the images of my emcee stint at Blue Dime at our December show depict me drinking beer. Yeah, I’ll allow it.

I’m choreographing and fight directing for D&D based play She Kills Monsters over at Red Rocks Community College. This play not only has, like, one fight per page, but it’s all fantasy styled, which should be super fun. I hear the director has cast a bunch of extra monsters, too, so that should be a blast. Plus, I’m getting paid a full semester’s worth of community college faculty salary for this project, which will be a huge help.

Career Shift: I need to read Ibarra’s book Working Identity again, as it is a rough patch in this area at the moment. I keep applying for multiple random things in the realm of content creation and such. More importantly though: I am doing my best to push my body language consultation / seminars, etc. to the hilt. This is what I’m needing to do next, and I know there’s need and demand out there; I just need to find it and bring it to the right places.

Hm, that’s a lot of “need” in one short paragraph. Welp. It’s apropos of the topic, so I’m leaving them.

Oh, and I applied to Denver Comic Con (sorry: Pop Culture Con) and Page 23, too, so let’s hope I’ll be presenting there again this summer the way I have for many years now.

Also? Pray for Pirates. I’ll explain later, just do. That’d be very cool too.

So.

Sigh.

That’s a lot, innit. Well. Bring it (ring it)…🍾🥂🎉

The More You Holmes

From: 2.1, Elementary 6.19

Title: “The Geek Interpreter”

Reference: in BBC Sherlock, The Geek Interpreter is one of a quick chain of plays on words from canon mysteries that we see breeze by in an illustration of Sherlock’s busy-ness. In this case, it’s a group of young comic book fans that notice the comics are coming true.

In Elementary’s most recent ep of this same title, we watch a brilliant mathematician interpret some data under duress, and her lovelorn PhD advisor hire Holmes & Watson to find her and her kidnappers.

Both shows use this title as a nod to original canon story “The Greek Interpreter,” one of the most chilling and (in my educated and well-read opinion) underrated stories in the canon. Though the ending is pretty anticlimactic–good on the Grenada series for making that right.

Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes

If you’ve followed my Problematic Badass Female Tropes series (over at Writers’ HQ, kids), you’ll recall that the central argument to all those discussions was that those tropes restrict and weaken strong (read: badass) female characters. The bait and switch problems of each PBFT was the dangling of the “badass” in front of us to distract us, while assuming that the character’s strength is enough to make us not notice nor care about the inherent misogynistic structures she has been constructed with.

This new series will look at seven Problematic Toxic Masculinity tropes, and its central argument differs somewhat from that of the PBFTs, though of course the two sets of problematic tropes are intricately and innately connected. This series centers around the inherent assumption that males are strong and dominant. Where the PBFTs focus on the bait and switch of the strong female that’s in fact not strong but subservient to males, the PTMTs focus on the false labels of strength in male characters, as well as the narrow, restrictive, and damaging definition of what it means to be a strong man.

Both sets of tropes do similar things; both are examples of problems of gender and power. We will learn as we go through the male counterparts to the PBFTs that both sets of Problematic Tropes affect how media and entertainment express characters of all genders, and that all these problematic trope characters have a negative impact on the real people that consume and admire them.

But first, what does this trendy phrase Toxic Masculinity actually mean? Lately, in the continued wake of the #metoo movement, the phrase Toxic Masculinity is being bandied about by feminists of all stripes, mainly as a way to shut down conversations. I want to start conversations by writing about these tropes, not shut them down, so real quick let me give you, dear intelligent readers, my working definition of what Toxic Masculinity means (at least as far as these discussions go).

In a nutshell: Toxic Masculinity is the harmful view (ingrained in our patriarchal and heteronormative society) that if a man does not dominate, he is not a man. Domination of all things (from one’s own emotions to other people) is the key poison that puts the Toxic in Toxic Masculinity. Also remember: just like the Problematic Badass Female Tropes were, the Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes are not examples of what real men in the real world are actually like, but rather are problematic expressions of masculinity in the forms of characters in popular culture, art, and entertainment, and as such are influential to those who consume and attempt to emulate them. I want to point out the problems in these characters so that we can be aware of what the tropes are doing to us even as we continue to enjoy our media.

I will be writing full blog posts discussing these seven tropes, just like I did with the PBFTs, but first (as indeed I did with the PBFTs), here’s the bare basics in a rundown of what you can expect from these new magnificent seven:

1. Go Big or Go Home

As a man, the only choice you have for beauty is to be big and muscular. Thin, short, “feminine” or small men aren’t men, and certainly aren’t desirable. Where women are told by culture to lose more and more weight, diminishing themselves to invisibility, men are told they are nothing unless they take up more and more space, and are physically strong to boot.

2. Grow a Pair (or, Stoicism Ain’t Just For Hellenistics Anymore)

Pop Culture Detective’s excellent video article, “The Case Against the Jedi Order” describes this harmful trope well. Basically, boys are taught at very young ages to man up, grow a pair, boys don’t cry, etc. which means by the time they become men, they are not able to express emotions healthily, or even at all. The Jedi are a prime example of this, as is every Shane that breezes into town, kicks the bad guys’ collective ass, and moves on. The coolest male characters are ones that show no emotion whatsoever, and certainly don’t form deep emotional connections with other humans. Which leads me to:

3. Bond, James Bond

The misogyny and classism of the gentleman’s gentleman will be explored here, with our good friend 007 at the helm of our examples.

4. The Tale Of The Nerd and the Neckbeard

Nerds are sub-males. That’s the gist of this problematic trope. Brain bigger than your biceps? Well you certainly won’t get the girl. And the extreme of this trope is the seed from which incels sprout.

5. Sassy Gay Friend (with his polar opposite companion, the Terrifying Leather Daddy)

This pair of gay male stereotypes are two sides of the same problematic coin. Both sides of this trope speak to the deep seated fear ingrained in men of being seen as feminine, and as we have said in our definition of Toxic Masculinity, a man who does not dominate is not a real man.

6. Violence is Normal

Not only is violence a normal behavior trained in boys since early childhood, it’s encouraged and even necessary in most social situations depicted by culture. Violent domination is the most commonly seen form of domination in our entertainment and arts, in the form of Problematic Masculine characters taking their strength and power by force.

7. Mr. Mom

LOL, men can’t be good parents! The awful trope of the bumbling dad, nothing more than another child for moms to manage, is the trope on this list that angers me personally the most. Look for some heartfelt angry rants in this article, readers.

Well that’s the basic idea! What do you think? Look for this series to start up on Writers’ HQ after the PBFTs are all done. And leave ideas you have in the comments; I may want to include some of them as I get more in depth with these tropes during the writing process.

Oh, just one more thing…

I forgot to share this with you at the time of broadcast, lovely lurkers, but not only did my email comment get read on the air on The Columbo Confab podcast, but the gents were sweet enough to plug my book! What a lovely gesture.

Here’s the link, so you can listen to their slightly tipsy analysis of Death Hits the Jackpot, one of the later 1990s series.

Thanks Sean and Steve!