7.31.2004

SING IT, SISTER:

Women scientists' unsung stories in comic-book form, via BoingBoing.

..the brilliant, Eisner-nominated comic book Dignifying Science, ... features the work of Jen Sorensen, Anne Timmons, Ramona Fradon, Marie Severin and others, and the stories of scientists like Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Barbara McClintock, Birute Galdikas, and Hedy Lamarr.

Now, that is a fabulous discovery.

-Lauren

7.30.2004

Oh, Brody Dalle, you couldn't be cooler. Thank you for writing "Seneca Falls." There's really nothing like a punk chorus that starts with, "Susan B. Anthony".....

-Lauren

I am at a bit of a crossroads in my young life this summer about what-to-do and where-to-do-it, and as such I've really been drawn to the lives of fabulous women in the hopes of gleaning some sort of insight. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

I Put A Spell On You, the autobiography of Nina Simone (provenance: Hue-Man books). No kidding! Nina Simone was a true artist and handled some real b.s. with style and aplomb like you wouldn't believe. Classical pianist, jazz virtuoso, civil rights activist - Nina did it all, whether she was living in New York, France, Africa, or on an island in the Caribbean.

Confessions of an Art Addict by Peggy Guggenheim (provenance: birthday gift from my mother). A breezy, self-indulgent memoir by an independent woman who figured out how to live the good life (being really, really rich helps). I like Peggy because she opened Art of This Century, a v. cool gallery at the time, and then later, said the hell with it and moved to Venice.

I bought Frida at a thrift shop in Santa Cruz, and read it for quite a while. A monster of a book, this huge tome attempts to contain the genius of a woman who lived her life on her own terms, way before marrying a man twice your age while wearing borrowed clothes from your maid and smoking a cigarette was commonplace. Frida had a sad life, with some unescapable tragedies, but truth and beauty blossomed wherever she went, and her opinions of Surrealists like Andre Breton make it worth a read alone.

Jackie Oh! (provenance: the Edgartown thrift shop) was the perfect, tacky, tawdry, early summer beach read, and it taught me an important lesson about biographies and the importance of the source. Nonetheless, this trash-talkin' unauthorized bio put "biographer to the stars" Kitty Kelley on the map, and reminded me that even the most elegant, put-together women have to deal with setback and disappointment, too, and that the key is to do it with grace and move on.

DV (provenance: Second Story Books), the autobiography of legendary style maven Diana Vreeland (as told to George Plimpton), is full of bon mots and sardonic witticisms about Diana's eccentric approach to everyday life. From the woman who told her decorator that she wanted her parlor to be the perfect shade of red - "think of a a garden in hell" - comes the examined story of a life that she made truly worth living.

-Lauren

7.29.2004

My pick for blog of the day? The ever-fabulous Moorish Girl.

-Lauren

Dude, Marie de France is such a badass.

-Lauren

I just saw Outfoxed here at my neighborhood bar, Steinhof, in Park Slope and I was so moved. First, it was such a gorgeous feeling to do something as a community like that--I haven't had that feeling, I don't think, since just after September 11. And god knows the Bush/Cheney regime's cumulative death toll is at least a hundred times higher than the terrorists' toll that day--it felt so great to be witnessing together what we all know is going on in the media and in politics, not just kind of running into it on the television while alone, gaping sadly at the lies and treachery.

Anyway, there were of course like five women on the screen the whole movie--I'd say less than ten percent of the time on screen was held by women. I'm not complaining to the filmmakers here--they did a great job of putting smart, brave former Fox News reporter women up there: I'm sure they reflected the current gender balance in the news business. What I'm trying to say is that this movie made me even more convinced that Cupcake's mission of pointing out the serious lack of women writers in top bylines is crucial.

We have laws that require equal pay for equal work, and we have corporate, governmental, and educational standards that expect equal social, economic, and political treatment of men and women. This has become a standard expectation, though we all know the reality is way behind this.

What I want to see is the expectation on the part of editors (and television news producers, as a matter of fact) that women should make up fifty percent of bylines, fifty percent of top editorial staff, etc.

Am I a lunatic? Call me unreasonable. Call me whatever you want--this would make a huge difference.

Because if you give educated women this power, and if they are not afraid of losing their jobs for speaking their minds, you don't get this Fox News shit all over the place. The "Fox Effect" they described in this film, in which all the other news networks get all right wing to try to get ratings, is not possible if every newsroom is staffed with a gender balance, especially in the top echelons of power.

--Elizabeth

7.28.2004

Cupcake alumna (June '04) MAUD NEWTON is reading on Monday, August 2, as part of new "bi-" magazine Swink's reading series @ Pianos. 158 Ludlow Street (@ Stanton). 7PM. FREE.

-Lauren
It's always the same whenever we're at a party and I introduce Jen or Elizabeth as my Cupcake partners-in-crime. People are at first curious: What kind of reading series for women writers? And then disbelieving: Oh, it can't really be that bad. And I never really know what to say (Elizabeth always does, but you already know that from the blog).

Last night, I was reading The Royal Tenenbaums screenplay, and I found the perfect laugh-out-loud example of a perfectly illustrative scenario, as in, "I could totally hear some boy-wonder-literary-sensation saying this on NPR [whereas, a woman writer would likely have a more difficult time passing off lofty idiocy as force-of-nature talent.]"

INT. LIBRARY NIGHT

Eli stands at a podium reading from a book to a crowded audience...his voice is quietly dramatic.

ELI

The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sagethicket. Vamanos, amigos, he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.

Eli looks up. He closes the book. The audience applauds uproariously.

NARRATOR

Eli was an assistant professor of English Literature at Brooks College. The recent publication of his second novel-

INSERT:

A copy of Eli Cash's latest book, Old Custer. On the dust jacket there is an illustration of an Indian in warpaint with a long, bloody knife clasped between his teeth and a yellow scalp hanging from his hand.

INT. LOBBY NIGHT

Eli walks among the card catalogues surrounded by a crowd of admirers.

NARRATOR

-had earned him a sudden, unexpected literary celebrity.

CUT TO:

Eli standing near the circulation desk with a group of professors drinking cocktails.

ELI

Well, everyone knows that Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is: (tentatively) maybe he didn't?

Eli shrugs and smiles.


No further commentary required, lest it tarnish the brilliance of that scene, from page 21 in the screenplay.

-Lauren
IF PARIS HILTON WROTE POETRY

by Janis Butler Holm

Shoes.
Shoes.
Cute.
Shoes.
Me.
Cute Shoes.

Read the rest at Maisonneuve.

-Lauren
So last Friday I went to the big kick-off party for the new literary magazine n+1--it was a blast. About an hour into the party, I actually got a chance to look at the magazine, and found that there was only one woman contributor.

I started asking around.

The editors were a bunch of sweeties who got kind of shaky and nervous when I very politely pointed out that there are 19 articles, one of which is by a woman.

One guy's girlfriend stared at him in horror and kind of yelled at him.

"Oh," I said,"You guys are just starting out--Cupcake doesn't want to go after the little guys."

(The big guys are the real culprits: from their example the gender discrepancy stays transparent so it somehow seems okay for startups to do it too.)

"Oh, go after them!" girlfriend said, and swatted her editor bf with a copy of his zine. "One woman!"

My friend Tania who is friends with these guys knows them because her brother went to Deep Springs and then Yale with them. Deep Springs is a 2 year college, all male, that is sort of like Skull and Bones but out in the California desert with farm chores. The editors explained the lack of women as a result of only really knowing guy writers, and I believe them.

Anyway, they asked me to contribute something, since they don't know enough women writers. I told them my time is really tight right now, but then I agreed--I'm going to send them some excerpts of my first novel. I don't think it will fit their aesthetic, which is interesting and cool but still pretty male pale and Yale (not stale, though!!) We'll see. Their designer told me there was another woman contributor but she didn't run her piece because she had editorial differences with the guys. Hmmmm.

I believe these fine editors--really wonderful guys--when they tell me they just don't know enough women writers. But I also think that there is a larger and trickier issue of what passes as good writing--women's voices, even if they are authoritative, are still often outside the zone that editors (yes, even women editors in male-dominated magazines, thank you Paris Review and the New Yorker) deem authoritative.

The question of merit: a bigger issue, a longer essay, for another day.

xo
--Elizabeth



7.27.2004

SAVE ELIZABETH

Elizabeth's credit card is demanding $4000 by tomorrow morning for what she spent on living expenses the year after grad school when she was in Philly and racing to finish GIRLY. Wanna become a patron of the arts? Elizabeth will love you forever.

xoxo






YET ANOTHER BENEFIT OF BEING A WOMAN ARTIST

When you're on the phone for several hours in one week with the pushy guy from the collection agency, impress him not just by flirting with him and telling him how to meet girls in his hometown, St. Louis (when he complains that all the girls he meets online are too fat, tell him to go to yoga class, duh), but absolutely floor him by telling him you are certain he is a man who grew up with a bunch of brothers--no sisters.

"How did you know that? Whoa, that's incredible, I'm the youngest of four brothers," he will say.

Smile coyly and let him hear it in your words as you try to get him down another thousand bucks.

How do you know this? You're a novelist and you know that anyone who works all day at a hard-ass collection agency testosterone job and then claims to be a professional poker player in his spare time did not have a sister to kick his ass when he was little.

Also guess, correctly, that he's not doing so well with the ladies.

"It's some Jerry Springer stuff over here, but that's cool, that's cool," he will say.

His wife is now "with" his neighbor, who is also his best friend, he will explain.

"You'll find someone," you will tell him, "You're just not ready yet."

"It's been six years," he'll say, and you'll sort of murmur and think of how in New York he'd find a girlfriend with an eating disorder in a month.

Think of this conversation the next time someone tells you that they are really impressed with how you are "following your dream" and that your endless balancing of four underpaying day jobs and Visa "grants" and apartment subletting must provide you with "great material."

--Elizabeth


Salem Wicked Witch of the East. What, you thought there were no hot witches? Think again, little boy- covens of crazy girls who dance around in the woods at night are an untapped subset of possibilities you never even thought of.

[Sigh] If only chick lit were this clever.

-Lauren

Meryl Streep on Women & Power:

"But you see in my mind I am the main figure in the movie!" she said, meaning her character. "And so many questions are interesting about a woman like that, a woman in power and how she's regarded. I'm fascinated by people like Liddy Dole and Margaret Thatcher and Madeleine Albright. I just looked at all those people, the ones who make things happen. Karen Hughes and Peggy Noonan. Their certainty. Unshakable. Ann Coulter! People like that work all their lives to achieve these positions where they can move world events--and then they can't control them. That's my character. They get into a place where they control nothing. Because they never learn that the tangent is the thing that really controls events."

More here.

I love this thing that we have in our culture, where there is one kind of powerful woman in the movies, on television and in popular literature - always - and she is so sketched out in advance that she is almost a cliche -- the ballbreaker. It will be interesting to see what Meryl Streep does with the construct in her new film, The Manchurian Candidate.

-Lauren

7.26.2004

I want Bill Clinton on my television ALL THE TIME.

--Elizabeth

7.25.2004

If you're often spending your time trying to foment a revolution that will shake up the "male, pale, and stale," as they say, literary establishment, you might forget about deadlines and things of that nature. In sum: Entries to the Ms. Magazine Fiction Contest need to be in hand by August 1.

-Lauren
My boyfriend and I rented a movie this weekend and got "Swimming With Sharks" because we both wanted to see it (actually, his agent recommended it - true story). I don't know if you've had the good fortune to see this precocious little charmer, but basically the film is about a junior agent/personal assistant-type who tortures his boss (literally) after enduring torture from said boss (figuratively). I think it's supposed to be clever.

Anyhoo, it's like, this early '90s trip down Misogynist Lane, and while I enjoyed the minor female character with her take-no-prisoners attitude, she obviously turned out to be a whore and thus had to die in the end, leading to said assistant's promotion. What the hell was that?

The thing I found most disappointing about the movie was that it wasn't the dark, intelligent satire it wanted to be, and woe is me, I had such grand expectations. Watching it was sort of like being clubbed over the head when you thought you were going to be kissed.

In the grand tradition of Diana Vreeland, Why don't you...

...read a juicy book featuring evil-boss-vs-upstart-assistant rivalry and the droll idea that smart girls don't have to die?

My recommendation: skip The Devil Wears Target or whatever it's called, and check out Apprentice To The Flower Poet Z, the "ferociously witty" first novel by poet Deborah Weinstein instead.

-Lauren
Ha! I saw the first line of that post below, Lauren, and I thought my DSL got hijacked by someone who thought she was Carrie Bradshaw and it was 1998. I thought, wrong blog, baby!

I have a friend who was a women's studies major, from California, and lives a wild life and has a career dedicated to expanding women's opportunities who I think probably thinks I'm a cranky bitch when I get grumpy about what I see as cookie-cutter New York fashion fueled by insecurity, lack of imagination, and materialism--the sort of corporate after-work Manhattan attire that is so dreary and boring even though on the surface it looks so much less dreary and boring than its counterpart outfits did in the early 90s and in the 80s before InStyle magazine and the internet sped trends up and gobbled up the underground. And that saddens me that my friend probably thinks I'm a version of an antilipstick feminist, because I'm not, because I love innovative fashion, the stuff that looks wild and beautiful and imaginative and sexy and anti-tidy and anti-Jackie O and sort of anti-douche-commercial, you know? You can spend a ton of money on imaginative wild fashion, or you can just go out there and do your own thang--either way, it would be so much more fun if people felt inspired to/allowed to dress a little more like Bjork and get their asses off the Atkins diet for five minutes.

It's all about Andre 3000 instead of Lenny Kravitz, that's what I'm talking about. Or even Madonna instead of J.Lo. You know?

--Elizabeth

7.24.2004

Ooh ooh ooh, better than Jimmy Choos. Uberchic designer Helmut Lang and genius sculptor/Cupcake icon Louise Bourgeois have collaborated on shirts & scarves to be sold in his shops. To wit:

Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and the guardian of gates and doors, is historically depicted by two faces looking in opposite directions. He was worshipped at the beginning of their planting time, harvest, marriage, birth and other important beginnings in a person's life. He represents the transition between primitive life and civilization, between rural and urban existence and the balance between youth and old age.

File under: Feminist Fashion; bra-burning not required.

-Lauren
Must read before it goes subscriber-only in a few days: this gorgeous article from Cupcake friend Jeff Pruzan on Jane Jacobs, crusader for American cities.

--Elizabeth

7.23.2004

JANE LOVES CUPCAKE!

Elizabeth Merrick is quoted in the August issue of Jane magazine, commenting on the big brag that the Paris Review made about having a woman editor. It's not available online, but check out the "Dish" column on pg 34 of the magazine (out on newstands everywhere) to read along as Miss Elizabeth gives books editor Kate Hambrecht what shall henceforth be known as "the Cupcake challenge," and tells her to - that's right, y'all - count 'em up.

-Lauren
Even though it seems like women writers often find themselves exiled to the "chick lit zone," it's not the exclusive province of shitty writing by women, according to this column by Jill Ingram of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Her hilariously dead-on commentary concerns a new novel by the editor in chief of Maxim:

The book has much of what you might expect from one aimed at the Maxim demographic. There's overt sex, starting with the double entendre of the book's title, and an undercurrent of sexism. Supporting characters are shallow stereotypes. There are cliches to negotiate. And I realize today's man is up on fashion, but it will always be strange to read sentences like, "Nick, the lady-killer, looked tanned and dashing in tailored ocean-blue pinstripes, with an authoritative, almost swashbuckling jade tie and a patterned, yet somehow coordinated, shirt." Ick.

Nick sounds like quite the "lady-killer," as in: I think I'm about to die laughing. I should knock it off, though. It'll probably win a National Book Award.

-Lauren
I HEARD YOU LADIES GOT THEM THANG THANGS, DO YOU REALLY?

Oh my, oh my. It is raining and my single clothing purchase of the summer, a pair of thirty dollar linen-ish black capri pants from Old Navy are sort of clinging to my calves, not nearly as sexy as the ass that will sell thousands of books, more just depressing and wet and what happens when you are tromping around with only a deli umbrella for protection.

I don't know how to say this, so I'm just gonna say it: I wrote an amazing novel and I can't for the life of me get it published. This novel kicks ass. This novel--called GIRLY--is exquisitely written. It is heartfelt and takes on shit that means something and is funny and works at the level of myth. It is told by seven different narrators, each with a fully rounded voice, one of which is a supernatural being. My first novel is what happens when you are one of those people who is really not gonna be too capable of any sort of career besides writing novels and when you repeatedly say to yourself over the six years it took you to write it a) "If David Foster Wallace can do it, why can't I?" and b) "What would Toni Morrison do?"

If you want to read this novel, and if your tastes are such that you understand why I think Louise Erdrich is one of our top five novelists, then I'm pretty sure I will email you the damn thing if you ask me to. Unless you love, god I don't know, John Updike and Don DeLillo above all else, it will be one of the best novels you read this year. Probably especially if you are a woman--I think it's not gonna be a total guy thing but I'm open. I want you to print it at work, though, and not spend your own cash on the toner: it's about 550 pages.

I am telling you this now because, though I had given up on selling Girly after half the agents in New York told me they loved it but could never sell it in this publishing climate, I just this afternoon met with a really wonderful agent who loved Girly when she read it last year and was just last week totally appalled at my SECOND novel, which currently exists as two chapters and an outline, because it is full of cliches and the characters are flat.

Exactly!! I told her, but I'll get to that.

This agent--whom I totally adore, by the way--had emailed me that she had serious reservations about #2, so I knew what I was getting into before meeting with her.

I told my mom last night, who is a very active Born Again Christian, that the agent didn't like it but I was going to meet with her anyway.

"Well, honey, sometimes you just have to prostitute yourself," mom observed. "Artists have to prostitute themselves to make money and survive."

(Note: my mom is the sort of Born Again who gets weekly Presidential Prayer emails from Bush--this is true--telling her what to pray for. Despite that, she rocks, I promise.)

So I have just returned, soggy, from Manhattan and this meeting, and you know what, I CAN'T EVEN PROSTITUTE MYSELF! I tried! I left the cliches in there, I didn't worry about getting every side of the characters (as I learned so well to do from studying Toni Morrison very, very closely), I didn't polish every sentence. The book is about a topic I care about, and I care about the characters and am having fun with them, so it's not like the sort of odious prostitution involved, at say, a temp job or law school. But I tried to push Toni Morrison as far out of my mind as possible when writing these chapters and outline. I just sort of wrote the way it seems to me most people who get published write books, but that didn't even work, at least not this round.

Because really, coming up with the fiction that I love that is beautiful and is adequately complex to keep my attention and is about something that matters--or, more, is pushing into some new territory that hasn't been mapped yet, both formally and in terms of content--hasn't gotten me too far. It's gotten me far spiritually and artistically, but I have no idea how to live in this world and continue to create this way.

I told this amazingly smart and fab agent, if I could write another Girly for your reading pleasure I would, I WANT to, but my fingernails are still bloody from the six years it took me to get Girly done.

It takes a long time and a lot of work, so much work, to hit that level where the characters are rounded and you really plug in to the other world where your fiction is happening and then go and make every single sentence, every single paragraph, exquisite, thinking of Raymond Carver sometimes, or thinking of Jesus' Son's luminosity and perfect evocative images. It takes me so much work and energy that it is nearly impossible for me to be on top of any sort of day job that actually pays all the bills and write at the same time. What to do?

"My fingernails are bloody from Girly, still!" I told the lovely agent, and I don't know if this bloody fingernail thing makes sense to most people--I'm thinking of a specific passage from Anne Lamott's wonderful Bird by Bird describing what it's like to show up at your desk every day.

There has to be a middle ground, this agent told me, where the writing is still so good but it's accessible enough to sell. I've been thinking about that, and my hunch is that that's not something I am capable of. That's something that looks and smells like a standard novel, where the writing doesn't grab too much attention, where the ideas are familiar enough but give the average reader a bit to think about. There are really fun books that do this, really wonderful writers who do this, but this is just not something I could spend a year or two on. It would be like going to law school to me, or getting a 9-5 marketing job: I would literally have to drug myself to get through it. I'd be like the depressed orangutan at the zoo.

On the subway home, it occurred to me that my current financial woes, involving a bunch of credit card debt I just have kinda sorta not dealt with and am kinda sorta being forced to, only exist because I was so determined to bring Girly into the world. I racked up the debt so that I could have the time I needed to create in that book the world that this agent remembered, from reading Girly a year ago, as being so real and luminous.

Fuck.

So I'm feeling as soggy as my capri pants. I am just going to sit here and keep feeling kinda fucked and keep listening to Wu Tang until it's time to go to a party for the new literary magazine n+1which promises to be very cool. I know that this situation is what they call Another Fucking Growth Opportunity and I do believe that's true: just wait and see what I conjure next.

xo
--Elizabeth

Strongly recommended from a trusted West Coast source, A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That by Lisa Glatt (despite the blurb from Daily Candy).

--Elizabeth

7.22.2004

MARKET RESEARCH

I was supposed to post today, but I'm working on some other things... so instead, here is a list of all the search terms (excluding searches for "cupcake" or "cupcake series" or the website address) that brought people to our lovely little site this week:

Paul Jaskunas
Narrative Proximity
Bergdorf Blondes Cupcakes
Paul Jaskunas
Nellie McKay Cupcake
Cupcake Land Grant College Review
Caitlin Flanagan

Think of it as a koan, or something.

-Lauren

UPDATED: Several hours later...

Cupcake women's literary salon [sweet - we like to think so]
Paul Jaskunas

...Wow, that Paul Jaskunas must be a really popular fellow.

Scheherazade, a fabulous new anthology of women comic artists out from Soft Skull in the fall, edited by the genius Megan Kelso, is a must both for your pure enjoyment and as further evidence that women comic artists totally rock out.

--Elizabeth

Charles McGrath really pissed us off two weeks ago, when he claimed in his Times Magazine cover story on graphic novelists that it was really a man's game.

Oh well--what do you expect from a man who defended his choice to make the Times Book Review a 72% man's game by saying he couldn't increase the proportion of women reviewers because"'our standards are so high that a great many writers--even published writers--don't meet them.' As for the attention to male authors, he explained, 'more books are written by men than by women.'"

So I think we're going to work on a graphic novelists night for Cupcake for the fall, and call it "Cupcake Loves Chip McGrath."

--Elizabeth

7.21.2004

I must recommend to you the under-reviewed and under-publicized Rosanna Arquette documentary Searching for Deborah Winger. It's so fabulous to hear these passionate women--even the Stepbot Melanie Griffith and the unsurprisingly insipid Meg Ryan--discuss what they're up against in their careers. They get really personal about how they balance their careers with kids, men, etc., in a way that is no-bullshit and really rare to hear in such an in-depth way from accomplished, artistic, very ambitious women. (It's not the most artistically-advanced documentary, but what the women have to say carries it brilliantly.)

Tracey Ullman, Jane Fonda, Sharon Stone, Salma Hayek, Whoopi Goldberg, Holly Hunter, Frances McDormand--it's amazing to see how much these unbelievably successful and lucky women still have a sense of having to make a lot of sacrifices because of the sexist nature of the business. Robin Wright Penn discusses, a little bit, when she will give up a project so that her husband can go do a project, and we do get a sense of whose genius is more important in that marriage (and why he couldn't stay with Madonna, ahem).

V. interesting: Roger Ebert claims that there is less sex in Hollywood movies now because teenage boys aren't interested in it: they want potty humor in the spring and special effects explosions in the summer. They're not getting the sexual tension with actual girls next to them in the movie theater, they're getting the immediate, if distant, gratification at home with internet porn. God I'm glad I was born in the seventies. . .

--Elizabeth
I love this post from the always clever Cup of Chicha. It's about a guy who set out to write a chick-lit parody and ended up with some sort of horror fantasy story, except maybe with worse shoes than your average chick lit shop-stravaganza. From C of C:
Here's the plot summary BookPage provides:
Cassie French is a 29-year-old business lawyer for a Hollywood studio with the requisite wacky mom, lecherous boss and two beautiful best friends: a skeletally thin supermodel and a studio exec who is sleeping with her shrink. What they don't know is that Cassie has three handsome young bachelors drugged and handcuffed to cots in her basement, where she instructs them in the finer things in life, and occasionally has sex with them.

(But if a film adaptation of Finishing School wanted to transcend parody and create the first horror classic of the new millenium, all it would really need to do is cast Courtney Love as man-trapping Cassie.)

True story.

-Lauren
The nice thing about having a blog is that when you see something that makes you laugh out loud like this comic entitled "Gay Marriage Drove Us To Divorce!" from the very genius Mikhaela.net, you can share it with others.

And while we're on the topic of changing the world (is there anything else we ever talk about in this space?)... don't forget to register to vote and stir it up.

-Lauren


7.20.2004

Scene 1, Take 1: CALLING ALL CUPCAKES - "THE INDUSTRY" NEEDS YOU

[Cue superhero theme as shot cuts to giant cupcake projected into the sky over Los Angeles]:

From today's New York Times Arts Briefing (thank you, Lawrence Van Gelder):
TV'S CLOSED DOORS Female directors and directors from minorities continue to be absent from the credits of some of the best-known series on television, a new report from the Directors Guild of America says. In statistics compiled from the top 40 prime-time drama and comedy series of the 2003-4 season, the guild said 86 percent of the 865 episodes, a total of 741 shows, were directed by white men. Of the rest, women directed 60, or 7 percent; African Americans, 49, or 6 percent; Latinos, 16, or 2 percent; and Asian Americans 10, or 1 percent. (Eleven episodes were directed by women who were also members of minority groups; these episodes were counted twice.) Of the top 40 shows, 15 hired no women directors; 10 hired no minority directors, and 6 excluded both women and minority directors, the report said.

That's why we love you, Hollywood -- because you're so classy.

-Lauren
NOT A TREKKIE CONVENTION

I was having a drink with a guy friend, an editor, last night, and I told him about our intern Francesca's observation that even Harper's published letters to the editor were ninety percent from men.

He said, "Oh come on, that's like thinking it's remarkable that a Trekkie convention is ninety percent male. Harper's is for old paranoid cranks."

"I'm a subscriber, by the way," he said.

But then when I asked him which publications he would put in the top echelon of American letters, he said the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and, yes, Harper's.

Do we want a life of the mind that resembles a Trekkie convention?

Actually, it might be better than what we've got now--if the women were to show up at the Trekkie convention, I'm sure they'd be warmly welcomed, which is not the case in American letters, where the women pay all sorts of money for humanities degrees and then don't get to come to the party.

--Elizabeth

7.19.2004

FYI: I'm doing a monthly reckoning with the New Yorker instead of a weekly one now, because it got incredibly disruptive to get so pissed off every week. I'll do it every month and take plenty of B-vitamins leading up to it, promise. Update in August.

xo
--Elizabeth
I have been feeling so burnt out lately, which believe me is rather remarkable given my current lifestyle. The things in my life that are in flux - job, apartment, big decisions - are big enough, though, that I don't feel too bad about feeling a bit disengaged from the many (fulfilling) obligations I've created for myself.

Perusing the latest literary news, I came across this article that totally gave me the renewed sense of purpose that I was looking for (on Google news, of course; where else would I find salvation except amongst words - millions of them)...

It's from a piece published today in the most fabulous, underrated (on the East Coast) paper I can think of: The LA Times, and it's about a small, fledgling group that is struggling with the herculean (some might say sisyphean, or perhaps, xena-esque) task of creating a cohesive canon of Indonesian literature:
In 1988 the Lontar Foundation was born; its first publication was a collection of Damono's work called "Suddenly the Night."

Since then the foundation has published scores of books and branched out into documenting some of the archipelago's cultural traditions, such as regional theater and dance, which are threatened by the irresistible pull of globalization.

"Until Lontar was established, people abroad didn't look at Indonesian literature as literature," McGlynn says. "Whenever Indonesia appears in a newspaper it's because of a disaster. I wanted to create a more accurate picture. Not necessarily a better picture but a more balanced one."

Today Elizabeth emailed me about creating a definition of Cupcake, and I was hard pressed to sum it up. And of course, here's a perfect example right in front of me (in that quotation)that just begs to be emulated because it's just so pure and true. So much of the discourse around the role of women in literature has a negative twinge to it, and we're here to say that feminism is fabulous and that women writers are absolutely where it's at, so to speak. And of course all that wonderful jumble about creating a more accurate picture, et al. More eloquent words tk.

-Lauren

7.18.2004

WHAT WOULD JESUS BOMB?

Check out these t-shirts by the formidable Tony and Jim.


xo
--Elizabeth


7.16.2004

It feels really important to say something about the absurdity of Martha Stewart going to jail for five months for telling a tiny lie, while men who rip off their middle- and working-class employees' pension funds get nothing. But I don't need to break it down, because Margaret Cho (again) (forgive me) (I can't stop quoting her, she's such a genius) does it perfectly:
The problem is that Martha Stewart was not a homemaker. She was an entrepeneur. She was not selling the recipes and party plans and 'good things' in order to promote stay at home moms and give undue labor to keep women's minds from wandering to books and feminist theory. She was promoting the idea of perfection, wherever you could have it. It was about that notion of perfecting something, and then it becoming yours. This was the American Dream as it could be made accessible to American women. You could empower yourself through action, and that is probably the danger that Martha Stewart represents. She is the authority on independence, and that is what we don't want from our mothers and for our daughters.

You can't wear a burqua and tie raffia properly. You need freedom and a wide table if you want to make your own marshmallows or liquid soap from scratch. The thought that putting Martha away for a time is some kind of blow to the misogynist family structure is dangerous. If anything, she is a political prisoner. America doesn't like women who are powerful and successful and not nice about it.

--Elizabeth

So, I want to send a big shout out to our summer intern, Francesca, who is so smart and fabulous. She is doing a research project to determine the gender ratio of some additional publications of great literary authority, starting with Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly. Check out what Francesca noticed on her first day of Harper's research:
I thought you might find it interesting that even the selection of letters to the editor chosen for publication is male biased--of the 10 letters published, 9 were from males and 1 was from a female. Additionally, the one female contribution [to the Readings section] was published on page 86 (with two male contributions) rather than on pages with the seven other male contributions on pages 6, 7, and 8. A microcosmic example of bias...
Francesca is reporting about a 9/1 or 8/2 overall ratio for Harper's in 2004.

Whatever will we do when she goes back to Harvard in the fall? If anyone else has a few hours here and there to help with the cause, we would LOVE to hear from you. We want to get statistics for several more publications for 2004 and 2003, so that when we get the blank stares at cocktail parties on mentioning publishing's egregious sexism, we can hand somebody a pamphlet and move right along.

Just the facts, ma'am.

--Elizabeth


Columnist Laura Billings points out one potential reason for  the lately lamented falling U.S. readership rates in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in a terrific piece entitled "A Defense Against Dullness:"


Chick lit? Ick: I loved "Bridget Jones's Diary." I even enjoyed the sequel. What I don't enjoy is going to the "new fiction" section of my local bookstore and finding six dozen books based on the very same premise, with designs as recognizable as Harlequins, hip renderings of Gen Xers in kitten heels looking for love and shopping at Prada.

Women have typically read more fiction than men, in part, I suspect, because we like to see how other people live, whether it's in a grass hut in Zambia or the queen's chamber rooms in the Scottish Highlands. Reading used to take us somewhere, but lately, it just seems to take us shopping.

Provocative thought.  But not nearly so simultaneously stultifying and vexing as this lede from an article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:


If Madame Bovary arrived on the fiction scene today, she’d flaunt a Hermès bag, Prada pumps and a sleek cell phone for managing her neurotic love life.

[At first, reading that made me laugh out loud.  But then I thought, what if it's true? Would Madame Bovary even arrive on the fiction scene today? Would she survive chick lit and become an icon, or split too soon after a Plum Sykes look-alike threatens her with a knuckle sandwich for cutting in line for the ladies' room at Pastis? ]
 
This koan of wisdom from an otherwise execreble re-tread of a tired, tired, tired subject totally piques my interest.  Discuss, please if you will, your thoughts on the concept - Madame Bovary, with a cell phone, stalking her boss or trying to figure out a way to get back from the Hamptons after she loses her shoes during a carb-induced blackout, or whatever. 

And also, just as an aside: English majors pushing chick lit? What the fuck is up with that? These are troubled times we're living in, troubled times indeed.

--Lauren


 

I heart Anchorman:  the movie so nice, I saw it twice.  One, because I adore Will Ferrell and the fact that he can be political, and funny, and sometimes both at the same time but not always.  Two, because this flick is so fabulously feminist.  (Two and a half, because Paul Rudd is smokin' hot, even with a trash 'stache and a dated attitude to go with his poly threads).  And three, because I still love that badass Christina Applegate after all these years,  and with all due respect, she is a good goddamn journalist and so not about covering a cat fashion show.
 
--Lauren
 

 

7.14.2004

Check out Margaret Cho, who is sick of people, especially feminists, hating on Courtney Love:
Why is this ok? If you are a feminist, or even if you are a woman, I don't think it is acceptable to hate another woman in the media anymore unless you have a well worked out explanation as to why, have examined all your own prejudices and can convince me that you are not just another fascist follower of fashion. I don't care if that in itself is a sexist notion, for it forces the burden of guilt on the jury's shoulders. Individually we must be called out to prove our suspicion, put words to our guilt. If you are going to triple her bail, that is the least we can do for her.
I can tell you that C-Lo strongly resembles the kind of chick I would steer v. clear of in real life, but from the cultural distance at which I experience her, I do love her pure ambition, the depths to which she is a publicist's nightmare, and her outspoken feminism. She asks over and over in interviews: "Would anyone ask that question of a guy? No." Also, despite the plastic surgery she is still in some basic, temperamental way anti-groomed, which we are in a bit of a desperate need of these days when so many urban girlies think that a Brazilian wax and a gym ass and a pair of $500 shoes (I am so sick of typing that about the shoes but it's so true I can't stop) are the path to freedom and empowerment and sex and love and juiciness.

The other thing about C-Lo that you can't deny, considering her two big loves, Kurt Cobain and Edward Norton: "I have a magic pussy," she announces. "If you fuck me, you become a king. I'm a kingmaker."

xo
--Elizabeth


We had such a blast last night with Heidi Jon Schmidt and Zoe Heller! The last Cupcake of the season was a tasty one, my friends, with standing room only and a buoyant, energized vibe. Bluestockings radical book store came, too, and will be joining us to sell books at our readings in the future, seeing as they are just around the corner (Allen between Stanton and Rivington) from Lolita and so similar in mission to our reading series. How fabulous! I love it when a plan comes together.

xo
--Elizabeth


7.12.2004

DUDE DOES NOT WRITE LIKE A LADY

I was so excited to see our Zoe Heller listed in the "Don't Miss" box in the Books section in Time Out this week that I missed the feature on Paul Jaskunas and his first novel, Hidden. Until now, of course, right when my writing day was blossoming. Grrr.

Okay, I am very scared to write this blog post, because it is crossing a line of etiquette but I am going to cross it anyway, because the more attention I have paid to the sexism in publishing through this reading series and blog, the sicker the in-plain-sight secret of this sexism is making me feel. Paul is a nice guy, and I hesitate because I don't want to hurt his feelings with this post, but I'm sure his good publicity will outweigh my opinion by about a hundred times anyway, so I'm going to tell you the truth of my experience rather than bite my tongue and quietly simmer.

I went to Cornell with Jaskunas, and was in workshop with him for two years. I read portions of Hidden month after month after month after month after month. Naive girl-writer that I was, trying very hard each morning to hold my own writing to the standards of Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich, I never in my life thought Jaskunas would get published, because his novel about good old Maggie Duke was so full of cliches that I could barely read it.

In fact, a woman he gave a copy to (this woman was not a fiction writer in our workshop, but was a visual artist and a big reader of all the Big Boy Books, she loved Gass and Ashbery and that sort of thing) said, completely earnestly, to me after reading the first chapter:

"Oh my god, it's brilliant! It's a satire of every cliche ever written!"

If you've checked out the Time Out article you will know Hidden is not satire.

Anyway, I was shocked in general by the preferential treatment given to the white boys in that workshop, but the treatment Paul got took it to new levels. (He was not among the shining stars at Cornell, as far as student opinion was concerned.)

After workshopping one section of this novel, a few of the women writers in our workshop received a 10pm phone call from the old-boy writing professor workshop-leader (a man who said "Faulkner! Hemingway! Fitzgerald!" every week to give us a hint as to what to aim for and once slammed furniture around in objection to my writing a single paragraph of feminist interpretation in a paper on As I Lay Dying). This writing teacher accused us women of "crushing and traumatizing" Paul and thought Paul would "never recover" after we girls had criticized his work that day. This professor wasn't indiscreetly relaying a complaint from Paul or anything--I don't believe they had spoken since workshop--he was just empathizing based on what had gone on in workshop.

This particular workshop was no different in tone from our normal workshops--in fact, it had seemed quite mild to me and to the other students, men and women alike.

What had happened, though, was that the women in workshop told Paul to nix a passage in which Maggie Duke, Hidden's protagonist, meets up with her best friend for the first time in a long time, and goes on and on and on about her best friend's breasts in a wet t-shirt after a little swim in the creek. We objected because we saw no authorial intention of portraying a romance or even an attraction there--it was just very clumsy writing and very obviously not a woman narrating: it was instead an obvious, if pedestrian, male fantasy overtaking the mind of the narrator, which is what, in all honesty, the whole of the novel seemed to be.

The women from that workshop have had quite a giggle to see that the cover of Hidden prominently features a woman's ass seen through a wet white dress, creekside.

Believe me, you absolutely must check out the ass that will surely sell thousands of books.

"I was doing things people say you aren't supposed to do: writing from a woman's point of view. I was venturing into territory where it was sort of dangerous and risky," Jaskunas says in the Time Out feature.

Yeah, dangerous and risky like girl-on-girl porn is dangerous and risky.

SPOILER: The plot of this novel is reactionary, almost Reaganite: Maggie Duke has helped put away her husband for beating her senseless. It turns out, however, that it wasn't the husband who beat her--it was a RANDOM DRIFTER! Reagan is surely smiling from his grave to hear that marriage isn't the the epicenter of such violence as the liberals would have you think--it's those poor people we should be blaming after all! I, for one, am so relieved that domestic violence isn't something we need to be worrying about anymore! This book is going to sell--the subtle reactionary denial of domestic violence is going to be irresistible. The subtitle of this book could be "A Defense of Marriage." Somebody call Congress. (Or at least Caitlin Flanagan.)

And give me Daisy Duke over Maggie Duke anytime.

Anyway, as for risky, as for how gorgeous it is when a man really does an amazing job of portraying women characters, go read Ghost World again, or any of Michael Dorris's fiction.

Sometimes I think it's just that the mediocrity is what sells. For example, why does Jaskunas have a book out when such brilliant guy writers as this aren't yet available to me at Barnes & Noble?

Mediocrity from boy writers sells as serious fiction and often wins awards, mediocrity from women sells like crack Krispy Kreme hotcakes as chick lit and doesn't do much more than convince women to go on a diet and spend $500 on a pair of shoes.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go listen to Teenage Lobotomy on repeat for about an hour and a half and see if I can't, without the actual surgery, up my mediocrity level a bit and enjoy the ensuing book deal.

xo
--Elizabeth
Yes, Caitlin Flanagan is as played out and tired as the 2004 Stepford Wives movie. Worth reading over at AlterNet:
Whatever the problem at hand -- sexless marriages or exploited nannies -- Flanagan can be relied on to trace the source of the malaise back to feminism. And it is the sign of our times that while feminism is virtually unmentionable in Hollywood, it can be repeatedly invoked and demonized in some of our most influential magazines.

The working women in Flanagan's writings sound a lot like the "castrating Manhattan career bitches" that the Stepford men are eager to replace. More to the point, her version of the '50s woman is just as mechanical and self-constructed as Claire's robots. This is the "rare woman -- the good wife, and the happy one -- ... who maintains her husband's sexual interest and who returns it in full measure," mostly by virtue of "orderly and successful housekeeping." It's perhaps why Flanagan inevitably relies on how-to (please your husband, save your marriage, etc.) manuals to make her arguments than real women themselves.


--Elizabeth

TELL THE NEW YORK TIMES TO HIRE A VETERAN WOMAN WRITER

We here at Cupcake dream of one day running little postcard campaigns (inspired by the Guerrilla Girls, of course) to help convince cultural gatekeepers to hire women writers and improve the abysmal 80/20 gender split in our nation's highest literary echelons.

But for now, the good folks over at Working Assets/Working for Change are spearheading a campaign to get the times to hire Barbara Ehrenreich (we like to think of her as the anti-Caitlin Flanagan):
Even though Ehrenreich has been writing for the Times for less than two weeks, the results have been so stunning that readers and pundits alike -- led by Slate.com columnist Timothy Noah -- are calling for a "Draft Ehrenreich" movement to convince the New York Times to make her summer job permanent or risk losing the best columnist its editorial pages has seen in decades.

Cast your vote here.

--Elizabeth



NEWS FROM L.A.:

The lovely Shana Ting Lipton has something to say about the casting couch. (Scroll down to just below hot pic of Bryan Ferry.)

--Elizabeth


7.11.2004

I am looking out a window onto a garden of wildflowers and other assorted fabulous things, with a warm cup of my favorite tea, and reading bits and pieces of stories and meandering among several sections of the immensely satisfying and gorgeously appointed Words Without Borders. The poetry is quite lovely, and the fiction is excellent, too.

My favorite story of this very moment is from the "Africa" section (besides general world regions, one can also sort by setting -- mountains, desert, village, etc.), of a nun who keeps a diary of escalating events that quickly begin to resemble a brewing civil war.

Who are your heroes in real life?

The poor.

Who are your heroines in history?

The great Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, and Sister Anwarite.

What are your favorite names?

Anne and Mary.

What do you despise above everything else?

Hypocrisy.

What historical figures do you most scorn?

Several popes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

[That quiz reminds me so much of my freshman year of college at a Jesuit university in Louisiana, before I transferred to a school in the northeast. I swear, it could be lifted verbatim from a quiz in Western Civ!]

It's a difficult story, in the sense that there is so much violence in the world, but it's told in the beautiful voice of a young woman who is trying to figure out who she is in the midst of chaos.

I wonder what would happen if more stories about war were told by women...

-Lauren

7.08.2004

Right now I'm blogging when I should be packing books & things to go away for the weekend, but at least I'm on topic...

No one wants trash in her tote bag. Luckily for those of us who have an intellectual thirst that junk can't slake, plenty of fabulous beach-y keen reads by talented writers abound this summer.

The ever-excellent Boldtype informs us that the New York Times will be serializing four classic novels this summer: The Great Gatsby, Like Water For Chocolate, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Color of Water. Laura Esquivel's ode to love and family, Like Water For Chocolate is a fabulous beach read. And who wouldn't want to pal around with Holly Golightly? I loved her so much more in the book than in the movie. Audrey Hepburn was justifiably glamourous, but the novella's Holly was so, so fierce with that double dose of moxie. And, also, Boldtype points us to this article about books becoming the new trucker hat, but it makes sense that it would be a British phenomenon because the NEA is up in arms over fewer literature lovers stateside.

Bitch Magazine has a well-rounded list of really fun-looking books (too many highlights to list them here!) that you'll have to check out, including Cupcake alum Hannah Tinti's debut story collection Animal Crackers, which is yum and then some.

More great books of the past at New York, although its current picks are so treacly and twee that the only reason to take them to the beach is to toss them into the sea (If you do this, please send us a picture to post on the blog).

Aimee Mann (note to self: don't forget to pick up some cigarettes and Red Vines) has some recommendations at NPR online. And you can always join Chicago readers in discovering (or re-, as the case may be) coming-of-age classic The House on Mango Street:
The anger comes from the book's author, Chicago native Sandra Cisneros, who says she wrote it after realizing how indifferent the American literary world was to stories from and about Hispanic women.

"I felt displaced in graduate school, like I was trespassing," said Cisneros, 49, who started writing the novel while enrolled in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in the late '70s...

...Cisneros said she chose to write the book in the voice of a young Mexican girl to rebel against the kind of literature that dominated the American academic and literary landscape at the time.

"With Esperanza, I wanted to create a new kind of fictional voice," Cisneros said.

Dig it! And don't forget this month's Cupcake picks: Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal and Heidi Jon Schmidt's The Bride of Catastrophe. Join us on Tuesday to hear them read from their work at the last Cupcake of the season (we're taking August off to work on re-designing the website and a few other goodies for you).

-Lauren

7.02.2004

Oh New Yorker, I just couldn't even read you as I planned to when I was at the gym yesterday. How does that line go? Oh: I am the girl you know can't look you in the eye. You are so repellent to me this issue--that hasn't happened in a long time. It happens once in a while, and it seems to coincide with your publishing something by John Updike: seriously, that is so played out, nobody needs regular doses of John Updike at this point. Please.

But the big problem is your new staff writer, Caitlin Flanagan, whose first essay for you appears in this issue. Though a trusted source informs me she's tuned down the right-wing stuff this round, I couldn't force myself to read it.

Caitlin Flanagan describes herself as an anti-feminist. Okay: whatever. I understand having qualms with aligning yourself with every single feminist in history (Valerie Solanas, say), but to call yourself an "anti-feminist" means that you are taking an active stance against the "political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" (the dictionary definition of feminism). Would Flanagan actually go so far as to argue with the notion of these basic equalities? Is she that much of a conservative? Does the New Yorker really want to employ someone who thinks that women should have different political, economic, and social rights than men? If Flanagan does actually advocate this basic level of gender equality that is now at least the professed standard in most American legal, governmental, and corporate arenas, she should be more careful what she labels herself.

Caitlin Flanagan is a Clarence Thomas. Remnick: you are imitating George H.W. to put her on your staff. I guess I shouldn't be surprised: the numbingly low rate of women writing for your magazine is obviously not an accident. It is an active, ongoing policy of excluding the opinions of women who are your equals.

Look--you give this reactionary, ineffectual, fluffball token access to power, while the women who are as smart as you are and have something to say are doing what women always do when confronted with a glass ceiling: building small businesses. Look at all the women who have set themselves up, brilliantly, on blogs or otherwise to get their literary points of view across.

Anyway, all I could do when I couldn't bear to open the New Yorker at the gym was to immerse my irritation in three of our great American anarchists: Courtney Love, Eminem, and Rick James. This helped--I recommend.

Love,

Elizabeth, the girl with the most cake
Elizabeth's Weekly Spiritual Reckoning with the New Yorker

July 5, 2004 issue

Reckoning TK: I can't even open it this week. I'm gonna go see Fahrenheit 9/11 and eat a red, white, and blue snowcone and get back to you on this one.



--Elizabeth


7.01.2004

Just in case you didn't think that there was a reason to take your ultra-shitty novel on a breezy book tour through the Midwest, be assured that the incredibly deep and character-revealing interviews you'll get will have to be some small consolation:
PDQ: What's it like to be so fabulous?

Plum Sykes: My life is funny, though. People think that because my job is to write about glamorous women that I must live like that, too. But I'm a writer, I'm an observer.

Um, you're something.

Three cheers for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and its hard-hitting journalism. Bravo. Although I guess on a more fundamental level, assigning this story does expose the flawed logic of the painfully unsupported thesis that Plum's staunchest fans know what a newspaper is, where to find one, or what to do with it.

-Lauren

Louise Erdrich has a new book out, Four Souls. Louise Erdrich is one of our major novelists, but you would never know that from, say, the National Book Award, or from the way people talk about our major novelists. They go like this:

"in the tradition of DeLillo, Pynchon" etc.

SO, the next time someone lists a bunch of male novelists to you as if they are gods, I want you to roll your eyes (sweetly), and then scream "Louise Erdrich! Toni Morrison!" and then, if you're up for it, do a couple of dance moves, like the cancan or the electric slide, perhaps, to emphasize your point.

--Elizabeth

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