Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feminism & Me

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I'm still reading East of Eden and I just came across the part that I believe was the genesis of my recent exploration into feminism. It's a conversation between Abra, the sweetheart of Aron Trask who represents Abel in the Biblical metaphor of the book, and Lee who is the Trask's servant and one of my favorite literary characters ever.These lines spoke to me back when I first read them the summer after my senior year of high school and they've been incubating ever since:

"'I'm not being funny. He doesn't think about me. He's made someone up, and it's like he put my skin on her. I'm not like that--not like the made-up one.'


'What's she like?'


'Pure!' said Abra. 'Just absolutely pure. Nothing but pure--never a bad thing. I'm not like that.'


'Nobody is,' said Lee.


'He doesn't know me. He doesn't even want to know me. He wants that--white--ghost.'


Lee rubbled a piece of cracker. 'Don't you like him? You're pretty young, but I don't think that makes any difference.'


'Course I like him. I'm going to be his wife. But I want him to like me too. And how can he, if he doesn't know anything about me?'"


This has been a common theme in many (not all) of my relationships with people who consider themselves to be close to me. These relationships aren't confined to just the romantic ones, but friendly and familial as well. I've always been interested in people. Anyone willing to show me pieces of their humanness is endeared to me forever. It's  never been enough for me just to talk to people, I want to know them. I'm not a perfect listener, in fact, I'm not very good at small talk, but when I see a little piece of a person's soul I'm pretty good at finding the right follow-up questions to get them to share the more closely guarded parts of themselves with me. That, combined with a love of human imperfection has provided me with a few very close friends and many interesting conversations with strangers.

I'm proud of this talent. It's one of the few things I feel I'm really naturally good at and sometimes when I think about how my brain works and how I am I think it must be what I was designed to do. However, it becomes problematic when people (often boys interested in me) discover and like this one quality of mine and invent the rest of my personality in their own heads. I become a caregiver, a sounding board in their minds and not much else. Soon after, they start talking "at" me instead of "to" me. I've actually observed it happening mid-conversation and it kills my soul a little every time. It has been a long, largely unrealized dream of mine that someone will want to know me as much and in the same way as I want to know them. Which is to say, all the way through.

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After some recent, back-to-back experiences with some of these (unintentionally) careless  people, I've started learning about feminism. Reading about the feminist ideal that women should be portrayed in the media and treated in real life like they are full, complete, complex human beings and not just objects and caricatures whose sole purpose is to interact with men or be a plot device was like coming home. I can relate. There's a common trope in popular media called the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." She's the character you see in movies where a brooding, sensitive boy finds a pretty girl who's quirky in just the right way to pull him out of his rut and teach him how to enjoy life. Little time is spent developing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl's character by focusing on her motivations or aspirations which , sadly, turns her into just a plot device, or the means by which the male protagonist achieves a higher state of being. This isn't to say that  some movies whose demographic is geared toward women don't objectify men in a similar way. That happens too--I'm looking at you, Twilight series--but I'm talking about me right now and my personal experience dealing with boys who idolize Manic Pixie Dream Girl types.

I'm not saying I've been mistaken for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl myself much (definitely not since I hit 24) but I have been mistaken for being a person I'm not by no dishonesty of my own, just incomplete information. Some questions are hard to answer with just a simple phrase and when people know you'll really listen to them, they're impatient to talk about themselves again. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and I'm no different. Interest in me wanes after they get bored of me just being the wall they talk at or when I turn out not to be the person they invented.

So, I'm working on this speaking up more thing. And I'm taking a break from boys. I've always had an obligatory 6 month between guys rule so I have time to rediscover myself, and issues that went unresolved in the previous relationship don't bleed into the next one. It's good to be single and I enjoy it. It usually takes a little bit of time to remember that though. In the mean time I'm good at keeping myself busy.

P.S.- I started with the John Steinbeck quote because he's a man and could acknowledge that it was an issue. If one man can see it than others could too. There's hope for us ladies yet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Play I'm In


I recently got a part in the Covey's "Blind Date." The production is actually four short plays all called "Blind Date." Three of them are by local playwrights: Scott Bronson-who wrote "Dial Tones" which I was in earlier this year, Eric Samuelson-who is also directing and I've heard is AMAZING to work with, and Melissa Leilani Larson-who's play is the only one of the local's that I've had the chance to read (it is SO sweet and the little twist is great). I am going to be in the play by Horton Foote who is a famous playwright who is unfortunately no longer with us. 

I play Dolores, a housewife in the 1920's living in Harrison, Texas. Dolores's painfully awkward niece is visiting and Dolores is trying to get her over her social ineptitude around boys by teaching her to be gracious. It's going to be such a fun part and I can't wait to do it but I'm starting to get a little nervous about my lines. 

Dolores is a talker and is in most of the play which I'm guessing is going to be around 30 minutes long when we perform it. She has several monologues and I've never had to memorize so many in such a short amount of time. Our director, Eric, would like us to have our lines memorized when we start rehearsal on January 3rd because we open on February 3rd and one month is not a long time to rehearse. I really really want to do a good job with this play because when I did 3 Musketeers I had a lot of issues. I just don't want to be thought of as difficult to work with. I just don't want my work ethic to be called into question and I want to make a good impression and I feel like I have to make up for my last play a little too. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What I'm Reading: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I'm reading my favorite book for about the 5th time now (I've lost count). It's probably sacrilegious to say this but I read this book like a lot of Mormons read their scriptures. My paperback copy is all marked up and highlighted. This time through I've been trying to figure out Cathy, the "monster," the antagonist. She's always stumped me a little and I wish I could understand her better. In a normal book, by a normal author, it would be easy to take her at face value; as a one dimensional character who just serves as a foil to the other characters. But it doesn't line up with how wonderfully human Steinbeck's other characters. Every time I read East of Eden I feel like I'm one tiny step closer to understanding her cynicism and unwarranted hate for people. She's tragic really.

I also read what I think is my favorite quote in the whole book today (there are SO many) and thought I'd share it with you:

"In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try to so live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is."

I love this book so much. It's always exploring the dichotomy of good and evil in people, never judging, just stating how things are. Reading this book feels like talking with a friend. It feels like I am known.