Saturday, July 31, 2010


She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, "horse."
She had horses who called themselves, "spirit," and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names . . . .

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

-- Joy Harjo, "She Had Some Horses"

(Photos by Moose:  Wild ponies on St. David's Head, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales, 7/30/10; carousel on Cardiff Bay, 7/28/10)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Transit

Paddington Station, London, 7/28/10

(Photo Credit: Moose, on her Canon G9)

The great queer family adventure of summer 2010 is underway, my pretties!  The moms and my brother Geoffrey have safely arrived in Cardiff after a smooth if cramped flight to London and a train ride that neither of the moms remembers.  An extremely embarrassing yet strangely wonderful photo of the moms doing synchronized, slack-jawed napping on the train is up on Facebook.  It won't be posted here, darlings.  Sorry -- You get the artsy-fartsy stuff.  Tired as she was, Moose thought Paddington Station looked beautiful in the early morning light and jumped off the train to snap this shot just moments before departure.

Oh, and for those of you who have been worried sick about Moose's recent battles with the fraud department of her bank, we are pleased to report she successfully withdrew funds from an ATM at Heathrow this morning.  Apparently, the dudez behind the sinister patriarchal plot to deny her access to her hard-earned money have realized she may not be breeder material after all.  Wooooeee! -- That was a close one, wasn't it?

Anyway, off to see the city, if we can convince Goose to stay vertical for awhile.  Peace out, darlings, and we hope it's pretty in your neck of the woods.  It's a postcard-perfect 66 degrees in Cardiff today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Customer Service

In Which an Angry Moose Sprains Her Tongue Trying Not to Go Vulgar and Sarcastic on the Overly Vigilant Anti-Fraud Department of Her Bank

Last week in this space we very nearly talked about sex, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that most days this is a queer blog that seems as if it might be edited by Jane Austen.  Today we broach an even trickier, more intimate subject:  money.  Go away if that makes you uncomfortable, darlings.  Click over to the discussion of a prominent academic's sexy memoir that's been going on between and among Tenured Radical (part I, part III), Historiann (part II), and Comrade PhysioProf (part I and only) if that's where your head is at on this steamy summer morning.  My typist has something she wants to get off her chest, and, by golly, she's going to unload it on my poor, unsuspecting readers.  Welcome to the rant zone, my pretties.  You have been warned.

For very nearly a quarter of a century, the moms have been loyal customers of a certain locally owned bank that shares a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live.  About eighteen months ago, in the midst of the mortgage meltdown, it was announced that this "local banking icon" was being acquired by a Virginia-based bank holding company whose slogan has probably been annoying you for years:  "What's in your wallet?"

Moose finally has an answer to that question:  A check card I am afraid to use lest I arouse the suspicions of your overly zealous anti-fraud system.  Uh-oh.  Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Moose started making reservations and other plans for the moms' upcoming trip to the UK.  When she attempted to purchase theater (pardon me, theatre) tickets (because that is what tasteful queers do when they go to London, darlings), the transaction was declined.  She figured the transaction looked fishy because she usually uses her check card for far less glamorous things than tickets for the hottest play in London.  She immediately called the bank, confirmed that was the problem, and had a long, friendly conversation explaining that she was making plans for a trip she would be taking in a month, so please don't be alarmed by international transactions.  Yes, yes, she was told, but be sure to call us back right before you go to make sure we enter the information into the system again so that you won't have any problems using the card while you are there.  Sure thing, Moose replied, thanks so much for your help.  My pleasure, ma'am.  Have a nice day.

The very next day, Moose tried to use the card again to order some new clothes for the trip.  She was feeling all virtuous for planning ahead rather than realizing the day before departure that she had absolutely nothing suitable for hiking, conferencing, and London theater-hopping.  To her considerable consternation, she got an e-mail the next day from the merchant (a merchant she and Goose matronize so regularly that they argue about who should be able to order this shirt or these pants in that color) saying that the transaction had been declined.  She called the bank again and was again told the transaction had been flagged as suspicious by the bank's anti-fraud system.  "But I don't understand," a frustrated Moose said.  "I went through this yesterday and thought we had everything worked out."  "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you'll need to speak to the people who investigate suspicious activity.  That is done by a third party, not the bank.  You need to call them and verify these transactions."  "But, but, I, but, yesterday -- " spluttered a frustrated and puzzled Moose.

It was no use arguing with the brainless automaton who could do nothing but read from the company script the highly trained customer service representative who did her perky best to assist the increasingly indignant Moose.  She dutifully dialed the number she was given and spoke to a tele-dork who probably hates women and thinks theatre is for wusses a hard-working crime-prevention specialist whose only interest was protecting Moose's hard-earned money.  They went through the whole rigmarole of verifying the transactions, and she made sure his office had all of her phone numbers because a piece of the story we left out in the interest of concision had to do with the fraud people allegedly having tried to reach her and for some strange reason having only the number of an office she rarely uses.  She also tried to get an explanation for why, after what she had gone through the day before, her card had been flagged again.  "You'll have to ask the bank, ma'am.  We've got nothing to do with that."

Here are two things you need to understand:  1.  Moose loves her check card.  She loves the convenience of plastic and the simplicity of having charges immediately debited to her account.  She doesn't care about racking up points or miles and doesn't like the idea of being slammed with a big bill at the end of the month.  She is that rare creature, a pay-as-you-go liberal.  Blame it on the German accountant who lives in her brain.  2.  Moose is also an anxious traveler, which you probably already know if you hang out here regularly or know her in Real Life.

So, after two frustrating rounds with the bank and the fraud hacks experts, our poor Moose is dependent on her check card, anxious about her trip, and worried sick that she will not be able to used the card abroad.  She calls the bank back to try to get an explanation for why the card was flagged again and to try to get some assurance that she will be able to access her money when she is thousands of miles from home.  (Something else you may or may not need to know:  At this point, Moose has no other cards on which she can get cash advances.  I mean, for dog's sake, people, how many pin numbers is a middle-aged woman supposed to have to remember?)  She goes round and round and round and round with the powerless but well-intentioned young woman who picks up her call and who, to her astonishment, cannot explain why this keeps happening.  As calmly as she can, Moose asks to speak to a supervisor.  (Goose, who usually handles customer service problems in our household, has trained her to do this.)

The stick-up-her-a$$ who in the blazes are you to be interrupting my day with questions about your damn money witch patience of Job and financial wisdom of Buffett supervisor makes the clever move of speaking to Moose as if she were an impertinent yet dim-witted 5-year-old and basically says that the bank's position is that any transaction, no matter how small or seemingly ordinary, could be fraudulent, whether it's for theater tickets in London or deodorant from the pharmacy around the corner.  "So you're telling me I really can't count on using my card.  In other words, I can't count on being able to access the money I have in your bank."  (Full disclosure:  As her frustration levels rose, she actually said things like, "the thousands of dollars I have in your bank," as if she were Leona Helmsley or something.  Forgive her.  She was trying really hard not to cuss, and if you know Moose at all you know what a herculean effort that required.)

She hung up the phone, a seriously unsatisfied and deeply anxious customer.  She went out on Facebook and trashed the bank, started asking friends for recommendations on alternatives.  She considered pulling her vast wealth out of the bank soon not to share a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live and putting it into the state employees' credit union after reading an article affirming that banks suck nowadays because they are ginormous corporate entities that view customers as nuisances while credit unions are small, not-for-profit, and member-owned.

And then of course, because it is summer and there are papers to be written and blogs to be redesigned, she did nothing.  She went to the movies, a couple of times.  She obsessed about birds that seemed to have taken up residence in the chimney.  She got a haircut.  And then yesterday, realizing she had neglected one small bit of trip planning, she tried to make reservations at a charming hotel in Wales.  And the transaction, of course, was declined.

She called the bank.  Initially she was told the charge was declined because the 3-digit security code that had been entered was incorrect.  Moose didn't think that was true but kept the person on the phone while she reentered the information.  Declined, again.  Now she was told it was being flagged as suspicious.  Further, some previous transactions had been flagged and she needed to verify those:  movie tickets, the chimney service (which was called in to install a second damper to prevent future bird incursions), and, yes, even the haircut.

At this point, Moose is feeling like Offred in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, convinced that she is being denied access to her money as part of a sinister totalitarian plot to turn her into a breeder for a brutal patriarchal regime.  (Woo, yeah, good luck with THAT, fellas!)  You might feel that way, too, kids, if you found yourself in the midst of a conversation that suddenly took this turn:

Moose:  The hair salon?  You're flagging a transaction at my hair salon?  I've gotten my hair cut at the same place for twenty years!

Bank:  Well, yes, ma'am, but the amount was substantially higher than usual.

Moose:  Oh, for dog's sake, are you kidding?  I bought product, not that it's any of your business, but I bought product!  (Meanwhile, in Moose's head, which was on the brink of explosion, she is saying something like:  Oh, dear bank, I do humbly apologize for being so vain as to require both conditioner and styling lotion to create the illusion of actually having any hair at all.  I realize it is not fiscally prudent to expend my meager, furloughed resources on such trifles, and I will endeavor in the future to be less extravagant, but in the meantime, you deranged mother frackers, will you get your big corporate a$$ out of the way and let me spend my goldurned money!)

Goose overheard this conversation and can verify that it was as baffling and frustrating as Moose felt it was.  She is sympathetic to The Handmaid's Tale view of the situation, as she is nothing if not a conspiracy theorist.  She offers another view, though, which is that this bizarre episode of corporate Big Brother/Shaming Mother-ism is a small yet frightening example of what can happen when automated software systems take too much control of our lives and our ways of doing business.  She may be right, but poor Moose, in the meantime, is in a dither, wondering if she should travel with cold hard cash or a stash of jewelry to sell along the way in case her card doesn't work.

She's ready, though, for her next conversation with the faceless, heartless, clueless corporate drones from the bank soon not to share a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live.  Next time they ask her for the last four digits of her Social Security number and her mother's maiden name, she will dutifully spit out the number, but then she'll take a deep, cleansing, Betty White-channeling breath and calmly reply, "Blarfengar!"

Peace out, darlings, and have a pleasant weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Links and Drinks

(Photo Credit:  Moose, on her iPhone, with Lolo, [still] her favorite CameraBag trick, 7/15/10)

I know it's early in the day to be drinking, kids (and we certainly don't encourage wine before breakfast), but my typist has a lot to do today and has had this pic of a pleasant sauv blanc with a pretty summery label just sitting in her phone waiting for an excuse to be shared avec vous, so we thought we'd use it to set up a little midsummer reading list to keep you occupied while she works on the paper she'll be giving at the big Emily Dickinson shindig in Oxford in a couple of weeks.  (Don't get confused, darlings.  Moose hasn't gone and turned herself into a poetry geek.  She'll be presenting a piece of her new stuff proving that every woman writer who ever mattered at all would have made one heck of a blogger.  Dickinson fits into that odd paradigm rather nicely, as it happens.  [See also this brief report on what she did at last summer's Willa Cather shindig.])

Oh, if you've wandered in here by way of Shakesville (which kindly included our critique of The Kids Are All Right in yesterday's Blogaround), welcome to Roxie's World!  We are delighted to see you.  We don't do movie reviews every day, but we try to do something fun and socially redeeming on a regular basis, so give us a click when you've got a moment to kill as you wander the Interwebz.

Anyhoo, here's a bunch of stuff we've been collecting on a range of subjects -- queer intimacies! higher ed!  reading! -- likely to be of interest to our marvelously motley crew of readers.  Read, ponder, discuss, and for dog's sake hydrate, my pretties.  We've got another scorcher on tap for the eastern half of the US of A today.
  • First up for your consideration is a piece that follows nicely on our critique of the narrow, conservative terms in which queer families and intimacies are imagined in The Kids Are All Right.  Queer legal eagle Nan Hunter points us toward a new study of gay male relationships that are "long-term, stable, and open."  The study, led by Colleen Hoff and Sean Beougher of San Francisco State University, looked at 566 Bay area couples and found that nearly half had negotiated open relationships that allow for sex with outsiders.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle report on the study, "47 percent reported open relationships. Forty-five percent were monogamous, and the remaining 8 percent disagreed about what they were."  (Note to self:  If you find yourself having dinner with some fellas in that 8 percent group, do not bring up the subject of dating!)
  • Next up are several pieces offering further depressing proof that the plan to destroy public higher education in the United States is right on track!  California continues to lead the way.  You might want to crack open a fruity little sauv blanc (or something stronger) before you read this report, again from the SF Chronicle, about plans to start offering "a bachelor's degree over the Internet comparable in quality to its prestigious campus program."  Ah, yes -- distance learning:  because we don't need no education; we just need degrees!  As always, our blog boyfriend Chris Newfield has been all over this story with a series of posts on what the UC regents have been up to lately, but in this one he cites a study that demolishes the myth that online education saves money.  Also, while you are torturing yourself with the grim outlook for higher ed, go read this update from the Department of Yes, Things Can Always Get Worse -- a Chronicle of Higher Ed report on how deeply screwed university systems in New York and Illinois are by the budget limbos created by legislatures in those states.  It ain't pretty, kids (and that article is behind the sub wall -- sorry).
  • Don't worry, though -- Our neighbors to the north have decided to wreck their higher education system, too!  Here is a piece by comparativist Linda Hutcheon on news this week that the University of Toronto plans to close its Center for Comparative Literature, founded more than forty years ago by Northrop Frye.  It's being billed as a cost-cutting move, of course, but Hutcheon rightly reads it as an attack on interdisciplinarity.
  • For a little pick-me-up (and if you've been following those links you need one about now!), go read this heartwarming story from one of our Virginia pals about Keswick, a 2-year old yellow Labrador retriever who is the new service dog for Robbie Bingler, a staffer at UVA's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities who is paralyzed below the shoulders.  Robbie's previous dog Harpo, who had helped him with daily tasks for seven years and was a beloved presence around IATH, died of cancer in March.  This is a great story about animals, humans, and love in the workplace.
  • Finally, even if you didn't just get a new iPad delivered to your doorstep, as someone in Roxie's World did this week, you'll want to take a look at this thoughtful commentary by Duke's Cathy Davidson on what she does not love about reading on devices like Kindle and the iPad.  Not only did it make Moose feel a little less jealous about not being the person who received the sleek new gadget, it also sparked some important reflections on how print-based assumptions about reading are embedded in our tools for non-print reading.  Davidson finds that limiting and frustrating, and Moose suspects she will too if she can get her hands on the new iPad for an extended test-read.  Check out the piece and let us know what you think.
Ah, that feels better!  Now we can close some of those tabs and get down to work.  Happy reading, my pretties, on the gorgeous little gadget of your choice.  Peace out.

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Roxie's Watching: The Kids Are All Right

    (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right.  Photo Credit:  Suzanne Tenner via)

    First things first:  Annette Bening plays good gay.  Or plays gay good.  Er, well. Wevs, kids.  Suffice it to say we were convinced enough that we'd pick her for our softball team in a heartbeat.  Julianne Moore does a fine job, too, by the way, despite her character's unfortunate foray into sex with a dude halfway through Lisa Cholodenko's vexing The Kids Are All Right, which finally opened yesterday in the DC area.

    Before this goes any further, we want you to understand that we are not in principle opposed to lesbians having sex with dudes.  Or to Sapphists using gay male porn to spice up the boudoir.  Or double-headed vibrators.  Or bickering and micromanagement within the context of intimate relationships.  We are not wild about infidelity if the partners in a relationship have committed to being monogamous, but, hey, nobody's perfect.  Also, we have never really gotten into composting, but we make no judgments about those who do.  Finally, we disagree with our pal Jack Halberstam, who claims in an otherwise spot-on critique of The Kids Are All Right that Julianne Moore looks dowdy in the film.  We think her look is a hippie-groovy southern California thing that's kinda gay, kinda motherly, and kinda the granola crumbs left over from a particular moment of mid-70s womyn's culture.  In any case, all due respect, Jack, we do not believe the words "Julianne Moore" and "dowdy" belong in the same sentence.  Oh, and unlike Halberstam, we've got no problem with Bening's and Moore's characters being referred to collectively by the film's titular "kids" as "the moms," because, well, that's the way we talk here in Roxie's World, too.  It's a way of (affectionately, ironically) marking the otherness of parents and children or humans and animals as they negotiate intimacies-across-difference.

    So, those aren't the things that bug us about this big, widely acclaimed flick about two lesbian moms and their two sperm-donor kids, played marvelously by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, coming of age and establishing contact with the sperm donor, Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo.  No, what finally -- and deeply -- disappointed us about the film, despite the splendid performances and some pitch-perfect moments of dialogue, were what felt like multiple failures of imagination in its depictions of lesbian sexuality, long-term partnership, and queer family-building.  In the end, to use a metaphor in keeping with the film's upscale SoCal look and value system, The Kids Are All Right opts to put new wine in an old narrative bottle, and the result is a vintage that looks good but leaves a nasty, corked aftertaste.

    The complaint here isn't that queer family stories should offer up sanitized, positive images of homodomesticity -- you know, multi-orgasmic wonder dykes who perfectly understand and communicate with their children; cheerful, gender-queer kids who never suffer a moment of existential doubt; bio-dads who play a meaningful role in the children's lives without feeling a need to take over the family.  Such stories would be limited both in their appeal and in their social or political value.  Who needs a queer Cosby Show, after all?

    Nonetheless, it is disheartening that "the most widely distributed lesbian-themed mainstream movie in history" depicts sexual intimacy between long-term female partners as mutually unsatisfying drudgery, shows lesbian moms to be neurotic, smothering, and insecure about their ability to parent (especially male children), and represents families as rigid, stifling entities that negotiate threat by expelling outsiders rather than re-imagining family in more flexible, capacious, and generous terms.  Within the narrow terms of the film, Paul can only enter the story as a kind of Prince (or should that be Prick?) Charming But Dangerous.  Without appearing to mean to (but that is part of Paul's sleepy-eyed shtick), he seduces the kids, Joni and Laser, with organic vegetables and a few easy words of wisdom about how to get out from under the maternal thumbs.  He then seduces Moore's character, the insecure Jules, with -- well, what exactly?  We think it had something to do with his understanding the word fecund, but that can't possibly be right, can it?

    Bening's character, the uptight Nic, immediately recognizes Paul as a threat and ultimately banishes him from the family as an interloper, but not before she has been subjected to the humiliation of Jules' infidelity with him -- and not before the audience has been subjected to scenes that encourage the belief that real sex requires a penis and, hey, maybe femmes aren't really lesbians after all.  In the film's last scene, Nic and Jules seem tentatively reconciled, fingers intertwined in the front seat of a car in an affirming gesture that recalls the closing shots of Thelma and Louise.  "I don't think you guys should break up," Laser says from the backseat.  "Why not?" one of the moms asks.  "Because you're too old."  These latter-day heroines avoid the cliff's edge, but they seem stuck in a landscape of phallic power not all that dissimilar from the one that drove Thelma and Louise to take the only escape route available to them.  It's hard to say which female pair got the least happy ending.

    It could well be that the quest to be "the most widely distributed lesbian-themed mainstream movie in history" was the undoing of the story The Kids Are All Right might otherwise have told.  As the charming queer friend with whom Moose and Goose saw the film remarked, "I had the feeling this movie wasn't really targeted at me."   Lisa Cholodenko, who also wrote and directed 1998's High Art, is certainly capable of more nuanced and queerer storytelling than we get here.  Our feeling was that the story started out strong and funny, poking fun of the vicissitudes of partnership and parenthood and taking up tricky but worthwhile questions about what it means to be biologically related to a complete stranger.  For us, though, the story ran off the rails when Jules slept with Paul and never really got back on track.  In taking that turn, the film gratifies the straight male fantasy that what every lesbian needs is a good straight roll in the hay and presents lesbian relationships as cheap imitations of the worst heterosexual marriages:  like them in being riven by conflict, frustration, and inequality, unlike them in lacking the almighty penis.  There were obviously other narrative possibilities available, but Cholodenko seems to have been too firmly committed to proving that this "unconventional family," as Paul describes them in a toast, is depressingly like every other grim, dysfunctional, but inescapable family we have ever encountered in life or art.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em, the film seems to say -- Well, you could live without that particular model of family life actually, but it takes a bold leap of the imagination and will to make and sell stories about other ways of building families and intimacies that can be sustaining and satisfying rather than just grimly, painfully, corrosively endured.

    Marriage is, as Jules says late in the game, "hard":  "Two people, year after year.  Sometimes you just stop seeing the other person."  That's true, of course, in any long-term partnership, with or without children, in or out of sunny southern California.  Still, long-term intimacies do have their pleasures -- even sexual ones, insist the ornery but discreet geezers of our acquaintance! -- and families can be strong without being insular and inflexible.  It's unfortunate that Cholodenko's film, for all its strengths and all its box-office charm, doesn't have the guts to show some of those pleasures and possibilities.  No, we have no right to burden artists with the demand for positive role models and happy endings, but surely we can see that the kids might do better than "all right" if we were prepared to help them first to imagine and then to build a better world.

    Seriously, folks, let's skip the cliches about lesbian bed death and needy, overly protective (s)mothers.  We've got a fine new wine here in the phenomenon of non-heterosexual family-making.  Betcha anything it would taste better if we poured it into a beautiful new bottle.  I'll drink to that, darlings, and I bet you would, too.  Peace out.

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    Tell Us If You Felt It

    That would be affirmative, WaPo.  Oh, boy, you betcha.  And how.

    The little earthquake of 2010 that shook the Washington, DC area shortly after 5 o'clock this very a.m. was assuredly felt in Roxie's World.  Both moms were startled into wakefulness by an eerie rumbling noise that shook the house for several seconds.  WTF, Moose muttered, is that an earthquake?  Goose of course was skeptical, because that is her nature, but she was inclined to agree with her sleepy yet perceptive partner when she realized she didn't hear the gears of an exceptionally large truck grinding its way through the neighborhood in the predawn hours, which was the only other possible explanation she could imagine for such a rattling and rolling of the usually steady world.

    Here is the U.S. Geological Survey's poetically named "ShakeMap," which shows that the epicenter of the 3.6 magnitude quake was about 20 miles north and west of our ridiculously large backyard, in Montgomery County, MD:

    As soon as the tremors subsided, Moose's first thought was, Hey, I should put something up on Facebook.  She fell back asleep before that thought could be actualized, but when she awoke the first thing she did was to check Facebook to see if friends and neighbors had also felt a certain rumbling in the night.  Sure enough, they had.  Her news feed was full of comments, quips, and links to reports on the quake.  It was a delightful way to get a personalized ShakeMap -- and to get insight into the sleep patterns of her friends by noting who slept through the quake and who was awakened by it.  She quickly weighed in with a couple of quake-related status updates, the cleverest of which was, Is that an earthquake, or are you just happy to see me?

    Note the pattern of information-seeking here, my friends.  Moose didn't turn on the television or click on the WaPo website.  She went to a social networking site, to get a sense of how the quake was experienced by friends and neighbors.  Had the quake been more serious, that obviously would not have been the case, but this feels like a modest yet significant example of how new media tools have changed our patterns of information consumption and our ways of experiencing such events.  They are personal and public, simultaneously and instantaneously.  That is a big -- one might even say seismic -- shift in our way of being.

    So tell us, darlings, did you feel the little earthquake?  Let us know!

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Roxie's Watching: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

    Sorry to recycle an image we used so recently, but, hey, we like it, and, more to the point, we sent out a crack team of queer film critters (Moose, Goose, and Geoffrey) last night to see Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work, the documentary directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.  It's been out for about a month and has been widely reviewed (quite perceptively by Manohla Dargis in the Times).  Still, we thought we'd weigh in, since residents of the national capital area had nothing better to do this weekend, being for some reason denied the privilege of seeing Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play gay in Lisa Cholodenko's much buzzed about new flick, The Kids Are All Right.  (Sources in Chicago tell us the buzz is justified, that Bening is "to die for," and the film "pretty perfect."  You heard it here first, darlings.  The Kids opens in the DC area on Friday.)

    Anyway:  Rivers.  The film is riveting and/but/if at times cringe-inducing.  The camera follows Rivers for a year, starting with her seventy-fifth birthday in 2008.  Stern is the daughter of a friend of Rivers, so the filmmakers have extraordinary access, though the comedian is hardly known for her high boundaries or reclusive tendencies, so one would be forgiven for imagining that the access wasn't that hard to get.  Indeed, the heart of the story is Rivers' willingness to do whatever it takes to keep herself onstage or in front of the camera as the cruel ageism of Hollywood diminishes her star power.  She will go anywhere, do anything, she tells us, in order to keep working -- in part to finance an opulent New York household but also to maintain a sense of being alive.  She acknowledges that for her real life is what happens on stage, before an audience, in those terrifying/gratifying moments of performance.  Everything else is just waiting or prepping for the next gig.

    Some of the film's most fascinating moments, by the way, are those that show us how maniacally Rivers preps for those gigs, and by prep we don't just mean rehearsals or the regimens of hair, makeup, and cosmetic surgery that have made Rivers look so painfully plastic in recent years.  She also gives us a sense of the strenuous intellectual discipline that has fueled her career, taking the audience on a guided tour of her study, which is a vast archive of jokes the writer has produced and accumulated over the decades, typed out on index cards and stored (alphabetically and by subject matter) in a wall of card drawers.  Gazing at that wall, the researcher in Moose did a little happy dance in her theater seat, imagining the fun some lucky scholar will have some day poring over those materials to try to get a handle on the creative process and the cultural history so meticulously recorded on those thousands of cards.

    The film does an admirable job of conveying the complexities of its subject without judging her, apologizing for her, or setting her up as an object of pity.  It depicts Rivers' prodigious strengths and her obvious weaknesses as well as the deep loneliness and the bone-crushing weariness of life on the road.  Rivers does most of the talking, though we get insightful comments from assistants, managers, and agents and from daughter Melissa, who is both generous and clear-eyed about her mother and her mother's business.  Rivers rightfully boasts of her path-breaking accomplishments as a woman in comedy, but she also resists being seen as an icon because she realizes that such status relegates her to the dead space of the past.  "I'm still breaking paths," Rivers insists at one point, and a hilarious recent clip of her simulation of anal sex on stage at a small Manhattan club proves that is the case.  Indeed, even the historic clips of the comedian joking, for example, about childbirth or about abortion before it was legal throughout the country still sound pretty transgressive.  Think about it:  When was the last time you heard a really good and wholly unapologetic abortion joke on TV?

    In one particularly telling moment, the audience is taken out onto the razor's edge where Rivers lives and breathes.  On stage at a casino in Wisconsin, she tells an unbelievably tasteless joke that uses Helen Keller as a punchline.  (Full disclosure:  We laughed.  And hated ourselves for it, of course.)  An audience member objects, loudly, saying the joke isn't funny if you have a deaf child, which he does.  Far from apologizing, Rivers turns on the guy and subjects him to a withering barrage of insults that then opens out into a defense of her brand of no-holds-barred humor.  She begins by telling the man her mother had gone deaf, then passionately justifies joking about taboo or painful subjects as a form of truth-telling.  She cites 9/11 as an example and ends with a bit about Osama Bin Laden that leaves her audience in stitches -- and clearly has them back on her side.  The camera then cuts to her offstage talking about the moment, expressing empathy for the guy with the deaf child but also eloquently describing the challenge of managing such an interruption to her shtick.  As much as any vignette in the film, this one shows us the fraught, vertiginous "piece of work" that is Joan Rivers.  Tasteless as the joke may be, you have to admire the deftness with which the comedian rescues the moment and, in all likelihood, the whole performance.

    In her long career, Rivers has broken paths and, yes, crossed lines of taste and political correctness, but A Piece of Work shows that the anger and insecurity fueling her performances arise from a complex sense of outsiderhood that no amount of success has ever mitigated:  She is a Jew in a predominantly Christian country, a woman in a male-dominated business, a self-described ugly duckling in a looks-obsessed industry that prefers swans.  And young, docile swans at that.  Her rage is a rage against the cultural machineries that produce such pained alienation in those who don't fit a narrow grid of normativity and beauty.  In that, it is a rage both political and in some ways queer, which perhaps explains Rivers' appeal in gay and drag communities.

    We might have wished Rivers had left her face alone as a way of thumbing her nose, as it were, at the twin evils of ageism and misogyny, but A Piece of Work respects its subject for tough choices made in the unforgiving glare of the spotlight.  Rivers has endured in that light far longer than most.  She deserves our respect, and if she makes us squirm in our seats from time to time, well, maybe that's just what we deserve.  The funny girls of Roxie's World believe that self-deprecation can be a powerful form of social critique and that making jokes on taboo subjects is vastly better than staying silent on taboo subjects.

    On some blogs, Joan Rivers would get slapped with a trigger warning.  Around here, she gets a face lick and a PAWS UP for lifetime achievement.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    The Searchers

    We love our readers.  You know we do.  But can we say that it creeps us out just a teeny weeny bit that within the past 24 hours folks have landed on this happy little blog through searches on, um,

    how to give a dog a handjob,
    and how to cook a human baby?!?

    Really, kids, I'm thinking perhaps my typist should have installed an irony meter in the sidebar when she was doing our redesign in order to assist the irony-impaired.  Please, darlings, understand that no animals were harmed or inappropriately touched in the making of this joke.  And not one single actual baby was ever cooked in our baby cooker.  Not a one, though there was a snowy Tuesday evening in February when the thought briefly crossed our minds.

    Oh, and to the curious among you who periodically show up searching on the phrase, Marissa Coleman lesbian, we don't know, darlings, and if we did we wouldn't tell.  You.

    Thank you, and good night.

    Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    Blog Note 2: Keeping Up Appearances

    Welcome to the new and improved Roxie's World, my pretties!  As Moose declared on Facebook the other day, in blog years this happy little place is older than Joan Rivers, so it's high time we had a little work done, don't you think?  (No, we haven't seen the movie yet, but we intend to.) 

    Anyway, in some ways the changes are simple.  We switched to a new Blogger template that we think is easy on the eyes and will display images nicely.  Please tell us if you have a different opinion about that, and we'll take it up with the team of raging, tasteful queens whose judgments we rely upon in such matters, but I gotta tell ya the resident former yearbook editor of Roxie's World is awfully pleased with the new look.  If you object, she might spank you with her pica stick.

    In other ways, the changes may be a little surprising to those of you who were seriously invested in the idea that a dead dog was really calling the shots around here.  (Don't be sad, darlings!  You know we love your ability to suspend disbelief and will work hard to bring that special feeling back for you on a regular basis.)  We've added a series of tabs up top that take you to pages that give you the skinny on such deep mysteries as who my typist really is and what she does here (About the Typist).  We've also added some things to help new readers find their way around the joint, including answers to (in)frequently asked questions and explanations for some of the unusual words and phrases we use (Roxicon/FAQ); something like a comment policy (Bark, Don't Bite); and a selection of some of our favorite posts from the past four and one half years (Best In Show).  Click around in there and let us know what you think -- unless, of course, you can't handle the truth of certain aspects of America's favorite dead dog blog.  We'll understand.

    Why are you doing this? you may or may not be wondering.  Part of it is a craving for a fresh look and access to some of the technical advances available on the new template.  You know how technologically challenged we are, but we still want to provide you with as much fun and prettiness as we can.  Part of it is the ongoing transition necessitated by the suckitude of my unfortunate demise last December.  It's also related, however, to the fact that blogging has now become a significant part of Moose's professional life.  She's publishing on blogging, teaching on blogging, even organizing a session and presenting at the MLA on blogging this coming January.  (See that "About the Typist" tab for some of the details.)  She has begun to think it's time to formalize some things and clarify others as a way of boosting her cred with the muckety-mucks or something.  In truth, I think she's mostly annoyed that some readers still think Goose has some involvement in the production of this multimedia extravaganza beyond laughing hysterically and saying, "Would you please publish, dear, so we can eat dinner?"  Wevs, I said.  Let's just keep it funny, OK?  She assures me we will.

    "Build, therefore, your own world," Emerson says, and we reply, "Sure! As long as we can find the right Blogger template to help with the design, construction, maintenance, and renovation."  It's your world, too, darlings.  Welcome to it, and let us know how you like the new digs.  As always, your pleasure is our top priority.  Peace out.

    Monday, July 05, 2010

    Blog Note, With Holiday Snacks!

    (Photo Credit: Moose, on her iPhone, with Lolo, her favorite CameraBag trick, 7/4/10)

    (Photo Credit: qta, on his iPhone, with Lolo, his favorite CameraBag trick, 7/4/10)

    As you can see, good times were had in Roxie's World last night, as a motley crew of loyal citizens and non-citizens gathered to celebrate American independence with an assortment of grilled and patriotic foods, including deviled eggs and red velvet cupcakes with white icing, blueberries, and, yes, sparklers, which, it turns out, are legal in the state of Maryland. Who knew? We trust that you had an enjoyable day as well and that cool beverages and colorful explosions in the evening sky renewed your faith in the benefits of liberty.

    In any case, patriots, we interrupt this federal holiday to direct your attention to some changes we've made over in the right sidebar of this here little blog. It's part of our never-ending effort to make your time in Roxie's World both fun and informative. Scroll down and check out the new dynamic list(s) of blogs we read on a regular basis. We kept them in alphabetical order, but you will see the titles of the most recent post and get a rough sense of when it was put up.

    We've done some cleaning up of our old blogroll, deleting some blogs we don't follow much these days and adding in others that have caught our eye for one reason or another. We couldn't bring ourselves to delete Jon Swift, even though that marvelous blog's genius author, Al Weisel, died more than four months ago. We kept Anglachel in, because we keep hoping she will start posting regularly again. We've added our good buddy, Gukira, who writes like a dream and blogs on queerness, Kenyan-ness, and other tricky subjects, and a couple of other English profs, including Bardiac and Undine. We created two separate blog lists, one -- called "Dogalicious" -- that is focused on dogs and dog stuff, and another -- called "Blogalicious" -- that is focused on, um, everything else. A third list -- called "Infolicious" -- gives you links to the web sites my typist obsessively monitors when she should be reading or writing scholarly articles in her field.

    Anyway, click around, darlings, and show the members of our extended pack some love. You know bloggers' fragile self-esteem rests entirely on the number of page views we get on a daily basis, so give someone a lift today by showing up unannounced in their hit counter. Tell 'em Roxie sent you. By the way, in memory of modest Jon Swift, we are pleased to announce a liberal blogrolling policy here in Roxie's World. If you add us to your blogroll, we will gladly add you to ours. Just send us an e-mail at, and we will put you on the list. It's our way of saying how happy we are to have stumbled across you in the vastness of cyberspace.

    And we are happy to have stumbled across you, you know. You are the sparklers on top of the red velvet cupcake of life, and we love the light you shine in our little piece of the night sky. Thanks for being there.

    Saturday, July 03, 2010

    Close Reading: It's Patriotic

    (Photo Credit: Susan Walsh, AP. AP caption: "James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, is reflected in a computer screen at the Library of Congress in Washington, Friday, July 2, 2010, showing a correction to the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson.")

    Our history pals are all doing historical posts as a way of commemorating Independence Day. (Go, Betsy Ross! Go, Chinese soldier killed in the Civil War whom we had never heard of before!) We figured we better get in on the action, lest it appear that English profs were America haters or something. Happily, we woke up to a front-page story in this morning's WaPo that gives us a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that the kinds of skills and expertise English profs have are vital to the nation's interests and security, even, indeed, its very identity. At the same time, it allows us to join in the effort to knock down an incredibly shallow and obnoxious attack on some of those skills that was published online in The Atlantic this week. Opportunities like this don't come along every day, so I persuaded the moms to stop watching reruns of Rafael Nadal's Wimbledon semifinal win over Andy Murray and come up with something pithy to say about readin', writin', technology, and, you know, the birth of the nation.

    The backstory: That super-cool image at the top of this post is from coverage of the super-cool announcement yesterday by the Library of Congress that researchers had used spectral imaging technology to uncover a significant revision Thomas Jefferson made in a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. (The WaPo story does a really nice job of explaining the details of the deciphering process. Go read it if you love a good high-tech detective story, and, seriously, who doesn't?) Scholars had speculated for decades that Jefferson had originally used the word "subjects" when he was drafting the section of the Declaration focused on the grievances against King George III that fueled the movement for independence but erased it and changed it to "citizens." A tell-tale smudge behind the word "citizens" suggested that a revision had taken place, but, because Jefferson was so careful to obliterate the word in this instance -- rather than merely crossing it out and substituting another, as he does in many other instances in the draft -- the tools of hyperspectral imaging were necessary in order for the LC's team of scientists "to bring the erased word back to life," as WaPo's Marc Kaufman eloquently puts it.

    The team was led by Fenella France, who describes the "spine-tingling moment when I was processing data late at night and realized there was a word underneath citizens" in the LC's announcement of the discovery. Library of Congress preservation director Dianne van der Reyden wisely used the occasion to point out the importance of keeping and protecting original documents. The subjects/citizens revision wasn't in subsequent drafts, so the excitement here arises partly from the sense that what has been recovered is the exact moment when Jefferson recognized the political/philosophical stakes of declaring an end to monarchical rule in the United States. In changing "subjects" to "citizens," he signals the beginning of the democratic experiment that endures, despite a civil war and a botched presidential election or two, to this day. Lose or destroy the document, and you lose an important window onto that moment of transition and emergence.

    Goosebumps, right, kids? Makes you want to run right out and take a look at the draft of the Virginia constitution Jefferson was copying from when he was working on the Declaration, doesn't it? Knock yourselves out, fellow citizens-not-subjects. (He uses the term "subjects" in the Virginia document.)

    Now, what was that you were saying about close reading being boring? about students "almost universally hat[ing] it" because they don't really get it and should be reading more books quickly rather than fewer slowly -- presumably because being stupid about a lot of books is better than being stupid about just a few? Huh?

    Here's the thing, gentle readers: Close reading, taught badly, can be dull as hell, but taught well, by someone attuned to the infinite richness of language, punctuation, and even the material aspects of texts, it can be sheer delight and a revelation. The LC's marvelous bit of detective work on Mr. Jefferson's revision process shows us the extraordinary possibilities new technologies hold for making us better -- more careful, much closer -- readers of the past. There is nothing dull or tedious in seeing how hard Jefferson worked to rid his document of the traces of the word "subjects" and to cover it over with the word and the ideal that he hoped, for all his flaws and contradictions, to bring into being: "citizens." One could learn a lot about American history by attending well to that single alteration, by parsing out the tale told by the smudge that time never forgot and technology finally removed.

    This Independence Day weekend, let's raise a paw to close reading and to the fine work being done at the library Mr. Jefferson helped to establish. Read a book this Fourth of July, and read it well. Thinking well is your duty as a citizen-not-subject. Peace out.