Mental Health

Take Care of Yourself Today

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For better or worse, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings have been inescapable over the past few days. I know I’m not alone when I say that this news cycle has upset me for a myriad of reasons—the political and social implications of our lawmakers’ words and actions; historical amnesia and a refusal to learn from past mistakes; for my colleagues and friends being forced to relive their trauma from similar incidents; for the people I don’t know who are going through the same; and for a whole host of other reasons I’m unwilling to discuss because I might cause myself more harm in doing so.

And that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned of late—that it is okay to take care of yourself first. After all, you can’t fight the patriarchy when you have nothing left to give. Self-care takes many different forms, but here are some ways to get started:

Listen to yourself, and don’t ignore your feelings. 

It seems simple, but even things that appear self-evident often aren’t in times of crisis. The New York Times spoke with a number of mental health professionals in an article directly discussing the larger social impact of the current news cycle’s triggering nature.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin, advises folks to ask themselves what they need right now, be it congregating with friends or turning off all media and spending some quiet time alone. “It’s about drawing your boundaries and saying, ‘It’s not O.K.,’ which is equally important in the practice of self-compassion,” she says.

Likewise, Dr. Emily Dworkin, a senior fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine, observes that in her work with trauma victims, she has found that “feel[ing] through those tough feelings” instead of withdrawing completely can help one “regain a sense of power over their experience.” This practice can be done in a number of ways depending on the individual, including journaling, talking to a therapist, or finding a reliable friend who is willing to listen.

Do something soothing. 

Make a nice home-cooked meal. Go outside and dig your feet in the dirt. Light that pine-and-juniper scented candle you’ve been saving for the holidays. Sit on your balcony and listen to the low hum of freeway traffic. Pet your neighbor’s twenty-pound marbled tabby that’s been hanging out outside your door all day. This doesn’t have to cost any money or even a lot of time. Just take a few moments for yourself to do something that you know will help give you the energy to go on with the rest of your day.

Connect with the present.

As you may already know, we at Dinner Party are big advocates for the practice of mindfulness. Research has shown that a simple ten minutes a day on mindfulness can have significant benefits, and the practice is a cornerstone of self-compassion—which ultimately affects your interactions and relationships with other people.

In a piece for HelloGiggles, Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, an international psychologist and trauma specialist, offers some easy guidelines for connecting with the present: “One is to distract the mind by looking around and noting five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste….Or try inhaling a strong scent, such as peppermint or lemongrass, or listening to some loud, energetic music.”

Reach out for more help if you need it. 

Scheduling an appointment with your therapist is always a good idea if you feel that it is necessary. Talkspace or BetterHelp are alternatives for those who may have erratic schedules or may be without insurance and need a more cost-effective option. Additionally, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline can be reached via online chat at rainn.org or by phone at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

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Events

Yours in the Sisterhood: An Evening of Female Storytelling at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

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There’s nothing quite like driving into the Hollywood Forever Cemetery after dark, under the light of a blindingly bright full moon (or, more precisely, a super blue blood moon). Along with about a hundred other women and allies, I tiptoed around shadowy graves to the Masonic Lodge for the first meeting of The Secret Society of the Sisterhood, a new monthly storytelling event featuring an incredible lineup of iconic, diverse women.

Without revealing too much about the meeting—it is, after all, a secret society—the evening’s stories all revolved around a central theme, “Reclaiming My Time.” A few highlights: Jade Chang took us on a deep dive regarding the true insidious nature of the slightly pervy but seemingly innocuous punchline, “That’s what she said.” Last-minute replacement Del Harrison gave us her honest opinion about getting involved with men on cocaine. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty. Mara Wilson told a story about the time she came out to her parents—and they were, to her surprise, not that surprised, thanks to a comment from her childhood charm school teacher. And Randa Jarrar gave us a glimpse into the world of BDSM, a community where she felt safe, compared to “the vanilla stuff that was scary, undiscussed, unnegotiated.”

Candles were lit. We took a group oath. Somebody quoted Ursula Le Guin. Another invoked Beyoncé. There were some tears and many, many laughs. At one point, I had a friend hold my cup of wine because I was laughing so hard I needed to clutch my gut with one hand and fan myself with the other. If that’s not enough of an endorsement for you to attend the next meeting, I don’t know what is.

The Secret Society of The Sisterhood will meet once again by the light of the full moon on March 1st. The lineup includes author and stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman, writer and producer Gloria Calderón Kellett, actress Nicole Byer, and former rock and roll groupie Pamela Des Barres—with more sisters to be announced soon! Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door. For more information, please visit The Sisterhood’s website.

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Events

Secret’s Out: The Secret Society of The Sisterhood Comes to Los Angeles

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If your interests include storytelling, celebrating human connectivity, and hanging out with a group of brilliant, diverse women in a cemetery under the light of a full moon, this event is for you. On January 31st, The Secret Society of The Sisterhood, a monthly, topical storytelling event, will launch its inaugural meeting at The Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The Sisterhood brings together some of the most iconic women of our generation to read or perform something prepared for the theme of the evening. The theme for January 31st is “Reclaiming My Time.” Special guests for this month’s meeting include a handful of celebrated and prolific multihypenates:

  • Mara Wilson, star of Matilda and critically acclaimed author of Where Am I Now?
  • Jamie Lee, comedian, writer, and star of the hit TV show Crashing and author of the bestselling book Weddiculous
  • Marianne Jean-Baptiste, singer-songwriter and Academy Award-nominated actress
  • Jade Chang, celebrated author of the The Wangs vs. the World
  • Our Lady J, songstress and accomplished writer and producer for HBO’s Transparent
  • Randa Jarrar, award-winning writer and author of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali

Trish Nelson, writer, performer, and founder of BanterGirl, created this event series and will be hosting the evening. Nelson is also one of the people who recently came forward about abuse in the service industry, speaking out against Ken Friedman in the The New York Times. Her experience is one of the things that motivated her to create the new series in Los Angeles.

Chevalier’s Books, L.A.’s oldest independent bookstore, will be at the event, selling the works of lineup members, in addition to a curated selection of titles from other must-read female authors. A number of female artists will also be on site to create pieces during the event that will help capture the evening’s experience for audience members. Those items will be featured and available for sale in the lobby after the show. And to top it all off, ticket holders will be invited to an intimate post-show gala with complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres in the Eastern Star Room.

Proceeds from The Sisterhood events will go to various female-centric charitable organizations. For the January 31st gathering, proceeds will be donated to WriteGirl, an organization developed to help young girls find their voice through creative writing mentorships.

The Secret Society of The Sisterhood will commence on January 31st at 8:00 p.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Masonic Lodge. Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door. Parking is free (yes, really!) onsite. For more information, please visit The Sisterhood’s website.

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Books

Homelands, Handmaids, and HerStories at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books

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With a captivating lineup, on-point panel topics, and several hundred book lovers willing to brave the rain, last year’s Festival of Books was certainly hard to beat. Though arguably, this year’s iteration may have been even better—and the sunny weather was only the beginning. The two-day event featured a similar format to years past, but some literary all-stars, including Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, George Saunders, and Chuck Palahniuk, added some heft to the 2017 offerings. Panels this year discussed a whole slew of topics, ranging from the evolution of feminism, the role of memory in globalized migrations, and, as expected, discussion on who some authors have deemed “he who must not be named.” The DP crew had to make some tough choices regarding who to see, but in the end, we felt pretty great about our selections.

The Future is Female

Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me, A Field Guide to Getting Lost)Lindy West (Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman), and Betty Fussell (My Kitchen Wars, The Story of Corn), moderated by Joy Press (LA Times)

Solnit addressed the most recent presidential election very early into the conversation and pointed out that the word “crisis” in old-school medicine refers to a sudden change in the course of an illness that could become terminal but could also mean that something is on the road to recovery. She observed, “There is a level of engagement that has extraordinary possibilities right now,” noting that “fifty percent of young people in this country are not white, and they are not gonna be nice to conservatives and the alt-right.”

West said that she had to make “corrections” to the paperback edition of her new book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, since “you can’t just present this book [a feminist memoir] without contextualizing it ‘post-incident.’” The author added a new introduction right after the election, creating a sort of “time capsule” for that moment in history. Further, she noted that it would be a “misreading to say that the election defeated the feminist movement.” However, she, as a white woman, is likewise cautious about being too positive since she likely will not experience the same oppressions exacerbated by the election that target women of color.

West and Fussell also discussed how it took them a while to come to terms with identifying as a “feminist.” West said she did not call herself a feminist “until she was 21, 22.” It took Fussell even longer, for the bra-burning, man-rejecting stance of radical feminists in the ‘50s “didn’t fit” with her personal experiences. Nonetheless, she now sees that feminism today is “fluid, the future…is way beyond our old categories.”

George Saunders in Conversation

George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Tenth of December) with Carolyn Kellogg (LA Times)

Saunders spoke primarily of his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a “kind of scary and kind of funny” work that draws from both the Tibetan tradition of the bardo, a purgatorial concept of sorts, as well as fictionalized portrayals of figures from American history. The author conducted a fair amount of research for the novel, stating that he needed the “historical stuff…to ground things the crazier the supernatural got.” However, he admitted that the factual components of his novel represent his understanding of the subjects rather than any sort of expertise.

“My thing on fiction, the main trick is to keep the car out of the ditch,” Saunders stated. That is, the author has to develop an internal sense of whether the reader is still paying attention or not. “If you’re writing and you encounter a problem, it’s the best thing that could happen…you need to stop over-managing, and let the book speak for itself,” he said.

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Laila Lalami in Conversation

Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer) and Laila Lalami (The Moor’s Account)

Nguyen and Lalami appeared to be a natural fit for a panel: both are foreign-born writers who come from academic backgrounds, and themes from these experiences frequently take center stage in their work. Not to mention, Lalami’s 2014 novel, The Moor’s Account, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, which Nguyen’s The Sympathizer would go on to win in 2016. The pair discussed how folks often asked them about “master texts” from the literary canon—Graham Greene’s The Quiet American for Nguyen and Paul Bowles’s novels for Lalami—and the fact that they both sought to examine these works closer to discover the true stories of their proxies, the subaltern who are only spoken for by the colonizer. Lalami said that one must take great care to examine descriptions critically and “to read between the lines of the accounts” in order to discover truths about the colonized. Nguyen talked further about the fact that speaking for someone “is a dangerous act…an act of appropriation” that one could easily get wrong, something that even he faces when writing about experiences that are not his own.

Nguyen and Lalami also talked about the role of the past in stories of displacement and war, noting that refugees and immigrants alike have to deal with a “country that you know is frozen” in memory. Moreover, the authors agreed that the role of the past takes on an even more complex dimension for refugees since they did not choose to leave their countries voluntarily. Nguyen observed that Vietnamese refugees are frequently “plagued by memory” and often end up “looking backwards more than forwards”; this notion comes up literally in the form of a ghost in Nguyen’s “Black-Eyed Women” from his short story collection The Refugees. Lalami extended the discussion by summarizing a piece she wrote for The New Yorker about taking her citizenship oath at a place that once served as a holding center for Japanese-Americans in WWII before being transported to internment camps. In the piece, she ties the idea to the travel ban targeting Muslims, observing that folks tend to have short memories and make the same mistakes over and over.

The Handmaid’s Tale from Page to Screen

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake) and Bruce Miller (showrunner for the TV adaptation) with Mary McNamara (LA Times)

If it wasn’t apparent from her inclusion in this panel, Atwood enthusiastically endorsed the TV adaptation of her bestselling novel, stating that television in particular “enables…for adaptations that aren’t squashed into a short period of time” since the audience has “time to follow characters” with the “slow development of emotions and crises.” The trio onstage acknowledged that the production values for TV are incredibly high nowadays compared to years past, which allowed for Miller and his team to create beautiful cinematic moments within a terrifying—yet visually stunning—universe, where the moments of horror are even more pronounced.

Miller also discussed the show’s two deviations from the book: casting the Commander and Serena Joy as younger and creating a multiracial cast in general. Of the former, Miller said that he wanted to increase the desire, sexual tension, and jealousy between the couple and Offred, complicating their tangled relationship even further. As for the multiracial cast, Miller believes that it would not have made sense to do otherwise since the show is based in the present day. Additionally, he mentioned that Samira Wiley played a major role in the decision. The actress, who plays Moira, gave such an excellent audition that it spurred Miller to rethink the demographics of the show’s universe. “I think it’s correct thinking,” he stated.

And how was it proposing these changes to the author of such an iconic work of literature? “I didn’t go to the bathroom all weekend,” Miller joked.

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Books

Lit Ladies: A Reading List for International Women’s Day

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There’s a lot going on in honor of International Women’s Day, but if you’re unable to participate in today’s many, many activities, know that it’s totally 100% okay. As a friend so aptly put it, “[M]any (if not most) women do not have the luxury of not working or not engaging in unpaid/paid work on International Women’s Day.” May we suggest as an alternative that you head to your local library and pick up a book by a female author? After all, there is still very much a palpable bias against women in the literary world. Below, you’ll find some suggestions, compiled from DP contributors’ personal favorites from recent releases (as well as an older, but no less informative pick).

Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual by Carol Livoti and Elizabeth Topp. An oldie but goodie, this resource from an OB/GYN-writer (also, mother-daughter) team discusses sex, abortion, STDs, and other anatomical matters in a conversational, no-nonsense manner. Do note, however, that this book is largely geared towards cisgender women.

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. This book stems from the online project of the same name and combines smart political writing, a wealth of vital statistics, and compelling personal narratives for a globally-minded view of the discrimination women face on a daily basis.

Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s latest effort began as an actual letter to a childhood friend, covering a range of matters from gender roles and choosing toys to the Black diaspora and developing a sense of identity.

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti. Blogger and feminist writer Valenti covers much the same ground as Everyday Sexism, albeit through the intimate lens of a memoir from a woman who has so often found herself the target of hostile threats in a public forum.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. A Bechdel-approved memoir, New Yorker writer Levy recounts a tale of womanhood, grief, and remarkable resilience in this darkly humorous tome.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. Chang states that she “wanted to write a different type of immigrant story” for her debut novel, a clever, hilarious effort that will both tear at your heartstrings and make you laugh out loud.

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen. Jensen compiles forty-four of the best feminist essays, poems, comics, and drawings for a volume that features such diverse perspectives as Roxane Gay, Laverne Cox, Wendy Davis, and Wendy Xu.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, Smith offers a graceful, globe-trotting narrative with her latest effort, a novel peppered with social commentaries that she has touched upon in the past but now tackles head-on with a confident sophistication.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. Never shying away from provocative titles (re: the Chris Brown essay), Gay’s short story collection examines the lives of women and their intersections with matters of race, gender, and class.

Un/Masked by Donna Kaz. Playwright and Guerilla Girl Kaz (a.k.a. Aphra Behn) tells her story of abuse, survival, and her awakening to radical feminism in this poignantly honest memoir.

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Feminism

On Nia Ali and the Olympics

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Lilia is a former college cross-country runner from Tennessee. The following was originally published as a Facebook post on her personal page. The post has been reformatted and edited for publication on this site.

I wish I could watch the Olympics all year, every year, not only because it’s the only time I can see the sports I grew up training for on TV, but because of moments like this one.

Cause here’s the thing: I can turn on the TV or check social media any day and see women engaged in self-starvation, self-mutilation, racing to burn away evidence of having just grown an entirely new human, petty drama just to rack up ratings, or competition for a rose and a man.

Women on TV often only exist in competition to tear each other down. The prize is always male attention. Women who lose that attention, women who have won it enough to become mothers, simply disappear. And if instead of disappearing, they keep getting attention, they’re bad mothers. This is what we see daily, until those magical holidays of female strength and power we call FIFA, Olympics, WNBA.

And they really are like holidays because it’s hard to see footage of women—much less, mothers—building up and respecting their own bodies and respecting each other as admired opponents or loyal teammates any other time of year.

Last night the USA women’s track and field team swept all three medals in the 100m hurdles, and Nia Ali (silver) cradled her baby son as she spoke to NBC. I grabbed a screenshot just to be able to hold on to this moment because I need more moments like this, because it kind of feels like Christmas.

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Pop Culture

Is It OK to Hate Taylor Swift? A Reflection, in List Form

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Let me start off by saying I don’t actually know Taylor Swift on a personal level. Granted, by sheer luck (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it), I have found myself within one or two degrees of separation from her by a) living in the Nashville metro area for four years, and b) inadvertently befriending several folks who do know her. Well, knew her I suppose, back when she was more #solo and less #squad. Thus, I’ve heard, maybe more than most, a somewhat absurd number of reasons why I should hate her.

“She’s stuck up.”

“She’s so fake.”

“She hardly writes any of her songs.”

“She went on a date with [insert sorority sister’s name here]’s boyfriend once, and he still tells everyone.”

“She was super mean in middle school choir. All that stuff in her first album about the mean kids at school? There was a reason no one was nice to her—she wasn’t very nice in the first place.”

Now, with Hiddleswift upon us, these occasional asides from friends and acquaintances have morphed into full-blown listicles either worshiping her every Insta-move or dealing a play-by-play blow to her new beau. Swift has taken over my newsfeed. She’s taking over my text messages. She has even found her way into my fifteen-at-work break room convos, which are usually reserved for venting about customers who can’t seem to fathom the concept of a “return policy.”

I’d like to consider myself an intellectual, which I suppose is a bit presumptuous and a lot narcissistic of me. It is an identifier I have nonetheless come to embrace, snootiness and all. But I also have an unquenchable thirst for pop culture that seems to puzzle those I meet in more academic settings, such as in study groups for a graduate-level research design class. And so, dear reader, I attempt to present to you my version of a listicle: a (somewhat) researched, (semi-) theoretical, and (not-at-all) comprehensive run-down of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to hate Taylor Swift, based on an informal survey of peers as well as my own personal reflections.

OK Reasons to Hate Taylor Swift:

1) You can’t stand her music and think of dying goats every time “I Knew You Were Trouble” comes on the radio.

I get it. I feel the same way every time I hear a twenty-one pilots song on the radio. I don’t care how many times someone tells me they are the best live touring act out there right now (barf). Science has shown links between musical preference and personality. To each her own.

2) You consider yourself “of a certain age” and don’t know who she is other than the fact that her name keeps popping up as “News” on your social media (or local newspaper).

This is also very annoying and probably one of the most understandable reasons to begin to dislike someone strongly. As someone in my mid-twenties, I feel the same way about YouTube stars and/or any famous person without a well-rounded IMDB profile.

3) You are jealous of her cats.

As a fellow cat lady, I can empathize. I too want cute little munchkin cats to act as accessories in lieu of traditional purses and such. But alas, we can’t all be so lucky.

NOT OK Reasons to Hate Taylor Swift:

1) You think she’s a “slut.”

But what is the threshold for “slut,” even? Is it rebounding too quickly like with Hiddleswift? Is it dating too many guys in general (and how many is too many)? What about those unconfirmed reports that Swift has never *gasp* cashed in her V-card? If the former is true, is the threshold the number of boys you’ve swapped spit with? Once, I made out with three different boys in two weeks (all with the middle name of Edward, weirdly enough). Does that make me a slut? Why should we even care about which (and how many) dreamboats Swift has shared snuggles and/or sexy times with, other than the fact that we would like to be the one sharing snuggles with said dreamboats? (And if you’re trying to assert that you wouldn’t love to be on a swan with a Scotsman who looks like this, you’re lying to yourself.)

Without even bringing in any hardcore feminist theory, I think it’s pretty clear that this is a moot point. But if you want feminist theory on “sluts,” read this.

2) You think she’s a “mean girl.”

Have you actually been personally victimized by Taylor Swift? No? I didn’t think so.** I suppose it’s pretty easy to infer from those picture-perfect Instagram blasts that Swift and her squad are trying to rub their picture-perfectness in your face—along with the fact that you weren’t invited. But maybe, just maybe, these ladies are just snapping some pics to remember the occasion. I mean, how many times have you done the same with your gal pals? Not to mention the number of times you made your friends retake that #candidselfie because someone’s bangs were parted funny, or someone’s smile gave them a fat chin face, and so on…

**Exceptions can be made for those I know who have actually felt belittled by Swift during an in-person encounter, either as a child growing up in Pennsylvania or as an awkward adult at an industry-only party (or if you’re Camilla Belle). I’m sure there are those out there who feel the same hatred towards me. Apologies to everyone who may fall into this category. I hope I can make it up to you someday.

3) You think she promotes unrealistic ideals for women.

Now this is a tricky one. I must admit that on certain days, days when I’m scheduled to work fourteen hours between two jobs after attending class in the morning, days when I find my tummy pudge larger than usual and my chin riddled with acne because all I’ve eaten in the past 24 hours are a giant bag of Ruffles I keep in my desk drawer in case of emergencies and a $1.19 Taco Bell burrito I managed to scrounge up the change for since payday is still two days away, days when I get up at 5:30 a.m. and don’t stop moving until 11:30 p.m., I really, really, really hate Taylor Swift. I hate how I open up Instagram, or Buzzfeed, or even just my Facebook in search of mindless entertainment and instead have to be confronted with her unnaturally perfect blonde head of hair, or her otherworldly glowing complexion, or her perfect little chicken legs. I hate how she takes on the “I’m just like you” stance by posting photos of her bloody cat scratches one minute—just to turn around and flaunt her glamazon Vogue shoot a few posts later. I hate how it seems that at least 50% of her year is spent being fabulous and not working, while I watch my (surprisingly) above average household income be siphoned off into rent payments and car payments and tuition payments and health insurance payments and so on… I hate how fun and lovely and celebrity-filled her 4th of July holiday seemed to be, all while on my end, I was grateful for the mere fact that a) I had some alone time waiting for my husband in the car while he worked a late shift and b) I could use said alone time to catch up on paying bills and sending work emails and scheduling doctor’s appointments that, between working two jobs and being a full-time student, I haven’t even had the time to think about.

But this story, this hatred, really isn’t about Taylor, now is it? It’s about me. It’s about the luck of the draw. It’s about white beauty. It’s about capitalism. It’s about uneven playing fields and neoliberalism and obsession with celebrity and everything in between. It’s about the kind of media I choose to consume, even though it has a greater chance of giving me FOMO than helping me relax. It speaks volumes about what we value, consciously or otherwise, as a society, and very little about the pop star herself.

Bet you didn’t think this listicle would take such a dark turn, did you?

In short, it’s easy to hate on celebrities because we—well most of us—don’t really know them. It’s easy to project all of your hopes and dreams and fantasies and frustrations upon a (flawless and perfectly coiffed) representation of a human being staring back at you from your TV/laptop/movie/iPhone screen. Though, if you pause for a second from drinking the haterade and reflect, you might realize something about yourself. Even if it is just that you secretly have a thing for malicious Norse gods.

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