Last week, my first piece for Broadly went live. It happened to be a write-up about the amazing new play by Sheila Callaghan, Women Laughing Alone With Salad. I'm so excited to be able to share a discount code for anyone who wants to catch the show during its run in DC (and pst, if you're under 30, you can get $20 tickets!)
Women in power have always been a fascinating, magnetic force. From Cleopatra to Margaret Thatcher, women who hold the throne or high office are exceptions to the rule, unique pops of energy among an otherwise gender-static landscape of male rulers and officials. In our own culture and societies throughout history, female leaders were treated as an anomaly, a break with the natural order of things that requires an explanation, qualifiers, or rationale for success.
Wu Zhao, also known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu, is one such woman. In the late seventh century, she became the first and only female ruler of China who held the throne in her own name. She founded her own, short-lived dynasty and held power for fifteen years. Starting as a concubine to Emperor Gaozong and deftly navigating the channels of power to position herself as a logical ascendent to the throne, Wu Zhao has drawn admiration and ire from historians who challenge her morality, maternity, and alleged willingness to cut down anyone who stood in her way. Ambition in Wu Zhao’s case is a liability, despite her incredible achievement in ruling China.
A new study of the machinations behind Wu Zhao’s hold on power begins to answer the question of how. How did a woman claim the throne in a patriarchal society? How did she hold onto power once she had it? How, simply, can Wu Zhao exist in history? Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers by professor of Asian history N. Harry Rothschild offers a comprehensive image of the mythical imagery Wu Zhao built around herself to justify and explain her claim to authority.
The obstacles that Wu Zhao overcame sound very familiar. “Although ‘China did not have a written Salic Law,’ remarked Zhao Fengjie nearly a century ago, ‘nevertheless there was a prohibition, silently observed through dynasties, that a woman was not to become emperor.’” Wu Zhao’s ascent to the throne was not forbidden, but prohibited and blocked by the cultural norms of her time. And in order to overcome those barriers that stood between her and power, she pragmatically embraced the goddesses and historical women who could feed her own image as a natural born ruler.
The parallels between women both before and after Wu Zhao paint a complex picture of female leadership that has changed woefully little over the course of human history. Much like Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt, Wu Zhao staged elaborate religious spectacles to frame herself as a chosen leader. The Lou River and the city of Louyang were used to connect Wu Zhao to ancient prophecy of a sage ruler arriving to lead the country, a power play that mirrors religiously significant rituals Hatshepsut used to solidify her position as the gods’ representation on Earth.
Among the significant concerns about Wu Zhao’s leadership role was, unsurprisingly, her ability to be both a ruler and a mother. In attacks on her character, she was criticized as having abandoned or hurt her children in order to obtain power, sacrificing her maternal responsibilities for self-serving political interest. The false dichotomy between a woman as mother and a woman as leader has plagued women throughout history, from Wu Zhao to Hillary Clinton. And just like Clinton today must find ways to bring her quest for the presidency and her role as a mother into harmony in order to appease those who would treat them as mutually exclusive, so Wu Zhao had to find ways to do the same.
In Wu Zhao’s case, she decided to co-opt women who historically guided their emperor sons and had made a name for themselves in the process. By aligning herself with women who had deftly assisted in the leveraging of power and helped keep China safe and united in the face of sons who were less than up to the task, Wu Zhao underlined the female ability to rule justly and fairly. She also created a clear path to her own leadership, showing that women in leadership roles were far from uncommon. Her own jump to the throne may still have been a stretch, but the distance between right hand woman and sole leader was considerably shortened.
While the details of Wu Zhao’s pantheon of female support is fascinating and frustratingly intricate by turns, the larger image of what she built in order to gain power is striking in its near universal application to women in leadership roles. In order to justify her claim, she had to work harder and dig deeper to explain herself in relation to the throne. She had to build myths around herself in order to make clear that she was the exception, she was good enough to overcome the supposed limitations society placed on her gender and lead her country. Much like ancient female leaders across civilization, from Hatshepsut to Zenobia to Wu Zhao, women crafted elaborate shields to guard them against the sharp eyes watching for cracks that could discredit them. In the case of Wu Zhao, unlike those who came before her, historical record allows us to track not only her rise to power but her time on the throne. In comparison, other women were lost completely in the shadows of prophecy, religion, and mystery that they constructed.
Today the layers of legitimizing projection may be subtler, designed to appear more transparent and ultimately appeal to the strength of women rather than pander to the latent fears of women in power that have kept us from seats of true authority. But much like seventh century China, the lack of explicit laws locking doors to power does not erase or ease the restrictions that exist in practice. Women today are still required to justify their claim to power in ways men do not, and while the avenues by which they do so have changed, the ultimate meaning has not. Wu Zhao may have broken a barrier, but even in that significant achievement lies the rub, as no other woman has repeated her feat. Wu Zhao, like all women in power, remains an anomaly, not the norm.
A couple days ago, Contributoria announced the site would be closing after the September issue was published, becoming an archive for existing articles but no longer offering a platform for journalists to fund their work. I was sad to hear it -- I enjoyed Contributoria, and found it useful as a way to fund stories outside of pitching. But in the final weeks, as I worked on what I didn't know would be my last piece, I have to say I was disheartened by my experience. Emails bounced back as I tried to ask questions and there was a total lack of communication, which had not been the norm up until that point. And then, this morning, I learned that my last piece was no included in the final issue, which means I am not being paid for my work. It's a sad ending to what was a very positive experience up until this point. But since so many were so helpful in helping me reach backing, I've decided to publish the essay here instead.
A Better World in Prose
The idea of a “better world” is at best nebulous, begging the question of what defines better. Is it a world without inequality? A world in which opportunity and resources are shared across country borders, with regard to need rather than greed? Or is better less about all the pieces coming together and more about setting on a path that can lead to, perhaps, the best world? In relation to where we are now, what counts as better?
Part of the allure of literature is the ability to imagine worlds outside of our own. Whether they are slightly altered iterations of our own reality, fantasy realms of magic and beasts, or simply a deep reflection on the world we live in today, through literature we’re able to pause and think critically about the world as we know it and as we wish to see it. In the three books that follow, the environment, reason, religion, and war come together to bring the past forward, bring the future closer, and ultimately ask us all what progress looks like.
Published earlier this year, Catherine Chanter’s The Well pits religion, loss, authority, and the environment together in a deep meditation on the power of place and fear to push people towards extremes. In the novel, Ruth Ardingly reflects on the turbulent few years that have culminated in her being under house arrest, suspected of murdering her grandson. Through flashbacks, Ardingly takes the reader through the purchase of The Well, a farm she and her husband found and idyllic place to escape London and a scandal that plagued his reputation. But The Well is the only farm in the country not beset by catastrophic drought, and soon religious cults and public outrage, as well as government researchers and ultimately tragedy, descend on the mysteriously green isolated farm.
The story shines in taking a realistic environmental disaster and making it both personal and sweeping in impact. The pressure of The Well’s constant attention from outsiders pushes the Ardinglys apart, while the outside world looks to the farm for both hope and a target to blame. The fanaticism that grows around the farm, particularly through on religious sect that believes it to be a holy site, takes on a mysterious, almost supernatural feeling as belief and reality collide around the idyllic green fields and full ponds. Ruth herself finds comfort in the community provided by the sect, which she allows to stay on the property even as her husband has doubts, until tragedy strikes and she finds herself at odds with who she thought were her “sisters.”
The willingness to embrace faith in the face of inexplicable circumstances and in times of fear, the human instinct to seek the comfort of others and a sense of belonging, and the appeal sorting the world by any means necessary rings strikingly true throughout the story. What’s more, the linkages between climate change, desperation, and civil rights brings to the fore the deeply intertwined nature of the world around us. It’s a complex story told in microcosm, begging the question of what we would do when reason feels fleeting.
In his upcoming book Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie explores the role of reason through a mythic lens. The story centers on Geronimo Manezes, a gardener who wakes up following a catastrophic storm to find he is levitating just above the ground. This discovery is just one of many “strangenesses” that begin appearing around the world, signifying a coming war between the world of men and the world of the jinn. Along with other descendants of a great jinnia princess, Dunia, and a philosopher she loved, Manezes must fight back against the dark jinn working to erode the human world through tyranny and violence.
Although the magic and supernatural elements make up the crux of the story, the interplay between the extreme changes the world undergoes and reality as we know it today underlines the less reasonable elements of our society. Told as a fable by a mysterious narrator in the future, fear’s relationship with violence and religious extremism is set alongside giant sea monsters eating the Staten Island Ferry. Literal disconnection with the earth is linked to disconnection from culture, history, and place in the world, while jinn possess Wall Street big wigs and force them to spill the secrets that have brought about social and wealth inequality.
This blending of myth, fantasy, and reality creates a unique window through which the reader can view the world as it is. As seen from the future, the sheer lack of reason at play in so many ways around the world becomes strikingly clear. The past and present slam against one another as Manezes and other characters confront their own personal histories, and simultaneously the world confronts what they had long assumed to be myths cooked up by superstitious ancestors. Most striking, however, is the narrator’s pointing out of the human ability to ignore warning signs, look the other way, and refuse to see patterns that point at coming peril. Even in the face of unreason, we find comfort in the myth of the status quo’s permanence, failing to see a way to change course before it’s too late.
History colliding with past is a recurring theme in 1914 — Goodbye to All That, as well. The collection of short essays and stories from writers around the world reflects on the impact of World War I not just on art, but on society and personal history. The short vignettes, each written by a writer from a country that played a role in the First World War, paint a striking picture of the ways history informs us, obscures truth, and repeats.
In a Daniel Kehlmann’s “A Visit to the Magician”, friends attend a hypnotist performance in hopes of being pulled on stage. But when the time comes to be hypnotised as part of the audience, the narrator finds he can’t overcome the sense of pretending. Is it worth it to fake hypnotism just to get on stage? To give up his own autonomy and follow the instructions of the man claiming magical powers? At the same time, he begins reflecting on the Admiralpalast, and the role of willingness and desire to fit in with the masses in war. Proximity in space eases the distance in time that he feels to both World Wars, creating a bridge to the past that allows him to link the innocent fun of hypnotism to national rallying that had lead to war in the 20th century.
In other stories, such as Erwin Mortier’s “The Community of Sealed Lips” and Elif Shafak’s “In Search of Untold Stories,” the nature of personal silence and the role it plays in the unfolding of the future highlights the need for communication in order to impart the lessons of the past. Silence here is not a lack of love or warmth, but a willingness to allow history to remain isolated from the present, be it for personal reasons such as trauma or a desire to leave unconfronted the harder truths, such as personal proximity to wrongdoing. In “Goodbye to Some of That”, by Kamila Shamsie, dominance of narrative becomes a force that shapes the view of the present through literature, another form of silencing that indirectly impacts those living in the shadow of history.
The vignettes cast a broad net around the impact of war on culture and society, weaving together stories and personal reflections in a way that shrinks distance. At its heart lies the sense of questioning, the importance of looking back in order to look forward and to understand the role of events that, in some ways, can become common place in textbooks but continue to impact us to this day. There’s no magic or fantasy in these stories, but the role of time and space in both 1914 — Goodbye to All That and Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights feels similar. They are walls that can be brought down quickly, easily, and necessarily in order to facilitate critical thought about the present — how we got here from there, and where we are going.
It's no secret that I love museums. I work in them, I read in them, I drag innocent bystanders (like my husband) through them for hours on end. But if there is one thing I will not do -- almost as a rule -- it is go on tours. Something about being paraded around the artwork, marked as a tourist for all to see, is just not at all fun for me. I want to move fast, sit for long periods of time, linger where I want. Freedom, to me, is the cornerstone of enjoying a museum.
So when I was approached by the NYC-based company Museum Hack with an offer of a free tour of DC's National Gallery of Art, I was hesitant. A tour? Me? Could I handle two hours of being led around my favorite museum? In the end I figured, why not? I ate my pride and signed up, expecting a draggy afternoon with a huge group of people getting in the way of the free, fun-having solo visitors.
Imagine my surprise when, given my expectations, I was sad to see the tour end. Museum Hack tours are not your average tour -- in fact, they are ideal for people who don't even like tours. I had more fun in those two hours than I thought possible, and learned things that I continue to share with family and friends even a few weeks later.
Started in NYC a few years ago, Museum Hack only recently expanded to DC. They offer tours of museums focused not on giving you the highlights, but on giving you the deeper story. Their tours are built around the idea that museums are fun spaces, not just stuffy archives. And that ethos is something that I was drawn to from the very beginning of the tour. We weren't being talked at -- we were exploring.
Molly, our tour guide, was a delight. She led our small group of just five throughout the museum quickly, with a conspiratorial sense of adventure that kept me thrilled the entire time. The stories she shared were incredible -- intrigue, late night calls from the Kremlin, mysteries, robber barons. The tour was as much about art history as it was the history of DC, the culture of competition in the art world, and the linkages between art and society on a larger level.
But if that sounds dry, don't get Museum Hack twisted. A few wonderful activities kept things unpredictable. My personal favorite: My Dutch Nightmare, during which we all had to take pictures of a Dutch painting that represented our (you guessed it) worst nightmare. We had so much fun, in fact, that we decided to come up with our own scavenger hunt style approach to exploring downtown for our wedding weekend.
When the two hour tour was coming to a close, I was legitimately bummed to see it end. I wanted more weird facts and fascinating stories about the museum I so often spend time at. Museum Hack showed me a different side of a place I already love, making art history accessible in a way that gets past the often stuffy appearances of the art world. It may not be a tour in the traditional sense, but it is something better.
If you're in NYC or DC, check out Museum Hack's tours!
Of all the vintage heroes for young women, Audrey Hepburn is one of the few who live up to the hype. A lovely and talented woman, she dedicated herself to charity and family in a way that continues to inspire each generation of women who discover her work. And in a new biography, her son Luca Dotti underscores what made his mother such an endearing and wonderful person.
Audrey at Home is equal parts biography and recipe book, broken into sections based on the pivotal moments of Hepburn's life. Beginning with her childhood in Holland and moving through her life, Luca's observations of his mother illuminate the small celebrations and private pain of a very famous figure. The story Luca tells focuses far less on his mother's status as a celebrity, focusing instead on the woman he knew and loved.
To do so, he shares incredible family photos that show Hepburn as a real person, a mother, a partner, and a friend. You won't find posed glamour shots in these pages, but instead an intimate look at Hepburn as a girl and woman. Alongside these images and Luca's telling of his mother's life a series of recipes tell the story in food. From her favorite meals to the dishes she made for her friends and family, it's an interesting look at a woman whose diet is so often called into question. Hepburn isn't the mythic fan of a single bite of dark chocolate each day in these pages, but a woman who expressed her love and personal history through the meals she served to those she cared for.
Luca's story doesn't attempt to gloss over the more painful parts of his mother's life, and he speaks frankly about the moment when she and his father shared that they were divorcing. He also explores the ways in which they remained close until her death, and the deep bond she had with her later partner, Robert. Luca devotes the final pages of the book to her work with UNICEF, an inspiring homage to the tireless efforts his mother made to make the world a better place.
Audrey at Home is not a book for those who want to relive the fanciful whimsy of Holly Golightly. It's a moving portrait of Hepburn a real person, who loved and lost and cooked and lived. It's insightful, heartwarming, and intimate, and a must for anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of Audrey Hepburn's life and mind.
Yes, I missed last week's blog. Not because I didn't try. My computer kept eating every entry I tried to make, so alas, it was not to be. But that's kind of okay -- last week's episode was a little boring, if very tense. The question that seemed to hang over the entire hour was, "What could Ramsay do? What is he capable of?" And that question was answered this week.
Rape has been used in the past on Game of Thrones for nothing but shock value, as has sexual violence. So it's no wonder that many are crying foul at the rape of Sansa Stark, a long-time favorite and one of a few true heroines of the show. The show altered her plot so that she'd end up in with Ramsay, a move that was shocking and terrifying and remains that way in the wake of their wedding. It was something that everyone should have seen coming, given the source material they are adapting and the sheer cruelty of Ramsay Bolton. In fact, I was actually surprised that it was a non-visual scene, cutting to a tight shot of Theon. It's small consolation, yes, but if the actors in the scene consider that the worst to come for Sansa, hopefully a shift in her narrative is coming.
Because let's be honest -- Sansa has been nothing but a victim. She's been passed from person to person with little agency of her own, waiting to be saved without much say in the process herself. Yes, she's become much stronger and yes, she's capable of playing the nuanced game of survival much better than other characters on the show, but she's still been unable to break free by her own means.
Same goes for Theon, for whom that scene takes place in the books although with a different, faux Stark girl. Could the trauma of seeing Sansa in that way finally start to break the spell Ramsay has over him? Based on the preview, it does seem that Sansa begins to see him as an ally against Ramsay. In the books, it's Theon who begins plotting and scheming an escape, but it looks like Sansa might have a more active role in putting the pieces together and finding ways to subvert Ramsay's control.
That's where I want to see the story go. I find it hard to believe Sansa is at rock-bottom right now. Ramsay almost certainly wants to think he's broken her with one fast, unexpected moment of complete cruelty. But Sansa has survived everything thrown at her, and come out stronger. This could be the moment when she finally decides that no one can ensure her safety but herself, and that she needs to step up to the plate. If she doesn't, then the scene was just another Game of Thrones moment of sexual violence.
The rest of the episode was rich and weak by turns. Olenna back in King's Landing and the subsequent arrest of Loras and Margaery is a high point, and Littlefinger has me scratching my head at what his end game might be. The fight between the Sand Snakes, Jaime and Bronn was perhaps some of the weakest sauce I have ever seen in my entire life, although that nick Bronn got sure looks like it might hurt. Based on that fight, I have a hard time believing the episode's title and the House Martell words -- "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" -- are in reference to the Sand Snakes. Margaery and Sansa -- two who women who have suddenly found themselves in situations they never imagined -- are more apt.
Lord, anyone else feeling many, many emotions after last night's Game of Thrones? I was touched, shocked, scared, heart-warmed, and displeased all in the course of one hour! Four episodes in and this season feels more like the second season, when plotting and scheming built to key, deeply effecting moments throughout the ten episode run. I'm into it, although I'm also terrified for what's still to come.
I would be remiss to start anywhere but with Jaime, because he is *~*flawless*~*. He and Bronn are great, and I love that Bronn is not here for any nonsense. Jaime seems to thrive with people who are willing to meet him where he is and not expect more or less, like Brienne and Tyrion. The little moment of tension when Bronn asks, "Your niece?" made my heart skip a beat. Then Jaime's refusal to any rowing or digging, even though both were part of his plan and Bronn didn't want to do either of them, made me fall even deeper in love with him. Perfection.
What was not perfection was the Faith Militant. I am into that story line -- it's one of my favorites from the books -- but I'm still beyond creeped out by them. The whole carving symbols into foreheads thing is never a harbinger of good things to come, and I had to peek through my fingers while they were tearing apart the brothel. I was 10000% sure they were going to be torturing Loras, and I am so glad I was wrong at least for the time being.
Although Tommen is obvi in a bad place as a sweet kid stuck between two women he cares about deeply and who both want to actually eat each other's faces, he is forever my favorite. Stannis may be king by rights (I will get into a fist fight to defend Stannis' honor) but Tommen is on a whole other level. Good people famously don't last long on the show, let alone in King's Landing, but my deepest hope is that Tommen remains safe and nice and not horribly murdered in any way. How can you not love him?
But speaking of the One True King of My Heart, Stannis #blessed us with some actual feels this week! I love his relationship with Shireen in the books, and I'm happy to see some more Stannis-Shireen bonding on the show. Although we don't get much in the books, Stannis' insistence that Shireen be his heir is one of those moments that makes me cheer. I love that the second generation of leaders on the show have so many women with claims to power -- it's a huge contrast to the War of the Five Kings. Of course, it looks like one of the women with a claim to the throne is being sidelined this season, *coughMyrcellacough*, but we can pretend.
Succession rules to the side, we did get one really great moment this week when the Sand Snakes and Ellaria were allowed to talk for MULTIPLE MINUTES without showing a single boob! Obara even got several lines in a row without being topless! I honestly didn't even know that was possible in Game of Thrones. Can we make that little snippet hugely popular, like watch it over and over again to send the message that we can stay interested without boobies?
And finally, Dany's top knight -- I couldn't believe it when the massacre happened. I was expecting the Sons of the Harpy to storm the throne room, but laying out Grey Worm and Ser Barristan is pretty shocking. I'm still processing, to be honest. Still haven't wrapped my brain around it. Based on the preview, it looks like Barristan is RIP, but fingers crossed that Grey Worm pulls through.
Next week's episode has me very, very nervous. It sounds like we're going to get a little Ramsay action, which is the opposite of what I want in my life. Why is Littlefinger leaving?! Why, you guys?! Ugh, and why do we have to wait a whole six days to see what happens?
It's been almost 24 hours since 'Game of Thrones' and I am still mulling over the episode. 'High Sparrow' was one I was nervous about seeing, due in large part to a friend spilling the beans on Sansa Stark's engagement after the season premiere. I had this deep seated fear that Sansa was going to be married off to Ramsay Bolton, and low-and-behold! She's back in Winterfell, about to be wed to the most terrifying character in the show. Just when you think you get a break, amirite?
I had been thinking a lot about Sansa and her impending marriage, mainly because it seemed initially like a typical 'Game of Thrones' move to save Sansa from King's Landing only to give her to the nightmare-factory that is Ramsay. The show can be so horrible about putting women into positions like that just for the shock value, and this seemed especially underhanded given that Sansa's entire character arc was about overcoming the emotional and sometimes physical torment she endured under Joffrey. Giving her to Ramsay, who viciously tortures his bride in the books, was just too much.
But I was surprised by the way the show handled it. Sansa doesn't seem like a victim here, especially after Littlefinger gives her a pep talk about avenging her family. The way she served Roose Bolton dagger eyes before smiling and offering her hand was masterful, and a reminder that Sansa ain't here to deal with nonsense anymore. In that moment I realized that I had been giving Sansa zero credit, assuming she was just someone who could be handed off from husband to husband without any agency. Sansa may have once been that person, but I doubt she is anymore.
And then there's Ramsay, who seemed pretty earnest when he swore never to hurt her. I want to believe he will keep his word, given his desire to get Roose's approval and the importance they both tie to Sansa's Stark blood. I also want to believe that Littlefinger would legitimately eat Ramsay alive if he ever touched a hair on Sansa's head, although Littlefinger's loyalties are never easy to read.
The episode was so, so strong. Margaery and Cersei's barbed banter was beyond on point. My partner and I actually cheered when Margaery landed her zinger about it being too early for wine. The change in Tommen's age and subsequent consummation of their marriage is also an interesting play for the show, and I'm more interested than peeved to see how that change plays out. Tommen is the sweetest, and his gentle approach to urging Cersei back to Casterly Rock was simultaneously heartwarming and terrifying. Cersei is increasingly backed into a corner -- what's she gonna do?!
I'd been so nervous about the changes the show was making, but so far they aren't as bad as I expected. In fact, it's really neat being able to be surprised by the show and still be excited about it. Recently it's seemed like the changes have been blatant sexual violence and gratuitous fight scenes, and it's nice seeing the story adapted for substance rather than shock. Rather than being terrified by the developments so far, I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. Assuming, of course, that Ramsay behaves.
What was your favorite part of the episode? Any guesses on what's next?
Late last year, the perfect gig fell right into my lap. Or at least, so I thought.
It's been my ultimate goal to become a full-time freelance writer ever since I started, but the question that kept me up at night was how to guarantee I'd have enough income to afford to do so. Sure, there's a level of unavoidable volatility that comes with being a freelancer -- it's the other side of the freedom coin. But I'm someone who likes having a plan and guarding myself as best I can from shocks, particularly financial. So before I took the plunge into all-day no-safety-net freelancing, I wanted to make sure I had outlets that paid regularly and could provide me with some level of static income that would make ends meet.
And as of December, I thought I'd found it. Through a friend, I got in touch with a website looking to bring on daily bloggers. The workload was quite a bit, but I write fast so I assumed I'd be able to make it work with my other commitments. The pay would have been the same as what I make at my day job, making it possible to step right out of my job into writing with no change in income. That's what drew me to the gig and what made me chase it.
I should have known then that it was too good to be true, but this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How many shots like this was I going to get? Of course I needed to nail this thing! And, for a while, I thought I had.
A couple rounds of phone interviews and some emails back and forth, and I had a start date. Fantastic. It was all coming together.
Until seven days before I was suppose to start.
One week before my start date, I emailed my contact to touch base. And I was told this person was no longer going to be with the site, and given the contact information for the new managing editor. Who promptly ignored my emails. Wonderful.
But that's not all. Along with my touching-base email, I sent in a list of ideas for my first week. Within 36 hours of my sending that list, an article went up on the site that was identical to one of my pitches. Sure, a case can be made that it was a coincidence, but it left me with a very bad, exploited feeling. At that point, the new ME hadn't even responded to my email asking if I was supposed to start turning in copy the coming Monday. The whole thing was one big ball of stress.
I was a lot of things at that point. I was mad, hurt, and feeling very vulnerable. I had put all my eggs in one basket, and now that basket proved to have one very huge hole in it. My goal of going full-time freelance in June seemed to disappear before my eyes, and I was seriously let down. It was stupid of me to hang so much on one gig, but that didn't make me feel less angry.
So what did I do? The next morning, I shot off an email letting the site know I was no longer interested in being considered for the position, and thanking them for their consideration. I left it at that, knowing I'd never hear from the ME again. For a few days those feelings of anger lingered, but eventually the cloud cleared enough for me to see that it was hardly the end of the world. In fact, I let that one strike feed my ambition rather than torpedo it.
And now, two months later, I'm once again on track to go full-time freelance in June. It wasn't easy, but I managed to make up the "lost" income and then some by really hitting the pitches hard and taking the time to hone my approach. The biggest win, though, might be that I did land a daily contributor slot with a site I was already writing for: HelloGiggles. And given the level of encouragement and support I get from the site, I'd much rather put my time and energy into that community. It's an opportunity I never would have been able to take if the first gig panned out, and being able to be a more active part of HG makes up for the momentary pain I felt in January.
Sure, it's unfortunate that it happened and I'm still a ways from being able to laugh about it, but it all worked out for the best. Now I'm writing for sites and publications that respect me and value my work, and I've been able to chase stories I truly believe in for editors I am so lucky to work with. The ups and downs are numerous in writing, as one would expect from an industry that requires a great deal of trust on both sides of the exchange. But one down doesn't define a career, and I learned that the hard/best way.
Let me start by saying that I was very excited to read "Lifted By The Great Nothing." When I spotted it on a list of galleys available, I jumped at the chance to read a story about a Lebanese teenager coming of age. It sounded interesting, thoughtful, and just political enough to feel relevant. As soon as I was approved by the publisher, I dove in.
What I found was .... Well, it was interesting and at times thoughtful. There were political elements, so I wasn't wrong in my immediate assumptions. But let's back up a bit.
"Lifted By The Great Nothing" is the story of Max, a Lebanese-American boy growing up in New Jersey. He lives with his father, Rasheed, and has no memory of his mother, who he is told died protecting him before he and his father came to the United States. Max's simple, if lonely, life gets turned upside down with the arrival of a woman Max believes to be his father's girlfriend. At the same time, new neighbors move in across the street, and Max strikes up a friendship with the soon-divorced woman. When Rasheed's now-ex-girlfriend reaches out to Max and shares information previously kept secret, the teenager's identity and history are turned upside down.
The premise is interesting: A young man learns the truth about his immigration to the United States and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. But the way in which the story is told gets so jumbled and confusing that it's hard to keep up with the action. In the beginning Max is about thirteen, then the timeline jumps forward four years. That in and of itself makes sense, but in between we jump forward and backwards months or even years, just enough to make you wonder how much time is actually passing in the story.
At times the story feels forced, with dialogue "conveniently" explaining problems or outlooks. A woman engages Max in an Israel-Palestine Conflict 101 type conversation. The next door neighbor has an unrealistically nuanced and frank exchange with him about the meaning of right and wrong, in the space of a few sentences between the two of them. It just doesn't feel real.
Neither does much of Max's life. Even as a thirteen year old boy, all the adults in Max's life seem to have zero boundaries. Everyone is flailing, except for Max, who manages to stay on the straight and narrow despite being surrounded by horrible role models. When he decides to go to Lebanon to track down his possibly alive mother, he's able to fly to Beirut without a problem. But he's only seventeen, and it's hard to believe a teenager who has never traveled internationally would be able to bring all those pieces together, let alone not be questioned by TSA. Once in Beirut, everything comes together too cleanly for the kid. He happens to meet a woman who happens to know someone at the nearby university who happens to have no problem giving Max the phone number for Max's aunt who happens to welcome him without qualms. It all feels hollow.
There are questions worth examining in the story. What does it mean to be American? How can we reconcile our past and present selves? Can lies told out of love be worth more than a painful truth? But these questions are answered in a clunky, at times cliched way that doesn't do them justice. "Lifted", while having merits, ultimately falls short of its own ambition.
Bridey is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
All Activism Amanda Palmer Annie Atkins Awareness Book Review Caitlin Moran Call The Midwife Darling Forbes Freelance Tips Freelance Writing History Literally Living With Cats Michel Gondry Millennials Mood Indigo NO TOFU Pamela Anderson Pet Tips Robin Williams Small Space Living Summer The Boxtrolls The Grand Budapest Hotel Tiny Home Welcome What I've Learned Writing