This fall, while I was working on a few artist statements for a few different applications, I was concurrently reading up on Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was particularly interested in how Narcissus almost did not make it into the DSM-V. He eventually held on to his spot in the Personality Disorder section, despite all the debate. So proud of you, phenomenal Narcissism! You survived your potential death knell and continue to plague society. Or is it society that plagues the Narcissist? Arguably, this particular “disorder” has socially constructed, rather than biological, roots. In a nutshell, rates are higher in the US than most other countries, and are higher among men than women. These facts are not surprising. Our capitalist, individualist culture fuels narcissistic tendencies, surely. But do our literary and artistic communities need to feed narcissistic tendencies? Or is there room for all sorts of brilliance to shine, equitably?
Author Archives: Emily Brandt
In the month-long Sunday of August, it’s normal to feel anxiety creeping in. Especially when some folks still need convincing that Black Lives Matter. Especially when Donald Trump, with his blood-fear, has been saturating the media and you’re scared half-to-death of the rest of the imminent sexism bound for us this election season.
When I feel like I’ve got to hold on tight, I turn to the Tulsi Elixir brewed by Dandelioness Herbals. This Ayervedic medicinal herb, commonly known as holy basil, is known to keep you balanced and your energy vital. Plus it tastes good. Dana L Woodruff is the feminist herbalist behind Dandelioness, and she knows that staying balanced is a necessity for community healing. She makes a wonderful activist self-care kit, an elixir for the heart, an elixir to calm the rage, and much more. You can stay up-to-date on her insights and workshops, including one on decolonizing herbalism and one on menstrual health for all ages, at her Facebook page.
I encourage you to support Dandelioness, or your local herbalist, but if you’re strapped for cash, you can always make your own holy basil tincture. Rosemary Gladstar recommends that you:
- Pack a quart jar full with holy basil leaves.
- Fill the jar with 80-proof alcohol (Dandelioness uses brandy. She also adds local Vermont honey.)
- Put on the lid and shake gently.
- Set it on a windowsill and let it steep for 3-4 weeks.
- Strain and rebottle.
- Take half a teaspoon of the tincture twice daily.
Like so many writers, I also teach. Like so many teachers—especially of literature, especially of younger students—I am female. This profession is largely and historically comprised of a female majority, so it’s no surprise that so many media outlets hate on teachers, so many leaders bust teachers’ unions, and so many good citizens ensure that teaching is not afforded social prestige. And yet, teachers in schools across the city and country are engaging with some of the hardest issues America faces. On June 18th, I joined a packed room of educators and parents from across New York City to learn more about racial inequity in schools. “Creating Racially Equitable Schools” was a panel discussion and fundraiser for Border Crossers, held at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School. The notes below are woven together from quotes and paraphrases of the five panelists: filmmaker Joe Brewster, school leader Martha Haakmat, educator and filmmaker Ali Michael, Professor Pedro Noguera, and Professor Howard Stevenson.
REAL: New York City schools are among the most segregated in the country.
VISION: In racially equitable schools, all children see themselves reflected and respected in the curriculum and in the pedagogy. All staff understand the history of race and racism in the United States.
REAL: New York City is diverse—in the daytime. People ride the subways together and work in the same buildings, then go home to their largely segregated neighborhoods.
Of Montana Ray’s debut book of poems, (guns & butter), Cathy Park Hong says, “Each magnetic phrase is locked and loaded as Ray burns holes into subjects ranging from interracial love, single motherhood, to America’s unrelenting addiction to gun violence.” Ray’s debut collection consists of 32 concrete poems in the shape of guns juxtaposed with ten delicious recipes (try the mango soup!), which, Ray points out, look like upside-down guns.
Ray is a feminist poet, translator, and scholar working on her PhD in Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She’s also mom to budding zoologist Amadeus and author of five chapbooks and artist books. I had the pleasure of talking with Montana over an order of Pão de Queijo about the process and thinking behind (guns & butter).
Emily Brandt: I love this book so much, Montana. I’m curious about the first time you made a concrete poem in the shape of a gun, and I’m curious about whether these poems were written in lines and then transformed into guns, or written in the gun shape.
Montana Ray: A lot of the language is sourced, so in the first poem I wrote for the book, the lines just cohered together in the shape of the gun. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the first poem I wrote in that shape is the first poem in the book. I’d received a text from my babysitter that said, “I might be late. A gun war is on.” Or a slightly less poetic version of that sentence. And I walked out to do my laundry with Ami; and some guy on the street was like, “You can touch it,” and then when I came home—I used to live in front of a tattoo parlor, I still live in the same place but the tattoo parlor has moved, and it’s now a fancy restaurant—one of the tattoo guys there, who I had a little crush on, he’d just gotten a new tattoo on his leg that was Billy the Kid’s gun. I was like, “Do you like guns?” And he said, “I like Billy the Kid.” So basically half of the language in the poem is sourced from one day’s interactions. I was also thinking about art, how you see guns on necklaces and on bags. The appropriation of that shape is done by designers of all sorts, and I wanted to do that for poetry.
After what felt like forever, spring is finally here. It’s time for clearing out the old and invigorating your life with new love, or whatever. You might oust that bum-out of a boo, or energize those lazy evenings spent couch-bound with your love, or kindle some sparking Tinder flames. While it’s the perfect time of year to delve into a little self-love and spring romance, it’s also a good time to remember that love, like most else, is political. If your love doesn’t make you feel strong and solid and inspired to make this world a more amazing, just place, well then your love ain’t no love of mine. Since so many folks wrote to tell me they loved jamming to my Winter Blues Mix, here’s a reprise you can turn up to inspire what you want in love. Then go make it manifest, whether it’s a letting go, or a receiving, or an offering to your community. And since love means many different things on many different days to many different folks, these feminist songs take a peek at love from different angles. Continue reading
I’ve been diagnosed, at various times in my life, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sometimes, and with some people, it’s nothing to wear these labels. Many other women I love have a similar diagnosis, as do some guy friends. Women are twice as likely to have (or rather, to be diagnosed with) an anxiety disorder than men. As Americans, we live in an anxiety culture. Work is demanding, home is demanding, looks are demanding, social life is demanding. As women, we live in an anxiety culture within an anxiety culture. We are simultaneously marginalized and the targets of insanely high expectations.
At age 13 I made a general life rule to stay away from trashy girl magazines, and instead subscribed to Ms. during my school’s annual magazine drive. As a result, I feel lucky to be relatively non-anxious about fat or wrinkles. My general lack of TV-watching also helps me to be less afraid of germs and terrorists than others. I admit Jaws ruined swimming for me, and after Psycho I showered in fear for a decade. I also admit that TV, movies, and other media born of our white supremacist patriarchal culture affects the ways I think about race and gender. I’m not immune. TV, even in small doses, does work its magic on me. I once saw a reality disaster show that involved a teenager getting buried alive in a school bathroom after an earthquake, or maybe it was a tornado. No, it was a tornado. Definitely. The image of him in child’s pose for thirteen hours under thirty feet of rubble is seared into my PTSD-addled brain. I am terrified of being so stuck, of no escape. I’ve been there before. Continue reading
Mixtapes got me through high school. Now, they’re getting me through this brutally cold Brooklyn winter. The cassette’s been making a comeback. I even just overhead some teenagers talking about how they wanted cassette players so they could make mixtapes. Because they heard that’s cool. If I see those kids again, I’ll tell them to grab that thrift shop cassette player and push record on these feminist tracks to help get them through the cold winter days and long winter nights.
We asked our regular contributors to write about the feminist books that they love—books that struck a chord, for one reason or another, books they couldn’t put down, that they’ll never donate, that are underlined and dog-eared and bookmarked eternally, that you can maybe borrow, but you most definitely have to give back. Here’s Emily on Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night:
In 1934, Christiane Ritter left the comforts of her home and children to live for a year in desolate Svalbard, in northern Norway, with her husband and another hunter. Her memoir, A Woman in the Polar Night, the only book she ever wrote, chronicles this year. If I know you, there’s a good chance I’ve lent it to you or bought you a copy. Ritter walked away from everything she knew about being a human in society and confronted life in the harshest of elements, without sunlight, without guarantee of food or warmth, and with only few provisions. She walked right up to and past her own physical, psychological and emotional edges, and recounted it all in absolutely gorgeous and meditative prose. I can reread each sentence a dozen times. I randomly open to a page, point and land here: “We are wet from the sea, and the mist is oppressively heavy.” A second try and I land here: “With beads of sweat on their brows and swearing horribly, holding the thin needles in their heavy hands, the men try with a kind of lunatic fervour to invent new knitting patterns for socks.”
A Woman in the Polar Night balances the worn man-in-nature narratives more familiar to readers living in our patriarchy. It’s true that some social constructs did travel along with Ritter, but most were left behind, allowing Ritter to experience and share with her readers a totally different consciousness. In that way, it’s an amazing tale of possibility. Ritter wrote, “The immense silence of the land surrounds me and invades me, submerging and annihilating my human smallness.” While that can be read as a reminder of human insignificance, I see it in context as the opposite—as an expression of our vastness as living beings. Feminism in action requires ideological movement. To learn what that can look like, we can turn to reading about the movement of one mind from social confines into vast independence and freedom.
Feminist Urgent RoundTable #2
Strike a THREAT: Women’s Voices in the Media: online, offline, talking, doing, breathing, living – abused, ignored, trolled, forgotten
B. H. Q. F. U.
34 Avenue A, New York City
November 21, 2014
The Bruce High Quality Foundation was the unlikely host to the second installment of Feminist Urgent’s RoundTable series. F.U. is “an in-flux open-forum, discussion, journal, social practice, curatorial, activist community” founded and (loosely) moderated by the artist Katya Grokhovsky. I was honored to be a part of this particular event, which focused on the “urgent issues of online and offline abuse of female public voices.”
At this curated RoundTable, the usual rules were not in play—there was little distinction between audience and panelist; the format was totally open (which distressed some students in the audience); and there was a raw energy, largely fueled by Penny Arcade, one of the evening’s speakers, that inspired blunt, evocative, even intensely personal sharing from many people present. The engagement with, and sometimes policing of, comments made by all-women panelists was particularly loaded because the very topic under consideration was the way that women’s voices are dealt with in our society. Continue reading
My husband and I just finished watching Twin Peaks, and now my sleep’s gone to shit/the Black Lodge. About a decade ago, I unknowingly watched the final episode, and so I knew that (spoiler alert even though this happened in circa 1991) Agent Cooper would become BOB, and I had no interest in going back to the beginning to watch the unfolding of this tragic trick. Two months ago, frustrated with our dwindling Netflix queue, we decided to check out the first episode. Admittedly, the opening credits sequence is pure sawmill mechanistic glory. But the first ten minutes of Episode One had me severely bummed. It opens with a shot of a wispy-voiced Asian woman applying makeup in the mirror with a look of seductive devastation. Five minutes later, we find the washed-up corpse of a homecoming queen, naked and presumably raped before her murder. These tired tropes again. So tired again.