The Nuclear Family / The Nuclear Bomb: Revisiting Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel in Trump America

O Fallen Angel Kate Zambreno

The first time I read Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel was in 2012, not too long after it was first released on Chiasmus Press in 2010, and it felt like something I’d been starving for: the story of a girl raised by a housebound Mommy whose constant care is a form of creepy control, whose love is both dollifying and cannibalizing. The girl—Maggie—is stifled and self-seeking and, with limited tools with which to construct a self, self-destructs instead.

O Fallen Angel is Zambreno’s first book—she went on to garner a larger readership with her novel Green Girl and her critical book Heroines, both of which establish Zambreno as a formal innovator who is in constant conversation with dead critical theorists and Hollywood starlets, who returns from these conversations with new language with which to write the experience of the girl. Compared to Green Girl and Heroines, O Fallen Angel feels young, but in the best way—it’s desperate, searing, hurting, angry and unforgiving.

When I first read the novel five years ago, I loved it because I related so hard. Finally there was a mother in literature who wanted to “freeze [her children] when…they’re at the age before they start disagreeing with you,” who wanted to keep her self-harming girlkid out of therapy because psychologists “blame everything on the Mommy.” Maggie’s Mommy’s dollification is so extreme it even leads her to fantasize about Maggie’s death—in death, “finally Maggie will let Mommy dress her…and finally Maggie will be her girl yes her girl.” Finally there was a girl in literature who, raised by such a mother and just like me, was so unequipped to live her own life that she was fired from all her waitressing jobs, that she sought self-worth in the beds of brooding, bohemian boys, that she got rejected from in-patient psychiatric care because even her suicide plan wasn’t specific enough. And maybe it’s true that we see girls like Maggie in stories from Mary Gaitskll and her acolytes, but O Fallen Angel is the first book that I’ve read that is some degree of diagnostic, that shows the reader how the girl got that way.

And maybe—like the therapist of Mommy’s fantasies—Zambreno’s narrator blames the Mommy, but Mommy’s story, albeit judgmentally, gets told, too, and so O Fallen Angel gives us an intergenerational story of women teaching girls how to accept oppression, how to self-oppress, and why.

O Fallen Angel is told in the form of a triptych, narrated closely in turns to Mommy, Maggie, and the god Malachi. Mommy’s sentences are long and smushed together, free of the constraints of commas and periods, often including rhyming folk-wisdoms and bits of Bible verses that seem to be Mommy’s only external reference points with which to make sense of the world, but for Mommy they are enough. Maggie’s references expand to include fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 50’s and 60’s, clearly inherited from Mommy, which have taught her to be prince-seeking; that the only way out of her Mommy’s American Dream is to latch her sense of self to a boy who looks like Marlon Brando and run to the other side of the proverbial tracks. Maggie’s also got what she’s learned from her brief stint as a psychology major. Maggie is drugging and slutting but she’s also reading desperately, reading in order to discover or assemble a self, but the thing is she’s too young and too sheltered; she hasn’t read enough to have left her hometown ideology behind for good, she hasn’t read enough enable her to know how to move around safely in Chicago, the city to which she’s relocated.

In 2012, maybe I hadn’t read enough, and I was reading desperately, self-seekingly, too, and I glossed over the cultural differences between Maggie’s family and my own, made the book into a book about me. But it’s 2017 now and I’ve gone through my Saturn return, and O Fallen Angel is being re-released on Harper Perennial in the very same month that Donald Trump has been inaugurated into the U.S. Presidency, and it feels like a different book. It’s no longer just a book for sad girls raised to be selfless dollies by controlling moms—it turns out to be a book about those 53% of white women voters so many of us were so shocked to learn about, and many others weren’t; a book about the constant and attentive labor those women do to uphold patriarchy and racism and corporate capitalism and anti-environmentalism as the True American Values, the constant and attentive labor they do in service of their own oppression. If the election had gone another way, the characters in this book might seem quaint, obscure, like a dying breed. Instead, the timing of O Fallen Angel’s re-release fuckedly transitions it from Sad Girl Cult Classic to Great American Novel in écriture féminine. In Mommy’s colliding sentences, we’re able to see how thoughtless associations and oft-repeated phrases and rhymes take the place of logic: Continue reading

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WEIRD SISTER Responds to the Women’s March

Millions of women marched in cities across the country this past Saturday. Many others chose not to participate, and/or were unable to attend for various reasons. We rounded up responses from Weird Sister’s contributors and community members on why we marched—or why we didn’t—what these marches say about feminism, and how to move forward from here.

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EVERYBODY WALKS IN LA

The trains pulling into the Lincoln Cypress stop on the LA Metro’s Gold Line were so full that no one could squeeze on. People teemed around the parking lot. We held space for friends in the ticket line and met someone’s mom. The platform was crowded, but the space between bodies felt stretchable, or collapsable, sky-activated. Clouds shed themselves at the edges, fat and shining—one blue morning parenthesized by days of rain. It’s a metaphor because that’s where description swerves, but the Trump administration just scrubbed climate change from the White House website, so I’m foregrounding the nonhuman now and forever, or as long as we last.

I.’s roommate popped out of nowhere, a first-time ever demonstrator who knows the city by bike and foot, so we hopped in his car and drove down San Fernando, past the river running high on its concrete banks, all that runoff whooshing out to sea because that’s channelization—sorry, drought—then parked in Chinatown, then walked. Tent kiosks lined Broadway on the way to Pershing square. Men from the organization Sikh Community served hot food. “We want to show who we are,” one of the men said. We ate hot garbanzo stew gratefully. We were hungry and it was delicious. Then we marched. To be a granule amongst granules, pivoting in unison now and then on the surge of a skyward cheer toward news helicopters, swarm without end, a headache running interference. We found our friends by their signs.

On our way out, we stopped on a freeway overpass on Hill Street, looking over a tent encampment. Over the Hollywood/Pasadena Freeway confluence, demonstrators waved more signs, everyone was taking a walk with language, or a drive. Solidarity honks dopplered up from the lanes. A block later, I asked I. if we could pause. “I’d like to regard this hole,” I said. Before us was a fenced construction site. Just a muddy foundation plus a couple tools for heavy digging. Behind us, the Pioneer Memorial. It used to be a fort, when California was part of Mexico. The history is fucked up, you should google it, but I’m over my wordcount. Now the commemorative panels show soldiers and families of European descent, like a commemoration to the minting of whiteness vis-a-vis Manifest Destiny. Around the monument walls interstitial weeds grew abundant, the kind of rare green you store up in sense memory for when the dry heat takes over again and rubs that kind of color out.

To parse what’s in front of me, I need to keep listening, reading, staying with, and so the other title of this protest document is Booting Up. After the protest, the protest kept happening online. A friend who is trans posted that the first thing he saw at the LA march was a group of cis women surrounding a trans woman, telling her to give the mic “to a real woman.” I understood, reading that, that the necessary math problem is multiplication not division. We have a chance to make a different kind of story about this historic resistance. I want my account to be inclusive, nuanced, fierce, loving, and allied, but/and I speak from where I’m standing, as a white person, cis-gendered, more or less. In New York, the artist Taeyoon Choi made posters in brushed ink, stating I stand with and then a long list. I’m riffing on his work when I say that at the next march, my sign will read: I stand with trans, indigenous, immigrant, brown, and black lives, against climate violence. I. said their sign would say, The future is non-binary. They borrowed the slogan from a Twitter friend.

Amanda K Davidson 

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Dark Continent Dubfeed: On Vidhu Aggarwal’s The Trouble with Humpadori

Vidhu Aggarwal The Trouble with Humpadori

The smashing spectacle of Bollywood, the feminine grotesque of Gurlesque mashed with the colors and sounds of sci-fi and fantasy comics—all these obsessions assemble in Vidhu Aggarwal’s electric debut poetry collection, The Trouble with Humpadori (The Great Indian Poetry Collective Press, 2016). Aggarwal’s poetic range includes text art, sound, video and live performance.  Aggarwal, both an artist and Professor of Postcolonial/Transnational Studies, surely embodies a new kind of artist-scholar. In her book, Aggarwal creates the interstellar character Humapadori (“Hump” for short) who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings, a medium sent down from the cosmos. Move over Ziggy Stardust. It’s time for Humpadori’s time to occupy the international stage.

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Using Your Feminist Superpower: An Interview with the Pussyhat Project

pussyhat project weird sister, feminist activism, craft, knitting

Pussyhat Project organizers drawing by Aurora Lady

I handed my two skeins of bright pink yarn over the counter at the demure yarn store outside of Freeport, Maine, “And I’d like a pair of size eight needles please,” I said. The woman working there looked at me as she rang me up, “I think I know what these are for,” she said, quietly, nodding with approval.

I smiled, “Yes.”

“Are you going to the… ?”

I nodded back, “Yes.”

“Are you scared?”

“No way.”

“Good for you, I’m so glad you are doing that. You are doing that for all of us.”

I felt I had been inducted into a not-so-secret underground society of knitters who were uniting to change the world, and in a way, we were because that’s exactly what the Pussyhat Project is. Specifically, it’s a Los Angeles-based project co-founded by two friends, screenwriter Krista Suh and architect Jayna Zwieman, who are joined by artist Aurora Lady. Simply put, the project encourages people of all genders to knit, crochet or sew pink cat (pussy) hats and share them with marchers headed to Washington D.C. on January 21st for the massive Women’s March that will highlight the importance of a diverse, vibrant feminist movement.

But the Pussyhat Project is so much more than knitting hats to make a bold visual statement: it’s an accessible and inviting way to build community, to open a dialogue about women’s rights, and to come together to share and heal post-election. In bringing people together to make and connect, it draws on a history of radical crafting and activist art. It also demonstrates to participants that they can engage in activism starting from where they are, and contributing skills they already have. In advance of the historic march in Washington (and the many sister marches around the country), I caught up with the Pussyhat Project organizers over email (they are busy ladies these days!) about the ideas, experiences, and philosophies guiding the project, and the power of feminist doing and making post-election.

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Power Suited: Feminist Fashion Nostalgia on Election Day

pantsuits as feminist fashion history
My mom told me a story recently about when she was a senior in high school in the Bronx, and there was a snowstorm during a transit strike the week she had her English Regents exam. She walked five miles to school in the snow and when she got there, a male teacher made a comment about her not being allowed to take her test because she was wearing pants instead of a skirt. My mom wasn’t permitted to wear pants to school until she was in college, and even then she usually didn’t because she went straight to work from school and was required to wear a skirt at her job. When she told me this, I’m embarrassed to say I was kind of shocked. I’m 34 years old, and my mother’s story reminds me that my own relationship to pants as a women’s clothing item is a privilege.

What did it mean for women to wear pantsuits on Election Day? “Pantsuit feminism” is a powerful concept in certain ways that my age may allow me to not think about—pantsuits, as an extension of pants worn by women in nonprofessional settings, are emblematic of women entering traditionally male professional spheres as men’s equals. Pantsuits were surely symbols of feminist progress for certain women. Women were, for example, barred from wearing pants on the Senate floor until 1993. Hillary Clinton was the first woman to wear trousers in an official First Lady portrait. The image of the pantsuit recalls for me the 80s “working women” of movies and TV shows like Working Girl and Designing Women—those satirized more recently in Amy Schumer’s hilarious comedy sketch “80s Ladies.” A woman poet friend of mine recently joked on Facebook that jeans are “modern-day corsets,” and that she prefers the comfort of leggings. We’ve come so far as women, in little ways like these that we don’t even realize. With a new year upon us, I’m afraid of where 2017 and beyond will bring us, or leave us behind.

“Pantsuit feminism,” empowering as it may be for some, of course prioritizes the concerns and experiences of certain privileged groups—white, cisgender, upper-class women like Hillary Clinton herself “leaning in” to climb to ranks of high-power jobs—and leaves behind many women of color, working class women, and other less privileged groups. Did wearing a pantsuit on Election Day mean pledging allegiance to this problematic strain of feminism?

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A New Year’s Comic for Loving and Fighting

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Love Doesn’t Save Anyone from Themselves: An Interview with Angeli Cabal

Angeli Cabal

I first encountered Angeli Cabal’s work as the co-editor-in-chief of {m}aganda Magazine. My staff and I were blown away by the pieces she submitted–poems critiquing colonialism, Western beauty standards, and the figure of the Filipino woman. I was stunned to see that in addition to being a poet, Cabal is also a visual artist and multi-genre writer who creates sleek, intricate, highly clever illustrations and incredibly heart-wrenching creative essays. In addition, Cabal has been a devoted fanfiction author since age 12 and has garnered an impressive online readership on Tumblr. In 2013, Cabal self-published her first chapbook, True Love and Other Myths, which sold out after the first printing. She went on to publish a second chapbook, The Anatomy of Closed Doors, joining the ranks of  poets and writers who use social media as their vehicle. Cabal’s work is raw, evocative, hands-on, and accessible. She joined me for a conversation where we discussed fanfiction, our immigrant parents, and which three fictional characters she would invite for a session of afternoon tea.

MV: I’m not sure if you’ve read this recent Buzzfeed article about women and fanfiction, but they argue that fanfiction is a central genre for women writers because it allows us to create narratives that are not available in everyday life. Why fanfiction? Why should we keep writing and reading fanfiction? What power does this form of creation give us?

AC: It’s been 14 years since I started writing fanfiction and I’ve never grown out of it. Fanfiction is so much more accessible for me because of world building. In fanfiction, you already have this world created for you so there’s less pressure and you can focus on the narratives you want to tell, particularly characters you want to transform and flesh out. When you have these characters presented to you and you see all the paths and avenues the author could have taken to make them more human, these are awesome opportunities to take. It is also such a supportive community, I can’t even read some of the stuff I wrote back then because it was so horrible but I get reviews that say, “Hey, this is really good, keep it up.” That was so important for me as a young writer because no one else knew I was writing fanfiction. It really encouraged me and is one of the reasons why I still write fanfiction today. Continue reading

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We’re Obsessed With: Astro Poets

Started by “actual living poets” Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov, the new Twitter account Astro Poets is everything anyone could ever want from the internet all in one 140-character space: astrology by poets for everyone.

For those who don’t know, I’m obsessed with both astrology and good writing which is why I can’t get enough of this account. Lasky and Dimitrov are funny, charming and masters of their form. The Twitterverse is so lucky to have these two and I am so lucky to have had a chance to ask them a few questions about their absolutely magical collaboration known as Astro Poets.

Astro Poets cross

Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov

 

Cathy de la Cruz: What made you start the Astro Poets Twitter account?

Dorothea Lasky: The account was started on a whim one night. Alex had put a poll on his Twitter asking his followers whether he should date a Taurus or a Virgo that night. I voted for Taurus and that prompted Alex to ask me if we should start an astrology Twitter account. I said yes and he put a poll up asking people if we should start one and lots of people voted that we should. So we did. We both agreed going into it that the largest goal was to bring people some laughs during what has been a bad year.

Alex Dimitrov: I think we’re both pretty funny people and also we both really get… how do I say this… human nature. We finally decided to share that in a more public way. I mean we both have so much going on in our lives, this is kind of a side project that speaks to the entertainers and prophets in us… but it might turn into other things!

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WE WERE THERE: Weird Sister at Art After Trump

Art After Trump Weird Sister

Last Thursday night, December 15th, Weird Sister joined Hyperallergic, Well-Read Black Girl, The Creative Independent, Lenny, VIDA, and many other arts organizations for ART AFTER TRUMP at Housing Works Bookstore. The night featured over 150 artists of all disciplines responding to the questions posed by the event organizers: “As an artist, how are you reacting to this uncertain future? What do you want to say or do?” Performances ranged from poems and essay excerpts to letters, speeches, and songs—you can listen to full audio from the event over on The Creative Independent. Below are the pieces that Weird Sister’s five performers—Merve Kayan, Christopher Soto/Loma, Naomi Extra, Cathy de la Cruz, and myself—shared that night:

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“In 1961, Fannie Lou Hamer went to the hospital to have a cyst removed and left with a hysterectomy. Forced hysterectomies on black and brown women were a common practice in Mississippi. One of many victims of gendered racial violence, Hamer’s body, as both woman and black was under siege by the state. Still, she fought. In 1963, Hamer and a fierce set of lesser known black women—June Johnson, Anelle Ponder, Dorothy Height—used their voices to fight against voter suppression and more broadly, the Trumps  of their time.

I refuse to think of Trump as a threat located in a single body. I resist this as a mode of organizing and as a political stance. As a black woman in America, I reject anti Trumpness as a galvanizing energy in fighting oppression. It is contrary to my lived experience. It is contrary to the political work of black women radicals like Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, and Ella Baker who fought against multiple forms of oppression. Who fought for women’s rights, labor rights, and civil rights. As a black feminist, I locate myself as part of a long history of fighting against the Trump-like terrors that have plagued poor people, women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color for centuries. Continue reading

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Rah! Rah! Roundup

rahrahroundupAll Oklahoma facilities licensed by state health officials that have public restrooms will be “required to post signs directing pregnant women to seek services other than abortions…It is unclear whether the signs are required to be posted in both male and female restrooms.”

There are so many reasons why we smuggle our desire, why we keep it hidden in secret compartments and rarely offer others a look, but primarily it comes down to fear. Fear of what someone else will think, fear that you won’t get what you are asking for, fear of humiliation, fear of giving someone leverage to hang over you, fear of actually getting what you desire.”

Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception.”

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