Herland – What Makes a Woman?

Warning – Here Be Spoilers!

This book has been around for about a century, and there’s a good chance you were assigned to read it anyway. “Herland” does not have any Shyamalan-like twists, so reading this review will not mar the experience for you if you haven’t read it. In fact, it might help prepare you for a few random… let’s call them Speed Bumps Of Problematicalness (or SBOP).

I did not do a lot of research on this book. I knew of author Charlotte Perkins Gilman mainly from her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which I found Poe-like in its ability to convey the horrific claustrophobia (and gas-lighting! whee!!) of its setting in clear prose. It was one of the first stories with that particular thread of horror that spoke to me, with a specific accurate viewpoint from the feminine experience.

This book is not a horror. It begins as a gentle satire of the colonialist narrative, told in first-person by a member of a three man exploration team from America who have just learned that a mythical land of women is in fact a reality. Humor and enlightenment are derived from the men and women trying to explain their cultures to each other.

First off, within about three pages I was unable to un-see this as a Star Trek away mission, with Jeff, a “Southern Gentleman” who views womankind on a pedestal as “Bones” McCoy, Terry, a hot-headed womanizer as Kirk, and Van, our narrator who believes he is the most unbiased and logical, as Spock. I found this to be an enjoyable way to read the story, and I would encourage anyone else similarly afflicted with fan-fic brain hamsters to do the same. It sure helped when I ran into some of those SBOPs, and I could conveniently blame them on Gene Roddenberry.

The Away Team are quickly captured by the women, and held in gentle captivity while a group of elders learn how turn of the century American society works. The men are more than willing to tout the wonders of mid-stage capitalism, proud of their masculinity and drive, while Van realizes with each boast that “our” society is much less advanced than Herland’s.

We never learn what the women call their own utopia, but the men refer to it as “Herland”. The women have a society going back about 2000 years, when a patriarchal system, wars and natural disasters convened and geographically cut them off from neighboring countries. The men all died off and the population began to dwindle, until one ur-mother produced five daughters via parthenogenesis. Each of these  five daughters bore five more daughters and so on, until the place was quite well populated. Rather than struggle, conflict and competition which the Americans believe makes their society superior, the women of Herland work cooperatively in a socialist Utopia.

Reproduction happens when a woman really, really wishes for it. As it is explained, the land could not support a five-fold increase with each generation, so at a certain point, the women agreed to only have one child, for the good of the community. Those who had “unsuitable” qualities, such as being quarrelsome or otherwise bad were forbidden by the state to reproduce. Eventually, they voluntarily took themselves out of the gene pool.

Sooo… you can see where these SBOPs start showing up. While the faults of post-Victorian society are well-explored, Herland is always presented by the narrative as a clearly superior Utopia. And yet there is a thread of eugenics (a popular, even respectable idea in the early years of the 20th century) woven through this story that made me deeply uncomfortable. The women are described as “Aryan”, with none of them darker than a tan white lady. They refer to the people in neighboring lands as “savages”.

Attempting to ignore the racism, I was still looking forward to how a matriarchal society would differ from the Victorian motherhood ideal exemplified in this article (go ahead and click through – I’ll still be here when you’re done) http://pictorial.jezebel.com/child-free-and-loving-it-a-turn-of-the-century-look-at-1794004492 Unfortunately, Herland seems to suffer the same narrow view of femininity as turn of the century US.

Herland denizens define gender by parental status; women are Mothers, men are Fathers. Even in references to non-human animals, they use Mother or Father where Female or Male would otherwise be used. The idea that a woman in Herland would not want to have children is not even countenanced. Every women wants to be a mother (unless they are so aberrant that they self-eugenicize) and that is each woman’s highest purpose. That the raising of the children older than one year is held in common seems to generate a lot of debate in the book, as if Gilman was trying to convince the reader that pre-school or daycare was not so radical an idea. However, I remained much more disturbed by the exaltation of Maternity Above All that was continuously praised throughout. I felt quite judged by an author who had been dead decades before I was born.

The next SBOP that I tripped appeared when the men were released from captivity and allowed to be selected by women as mates. Our hero, Van, spends so much time attempting to convince his partner, Ellador, that sex was a positive thing (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what he was referring to, with all the florid language about “the highest form of love”, and whatnot) and then learning to enjoy a celibate marriage as diverting and even exhilarating, and that also made me uncomfortable. Far be it for me, a contented asexual lady, to knock celibacy as some kind of prison, but as I recall, sex was pretty much its own reward, even moreso if you believe pregnancy and motherhood is the literal best thing that could happen to you. All the “convincing” started to sound like coersion, like you don’t expect women to actually enjoy the act, but c’mon, it’s how we demonstrate love!  it won’t hurt at all, just lie back and think of Herland (I’m paraphrasing). As much as such entreaties indicate Van really wouldn’t know about a woman’s pleasure, Ellador is not unique in her lack of sexual desire. There is no lesbianism in Herland, not because Gilman would never have been published by suggesting such things, but because the women never experience sexual desire. I don’t want to get crude, but assuming we are all the same species with the same anatomy, I find this as difficult to believe as reproduction via parthenogenesis.

By the end, Terry (the Kirk) attempts to rape his partner, which is rather satisfyingly put down by a group of women, and is expelled from Herland. Jeff/McCoy stays in Herland, having settled happy and with a pregnant wife. Spock and Ellador join Kirk in exile, and I understand there is a sequel called “Ourland”, which will follow Ellador and Van’s relationship. I can’t say I’m super-psyched to continue the story, but I’m glad I read this. The writing was charming, and the central frame-work of the story – that of the civilized White Man bringing “enlightenment” to benighted savages, and being shown his own ass in the process – was amusing and reminded me of a family legend that Our People in Samoa are responsible for some of the more specious observations Margaret Mead made, because they were messing with her. As someone who comes from a long line of sarcastic folks with a problem with authority, I have to say on this point I heartily approve of Gilman’s perspective. So maybe rather than reading the sequel, I’ll re-write it as my very own, doubly derivative Star-Trek/Gilmanverse fic, with childfree women, asexual men, and lesbianism for everyone!

Next Up: Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”.

Vox Femina Read-a-thon Ahoy!

Greetings, Vox supporters!

 

As part of the Vox Femina Song Cycle, I am reading five gynocentric Speculative Fiction books and reviewing them here. A few notes before I post my first review:

I am not listing these books as feminist, although I will be viewing them – as I view everything – through a feminist lens. Not all authors may be comfortable referring to themselves as feminists, some may feel that womanist is a better descriptor, some may be uncomfortable with labels at all. (n.b. to any feminist who bristles at the term “womanist” – please google. Many WOC feel that traditional feminism as it has been practiced does not address the needs of WOC.)

So what makes these choices Gynocentric? I looked for books by women, with main characters who are women. Inasmuch as I only had five choices, I tried to make intersectional choices; books by WOC, LGBT and other under-represented voices. With one exception, I did not go with “Important Feminist SF Literature” titles that often books that were extremely relevant and prescient a few decades ago did not age well. I understand contextualizing a piece of literature within the era it was written, but I read SF for entertainment and escape. Reading something that I constantly have to contextualize is academic, not leisure, work. While I may go back to some of the Important works, this is not the place for it. Also, there are a couple of really awesome books that I am leaving out (Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Jemisin’s Fifth Season and Smith’s Orleans) that I super highly recommend, but am omitting because I’ve already read them.

Up tomorrow: A review of the most “important” of the gynocentric SF books – “Herland”! Did I enjoy it? Yes! Did I want to go back in time just to give Charlotte Perkins Gilman the epic side-eye? You’re damn skippy!

This is not the post I came here to write

In Southern California there is the phenomenon of June Gloom, which is often preceded by May Gray. This happens right after the most glorious months in the SoCal calendar; the temperate breeze, the distant sun coaxing out the riotous jasmine, hibiscus, magnolia, citrus blossoms (which never seem to have a dormant season, truth be told) and my favorite – the odorless, pestilentially messy jacaranda. After 14 years here, this proliferation of colors and scents serves as a reminder that soon will be the roasting season. The beauty of the springtime changes anticipation to omen -presaging months – often extending through Thanksgiving – of feeling like a lizard baking on a rock every time the sweet respite of the blessed Central Air (praise be unto Mr. Carrier and all his issue) is abandoned, not quite mitigated by the knowledge that there’s not enough water here to sustain mosquitoes.

But every year I forget about May Gray. And June Gloom. When the winds off the ocean hit the breezes from the land in a way that I’ve never bothered to understand as closely as I knew the mechanics of the dreaded tornado when I was a midwesterner. The Gloom and the Gray aren’t a threat to life and limb. The foggy marine layer keeps Los Angeles implausibly cool. The sun isn’t as bright for as many hours a day, for one thing. It insulates us from the worst of it, in the morning at least. And in the evening, the thick batting of clouds seems to quieten the streets, even as it diffuses the light pollution of the sprawling city, blurring the glare of the moon and blotting out the stars, lending the atmosphere a surreal glow.

When I look out the window I can see the spindly Mexican fan palms, nearly a century old, silhouetted against the faux-twilight of the Gray (or Gloom, depending on the time-stamp of this post) making my neighborhood a panaromic Dr. Seuss illustration. There is something gently ominous about this muffled glowing – something that marks this time, this place, as slip-stream. Interstitial. Neither spring, nor summer. Hovering in a holding pattern.

Maybe that’s how I’ve felt for a few months. Quiescent, yet wobbly. Like a jostled flan, or a jiggled silicone implant. I’m trapped in amber at work, with a job going nowhere but probably eventually disappearing. Every day at my desk feeling less confident about the skills I may have gained, which of course, makes it more difficult to try to find another position. And the gentle muffling of the Gloom (or the Gray) settles on me and says it doesn’t matter. It’s fine. Just keep going and cash your paychecks/observe your direct deposit until they tell you not to do it anymore.

And 14 years. I can hardly believe it myself. This is the longest I’ve ever lived somewhere, makng LA as much of a “hometown” as anywhere else ever was. But this Gloom and Gray… it reminds me of my favorite liturgical season (what, you don’t have a favorite liturgical season? That’s OK. I won’t tell anyone) which is Advent. Not Christmas. Not Lent (I know a surprising number of overly-penitent masochists who claim Lent is their favorite season. I think they’re just trying to show off). But the time of anticipation of a big change happening. I speak in the passive voice, which I suppose should concern me. But right now, at the moment, I’m wondering if LA is where I should be. Or if it’s fine that I’m here now, but in a few years, I should be somewhere else.

But I am ill-suited to big changes. I will be here, unable to choose what book to read next, listening to the hold music of the universe, and watching as the neon charcoal sky holds the city together for one more night.

Another Warped Member Of The Star Wars Generation

OK, I saw the new Star Wars movie and there will be spoilers in the comments, so feel free to join me to discuss – but this main post is going to be a brief spoiler-free review.

As I have stated elsewhere, I simply cannot be objective about this film because I imprinted on the original trilogy like a baby duck. I saw the first Star Wars during a re-release before Empire came out. Yes, children, in the days before my job in Home Entertainment was possible, movies could only be seen in movie theatres, and when a sequel came out, smart studios would re-release the earlier ones so people could catch up. At five I was maybe a skosh too young for the original 1977 release, but I know my parents saw it and enjoyed it and thought I would be old enough at around eight to enjoy Empire, so they took me to both those movies in relatively quick succession. I was hooked – and I do not use that as hyperbole. My addiction led all the way down the dark path of breaking and entering.

My parents had these friends – the McCunes – who had no children, but a couple of sweet dogs. They liked to borrow me to “dog-sit” (they were trying to decide if/when they wanted children and I was AN ANGEL so my parents farmed me out to convince them. Not kidding.) and they had an extensive library which I was allowed to pick anything out of to read. At first it was Donald Duck comics, and then I found the Star Wars comic and then… the movie tie-in. Again, in the Long-Long-Ago, before your Beta-maxes and your streaming videos and your binge watching, when a movie was out of the theater it was gone. Your only option to re-live the experience was tie-in novelizations. This was after Empire came out so I was maybe around nine, and I would go hang out at their house with their beagle and cocker spaniel and read through those tie-ins non-stop. Then I would put them back on the shelf and go home. I wasn’t sure I could ask to borrow them. It seemed like an imposition, so I just made arrangements to come back the next day. At some point in the week I finished the first one, and started in on Empire. I was still on Hoth by the time the street lights started coming on, so I left. Both of the McCune’s would be out of the house the next day, so I wouldn’t be able to come over. I figured that would be fine. I had lots of books at home, and even toys such as the genius (would someone please scale these up for fat adults?) Sit ‘n Spin, a kewl bike with a banana seat AND one of those giant wire spools that you could pretend was a table for tea-time, conference furniture for galactic negotiation, part of a circus act or a tie-fighter (best toy made out of garbage ever). I would be fine. Only about halfway through the day I was not fine. I had sat and spun til I was dizzy – several times. I had stood on the sideways wire spool and log-rolled it into the sunflowers against the back fence. I got on my bike and decided to ride around, and where did I end up but the McCune’s house. Huh. That was interesting. I knew they weren’t home. But I really, really wanted to finish Empire. Or at least get off Hoth, which as an all-white snow-scape of a planet, was not the most dynamic setting to imagine. Hmmm. What to do?

The answer, obviously, was to go into their back-yard, climb into the window-well (after checking for black widows) and crawl through the basement window to retrieve the book. Which, after greeting Jenny (the beagle) and Curly (the cocker spaniel) with the customary pettings and a verse of their theme song, also co-incidentally set to the tune of the main them in John Williams SW score, is exactly what I did. Later when my dad got home, asked absently where I got the book and learned that it was through cat burglary, he demanded I give it back with an apology. Which I did, reluctantly, after making sure I had finished the book. That weekend we went to B. Dalton and my parents bought me my first ever non-YA chapter books, right from the grown-up, sci-fi section of the bookstore. I read through SW and TESB again that week. And that ended my brief foray into crime.

So. Enough of that particular nostalgia.

About this new movie.

Did you see the original trilogy before you were 16? Did you like it? Are you going to piss and moan about Ewoks because you want everyone to know you are SO KEWL and hate all that ewok stuff because you are a SOPHISTICATED HIGH-CLASS ADULT who has no problem with green muppets speaking with Germanic syntax at all because that is fine, but FUCKING EWOKS AMIRITE? (ok, ewoks have nothing to do with this movie, but the amount of random yelling I hear from people my generation insisting that the prequels suck, but the original trilogy is the most brilliant thing on two legs EXCEPT for those gay ewoks makes me roll my eyes. I have opinions about ewoks, OK?)

If you loved the original trilogy, and especially if you were a young person when they came out, you will enjoy this movie. A lot.

I’m not going to go through any plot points (I may in the spoiler comments) but a few things to note:

This movie is a broad adventure.

The Universe is a big, diverse place full of wonder.

Ordinary people begin to realize they may have extraordinary destinies.

There are cool ships and droids, all of which look like they have some years on them.

This is a David vs. Goliath story, and we always want to root for the underdog.

There is some humor in this universe, but not potty humor or winking irony.

The “legacy” cast are not there in cheesy cameos, nor are they used in a defensive “See fans? Look, they are passing the baton, Are you happy now?” way (I had Issues with the way Kirk was integrated into the first ST:TNG film). They are even more than important to the plot; they are part of the story. The movie could not exist without them.

The new cast are not shoe-horned in or the sake of symmetry. They are resourceful and cowardly and funny and heartbreaking like real people. Their actions make sense. They are likeable.

That said, I will issue a caveat or two.

The first is important – remember the original trilogy, for all its “homages” to westerns, the 7 Samurai, etc (Lucas was nothing if not the 1970’s version of Quentin Tarantino) was essentially the Hero’s Journey. It’s a very familiar template. I think my favorite way to look at it was suggested by a medievalist who claimed Star Wars was an Arthurian Romance. The stories in the original trilogy – especially the first and third – were parallel by design. This film follows in those footsteps. Much of Abrams’ failure with Star Trek was rooted in the fact he didn’t understand that’s not how the Star Trek universe works, that you can’t throw mythic parallels and “homage” in without just looking like a lazy fan-fic writer because that was never a trope in ST. Conversely, it does work – it is designed to work – in Star Wars

A friend tells me Alan Dean Foster will be handling the novelization of this film as well. I think I may just pick up a movie tie-in novel to tide me over before the inevitable home entertainment onslaught. I will even pay for it with my own money, which is good, because there is no way I’m going to fit through a basement window anymore.

Collectibles vs. Merchandise

To all the adult geeks who are upset that they went to a midnight shopping frenzy and still couldn’t get their mitts on some sweet Star Wars swag – let me tell you a story…

Back in the late 90’s De and I were both living in Wisconsin, underpaid, under-appreciated, depressed and miserable. Ep 1 had been hyped for awhile and as many in my generation, we were greatly anticipating the return of our childhood favorite. Imagine it – a new Star Wars!!! And with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson? Be still my nerdly heart. So when ToysRUs announced they’d be opening their doors at midnight for the new action figures, both of us were in line by 9pm.

It wasn’t just pure nostalgia (or in my case, that my family never had money to buy me those action figures the first time around) that brought us there; there’s something called the “lipstick index” that theorizes that in a recession, women buy more lipstick because it’s a relatively cheap pick-me-up. New color, new makeup, new possibilities. Like a scratcher card that gives you a few minutes to imagine what you would do with all that money before you’ve scratched off all the gunk to reveal nothing in particular. For us, it was little pieces of Star Wars branded plastic, with characters and spaceships we had only seen in trailers or stills on the web. So we went. And we bought crap, some of it with a “one to take out and play with, one to collect” ethos. And in the intervening months, we’d pick up a little Darth Maul spin pop or Amidala change purse or Yoda pez dispenser every time we stopped in at Target, or the grocery store.

Eventually we moved across the country, and I divested myself of many action figures. When we moved from our apartment in Studio City to Hollywood, I pretty much got rid of anything that wasn’t 1/12 scale, and by the time we moved from Hollywood to where we are now, everything went. As an archivist, De held on to her stuff for much longer, but ran into a bit of a problem when she developed a collection policy of only high end stuff and went to deaccession her Mint-In-Box figures and toys; No one would buy them as collectibles, and even the second hand places out here wouldn’t take them as donations – something about liability if there had been a recall.

I can’t fault the critical reception of the pre-quels with the tanking of the SW collectibles market. The merch was there as part of a marketing effort and as money-makers in their own right. They weren’t “over produced” – they made Lucasfilm and approved licensees a metric crap-ton of money. That’s what merchandise is for. I don’t regret the couple of hundred bucks I spent $6 at a time – it brightened an otherwise dismal day. Nor do I regret the two Star Wars Celebration conventions I attended. They were nice vacations with geeks just like me. But it kind of makes me sad to see so many adults grab toys from a movie they haven’t even seen yet and then take to social media to complain and whine that they couldn’t get the cool stuff. Does anyone think any of the swag they release at ToysRUs or Target or Walmart will ever be worth more than what they paid for it? Do they understand they have been used as part of Disney’s powerful marketing machine? (hell, do they get that SDCC Hall H programming is nothing but corporate PR bullshit?). I hope people are at least taking them out of their packages and playing with them, posing them in their cubicles, making dioramas, whatever.

I hate to spend my time shouting at clouds, but if people would spend less time complaining about not being able to enrich giant corporations and more time just playing with toys, I wouldn’t have to.

But Dilbert is such a cliche…

Hanlon’s Law states that you should never attribute to malice that which can be explained by mere incompetence, but I’d tack on an addendum to say If you’ve left your employees wondering whether “ironic” or “dystopian” is the correct way to describe your corporate event, it may not have fulfilled it’s promise of “team building”.

Let me be honest here: I hate “team building”. Shock. Horror. I know. Who’da thunk a cynical introvert from an early age, who lacked any modicum of school spirit, hid in supply closets during recess so she could read some more of the encyclopedia, avoids any and all attempts at Class Reunions, and would rather eat ground glass than participate in a team sport would possibly be made uncomfortable by corporate rah-rah activities? Well, I am. And I will be the first to admit that many people don’t share my disdain for these outings. Just as I have no problem with public speaking or karaoke, which give many people the whirling fantods, I will allow that variety makes the world go ’round. However…

I’ll back up a little here and try not to type anything actionable while I give a little context. About a year ago a series of poor upper management decisions were put in motion, decisions that put a strain on our already-dysfunctional workplace. The chiefest among these were the acquisition of 3rd parties with no cleansed data and no requirements put on those third parties, the lion’s share of the work falling to my little corner of the department, and then the insultingly wrong decision to outsource my little corner of the department and fire most of us. Soon after those decisions were made, there was a rather drastic change in management. After having been in meetings with a sort of middley-upper manager, as well as a satisfyingly awkward conversation with the new Head of the Division, I am willing to take at face value their insistence that there’s no “chain of command” bullshit, that going forward acquisitions would be dealt with with more care. However, middle management has been middle managing in the same dysfunctional way.

The dysfunction hasn’t gone unnoticed by upper management, and they decided that the best way to deal with that would be an “away day” of brain-storming and team-building. We were given a tap card so that we could use public transit to get us to the off-site location at Hollywood and Vine, which happened to be about halfway between my apartment and work. Accordingly, I did not waste my gas driving to work and driving home, just made use of my keen public transit knowledge gained from the Dark Time when I didn’t own a car. I got there sweaty and feeling like I needed a do-over on my shower, as is customary for public transit. The first thing I noticed was that there were place cards on the various tables. Also, there was fairly loud music. Despite the fact that my manager and director were at my table, I spent most of the time waiting for the event to begin either scrolling through my phone or reading a book. Which was pretty much what everyone else at my table did. My manager joked that this was the first test of the team-building, which I didn’t doubt for a second.

By the time the event got started, I was ready to be lectured at. There was an activity (of course): we were divided into three groups and each table was given some puzzle pieces. An elaborate system was devised to slow down the creation of the puzzle, and we were timed. Naturally we were set up to fail – a puzzle piece was missing from each team, and the “game” devolved into full contact Aussie Rules Football as people from other groups tried to “steal” pieces or keep the pieces from being stolen. A few of us stepped back (all credit to the dude on my team whose first instinct was to draw a picture of the missing piece though – it’s a shame his creative impulse was mooted by the screeching howler monkeys and their thievery), unwilling to get involved in such a violent fray. When we were done, the leader of the object lesson told us all how we failed and spent the next 45 minutes or so explaining how we could all work more efficiently together. Which was nice. I’m not even being sarcastic here – it was a nice sentiment. The handouts she brought backed up her statements about co-operation vs. collaboration. I would love to implement all the steps it would take to engender a fully collaborative work environment. But here’s the thing – I am but a cog in a vast machine. Most of us in the chairs were not middle management. We don’t set the tone. Putting the onus of un-fucking a dysfunctional environment on the lowest folks on the totem pole (and then blaming them for not being team players when things inevitably go south) is pretty damn gormless. The game was dominated by a bunch of hyper-competitive pushy people because the division is dominated by them. On the other side of the table are the quieter, more cautious analytical types. Both types of employee are necessary, but only one type is rewarded. If the changes don’t come from the top, no amount of hands-on demonstrations or power point presentations are going to fix the corporate culture from below.

But that wasn’t the worst the day had to offer. After a light lunch, we were shuffled off to new assigned seats and treated to some amateur theatrics when a few people dressed like funeral directors burst into the room and gave us a new assignment. Through the medium of corny murder mystery dinner theatre, it was brought to our attention that someone had “kidnapped” our division head. Our assignment was to find “the boss” (responsible for the alleged abduction) and find out where our division head was being held. How were we going to do that? With a few phone apps, a camera, and some helpful confederates lurking around the block. Did I mention we were at Hollywood and Vine? I used to live in that neighborhood. It is not a great idea to go talking to random people on the street there. Also, it was about a million degrees and I had not brought sun-block.

Now if you were trying to punish me for some heinous misdeed, this would be a great template – make me interrogate strangers under the full hateful strength of the sun. We were given a password (“Elvis”) and sent on our way. Most of the awfulness of this endeavor is best left as an exercise to the reader. I will note that myself and one or two others on my team were exceptionally good at observation. I was the only one who could accurately ascertain which rando’s were part of the game (“… no, the hollywood star tour flyer guy is not one of the actors – he’s got dingy underwear coming out of his pants. No one is that method.”) and I did think to google the riddles they gave us as clues, so I wasn’t completely useless. Also, at one of the three bars we had to go into, my cynical mien (and the fact that I couldn’t fit in the corner of the dive bar to interrogate the actor within) offered me some entertainment, when a barfly straight out of central casting asked if I was part of this “work release or some kind of community service?” I shook my head and said “Almost; corporate team-building.” He nodded and told me he used to be in Sales, and they did this every year or so – the difference was that their performance during the team-building event directly affected their accounts. We bitched a bit more and he bought me a second cuba libre (the sympathtic person in charge of my team bought my first), which I sadly had to bolt as my team members had wrung the requisite information out of their quarry.

About halfway through the exercise we were given a packet informing us there might be a mole on the team, and we were to find the mole for x amount of points. If we guessed wrong, we would lose that many points. Now I looked around at my team and I could tell there was no mole. No one was trying mis-direct us (in fact, I probably wound up with the best team possible under the circumstances, as most of us were vaguely embarrassed to participate), no one was behaving suspiciously. My years of acting training somehow never made me a more than adequate actor, but I am super-awesome at seeing when someone’s acting, and no one on my team was doing that (OK, the supposed informants were, quite obviously)… but – I did identify a different team’s mole. And one of my team-mates identified yet another team’s mole. I told you we were good at observation. But that didn’t help us. At one point, two of my team-mates decided I MUST be the mole and demanded to search my purse. I rolled my eyes and made sure the pocket with all the maxi-pads in it was the first they got to. Even after the folder was turned in for the final scoring (they listed the other team’s moles. we got no points for that, which I feel was unfair) someone still asked me. I guess apathy is suspicious? (FTR, our team’s assigned mole was absent that day, so I was entirely vindicated.)

We didn’t do as poorly as I had thought – we were ranked about halfway in – but as they went through scoring system and attempted to explain how each task somehow related to work, I had to wonder if the sowing the seeds of suspicion and discord wasn’t really the point of the whole exercise. I mean, it sure seemed like it. And it was one more activity that reinforced the dysfunctions of the workplace – be extroverted, forget caution and safety, and be suspicious of your co-workers. Got it.

So the next time I’m required to do one of these things, I will give it a try, but if I had to do it again, I’d probably feign (or induce) gastro-intestinal distress after lunch and spend the afternoon catching up on the data analysis that makes up most of my work.

On The Death of The Mall

Against my better judgment, I went to a mall on Sunday rather than just ordering the thing I needed on line. What can I say – sometimes I like to receive my goods and/or services a moment after I pay for them. That’ll teach me.

While I was already in the hellmouth, I figured I may as well check the department stores for a few odds and ends in apparel. This is always an extra challenge for the over 50% of consumers who are my size or larger. I had to remember which stores had my size at the end of the women’s wear labyrinth usually next to the Petites department in what I like to call “the freak show sizes”, and which one crammed them between housewares and baby clothes. The quest ended as it often does in disappointment. Everything was vile. I’m not exaggerating. Ugly colors, unflattering cuts, lousy quality and the worst fabrics. Even if I were inclined to wear disgustingly floppy, shapeless peasant tops, I have no idea why I would wear them out of synthetic diaphanous fabric which require a second layer of clothing just to be work/eyesight appropriate. On a scale of 1-10, my odds of wearing pure Poly-fucking-ester in LA in the summer are roughly -738. For once, the skinny person section was just as horrid as the fatties. Which I know because despite the fact that I was there as soon as they opened, the fat lady racks were full of mis-filed clothing. Maternity wear, juniors size L and XL, even a few men’s things were scattered amongst the 2Xs. Finding absolutely nothing I would be seen in public in (and those of you who know me know exactly how low that bar is) I stopped in the size-agnostic purse department to look for a clutch for a dressy event, and every one I liked had its price tag torn off it with no sku in sight.

Once out of the department stores (one of which puts the fat lady section – and yes, more than 50% of consumers wear those sizes – wedged between housewares and baby clothes) I considered visiting the hundreds of other shops littered about. Out of 49 women’s apparel stores, only ONE (1) has clothing in my size. I was in the mood to buy an obscenely overpriced Star Wars or Wonder Woman t-shirt ($35, ladies and gents. welcome to the fat tax) but even that store had only smaller and larger SW/WW shirts (to be fair, I could have purchased a Disney one if I were a half a generation younger). Even Clarks, the go-to place for thrill-free utilitarian shoes in an array of widths, is no longer carrying the wide widths in the store. “We can order them for you!” they offered. Thanks. So can I. Why would I bother to park my car in this abomination just so you can work the internet in my stead?

And to top it all off, in the end I wound up purchasing my second choice of color on the thing I originally went in for because while the internet showed the goods in black, brown/black, pink, purple and aqua, the store actually had a half a wall of that hideous color your never sure is brown (or was it black?) and pink. Which. Well, it’ll match fine. And I already used the gas and parked and all that hassle. I just really wanted the purple.

But that’s OK, because I won’t make that mistake again.

So, brick and mortar stores – are you worried you’re going out of business because of the internet? No. You’re going out of business because you refuse to do the things the internet can’t do: let me try stuff on to make sure it fits, provide decent customer service and a relatively non-chaotic shopping experience. Shit you were somehow able to do before internet shopping became the norm. You could have had literally half the paycheck burning a hole in my pocket. Instead, all you’ll get from me is a gleeful cackle for every article I read prognosticating your doom.