Why I Find the Riveter So Riveting

rosie

Serious question: Is there any icon cooler than Rosie the Riveter? Perhaps it’s the combining of jaunty, red head covering with serious pipes. It could be the knowing, confident look on her lovely face. Maybe it’s the reassuring can-do message that splashes across the bright yellow behind her. With just a flex of her bicep and a gleam in her eye, she tells all who look upon her “Don’t mess with me. I know how do use industrial equipment.” It’s really not difficult to see why she’s spoken to generations of women, called upon them tap into their inner power. I get it, and I like all this about her too.

But my admiration for Rosie goes deeper than this. Actually, admiration might be the wrong word.  Recognition might be more accurate. When I look at the amazing woman on the poster, I don’t just see everything I aspire to be. I see the family of “Rosies” with which I grew up. I won’t embarrass anyone in particular by naming names, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen an octogenarian family member break her arm while tossing around cement blocks. I’ve listened as someone explained how they spontaneously sledgehammered a wall because they wanted a bigger work space. There are tales of hardwood flooring being hammered into place by someone with a baby strapped to her back. The females of my clan squish their own spiders, throw their backs out shoving furniture from one room to another, and are quite happy in plaid flannel. I’m probably the biggest wimp in our corner of the gene pool, and I still swing a frickin’ hammer like Thor. If ever there was a bunch of females who exemplified the “human doing over human being” philosophy, it would be us.

Rosie the Riveter walks the walk. She isn’t interested in sitting around, making abstract plans or playing wait and see. The poster doesn’t say “We can talk about it.” or “We can dream, can’t we?” She’s all about action, decisiveness, and forward momentum. I’m biased because I was spawned by others of her ilk, but I think this sort of drive is declining in 21st century females. We talk about being independent, self-reliant, and capable, but there’s still a pretty substantial pay gap for us. We occupy a sad minority of positions of power. We’re always apologizing for taking charge and speaking our minds. We still steer our little girls away from anything that isn’t pink and frilly (steam escapes from my ears as I write this). There isn’t space in a blog post like this to go through the chicken-and-egg scenarios behind it all.

Decades ago, Rosie told us we could do it, and I don’t think she meant women exclusively either. I think it’s pretty clear that we haven’t done it. In fact, I think we un-did it.

I’m lucky that I had Rosies to look up to as I fumbled my way into womanhood. I could say that Rosiness is genetic, that the trailblazers in my family and the generations that will follow me have been and will be fueled by an inborn desire to accomplish things, that we’re just lucky that way. I’m not, however, willing to pull genetic determinism out as a cover. Whatever little Rosie spark makes the women in my family feel they need to chop wood, haul dirt around, and just generally git-r-done, I’m sure it’s in every human female. Rosie’s overalls are one-size-fits-all, the red in her polka-dotted kerchief a beautiful compliment to any face. The brilliant, vibrant, strong woman on the poster is right. We can do it- all of us can. What I want to know is, when will we?

 

 

An Editor’s Guide to Intolerance

crumpled paper

Leave it to sarcastic, satirical Broadway puppet productions to make complex issues seem less murky. Case in point: Avenue Q, specifically, the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” (see below). This number says a lot. We’re human beings. We’re (often) colossal jerks to one another. We say incredibly inappropriate things to one another, but as far as discrimination is concerned, maybe it’s preferable that we just fess up, get it all out on the table, and deal with it. Better out than in, as the saying goes.

I have to agree that we’re all a little bit racist (and sexist, classist, ableist, ageist…oh brother) and I’m also on board with the notion that holding it in and pretending it doesn’t exist serves no one. I do, however, think there’s another step to be taken in our efforts to be better human beings, and it can be described with an analogy (sorry, I’m a writer. It’s how we function).

Aspiring to be less of a racist jerk (or a prejudiced jerk, in general) is kind of like being a good editor. Editors, like everyone else, make grammar errors, spelling mistakes, and typos. Even after years of practice, digging into the inner workings of language, they still screw up from time to time, and things get missed. The difference is that they’ve developed a kind of instinct for recognizing screw-ups, a type of muscle memory, if you will. They not only spot their own mistakes, but they know how to fix them. They know why this verb doesn’t agree with this subject, why they need to use an adverb instead of an adjective, why it’s inappropriate to use slang in some situations. They know why it’s an error. It’s this constant diving into the why of it all that helps them to develop their editorial Spidey Sense in the first place.

I’m a human being, and every so often, stupid thoughts about other human beings ping-pong around in my head. Honestly, I don’t even believe these things are actually true. These thoughts are basically echoes of historical and cultural “bad grammar”, bits of misinformation or ignorance that I’ve heard often enough to have them lodge themselves into the dark corners of my brain. For some reason, they’ve been allowed to stay on the page when they should have been run through with a line of angry red pen. Every so often, probably more often than I’d like to admit, these nasty little “grammar errors” pop up again, messing up the nice, neat, enlightened narratives I’m trying to construct about life. They’re misplaced modifiers, verbs that don’t agree with their subjects, adjectives that should be adverbs. I get that they’re not logical, not supposed to be there. I know why they don’t fit. Moreover, I want what I put out into the universe to be right. I really do, from the bottom of my heart, want to do better.

In a sense, we’re all writing narratives like this, and the trick isn’t to hope we’ll never make mistakes, but rather to develop a sense that something about them just isn’t right, that they’re the result of sloppy thinking, fatigue, or frustration. If we hope to be less discriminatory, we need to start thinking like editors. No editor has ever written something of their own that was spotless and perfect, but they do force themselves go back and figure out why they’re making mistakes in the first place, why it needs to be this way instead of that way.

When it comes to catching discrimination, there is no “spell check” option. We can’t rely on mechanical, one-size-fits-all solutions. Every form of discrimination has its own ethos, it’s own aesthetic, it’s own history and evolution, as does every individual who willfully perpetuates it.  Every story has to be edited as a living thing, by another living thing. Even the most enlightened, tolerant, free-thinking soul will spend his or her entire existence going over their worldview with a fine-tooth comb, looking for slip-ups. The style guide with which they edit will change over time.

You’ve had the sensation of looking at a word or a phrase you’ve written and thinking “What am I missing? Why doesn’t that seem as it should?” The fact that you’ve had alarms go off is good, right? What do you do next? You take another look, show it to someone else, look it up, try writing it another way. You do this enough times, and it becomes instinct, at least the drive to look at it again, to revise, becomes instinct. Most importantly, you know you want to do it properly, to fix what’s askew. When you want to be less racist, sexist, any-ist, you do the same thing. You accept that the mistakes will be there, and the only crime is in not wanting to catch them.

You heard it from your grade 9 English teacher, and now you’re hearing it again: In writing, and in the pursuit of being a better human being, you need to proofread. We all do.

 

 

Addicted to Asides: How I Am Just Like Deadpool

shadows

If the walls had eyes, and people could see what I’m like when (I think) no one is looking, they’d be surprised. As I go about my daily business, whether it’s answering emails, writing copy, or loading up the washing machine, or driving, I’m never alone. No, I don’t see dead people. There are no fairies and elves who dwell beneath my furniture. I don’t invite door-to-door solicitors in just to keep me company. I am, however, engaged in a perpetual conversation, even when no one else is there. I talk to myself- a lot. Most of the time, it’s out loud (I must look a sight as I walk the dog, or when I’m in the car at a stoplight), but I don’t even have to move my lips or make a sound in order for this to happen.  I’m engaged in a constant dialogue, ping ponging ideas back and forth, weighing options, trying to anticipate how people will react when the conversation goes outside of my head.

Now that I think about it, it’s kind of like that opening sequence in “Deadpool”, you know, where he’s sitting on the bridge, Salt-N-Pepa blasting, doodling cute but sarcastic scenes, absolutely no fourth wall…yeah, that’s me. I just don’t wear a rubber suit or unleash fiery wrath upon my enemies, not most days, anyway.

According to my mother, I’ve always been this way. When I was too little to have an inner monologue, I chatted with any inanimate object I could find. Spoons and forks, small pebbles, cardboard tubes- they all became part of the discussion. As I got older, I would mentally rewrite endings to my favourite stories or television shows when I got nervous or couldn’t sleep, narrating on behalf of the characters. In the midst of my turbulent teenage years, I rehearsed in advance how I would react to my peers, anticipating how they might react to me, how I hoped they would react to me. Apparently one never outgrows this sort of thing, and apparently it’s hereditary. Now that I’m a parent, I overhear tiny diatribes from the playroom, and then after bedtime, I continue with my own.

It’s not for comfort or company, but rather because I can’t mentally process much unless I put it past the invisible Greek chorus that follows me around 24-7. If I’m awake (and maybe when I’m asleep), I’m in a heated discussion with hypothetical “others”, some of whom agree with me, and some of whom play devil’s advocate. It’s like I have a built-in fanfic generator for real life, one that allows me to run through a series of what-ifs at any given moment.

They say that when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail, and it could be that when you’re a storyteller, everything is a “once upon a time.” Maybe real life and real people are just complex and perplexing enough that I need a trial run in order to deal with them effectively, to get the words out the way I really want them to come out. Perhaps I’m just what some refer to as a verbal learner, one with an overactive imagination. I never did have an imaginary friend as a kid. Evidently, I didn’t need one. I had myself, and unlike an imaginary friend, there was no need to get rid of myself as I grew older.

And yes, in case you were wondering, I’m going to chat with myself about this post at least two or three times before I hit publish.