in recent years


ready player one by ernest cline

Ready Player One was okay but also awful! And I kind of have a WHOLE BUNCH to say about it! Spoilers! » more: ready player one by ernest cline

nineteen years of hole’s live through this

Live Through this was released on April 12, 1994. I was nine years old and just about to finish out third grade at a new school. I was tall for my age, fat, smart, and already just a little bit angry at the world around me. I’d started my school year at a brand new school and my big sister had just moved out of our house. I was just starting to become someone and music was the thing — the thing I loved first, the thing I loved before books or movies or television — that was helping to make that person.

Nineteen years later, I am twenty-eight years old and just about to finish up my first year in a new state. I’m no longer tall for my age, but I am still fat and smart(ish). Music is still the first thing I ever really loved, but I’m in a serious relationship with television at the moment. My idea of what “someone” is has changed dramatically and I’m okay with how I turned out most days.

Nine years old seems insanely young to me now, impossibly young — too young for Hole probably, too young for anything, honestly. But I grew up with wonderful, involved but permissive parents and KROQ and the Los Angeles alt-radio culture of the mid-90s, so young or not, I first found my footing as a human being in Green Day and Candlebox and Nirvana and Tori Amos and The Offspring and Alanis Morrissette and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. And Hole.

I remember standing in my bedroom screaming into the handle of a sponge mop to every single song on Live Through This. I remember scrawling lyrics out on binder covers and backpacks. I remember listening to it in the dark with my best friend Marian. I remember burning candles and shadowing my eyes with black eyeshadow and slicking my mouth with red Wet & Wild lipstick and screaming those songs like the words were being exorcised from me, like I’d die if I left them in for too long. I remember staring at that album cover, at young and barefoot and probably-not-all-that-far-from-my-age-at-the-time and still kind of unbelievably cool Courtney Love on the back. I remember the cracks in the plastic CD case.

I remember being angry — so angry — at so much, at everything. Angry at nine and at twelve and at fifteen and at twenty. Angry at myself for being fat and weird. Angry at the kids who were mean to me and at myself for being impossibly meaner back. Angry at the people who didn’t listen when I was hurting, angry at myself for getting hurt, for letting other people hurt me. Angry at the world in the most uncomplicated ways, the most individual. I was angry because I was hurt.

I remember.

I couldn’t have told you in 1994 when I bought it on cassette at Tower Records at the West Covina Plaza or a couple years later when I bought it on CD at the same Tower Records or a year after that when I had to rebuy it because I’d worn my first copy out or when I rebought it digitally because I couldn’t take the skips from my ripped copy any longer — I’d have probably just said I liked it a lot because Green Day was my favorite band and I would’ve felt like a traitor — but Live Through This was the most important album of my youth. And nineteen years later it means more to me than ever.

I didn’t call myself a feminist in 1994, partially because I was nine years old and I didn’t really know what that meant and partially because I was raised by a father who called feminists “feminazis” and if there was one thing I wouldn’t have wanted to do in 1994, it was disappoint my father. I didn’t call myself a feminist in 2004 either because I was raised by a culture that taught me that feminism meant female superiority and that I should strive for something my conservative poli-sci professor called “equalism” but was actually code for the patriarchal bullshit status quo. I call myself a feminist now and I try very hard to be a good one, an intersectional one, an engaged one.

But I’m also angry. Still angry, so angry. And where my anger was indistinct and personal when I was young, anger built on hurt and sadness, it is anger directed at the system now, at patriarchy and rape culture and misogyny. At the incredible violence women face, institutional and political and personal.

Before I really knew why I was angry, Hole gave me a voice for it. Before I understood what it meant when a boy with a blond bowl cut chased me and my best friend around the playground at my first elementary school and flipped our skirts up, laughing, I was angry. Before I understood why a yard aid pulled me aside and told me not to play on the monkey bars because my shirt was “too short” and everyone was looking, I was angry. Before I saw the aggressive challenges from boys in high school because “girls don’t like metal” as acts of sexism, I was angry. And even though I didn’t really know it, Courtney Love was shaping that anger, asking questions that I wouldn’t understand for years, and planting the furious seeds of something that would shape me monumentally as an adult.

As an adult, that anger raged, rages through me every day. Every time I see another woman sliced open on a television or movie screen. Every time I’ve been groped or catcalled or hit on through the open windows of my vehicle. Every story I hear about street harrassment. Every time a politician thinks they have a right to make rules about what people can or cannot do with their uteruses. Every single time I’ve heard “Nice tits” or “That mouth would look great around my dick” or “You’re fat but I’d still fuck you.” Every story about assault or rape or abuse.

Every time I remember the world I live in as a woman, the world the women I love have to live in, the world every woman has to live in, I’m angry. So angry. And at nine, at twelve, at fifteen, and nineteen, and twenty-two, and twenty-eight, I was angry and, even when I didn’t understand the forces behind the objects of my fury, Hole was there to give that fury voice and shape and color and direction. Courtney Love was there. Nineteen years later, she is no longer the sole voice of my anger, but she’s still there, familiar, always and eternal, and for that I will be forever grateful.

this is a post about sex toys

Internet! We need to have a conversation! A conversation about sex toys!

I bought my first sex toy when I was 18. I was in a sex shop on Santa Monica Boulevard with some of my friends. It was March, I think, and everyone was under 18 except me. We spent most of our time in the shop giggling and deciding whether or not we were going to get a psychic reading down the street. I bought one of those boring hard plastic ones — in zebra print — and one for each of my two best friends — in leopard and tiger of course — with the money I earned at my after school tutoring job. It was fun and funny and anti-climactic. That vibrator lasted for a super long time, but it most definitely wasn’t the last sex toy I bought.

I’ve ordered sex toys from all over the internet and bought other ones at The Toy Box on other giggling, joyful trips with friends and roommates.

I have used sex toys! I have bought sex toys as gifts! I have shared sex toys with partners! Sex toys are cool! And they can make your life better! You should buy a sex toy if it interests you! You shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed!

Though that part of the conversation is important — we should be no more ashamed of sex toys than we are of sex and we should be way less ashamed of sex than we are — the real crux of this conversation is this:

I’ve been following Epiphora since February of 2011. I’d already moved on from the cheap and/or shitty sex toys of my youth and upgraded to something expensive and rechargeable. But I hadn’t read much — anything at all — about the safety, durability, or care of sex toy materials.

This is a great, comprehensive post about the various materials you’re going to see in sex toys and how you should use and care for them. She covers the porous materials (jelly, TPE/TPR, rubber) because they’re extremely common, but were that post mine, it would just say, “If you have a porous toy, throw it away.”

Porous toys are gross and potentially dangerous. They smell bad, they can leech dye onto anything they touch, they off-gas like crazy. You always need to use a condom with them, they never really come clean, and they might cause an allergic reaction for your genitals.

If you have a porous toy, destroy it. No, really. Take pictures! Add to the Crystal Delights Wall of Shame. And then buy yourself something that’s actually worth your money and time. Your genitals are your friends! Give them what they deserve and stop buying into shitty companies who care so little about your well-being that they label everything “For Novelty Use Only” and don’t warn you about the dangers of their cheap materials.

Buy silicone! Buy wood! Buy aluminum! Buy stainless steel! Buy hard non-porous plastic if you must! Just don’t buy TPR/TPE, jelly, or rubber. Don’t buy porous toys!

I don’t own all of these, but here are some toys you should consider!
Mystic Wand [amazon]
Hitachi Magic Wand [amazon]
Lelo Liv [amazon]
Lelo Mona 2 [amazon]
Njoy Pure Wand [amazon]
Luxotiq Athena [amazon]
Tantus Mikey O2 [amazon]
Tantus Goddess [amazon]
Tantus Cush O2 [amazon]
Je Joue G-Ki [babeland]
Fucking Sculptures Corkscrew
Fucking Sculptures G-Spoon
If all those fail you, go here and start reading. She’ll get you to something you want.

If you’re on the market for a traditional rabbit, you’re kind of out of luck. Most are made with porous materials because they’re cheap and flexible. If you’re looking for a rabbit in silicone there are a couple, but they’re from those “novelty” companies and I don’t want to give them my trust or money. So really, if you’re able, just use two toys. I’m the laziest, more uncoordinated person alive and I can promise it’s not that bad.

If you’re really desperate for a single unit, there are some decent options. There’s the Vitality by Leaf [amazon] and Lelo’s Ina 2 [amazon] and Soraya [amazon] and Jopen’s got several [amazon] but the majority are just dual-stim vibrators and aren’t going to have the rotation that rabbits are known for. [ETA: Hope is not lost! Kira adds, “Jopen actually makes a number of rotating silicone rabbits, but you’ll pay out the ass for them. The Vr7, Vr10, Vr11, Vr12, Vr10.5, Vr15, Vr16, and Vr17 are all rotating. I have the 7 and 15. The 15 is one of my all time favorite toys EVER.”

If money’s a worry, Epiphora‘s got a great list of budget-friendly toys and I can personally recommend the Turbo Glider (ahh, college) and the Tantus Echo which is on closeout right now for $19.99. Twenty bucks for a beautifully designed, cool-as-hell looking, wonderfully textured, all-silicone dildo from an awesome manufacturer that loves their customers. There’s also the Charmer if you’re looking for something smaller.

Basically, what I’m saying is:

Sex is cool. Sex toys are great. Poke around and find something you like. For the love of all things beautiful and pure, don’t buy anything made from a porous material. Stick to the good stuff. Spend a little. You and your genitals are so, so worth it.

back to school with judy blume: blubber

Dear Judy,

Reading Blubber was not a fun experience. That’s usually a sign of a book that has affected me in some way, so that’s not necessarily a harbinger of doom or anything. But, let me tell you, it’s not not either.

I am fat, Judy. Extremely fat! Death fat. The kind of fat that they crop the heads off of on the news while talking about the OBESITY EPIDEMIC that apparently has a death grip on the entire United States. I was a fat kid, a fat adolescent, a fat teenager, a fat adult, a fat undergrad, a fat substitute teacher, a fat grad student, a fat unemployed writer, and I’ll probably someday die while fat. I will likely always be fat. And, Judy, though I know it’s not the dominant opinion, there’s nothing wrong with being fat.

I don’t think you hate fat people, Judy, but you sure do like to have your characters worry over their weight and the weight of those around them. This is a symptom of adolescence. I experienced it too! From both sides. And I wish, just once, your characters would learn that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. I wish Linda hadn’t dieted. I wish she’d stood up to the cruelty of her classmates, instead of joining in on it when it was foisted on someone else. I wish Jill had stood up for her. I wish someone had said, “Who cares that she’s fat! Let’s all stop being assholes!” But they didn’t. And that’s a massive bummer.

I won’t go in to all the things I’ve learned from being part of the fat acceptance movement. I won’t talk about the ways in which we ostracize and other fat people, the way we use their bodies as metaphors for greed and materialism. I won’t talk about the ways in which weight has little to do with health and how people can be healthy at every size. I won’t even talk about how weight and health are not morals and how being healthy doesn’t make you a good person or how people who are fat and unhealthy are just as deserving as respect and humanity as people who are fat and healthy or thin and healthy or thin and unhealthy. I won’t even really talk about how we are all deserving of respect, bodily autonomy, and a life free from body shame. And how all of those things are important lessons, not just for fat people, but for everyone.

Well, I guess I did talk about all those a little.

But what I really want to talk about is how, thus far, your books have offered moments of safety and surety for weirdos, Judy. Your gift as a writer is giving young people lively characters with whom they can find shelter, comfort, and camaraderie. Margaret and Deenie and Sheila and Tony and Karen all suffer the same pains and embarrassments and fears that real live adolescents do and you capture them with care and honesty. Your characters learn lessons from their mistakes and become better people. Because of that, your books act as both tools for learning and comforts, like a childhood blanket or stuffed animal when we’ve gotten too old to cling to them.

What I want to talk about is how Blubber doesn’t comfort anyone. It doesn’t teach anyone. It doesn’t provide an example of a decent human being or show us how not to be like those who do wrong. These children, including Jill in whose perspective we have been mired, are terrible. They’re cruel and hateful and vicious. They tear Linda down until she is literally berating herself unprompted in order to perform the normal functions of her day unabused. I hoped that Jill would stand up for her in the beginning and then I hoped that Jill would learn a lesson from her own foray into bullying and then I was just left to desperately hope that she would at least understand what she had done to Linda because she was suffering it herself. But she doesn’t. She learns a lesson about… not caving to bossiness?

I’m not saying that Blubber isn’t honest. Kids are terrible, horrible, monstrous creatures that go straight for your weakness like a wolf with a vulnerable jugular, but fiction, especially fiction targeted toward young audiences, should be aspirational. It should hope for a better world full of engaged, empathetic humans who don’t want to cause injury to one another.

I was a fat kid who took an enormous amount of abuse from my classmates. I was also a fat kid that fought back, who bullied back, who laughed it off even when it was too much to take. I understand Linda’s decision to join the other side, to seek shelter from the storm deep in the clouds.

What I cannot understand is why Jill learns so little. Children are capable of empathy, often far more than adults are, and yet she remains callously impervious to the plight of her classmate. It’s so hard to watch Jill become Baby Brenner with so little recognition that this is almost exactly what she was just perpetuating alongside her friends. How she can be so outraged at the abuse Tracy receives because of her race and yet be unable to process that to the cruelty she herself commits?

I can’t imagine having been eight or nine or ten or, hell, twelve and reading Blubber and feeling anything other than scorned and hated and miserable. A book like this should be for the Blubbers and the Tracys and the kids who are emotionally brutalized by the world around them. But Blubber isn’t for those kids, it’s for the Jills and the Carolines and the Rochelles. It’s for the ones who refuse to stand up when other people are being hurt. It’s for the ones who say, “There are some people who just make you want to see how far you can go.”

I can’t understand it, Judy. I just can’t.

– Ash


back to school with judy blume: tales of a fourth grade nothing

Dear Judy,

I started talking about Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to my girlfriend last night while we were sitting at the dinner table. Dinner was delicious — mashed potatoes topped with chicken breast, broccoli, onions, and parmesan slivers — and I was expressing my displeasure at feeling pretty blocked with what to write about this one. I read it in about an hour and a half on Thursday morning, set it down on the side table next to our couch, and forgot about it immediately.

This isn’t to say it’s forgettable, Judy! Not at all. Quite the contrary, I learned, as my dinnertime conversation devolved into me screaming, “He ate the turtle! He just ate it! He just swallowed his brother’s turtle and no one cared. It was all ‘Poor Fudge!’ and ‘We have to save Fudge!’ and no concern that this sociopathic animal child just ate his brother’s pet!” I could say it’s unlike me to dissolve into outraged screams over fiction, but it’s really, really not.

I recounted Fudge’s many and sundry sins to my girlfriend as we were finishing up our meal and grew more and more outraged by the utterly dreadful parenting going on around these kids. They are so permissive of Fudge’s abominable behavior that it ends with him eating an animal alive! I wish you could hear me screaming through the internet, Judy, because I am that outraged. And then, once the drama of Fudge passing the turtle through his digestive tract has ceased, these atrocious parents buy the kid a puppy and joke that they made sure it would get too big for Fudge to eat.

Judy, can we stop and address the absolute terror you’ve inflicted on the world here? Fudge eats his brother’s pet! A tiny, helpless, living creature with whom his big brother Peter has formed a bond and with whom Fudge has been told time and time again not to touch. I am so traumatized!

I’ve never been a parent and, barring a large seismic shift in the universe, will never be, but even all other behavior aside, I can assure you that if my three-year-old ate someone’s pet, I’d at least be taking him in for psychiatric observation. This is not a cricket or a caterpillar or dirt. This is someone’s beloved companion. This will be the only thing I ever think about ever again in my life.

I am going to be screaming about this turtle being eaten by a three-year-old until I die. My last words are going to be, “He was just a little turtle! How could you?! How could you?!” and then I’ll expire in a great gust of breath and unanswered questions.

Judy, I love you, but gawd save you. Gawd save us all.

– Ash