Vivian Mitchell: Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.

Dorothy Vaughan: I know. I know you probably believe that.

Hidden Figures

This, I think, is the most succinct summation of non-institutionalized racism I’ve encountered. For those of you who haven’t read or seen Hidden Figures, Vivian Mitchell is white. Dorothy Vaughan is not. Mrs. Vaughan is one of the three African-American women featured in this film. She is one of the dozens of black women who worked at NASA in the 60s. She is one of the dozens who were not permitted to use the same bathroom as their counterparts. She is one of the dozens who worked without proper recognition to get our space program off the ground–literally. And while I really wanted to use Katherine Johnson’s coffee pot monologue, it was long and beautiful and better listened to than read. So go buy the movie ticket and enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll direct your attention back to racism and the above quote. Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) pauses just after her first “I know.” I felt the audience around me hold their breath, shocked by the statement. Then Vaughan continues. “I know you probably believe that.” Collective gut punch.

It’s so easy to think of racism as somebody else’s problem, as something that I don’t have to deal with. Surely I‘m not racist. I’m a good person. And therein lies the danger. Maybe I’m not racist. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a serious look at what I might be doing, saying, or merely implying that is in fact racist, though I believe it not to be so.

At the close of this year’s Black History Month, I hope you’ll do the same.



Anime and The Male Gaze

The Male Gaze is a term from Gaze theory that describes the tendency of works to assume a (straight) male viewpoint even when they do not have a specific narrative Point of View, and in particular the tendency of works to present female characters as subjects of implicitly male visual appreciation.

—TvTropes, Male Gaze

content warning: adult themes

Continue reading “Anime and The Male Gaze”

Happily Ever After

“You think I’m not serious?”

“That’s what’s scaring me. We’re too old for fairy tales.”

–Terry McMillan, I Almost Forgot About You

We have forgotten how to live fairy tales. Not the ones that are only light and sunshine, but the dark, gritty fairy tales. We have decided that we are too old for that nonsense. But I don’t think it’s nonsense at all.

Sure, not everybody gets their happily ever after. Yet it seems to me that most people do. It might not be the one we envision as children, but that doesn’t stop people from creating happiness in their lives. Besides, if we think about the history of those fairy tales, we would do well to remember that the heroes and heroines find themselves in light-less times long before they ever reach their happy endings. Rapunzel? Locked up in a tower for the entirety of her life, only to watch her savior be thrown into thorns and blinded. Sleeping Beauty (or rather, Aurora)? She’s actually denied access to a part of the world–spinning wheels and anything similar–in an attempt to shelter her from her destiny. And then her destiny becomes to fall into a deep sleep. Snow White? Her stepmother actually tried to kill her, and she’s forced into the woods to fend for herself as a result. Cinderella? Enslaved by the woman entrusted with her care.

Fairy tales are dark things, full of suffering. Many stories are. What makes fairy tales unique, in part, is that they never lose hope. No matter how dark the story gets, the reader can be assured that things will end with hope and joy. It might not be the happiness the characters hoped for, but it is a thing of beauty nevertheless.

So, as McMillan eventually assures us, we’re never too old for fairy tales.

To Be Known

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

It is perhaps unusually appropriate that my choice for Valentine’s Day is C.S Lewis; he is, after all, my first love.

Not in a romantic sense; it would be better to say he is my first literary love–but that does not quite get at it.

He was the first writer I read that made me think, “Here; I am known, after all.”

With Lucy, I was consumed with jealousy for Susan’s beauty; with Susan, I longed to grow up and felt guilt for leaving my first love. With Edmund I shared the dark petty desires that destroyed me and felt the remorse and cleansing of forgiveness. With Peter I acknowledged my inadequacy and fear of failure.

It is in Orual, however, that I most keenly see myself. The jealousy, grief, longing, the pettiness and pretence. Her self-righteousness masked as hurt and her desire for what she thinks is justice–these are my own sins. Her selfish longing for Psyche, her self-loathing, her mask, her ugliness, within and without–I am Orual.

Now, you may be asking what all of this has to do with love. This is supposed to be a Valentine’s Day post, after all. To answer that, I will pose my own question.

Who knows your darkest secrets?

Who would you share them with?

After all, to be totally known–for the babble at the center of our souls to be revealed–that is a shameful and terrifying thing. We can never truly escape the fear that once we are truly known, those we love–and those who love us–will leave us forever. For “who could love a Beast?”

And yet–

Until we are fully known; until we have a true face, not just another mask; until are seen in our naked ugly truth, it is not we who are loved, but our mask.

Orual spends the entire book protesting her love for her sister, but learns that it was never truly her sister she loved. Orual never thinks that she can be loved, and so she hides herself behind a mask and becomes a terror and a mystery, but it is not till all of her masks are truly stripped away that Love can come to her. To be known is to be vulnerable.

But to be loved, we must be known.

A Little Self-Love

“Hi, Leslie. It’s Leslie. Hang in there. I love you. Bye.”

–Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

Caught up in all the excitement or anxiety of Valentine’s Day, it can be easy to forget to love ourselves. Maybe it feels too selfish or too cheesy. Maybe we want to focus on the other lovely people in our lives. Today is about the people we love, definitely. But have you ever though that maybe one of the people you should love is yourself?

We don’t need to be Narcissus to show ourselves a little love. For those of you who watch Parks and Rec, you know that Leslie Knope is pretty much the opposite of selfishness (99.8% of the time). Her little voicemail to herself is no exception. We all need those little encouragements from time to time.

So this Valentine’s Day, go out with your significant other. Spend time with your best friends. Hug your children. Send a card to somebody you haven’t seen in a while. And on your way out to dinner, buy yourself a flower or some chocolates (or whatever else you might be craving). Write yourself a note, reminding yourself that there is light even when things look dark. Love the people around you, but don’t forget to love yourself along the way.

Love for its Own Sake

“Loving someone after years is not reductive, retrograde, antifeminist or weak.”

–Louise Brealey (AKA Molly Hooper)

BBC’s Sherlock recently screened another season and it had a lot in it.  It had questions about power and justice, how to deal with loss, and several different kinds of love.

In this version of the story of Sherlock Holmes, detective, he has a unlikely friend.  This friend is Molly Hooper.  She is a pathologist who works in the morgue in London.  Over the past 4 seasons, she has gone from a mousy doctor who meekly supplied Sherlock with the body parts necessary for his various experiments to standing up to Sherlock and making him apologize for a really awful series of remarks to saving his life by faking his death.  Throughout the seasons Molly is steadfast and loving towards Sherlock, holding in her seemingly unrequited romantic love for Sherlock.  In the most recent season Sherlock and her were entangled in his psychopathic sister’s game of pushing all of Sherlock’s buttons and forcing him into moral dilemmas.  One of the tests was Sherlock calling Molly and getting her to say three simple words—I love you—within a set time limit. Sherlock also gets a warning that a bomb will go off if he fails.  Molly refuses to say those words until he does. The reason she refuses is because it’s true; Molly does love Sherlock after all these years. And this is where the quote from the beginning comes in.  Louise Brealey, who plays Molly, tweeted after the episode, defending her character’s steadfast love for Sherlock despite any return on that love.

Unrequited love is a heartbreaking thing, especially over a long period of time, but it is a beautiful self-sacrificial thing. Molly has loved Sherlock for years, and that in no way diminishes her character.

The Idea of a Person

“I don’t know why, but I always thought she would look different. Older…. But there she is, and I am watching her through the Plexiglas, and she looks like Margo Roth Spiegelman, this girl I have know since I was two – this girl who was an idea that I loved. And it is only now… that I realize that the idea is not only wrong but dangerous. What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person.” – John Green, Paper Towns

Paper Towns is not your average love story. And as much as I love Romanticism as a genre, John Green’s book points out the trouble and heartbreak that romanticizing a person will cause.

Quentin had built up an idea of what Margo was like mainly by watching her from afar. It should not be a surprise, then, to find out that his idea of her is not entirely true to life. Whatever he thinks she is – hero, goddess, sprite – is fictional.

The theme of Paper Towns is stripping away fiction to find reality. This is Margo’s quest. Quentin’s quest is to find Margo. But he does not realize that the harder he chases after her the more of his fictitious idea he will lose. He finds Margo, but not the Margo he was looking for. Rather than the paper girl he created, he discovers a flesh and blood person, as well as all the baggage that entails.

While romanticized stories that make heroes out of humans and delete all the baser details are all well and good, it will only cause pain and suffering to romanticize real people. No one is a superhero, and no one is meant to be. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can begin to love the people around us for who they truly are.

Special Announcement

Hey everyone! Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, we will be changing the formatting a bit. So keep your eyes peeled for some special pieces and enjoy the holiday!

(This post was written by the sole single writer of the Uncommonplaces. Don’t worry, other singles, tomorrow’s pieces will be for you too!)

Dramatic Exposure

“There are no curses, only mirrors
held up to the souls of gods and mortals.”

–“Demeter’s Prayer to Hades,” Rita Dove

The turning of the seasons, the tension of life and death. A myth where the goddess that grows seeks her daughter back from the god of death. Okay, fine the god of the underworld. But death sounds so much more dramatic.

And that is what Dove’s poem (which you can read in its entirety here) focuses on–the dramatic. Not the dramatic for drama’s sake though. “Demeter’s Prayer to Hades” pulls on the mythos that lies behind it. This is drama with a purpose. The Greeks explain the seasons; Dove faces intentions and reality. A goddess’s daughter is traded between Olympus and the Underworld; a human being explores belief and knowledge.

To be honest, I don’t entirely understand what Dove is saying in her poem. I feel the tension–the sorrow and the beauty mixed–nevertheless. I can’t help but thinking that this poem-prayer knows something about myself, and I look forward to turning its melancholic curse into a mirror.