The Color Purple

I decided to dive into #1000BlackGirlBooks by starting with The Color Purple by Alice Walker. It’s one of those many classics that I’ve never read. In fact, the only Alice Walker I’ve ever read was her short story, “Everyday Use”. For such a famous author whose work is so well known, it’s a shame that I’ve read so little of her work.

Going into this, everything I knew about the story itself could be written on a post-it note:

  1. It’s about sisters, I think
  2. Oprah was in the movie
  3. Something about shaving an abusive husband

When I got the book from my library, I was surprised at how thin it was. I’d been expecting something thick, a door stopper of a novel, because isn’t what the classics usually are? I was honestly afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish it in a timely manner, so I was a bit relieved to see that it wasn’t even 300 pages long. The Carl Hiaasen novel I’d just finished was longer than that, and Hiaasen isn’t exactly high-brow reading.

The second thing that surprised me was the readability. When I think classic novels, I usually think of long, flowery prose and hard to follow sequences. As much as I love reading, I do struggle a bit with purple prose and old timey novels.

Here, there’s two distinct voices telling the story. The first is Celie, whose passages are direct and often sparse, especially towards the beginning of the book. Nettie, Celie’s younger sister, is educated, and her letters reflect this. Through their letters – some received, some unsent – we learn the story of their lives over the course of decades. This is another remarkable thing about the novel to me. It covers such a long span of time, but it doesn’t waste words or drag it out. It never feels like a slog.

Alice Walker doesn’t pull any punches, either. On the first page, Celie is raped by the man she thinks is her father. By the second page, she’s had two children by him.

From what little I knew about the book before I read it, I knew Celie had an abusive husband. I didn’t know that she was abused long before he came into her life. Celie’s narration is concise in the beginning, but even so, I can feel her suffering and how trapped she is. For a long time, she lives in a world dominated by violent men with no way out. This is evident in even the way Celie refers to her husband, as only “Mr. _____”. He’s a source of fear and pain for Celie. It’s only near the end of the book, thirty years after it begins, that she calls him by his first name. Before she was able to forgive him, Mr. ____ had to show that he could change and do right by the woman he tormented. Celie also had to find her courage to leave him and start a life of her own. She wouldn’t be able to do this, though, without the help of Shug Avery.

There’s a lot of themes in the book: racism, sexism, spirituality. But the theme that spoke to me most was that of sisterhood and female empowerment.

Celie’s life with Mr. ____ is fraught with abuse, a cycle that continues when her step-son, Harpo, get married. Harpo loves his new wife, Sofia, but doesn’t know how to make her “mind” him. Celie tells Harpo to beat her. I initially thought this was Celie’s advice because abuse is all she knows. Later on, though, she tells Sofia that it’s because she’s jealous of her, because Sofia can fight back. And she does, frequently, hitting Harpo harder than he hits her.

Celie’s life only starts to turn around with the arrival of Shug Avery, a singer and Mr. ____’s former lover. Celie takes care of her while she’s sick, and they fall in love with each other. Shug intervenes and stops Mr. ____ from beating Celie, and helps her find the courage within her to defy Mr. ____ and eventually leave him for good. Celie starts a life of her own, making a living selling pants – Shug’s suggestion – and has her own house and store by the end of the book. Celie was in such a dark, hopeless place that she could hardly conceive of a way out. Shug’s love raises Celie up and gives her a new lease on life. Towards the end of the book, Shug leaves Celie for a younger man. Celie is heartbroken, but it doesn’t stop her from living her life.

Shug’s role really can’t be understated in this book. She’s a catalyst for so much in Celie’s life. Shug helps her find her long-lost sister (and her children, by proxy), leave her abusive husband, and stand on her own two feet.

But she also encourages Celie to rethink her views on God and religion.

Ain’t no way to read the bible and not think God white, she say. Then she sigh. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don’t seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Do the mayor listen to anything colored say? [. . .]

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I ast.

Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.

But what do it look like? I ast.

Don’t look like nothing, she say. [. . .]

She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss it.

I’d like to tell you a little but about about my relationship with God and religion, though it’s constantly a work in progress. I was raised Catholic, went to mass every Sunday and volunteered at Sunday school. My parents put me in Catholic school when I was seven, not for religious reasons, but because my parents weren’t happy with the public school my sister and I attended. I went to Catholic school for ten years straight, and I was a believer. I said my prayers every night, got the sacraments, got confirmed.

And, of all things, it was the night I got confirmed – when the Holy Spirit is sealed within my heart – that started to shake things up. I’d received a book of “prayers for teens”, and out of curiosity, opened up to a prayer for non-believers. It asked Jesus to convert all non-Christians to Christianity so they wouldn’t go to hell. I’m not sure what I’d expected, but this certainly wasn’t it.

This really rubbed me the wrong way. I had non-Christian friends who were kinder, more generous and all around better people than some of the Christians I knew. But they couldn’t get into heaven just because, as George Carlin put it, “they pray to a different invisible man than the one you pray to”?

Yeah, no.

After that, the Catholic church’s doctrine started chafing me. Jesus preached love and tolerance, and so often the church’s teachings felt exactly the opposite of that. Then a tragedy occurred in my family that shook me and my faith to the core. I couldn’t understand why God would let this happen, what was the point of allowing it to happen? I was angry and confused and felt betrayed. After yelling, “Hey God, fuck you!” I declared myself an atheist.

I missed having that faith. But years later, when I tried to reach for it, there was nothing there. Praying was like talking to a wall, or having a conversation on the phone with no one on the other line.

I found my own faith instead, inspired by the loving connections I’d made with my friends. I prayed to my aunt and grandma for guidance. I’ve sent wishes and hopes and dreams out into the universe, and seen more of God and miracles in fog rolling in over hills, or hidden depths of kindness in strangers.

What I believe now is a grab bag: a mix of agnosticism and spirituality, praying to saints and ancestors, thumbing rosary beads while keeping God the Father out of it. There’s no set doctrine, no homilies, no guilt for breaking an arbitrary rule put down by an organization built two thousand years ago. What I do and do not believe in have boundaries that are constantly changing, and I float somewhere between them.

All this to say, I felt Shug’s speech about seeing God in all things – not just a bearded White man in the sky – more personally than I thought I would. When I first picked up this book, I thought it would strike a chord in me, but I never imagined it would be this chord.

There was something else that stuck to me, too, but as this post is getting quite lengthy, I’ll be breaking it into two halves. Because with the theme of female empowerment, I cannot forget the other half of this book: Nettie, and Sisterhood.

I tend to be drawn to sister stories. It doesn’t take a genius to see why. My only other sibling is my older sister, who I’ve mentioned in the blog quite a few times. It’s pretty obvious that she’s been a huge influence on my throughout my life. We’re exceptionally close, best friends or worst enemies and not much in between. When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like her, and do whatever she did. I was her shadow, and I let her get away with way more than I should have.

I did so because I loved her and admired her. If someone hurt her, it hurt me, too. No matter how much we fought, and the end of the day, I wanted to protect her.

That was one of the first thing that struck me, in the very beginning of the book. Celie has been raped by her stepfather, and notices that he is now turning his attentions to Nettie. At the same time, Nettie is seeing someone else, a potentially dangerous man. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Celie pushes Nettie to accept her suitor. She tries to protect her sister as best she can, even if it means sending Nettie to someone else who could hurt her. It doesn’t work out, and Celie is, essentially, sold into a marriage with Mr. ___ instead.

Celie only sees Nettie once during the early years of her marriage with Mr. ___. Nettie has run away from home and her abusive step-father, seeking safety with her sister. Mr. ___ sends her away, and Celie tells her to look for (preacher’s wife) to help her. While she’s leaving, Nettie fights off Mr. ____’s rape attempt, and he vows to punish her and Celie for it. He hides all of the letters Nettie sends Celie, which go unread for years.

I was already pretty hooked when I got to this point. When Celie finds Nettie’s letters, I knew I was doomed. There was no way I’d be able to put the book down until I saw the sisters reunited.

Nettie becomes a missionary in Africa, and in her early letters, she’s so excited. She’s traveling, meeting people, and getting an education. She also truly believes that she and her new family (names) will succeed as missionaries where others have failed for one reason: they’re Black. But when Nettie reaches the Olinka tribe, she finds that she’s still the “other”. She may be the same race as the Olinka people, but she’s still an American with a very different culture. Part of Nettie’s story is her and her family becoming accepted in the tribe, while at the same time challenging the tribe’s traditions.

This made me think of Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use”. You cam read the full text here(link), but I’ll give a quick summary. In this story, a woman named Dee comes home with her new boyfriend to visit her mother and sister. The story is about heritage: Dee’s trying to get closer to her African roots, while her mother believes that her daughters’ heritage is all around them. You can read the story in a few different ways, but I always felt a little sorry for Dee. She’s reaching and trying to connect to a culture that isn’t her own, which doesn’t have a place in her family’s world. While we can’t know what happens to Dee at the end of her story, we do know that Nettie comes to embrace the Olinka tribe while at the same time fighting against cultural practices that hurt the girls in the tribe.

To be totally honest, I didn’t connect with Nettie’s story the way I did with Celie’s. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t come back into the story for a long time after she disappears. Or that her story is quite different from Celie’s, more about finding family than finding herself. After she and Celie separate, Nettie is taken in by the preacher, Samuel, whose family includes a wife and two adopted children. They bring Nettie on their missionary trip because Samuel suspects the children are actually Nettie’s, which stirs some jealousy in (wife). Years later, Nettie uncovers the truth: the children are Celie’s that they both had thought were killed by their step-father. When Nettie, Samuel, and the children finally return to America, Nettie writes that she is bringing “our children” home.

There’s a lot that I could say about this book, talking about Nettie’s journey or Sophia’s time as a maid to a wealthy White family. But I’m sure that’s been discussed time and time again by people both more well-read and worldly than me. Instead, I want to focus on the relationship between Nettie and Celie. Celie puts herself in harm’s way to protect her sister. In return, Nettie brings Celie’s children back to her. Alongside that, she gives Celie knowledge about the world through her letters, and endless, consistent love.

That’s important. Because Mr. ___ and his children don’t love her, and her allies don’t stay by her side forever. Even Shug leaves her for a young man at one point. Nettie writes Celie letters that go unread for years, that she knows her sister might never see. But she also never stops writing them, even if Celie doesn’t reply. At least, not on paper.

The novel opens with two words, “Dear God.” Celie used to write letters to God in her head, until she finally finds Nettie’s letters. After, her letters all begin with, “Dear Nettie,” indicating both her newfound spirituality, and a connection with her sister that she thought she’d lost.

These aren’t the only things worthy of discussion in the novel. There’s so much that I could get into, even if I run the risk of putting my foot in my mouth. But these were the things that made The Color Purple so compelling to me. It’s a story of changes, of family, and sisterhood lost and found. It’s about becoming your own hero, with the ones who love you raising you up.

And I wish I could just end this post with, “it’s a wonderful book, go read it,” but I won’t get away with that. It’s time to talk about that elephant in the room: race. And it’s going to be uncomfortable for me to do, especially because I’m fairly sure I’ll be sticking my foot in my mouth. But I wanted to start reading these book to broaden my figurative and literary horizons, and I think I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about race in some capacity.

This is going to sound strange, but I can’t help draw comparisons to the way I treat race to the way others might treat sex or death. That is, it’s something that you don’t talk about. Or if you do, you only talk about it with confidantes. Most people have little formal education about the above topics; a lot of your knowledge on the subject may come from entertainment, if you don’t have any experience with it. And when you finally do engage with it, it’s not easy. It can be scary. And it can definitely leave you feeling like an idiot.

That being said, let’s talk about race in The Color Purple.

One of the first things I’ve noticed is that the characters aren’t explicitly described as Black until Nettie goes to Africa. As the Writing With Color(link) blog points out, authors will often only describe a character’s skin tone if they’re not White, as though White is the default race for every character. And without that description, it seems likely many readers will picture that character as White. I’m curious to know that if I had read this book without knowing anything about it, would I have pictured the characters were Black? Maybe it’s an experiment I’ll test out some day.

Another thing that struck me was Sofia’s role as a maid to the White mayor and his family. As I mentioned in my last post(link), Roxane Gay’s review of The Help really made me think about what I’d taken away from that book and movie. In The Help, the maid Abileen loved the children she took care of, and the main character, Skeeter, was deeply attached to the maid who raised her. But Sofia isn’t Abileen or Minny. She describes being a maid as slavery, and she goes for years without seeing her children. When she is finally released, the mayor’s daughter, Eleanor Jane, continues to visit Sofia. Eleanor Jane brings her young son to visit Sofia as well, cooing over the baby and asking Sofia how much she loves him. Sofia snaps that no, she doesn’t love the baby.

I just don’t understand, say Miss Eleanor Jane. All the other colored women I know love children. The way you feel is something unnatural.

I love children, say Sofia. But all the colored women that say they love yours is lying… Some colored people so scared of whitefolks they claim to love the cotton gin.

Despite Eleanor Jane’s insistence that her son won’t grow up to be racist, Sofia knows otherwise. No matter how much Eleanor Jane cares for Sofia, her son is still going to learn the prejudices of those around him. Saying that he’s not going to be racist is a nice idea, but it’s not going to happen.

What this made me think of is something I’m a little more familiar with – benevolent sexism(link). Put simply, benevolent sexism is the idea that women are beautiful, amazing creatures that are to be cherished and protected. It’s more palatable and subtle than your “get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” hostile sexism, but it’s still sexism. So I wondered: what does benevolent racism look like?

So I did what I do best: read. I found a few scholarly articles on the topic, and I’m making my way through them. At the time I’m posting this entry, I haven’t finished reading the ones I’ve found, but I’m planning on writing a research summary once I’m finished. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with this definition of benevolent racism from the first paper I read:

[B]enevolent racism is not predicated on the usual process of de-racialization. That is, rather than invoking the liberal idea of “neutrality” or color-blindness as a way to dodge, deny, or defend the racialized social system that supports White privilege (as with other types of post-civil rights racisms), benevolent racism ostensibly acknowledges and often condemns a system of White privilege. However, it does so in a way that further legitimizes and reinforces racist attitudes, policies, and practices in the name of “benevolent” aims–i.e., in the name of supporting, empowering, and/or defending the Black community (Esposito, Romano, 2014).

Other than The Color Purple, work cited:

ESPOSITO, L., & ROMANO, V. (2014). “Benevolent Racism: Upholding Racial Inequality in the Name of Black Empowerment.” Western Journal of Black Studies, 38(2), 69–83.

 

 

 

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1000 Black Girl Books

Before I get into my new project, I want to announce an update schedule change. Alongside working full time and trying to plan a wedding, I’ll be starting grad school to get my MLIS next month. I want to keep updating at regular intervals, so I’ve decided to post here every other week. I’ll also be posting about each book as a whole, rather than chapter-by-chapter reviews. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow me @nortonwriter14, where I’ll tweet every time the blog is updated. I’ll also occasionally post about books, the writing process, and probably about space and/or cats.

Thank you to everyone who’s read with me this far!


 

For three years, give or take a couple hiatuses, I’ve worked on this blog, reviewing nostalgic books, one chapter at a time. Originally, I wanted to see which old books were worth keeping, and which should find new homes. I’ve downsized a lot since those early days. There are still books that I brought with me from state to state that I’d love to review here, and maybe someday I’ll get to them. But as my life has changed, I think it’s time for this blog to change as well.

I’d debated with myself about what that change should be – one idea I had was reading through Newberry Medal winners – but inspiration struck during a trip to the local library. I was on a tour as part of my volunteer orientation when the librarian pointed out a wall of books near the children’s section. “This is something new we’re trying,” she told me. “1000 Black Girl Books.”

#1000BlackGirlBooks was founded by thirteen-year-old Marley Dias, who’s collected over 11,000 books featuring Black female protagonists. The full list can be found at Grassroots Community Foundation.  I’m a voracious reader, and I was curious to see how many of the books I’ve read made it on to the list.

Four. And of those four, only one was written by a Black author.

I went to my bookshelves and scanned titles, asking myself, “how many of these books are written by White authors? How many of them have characters of color?”

The answer was, “very few”.

I was so disappointed in myself. For all I reminded myself to check my privilege or “stay woke”, my own personal library was incredibly lacking. And that’s when I decided: I needed to step out of my literary bubble.

To be totally honest, I’m a little nervous about doing this. I can’t pretend to be enlightened, or even have a solid foundation to discuss race on. I grew up in a town and went to schools full of de facto segregation, all without knowing it. I saw White heroes everywhere, and Black sidekicks without ever thinking deeply about. Because I loved The Help until I read a Roxane Gay’s take on it, exposing the work’s flaws and all my ignorance with it.

Going through this blogging project, I know I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m going to stick my foot in my mouth, and there are times when I just won’t “get it”. I know reading books isn’t going to completely eliminate the prejudices and biases that I have. But only by acknowledging and challenging them will I be able to change them. And this is how I’m combating them: with empathy, and information, and books.

Dramacon 6: Finale

But it doesn’t end there.

After being assaulted by Derek, Christie wisely runs away from her drunk, violent ex-boyfriend to Matt’s hotel room. He’s sharing it with his friend, Greta, and Sandra, his sister. Everyone’s surprised to see Christie turn up at their door, crying and with her shirt torn open. When they find out what happened, Matt is furious and wants to fight Derek. Sandra stops him, saying that getting arrested won’t fix anything.

All of this is moot, though, because Matt beats the crap out of Derek anyway. The only reason I bring it up at all is because the characters acknowledge that reporting assault to the police is something they could do, but only in the context of Derek calling the cops on Matt. No one ever suggests that Christie report Derek for assault, which is what started the whole mess.

Ah, well. I already talked about that enough in the last post. Let’s move on to the morning after.

We need to talk about a couple panels starring Greta, a character who’s so forgettable her face has no features. 20190304_1112408281691373915480480.jpg

I’ve always been baffled by Greta’s response. “I’m glad”? What does that even mean?! She’s glad that Christie’s traumatic experience feels surreal? Like they can pretend the night before just didn’t happen? Because they do for the rest of the series.

But as the con ends, so does the manga. Christie meets back up with the group she came with, and says goodbye to Matt.

She leaves, reflecting on her con experience. Her heart is broken, and she’s been through a really scary event. But she has Matt’s phone number, and the book ends on a hopeful note. Christie looks forward to going back to the con again, which I take to mean that the good outweighed the bad.

And I want to talk about how the attempted rape hung a pall over the rest of the series, but…well, the final page left me smiling, too. In my chapter notes, I even wrote about how cute the series is as a whole. Except…

The attempted rape scene is so much darker than the rest of the series. I thought it was unnecessary and poorly handled in later books. And yet I’m still left with warm, fuzzy feelings at the end.

There are few works of fiction that I’m 100% satisfied with. That this blog exists is proof enough of that. So the question remains: was there enough that Dramacon did right, that it outweighs the things it did wrong?

Surprisingly, my mom helped me figure out the answer to this question. I moved out from my parents’ house around three years ago, leaving my mess behind. Now retired, my mom’s taking on the daunting task of hauling my old bedroom out. It’s almost like a new branch of archaeology: digging through layers of dust and old clothes to find any treasures worth keeping. Which is why I get texts every so often with pictures of various objects, most notably books. One of these pictures was of a cupboard that housed a considerable amount of manga. “What do you want me to do with these?” She asked.

“You can get rid of most of it,” I told her. “But keep Dragon Knights and Dramacon.”


I will be taking a break starting today, and will return with a brand spankin’ new reading and writing project on April 8! Thanks for reading along with me!

Dramacon 5: A Little Problematic

This one gets pretty heavy. Content warning here at the bottom of the page. Click here if you want it.

My original plan was to combine the final two chapters of Dramacon into one post, since they both cover the climax of the book. But in writing this post, it turns out there’s a lot to discuss, so I’ll just be sticking with the penultimate chapter here.

And what a climax it is.

Christie got a huge, much needed lift from meeting Lida Zeff, and it helped her enjoy the con a lot more. The night ends in a J-pop dance, which was also one of my favorite things to do at a con. Christie’s having so much, until Derek starts flirting with other girls in front of her again. She joins up with Matt’s friends instead, who she got to know over the course of the con.

Christie goes to speak with Matt, and this ends up happening:

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Squee~!

I’ll admit it: I squealed when I read that the first time. And when I read it through again this time.

Yes, Christie is technically cheating, which is generally frowned upon. But because Derek has no redeeming qualities, I doubt anyone really cares. I certainly don’t. And while Matt has been rough around the edges, he at least tries to apologize and improve his behavior.

Derek catches them kissing, and back at the hotel he and Christie have an explosive fight. Christie stands up to him and doesn’t back down this time. Her courage isn’t rewarded, though. Drunk and infuriated, Derek attacks Christie and attempts to rape her.

Yeah, you read that right. Romantic comedy Dramacon, full of jokes and pop culture references, just had an attempted rape scene.

One of the reasons I was a little nervous to read Dramacon was because I really liked the series and I wanted to continue liking it. I’ve grown up a lot since I first read Dramacon, and my understanding of sexual assault has changed over the years.

I’ve written about other books that use sexual violence as a plot device in the past here. I’m still never sure how I feel about sexual assault in fiction in general. Personally, it’s not something I like to see in books and movies, but it’s something that unfortunately happens in real life. And art is supposed to reflect life, right? At the same time, it’s also supposed to be an escape from our everyday lives. Is there a middle ground between these two things? Does there need to be?

I’ve mentioned before that I personally feel that sexual assault in fiction needs to be handled carefully, and with purpose. If a character is assaulted, then it either needs to bring out something new in the character, add something to the plot, and not trivialize the survivor’s experience.

Christie does get away from Derek, but the scene is scary and tense. It doesn’t play into a common rape myth that rape is only perpetrated by strangers. In fact, most rape survivors know their assailant.

But Dramacon doesn’t do a great job dealing with the aftermath. There’s only one chapter after this, so we don’t see much of Christie’s long-term reaction. I always wondered if Derek and Christie go to the same school. Does she still have to see him every day, even after they broke up? Is she scared to change classes, knowing that she might see the man who hurt her in the hallways?

In the final book, two years after the events of the first, Christie sees Derek again. She’s stunned to see him and probably scared. To make the situation even worse, he’s with his pregnant fiancée.

Put yourself in Christie’s shoes for a minute. You’ve just seen your abusive ex with another woman. What do you say to your ex and their partner?

A couple years ago, I found myself with a chance to confront my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend. And good God, I seized upon that chance. All the pain and anger inside me, all the damage inflicted on me came pouring out. I’d been a toy to him, but I made sure he knew how small and pathetic he was. If I had a chance to talk to his partner, I would sure as hell tried to warn them about who they were dating.

Christie doesn’t do any of that. She chat amiably with Derek’s fiancée and they even exchange emails. She just acts like nothing had happened. There’s no warning, just a joke about how Christie must have some stories about Derek when they were teenagers. This whole scene is so problematic for me.

Maybe this is to show that Christie’s matured, or forgiven Derek. It’s been two years, after all. But being assaulted doesn’t just go away in real life. Something like that can stay with you and follow you throughout your life, affecting your mental health, self-worth, and relationships for years to come.

Dramacon is a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, so spending the rest of it watching Christie recover from trauma would be totally opposite from the tone of the series. Since it brings out nothing new in the character or story, this momentary dark shift is just unnecessary. We already knew Derek was a bad boyfriend. I don’t think that the story needed to go as dark as attempted rape for Christie to run away from him. If Chmakova wanted to show that Derek was violent, he could have hit Christie, or pulled her hair, like he does in the following chapter. Any sort of physical violence should have been enough to prompt Christie to run away from him, and trigger Matt to beat Derek to a pulp. All of this could have happened without creating a huge problem for readers like me, and the tone of the story as a whole.

National Sexual Assault Hotline (US): 1-800-656-4673
RAINN Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Loved Ones
Rape Crisis Network Europe

Content warning: Discussion of rape and sexual assault in fiction. No graphic descriptions or images.

 

Dramacon 4: Meeting Your Heroes

I’ll admit it: reading this makes me miss anime conventions. I loved the energy, the camaradiere, the panels, and meeting people as dorky as I was. I stopped going in part because they’re so expensive, but mainly because I lost interest in anime over time. But I have plenty of good memories at Anime Boston and Anime North when I was still in college.

During my second year at Anime North, I met Dramacon‘s creator, Svetlana Chmakova. It was my second year at Anime North, and she’d just put out a new series, Night School. I bought a print for her to sign, entitled, “The Writing Process (as Explained by a Kitten in a Box)”. It was as cute as it sounds. I still have it hanging above my desk.

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When I met her, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed her work. I also wanted to tell her that when she referred to herself as a writer in the bonus pages, she made me feel like one day I could create comics too.

I was so nervous waiting in that line, and when it was finally my turn to meet her, I was too starstruck to say anything. I smiled and she greeted me and signed my print. I thanked her and walked away, feeling shaky, but elated.

Since then, I’ve had opportunities to meet one of my favorite actors and a personal hero. I learned from my inability to say anything meaningful to Ms. Chmakova. I decided on what I wanted to tell those people that I admired days in advance, and practiced it. When I finally met them, even if I was shaking or so overwhelmed I cried, my God, I said it.

I mention this now because in this chapter, Christie has the chance to meet Lida Zeff, her favorite manga creator. Unlike me, though, she didn’t totally blow it. I know firsthand how scary and exciting it is to meet someone you look up to. For most of the book, Christie is pretty meek and let Derek walk all over her. I would have thought she’d be like me, too nervous to say anything to her hero.

Instead, she embraces the chance to meet Lida Zeff. Who, as luck would have it, read Christie’s comic and wants to talk with the author about it. Christie’s pretty surprised by this. The day before, Derek had shown Lida the comic at a panel for a critique. According to him, Lida had said the comic was trash and that they needed to go back to school.

When Christie meets Lida, the manga artist clarifies the situation. She gave him an honest critique of his work, saying that he has promise, but would need art school to work at a professional level. Derek doesn’t know how to take a critique, and focused on the most negative aspects of it. But to be honest, I understand his perspective. I think it takes time to learn how to take a critique and not be totally wounded from it. Derek’s probably eighteen, and this con is his comic’s big debut. Until the con, the only feedback he may have gotten on it was from his friends, who are pretty biased.  It’s one of the few times in the manga where I have some understanding of why he’s being such a jerkass.

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Christie takes her chance to ask Lida for an honest critique of her writing. It’s a brave thing to do, and it shows a level of maturity that her boyfriend doesn’t have. Come to think of it, there’s plenty of creators – from amateurs to seasoned professionals – who don’t want to be critiqued at all. That willingness to learn, even if it hurts, puts her a head above other young writers. If you don’t take any critiques, if you don’t learn anything new, you’re going to be stuck in the same place as an artist. Or, as sci-fi and fantasy author Holly Lisle put it:

“If you assume that the words that flow from your fingertips were dictated to you by God and are thus sacred and immune from revision, only you and God are ever going to read them.”

Dramacon 3: Big Eyes, Big Mouth

In the last post,I talked about how Christie grows as a character throughout the series. At first she’s a shy girl who lets everyone walk all over her. By the final volume, she’s a self-confident young woman taking steps towards a writing career.

She’s not there, yet, though. When she and Matt go for a coffee, she shows more of the “real” Christie. She’s witty and teases Matt, and it’s totally out of character of what we know of her. So much so that Matt calls Christie out on it.20190204_1128112218555465877020755.jpg

It’s kind of a jarring shift that gets hand-waved off. I interpreted it as Christie acting like her true self, a side of personality that gets subdued when Derek’s around.

We also get more information about Christie and Matt’s life outside the con. He’s a freshman in college, she’s a barely legal high school junior. I’m glad that the manga makes a point about Christie’s age. Otherwise, I’d just be too weirded out by the age difference to enjoy the story. Christie’s age also works well in terms of her character. It offers an explanation for her naivety, and reflects in her relationship with Derek. She’s in an unhappy, floundering relationship, but is still trying to make it work. She holds on to Derek too long because when you’re young and in love, you think you’re going to be that way forever.

We learn more about Matt, too, but not the full story yet. He wears sunglasses at all times, which Christie finds disconcerting. When she takes them off, she apologizes after seeing what he’s hiding. The audience doesn’t know exactly what she saw, but it’s enough to make her understand why he’s always wearing his trademarked sunglasses. Their banter and flirting come to an abrupt stop when Derek returns to the hotel and catches them in the act. He’s not happy with her, but she finally stands up to him. For a minute. 20190204_1130395556471477410251673.jpg

But when Derek says that he came back to the hotel to check on her – the bare minimum of what a good boyfriend should be doing – she instantly caves. It’s fair, I guess. I can’t get mad at Christie for not having a total change of character in a span of only a few pages.

Derek’s real motivation for returning to the hotel was to sleep with Christie while they had the room to themselves. It’s established earlier in the book that Christie lost her virginity to Derek, which is one of the reasons she’s holding on to him longer than she should. But she’s also expressed discomfort about sex throughout the book so far, to the point where she can barely say the word “sex”. Her blush when Derek pulls her close and general hesitation about sex  lead me to believe that she was pressured into sleeping with him for the first time.20190204_1133072403960851287740108.jpg

One of the things that’s disappointing to me reading this now is that Derek is just flat, flat, flat. He’s a bad boyfriend, and at no point is he given a shot at redemption. He’s manipulative and an all around antagonist. I would have liked to see more nuance from him, other than, “he’s a jerk.”

Well, I think Matt is right about this one.

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Dramacon 2: Tentacles~

First of all, I apologize for the late post. Two big life events over the last week left me with not enough time, energy, or focus to work on this blog. I got engaged last week (yay!), which was shortly followed by my brand spankin’ new fiancé having knee surgery. His recovery is going well, but it also means I’ve had to step up a lot more around our home. Fortunately, things are settling down, so I’m going to try to keep a regular schedule again. Just don’t be alarmed if, instead of a normal post, you see a long, confused rant about color palettes and guest lists.

But we’re not here to talk about how planning my wedding scares me shitless. Instead, we’re here to talk about Dramacon, and pick apart a fictional character’s romantic relationships.

You see, Christie has a type. Unfortunately, her type is “snarky jerks”. She’s found an ally in the mysterious cosplayer Matt, but he’s also a total heel to her, too. He and Christie have chemistry, though, and he has a single advantage over Derek. Matt actually listens to Christie and wants to hear about her problems. Derek’s a pretty flat character, and he doesn’t get much development throughout the book. Matt at least has more facets to his personality, even if they’re hiding under mean one-liners.

I think there’s another reason that Dramacon appealed to me when I first read it at age eighteen. Apart from fantasizing about a con romance, Christie and I are similar in less than ideal ways. She’s a writer who creates comics, which is still an aspiration of mine. But she’s also a pushover who doesn’t always communicate her desires well. Like Christie, I’ve held on to relationships for too long, and put myself in uncomfortable positions to make a guy like me more. I’m glad to say that I’ve learned from those mistakes and I’m happier for it. Christie has a voice and a mind of her own, but right now, she’s holding herself back from speaking out.

Dramacon isn’t just a series about a girl falling in love at a con. As the series progresses, Christie finds her confidence and learns to advocate for herself. But she has to go through a lot of pain to gain that confidence and say what she really needs to. As someone who had a hard time with this for years – and still struggles on occasion – I think seeing Christie grow and change was something that really drew me to Dramacon.

To my credit, though, I at least knew what hentai was.

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To be fair, that’s how I feel about hentai, too.

Girl, I know you’re supposed to be an innocent character, but you’re at an anime convention. How do you not know what hentai is?!

The rest of her friends are going to the hentai screening, but Christie’s not into it. Instead of just saying she doesn’t want to go, she lies about having a headache. She goes back to the hotel, and runs into Matt in the elevator.

And Christie totally has a crush on him, even as she reminds herself she has a boyfriend. But it’s so cute! She and Matt don’t end up together by the end of this book, and that’s probably for the best. Apart from both characters’ need to mature, sometimes a romantic fling is as much about the setting as it is the person.

I developed a couple crushes at cons myself, one I even tried to follow up on by trying to friend the guy on Facebook. I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, with him living in Canada and us only having known each other for a few hours. He never responded to my friend request, and I went on with my life. No pining or lovesick sighs. When I did send that (ignored) friend request, I was trying to capture that moment. I wanted to extend the time we spent together, re-live the thrill of clicking with someone I’d never met before. It was all the potential of a relationship – romantic or otherwise – that would never become anything.

Christie’s crush is just that. A chance meeting and a bit of chemistry with someone who’s marginally nicer to her than her boyfriend. They become friends over the course of this book, but as of right now, their attraction is based purely on those fleeting moments.