The Bell Jar, the book cover, and mental illness

Dear Internet,

Earlier this year, there was a brouhaha all over Facebook and Twitter about how “disgusting” and “sexist” the new UK version of the 50th anniversary cover for Sylvia Plath’s seminal work, The Bell Jar. Here is the offending cover:

slyviaplath

There are obviously several “chick-lit” cover tropes in play:

  1. Stock image of a woman applying make-up
  2. Vintage coloring scheme
  3. “Girly” cursive font

Given this context and novel’s content, everyone and their sixteen cousins are in a tizzy about the nature of this cover:

If Sylvia Plath hadn’t already killed herself, she probably would’ve if she saw the new cover of her only novel The Bell Jar. via Jezebel

How is this cover anything but a ‘fuck you’ to women everywhere? via Dustin Kurtz, marketing manager at Melville House

Awesomelycomicallyhistorically inapprop’ via Andy Pressman, graphic designer (in response to Kutz)

“The anniversary edition fits into the depressing trend for treating fiction by women as a genre, which no man could be expected to read and which women will only know is meant for them if they can see a woman on the cover.” via Fatema Ahmed, London Review of Books

“Insult to women everywhere” The Independent

Ms. Magazine, Salon, and The Guardian also weighed in, but kept their content more neutral, while Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post UK wrote the usual knee jerk reactions you would expect for the sole purpose of link baiting.

Interestingly, the controversy was never addressed in publications with consistently reputable book coverage, such as the New York TimesUSA TodayWashington Post or SlateWhat’s even more interesting is the cover was released in October of 2012 and only in the UK. A few souls bemoaned the inappropriate nature of the cover at the time, but it did not become WW III until someone at Jezebel decided to get their tits up about the topic. At which time, it became a feeding frenzy of OH EM GEE, WE MUST AVENGE SLYVIA PLATH.

So there is that.

Here is something to think about. No professional writer, blogger, or Internet commentator of note, made ANY kind of comment in the defense of the cover as a representation of the mentally ill, or fuck, did not make a single noise that it was recursive against the mentally ill. No, no, no – it was all about feminism, how Plath got jacked out of literary respectability because of the lurid colored cover and the overly female image, and her work has now, so say them all, been degraded to some emo representative chick lit that completely belays her importance.

So isn’t it funny that when it comes to someones idea of what a graphic designed cover of mental illness could look like, we decide to reject that notion on the basis it is disrespecting our vaginas? I mean really?

And listen — can someone put Jezebel out of their misery because they have become a hyperbole unto themselves? I do not get how it is seemingly appropriate for them to rail against the man in regards to feminism while seemingly having zero problems making insulting and stereotypical commentary about mental illness in the same breath. So sayeth my comments to the article:

“I’m varying degrees disgusted/ashamed only a small number of people called out the fact Tracie is an insensitive and obnoxious asshole for making disparaging commentary about mental illness and suicide. I tried to commit suicide when I was 17, my mother attempted twice in her 50s. Maybe next time we’ll just come to you for suggestions next time we want to off ourselves since you seem to have all the answers.”

What’s next, Tracie? Commentary likening Sylvia’s use of gas to kill herself to that of the Holocaust? Maybe somehow tie it in into ” exacerbated by the suffocating gender stereotypes”?

As a woman, who is bipolar, I don’t see the cover as “adjusting her make-up” or as some tricked pony of a color scheme to get more readers, or some flippant visual remark that the story is “chick-lit”, or being oppressed by the man for my gender (as you stated so eloquently).

What *I* see is what I see everyday in my OWN mirror: A woman with two faces. The public one I have to keep adjusted lest my illness be known, and the private one that is wholly different. The cover actually says A LOT about how much women need to carry more than one persona just to survive on a daily basis, even before the mental illness is added in.

It seems to me, that most people crying out “This is sexist bullshit!” or “That it’s an insult to women!” have never dealt with or experienced mental illness, which is far more stigmatizing for a woman.

And that fact has not changed in 50 years. Me, in response to the Jezebel article

So we come now, nearly a year later. We continually don’t want to talk about or disregard any representation of mental health in the media, even if that representation is wrong or misguided, if it goes against something else we place a higher value on, such as women’s rights.

But you can’t sacrifice one for the other. In an attempt to do so only reinforces whatever tropes and misguided notions exist whether the outlier is mental illness or something else entirely. And to reject a book cover under misconstrued ideals of what feminism looks like or that it is a rejection of contemporary ideologies — and remember, the baseline of what feminism is is the right to choose and portray our own lives — is just as hurtful and hateful as the projections everyone is attempting to claim the book is representing.

You cant’t have it both ways.

xoxo,
Lisa

This day in Lisa-Universe:

Reader::Writer

Dear Internet,

When I started this entry originally — ooh, must have been sometime in the summer, I was responding to an article I read in The Guardian about the role of the reader versus that of the writer. Umberto Eco’s response surprised me as he struck me as someone who spent long hours with his nose in comics and books as he does writing them, but the positing of, “We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven’t read, that we haven’t had the time to read.” is deeply revealing not only of Eco, but also the world at large which I think was his point. I know I’m not the only person who when meeting another, especially once I’m invited into their home, immediately look for their bookshelves to see what their reading. But the advent of the Kindle and other ebook devices have now circumvented my nosiness. THANKS, AMAZON.

Which brings us to me and my reading and writing habits.

The ever growing To Be Read pile.
The ever growing To Be Read pile.

The image above is our TBR pile that is organized by owner as of mid-2012. What you’re not seeing is the nearly falling stacks in our bedroom on one of our dressers, our stacks of books on our ereaders OR taking into account the piles you see to your left have doubled since this picture was taken.

The topics on the shelves are diverse from ancient history to contemporary art criticism, with YA fiction thrown in for good measure and everything inbetween. Despite the breadth of content available, my secret shame is not what I have purchased and not read, but my reading lists on Amazon which number titles in the hundreds, organized neatly by topic. I want to read all the words in the world.

In the beginning of this year, I made the commitment to not purchase another book until my stacks were cleared. Which I mostly kept to – but I also snuck around this rule simply by ordering books via interlibrary loan and then reading them in bits and pieces before they were sent back. Two titles I’ve requested and received enough times that I really should just buy the damn books. I also circumvented this by supporting things via Kickstarter – because it’s for a good cause! And then later, you get presents you totally forgot about in the mail.

The problem I had been struggling with is my lack of reading books, but in my head I took it to mean I was not reading anything at all. When I did the update earlier in November on the goals laid out in Kalendae Januariae, I reconciled the fact my book reading was down because I was reading so much more in other media (magazines, newspapers, etc). But I feel a sickening shame and my heart drops, no matter how I try to spin it in my head, I’m just not reading enough and by that I mean books.  As of today, I have read NINE books in 2013, my goal for 2013 was to read 50. I am also influenced by people I follow across the social spheres who are reading books voraciously and widely, something I admire, which is helping giving me a kick in the arse to get going on my own book reading again.

To accommodate more book reading time, I’ve started with small changes such as taking an actual lunch break during the day and reading in the staff lounge instead of the usual eating at my desk while staring mindlessly at a monitor. TheHusband and I have also set aside, several nights a week, time after dinner to read which has been helping. I’ve also swapped my morning ritual around to include a breakfast that requires me to sit and eat, rather than eat on the go and it is during this time I catch up on newspapers, magazines, and of course books.

This upcoming week I am off for the holiday and I’ve resolved to read 3 books before I go back to work on December 2. When I go on holiday shutdown in mid-December, and I’m off for nearly a month, I initially resolved to finish a book a day. The more realistic approach to this since we’re having family in town and other plans is probably a book every two days.  If I can make those two challenges work, plus whatever other book reading I get in between then, should start making a dent in my back piles.

This also applies to my comics, which with gifts, Kickstarter, and my own personal spending habits have gotten widely out of control.

Now that I’ve been writing daily for almost a month, and even wrote a poem or two in the process as well as some notes for some shorts, I now know that setting the task of a small goal and achieving that goal can be done! It’s astonishing how such a small change can make a huge difference even in how you approach things in life, because knowing I set myself up for this, I find how as I write more, I want to read more, and as I read more, I want to write more. It’s a very pleasurable circle jerk that allows me to expand my world, one page at a time.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. Jane Austen

Thanks Jane, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

x0x0,
Lisa

This day in Lisa-Universe: 2008, 1998

somewhere in her mind it’s always raining a slow and endless drizzle

Primeval rain, via Popular Science Monthly Volume 4, circa 1873 - 1874. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Primeval rain, via Popular Science Monthly Volume 4, circa 1873 – 1874. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Internet,

Friday afternoon, I had a Google Hangout meeting with various and sundry about a project we’re all jointly working on when it came to light one of the members of the group, whom I had been pretty friendly with up until that point, revealed the reason for her sudden turn of taste in me. What that revelation boiled down to was I am not letting others shine in the project. But she couldn’t really clarify what that meant but that her only recourse was to remove herself from within my company. In addition, friends of hers were apparently upset her name wasn’t credited on my professional website where I gave a brief summary on said project, as in my list of names, I list those I recalled at the time of the writing as a beginning contributor and as there were so many, threw the rest under “all the other awesome people who were there” list because I honestly could not remember everyone who was involved.

At least, I think that’s why she was upset because I never really got the gist for her sudden cold shoulder to me. She even acknowledge she couldn’t really articulate it, so I’m piecing together what I pulled from that conversation. When I finished the call, TheHusband, who heard the entire exchange from his office, restated my summary in much the same language. He said if he were me that he would have told her to grow a pair and if she wanted to get credit to actually start becoming the face herself of the work we’re doing if she’s so damned concerned with recognition. I just shrugged, rewrote the pages in more neutral language, and emailed her the updates.

When TheHusband and I were out running errands later that night, I was gripped with a wave of depression so heavy I stumbled in my tracks when I realised what was happening. A fairly painless event of grocery shopping took on the guise of fight or flight, of which I desperately trying not to abandon our cart in the middle of the aisle and get the fuck home so I could surround myself with things that could not hurt me. We had to do this thing, it had to be done this night, and if I could make it through the rest of the trip, I had an entire week where I had almost no responsibility with anything and I could start to protect what was becoming a very vulnerable self.

Sleep did not come easy Friday night as my mind running in a million paces.

Saturday morning woke up very cold and very bright. TheHusband and I had plans to finish some of the major house cleaning that was still hanging around our necks that morning and relaxing before the Doctor Who 50th anniversary party I was planning for a group of local friends. When 2PM came and went, three of the twelve invited showed up, two had declined and the rest never bothered to tell me either way. And if there is anything that can make one feel incredibly unloved and alone is when hardly anyone shows up to your party or even bothered to let you know they were not coming.

So you can imagine, coupled with the events from previous day which I had not quite shaken off, where this is going.

After the guests had left several hours later, and I did have fun with the people who were here, I made the mistake of checking various social networks and seeing huge Doctor Who themed parties being thrown over the world. At that point, as I flipped through the images of happy faces across the globe, I felt the loneliest I’ve felt in a very long time.

I spend a lot of time, too much probably, thinking about my relationships with people. To some, like TheHusband who constantly marvels I know people around the globe, when I say that save for him, how lonely I am at times, he doesn’t quite get the grasp of the depth of that loneliness. When we moved back to Grand Rapids, I told him that those who were my very best of friends when I moved away several years prior were no longer, he thought I was being some kind of cynical fool. But many of those friendships were formed in specific cultures and when the structure of that culture is taken away, the relationships often do not stand. I’m not saying all of those people I’ve met have disappeared, but a good many have gone on with their lives such as I’ve gone on with mine. Cycles happen and I’ve long accepted with the exception of very few, no matter how hard I try to make some of these relationships work, they are all really transitory.

The story that opened this piece was told not to shame the person whose concerns to her were very real, but because I needed a concrete example of something that happens on a fairly regularly basis with me. Much as I said to the male friend who was standing next to me while I was being sexually harassed, “Now you know.” I said the exact same thing to TheHusband when the meeting ended on Friday to illustrate the kind of behaviour I often deal with from others. It was not that he never believed me, he knows who he is married to, but again just as with my loneliness, he hadn’t grasped the extent of what people expect from me versus what they want from me.

Let’s be clear on something here: I do not think I’m some kind of special snowflake deserving of special treatment. What I do think is that I’m a pretty self-actualized human being who happens to be bold. Boldness comes in a  variety of flavors and my particular strength is that I have zero problems being upfront with you, shooting directly from the hip, making a lot of noise when I need to, or calling you out on your foolishness. It is surprising the number of people who would rather have you tell petty lies to make them feel good then tell them the truth. It is also a flabbergast of moments to realise the level of superficiality of many in the human race and their entire existence is based upon the one they have concocted to make themselves feel good. Additionally, I have zero political prowess and that fact alone has hurt me many, many times as I refuse to play reindeer games to soothe various beasts.

I often tell people I am not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’ve long came to that realization in my early 20s and for my entire adult life, that’s the code I’ve lived by. I’m not here to please you and I am also not here to be your personal bitch, to be called upon when you need that bold voice only to be thrown back into the dark when you’re done with them. As this has become a reoccurring event as of late, of that too, I am done.

People who are like me – there is a high price to pay for our boldness and while we are often publicly lauded for being the face of the cause, we’re privately punished for being ourselves. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told to change or tweak my personality because I did not “fit in” with a culture or a group, that it would better serve those around me if I toned it down a bit, or if I was not so blunt or some other attempt to turn me something I am not under the auspice of fake helpfulness. I’m not saying I’m above change or that I am perfect, I am saying I am done with society’s expectation that as I walk to the beat of my own drummer, I need to move my round peg ass into the square hole.

Here’s the thing most do not understand – bold people are often the most fragile and their boldness is a protective measure. Many bold people I have met, in addition to myself, find it natural to be the bull in the china shop as it is who they are, but that energy required to be who they are drains them. Not only do we tend to be more fragile, but we’re almost the most in the need of support. Being bold can quickly weaken you if you’re not careful, and drain you if you are careless.

If we’re friends on Facebook, as of this writing, I’ve deactivated my account. I have a private account I’m using to manage pages since several projects require it, and if we were friends on that particular account, I’ve unfriended you and made it as private as Facebook possible. This has not been something done in haste, but the events from the last couple of days finalized the long thought reasons for me to finally acknowledge the account needed to go. Frankly I’m tired of putting myself out there only to be rejected by the same people who expect me to continually support them or be the face of a particular cause because no one else wants to do it. I’m also very angry that a group of people whom were to be my allies, in the month since my I was publicly sexually harassed, 90% of them didn’t bother asking me if I was okay. And when you know at least half of them read your site, to me that’s telling of who you really are. Whether that’s your intention or not, your actions speak much louder than any words you could possibly have to say to me. I did not want to do a flounce, but I do think a brief reason was necessary if you went looking for me and saw I was no longer there on why I left.

If you want to stalk something on Facebook, this site has its own page.

For most of you, much this won’t affect how you read or see me on site. I’m still going to be on Twitter, but perhaps just not as much. I’m still going to be writing here just as often. But there is an intimacy associated with Facebook that isn’t even available anywhere else, regardless of how many layers I peel back as I write on this site. I need to reign in the control of what the world can see and Facebook was the first to go. At least here, in my sandbox, I’m forcing you to come to me and not the other way around.

I’ve also decided I’m shutting down publicly and openly discussing my projects, librarianship or otherwise, until they are finalized or complete. There have been too many recorded instances of my work being lifted and passed off as someone elses or lifted and touted that it’s open source therefore a free for all or lifted and not even giving me AND the people who worked with me credit.

I’m done being bullied by you Internet, go pick on someone your own size.

x0x0,
Lisa