Star Wars: The Spoilers Awaken

I’m sure you’re interested in more hot takes on my ass and preparing for a pilonidal surgery but instead I’m going to talk about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Obviously there will be spoilers.

There is a problem with people of a certain age writing about Star Wars. For many of us, there is no time before Star Wars, no time we don’t remember having seen it. It’s sunk deep into our bones, soaked into our souls, flavoring the stories we’ve told ourselves and the play we’ve shared with others. So when a Star Wars movie or tv show or book comes out, it’s hard to separate our sense of self from what we’re consuming. It’s hard to accurately judge the product because there’s so much established emotion, context, hope, love, and projection going on. There are high standards to meet, but enough love and good will that a mediocre product can still be lofted up as long as it hits the right notes. The Prequels didn’t hit the right notes, for a number of reasons.

“Star Wars: Rebels” does hit the right notes, albeit on a smaller and more intimate scale. Please read more behind the cut.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Pains in the Ass: Pilonidal Cysts and You (pt 1)

I had surgery on my butt in August and I’m going to tell you ALL ABOUT IT in a series of posts because apparently what I do on the internet is talk about my ass. Which has resulted in a bunch of really interesting twitter bots following me. Lord help me when I try to get a job and they do a google search on me or something. Anyway. Pilonidal Cysts.

I have a cystic skin condition unrelated to Pilonidal Disease, so when I had gross oozing, bleeding, swelling, and pain at the base of my tailbone/ass I assumed it was just my skin being awful and trying to kill me. I’ve lived with this for LITERALLY twenty years. TWO DECADES. I was aware of what Pilonidal Cysts are, but what are the chances that I’d have hidradenitis suppurativa AND pilonidal disease? IT IS TO LAUGH. Of COURSE I’d have both! I mentioned my butt issues to my general practitioner who said “Hm, that sounds like a pilonidal cyst, pull your pants down” and I did and mooned her and she said “yup that’s a Pilonidal Cyst here’s a referral to a surgeon.”

I foolishly assumed the surgeon could like… lance it in his office and that’d be it. OH LOR. NO. It involves actual knock-you-out surgery and I’m going to talk about that in a later post. But right now I’m going to talk about what a pilonidal cyst is.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about Pilonidal Cysts/Pilonidal Disease and what causes it. The general idea most people have of Pilonidal Disease is that it’s caused by fat hairy gross dudes who sit around too much in a slouched position while playing computer games and jerking off. It’s OBVIOUSLY caused by ingrown hairs, poor hygiene, improper seating posture, etc.

Actually, according to my surgeon, it’s not! It is, I believe, related to Spina Bifida. When the fetus is forming you have the neural tube that eventually closes to form the spinal column. Sometimes it doesn’t close completely and a little pocket or closed tube is formed. Either you’re born with it or you’re not. If you’re born with it, either a hair grows into it or not. If a hair grows into it, either it gets infected or it doesn’t. If it gets infected either it comes to a head on its own and drains (like mine did, continuously for twenty years) or it just swells up and is horrific. It’s entirely chance. There’s nothing a person can do to cause or prevent it. Lancing, antibiotics, etc don’t really affect it. Even if you can get it into remission, it’ll come back. The surgeon I saw stressed that it’s something he sees all the time in men, in women, in thin people, in fat people, in hairy people, in not hairy people, in active people, in sedentary people. It’s just a thing that happens. And it can be treated.

The surgeon I saw removes the entire Pilonidal Sinus in out patient surgery and then stitches it all up. He does not pack the surgical site unless the stitches fail, which I appreciate, as I didn’t want to deal with packing. It took me about 3 weeks before I could sit again (I basically spent two weeks doing nothing but lying in bed, which actually is awful.) In my next post I’ll talk about how to prepare for surgery, and what happened with my surgery.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Fury Road and Agency

Just saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” and it was utterly fantastic in so many different ways. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not. But one thing I noticed was how many of the marginalized characters had agency, made their own decisions, controlled their own lives. There’s spoilers in this, so I’m going to tuck the text behind a fold.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Phil Miller and Male Entitlement

NOTE:
This post contains spoilers for the first five episodes of Fox’s Last Man On Earth.

Phil Miller has spent much of his post-virus last man on earth time wallowing in his own filth, drunk, in droopy underpants. In the Before Times, the 41 year old man had a job- not a career- as a temp. Unless the Tuscan, AZ temp market is vastly different from the Chicago, IL temp market, he was making $8-11 an hour, or just enough to afford his shabby apartment, single lifestyle, and not much more.

When Phil, who has given up on personal hygiene, sobriety, and life, meets clean and well groomed (shaved legs, even!) Carol, he stumbles across her clean drying laundry (and bra) first, spinning a fantasy of the sexy young soulmate they belong to. Carol’s less than conventionally attractive appearance puts him off immediately. She doesn’t live up to his fantasy. She isn’t what he deserves. Phil, who has literally been living in a pile of garbage and shitting in a pool, is convinced that she isn’t good enough for him. This despite the fact that Carol, annoying quirks aside, has her life pretty together. She manages to bathe and wash her laundry, for instance. She has plans for the future that don’t involve soaking in an inflatable pool filled with alcohol. And unlike temp Phil she had an actual career as an office manager of a business, which meant she was making significantly more than Phil and also probably had PTO, health insurance, and a 401k. In the old world, there’s a good chance she would have been out of his league, and yet Phil considers himself comfortably superior to her because of her appearance and insistence on stopping at stop signs (which, by the way, ignoring stop signs lead to a car crash when Melissa shows up). But really, which is worse: being a stickler for grammar or shitting in a pool and living amidst literal piles of literal garbage with food crusted on your face and in your beard?

Likewise, when Melissa shows up– younger looking than Carol, more conventionally attractive, more stylish, more made-up, more blonde– Phil feels entitled to her sexually and emotionally. She is more attractive than him, and again, in the before times she had a career as a Real Estate Agent and made FAR more money than he did. She, again, would have been very out of his league and yet he feels entitled to her simply because he exists and he wants her. Melissa can barely tolerate his creepy and predatory company, desperate horniness aside. (And in a world where every single vibrator and battery is free and available, would she REALLY be that desperate for sex with a creepy married dude? That plotlette very much feels like something a group of dudes would come up with.) Phil has nothing to offer her besides sex, and yet he feels he deserves her and if given the chance (no Carol, no Todd) she would realize how great he is and return his interest and attention, even though he has an established history of lying to her and betraying her trust.

This is an example of the same male entitlement that gives rise to the Nice Guys who have nothing to offer save feigned respect and kindness with an ulterior motive, and who deride and berate the women (usually better looking, with better jobs and social skills) who don’t appreciate their greatness and refuse to fuck/date/marry them.

Phil’s attitude is toxic, and dangerous, and creates a hostile and threatening environment for Melissa and Carol to navigate. When Carol pulled a gun on drunk, urine-soaked Phil and demanded to know if he was a nice person or not he said he was. But as his interactions with his fellow survivors show, he isn’t very nice at all.

Will his brief moment of emotional vulnerability and truth with Melissa mark a change in his toxic personality, or will he continue being a barely likable (albeit wittily written) character? I have a sneaking suspicion that “Last Man On Earth” may reflect the reluctance of an increasing number of survivors to put with him and his manipulations.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Breathing In And Letting Go

I’ve had a large number of miscarriages since having Nikola (and some prior to him), which is one of the more frustrating forms of infertility. I can GET pregnant, obviously. I can’t STAY pregnant. Is it hormonal? Chromosomal? Something else? Who can say! Investigative tests can be really expensive and often don’t reveal anything anyway. I’m 36 and the age gap between Nikola and any hypothetical siblings is only increasing, and I made the decision recently to let go of the dream of a larger family, of another baby, of a sibling for Nikola.

It’s both sad and a relief.

I’ve never been a fan of infants, although I adore toddlers and get a big kick out of little kids.

Niko was out of school for almost two weeks due to a series of serious illnesses. Last Friday was his first day back in a while, and a gorgeous day to boot. After school let out I let him run around on the playground for over an hour. One of his friends kept touching base with his mom and baby sister. One heart melting moment included him touching foreheads with the giggling girl and exchanging smooches. All I could think of was how much I wanted that for my family, for Nikola. It was this sour, painful moment. But it passed quickly.

More than that brief pain, I mostly felt sympathy for the woman, juggling an early toddler who wasn’t quite walking and wanted to crawl around an unsuitable area (a paved surface covered in dirt, grit, broken glass, etc or a grassy area that was mostly mud and dog poop– thanks dog owners who bring their dogs onto school property where kids play and run and let your dogs crap there and don’t clean it up! Awesome!) and be anywhere but in her mom’s arms. And as much as I’d like another kid in my life, a sibling for Nikola, I am so so glad I don’t have to deal with a baby.

I’ve started thinking about the expenses of another kid, and how we’re able to give Niko more… more books, more toys, more museum memberships, mini boxes of cereal and juice boxes and other tiny little indulgent luxuries.

I’m starting to not just adjust to having only one child, but to prefer it.

(Having made this decision, of course, my period was then over a week late. Thanks body! You suck!)

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At Least It’s Not Pertussis

Nikola, almost six, is an only child who never attended day care or much in the way of play groups. Pre-Kindergarten and its broad swath of germs and viruses hit him hard. Kindergarten is hitting him less hard, but that’s like saying getting struck down by a golf cart is better than being flattened by a fast moving freight train. You’re still on the ground counting your bones and wondering what hit you.

Niko has a gross cold that leaves him snotty (although he’s finally figuring out how to blow his nose) and with a nasty cough. I kept him home from school yesterday because the cough was disrupting his sleep and he was on edge and poorly. Then last night his cough progressed to triggering vomiting. Thankfully he knew what was up and called me in to help him and we kept the mess pretty contained, at least physically. But he doesn’t enjoy vomiting, or coughing excessively, or feeling out of control, especially at 1:30 in the morning. I mean, who does? So the coughing till he pukes events usually progress to crying till he coughs more and then pukes again. One of my mom jobs is to calm him down when he gets worked up (even when he’s healthy, as he has asthma) because crying can lead to coughing can lead to grossness.

I cleaned up the puke, got him calmed down, helped him blow his nose and drink some water, cranked up his humidifier, fluffed his pillows, and did everything else I could to help him sleep comfortably. I gave him the last of the liquid benedryl we have on hand because it can shrink swelling in nasal passages and dry up postnasal drip, helping ease coughing and make breathing easier. He declined the codeine cough syrup we have for him (it tastes like fire) but if he’s coughing this much again tonight I’m going to insist he take it. But other than that, there’s nothing I can do. I mean, I can sit up on the couch with him, supporting his body so he’s not lying down, and hope that helps his cough. I can push fluids into him during the day, and feed him chicken soup. I can take him to the doctor (where they’ll say “yup, that’s a cold, keep him hydrated. that’ll be $25 please.”). But I can’t really make him better.

Most cold remedies don’t work any better than a placebo, while also having some pretty severe side effects, especially for children. There’s nothing I can give Niko to make him all better. If I could pull the sickness out of his body and endure it myself I would. All I can do is try to make him comfortable and be thankful this isn’t Pertussis.

Pertussis, also known as Whooping Cough for the whooping sound of the coughs, or 100 day cough because of how long the illness usually lasts (10 weeks or longer, ie, over 2 1/2 months), is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It causes coughing so extreme that people wit it vomit, can break ribs, or become utterly exhausted. After coughing they can pass out; during coughing they can wet themselves, tear open arteries, burst capillaries in their eyes, or develop hernias. Infants don’t always develop the cough, sometimes they just stop breathing. Complications include pneumonia, encephalitis, and seizures. Despite the fact that a Pertussis vaccine was developed in the 1940s and has been proved resoundingly effective and safe, people are still rejecting it out of fear and misinformation. And so a disease that could be completely eradicated in the USA has pockets where it lives and strikes those most vulnerable to it, hospitalizing many of them and killing some of them.

Nikola will be sick for a week or two. He’ll probably miss 4-5 days of school (a school week). He’ll be gross and miserable and he’ll probably get this one or two more times this school year, and hopefully will get it less often next year. We’ll continue to treat him kindly and gently and help him use his inhaler so he can breathe better. He’ll be miserable and I’ll be miserable and I’ll lie awake at night listening to him cough and worrying, and listening to him NOT cough and worrying about THAT.

But it’s not Pertussis, at least.

That’s something.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Transphobic bathroom laws aren’t about protecting women

One of the big explanations/excuses for why various transphobic laws restricting public bathroom use to genitals is that it protects women from men who’d put on wigs and dresses (and shave their bodies? and wear foundation garments? and pad themselves? and use extensive make up? and manage to find size 12 or larger womens’ shoes?) and assault women in the bathrooms while disguised as women, something which has never happened, although men dressed as men have assaulted women in bathrooms and have camped out in portapotties to get a glimpse of women using the toilets.

If legislatures really wanted to protect women in bathrooms, they’d realize that first of all, assault is assault. It doesn’t matter if a man assaults a man or a woman; it doesn’t matter if a woman assaults a man or a woman. If you’re in the bathroom and someone assaults you, that’s already a crime. You don’t need to make a special law that only targets one particular marginalized group of people on the grounds that one of them might maybe commit a crime at some point. Then maybe they’d look into laws across all states, or even federal laws, protecting people from “upskirt” photos. It’s legal, at least in Scotland, to install one-way mirrors in public bathrooms and then sell tickets for men to watch women using the bathroom. Has there been a rash of legislature outlawing that in the USA?

Laws barring Trans and Non-Binary/GenderQueer folk from bathrooms because of their genital configuration are not about protecting other bathroom users. They’re about curtailing the ability of Trans & GQ/NB to exist in the world without harassment. They’re about making it illegal to exist as a Trans & GQ/NB person when there are more and more laws protecting their right to exist. They’re about finding ways, about creating ways, to oppress a marginalized group and make it very clear that they are unwelcome and not fully human.

These proposed laws spin ciswomen as delicate tender flowers needing extra protection and transwomen as sexual predators who are “really” men. They are harmful and they are bullshit and they are created not out of any desire to help or protect but out of the desire to actively oppress and harm Trans and GQ/NB people.

This is a tremendous problem.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Bechdel, Mako Mori, and other “feminist” “tests”

In 1985, Alison Bechdel used an idea by her friend Liz Wallace to create a strip for “Dykes to Watch Out For” where two women discuss going to see a movie. One states her movie rule: That any movie she watches has to have:

  • at least two women
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than a man

The character goes on to state that the last movie she was able to see was “Alien” because the two women in it discuss the monster.

This is, again, a comic from 1985.

Thirty years later, most movies still fail this basic criteria. This is the absolute bare minimum required for anything approaching decent representation of women, and yet most movies and tv shows don’t even offer this much. Marvel, for instance, is much lauded for their leftist movies, yet in “Captain America II: The Winter Soldier” Black Widow and Agent Maria Hill don’t interact except to discuss Nick Fury and who shot him. Black Widow, an amazing character, doesn’t interact with ANY women, although she talks about them in attempts to get Steve Rogers laid.

It’s possible to have a movie that passes the Bechdel test and is still a horrible movie that treats women like garbage, too. You could have two women whose only interaction is to discuss how much they looooove chocolate and manicures and shoes, for instance, or how bad they are at math. But since the vast majority of movies and tv shows have no or only one woman, even that doesn’t happen.

So some people have proposed the Mako Mori test to see if a movie is “truly” feminist, even though the Bechdel test isn’t anything close to a guarantee of feminism. The Mako Mori test is simple, involving:

  • at least one female character
  • who gets her own narrative arc
  • that is not about supporting a man’s story

Wow wow wow, amazing right? A movie that has a fully fledged female character that does stuff independent of a man? Well this obviously blows the Bechdel test out of the water, who needs that garbage thing anymore, right? Except this ignores the fact that Mako Mori type characters, as great as they are, still tend to be Exceptional Women who exist in isolation, in worlds populated almost solely by men. “Pacific Rim” had all of one female character other than Mako Mori, who had very few lines, and never interacted with Mori. Mori was raised by a man, studied with men, had no women in her life. She’s treated, her character is treated, as a human being with motivations and flaws and goals just like male characters are routinely treated. But she’s the ONLY female character allowed to be human. It’s a step forward, but it’s a baby step.

It is incredibly easy to set up a movie, tv show, or book that passes the Bechdel test. It’s the lowest possible bar for treating women characters as something more than accessories for male characters or tokens, yet most media still utterly fails to do this simple thing. The Mako Mori test provides a template for a more realized woman character, but still leaves her isolated and tottering gently on the pedestal of Exceptionalism. They’re both good starts, but after thirty years media still has the same problems Liz Wallace and Alison Bechdel were so frustrated with.

It’s interesting to see people pitting the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori test against each other, as if there’s only One True Way to express women as human. And of course by “interesting” I mean “depressing as hell.” They’re both pretty bare bones requirements and yet these basic needs still aren’t met. Women overwhelmingly are not treated as humans and when they are, Mako Mori aside, they tend to be white women.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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Women Gatekeepers of Nerdery

I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen “Star Wars.” I grew up with it. The original trilogy is one of my mom’s favorite films, and she took Baby Me into the theater to see “The Empire Strikes Back,” nursing me to keep me quiet. We used to check out the television magazine in the Sunday Tribune and highlight the showings of “Star Wars” movies, and she’d let me stay up late to watch them. She started reading me “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as a bedtime story when I was so young that it just sank into my conscious. I don’t remember hearing it for the first time, I don’t remember a time without those stories in my blood, although I do remember lying on an inflatable pool float on the floor one hot and sticky summer listening to her reading to me and my brothers. Something was going on with our bedrooms, I don’t remember what, and we weren’t able to sleep in them. So we camped out on the floor upstairs and she read to us by candle light.

My mom introduced me to a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and encouraged me to read and enjoy the genre. She scoured used book stores for out of print books back in the day when out of print books could be very hard to find (no internet!). She took it as given that I could and should love these books, these movies, these tv shows. She shared them with me, shared her love and adoration, her visions of the future and endless possibilities.

I know a huge amount of women who are really deeply invested in science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and tv shows. Most of them were introduced to it by other women, by their moms and aunts and older sisters and cousins and best friends. Paperbacks are circulated, pages worn fabric-smooth, binding creased and bent and chipping away, covers held on with yellowing tape. Read this. Try this. What do you think of this? Have you read this one yet? We induct each other into little worlds, usher each other in, introduce each other to our favorite books and characters and authors and worlds.

More and more the recommendations involve “there’s a female central character!” or “nobody gets raped in this one!”

Science Fiction and Fantasy, like Gaming, has a reputation as being male-dominated, a genre ruled by men: written by men, about men, for men. Women interested in these areas are treated as trespassers, foreigners, creatures suspect and false. This despite the fact that there’s a very long history of women writing Science Fiction and Fantasy… that one could easily argue that the novel in general and Science Fiction specifically were founded/originated by women authors. Women have always been involved with Science Fiction, with Fantasy, with Gaming, with Horror, with Pulp, with all the little islands men set themselves up as absolute rulers of despite all evidence to the contrary.

So let’s have a toast to the women in our lives who introduce us to our favorite nerd things, our geeky tv shows and movies and books and games. Let’s think of our lady friends and their recommendations and our history. Let’s remember each other with fondness and kindness and keep sharing our passion and love.

Women have been a part of every aspect of nerd culture since the very beginning. We aren’t going anywhere. But we’re bringing others with us.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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31 Days of Horror: Hiatus

I have a sick kid, so haven’t been able to watch movies lately.

He’s not worryingly sick, just sick enough to stay home from school (first with a stomach bug, then with a cold).

If he were 10 or older I’d try to find movies to watch with him/around him. But he’s 5, and my review of “Curious George And The Big Halloween Boo Fest Of Ridiculous Circumstances” would only devolve into a rant about colonization and the 1%.

I’ll finish up reviewing 31 movies total, but alas, it might not happen until after October is finished.

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