I finished the novel (Faults*, by Teri de la Peña) I started this afternoon and, in general, I give it two thumbs up. My caveat:
I completely understand the impulse to mock white people, I do it constantly, in fact. We're easy targets, we've done some mighty stupid things. I guess overall, though, I'm not sure what good it does to create a shallow, white character to cast as a villian. I wouldn't want read a book that did that to a character of any other ethnicity, it doesn't seem quite fair. And I guess I seriously doubt that any white woman who was supposed to be so educated would be so *clueless*--she would have to be the stupidest person in the world not to understand why a chicana librarian would feel uncomfortable suddenly becoming (essentially) her domestic servant. She'd have to be clueless, stupid and the most insensitive person alive.
It's so true that "popular" feminism has failed to offer a lot to women of color, or impoverished women. I doubt any of the women who live in my neighborhood would be able to relate to the feminist discourse coming out of the academy. Feminism hasn't exactly been inclusive, and it has definitely privileged women with white skin. Even so, it kind of depresses me when a white lesbian becomes the target of a chicana lesbian writer (in this particular case). It seems like if you're going to hammer on a white woman for her position of power, it probably shouldn't be the lesbian you're singling out. I'm not sure who the target should be, but I guess I would prefer it not be *me* because, honestly, I'm really trying to get it right here. I really am trying to be a responsible global citizen, and I would be very grateful if you could cut me some slack.
Sometimes I feel like we're all standing around playing this "I'm more oppressed" than you game. If you're more oppressed than me, then you get to beat me up. If I'm more oppressed then you, then the baseball bat is in my hands. And that's seriously fucked up.
*Why would anyone write a novel called Faults about chicana lesbians, using the Northridge earthquake as a major metaphor, when Sheila Ortiz Taylor's Faultline is so incredibly famous? Just curious. Obviously they're not the same book, not even close, but I can't be the only who didn't pick up Faults the first time I saw it on the shelf because I thought, "Oh, read that one," and then didn't realize until two weeks later, "Hey, that wasn't Faultline, it was Faults."
Okay, mystery solved. From "The Latina Legacy," by Terri de la Peña, Lambda Book Report, 6/1/99, p. 12.
"I remained unaware of Faultline until years later, probably because I was busy drafting my own novel with Chicana lesbian characters." So, I guess she's forgiven, but you'd really think someone would have pointed it out.
So, two tough topics to spit out this evening. Neither of which I particularly want to write about, but it's probably good for me (either that, or I'm just an incredible masochist).
I called IU EAP and luckily didn't get their freaking answering service this time. The woman who put me on hold was very nice and came back to the line every minute or so to apologize. I finally told her to not worry about it, I was perfectly willing to listen to music and read my book, she didn't have to keep checking back and apologizing, just patch me through when a case manager was free.
I'm not sure about this whole thing. The deal is, IU EAP refers me to a local therapist and I can talk to them for three sessions. Then they refer me on. So, given that it takes me, like, six months before I say anything personal to anybody, I'm not sure what these three sessions are supposed to for me. I'm not even sure what it is that I'm should be talking to this person about. "Hi, my name is Susan, I'm an insomniac but I'm not particularly stressed about anything, so can we talk about basketball or something?"
I talked to the local therapist this evening, to set up an appointment. I had pretty much decided to give up on this whole idea, but the appointment time she offered exactly conflicts with the Staff Development Committee meeting (chaired by Problem Co-Worker A) and I really wanted an excuse to skip that meeting. You know your co-worker sucks when you'd rather go talk to a therapist than go sit in a committee meeting with her.
I started reading this novel while I waiting to pick Catherine up after work. I had an intensely negative reaction to one passage in particular, and it really surprised me, because I really like this author and have read all her other books. I'm not going to write about the passage/reaction because that would be *three* things I don't want to talk about, and I only promised myself to write down two.
However. It got me to thinking about why this novel(la) I've been working on still feels thin even though the characters are all there and the narrative is working and there aren't any huge gaps in the story line. I started thinking about exactly why it is that Liza feels so isolated and lonely. Partly it is because she's surrounded by the worst parts of capitalist culture--a downtown athletic club and the lame students at USC. But then I had to kind of face up to the fact that she also feels isolated because she never sees herself when she looks at other people on the streets. It's a really difficult concept to write about, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to fuck it up.
But I think it's important that Liza doesn't know how to be a white person in the middle of downtown L.A. Her apartment is right at that point where East L.A., south-central, Koreatown, and the downtown area merge, maybe a little east of where I lived, a little south. And she leaves her building, and no matter where she goes, she can't relate to the people around her. See, I knew I would fuck it up--I can't even explain it here, it will never come out right in the book, but Liza is absolutely terrified that she's going to say the wrong thing, give the wrong signal, offend someone, invite someone, just generally act improperly because she's never been in such a place before. She doesn't have anyone to help her navigate L.A., and she finds that she's turning into a racist. I mean, maybe that's why she has to leave L.A., she discovers that suddenly people who didn't frighten her in the midwest make her cross the street to avoid them now. And she hates that.
Who is she going to talk to about this? She hates it when people ask her questions as the resident gay expert, making her speak for gay people everywhere, so it's not like she can just walk up to the nearest Korean-American and say, "Hey, do you all find X offensive?"
So, I think she's frightened all the time. Some of it is legitimate fear--it's stupid to walk through even the edges of south-central by yourself to get to class when you're as frail as Liza, and it's bound to catch up with her. But the rest of it is just the fear that she's getting lost, no one can find her, she isn't one of the beautiful privileged people at USC, but she also has no way to break into the social structure that surrounds her at the edges of downtown.
Ick. I have to go eat dinner now.