From Batgirl to Oracle

With the release of the newest DC animated movie Batman: The Killing Joke just around the corner, I’d like to share an essay I had published a few years back. The paper is all about Barbara Gordon – who she was before, during, and after the comic The Killing Joke. Once the movie of the same title is released, I’ll post here again with a brand new analysis, so keep an eye out.

This is the only one of my published works that has been unavailable to read online. Just the Way is available here on Sierra Dawn, Write On. And Pyramid is available in the archives for “The Write Place at the Write Time.” You can read my short stories online, but not my academic paper.

Until now.

Like the Brushfire (in which I had Just the Way published), the Stellaria does not have online archives. So I decided to do the same as I did with Just the Way, now with my Batgirl paper: post it here.

Enjoy!

Stellaria cover

Cover art for the “Stellaria” issue that included my Barbara Gordon essay.

From Batgirl to Oracle

Barbara Gordon Fighting Crime in a (Bat)Man’s World

          The comic book genre of fiction is unlike any other. In most genres, we only know characters within limited plotlines. In comic books, however, one character can exist for half a century or more, encountering new storylines constantly.  And because the writers attempt to maintain continuity throughout all those decades, characters may change dramatically from the time of their conception until the present. 

            Barbara Gordon is one such character. Having first appeared in the late 1960s, she has now been in comics for almost fifty years. Her character has gone through many changes, the most life-altering of which being a sexist and violent attack resulting in her paralysis. After the attack, her superhero alias changed from Batgirl to Oracle. As Batgirl, Barbara was a character that conformed to rigid gender norms, perpetuating them in the process. However, as comic book continuity progressed, and Barbara became Oracle, she became a hero in her own name instead of simply a female version of her male counterpart. DC Comics writers took a misogynistic and tragic incident, and created a more feminist character through it.

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl

When she was first introduced in comic books, Barbara Gordon was a young, naïve college student dressing up as a female version of Batman for Halloween. She came across a kidnapping in progress, and helped stop it. She continued fighting crime after that, in the style of her trainer and mentor, Batman, while wearing a costume similar to his, and protected the helpless of Gotham as Batgirl.  Barbara was also the daughter of Commissioner of Police, James Gordon.  During those issues of comics, what made Barbara Gordon powerful and worth mentioning was directly related to men who were powerful before her.  Had her father not been commissioner, or had Batman not already created a name for himself, Barbara might never have become a superhero. Still, not every aspect of her character was as sexist as those of other female superheroes, even in her early years.

Barbara Gordon did not appear in comics until after World War II had ended. This resulted in a few positive aspects in her character regarding feminism. For instance, Barbara Gordon missed the propaganda that other female superheroes were subject to during the war. 1941 saw the first two female superheroes in comic book history, but both were depicted as “variations of the Betty Grable pin-up… thin, attractive, and… easily applied to the victim role in the manly cartoons of the day” (Scott, 328). While writers felt the need to come up with excuses for Clark Kent serving the war effort on the home front (so as to not raise child readers’ hopes for the easy victory America would have with Superman fighting overseas), there was no such reason given for female superheroes remaining at home. Instead it was simply considered a given: “The possibility of women in combat, even comic book ones, was difficult to grasp” (Scott, 333).

Having made her debut in 1967, Batgirl was instead a part of a new era of comics, commonly referred to as the Silver Age. During this time, comics were making a shift to a more adult audience, so there would be less of a need to censor themselves (Růžička, 48). Therefore, Barbara Gordon, aka: Batgirl, began as a more mature character and avoided many of the sexist attributes applied to other female superheroes of the time.

When her character first appeared, it was as Dr. Barbara Gordon, having gotten her Ph.D. in library science. However, her position as head librarian seemed to be merely a part of her secret identity – her career was less important to her character and more of a way to hide who she really was. And of course, her job as librarian, even one with a doctorate, was safely within the realms of femininity of the time.

Batgirl’s first appearance is an occurrence which at first seems to be a feminist one. For one thing, her Halloween costume borders on drag. She dresses up as a male superhero, without sacrificing her femininity to do so. She also successfully stops an attempted kidnapping. However, the person she saved from being kidnapped is actually Bruce Wayne. Although Barbara has no idea, the reader is well aware that Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman, and has the ability to quite easily escape from virtually any entanglement. Presumably the only reason he allows himself to be rescued is that he could not rescue himself while maintaining his secret identity. So while Barbara is able to congratulate herself on her successful heroism, the writers and readers of the comic understand that her actions are unnecessary. She is not the real hero.

This mentality of Batgirl’s usefulness (or lack thereof) continues throughout the first decade or so of her existence; Batgirl was merely something of a guest star within Batman’s comic books. During an interview, Mike Visser (a fan of comic books and a college graduate with a degree in English), explains Batgirl’s early role in the Batman comics: “Unlike Robin, Batgirl wasn’t recruited by Batman… she was an unwanted volunteer… a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was a woman” (Leeder, 2011). In most plots, Batgirl would come in to help Batman and Robin, “but then she’d end up causing more trouble for [them] and they would have to rescue her… in the first few stories she was just a nuisance” (Leeder, 2011).   

Barbara Gordon’s character in those early comics exemplifies what Lynn Peril describes in her book, Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons. According to Peril, “pink think” is the mentality built up over decades regarding how women in our society “should” act. In many cases, a woman’s success in her gender is linked to how well she does her make-up or catches a husband. For instance, in an article printed three years before Batgirl’s first appearance in comic books, women were advised “to stow a purse-sized mirror and lipstick near the front door (‘lifesavers when the bell rings unexpectedly’) and in the car (‘mighty handy when you have to rush to meet the 6:10’)” (Peril, 172). Since stashing secret make-up in one’s private space wouldn’t be enough, women of the time were also told to keep “‘a first-aid beauty kit in her bottom desk drawer or in the back of the filing cabinet’” (Peril, 172).

For most women, desks or filing cabinets would be reasonable places to hide make-up during work hours. For Barbara Gordon, however, there are no such convenient hiding places while fighting crime as Batgirl. But does that stop her from keeping her make-up fresh? 

Batgirl

Anderson, Murphy, and Carmine Infantino. “Showcase Presents Batgirl.” Comic book cover. Amazon.com. Web. 18 April 2011.

 

In this early Batgirl Comics cover, we can see Batgirl verifying pink think. Even as Batman and Robin fight, clearly outnumbered, Batgirl is preoccupied with her make-up. This Barbara Gordon sends the message to young female readers: no matter what your job is, there is no excuse for not looking your best! After all, you never know when you might meet your potential future husband.

Barbara Gordon as a Plot Point

            The main cause of Barbara’s transformation into Oracle is tragic.  The Joker, arguably Batman’s most dangerous nemesis, goes to Barbara’s home and shoots her in an attempt to drive her father, Police Commissioner James Gordon, insane. Alan Moore, although highly respected as a comic book writer for his ability to make readers consider the intricacies of morality, was obviously not as aware of gender issues when he wrote The Killing Joke in 1988. Batgirl’s only purpose in this comic was to be an effect on her father’s sanity. And thus Batgirl continues the female superhero’s legacy as “the victim role” (Scott, 328) in the medium of comic books.

            In The Killing Joke, the Joker sets out to prove that just one bad day is enough to drive any person insane. He does so by first shooting Barbara in her home. He then strips James Gordon naked before binding him and putting him on an amusement park ride, where he is forced to see pictures of his daughter, paralyzed, bleeding, naked, and helpless.

“The Joker didn’t blink at shooting Barbara Gordon through her spine and stripping her bare. He wasn’t ‘out to get her.’ He simply had made up his mind that he wanted to prove a point, and she was a useful object to help him make that point, no more or less meaningful to him than the amusement ride he later used for the same purpose” (Robichaud, 73).

Since it is obviously a sociopathic serial killer who makes these judgments, it could be argued that the writer is making the point that only villains have such mentalities. The message, therefore, could be that the reader, if s/he is a good person, should not think of people in this way. However, what were Alan Moore’s reasons for this particular plot?

            According to Visser, Moore’s only reasons were in regards to the male characters of the comic: “When Alan Moore wrote The Killing Joke… he didn’t have any intentions for what to do with [Barbara] after that. He was just trying to put Jim Gordon through hell” (Leeder, 2011). The validity of this statement can be seen in the fact that Moore did not write any comics involving Barbara Gordon after The Killing Joke. Barbara Gordon continued to appear in comics only when Kim Yale (DC writer/editor) and John Ostrander (DC writer) realized that there was still potential in her character, even if she was paralyzed.  

            The plot of The Killing Joke contains an element which has been used in fiction for centuries: the damsel in distress. Sometimes the plot is as simple as the female character being in jeopardy, and the male hero having to prove his love and valor by rescuing her. In comic books, this element is extended so that super villains will not only capture a female character, but even kill her, leaving her body for the male hero to find. There are so many cases of women in comic books who are “killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or [who] had other life-derailing tragedies” that Gail Simone (another one of the few female DC Comics writers) has created a website listing them (Simone, 1999). (There are men in comic books who have the above tragedies inflicted on them, though not nearly as many as women.) On the list are at least 110 women, and Simone admits that she may have missed a few.

            Barbara Gordon is, of course, one of the women on the list. She, like so many other female superheroes, was used purely for the effect she would have on the male hero of the story. However, out of the tragic and misogynistic events that paralyzed her, Barbara Gordon became a new hero.

Barbara Gordon as Oracle

The Joker’s bullet wound did not kill Barbara, but in a way killed Batgirl by paralyzing Barbara. At a time when it seemed that she would never be able to fight crime again, she created a new identity. As Oracle, Barbara used her vast knowledge of science and math as tech support for Batman as well as other superheroes. She even became the leader of an all-female group of superheroes called the Birds of Prey. Barbara’s transformation into Oracle is especially significant because she does so in a world where a body in peak condition can be one’s most valuable asset.

In mainstream comics, the depiction of superheroes’ bodies is an exaggerated form of society’s perception of what a body should look like – men have broad shoulders, narrow hips, and extensive and chiseled muscles; women have slim waists, and large chests and hips. 

Oracle

March, Guillem. “Oracle: The Cure.” Comic book cover. Amazon.com. Web. 18 April 2011.

In this the Birds of Prey cover featuring Oracle, Barbara Gordon is certainly in a position much more suited for fighting crime than she was in her previous Batgirl cover image. Here, Oracle holds her weapons at the ready, her facial expression is one of determination – she appears to be a competent superhero that is ready to throw down. However, even in her obvious battle-ready position, there is unnecessary focus on her chest.

While the exaggeration of male superheroes’ bodies aid them in their crime fighting (with their overly-toned muscles they are stronger and have an advantage in combat), the exaggeration of female superheroes’ bodies does not aid them in crime fighting. Although the female superhero’s thin waist could be justified with her need to stay in shape in order to hold her own during battle, her overly well-endowed chest does not give her any advantage. Quite the contrary, her chest would actually make crime-fighting more difficult. In reality, if a female superhero did happen to have disproportionately large breasts in comparison to her waist, she would bind them while in costume in order to keep them out of her way. (This would have the bonus result of further concealing her secret identity!)

This depiction of bodies can be seen in our society’s values as well. Men and women both have rigid expectations for what their bodies should look like. The expectations are especially prevalent for women, since our society also perceives women to be their bodies, and nothing else. In her article, “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views,” Elizabeth V. Spelman examines the effects of Plato’s philosophy on our modern society. According to Plato, the distinction between the body and the soul is synonymous with the distinction between rationality and irrationality (Spelman, 36). Women, then, correspond with the body, while men correspond with the soul: “[t]o have more concern for your body than your soul is to act just like a woman” (Spelman, 37).

Kristen Lindgren also writes about Plato’s philosophy on women’s bodies in her essay, “Bodies in Trouble: Identity, Embodiement, and Disability.” While Plato views the body “as a tomb… a grave or prison… or as barnacles or rocks holding down the soul” (Spelman, 36), he views a disabled body as even worse than an abled one: “If the healthy body, with its unruly needs and appetites, inevitably distracts the philosopher from the pursuit of knowledge, then the diseased body, even more unpredictable and unruly, must surely halt the project of philosophy altogether” (Lindgren, 145).

As women are believed to be “more embodied than men” (Lindgren, 147), it follows that disabled women are even more stigmatized than disabled men. As is the case for Barbara Gordon, “[w]hen a body is both female and diseased or impaired, it can be viewed, and experienced, as doubly corporeal, doubly devalued, and… doubly shameful” (Lindgren, 147). This concept continues in our society today due to the respect we hold for Plato, and, as a result, women are viewed in regards to their bodies. While this perception is not specific to comic books, it is exaggerated in them.

Barbara Gordon exists not only in our world, which perceives women to be their bodies and disabled bodies as “shameful,” but also in a world of superheroes in which anyone of consequence has an “ideal” body. The loss of the use of her legs should have excluded her as a character, or at least as a superhero. Instead, Barbara redefines what it means to be a superhero. She defies Plato’s philosophy, and our society’s gender norms that came from it, by not allowing herself to be restricted by her “dis”ability.

In her book, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk: Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for Girls, Lois Keith examines the extensive works of fiction containing disabled characters during the last 150 years. What appears to be overlooked by most scholars is that overcoming disability is a widely established (as well as harmful) theme in classic literature designed for young girls. Since the mid nineteenth century, “there were only two possible ways for writers to resolve the problem of their characters’ inability to walk: cure or death” (Keith, 5). The cure option always requires the disabled character to change something about her/himself, which tends to be a trait which is not among traditionally “feminine” qualities (Keith, 5-7).

For Barbara Gordon, cure would be a relatively easy route to take. Many of the superheroes she knows (such as Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, or Zatanna) would be able to heal her spine with the use of magic or medical miracles. Curing Barbara Gordon would certainly make more sense than Katy Carr curing herself by simply “learn[ing] to be less boisterous and more womanly” (Keith, 6). Still, DC writers chose to have Barbara remain in a wheelchair. The message sent by Barbara Gordon as Oracle is the first step in a battle against the message sent by classic literature for little girls. Girls’ literature sends a message that says,

“there is nothing good about being disabled… disabled people have to learn the same qualities of submissive behavior that women have always had to learn… impairment can be a punishment for bad behavior… disabled people should be pitied rather than punished, [but] never accepted… [i]f you want to enough, if you love yourself enough (but not more than others), if you believe in God enough, you will be cured” (Keith, 7).

Oracle’s story sends a message that says the complete opposite. Girls reading Oracle’s comics will see that cure is not the only way for a happy and fulfilled life.

Conclusion

As Batgirl, Barbara Gordon was as feminist a character as one can be when she carries a man’s name. Although she fought against certain gender norms by even being a superhero, as a concept she could never have existed without her male counterpart. As a character she first created more problems for the “real” superheroes of her comics, then became nothing more than a plot point. But it was because of that plot point that Oracle was able to emerge.

Without the bullet wound that resulted in her paralysis, Barbara Gordon might never have shed the name of the male superhero that came before her. By remaining in her wheelchair, while still not relinquishing her desire to fight crime, she became an inspiration. DC writers have taken the opportunity that the comic book genre affords them and allowed a character to evolve with the rest of the world and become something more than how she began. Barbara Gordon now sends the message to readers that being paralyzed does not mean being inferior, that no person is just her/his legs, that no woman is just her body.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Murphy, and Carmine Infantino. “Showcase Presents Batgirl.” Comic book cover. Amazon.com. Web. 18 April 2011.

Keith, Lois. Take Up Thy Bed and Walk: Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for GirlsNew York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Leeder, Sierra. “Barbara Gordon Interview.” Message to/Personal Interview with Mike Visser. 19 April 2011. Combination Email and Personal Interview.

Lindgren, Kristin. “Bodies in Trouble: Identity, Embodiment, and Disability.” Gendering Disability. Ed. Beth Hutchison & Bonnie G. Smith. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 145-165. Print.

March, Guillem. “Oracle: The Cure.” Comic book cover. Amazon.com. Web. 18 April 2011.

Peril, Lynn. Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. Print.

Robichaud, Christopher. “The Joker’s Wild: Can We Hold the Clown Prince Morally Responsible?” Batman and Philosophy. Ed. Mark D. White & Robert Arp. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008. 70-81. Print.

Růžička, Jiří. “American Superheroes and the Politics of Good and Evil.” New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs 14.2 (2010): 46-48. Web. 21 March 2011.

Scott, Cord. “Written in Red, White, and Blue: A Comparison of Comic Book Propaganda from World War II and September 11.” The Journal of Popular Culture 40.2 (2007): 325-343. Web. 21 March 2011.

Simone, Gail. Women in Refrigerators. March 1999. Web. 3 May 2011.

Spelman, Elizabeth. “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views.” Feminist Theory and the Body. Ed. Janet Price & Margrit Shildrick. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press & New York: Routledge, 1999. 32-41. Electronic Book.

 

 

 

Don’t Write Me Off!

Hello, readers…

I hope you all enjoyed PyramidI’m so sorry I haven’t been on in a couple weeks… My job responsibilities changed, and I’ve actually started planning a wedding too!   😀   The downside of these things is that now I hardly have time to breathe.   :/

Anyway. I desperately want to get back to writing… So expect my next real post coming soon. (This one is just to check in.)

I’ve recently had my query letter critiqued, so my next post will probably be about that! I can’t wait!   🙂

Read my Published Work!

Today is the day! My first short story published outside of my own alma mater is in the winter issue of The Write Place at the Write Time and available for readers all over the world!

Pyramid

Pyramid is a fiction short story about a woman struggling through an abusive relationship. After waking up in the hospital, without so much as flowers from the boyfriend who put her there, she finally sees that she deserves more. With the help of a friend, a therapist, memories of what it means to truly live, and a song whose lyrics reach her at the very moment she is ready to listen, she begins her life again on her own.

In order to recognize the thousands of women in this situation, none of the characters in this story have names, and only the main character and her boyfriend have genders. What individualizes the main character is who she was before the abuse, and who she becomes afterward.

 

You can read Pyramid online, on page 23.

 

In case you want to listen while you read the full story, here’s Pearl, Katy Perry’s song that inspired Pyramid:

I am so excited! As always, I love to hear from my readers. So if my story makes you think or feel anything, anything at all, comment on this post to tell me about it!

If the world ends today…

…at least I’m goin’ out as a published author!

I got the final confirmation email today, and I am proud to announce that I am now an author with The Write Place at the Write Time! My original short story, Pyramid, will be published in the literary journal’s winter edition, to come out on January 22nd. So mark your calendars!

The bad news is, excerpts from Pyramid will not be available here while the story is live. The good news is, once the winter edition is archived, I will be able to post excerpts again. Enjoy your antici…

…pation now. Come January 22nd, I will post the link so that you can read Pyramid in its entirety!

Here’s the original post (with a synopsis instead of an excerpt) from when I first blogged about Pyramid:

Reading through Laura Pauling’s guest post on My Memories of a Future Life, I was reminded of how often music has inspired my own writing.

Unlike Laura Pauling, I find that the right lyrics with the right notes are the most inspirational. Being a writer, it’s hard not to listen to the words. But, being a singer, I will admit that music can emote more profoundly than any words. So when you combine emotional writing with emotional music, you have something that moves people in a way that neither would be able to alone.

Also unlike Pauling, I will sometimes include the inspirational song so that it inspires my characters. (This was part of the reason why I loved Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home – it has a soundtrack!)

There is one short story in particular in which I included a song, because the song was what inspired me to write the story in the first place. Feel free to listen while reading the synopsis:

Pyramid is a fiction short story about a woman struggling through an abusive relationship. After waking up in the hospital, without so much as flowers from the boyfriend who put her there, she finally sees that she deserves more. With the help of a friend, a therapist, memories of what it means to truly live, and a song whose lyrics reach her at the very moment she is ready to listen, she begins her life again on her own.
In order to recognize the thousands of women in this situation, none of the characters in this story have names, and only the main character and her boyfriend have genders. What individualizes the main character is who she was before the abuse, and who she becomes afterward.

Gettin’ Published!

I am so excited right now that I hardly know what to do with myself!

If the best thing that could happen to me as a writer would be to get Finding ‘Ohana published, I’d say that the second-best thing that could happen to me as a writer is happening!!! A short story of mine, Pyramid, is getting published!

Pyramid

Last week I read a blog post (I wish I had saved the link so I could credit the writer) that pointed out that I can’t get published if I don’t submit.

Yes, this seems like common sense, but still.

I knew that having previous publications can spice up a query letter, and so far all of my publications were on my college campus. Well, those looked good in a query letter, but I knew that the submitting pool was small and local. I realized that if I’m going to commit to getting Finding ‘Ohana published, I need to send in my short stories to get published first.

So I sent one of my favorite polished short stories to three literary arts journals. I sent all three submissions last Thursday, expecting to hear back after a month or two.

And today I got a response from the first journal I submitted to, asking to publish my story! They even referred to it as “poignant,” which is one word I would most like to hear as describing my work!

You can read a synopsis of Pyramid, right here on Sierra Dawn, Write On. Get pumped for the entire story to be out in a couple months!

My New Year’s resolution is already off to a great start, and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Today, short fiction publication; tomorrow, novel publication!

HappyNewYear

The Art of Loving Life

I wrote today’s post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing’s “The Art of Loving Your Life” Blanket Tour celebrating the release of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore by Barbara Conelli.

Barbara Conelli is an internationally published bestselling author, seasoned travel writer specializing in Italy. In her charming, delightful and humorous Chique Books filled with Italian passion, Barb invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their own Dolce Vita no matter where they are in the world.

Her latest book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore offers an intimate view into the unpredictable and extravagant city of Milan, its glamorous feminine secrets, the everyday magic of its dreamy streets, the passionate romance of its elegant hideaways, and the sweet Italian art of delightfully falling in love with your life wherever you go.

If you comment on today’s post on this blog or any of the others participating in The Art of Loving Your Life tour, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore!

 To read Barbara’s post about loving life and view a list of other blogs participating in The Art of Loving Your Life tour please visit The Muffin.

 

 

Today’s post is all about loving life and what makes life beautiful. Luckily, I have been keeping a Beauty Journal for the past two years. What is a Beauty Journal, you might ask? Well, it’s sort of a scrapbook, but for everything you might think of as beautiful, and it started as an assignment for a class I took in the spring of 2010, Beauty and the Body. The title of the class makes it sound more interesting than it was, but because of the journal we had to keep, I still got something out of the course.

The professor told us to keep a journal of anything and everything that we find beautiful. Sometimes he would give us particular assignments, like “list five things you think are beautiful” or “go to the sex shops and record what you think is beautiful in them” (we live in Reno, Nevada – we have well-known sex shops). But otherwise he just wanted us to pay attention when we pass by beauty. Not just stop and smell the roses, but stop and take pictures of the roses, paste the pictures into your journal, and reflect on what makes them beautiful to you.

And the thing is, you never notice how many millions of roses there are until you have to stop and take pictures, and paste pictures, and reflect on pictures, every single time you see them.

At first I was looking for things to put in my journal, but before long I didn’t have to look anymore. Beautiful things are everywhere! There are so many that I had a pile on top of my journal of all the things I still had to paste in: photographs and magazine cut-outs and tickets to plays and a cheap little valentine a kid I babysat gave me.

Needless to say, I continued keeping my Beauty Journal long after the semester ended. Here are some examples of its pages:

(This page is about Skyler, the baby of the family. I experienced something similar with Stefani years before I started this Beauty Journal. I was at that age when little kids are just annoying and you hate to be around them. And Stefani is eight years younger than me, so you can imagine our sisterly relationship at the time. Well, she got sick, and the doctor told us it was nothing to worry about and that she would get better on her own. Only it turned out she had a rare heart disease and if my parents hadn’t gotten a second opinion and taken her to the emergency room, she might have died. When I found out I didn’t know what to do with myself. She was a kid sister I didn’t want around half the time, but I couldn’t imagine life without her. It made me realize how beautiful she was to me.)

I’ve also dedicated pages to my writing.

Just the Way was the first of my writing to ever be published. And what could be more beautiful than the first time you see your name in the Table of Contents, your writing in print?

At the Black Rock Press I printed another short story of mine, What’s Love Goddess to do With It? I cut the pages, lined up the text, and bound the book myself. I even carved linoleum by hand to make the illustrations. It took hours of work in the press during class and on my own time. It was frustrating and grueling and for a while I thought the project would never be finished. But the result was eight beautiful, hand-made books, and one of them was put on display in the Church Fine Arts building at UNR:

(A couple of pages, including the title page shown here, were printed on paper that had actual flower petals pressed in.)

If you want to know how to love life, start a Beauty Journal. The point is not to write in it every day, or even every week. The point is to recognize beauty wherever it is. Having somewhere to put that random picture of beauty makes all the difference of whether you keep the picture or throw it out and never think about it again.

Give yourself permission to hang on to the beautiful things in your life. Once you start, you’ll see beauty everywhere until your journal is overflowing. You’ll notice those little moments that give you no choice but to love life. And then those little moments, the ones that might otherwise be forgotten, will instead be preserved forever.

“Just the Way”

Below is the first of my writing to ever be published (before I even had a pen name). The concept I tried to express with this short story was inspired by Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese ideal that finds beauty in that which is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Nothing stays the same, so why not appreciate things and people in their constant state of change? Nothing is “perfect,” so why not treasure the imperfections? It is the imperfections and the change that makes someone or something perfect in its unique beauty.

 

That morning, Evelynn Dwyer woke feeling older and heavier than usual. She laid in bed, alone, eyes closed, wishing she could fall back into her dreamless sleep. After a few minutes, when it became apparent that such a luxury would not be possible, she heaved her body into a sitting position, legs flung over the side of the bed. She sat as such for another minute or so, steeling herself for the next step of standing.

In this way, Evelynn continued through her usual morning ritual, all the while trying desperately not to remember the night before. Without vigor, she showered, leaving the lights off so as to allow a more gradual transition between sleep and wakefulness. Against her first inclination, she dressed in more than just a bathrobe, but not by much – adding only sweatpants and an old tank top. Begrudgingly, Evelynn stared into her bathroom mirror, despising what she saw, finally deciding against bothering to apply any make-up or style her hair. Desolate, she ate her breakfast slowly, not tasting a bite.

Evelynn then made a decision that she’d been making more and more lately – rather than going into her home office on the other side of the house to work for the day, she took the six steps required to bring her into the living room where she would spend the next several hours watching daytime TV.

#

Seven hours, three soap operas, and two made-for-TV movies later, Jonathan Dwyer walked through the front door and into the living room to see his wife lying on the couch and staring dimly at the screen in front of her. The moment he entered her line of vision, Evelynn’s face turned from apathy to dismay, and she turned her body to the back of the couch, pulling a nearby blanket over her.

Jonathan stepped to the couch and gently slipped the blanket away before coaxing Evelynn to her feet. She obliged, but kept her face down so that Jonathan only caught a glimpse of the red surrounding her eyes and her still-wet cheeks. She rested her forehead on his chest so that all he could see was her auburn hair (with a solitary streak of gray), knotted from a full day spent on the couch. Jonathan tried to grasp Evelynn’s right hand with his left, and to place his right hand on her left hip, but she pulled away, reluctant to let him feel the wrinkles set deep into her skin or the softness in her fattened waist. So he swayed, and she followed his lead in swaying, only her forehead and his chest touching.

Jonathan leaned forward, and sang softly (and slightly off-key).

One day, when I’m awfully low,
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you,
And the way you look tonight…

#

Evelynn was fifteen when she went on her first date with Jonathan. She spent two hours getting ready. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as she showered with scented soap. Excitedly, she brushed, curled, and pinned her hair with expert precision. Nearly dancing in anticipation, she applied just the right amount of make-up, and chose a dress that accented her figure while still leaving much to the imagination. All the while, Evelynn hoped that Jonathan would notice the nice things she used to make herself beautiful.

He didn’t. Instead he noticed how her face lit up when she smiled. He noticed how her cheek felt when he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

At dinner, Jonathan reached for Evelynn’s hand when Frank Sinatra’s voice came on the restaurant radio, singing “The Way You Look Tonight.” For the next eight years, Evelynn imagined that whenever Jonathan thought of her, he would think of her this way. The hand he held was silky to the touch and manicured, and the face he gazed at was glowing, softly illuminated by candlelight.

#

Not like now. Now Evelynn’s hands were arthritic, wrinkled, and dry, and her face was defined by the lines that covered every inch. The woman Evelynn thought she was, if present at all, was buried deep beneath those wrinkles. She was certainly no longer the woman Jonathan fell in love with. Yet, for some reason, he kept singing, he kept swaying.

You’re lovely, with your smile so warm,
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you
Just the way you look tonight…

#

The spring that Evelynn turned twenty-three, she became Evelynn Dwyer. It was a small ceremony, and a casual reception. For Jonathan and his new bride, there may as well have been only two people there. There bridal image of herself replaced the fifteen-year-old one that Evelynn imagined held residence in Jonathan’s mind.

The rules of time did not apply that night – they began their first dance as husband and wife to their song, “The Way You Look Tonight,” and it almost seemed like they never stopped dancing.

#

Tears slid down Evelynn’s face; she wished they could go back to that night, when they were young and carefree, and they danced easily, not like this slow swaying. Their bodies weren’t even touching now. Beautiful nights were behind them, there would be no more.

Jonathan’s voice did not show his age though – it was just as full, and as tone-deaf, as ever.

With each word, your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart.
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart…

#

The night before, Evelynn had a birthday. She freshly dyed her hair that had been gradually fading to gray. Letting it air-dry, she applied make-up and put on her new, special, slightly-less-than-age-appropriate party dress. Then she went back to the bathroom where she used a hair-dryer on the last dampness of her hair.

When it was dry, she shook it out and stared at her reflection.

She had missed a spot.

#

Jonathan’s voice called Evelynn back to the moment, away from the humiliation of her birthday dinner, grounding her in his song.

Lovely, never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it?
’Cause I love you, just…

Joathan’s voice shook with emotion,

…the way you look tonight.

Evelynn looked up at Jonathan, finally allowing him to see her face – wrinkles, blotchy skin, red eyes, and all. He smiled at her with the same look in his eyes that was there on their first date, and at their wedding…

and the night before, when her age was on display – both by way of the missed gray spot in her hair, and of the cake filled to its edges in burning birthday candles.

But Jonathan wasn’t seeing Evelynn based on any of those nights. He was seeing her just the way she looked this night. This beautiful, however ordinary, night.

Evelynn raised her right hand, and grasped his left. She placed her left hand on his right shoulder, and let him rest his right hand on her left hip. And Jonathan and Evelynn danced.