Archive for the ‘Margot Magowan/ ReelGirl’ Category

Look what happened today at breakfast: 3 kids spontaneously pulled out books and started to read. I got to drink my coffee in peace! Moments like this are so rare, I took a photo, and I’m posting it, even though the picture is not that great.

Rose, age 3, is reading Giant Meatball. (She can’t read but doesn’t know that.)

Alice, age 6, is reading Green Eggs and Ham. She is just starting to really read and love it. Dr. Seuss’s rhyming word patterns are great for this stage, though his total lack of female characters drives me bats.

Lucy, age 9, is reading Wildwood. I am going to blog about this book; it’s great and stars a sister who courageously rescues her little brother.

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One of the hardest (and most unexpected) challenges for me in transitioning from single life to momhood was organization.

I have never been an organized person at home. I didn’t really get the point. It always seemed like there were better things to do.  I was of the opinion: Why make your bed if it’s just going to get messed up again?

But one husband and three kids later, I get the point: If we are not organized, the whole family ceases to function. We can either have peaceful mornings or stress and yelling with everyone leaving the house in a horrible mood. So much of it just comes down to organization. Who knew?

Since realizing this tool, I’ve become so curious how other parents, not natural Martha Stewarts, pull it off. So, please, write in your tips.

With 3 kids in a 3 bedroom house, this is how we do it:

First life-changing decision: a quiet room and a loud room.

I had so much trouble keeping the kids’ schoolbooks and homework organized. This led to lost homework, missed homework, frustrated teachers, and the previously mentioned yelling and stress.

So we came up with a quiet room and a loud room. One room for work, study, art: a place where you can go and count on for quiet:

Every kid keeps her own books above her desk.

There’s also the grown-up desk. (Pretend you don’t see my husband’s drums.)

I realize the irony that the “sleeping” room is called the “loud” room. Unfortunately, the label is accurate. 2 kids sleep in bunk beds:

Another parent may have made the beds before taking the photo, but at least the kids made those themselves.

The littlest kid was sleeping in a toddler bed that fit the room perfectly. Then, she grew. Our solution was to build this loft bed. (Don’t worry, she’s in the lower bunk, not up there.)

Making use of every bit of space, and because we all love to read, we made the landing on the stairs into a reading nook. I love this because it feels like an extra room.

It even doubles as “the music room” (This is where my husband’s drums should be.)

In case you can’t tell, I am wildly procrastinating writing my book. The good news is, that this summer, in spite of traveling, sickness, blogging obsessions, and various other unforeseen drama: Part One is done! YAY I am so excited about it.

Now on to Part Two…

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Sugar In My Bowl, an anthology of women writing about sex, edited by Erica Jong, will be released in paperback on June 26.

Critics have called the collection a “fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.” (Read more reviews here.) My short story, “Light Me Up,” is included in the anthology along with essays and fiction by 28 other writers.

Erica Jong talks to Reel Girl about Sugar In My Bowl:

Why did you create this anthology?

I think women have more diverse responses to sexuality than is usually known. And I wanted the opportunity to show a full range of response.

How did you choose the writers?

Notice that the anthology is almost equally divided between well-known writers and writers who are published for the first time. It was wonderful to find writers, like you, who had not been published before and to pair them with well-known writers like Eve Ensler and Fay Weldon.

When the hardcover came out last summer, in a controversial essay for the New York Times, you wrote that after putting Sugar In My Bowl together, you wondered if younger women wanted to give up sex. You worried that the younger writers in the anthology seemed obsessed with marriage and monogamy. I admit I am obsessed with monogamy! In part because in so much fiction, the woman’s story just stops when she marries.

For women of my generation– I’m 43, Gen X– because of a lot of taboo busting by yours, being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected. But picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. And not because it’s a novelty. I think that our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.

We don’t need men to be our breadwinners or to provide social acceptance for us, so why do we still marry? Why do we, literally, put all our eggs in one basket? I think because we’re brave romantics.

Do you think that women can be obsessed with monogamy and sex? Does it have to be an either/ or situation?

I have also been concerned that the women’s story stops with marriage. In our time, the women’s story sometimes stops with divorce. People live much longer today and have many different adventures in their lives. Many of them marry several times. We don’t have women’s books that reflect this yet.

I think we get married to make a statement that this is my person, and we are determined to make things work. That sort of coupling seems essential for both straight and gay people. It’s a way of saying, here I stand. And this is my partner.

Certainly monogamy and sex can go together. For many people, monogamy is far more satisfying than zipless fuck. You have to know another person’s body to really have great sex. That kind of knowing may come with monogamy.

In your NYT Op-Ed you also wrote:

“The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official. Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.”

I totally agree with this, and it is something I wrote my story about, too. Porn and internet sex are actually the “safest” sex around.

What do you think about the future of sex as far as the promulgation of pornography? How do you talk about its negative effects without being labeled and misunderstood as an anti-sex prude?

Electronic sex is sterilized sex. It offers no risk. It is sanitized. Real sex with a partner is the opposite. Pornography has a very utilitarian function. It is specifically for getting you off, hence its predictability. Sexual literature, on the contrary, is surprising. It doesn’t just show sexual acts, but the feelings behind them. I’m all for sexual literature and kind of bored by strict pornography. What interests me in writing is the human brain revealed. Pornography does not reveal feelings. It is rather a utilitarian form for masturbation.

Author Peggy Orenstein also addresses this flip, when pro-sex is framed as anti-sex and vice versa, in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Here’s what she wrote about the sexualization of girls:

“Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.”

She goes on label this difference sexualizing versus sexuality. What do you think of that distinction?

I agree with Peggy Orenstein’s wishes for her daughter. I am appalled at the idea that young women give blowjobs without experiencing pleasure themselves. They are servicing men rather than experiencing eroticism themselves. I also agree that women should write their own sexual stories. We are so much more imaginative than men have supposed. We can make our sexuality even more various through our imaginations. My anthology is a first attempt to show how imaginative women can be.

I view the pop princesses as sanitized rather than erotic. Why are we attempting to claim that all women must be princesses? Isn’t that another attempt to sanitize sex?

It seems to me that the best way to combat the dominance of limited expressions of sexuality is for more women to write their own stories.

For thousands of years women have existed in a world dominated by narratives created by men.

I love that you put together an anthology about sex by women writers and mixed fiction with non-fiction. Why did you choose to include both genres?

The line between fiction and non-fiction has blurred in our age. Memoir bleeds into fiction, and fiction bleeds into memoir. What is important about a story is that it moves you. Not what genre you label it.

Do you have plans for more anthologies?

I would love to do another anthology of women’s writing. I was disappointed that I didn’t get more sexual diversity and ethnic diversity. It was not for lack of trying. I would like to do an anthology with more lesbian women’s experiences, and a wider range of ethnicities.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel about Isadora Wing as a grandmother.

Order Sugar In My Bowl here.

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Hi Reel Girl fans,

For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a Middle Grade book. Here’s the one sentence description:

Legend of Emery: The Battle for the Sather Stone is the story of how Nessa, a Frake, and Posey, a Fairy, overcome a history of mutual prejudice to become great friends, working together to stop a war by recovering the stolen Sather stone, the source of all magic, and returning it to its rightful owner, the Fairy Queen Arabel.

It’s kind of like a Romeo and Juliet story but about a friendship, magical creatures of different species who come together to save world.

I am so excited about this book. Writing it integrates everything I care about: feminism, fiction, kids, my husband (who I am writing it with). Also, as I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog, since having kids, I have come to believe that creating narratives and putting those stories out into the world is crucial.

So here’s the problem. I’ a huge procrastinator and social media totally sucks me in to hours of writing non-fiction commentary. I love to write opinion as well and I am so grateful for the community of activists I’ve connected with on line. But writing commentary comes from a not unrelated but different place than the fiction; I’m having a hard time balancing the blogging with writing the book.

So, as of next week, I’ll be working on the novel full time so I can get my draft completed. I will blog, Tweet, and FB occasionally but not regularly again until September. I will be out of the country mid June until mid July so I’ll miss the opening of “Brave.” I really hope everyone goes out and sees this movie. Before I leave, I’ll post an interview with Erica Jong about her anthology “Sugar in My Bowl.” My short story “Light Me Up” is included in this collection and the paperback is coming out June 21. if you haven’t read the book yet, please pick up a copy.

I hope you all continue to use my FB page and comment on the blog throughout the next couple of months.

Have a great summer!


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I spent the last two days in Disneyland, and to my surprise, I didn’t even feel like I was in another world. I thought I would take lots of photos of pinkification and gender-stereotyped-marketing, come back and post them on my blog, and you’d all be shocked and appalled. But I didn’t see much in Disneyland that I don’t see every single time I go to Target or Safeway or turn on my TV.

Disneyland’s “magic” has completely infiltrated our everyday life. In Disneyland, wherever we went, everyone called my daughter “Princess” and handed her free stickers of girls in poofy dresses just like they do here when we visit her doctor’s office.

The significant difference that I kept noticing between Disneyland and San Francisco is that various signs and people kept telling me to have a magical time, that this was a place for my imagination to run free.

Yet, as I strapped myself into my eighteenth car or rocket or clam shell, it occurred to me there are few times in my life that I am encouraged to be this thoughtless. I sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride while I am handed the same fantasies, images, and narratives repeatedly. That’s when I realized that the passivity and homogeneity that Disneyland perpetuates in my mind and body, with all of its highly controlled thrills, is as deadening to actual imagination as pornography is to sex. Too much exposure (and we all have way too much exposure) messes with our brains and puts humans in danger of losing the ability to be stimulated by the real thing.

One of my favorite books ever is called Can Love Last: The Fate of Romance Over Time. Author Stephen Mitchell proposes that contrary to popular belief, romance doesn’t fade naturally in long term relationships. We kill it. And we kill it because it’s terrifying to lust for and depend on the same person. The more you need your partner, the more courage is required to risk perpetually experiencing the roller coaster highs and lows that come with being desperately attracted to him. Mitchell argues that instead of committing to that dangerous ride, for a lifetime, no less, we flatten our romantic partners into something more stable.

Here’s what Mitchell writes about pornography:

Rather than being a measure and consequence of the power of naturally occurring sexual desire, pornography is a measure of the extent to which people tend to prefer controlling desire through contrivance rather than being surprised by desire that spontaneously arises. Do not underestimate the power of contrivance. If I desire you, a real person, and if I long for not just sexual contact but a romantic response, I may be in big trouble. In fact, there is no way to escape big trouble! Because what I want from you makes me dependent upon you, makes me hostage to your feeling towards me, I naturally want some control over my fate. What I want is for you to love me, to find me attractive and exciting, precisely when I want you…This is what makes the contrivance of pornography so useful. Pornography operates on the “what if?” principle. What if I found myself desiring someone, and what if it happened to be this very person in this picture? on this videotape? on this computer screen? Guess what? I can have him or her. A close cousin of the oldest profession, prostitution, pornography offers the wonderful combination of stimulation in the context of simulation–risk-free desire. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. You can’t miss.

Porn is often considered exciting, daring, risky, or imaginative, but it’s just the opposite: a safe roller coaster instead of a real one.

Disneyland, of course, operates on that very principle. Controlled thrills– “stimulation in the context of simulation”– manufactured, repetitive images that don’t inspire individual creativity but paralyze real imagination. Disneyland is like porn for kids.

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For about one year, I’ve been doing 8 simple things that make me feel happy and calm. I gleaned these, of course, from several different books and these activities have literally changed my life.

Here they are:

(1) Sunshine: Get 20 minutes of bright light every day. Light activates Vitamin D which is essential for your body, especially skin. If you don’t live in California like me, there are special lights you can get that give you the same result. Our skin and bodies get all kinds of cues from light. Getting light regularly will make you sleep better and make you happier. I don’t know exactly why it works but it does.

(2) Vitamins: Fish oil is my favorite but I also take a multi vitamin, vitamin D, and C. My skin is glowing, seriously. It looks better than it ever has and I’m 43. By the way, I used to think vitamins were a waste of money and never took them before last year.

(3) Walk: You don’t need hardcore exercise. Don’t walk to lose weight or look better. Do it for your mental health, 45 minutes a day. (If you do live in California or somewhere else sunny or its the right season, you can kill two birds with one stone getting your light this way.)

(4) Sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. An hour before sleep, dim your lights only do things that relax you. Don’t do anything that might stress you out once your quiet time starts (difficult conversations, checking email etc.) I think making sleep a priority is maybe the most important change I’ve made, and also why my skin glows: )

(5) Social interaction: If you’re introspective like me, it may be hard to get yourself out there. If you’re a mom with little kids and introspective, you may not realize you need to be around people. You do. Every day, not your kids. It doesn’t even matter who so much. When you socialize, just be careful not to use other people to ruminate with (see “don’t ruminate” below.)

(6) Engaging activity: What do you do that makes you lose track of time completely? Do it! Ideally, this engaging activity has something to do with your work but it doesn’t have to.

(7) Meditate: This activity trains you to stay in your body, not your head. I meditate ever morning.

(8) Don’t ruminate: This was the hardest activity for me to stop. I thought that ruminating was insightful and key to my personality, and if I stopped, I’d be the hole in the doughnut. What convinced me to risk trying is that I realized I could always go back to obsessive thinking if I wanted to. Here’s what I learned: if you’re going to get to an insight, it happens in the first 10 minutes or so. The rest of the time, you’re just stuck. Here’s another incredible surprise: happiness is insightful.

Speaking of happiness,  I was inspired to write this list out after reading an excellent post a friend of mine put on Facebook, 15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently. Check it out here.

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Reel Girl will not be posting until next week because it’s  Spring Break and we’re headed to Tahoe in a storm. Eek.

Maybe we’ll try out snowskating. Have you heard of this? It’s like skateboarding on snow. Apparently, the snowskate was initially created as a toy for kids.

I’m playing hooky today, packing and sneaking off to “The Hunger Games” with my sister. I may try to get out one last post on the movie before I go.

New book recs are coming when I get back including the amazing Super Tool Lula. So fantastic!

See you next week!


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I saw the link to Devon Cornmeal’s HuffPo post “It Will Get Better” on Lisa Belkin’s FB page. This is such a great post. Every new mom should read it. And moms of older kids should read it, too, just to feel grateful, because who really knew that breast-feeding would be 24/7? Or had any idea how great and essential sleep was before it all got taken away? Or, as Cornmeal writes, that your sheets would be literally soaked with sweat every night?

In her post, Cornmeal promises new moms that their babies will stop staring vacantly at the ceiling and actually smile at them one day.

Every night, years later, I still appreciate my sleep. I thought my gratitude for something so basic would pass, that I would start to take it for granted again. But it hasn’t. Not in the least. When I get in my bed, I feel so lucky. I just lie there for a minute and think “Wow:” Most likely I  will get to sleep through the whole night, peacefully, in quiet, relaxed and then I will wake up feeling rested. It’s so amazing. Thank you, God.

My youngest child just turned three and a mom at the birthday party asked me how I was taking it. I told her that I’m excited and happy. Having babies was wonderful in many, many ways, but even better is watching my kids grow, talking to them, and hearing what they think. I love that. So far, I’m not nostalgic about the very early years, or pregnancy or breast feeding at all.

I seriously cannot wait to be done with diapers.

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Dad reading The Brave Little Seamstress

I won’t tell you about the mayhem that happened after this picture was taken. I guess that’s why we have photos.

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We live in a Victorian built in 1911. I love my house but space is limited, all three girls share a room. Desperate for space, we decided to get the most out of the bay window landing on the stairs. The glass reaches too low to build a window seat, our the first idea. So we lined it with cushions, put in a carpet, painted it, and squeezed the piano in. Love, love, love, it’s like another room!

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