Today we are pleased to feature author Kelly Hill as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, Kelly discusses two books she has recently read that both inspire and enlighten her: Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick, by Maya Dusenbery, and We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories, by Clare Beams.
Kelly states that Dusenbery’s book is interesting because it “looks at the systemic sexism that is present in the medical condition.” In the book, Kelly continues, Dusenbery interviews several woman who have been medically misdiagnosed and were told, upon visiting the doctor, that their physical symptoms were simply due to stress. In addition, Kelly discusses Dusenbery’s approach to medical research, showing how, until recently, such research was practically “only done on men,” and the repercussions this can contain for women’s health.
Kelly’s discussion of the second book, We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories, focuses on Beams’ ability to craft beautiful descriptions of characters. Kelly quotes a passage from one of Beams’ stories, “World’s End,” and admires the high degree of authorial skill that can be seen in various descriptive passages. Kelly concludes by thanking all listeners of her podcast, expressing her hope that “you’re working on a project that inspires you, and one that you’re happy to return to every day.”
You can read Kelly’s story, “The Neighbor,” in Issue 14 of Superstition Review.
Three years ago, my artist friend Heather and I created a secret web comic to mock the outlandish behavior of men. Officially its purpose was to call out “woke” male academics who gain social capital by posing as allies online while still treating women like dirt in their everyday lives. Rather than introducing a whole new cast of characters for each situation, our comic stars Chad T. Brooks, a floppy-haired amalgam of your basic late-twenty-something bro-ets (that’s bro-poets for those who are unaware).
Don’t let his self-assured, corn-fed looks fool you, though: Chad isn’t like the other guys. He’s a nice guy. He’s sensitive! He’s down for the cause! Or, at least he did purchase a ten-dollar Hillary mug after it was clear that Bernie had lost the Primaries, and he’ll perform a soliloquy on the exact moment his allegiance shifted while letting his hand linger (in a totally platonic, perhaps almost protective way) on the small of your back. Without a doubt, Chad T. Brooks is “the noblest white dude you know.”
He’s a Slytherin in Hufflepuff’s clothing, a run-of-the-mill misogynist in a pink pussy hat who’s marching (for the ‘gram) with a “Believe Women” sign. In our current #MeToo era, we’ve had Chad’s number for a while now, and it seems like the rest of the world is finally catching up to what we women have known all along: The number of feminist articles a man posts is in direct proportion to the miles you should run away.
“Keepin’ It Chad” is our attempt to balance the scales. Our comic is the most joyful, petty, reckless, silly, and emboldening thing that I do—or, rather, that we do, Heather and me, together. The collaboration is what makes it fun and what makes it powerful.
Our creative partnership began with simple storytelling about a year after we became friends. I would vent to Heather about the sexist microaggressions I experienced in the academic and writing worlds, and she’d sketch them out on scratch paper, complete with conversation bubbles and puns, to make me feel better. That was always our initial endeavor in both the stories I told her and the sketches she drew for me—to make each other laugh.
And there was power in that laughter. Suddenly, this annoying or even hurtful thing that had just happened to me didn’t sting quite so much. I was no longer the one being used or condescended to or ignored. I was no longer the butt of the joke.
Instead, we literally designed the perpetrator to be ridiculous. As the comic matured, we drew on our shared love for hyperbole and absurdism: Chad combusts in a puff of smoke because he can’t figure out if he should shake a woman’s hand or hug her. A mini Chad in a top hat and waistcoat pops out of a phone screen like Jiminy Cricket and squeaks, “But Pence could be worse!” Chad blasts himself out of a canon, declaring “Not all men!” as he flares across the sky. We created these images. Rather than being passive, we were active. With our words and minds and pen, we were the ones in charge now.
This role reversal got us thinking about how humor can function, not to downplay gender-related oppression, but to brandish as a weapon for our empowerment and survival. Of course, drawing a farcical comic and writing a clever caption cannot undo the real difficulty that inspired it or change the systems of oppression that allow Chads to exist in the first place. But, at the very least, our use of satire could illuminate a possible force to overcome paralyzing despair. Humorous rhetoric could work as both a lantern and a sword to reclaim our narrative authority.
After the 2016 election, “Keepin’ It Chad” is no longer a secret. We display it proudly on keepinitchad.tumblr.com, and it will soon exist as the website keepinitchad.com as we develop it further. Even with its more public presence, though, we reject the goal of trying to reach out and reform others. Educating the Chads of the world is not our intention. We as women perform far too much emotional labor every day to expect our humorous outlet to undo years of deeply ingrained sexism and misogyny.
Alternatively, we view our comic as a resource to embolden other women with internal fortitude. We can let them know they’re not alone and that the reductive and hurtful things these men say and do to them are not isolated incidents but rather ongoing patterns of sexist behavior. In fact, the most rewarding aspect of our project is the community we’ve built along the way. Both newcomers and longtime female friends have approached us with saying, “So, this happened to me…” and then we have the privilege and challenge of flipping the script to turn their perpetrators into the ones who are actually ignorant and foolish, not the women themselves.
The best part is that we get to make our friends laugh. A narrative that once caused irritation, frustration, or pain can now burn like a talisman in their chests. Sometimes resistance is as simple as changing the direction of one small story. Sometimes it’s transforming the way you feel in your own body—that subtle yet remarkable shift from passivity to action. Collaborative storytelling and humor can perform this kind of alchemy. Let’s work to keep that magic aflame.
Today we are pleased to feature author Meriwether Clarke as our Authors Talk series contributor. Meriwether discusses the way that all three of her poems from Issue 18 focus on female shame. She reveals that she likes to think about her poems “as something that can potentially help a reader question the dominant narrative our society tells.”
Meriwether also discusses our current political climate, and she explains how she has been “looking for solace in books more than she has in quite some time.” She then shares the words of both James Baldwin and Robert Hass to convey the responsibility of a writer. She notes how poetry asks questions and exposes us to discomfort, which is crucial at this time in history. Meriwether ends by saying that literature is “a means to ask the seemingly un-askable and learn the seemingly un-learnable.”
Sherman Alexie is one funny guy. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry and short stories, adult and young adult novels, and four screenplays, including the 1999 award-winning film Smoke Signals. He was the recipient of the National Book Award prize for Young People’s Literature in 2007, and the PEN/Faulnker award winner for his novel War Dances in 2010. Yet despite his many successes, Sherman Alexie maintains an easy going attitude and a witty, self-deprecating sense of humor. From my own experience seeing him speak at the kick-off of ASU’s Project Humanities last February, I can attest to the fact that Alexie really knows how to work an audience. When he read his poetry, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. But most of his speech was riotously funny, and whether he was recalling an anecdote about his daily life or poking fun at ASU’s president Michael Crow, he had the audience crippled with laughter.
What makes Sherman Alexie’s humor so outstanding is his fearless confrontation of difficult subjects. During his speech for Project Humanities he discussed racial stereotypes, sexism, and homophobia, always with his trademark wit. If you visit his website or follow him on Twitter (which I highly recommend), you will see the same thing: his unflinching willingness to speak his mind about social issues. Yet his convictions never overtake his artistic integrity. Instead they connect his work to the day-to-day world and prompt the reader to reconsider their assumptions about privilege, race, and class. Sherman Alexie is truly one of America’s most valuable writers, and we are very pleased to publish his work in Issue 8 of Superstition Review.