Thursday, October 23, 2014

Erica Rivera Previews Executive Breakfast Forum


Erica Rivera spoke to online marketer Holly Spaeth, one of three speakers at the upcoming Executive Breakfast Forum: Online Marketing Strategies for Small and Midsize Businesses. Find out how your company can maximize its social media impact on Minnesota Business magazine's website here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Dum Dum Girls


Erica Rivera recently spoke to Dee Dee Penny, the founder and frontwoman of pop-rock band Dum Dum Girls. Penny discussed her love of literature, the making of a short film with Bret Easton Ellis, and her latest album Too True. Read the Q&A on Vita.mn here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Erica Rivera Previews Wearable Tech Tour

Ralph Lauren's "smart" shirt for athletes recently debuted at the U.S. Open.

What's new in wearable tech? William Betten, the VP of Logic PD will show you on his tour at the MD&M conference in Minneapolis. For details, visit the Minnesota Business magazine blog here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Bastille


Erica Rivera spoke to Bastille, the chart-topping Brit band behind the hit "Pompeii". Read the Q&A in this week's print issue of Vita.mn or online here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Bad Feminist" Is A Badass Book

Here is the short list of topics covered by Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist: racism, the slave narrative, rape, domestic abuse, pedophilia, police profiling, the (in)justice system, abortion, reproductive rights, the side effects of birth control, Paula Deen, misogyny in music, sexual violence in language, offensive humor, BDSM, female friendships, body image, the (mis)representation of African Americans in film, coming out, likability in literary protagonists, professorship, and politics.

Bad Feminist is a collection of whip-smart, pointed, and relatable essays, the kind of writing I was clamoring for when I initially picked up (and subsequently ripped apart) Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl last week. Gay's book is so good that I would've gotten back in bed and binge-read it cover to cover had I started it on the weekend. Alas, like Gay, I do most of my reading while exercising, so it took several days to get through it. It was all I could do not to throw my hands up in praise and shout, "YES! YES! YES!" in the middle of the gym at 5 a.m. If Dunham's book was marshmallow fluff, Gay's is a 34-ounce Porterhouse steak.


Gay leads the reader through a slew of timely, thorny issues via an accessible medium: pop culture. Most of her essays begin with a book, television show, movie, or song that relates to the deeper problems she'll soon dive into. While this format was unfamiliar at first (mostly because I have not seen or read much of the entertainment she discusses), you gotta love a writer who takes an appreciation of "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and turns it into questioning whether or not appreciating that song--even in a lighthearted way--is condoning sexual assault. Or wonders why the one of the few places we see racial diversity on the small screen is inside a prison, a la Orange is the New Black. Or reads and live-tweets Vogue, "and I'm not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way." Or concludes of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, "It would have been useful if Sandberg offered realistic advice about career management...It would also be useful if we had flying cars."

Gay also addresses Dunham's Girls, though she's much more diplomatic and kind when criticizing the 28-year-old who, as I claimed previously, squandered an opportunity to say something important about womanhood. Gay sees Dunham's point of view differently, acknowledging that while she's not Girls' target demographic, she does believe that all of our voices deserve to be heard, even if they are not voices that resonate with us. "Public women, and feminists in particular, have to be everything to everyone; when they aren't, they are excoriated for their failure," Gay writes. I aspire to be that restrained and mature. Part of me believes women should not tear one another down and must remain united in what Gay calls "the sisterhood," but like Gay, "the idea of a sisterhood menaces me." Besides, for feminism to be "successful," I believe we need more than a sisterhood. We should include men who want to participate in the efforts for gender equality. We should feel free to disagree and debate and argue with one another. Just as I do not feel that electing, say, Anne Coulter as the first female president would be a "win" for women, I do not feel that Dunham's book is an asset to feminism. Thus, I stand by my rant.

Little Lena could learn a lot from Professor Gay, like how to cite sources (other than one's family), to use statistics to support a thesis, or to look up from one's navel from time to time and consider a broader perspective. To be fair, I could learn to critique people, popular culture, and institutions without demeaning them. Gay is so adept at this, it's an art. She limits self-disclosure and comes nowhere near TMI (Too Much Information) territory. She even makes critical thinking fun, like when she suggests a drinking game for reading Fifty Shades of Grey that involves taking a swig every time Anastasia exclaims "Jeez" or bites her lower lip or remarks how handsome Christian is. Gay graciously dismantles the racism inherent in The Help and even made me laugh when she described her heart turning into "cardiac jerky" as she watched the film adaptation of that novel.

In all of her essays, Gay hits the point home without shoving an agenda in the reader's face or shaming those whose need to improve. I did not just find kinship in Gay's words, I got educated as well. I was reminded that while I might be a feminist in theory, I am also an ignorant white person. We all benefit from hearing that which makes us uncomfortable. Revolution begins with awareness.


Two chapters in Bad Feminist stood out for me--one, on the New York Times' major misstep in reporting on the horrendous gang rape of an 11-year-old girl with an article titled "Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town." I had not heard of this case, in which an 11-year-old girl was raped by 18 men. Eighteen men. The assault was also videotaped, which is what led to the apprehension of the rapists. Stories like these are why I avoid the news when I can, but the newspaper's blatant dismissal of the victim's suffering (and even suggesting she might some how have been at fault for its occurrence) was appalling. How many sets of editorial eyes saw that headline and didn't even hesitate to question it? And what of the reporter who apparently didn't challenge the hospital worker's statement that "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives"? They have to live with this?! Jesus Christ! As if I wasn't pissed off enough about the state of publishing, that chapter was a kick-in-the-head kind of wake-up call.

The other chapter that still haunts me is "What We Hunger For," an essay seemingly about The Hunger Games. I almost skipped it as that's a series I have no intention of ever reading, nor do I plan to watch its film adaptations. But by this chapter, I trusted Gay as an essayist, and I suspected that what appeared to be an intellectual analysis of a YA novel would develop into something more profound. It did, when Gay examined the strength of women and disclosed her own experience of being gang raped. My throat felt tight and my eyes turned wet as I read her painful account. I wanted to write her a letter after reading it but all I could think to say was, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing. We need you." Gay is definitely the voice of a generation, and she is an essential, evocative, and persuasive one.

Bad Feminist does what essays should do: motivate the reader to make a change or take a step, no matter how small, in the right direction. (This must be why they call feminism a "movement.") After reading the aforementioned chapter, I contacted my daughters' father and informed him I would be having "The Talk" with them ASAP and that I hoped he would do the same. Granted, a talk doesn't guarantee that a young girl won't be raped (if only it were up to us females), but I realized it's not too early to start talking about the fact that men and boys can and do hurt girls and women. Gay herself says she doesn't believe in safety; she thinks it's an illusion. Maybe she's right, but I believe that expressing honestly the things that form us and break us and bond us is a way of creating safe space, and she has done that, for so many overlooked and underrepresented groups, in Bad Feminist. We can each create safe spaces--whether on the page or in our homes, schools, and communities--so that women can feel freer to speak up.

Gay doesn't have all the answers. She is open about the fact that she's a contradiction in terms, a feminist who dates assholes and willingly gives blow jobs. She openly admits she comes from a privileged background as far as her education (she has a Ph.D.) and her financial upbringing (middle-upper class) are concerned. But she's asking the big questions, she's clear in her call for action, and she doesn't sugarcoat that which is hard to swallow.

All that said, I was left wanting a few things after finishing Bad Feminist. Like Dunham, Gay fails to examine spirituality. Figuring out who God is and where to find Him/Her/It is an endeavor just as important to many 20- and 30-something women I know as finding Mr. Right is. I believe the only time Gay mentions God is during her rape, when she prays to Him to save her. He doesn't. (I, and other people of faith, might respond by saying that God gave man free will. I might also say that God makes mistakes, and this was perhaps one of them. When an atrocity happens, the question is not, "Why did God allow this?" but "What the fuck is wrong with people?!" God does not cause suffering, but He does give us the strength to move forward and turn adversity into something good. Rather than "Why?", He encourages us to ask "What now? How do we respond compassionately?") Addressing all of that might require a book-length tome of its own, but I would have been curious to hear what happened to Gay's idea of God as she grew into adulthood.

There were two other huge, gaping absences in Bad Feminist: marriage and motherhood. This is, presumably, because Gay is not married and does not have children (though she expresses the desire for the latter in the last chapter). I am married with two daughters and three step-sons, all in or approaching the tween and teenage years. I have a lot of questions and not a lot of feminists to guide me through them. For example: What might a feminist marriage look like? How does money factor into a marriage where there is an income discrepancy between the two parties? How does one raise children to be feminist adults? How do you unpack feelings like "He's such a sissy" or "She's such a drama queen!" about one's own children? How do you prevent stereotyping genders without pretending that there aren't real, observable differences between boys and girls? What will the effect of technology be on our children's abilities to have meaningful relationships offline? How do we cultivate compassion in the selfie generation? And what of raising multicultural kids?

I know I cannot expect each female essayist to address every issue women face, but I think both Dunham's and Gay's books serve as a call to response for those of us who recognize that there is still so much left unsaid and unexplored about womanhood.

Bad Feminist is an intense, intelligent example of what good writing can be. It's so robust and raw, I really wish Gay had called it Badass Feminist to reflect her own power on the page. Gay has published before and, given the bestselling status of Bad Feminist, there will be more to come from her. I can't wait.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Not That Kind of Girl" Indeed

Here is the short list of what Lena Dunham does not address in her bestselling book, Not That Kind of Girl: racism, classism, addiction, alcoholism, stalking, domestic violence, suicide, student loans, health insurance, home ownership, the recession, bankruptcy, graduate school, the Boomerang Generation, abortion, miscarriage, pregnancy, infertility, parenthood, single motherhood, getting engaged, the decision to cohabit (or not), marriage, adultery, divorce, child support, blended families, spirituality, the writing process, how to be creative in a capitalist society. I could go on.

What Dunham does address, in excess: childhood and sex, an odd couple of literary topics if there ever was one. The emphasis on the former is a common mistake made by first-time authors and many editors. One's early years are rarely as interesting to other people as they are to oneself. I can't blame Dunham for lingering in the latter--I've been there, done that. Writing about sex is fun--but even when it comes to that subject, she doesn't go all in. (What of the STD she contracted? Doesn't she have a position on abortion? How does she feel about sex outside of committed relationships? Why do so many of her "exploits" end in "Nobody came"? What about cheating? Or the temptation of married men? Threesomes? S&M? Anal? Etc.)


Which brings me to my next objection about Not That Kind of Girl: this is not a book of essays. An essayist takes a stand, makes a thesis statement, and backs it up with research, or at the very least, scholarly literature. Not That Kind of Girl is not necessarily a memoir, either, or if it is, it lacks some serious structure and insight. (This is evident right on the cover in Dunham's subtitle A young woman tells you what she's "learned". That quotation placement is not accidental.) Like a non-consensual conversation where one party over-shares and the other party is held captive, a key question in memoir writing is, "Why are you telling me this?" I don't think Dunham knows, and I'll bet she was never even asked, given all the "yes" men (and women) currently riding her coattails.

Essays are cerebral. Memoirs are from the heart. What we have with Not That Kind of Girl, if anything, is a celebrity autobiography. I only wish it would have been labeled as such so I wouldn't have expected anything from it but fluff. When a celebrity publishes a book (which they often haven't even written themselves--I've met their ghostwriters), the publisher is pimping out that celebrity's name and nothing more. The content of the book is irrelevant. Publishers will always take the easy route when it comes to making a profit, and celebrities are it. Granted, I'd wager that Dunham writes better than, say, any of the Kardashians--but Dunham has far less life experience than any of them, so perhaps the Kardashian "sisterhood autobiography" would be more enlightening.


Yes, Dunham does touch on (and by that I mean she taps it on the shoulder rather than tackles) date rape (though she doesn't use that word) and sexism in the professional sphere. I won't pick apart her unfortunate sexual experience out of respect for truly traumatized sexual assault victims. As for the sexism, it's hard to empathize with someone who's sitting at a table with major media players that want to produce a show written, directed, and starring her. Welcome to the cutthroat world of...Hollywood? At least Dunham got some face time; I've worked under male bosses who told me that meeting in person was "unnecessary." Then there was a slew of male writers with whom I agreed to meet for networking purposes when in fact their version of "getting down to business" was different than mine and did not involve my earning a cent.

Thank goodness Dunham has a platform on which to call out those misogynistic jerks--and yet, she chooses not to use it, stating that she'd rather wait until they are dead so as to avoid a lawsuit. How brave of you! (She hates when people call her that. "It's not brave to do something that doesn't scare you," she writes. FYI: In writing, the stuff that scares you is what's worth being written.)

You know what's really insulting in the workplace? Being offered a job at a publication rife with sex industry ads, then having that offer rescinded because "someone" on staff is "uncomfortable" with the erotic food writing you do on your own time (I requested a meeting with this mystery person and was refused). Or negotiating a $100/article rate with a female editor who is replaced six months later by a male editor who says you can write for free or find another publication (I did). Or fighting with a pack of male superiors (some of whom are chronologically and/or experientially your juniors) for the "right" to write articles that they'd rather assign to their bros (I'm still losing this battle). Or penning any assignment (most about white men and their fame/successes) that pays at least $25 just so you can feed your family--and then having people tell you that you should be grateful you've made writing your "career." You could be catering, after all. Unless you're Lena Dunham, of course. As she writes about doing nude scenes on Girls: "I do it because my boss tells me to. And my boss is me." (Lucky you.) If you think sexism is bad in the upper echelon of entertainment, Lena, I invite you to be the only female in a food service kitchen during a double shift. It won't be long before you're hearing the words "swamp ass," getting spanked with baking pans, and being told you should be donkey punched. Then you can tell me how violated you feel.

I could also easily dismiss Dunham's musings on love. She only recently embarked on her first reciprocal love relationship. When that man cheats on you, packs up all of your belongings and leaves them on the porch two weeks before your wedding, then you can share your thoughts about love. Until then, I don't need your rosy-hued blathering about how good you've got it. You don't know love until you've had your heart broken hard.


While I, like many people, believed that Dunham was referring to promiscuity with the title Not That Kind of Girl, after reading the book, I realize she's not. We could debate whether or not her sexual behavior has earned her the title of "slut," but I'm really not interested in that discussion. Let's leave that issue to the social media trolls to chew on. What Not That Kind of Girl really means is: Dunham is not one of us. And by "us" I mean the vast majority of young females in the United States. Dunham is the one percent. She leads a privileged, segregated, relatively unscathed life. There is little to no loss, suffering, struggle, or failure in her story. Her viewpoint is not universal (though in our society, we often assume the white POV is such); hers is the viewpoint of a modern day Disney princess, albeit with a weight problem (which isn't really a problem given that she doesn't seem interested in doing anything about it, like exercise).

Dunham's character in Girls (which was worth watching for one season and quickly devolved into a whiny 20-something soap opera for seasons two and three) says, "I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice of a generation." If Dunham is the voice of your generation, I pity you. And I will mute you.

Now, I don't expect a 28-year-old to have lived every item in the Real Life Shit list at the beginning of this review rant. But I will say that by the time my memoir was published at age 28, I had experienced the bulk of those things, and they were all in those pages. Like Dunham, I was wooed by one of the "Big Three" in publishing. Unfortunately, you probably haven't heard of Insatiable: A young mother's struggle with anorexia because the marketing budget for my book was, well, whatever I was able to pony up on my own. There was no book tour, no print or internet ads. Penguin likely sunk its publicity budget into some other author who wrote what they call a "hot babe" in the publishing industry.

Not That Kind of Girl is one such "hot babe" and Dunham received an insane advance for it--$3.7 million. You may assume I'm envious, and you'd be right--what writer wouldn't welcome millions of dollars to literarily masturbate on the page? But what infuriates me about the amount of money invested in her tome is how many other writers must have been rejected so that Random House could cut that check. Imagine how many authors' careers could have been jump-started with those funds. What breadth and depth of voices could have instead been represented on bookshelves with that money? Why does the publishing industry insist on selling us the same drivel of white, upper-class, New Yorkers over and over again?


It will come as no surprise that from the beginning, I didn't want to like Dunham's book. Then I read it, and I'll admit, I found some sections to be humorous or tender. But a few days after finishing it, I got angry. Dunham wasted her words on Not That Kind of Girl. She received an opportunity that most female writers will never get and she squandered it on saccharine, nostalgic, silly storytelling (i.e. a "My Regrets" chapter about missing out on water skiing and "What's in My Bag" which covers exactly that). What's worse, with sales of the book skyrocketing, Dunham will likely get the chance to do it again. I can only hope life throws her enough curveballs that she'll have something more poignant to say the next time around.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Aviv 613 Vodka


Erica Rivera caught up with Marc Grossfield, the CEO of spiritually-inspired vodka brand Aviv 613, to find out how the first year of business went. (In a word: booming.) Read more on the Minnesota Business magazine blog here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Freedom Distilling


Erica Rivera spoke to former Navy SEAL Nathan Newhall, founder of Freedom Distilling, for the Minnesota Business magazine blog. Newhall is currently in the fundraising stages of launching the first veteran owned and operated whiskey distillery in Minnesota. Read more about his socially responsible business model here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Erica Rivera Highlights Coffee Shop Meeting Spaces

Blue Ox Coffee in Minneapolis

Erica Rivera compiled a list of local coffee shops that offer meeting space for Minnesota Meetings + Events magazine. Find out where to caffeinate your next get-together in the Fall 2014 issue or online here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Zeichen Press


Erica Rivera spoke to one of the founders of Zeichen Press, a Minnesota-based company that caught Martha Stewart's eye in the American Made competition. Learn more about these quirky card makers and how to vote for them on the Minnesota Business magazine blog here.

Erica Rivera Profiles ACE Leadership Training


Erica Rivera profiled ACE Leadership, a program that helps tech professionals learn leadership skills. Read all about it in the October issue of Minnesota Business magazine or online here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Magnet 360


Erica Rivera interviewed Scott Litman, CEO of Magnet 360, about successful entrepreneurship. Read about his many promising ventures in the October issue of Minnesota Business or online here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Greater Goods


Erica Rivera profiled Greater Goods, a stationery and gift store in Minneapolis that puts a portion of profits back into the community. Read about this quirky company in the October 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine or online here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles BH Button Company


Erica Rivera profiled pocket square maker Sean Besser Hank, a fashion-forward Minnesotan inspired by vintage fabrics and his mother's button collection. Read about his new company BH Button Co. in the October 2014 issue of Minnesota Business or online here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Shonen Knife


Erica Rivera interviewed iconic punk rockers Shonen Knife. Read how this Japanese band has endured 33 years of music-making on Vita.mn here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Erica Rivera Bakes Sylvia Plath's Favorite Cake

Inspired by a recent viewing of the film Sylvia in which Sylvia Plath procrastinates writing by baking up a storm, Erica Rivera went in search of Plath's recipes. She stumbled upon one for a tomato soup cake, reportedly one of the poet's favorites, and recreated it.

SYLVIA PLATH’S TOMATO SOUP CAKE


Ingredients

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 can condensed tomato soup
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice


For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar

Method

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cake pans generously with cooking spray.

• Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs and tomato soup; stir until incorporated.

• Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Stir just until uniform; do not over-stir.

• Transfer batter evenly to pans. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean.

• Transfer pans to wire rack. Gently run spatula around inner rim of cakes to loosen from pan but do not remove cakes. Let cakes cool completely.

• Meanwhile, make frosting by beating cream cheese and butter together in large bowl with electric mixer on medium. Add vanilla extract; beat. Add powdered sugar gradually and continue beating, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

• Transfer one cooled cake to serving plate; frost. Top with second cake; frost. Slice and serve. 

(Adapted from The Guardian.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews The Buzzcocks


Erica Rivera interviewed the Buzzcocks, a legendary punk rock band from Manchester, England. Vocalist and guitarist Steve Diggle discussed rebellion, longevity, and the group's new album The Way with Rivera. Read the Q&A on Vita.mn here!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Erica Rivera Featured in St. Paul Almanac 2015


Erica Rivera's photograph of Adriel Danae singing at the Turf Club is included in the 2015 St. Paul Almanac. The guidebook features stories, poems, photographs, and illustrations from local artists. A reception celebrating the Almanac's release will be held on Thursday, September 11 at 7 p.m. at 308 Prince Street, Saint Paul, MN 55101.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles WaterFilters.NET


Erica Rivera interviewed Jamin Arvig, founder of WaterFilters.NET, about his rapid rise in the online commerce industry. Read the feature in the September 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine or online here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Fein Violins


Erica Rivera profiled Fein Violins, a longtime Grand Avenue shop where custom instruments are made by hand, for Minnesota Business magazine. Read the piece in the September issue or online here.
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