Labor Day Repost: The "Starving Artist" Trope Should Die in a Fire, ASAP

by Ariela

Two years ago I wrote this post. Sadly it is still relevant and in the intervening two years I have only become angrier and more disillusioned by the evils of the Capitalist machine and all the other -isms that tend to come bundled with it as a package deal. I'm a member of a labor union in my day job and the hard limit on the number of hours I work thanks to that union (and the organized workers' lobby before them) is what allows me to pursue my art; without it, I am certain my job would gobble every hour I could give and demand more.

So drink a toast (doesn't have to be alcoholic) to the workers and activists of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, remember that something you love is still labor, and get over the idea that labor unions are only for blue collar jobs (and for pete's sake, recognize that blue collar jobs are very worthy of respect).


Image reads "I am an artist. This does not mean I will work for free. I have bills just like you. Thank you for understanding. Image found on  thephotographer4you.com

Image reads "I am an artist. This does not mean I will work for free. I have bills just like you. Thank you for understanding.
Image found on thephotographer4you.com

"The Starving Artist trope needs to DIAF."

I have been having the same, or similar conversations, in various forms, a lot of late on social media. So I decided to write about it at more length than I can in 140 characters, even in consecutive tweet. The topic is only somewhat related to Labor Day, not being about an Artists' Guild or other organized labor movement. But it is about recognizing the labor of artists and valuing it properly, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to post about it.

You probably know the trope of the Starving Artist; it's quite common in American culture. It's the one that says that artists almost never make enough money to make ends meet and that aspiring artists have no sense of practicality and make no plans to support themselves while they blithely pursue their art. This trope needs to Get Gone.

The Starving Artist trope was popularized during the Romantic era in Europe and America, which peaked around 1800-1850. In America, it had a large overlap with the Bohemian movement. Both of these groups valorized the idea of devotion to art - be it writing, visual arts, music, etc. - to the exclusion of all else, particularly material concerns. In these environments, the Starving Artist was an aspirational model, not a negative image.

The 1980s and 90s saw a bunch of movies, TV shows, songs, and other artistic projects showing the young artistic hopeful arriving, usually in NYC or LA, with just a suitcase and a few dollars in their pocket, also presenting this image in a positive light. Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, based strongly on Puccini's Romantic-era opera La Bohème, was probably the pinnacle of this trend, though I'm sure some people would put in a word for "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.

The evil counterpart of the Starving Artist is the Sellout, the person who has decided to abandon their artistic dream in favor of creating Extruded Art-like Product in exchange for money.

The stereotypes of the Starving Artist and the Sellout combine to create a double-bind of expectations for artists. Artists are starving, so if you want to be an artist, the immediate assumption is that you are an impractical flake with your head in the clouds and no economic sense. If you are already working as an artist and have the audacity to require payment for your work, you must be a greedy Sellout and your art can't possibly be good enough to be worth your quoted rate. Artists are "right-brained" people, so they don't pursue their careers logically and you can't possibly have a realistic plan or expectation of how hard you are going to have to work. And if you have a day job and pursue art on the side, why are you demanding to be paid for your hobby?

This is galling enough on its own, but even moreso when compared with the treatment of another group of creative dreamers in America: "entrepreneurs." Wikipedia defines Starving Artist as "an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects. " But this description could also be applied to an entrepreneur in the throes of starting up a business. Startups have a high rate of failure, but we don't have a derogatory "Starving Entrepreneur" trope; in fact, people who do that tend to be lauded by the American capitalist machine. And I don't buy that this is due to the newness of entrepreneurship compared to art - the Romantic period that saw the birth of the Bohemian ideal was in large part a response to the Industrial Revolution, so the tension between these two groups goes back plenty long.

Someone who lives on ramen while working on the next big app,  or mortgages their house to finance their restaurant, or works at a day job and then codes all night, etc., is considered "goal oriented," or at least they are if they succeed. We don't tend to hear about failures because they don't match the cultural narrative surrounding entrepreneurs and The American Dream. Artists who live meagerly are derided for "not having a real job," or living in an "unsustainable way;" those of us who work a day job are frequently condescendingly applauded for recognizing that our art will never be a going concern. Our failures are incorporated back into the cultural canon and our successes are forgotten because they don't fit the preconception of the Starving Artist. It's confirmation bias at its most basic.

This boondoggle of unrealistic and conflicting expectations is inextricably tied to and exacerbated by the way that our society values art. Or rather, the way that it doesn't value art. Art is seen as unnecessary, something not worth spending large amounts of money to obtain, or only worth spending top dollar for if one is so rich that one simply has nothing better to do with that money. I'm including more than just graphic arts in that estimation. Music, novels, theater, dance, and other media are similarly denigrated. One might think that wider access to the arts, through recording, scanning, printing, streaming, and other reproduction technology, might give people across class lines a greater appreciation for them and increase the number of people who understand their worth; alas it is not so. If anything, I suspect that it has further devalued them by creating false expectations about the cost. When art could only be afforded by the wealthy, of course it was expensive to produce; but when anyone can buy a poster, it's an huge sticker shock to encounter custom art prices. People who aren't in the habit of commissioning work don't think about the fact that the cost of production, including the artist's time, is amortized over the entire print run/album run/clothing line/etc. Sticker shock is normal, and I don't resent the clients who hear my breakdown of costs and expected labor time and say, "Ok, wow, that's out of our price range, but thanks for your time!" I also don't mind the ones who ask what the options are to cut the costs. It's the ones who get angry when I tell them my prices who are the problem. (Terri deals with most of this as part of general administravia, so I get off easy in this department.)

I am far from the only one who experiences this problem. Plenty of people attempt to get artists to do work on the grounds that it will be a good portfolio piece, or that the project will bring them publicity. The twitter account @ForExposure_txt documents some of the egregious examples of this trend. Another common trend is the non-profit that asks artists to donate their work "because it's for a good cause!" but would never dream of asking their plumber to do likewise. People who accept the quoted prices of consulting firms without a blink try to bargain artists down. The perceived valuelessness of the time and work of artists is, I suspect, one of the factors that causes Patreon to be so much more contentious than other crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter and GoFundMe. A society that derides us for not being able to support ourselves through our art and then turns around and demands that we work for free or insultingly low rates is hypocritical and sick. Our lovely capitalist machine demands that far too many people in a variety of jobs work below the poverty line, but what I am addressing here is the particular moral outrage expressed at artists who have the gall to say that they deserve to get paid, not just be snivellingly grateful for whatever pennies get tossed our way by noble and beneficent people with "Real Jobs."

Artists know our vocation takes an enormous amount of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. We're not in denial about this. For some of us this means we work a day job while pursuing art at night and on the weekends, sometimes for a few years, sometimes for all our working lives. For some of us it means paring away our expenses until we can live within our earnings as artists. For many it is a combination of both. We do this so that we can produce the art we love, which we hope you will love, too.

Artists make things that are beautiful, profound, disturbing, thought-provoking, challenging, and sometimes things that exist just to make you happy. We deserve respect for this work. And we deserve to get paid.

And the Starving Artist trope, which tells a story that we deserve none of this, needs to die in a fire.


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Sometimes profanity is required. When someone asks you to work "for exposure," for example. Or for "portfolio development." Or tries to haggle you down from your stated prices by trying to convince you that you're not actually that good.

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New Sticker: Explode the Gender Binary

Want to adorn your stuff with a colorful burst and a reminder that humans are wonderfully complicated?

How It Came To Be

This has been a project rattling around in Ariela's mind since February, but it was put on the back burner until the "Penric's Demon" Illuminate First Page project was finished.

We are two straight, cis-gendered women. Neither of us is queer, but both of us feel constricted by traditional gender roles. Ariela is a very femme person with a day job in a traditionally masculine field (tech) who likes to play with power tools. Terri, on the other hand, finds femininity to be performative for her, rather than innate. And both of us are interested in moving beyond the religious role prescribed to us by dint of our sex. People are complicated, far more complicated than a single, simple binary can possibly reflect.

Given the success of Fuck You Pay Me, the first draft read "Fuck the Gender Binary." But eventually we went with "Explode" instead, because that's really what we want to do: break out of the confines, burst out in as many directions and dimensions as possible.

The colors in the center are primarily blue and pink, reflecting the binary that is being exploded, but it gets more and more colorful the further out the burst gets, reflecting the expansion of possibilities, the range of human nature.

The sticker is die cut and measures 3" x 2.38".

So You Want Custom Ketubah Art? Why This Ketubah Artist Recommends Against It

by Ariela

Ariela completes Terri's  ketubah , August 2011

Ariela completes Terri's ketubah, August 2011

We're in Wedding Season, which means that lately I have been fielding lots of requests for custom ketubah work. Some of those inquiries ares for custom text calligraphy to go with pre-existing art, or to go with art from a family friend. Most requests, however, are for original art with a hand-calligraphed text, which is what we're discussing today.

On my first call with prospective clients, the question at the top of my list is always "Why do you want a custom ketubah?" I don't ask because I'm looking to judge their reasons, I ask because the answer tends to tell me a lot about what my experience will be working with them.

If the answer is anything other than "We have a very specific vision for our ketubah art," the next thing I tend to do is to try to persuade them to find a pre-existing print and get that instead. Gone are the days when there were only a very few, cookie-cutter designs and one text available. You can find ketubah art in almost any genre and most artists can accommodate a custom text, too. In most cases, there is simply no need for a custom job.

But Ariela, you say, why would you try to turn away a potentially lucrative commission?

The answer is that planning a wedding is a miserable experience that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. And commissioning custom art is a process that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. Trying to complete the two projects simultaneously isn't something to do on a lark; you have to really want it to make it worth it. Even if you do want it, it's still no cakewalk. My spouse and I ditched art completely and we still had hours of arguments about the text.

The Wedding Industrial Complex means that working with overwhelmed, stressed clients is part and parcel of the wedding gig. But a wedding vendor can make it easier on their own self and on the clients by helping them to cut out unnecessarily complicated steps. But to do that, you have to figure out what is necessary. Which is why I ask "Why do you want a custom ketubah?"

If it's important to you, let's talk. I love to create things that are truly special to people. But if it's not, perhaps it is time to let go of expectations (your own, or others'), and put your time, attention, and money, on things that will make a bigger difference to you.

Wishing you a stress-free wedding season, as much as it is possible.

The 90th Oscars - Why Dunkirk is Awful

Image shows the Oscar statuette with the Oscars logo superimposed over it on a brown background. I remain amused that everyone has given up trying to call this The Academy Awards.

Image shows the Oscar statuette with the Oscars logo superimposed over it on a brown background. I remain amused that everyone has given up trying to call this The Academy Awards.

by Terri

Did you see Dunkirk? I didn't. I don't know anyone that did. But the voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem to have and really liked it.

I'm not generally one for Oscar predictions. The movies I like tend to get nominated solely in what I think of as the "technical" categories - Visual Effects, Sound Design & Mixing, Costumes, Makeup Design, Set Design, etc. You rarely see genre films nominated in the "important" categories - Best Director, the various awards for acting, Best Picture. So there's not a whole lot of fun in going "well, which genre film is going to be deemed worthy of which technical award?" I mostly watch for the host, the pretty dresses and the occasional acceptance speech that blows you out of the water

This year I honestly did not know who was nominated in half the categories. I knew that Get Out* was actually nominated for several of the Big Awards, and so was The Shape of Water. So good on the Academy for nominating an excellent and groundbreaking horror film (and the weird fish love story movie). On the other hand, it's become clear that though the Academy has spearheaded some diversity initiatives in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, the old guard still holds significant sway. 

The two films that exemplify the hold of that old guard are Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. Both of these films are classic Oscar Bait. They're both World War II films centering entirely on White British People. Because Darkest Hour featured Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, that made it a shoo-in for at least one of the Big Awards it was nominated for. But poor Dunkirk only had Kenneth Branagh (and wasn't nominated for any of the acting awards, only Best Picture and Best Director). Since it wasn't going to win either of those awards, the Academy felt honor bound to elevate it beyond all sense. 

This mediocre WWII film won nearly EVERY technical award it was nominated for. Normally this wouldn't bother me so much. I like it when genre films win the categories they're slotted into, but no one cares who wins these Oscars. Except that Dunkirk won Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The Last Jedi was nominated in both of these categories, and rightly so. If nothing else, the 6 seconds of silence when Holdo rams the Raddus through the entire First Order fleet (most notably the flagship) at lightspeed deserve both awards all on its own. And instead of awarding creativity and unique choices, the Academy tossed both of these awards to Dunkirk as a bone. What, me, bitter?

After that, learning that members of the Academy didn't even bother to watch Get Out surprised me not at all. It seems like every time we take a step forward, we have to take three backwards. At least Jordan Peele was acknowledged for his excellent original screenplay, and nominated for his direction and excellent film. Daniel Kaluuya's nomination for his performance in Get Out bodes well for the rest of his career. Logan's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay gives me hope for Black Panther getting some nods outside the usual genre categories. And while I'll never see it, the fact that The Shape of Water was able to take Best Picture may mean that we're seeing some of those barriers break down.**

On a completely different note, the Best Original Song category was so crowded with excellence that it was hard for me to figure out which song actually deserved a win. I simultaneously wanted Mary J Blige to win because she was never going to get Best Supporting Actress and I wanted Remember Me from Coco to win because it was beautiful and poignant and made me want to see the movie. If you're going to pick a song from a sanitized and whitewashed fiction of PT Barnum's life then you can hardly do better than the ensemble unapologetic freak flag anthem of This Is Me,*** and Common and Andra Day in Stand Up for Something bringing out activists ranging from Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood to Alice Brown Otter of Standing Rock to Bana Alabed (an 8 year old author and Syrian refugee) was incredible. Even the mostly forgettable song from Call Me By Your Name was made wonderful by being introduced by Daniela Vega, an openly trans* actress of color. 

So once again, the Oscars were gratifying and disappointing. But there's hope that we're moving forward.

 

 

*This is just the one review actually written by a POC in the top ten Google results. There are more, fabulous reviews out there and you should find them and read them. 

**Though not enough - Patty Jenkins was profoundly robbed for not being nominated for her stellar direction of Wonder Woman.

***Totally worth not getting singing and dancing Hugh Jackman at the Oscars, in my opinion.

"I Like It" =/= "It's Good"

by Ariela

Quick followup on last week's post about my Hugo ballot. I mentioned a few times that I voted for things that I didn't enjoy. I don't think I mentioned the flip side as much, where there were things I enjoyed very much that I didn't vote for, but that happens, too.

The "Good" Meter and "Ariela's Enjoyment" Meter are different things.

The "Good" Meter and "Ariela's Enjoyment" Meter are different things.

Because here's the thing: just because I enjoy something doesn't mean that it is "good" by any metric except the "does Ariela enjoy it?"-o-meter. I enjoy some things that I recognize as being bad by any number of metrics. Candy corn, for example, is terrible for you, and not actually that tasty, I just love it. I also hate all coffee, even high-quality coffee; my lack of enjoyment of anything I have to put in my mouth that includes coffee says nothing about how good a product it is. There are also things that I enjoy that are good, like a perfectly cooked meal, and things that are bad that I don't enjoy, like undercooked chicken.

So, too, with media. I enjoy some horrendous things, and there are some things that I recognize as being superbly skillfully done that are just not my cup of tea. And when I vote for the Hugos, I am trying to indicate that I think something succeeds in the metrics of innovation, craftsmanship, skill, and execution. It's not really about what I liked, it's about what I think exemplifies everything I want to see in the field of Spec Fic. And yes, we can - and do - argue about what the field of Spec Fic should be. But anyone who thinks that the field of SF should consist of only what they personally enjoy, with nothing for anyone else, is probably not worth talking to.

I want there to be SF for people who like things that are dramatically different than what I like, and I want the offerings for them to be good. I want them to have things they love, things that speak so deeply to their experience that fandom becomes part of their identity. Just because I don't share it doesn't mean it shouldn't be awesome for them. I also want good reading and viewing options for me, and I hope they would support me in my desire for same.

So, for me, the Hugos are not about voting for the things I enjoyed the most, they are about voting for the furtherance of the genre.

New Product: Social Justice Warrior's Oath

Do random haters on twitter call you an SJW pejoratively? Embrace your defending side with this oath.

Social Justice Warrior's Oath - Geek Calligraphy Art Print

How It Came To Be:

While a a warrior isn't a profession you typically find on a resume these days, social justice issues are very pertinent to the geek world. So much so that "SJW" is thrown by one side at the other as an insult, and simultaneously embraced by those who feel that they are fighting the good fight. Many people choose other "classes" besides Warrior, so this print is also available for Bard, Cleric, Mage, Paladin, Ranger, and Rogue. None of the classes use gendered terms - that's on purpose. 

As with our other professional oaths, items in the illumination around the edges are the accouterments of the trade. Social justice is a really abstract thing to illustrate, so Ariela went for the RPG classes' tools instead. Drawing from cultures around the world, it is an array of items, many of which could be used by several of the various classes. It was very important to us to move away from the Eurocentrism found in most fantasy role playing settings, which is why many of the items might be unfamiliar to you.

Unlike our other oaths, this one is not humorous.  We think that humor definitely has its place in the social justice movement, but this is not its place.

The Social Justice $_CLASS Oath is 11" x 14" (matted dimensions) and costs $45.

If we did not include your preferred RPG class in our list, please contact us. We can make an oath happen.

Jewish Stock Photography Fails

by Terri & Ariela

The world of stock photography is an inherently odd place to visit. Where else can you get photos of kitchen demolition side by side with any flower you could possibly think of? 

Themed stock photos can get... interesting. Just typing "$_HOLIDAY Stock Photos" into a Google Image search can set off nightmares or fits of giggles. Really, there are things that should never be Earth Day themed. But when you start searching for stock photography of non Christian religious holidays, the photos don't just look strange, they look like an alien's attempt to pass as a Hyoo-man. For example, there seems to be a compulsive need to put either matzah, a tallit,* or a Ḥanukkah menorah in almost all of them to scream JEWISH very loudly. Even if the image is tagged for a holiday containing none of these ritual objects or foods. Like Tu B'Shvat.**

Ariela's day job involves email marketing for the Union for Reform Judaism. This means finding images to go in said emails and results in her spending a lot of time combing through stock image catalogs, particularly around Jewish holidays. This, in turn, led to her IMing Terri in fits of disbelief so that someone else could share in the WTF-ery.

But why should we limit the horror to just the two of us? So we present: Bad Jewish Stock Photography. And when we say bad, we mean REALLY BAD.

We have not included images in this post that are just mis-tagged, like when you search for Passover and get Easter results. That's wrong and sometimes offensive, but not what we're listing here. All photos are watermarked with the image source, unless we can no longer find them at the source. We acknowledge that this post is very image heavy. The captions contain the best descriptions we can write, the commentary on the images is in the body text of the blog post below them.

And yes, we know about this article in The Forward. But that photo isn't even the tip of the Jewish stock photography fail iceberg. It's a small chip off the glacier.

Image shows an open Hebrew prayerbook on a stand, a blue velvet  kippah  with silver embroidery, a  ḥanukkiyah  with all its candles lit, and a folded  tallit  with black and silver stripes.

Image shows an open Hebrew prayerbook on a stand, a blue velvet kippah with silver embroidery, a ḥanukkiyah with all its candles lit, and a folded tallit with black and silver stripes.

This one originally came from iStock, but can no longer be found there. The lit ḥanukkiyah with the tallit is bad enough - a tallit is worn during the day and the ḥanukkiyah is lit only at night - but if you look closely at the text of the open book, it is open to the evening service for Yom Kippur, i.e. not a text you would ever need at Ḥanukkah. Anyone who knows any Hebrew could have told them not to do this.
This was the photo that originally inspired Ariela to do an ongoing series on bad Jewish stock photography.

Image shows a wood framed slate with "HAPPY PASSOVER" written on it in stylized chalk lettering. Surrounding the frame clockwise from noon are: pieces of square machine made maztah, un-shelled walnuts, a red-brown  haggadah , red tulips with yellow stripes, a wine glass on its side with a splash of wine still left, a bottle of pink wine on its side, a stack of three round hand made matzahs on a white cloth, more un-shelled walnuts, a leaf of lettuce with an egg on it, and more tulips.

Image shows a wood framed slate with "HAPPY PASSOVER" written on it in stylized chalk lettering. Surrounding the frame clockwise from noon are: pieces of square machine made maztah, un-shelled walnuts, a red-brown haggadah, red tulips with yellow stripes, a wine glass on its side with a splash of wine still left, a bottle of pink wine on its side, a stack of three round hand made matzahs on a white cloth, more un-shelled walnuts, a leaf of lettuce with an egg on it, and more tulips.

It's Passover, not Easter. Why the tulips? Also, why is a mostly drunk wineglass lying on its side? How is that happy?

Image shows an older balding man wearing a  tallit  and holding an open  siddur  standing next to a table. To his left is a seated woman with short hair, to her right is a young boy in a sweater vest, button down shirt and Hanukkah themed suede  kippah.  To the right of the older man is a seated man in a long sleeved polo shirt with a red satin  kippah.  There is someone seated next to this man, but the image cuts off everything but some arm in a blue sleeve. On the table is a silver plate with square machine made matzah and an unlit  ḥanukkiyah  with all of the arms holding blue and white striped candles.

Image shows an older balding man wearing a tallit and holding an open siddur standing next to a table. To his left is a seated woman with short hair, to her right is a young boy in a sweater vest, button down shirt and Hanukkah themed suede kippah. To the right of the older man is a seated man in a long sleeved polo shirt with a red satin kippah. There is someone seated next to this man, but the image cuts off everything but some arm in a blue sleeve. On the table is a silver plate with square machine made matzah and an unlit ḥanukkiyah with all of the arms holding blue and white striped candles.

The image description for this photo on Thinkstock is "Parents and their son and a rabbi at a Hanukkah ceremony." Just what is a Hanukkah ceremony, pray tell? There is very little to say about this image that the provided description doesn't cover. The words, they escape us.

Image shows a  tallit  with blue and gold stripes over white painted wooden slats. Positioned over the  tallit  are (clockwise from top): glass bowl with honey and wooden dipper, two broken sheets of square machine made matzah, a  ḥanukkiyah  lying flat on its side, a  shofar , and a silver  kiddush  cup partially filled with wine and sitting on a silver coaster.

Image shows a tallit with blue and gold stripes over white painted wooden slats. Positioned over the tallit are (clockwise from top): glass bowl with honey and wooden dipper, two broken sheets of square machine made matzah, a ḥanukkiyah lying flat on its side, a shofar, and a silver kiddush cup partially filled with wine and sitting on a silver coaster.

The only thing this picture illustrates effectively is "We have no meaningful understanding of Jewish holidays."

Image shows a lit red pillar candle sitting on the pages of an open Hebrew prayerbook.

Image shows a lit red pillar candle sitting on the pages of an open Hebrew prayerbook.

No. Just no. You might wish to pray by candlelight, but if we ever catch you with a lit candle on your siddur, we will hurt you.

Image shows a  tallit  with blue and gold stripes on a rough wooden surface. Arranged on and beside the  tallit  from left to right are: a teal suede  kippah  with a silver border, 4 mostly empty silver  kiddush  cups in a diagonal line, and a  shofar.

Image shows a tallit with blue and gold stripes on a rough wooden surface. Arranged on and beside the tallit from left to right are: a teal suede kippah with a silver border, 4 mostly empty silver kiddush cups in a diagonal line, and a shofar.

Once again, juxtaposition fail. One does wear a kippah to the Passover seder, but not a tallit. And a shofar isn't a Passover ritual object at all.

Image shows a blue and gold striped tallit (with atarah showing this time, for variety) on wooden slats. Over the tallit are (from left to right): a shofar, a black suede kippah with a gold border embossed with Jewish stars, and matzah. Once again, juxtaposition fail.

Image shows a blue and gold striped tallit (with atarah showing this time, for variety) on wooden slats. Over the tallit are (from left to right): a shofar, a black suede kippah with a gold border embossed with Jewish stars, and matzah. Once again, juxtaposition fail.

This is a whole genre. See more here

The Crown Jewel of the Collection

This has been scrubbed from all the stock sites we could find. We don't blame them. What the heck were they thinking?

Yes, that is a model of the Ark of the Covenant positioned next to a piggy bank sporting clovers and "good luck" painted on its side. The two are positioned so that the carrying rod of the ark appears to be jammed up the piggy's butt.

There was another in this same series that showed the same model of the Ark perched on the top of someone's foot with what appeared to be an industrial site in the background. We don't understand.

We have never run across any other Jewish Stock Photography fail so egregious, and we hope we never will.

 

*Prayer shawl worn by Jewish adults during daytime services. It is only ever worn at night once a year, on the eve of Yom Kippur.

**The 15th day of the month of Shvat (lunar month, generally falls around February). Often referred to as "Jewish Arbor Day," the Talmud lists this date as "the new year for trees." In the Mediterranean, this is often the beginning of springtime. It is celebrated by eating dried fruit and planting trees.

 

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New Greeting Card: Covertly Hostile Mother's Day Card

As Mother's Day approaches we introduce a card for those whose relationship with their mother is painful and sometimes even hostile. Use the language of flowers to quietly say how you really feel while outwardly obeying your obligation to express affection.

Covertly Hostile Greeting Card from Geek Calligraphy

While Mother's Day is touted as a time to celebrate your mother as the "best mom ever," for many people it serves instead as a painful reminder that their mother is neither good to them nor good for them. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to disengage from toxic moms, and going through socially mandated demonstrations of love is extremely painful when they are so at odds with your emotional reality. We wanted to create a card that would be a little less painful to give, because it would, secretly, convey your true feelings.

This card is a sharp departure from our usual, cutesy chibi card style. Instead it is designed to blend in with the drugstore pack and look entirely unexceptional. Terri described it as filling a niche Hallmark refuses to create, despite the fact that it is their advertising that changed card-giving from a nice gesture on the holiday to a social norm.

The card features two flowers. Lavender means distrust, and tansy means resistance or a declaration against the recipient. But your mother doesn't need to know that. Also, due to the proliferation of flower dictionaries, it is possible to come up with many alternate readings that are completely innocuous, giving you plausible deniability.

Card is $4 and comes with a pink envelope.

Unfortunately, gender stereotypes have thus far defeated our efforts to come up with a Father's Day equivalent, as giving a card featuring flowers to your horrible dad would definitely not count as "flying under the radar." If you have any suggestions for what we might do to offer a Father's Day equivalent, please contact us.

Love Interests and Agency in the Face of Adversity: Analyzing Lois McMaster Bujold Characters

by Ariela

Be warned, this post contains spoilers for Mira's Last Dance, and everything else written by Lois McMaster Bujold.

This post did not turn out the way I thought it would. I have been wanting, for a few weeks, to burble about Lois McMaster Bujold's latest novella, Mira's Last Dance, the Penric series in general, and LMB's ouvre as a whole. I was all set to talk about how LMB writes male protagonists interested in women, but that the women they are interested in are not Love Interests but rather fully-realized characters with their own motivations and how awesome that is. Shortly before I could take some time to sit down and write it, Lindsay Ellis came out with a review of Beauty and the Beast and why it is not about Stockholm Syndrome but does have a bunch of other problems. At 14 minutes in, Ellis starts a thought that culminates in this quote:

[Women's] narratives usually have them being less active agents than being thrown into circumstances which they must then survive

Ouch.

"Thrown into circumstances which they must then survive" sure sounds like it describes a lot of LMB's love interests. (Note, this is female characters who are not the primary protagonist and are the subject of romantic interest by the male protagonist; Cordelia Vorkosigan, Royina Ista, and Fern Bluefield aren't included.) But does the first part apply? Let's take a look.

Love Interests or "Love Interests," And does that Preclude Agency?

I'm going to start with Miles Vorkosigan's love interests, because for me the Vorkosiverse is the baseline of LMB's writing.

Elena Bothari

Elena Bothari

Elena Bothari

Miles' first love interest, Elena, is definitely born into circumstances which do not endow her with much agency. The daughter of a deeply disturbed father who views the degree of her success at the societally prescribed female role as the measure of his redemption from his past sins, she is also the foster daughter of Cordelia Vorkosigan who views Barrayaran society with a mix of anthropological indulgence and Betan horror. The social messaging surrounding her says that the only worthwhile vocation is to be a soldier, but bars her from enlisting by sex. Barrayar is, to Elena, a situation to be endured.

Miles creates the Dendarii Mercenaries for a whole host of reasons, but in the processes uses them to gift Elena with her childhood aspiration of becoming a soldier. But Elena does not then turn around and fall into his arms. She takes the opportunity he offers her, but refuses to be beholden to him for it. Instead, she marries someone even lower on the Barrayaran social ladder than she, a deserter; someone who has been completely excommunicated by Barrayaran society. Marrying Baz is a complete repudiation of her father's expectations of her, but also of the narrative's expectations of her as a Love Interest.

Later on, in Memory, Elena quits the Dendarii as well.

"All my childhood, all my youth, Barrayar pounded into me that being a soldier was the only job that counted. The most important thing there was, or ever could be. And that I could never be important, because I could never be a soldier. Well, I've proved Barrayar wrong. I've been a soldier and a damned good one...And now I've come to wonder what else Barrayar was wrong about. Like, what's really important."

Elena was certainly born into circumstances she needed to survive, but when she was offered an out, she took it. And after some time, she also re-evaluated her life goals and changed direction. This doesn't sound to me like a character lacking in agency.

But Elena was never actually Miles' lover. Let's take a look at some others.

Elli Quinn

Elli Quinn

Elli Quinn

Quinn is the one on this list who fits neither clause of Ellis' statement. She is not put in circumstances she is forced to survive more than any other mercenary. She chooses to be a mercenary, chooses to become Miles' lover, and when he leaves the mercenaries, she refuses to go with him. She wants Miles on her terms or she won't have him. While her motivation is never delved into much, she clearly loves her job and wants to do it to the best of her abilities. She will not sacrifice her career or herself for a boyfriend. Quinn has as complete agency as anyone can who chooses to live in a society with rules and in relation to others.

Sergeant Taura

Taura

Taura

Taura is in many ways Quinn's polar opposite on this scale in that she gets to choose almost nothing. Bred as an experimental genetically-engineered super-soldier, she grows up as a prisoner. When she meets Miles, he is on a mission to retrieve her creator and kill her, or rather, recover the tissue samples her creator had stored in her and dispose of the evidence. Miles offers her the chance to leave the Dendarii at Escobar after her rescue, but considering that would leave her in a strange society, knowing no one, with no coping tools, it's not surprising she refuses. She is bred to be a super-soldier, after all, and she does grow into her role in the Dendarii. Later she sets out to live life as fully as she can and seems to succeed. Based on characterizations, if she decided later that she wanted to give up mercenary life and take up woodworking, or anything else equally disparate from being a soldier, I believe Miles would have supported her fully. But the fact of the matter is that of his love interests, she seems to be the least independent, to have her choices most constrained by circumstances. I don't think this necessarily makes her a less realized character, but in light of general trends of the narrative arcs of female characters, it's kind of troubling.

Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson

Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson Vorkosigan

In many ways, Ekaterin is the embodiment of the kind of female story arc Ellis named in the quote up top. We first meet her trapped in marriage with an emotionally abusive man, held to it by her son, her social conditioning, and her family's expectations. It is the quintessential circumstance a woman is forced to survive in the Western narrative. When her husband is killed, the range of possibilities available to her opens up somewhat, but when she returns to Barrayar in A Civil Campaign, her family promptly tries to marry her off again, being unable to conceive of her in any role other than wife and mother.

While she has more options in A Civil Campaign, she still feels herself to be in very straightened circumstances. Miles, having apparently learned nothing since his effort to give Elena a military career, attempts to give Ekaterin a career in gardening, or at least a jump start on one, as a ploy to keep her close to him. His plot comes apart, he asks her to marry him at entirely the wrong time, and Ekaterin feels backed into quitting both the garden project and her association with him lest she lose her independence. This is one of the points where Ekaterin's agency becomes apparent: her rejection of her other suitors up until this point could have been a plot device to have her end up with Miles, but here she shows that it's an intrinsic character trait. But honestly, while it's agency, it's really minimal agency. She has said no to Miles, but she has not had any chance to say yes to herself yet.

Ekaterin does eventually choose Miles after her family forbids her from interacting with him. Ekaterin herself lampshades the reverse psychology involved by comparing it to how her son carried on about toys. And ultimately she chooses him not because she feels backed into a corner by her family but because she decides that Miles can aid her in her self-actualization, now that he has been talked out of trying to do it for her. Still, the lack of exploration of other options for Ekaterin in the narrative - aside from her insistence that she is going to remain single, which is brushed off by all the other characters - is troubling. We do see her stand up to Miles in later books, but "I can stand up to my husband" is not much of a life goal.

Ivan's love interest: Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua

Tej

Tej

Like Ekaterin, half of the story of Tej and Ivan's romance is from Tej's point of view. And the main character arc of the story is hers: how will she reconcile the demands her family places on her with her own inclinations? Ivan's arc, realizing that he loves Tej and enjoys being married to her, then trying to get her to stay with him, is not nearly as interesting.

Tej almost seems like an answer to the profusion of Strong Female Characters TM* that we have in the genre. Tej's family wants her to be a Strong Female Character TM (for their purposes, of course), and she wants none of it. Her self-actualization involves sitting on a beach drinking fruity alcohol and reading. Her character arc highlights the difference between action and agency. And marrying Ivan is not the way she fulfills herself; the way she does that is by refusing to go back to Jackson's Whole with her family. If anything, Ivan is the reward she gets for standing up for herself.

So ultimately, Tej is not a standard Love Interest with no motivations of her own, nor is she a woman who lacks agency and must merely endure. She surely has to endure at the beginning of the story, but it is the same sort of endurance any hero might have to undergo whose character arc is started by the murder of their family; the difference is that LMB doesn't give short shrift to the emotional toll and the exhaustion such a tragedy would evoke.

Not Pictured Here

I'm going to skip Rowan Durona, who is only briefly present in the narrative of Mirror Dance, Beatriz from The Curse of Chalion, because she very nearly is a standard Love Interest off the assembly line, and Ijada from The Hallowed Hunt, because I didn't actually like that book all that much. Which brings me finally back around to the character who inspired this post in the first place.

Nikys Arisaydia Khatai

Nikys Khatai

Nikys Khatai

When we are first introduced to Nikys, she has definitely been thrown into circumstances she must survive. Her husband, chosen for her by her brother, has died after a long, lingering illness. Now a ward of her brother's, she endures his imprisonment on false charges and his refusal to take advantage of her attempt to rescue him. And then she must endure the flight to save her brother's life, to a destination not of her choosing.

At the end of Penric's Mission, it seems like she will end up together with Penric. At the end of Mira's Last Dance, it seems like she has declined, but Penric is staying to pursue her. But while she exercises a choice not to follow Penric back to Adria, it seems like a choice made from a place of fairly profound powerlessness. She is, ultimately, being asked to choose between following her brother or following Penric, with no option to follow herself.

No, Nikys is not a standard Love Interest in that she is a fully realized character with her own desires and motivation, but of all the women listed here, she seems to be the one most lacking in agency. Nikys seems to fit Ellis' description of women's narratives.

My Fave is Problematic. Now what?

Cover of  Mira's Last Dance  by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover of Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

There really ought to be a "My Fave is Problematic Dance." Whenever I realize something uncomfortable about something I love, I am taken with a desire to run away, and frequently I do put down the book, or pause the movie/tv show, and take a lap around the room before coming back. It would be a lot easier if there were a short dance I could do that would also communicate to anyone watching why I suddenly have shpilkes (Yiddish for "nervous, restless energy").

But after I would do that dance, I would come back to the thing, whatever it was, that I put down, because it is okay to like problematic things. Sometimes the good aspects outweigh the problematic ones enough that it doesn't stop you from enjoying something. And that's okay! Just don't pretend like the problematic parts aren't there. And maybe also seek out some works that are not problematic in that way (though they may be problematic in others).

Speaking of different ways to be problematic, a word about the criteria used in this post. When Lindsay Ellis referred to the troubling trend of women's narratives involving less agency and more survival, it was not a blanket condemnation of survival narratives. Survival narratives, where characters are thrown into untenable, uncomfortable, or even lethal situations they must then endure can be fascinating! For people suffering oppression in particular, such narratives can be empowering because they recognize the truth of their experiences and the strength it takes to persist in such circumstances. Problems arise when those are the only narratives told about certain classes of people.

I adore Lois McMaster Bujold, and she is generally quite good about not writing Love Interests TM who are woman-shaped props in the narrative there for the male hero to win. But it would be nice to see her write some more narratives where women aren't merely enduring. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen was a lovely break from this pattern. More, please! (Also more non-white, non-straight, non-cis protags, too, while we're at it. A Bel book, maybe?)

All Art Is Political

by Terri

"At this point, assume all art is political unless proven otherwise" ~ me

Image is text that reads "Assume all art is political until proven otherwise. Then question that proof."

Image is text that reads "Assume all art is political until proven otherwise. Then question that proof."

I'm angry a lot these days. I'm angry at the government, I'm angry at everyone who doesn't understand just how dire the situation is. But a special sort of anger is reserved for people who are angry at artists for daring to be "political."

You know those people. The ones who can't stand Meryl Streep's acceptance speech at this year's Golden Globe awards.* The folks who think "Born In the USA" and "This Land is Your Land" are patriotic anthems, rather than the protest songs that they are. Your uncle who watches Fox News and thinks that Beyonce's costuming choices for her Super Bowl Halftime performance last year were anti-police and beyond the pale.

The underlying message that those people are trying to convey is this: "you are a robot. You many speak the words that we place in your mouth and no more. You may sing the songs that we like and no more. You may paint pretty pictures that we like and no more. How dare you express opinions that I** disagree with." 

I'm sure that some people think that our art is "too political." Neither Ariela nor I keep quiet about how we feel about institutional racism, systemic misogyny, antisemitism, ableism, or any other form of bias that keeps people from achieving their all. We have greeting cards and art prints that refuse to place boundaries on love.*** Our ketubot all have an option to come with a text that places no limits on the gender of the people getting married.

We will not be your performing monkeys. We are humans, as are movie stars, famous musicians, performance artists and anyone who is on stage and entertaining you. We are entitled to our opinions and we are entitled to broadcast them in any way we choose.

You've been warned. My patience is up.

 

 

 

 

*There were problematic elements to that speech to be sure. But they were the inherent ableism, rather than the political message.

**Notice how the people complaining about "political art" are usually on the right. Your average liberal might boycott or protest movie stars, musicians, etc that they don't agree with,**** but they don't tell them that they shouldn't speak their views.

***Granted, they depict zombies in them. But hey, we refuse to have exclusively heteronormative zombies on greeting cards.

****There is an underlying assumption working here that "political" means "thing I don't agree with." I honestly don't have the time and energy to unpack that in this post. Maybe next time.