A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

Via Hoyden About Town‘s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.


I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

I did not write any of that. It really works!

4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather,  get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

*See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

**And again!

***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!

Polanski, Polanski, Polanski

kateiconThat has been my entire week. Since my first post about it here got a lot of responses, I figured I’d share everything I’ve been doing on it in one place. (Trigger warnings on pretty much all of it.)

But before I get to that incredibly depressing shit, please go watch Chris Rock going off on Polanski on Jay Leno last night. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing an actual big-name celeb I like join Team Child Rape Is Bad (see second Thursday post below). The clip is both painfully (and I mean that) funny and quite satisfying if you’ve been waiting like I have, though not perfect. In any case, it’s ABOUT FUCKING TIME.

Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child

Letters from Hollywood: Roman Polanski’s Rape of Child No Big Thing

Sharon Tate’s Sister: It Was A Consensual Matter

Peter Fonda and Roman Polanski on Rape vs. Murder

Lynchpin of Polanski Misconduct Case: I Lied

Are Anti-Polanski Celebs Afraid To Speak Up?

Oh, and Thursday was also the day I appeared on The Today Show to talk Polanski, because that’s just how bananas shit had gotten by that point. (If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t get excited. They literally left in one sentence of my 15- or 20-minute interview.)

Speaking of shit being bananas, I was also on Nightline last night, though that was not Polanski-related. They finally aired a teeny part of an interview I did weeks ago (I got like two sentences in that one!), squished in among Crystal Renn, Brooke Elliott and headless fatty B-roll. Woohoo!

Polanski, “Hounddog” and 13-year-old voices (After Monday’s post, this is probably the one I’m proudest of.)

And, finally, The best Polanski you might have missed this week — a round-up of other people’s posts I loved this week, though it doesn’t include two amazing ones by survivors: Lauren’s at Feministe, and our own Tari’s — which, if you read one Polanski post, should maybe be it.

Yes Means Yes! Virtual Tour: Q&A with Kimberly Springer

OK, so nobody who reads this blog can be unaware that Yes Means Yes! is out, and I’m in it, and you should buy it, and I FELL DOWN FOUR TIMES FOR YOU PEOPLE. But we haven’t talked much about the other contributors so far. Because, you know, I really like to talk about myself.

Today, I would like you all to give a warm Shapeling welcome to Kimberly Springer, author of the essay “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality,” who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her contribution below. Huge thanks to Kimberly for sharing her time, wisdom, and awesome with us.

Commenters, a few extra notes for today:

  1. Please pay special attention to rules number 10 and 11 in the comments policy.
  2. Although we do get into comparing depictions of fat white women and both fat and thin black women onscreen (and I got rather long-winded on the subject, not suprisingly), I would like to keep such comparisons in the background of this discussion as much as possible. When in doubt, please keep in mind that today’s topic is what Kimberly has to say about black female sexuality, not (for once) what white fat women think about being white fat women.
  3. If you’re commenting for the first time, welcome, but please be aware that all first-time comments automatically go into moderation — and Fillyjonk, Sweet Machine and I might not be able to check the queue and release them right away. Please be patient with us.

One last note before we get to it: Don’t forget to check out the next stop on the tour, Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman guest-blogging at Bitch Ph.D. this coming Monday, Feb. 16!

Kate Harding: I’d like to give the readers a bit of 101 on some of the terms you use — specifically, the “Jezebel,” “Mammy” and “black lady” stereotypes, as well as “queer” as a political stance and a verb.

Kimberly Springer: What’s important to note about stereotypes is that, as some people maintain, there may be a grain of truth in them. But also key is to observe the historical continuity. In other words, the more representations change, the more they stay the same. While the icon of the Mammy may be rooted in slavery and the role of black women as caregivers to white families, that role is replicated in popular culture endlessly with black women caring for or teaching white folks something about themselves. Jennifer Hudson, bless her beautiful, talented soul, was relegated to a Mammy role in the Sex and the City film. Usually the Mammy is asexual, so while Hudson’s character did find love for herself, that’s different than being a well-rounded person who’s romantically and sexually fulfilled. Would I have rather not seen any black faces in that film? Absolutely. Carrie Bradshaw can wipe her own damn nose and get Miranda to straighten out her dayplanner.

The Jezebel would be the other end of the spectrum. Why do I always return to Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball? Because this Academy Award-winning performance was so bloody offensive. Is it Berry’s fault that all the YouTube clips are of her “sex scene” in the film? Not entirely. But this fact is indicative of how the general public views black women’s sexuality. It is Jezebel cinema 101: needy, groveling, desperate for white cock, no self-worth.

Patricia Hill Collins, in Black Sexual Politics, does a much better and more exhaustive outlining of the evolution of these stereotypes. I’d really recommend checking out her book for her take on how these stereotypes are updated and reverberate in characters like the black female TV judge, i.e. the black lady. Black women are allowed to enter the frame as judge, teacher, or Oracle carrying out the dominant culture’s laws and edicts as if those are determined ahistorically.

The stereotypes raise the question, can we ever win? Will there ever be representations of black women that outruns these specters of history? For example, in the new trailer for He’s Just Not That Into You, L.A.-based comedy team Frangela (Frances Collier and Angela Shelton) are featured sitting on a park bench dispensing wisdom, ostensibly, to the film’s white female protagonists. Latoya Peterson (also featured in Yes Means Yes) blogged about the spot for Racialicious and her friend nailed the exasperation with this particular representation of black women perfectly, “They always do that to us, don’t they?” Yes, cripes, they really do! But what struck me were the comments to the post about “fat black women.” What demands do we make on Hollywood to give us depictions we can get with? Let’s examine our uncritical pegging of the “fat black woman”. Can she speak her mind without being the Mammy or, yet another stereotype, the black bitch/Sapphire?

Queering, as a verb, is meant to encourage us to take risks in how we identify and interact with our sexuality as black women. My basic point is that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain in looking at how queer theory questions gender categories and applying that to questioning racial and gender categories as they intersect. I’m also thinking about black women and our sexuality as always “queer,” already “queer” whether we want that or not. Back to my Frangela example, I’ve got some personal connection to them and so know that, for instance, they made a pilot of a too-smart-for-television sitcom. I also know that they, like everyone else, have to pay the bills. But, yet, I always question black folks who take roles that make me cringe. So, are there ways to queer these representations? To make them something other than capitulations to mass culture? Is it self-delusion to try and see subversiveness when there may not be any? What kind of queering can we do, if allowed the space and resources, of stale stereotypes? Professor Rebecca Wanzo (Ohio State) put a concept to the questions I’ve been contemplating with her notion of “complex personhood.”

KH: Queen Latifah is an icon in the fat acceptance community (or was, before she started shilling for Jenny Craig), and it never really occurred to me before  reading your essay that most of her roles are so asexual. I was just so happy for the crumb of seeing a fat leading lady whose body is not (always) an object of derision — seeing a fat woman’s sexuality played for something other than laughs almost seems like too much to hope for. But as you discuss in the essay, taking those representational crumbs is not enough — we need to recognize that even superficially positive stereotypes, e.g., the “black lady,” are still dangerously reductive. Can you expand on this here?

KS: At this stage, in 2009, I remain uncharacteristically optimistic that we could hope for something more than crumbs from the big house table in terms of how black women are represented. And that word is key: re-presented. I don’t want yet another presentation of a black female stereotype that we’ve already seen a million times before.

So, while I’m all for calling Hollywood on their lack of creativity, I would agree with you that we should highlight positive stereotypes…and then demand complexity in that so-called positive view. I mean, dang, the very idea that Queen Latifah isn’t getting play left and right is absurd. And the default to depicting her sexually in a film would have to be played for laughs or related to assumed insecurities she has about her body. Can you imagine the number of scripts she turns down that do just that?

But, then, maybe we need to do a 360 critique. You say that Latifah is/was an icon in the fat acceptance community, but does her mere presence make her deserving of icon status? It’s probably best to make this more general than about Queen Latifah in particular, but I would question our impulse to uncritically embrace those who, really, only see us a potential audience. Most celebs lose me when they go out of their way to deny feminism as a factor in their art or who they’ve achieved success.

KH: One thing that really resonated with me as a fat, white woman was the false dichotomy of hypersexuality/asexuality. Though fat women who aren’t black don’t have the Jezebel/Mammy history driving that, I think all fat women are subjected to a version of the same stereotypes. We’re portrayed as either insatiably horny (which of course goes along with the stereotype of fat women as insatiable, period), or as the best friends/secretaries/teachers/etc. with no apparent romantic lives of our own. Horny fat women are portrayed as clowns, not temptresses — a fat woman’s sexual desire is seen as intrinsically humorous, and 99 times out of 100, she’ll be shown pursuing a guy who’s disgusted by her, with absolutely no clue that he feels that way. And asexual fat white women are usually portrayed as pathetic and lonely because of the fat, even if they’re simply in a supporting role with no romantic storyline — gratuitous shots of these women eating junk food at their desks or looking forlornly/jealously at a happy couple invite assumptions about the characters’ romantic lives. Whereas (at least this is my impression — please tell me if I’m missing something) the asexual black woman on screen isn’t meant to be seen as lonely or having any desire at all — she’s just a 2-dimensional human being who doesn’t “need” that aspect to her character, because her primary function is to further the white people’s story.

Writing it out like that makes me realize that, as profoundly offensive as I find that portrayal (implicit or explicit) of fat white women as lonely and unlovable, it’s still humanizing — in a really crude way — as compared to black women’s on-screen asexuality. The fat woman might actually have desires, we’re just meant to understand that she can never meet them as long as she’s fat. The black woman doesn’t even have enough humanity to feel loneliness. And please note that I’m deliberately separating the categories of “fat woman” and “black woman” here not because I’ve forgotten fat, black women exist, but because I think blackness trumps* fatness in this case: a fat black woman in that asexual role is still primarily defined by her relationship/usefulness to the white characters, rather than by her own body.

Going back to the other stereotype, though, I guess I’d say fatness more often trumps blackness, turning the Jezebel/”ho” from a desirable-in-a-dirty-way figure into a clown. (Especially when that fat, black “woman” is played by a man, which adds a whole other level.)

*”Trumps” is obviously a simplistic way to put it, and I certainly don’t mean the person’s fatness or blackness is obscured in either case. But it seems to me there are two different but related hypersexual/asexual dichotomies here, and whether fat black women are defined first by fat stereotypes or black stereotypes onscreen depends on which half of the dichotomy we’re talking about.

So, uh, got anything to say about all that? :)

KS: Yes, I get you! And, if I can use a UK-based example here: on Eastenders, the long-running English soap opera about the working class, they’ve featured for a while now a fat white women named “Heather.” It’s been on my mind to start a campaign about her depiction which is, as you note, insatiably horny, always eating, a failure in love, and just generally pathetic. She does have an abiding love for George Michael, but we might question the motives of having Heather lust after George who is out and proud about his gayness.

I bring Heather up because, again, heavens forfend, she should be a multi-facted character, someone not just in scenes for comic relief. Yet, it’s that question of desire that you raise so cogently in the distinctions you draw between a hypersexual, fat white femininity and an asexual black femininity. I think we can make the further distinction that at the root of the white woman’s sexuality is that she’s insatiable because she’s never had sex before and, unless she loses weight, will forever be horny. There is a solution to her “problem,” according to the dominant neo-liberal narrative and it is one rooted in self-help and willpower.

On the other hand, the fat black woman doesn’t need sex. Taking care of others fulfills her needs and desires. That said, the fat black woman as portrayed by black men in drag is, basically, an insatiable freak that plays into heterosexist male fantasies of a hypersexual jezebel who is “two tons of fun” and is definitely insatiable because she has had lots of sex and can’t get enough. This man in drag portrays fat black women as unending appetite and just like they might eat up everything in the kitchen, they will eat up a man—mama dentata.

In both cases, for black and white fat women, we might want to look a bit deeper into the representation of insatiability and key into the roots of their desire. We’re going wayyy beyond the script here, but if we consider that most actors create a life for their characters other than what we see on screen, we can track the nuances and better critique both motivation and consequences.

All that said, I’d ask readers to comment on Sherri Shepherd’s character Angie in “30 Rock.” Is this another stereotype that gives a larger black woman some sexual agency since a running gag on the show is how she and Tracy Jordan like to roleplay? Is there some dimensionality to Angie—though we pretty much only see her in relationship to sex and Tracy’s fears of not meeting her demands for sex and money?

KH: Can you talk more about how that dichotomy is “a huge obstacle in getting to yes” — how when women are painted as either insatiable or asexual, either way, there’s no aspect of choice or (specific)desire in their romantic lives. In both cases, you’re left taking “what you can get,” whether that’s every willing man you find or no men at all.

KS: It’s a bit like cable TV: tons of channels, but nothing on worth watching. What would a real choice look like? Like the recognition that people, in general, and black women, in particular, are not all one way or the other all the time. No one’s easily pegged as Samantha or Charlotte. That’s why I came to enjoy the show “Girlfriends.” All of the characters had their quirks or were annoying in their own way (read: Joan), but I thought they did have some dimensionality over the run of the show, which was unusual for a sitcom where the genre demands that its characters never learn their lessons. If we try to live our lives according to the scripts of pop culture, we, too, will never learn and simply feel like we’re stuck between Mammy and Jezebel or whatever current incarnations of those stereotypes are.

I know it sounds really corny, and Margaret Cho actually says it quite nicely in the Yes Means Yes intro, but I’ve gotta be able to say yes to me. And that’s not a one-time deal, but an on-going process.

KH: What are some of the steps you think black women can take toward queering their sexuality, in both the short and long term?

KS: What I’m suggesting, initially doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, which is a request to over-think sex. Yes, sex should be something that has spontaneity and is enjoyable—by all mean, engage in the freak-a-deak! Yet, in flirting, masturbating, moving through the streets, writing a dating profile on line, who are you as a black woman? What are you putting out there?

This isn’t a 19th century call for respectability, but just the idea that one might think while in the process of being a sexual black woman, “what stereotypes am I playing into? Why? Does this feel like me? Am I enjoying this?” I think that we, as black women, spend a lot of time running away from representations that, frankly, suck and that we don’t want to be associated with. The result is a lot of silence and reading trash novels like Zane’s where we live vicariously sexual lives through fiction and self-help books that tells us that our end goal in monogamy.

Yet, there may be times that you want to play with ideas about black women as exotic and be that sexy jezebel with tricks your partner’s never seen. Just be aware of when it’s play, when it’s not, and how that play reverberates in your daily life. If we all live in the panopticon and surveil ourselves, I would vote for doing that in ways that raise awareness of our inner sexual lives, improve our enjoyment, and create pleasure for our outer lives.

KH: You write about the need for both individual and community attitude shifts. Will you talk more about getting the message out both in terms of personal empowerment and broader reaching awareness-raising?

KS: The individual and societal/community transformation go hand in hand. I think it’s great if individual black women can find their sexual pleasure and security in who they are on their own terms, but let’s not forget our tradition of racial uplift. Does this mean changing what we think of as “good for the race”? Absolutely. To my knowledge, black women in the 19th century who were advocating for anti-lynching campaigns and suffrage weren’t necessarily also advocating sexual freedom (though there were definitely feminists of the era doing so), but they paved the way for us to continue to push forward a progressive agenda for individual freedoms, as well as nation building.

Ultimately, seeking and embracing black women’s sexuality in ways that are beneficial to black women is uncharted territory and will have to take place at all levels simultaneously. For those black women who are involved in the church, challenging dispersions cast on other women’s sexuality are moments of intervention, as are discussing popular religious, male-centered sermons that continue to place the all the responsibility for sexuality onto women.

Sexism in hip hop and how we’re portrayed isn’t a one-time battle and we have to be consistent in calling people out on their shit. But, at the same time, we seriously need to give more credit to people and artists that are advocating for a new way of envisioning and enacting black sexuality in popular culture and in the bedroom.

And the last step I’d recommend is: don’t have sex with anyone who says, “I’ve never had sex with a black girl before.” There’s a reason why they haven’t: ‘cause they’re an idiot who says shit like, “I’ve never had sex with a [insert race] girl before.” [Sorry, pet peeve. Had to get that out there!]

KH: Will you talk about some of the obstacles you see standing in the way of black women having open and honest conversations about sexuality?

KS: Our mommas. Yeah, I said it: our mommas are a big obstacle in talking openly about sexuality. And before anyone wants to go off about blaming mothers and scapegoating the matriarch, tell me this, “when was the last time you talked to your mother about sex, black girlchild?” Yesterday? Good for you. You are in the minority. Of course, the inability to talk about sexuality across generations outside of sex ed classes is endemic to all races, but while we’re telling one another what not to do, we need to recognize the times and talk about what to.

Just as always pointing out the stereotypes can be no fun and tiring, isn’t it just as exhausting elaborating a list of don’ts without ever getting to the do’s? Albeit, standards of acceptability around sexual practices change over time (i.e. I will never discuss anal sex with my mum), but I hear a lot of women claiming a close relationship with their daughters, but it’s close on the mother’s terms and not the daughter’s.

Returning to the black church, I would say this is a huge obstacle in discussing sexuality openly. If sex is discussed at all, it’s in terms of negative consequences. It would be amazing to see black church congregations decide that it’s time to approach new millennium problems with new millennium solutions and attitudes. Otherwise, we’re destined to repeat the same mistakes from generation to generation.

KH: What would you like to elaborate on that didn’t make it into the essay?

KS: Less than what didn’t make it into the essay, I’d like to raise how this essay made it into a Seal Press book. Before the Yes Means Yes call went out, I’d pitched a book idea to Seal about black women’s sexuality. Having taught Seal books for years in women’s studies courses, I thought they would be the right publisher for a book that wanted to point out the ways that black women could both challenge racialized sexism and highlight the work of people like Sarah Jones, Renee Cox, and even Janet Jackson in bringing to the fore new expressions of black female sexuality.

Seal’s response was that the topic, black women’s sexuality, was too narrowly defined. Huh. Interesting coming from a publisher that purports to publish books about the wide spectrum of women’s experiences. Presumably, books about weight loss, one’s cleaning habits, infertility, etc. are concerns of Everywoman?

Far from sour grapes, and glad that the chapter I wrote is included in Yes Means Yes, I question when the tokenizing of women of color experience ends? The assumption that women of different races, particularly those adhering to feminist principles, wouldn’t be interested or learn anything from the experiences of women unlike themselves undercuts the forward advancement of a feminist agenda. How is the assumption that books about women, that are actually about white women’s experiences and attempt to make whiteness as race invisible, any different than not making films about diverse audiences and claiming that white people (the only moviegoers?) would never go to see films that feature black characters? Unfortunately, it seems that the only perspectives allowed are ones that blame sexist and racist portrayals of black women on hip hop, painting the entire genre with the same brush, and only seeing black women as oppressed and lacking agency. The result is a limit on opportunities to talk about efforts to expand depictions of black women’s sexuality.

KH: Are there any other essays in YMY that struck a chord with you? Recommendations, criticism, thoughts?

KS: (I thought our essays worked well together, situated as they are one after another. I’m really into manifestos. We need more of them. I DEMAND MORE MANIFESTOS. That was my meta-manifesto.)

There are a couple of things about the volume that make it a deeply moving experience. First, I love the thematic set-up. Maybe I’m a mere tool of The Man, but I actually needed permission to jump around with the order of reading, to choose my own Yes Mean Yes adventure. Being ensconced in academia, despite teaching about new media and new ways of thinking, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to approach the book from a non-linear perspective. As such, it’s made me see how many ways we can concretely transform rape culture.

One of those ways that transformation can happen, and perhaps this has been happening in the U.S. for a while, is through the idea of enthusiastic consent. Some of the essays use this concept as a given, but I think it’s worth picking out and defining more forcefully. My rudimentary Googling reveals raging debates about it, which is a good thing. So, I’m trying to figure out how enthusiastic consent to sexual contact might translate to issues of consent around representation. This is another iteration of not only critiquing the stereotypes, but also recognizing what works practice.


The good news: Last night’s reading went incredibly well. Jaclyn Friedman and Toni Amato were fucking awesome (Jessica Valenti had strep and couldn’t make it, unfortunately), I met loads of Boston fatties and a few Shapelings — including, finally, Miss Conduct! — and got way more positive feedback than I deserved. And we sold out of books! Yippee!

Thanks so much to Jaclyn and the Center for New Words for setting it up and inviting me. I had an awesome time — except for one thing. 

So, I brought this pair of heels along with me to wear for the reading. Very sensible heels, mind you — thick and sturdy, with a pronounced rubber sole. I’ve worn them many times and never had a problem, except for the occasional heel blister.

Unfortunately, everyone I talked to in the greater Boston area was flipping out about the weather, to the extent that I somehow forgot I live in Chicago and manage snowier, icier, slushier streets than that on a regular basis (albeit not uneven cobblestone ones). This, plus the fact that I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy some slightly dressy brown boots anyway, meant I could not possibly wear the THICK, STURDY, TESTED heels I’d brought with me. I had to go shopping!

As soon as I saw these, I was done shopping. They were exactly what I wanted — casual but stylish, heel not too high, comfy, great color. As a bonus, since they’re slouchy on top, they don’t rub anywhere — no blisters!

You know what else the slouchy top means, though? No ankle support. This will become important later.

Here, I need to rewind and tell you the story of the Mary Janes That Made Me Fall. The story is: I had these mary janes that made me fall all the time. Otherwise, they were perfect — incredibly comfortable, cute with jeans and skirts, no blisters, etc. — but something about the design of those shoes and the shape of my feet meant that about one out of every 3 times I wore them, one of my ankles would collapse, and I’d take a header. I never did more damage than an ankle twist that hurt for an hour or so, though, and I loved everything else about those shoes, so it didn’t really faze me. (Here, I should rewind and mention that between 1987 and 1989, I sprained my ankles badly enough to need crutches no less than 5 times. So I do have a history of weak ankles/not being so slick at walking — but because I hadn’t had a serious ankle incident in so long, I figured all the scar tissue had toughened them up or something.) 

So, one day Al puts it together that every time I fall down (he’s there about half the time it happens), I’m wearing those same mary janes. And he’s having none of it. Over the next few months, we have many conversations like this: 

Al: When are you going to get rid of those fucking shoes?

Me: I’m not. I love these shoes.


Me: But I never really hurt myself! And they’re cute and comfy!


Me: Small price to pay. 

Then comes the day when I’m wearing the mary janes as we’re crossing the street, and I fall down. Hard. Purse and glasses go flying, so Al has to scramble to collect them and me before the light changes and I get run over by a car. I’m still not actually hurt, but I really no longer have a leg to stand on, so to speak. 


Me: All right. You win.

Shortly thereafter, The Mary Janes That Made Me Fall went to Goodwill. 

And here’s the thing I didn’t take into consideration when I bought the cute new boots yesterday: The heels are shaped exactly like the ones on The Mary Janes That Made Me Fall.


So. I get to the venue, settle in, meet some people, all is well. Then I go out into the hallway, hit the edge of a rug, and fall down. Hard and loud. A bunch of people scramble to see if I’m OK — which I am, at this point. It wasn’t fun, but I’m not hurt, no biggie. Except that I now know from the way it happened that these are going to be forever known as The Boots That Make Me Fall. My left ankle just totally collapsed out of nowhere, and it felt exactly like it did when I went down in the Mary Janes That Made Me Fall.

But oh, well, nothing I can do about it — and hey, at least I’ve already had my fall for the night, right? 

So. I read. I make it on and off the stage without falling. It’s all good. Then I head out for a smoke. 

Same rug. Same ankle. Katy go boom. Landed on the same knee, too. Which sucked, and hurt a little more than the last time — but it’s still no big, nothing that’s going to hurt for longer than 5 minutes. 

Then I come back in from smoking. SAME RUG. SAME ANKLE. SAME KNEE. Now, my ankle is officially twisted — like, it’s-gonna-hurt-tomorrow twisted — and my knee officially hurts. But still, I’m mobile — if a little slow — and there’s an after party to get to.

Did I mention that up to this point, I’ve been drinking nothing but water? Yeah. (I have a feeling that by the third fall, and the third time I screeched, “It’s these goddamned boots! They’re just… something about the shape… weak ankles… I used to have these mary janes my husband made me throw out… goddammit!” people weren’t really buying that. But it was true!)  

Anyway, I get to the after party, and all goes well for a couple hours. I have two cocktails and do a lot of talking with Miss Conduct, Marina, Colleen, Cornflake, Monkey, and various delightful others. It’s a blast. Then Miss Conduct and I get up to leave.

You’ll never guess what happened.

This time with the power of two martinis behind it (on an empty stomach, no less). And yep, same ankle, same knee.

And this time? I can’t even get up right away. This time, my left ankle and right knee are both like, “FUCK YOU, LADY. EVERY TIME WE LET YOU GET UP, YOU JUST DO THIS TO US AGAIN.” So I’m sitting on the floor of a bar, trying not to cry, with a bunch of people around me wondering if they need to call an ambulance, which is always an awesome place to be.

Eventually, I get myself up (with a little help), and I immediately realize I can’t really walk, to speak of. But my hotel is only a few blocks away, so it seems ridiculous to call a cab. Miss Conduct kindly offers to walk me home, and after the first block or so, I can make it without wanting to scream in pain, but I’m still wincing a lot. It’s official: My goddamned ankle is sprained. Didn’t happen the first time, or the second, or THE THIRD, but the fourth was the charm. Furthermore, my other knee is bruised and swollen all to hell, what with having +/- 200 lbs. come down on it 4 TIMES IN ONE NIGHT — the knee actually hurts slightly more overall, but it’s easier to put weight on that leg, so it’s kind of a draw. 

Get back to hotel. Call Al. (“YOU’RE GOING TO THROW OUT THOSE BOOTS IMMEDIATELY, RIGHT?”) Take 3 Advil. Go to bed.

The more-or-less happy ending is that today’s air travel went as smoothly as possible (verrrry much unlike Wednesday’s), and I’m home now. Fortunately, I had a pair of much more sensible boots with me — flat snow boots with excellent ankle support — which got me through the airports slowly but surely. But both legs still hurt like a bitch, walking still sucks, climbing the stairs to my apartment really sucks, and I suspect those things will remain true for at least a few more days. 

There is something sort of poetic, I guess, about the combination of doing my most well-attended and well-received reading ever, meeting loads of people who gushed about how fabulous I was — and literally falling on my face. Four times. Instead of a swelled head, I got a swelled knee and ankle. That seems about right.

So, yeah. That’s how Boston went. Ow ow ow ow ow. But fun! Thanks a bazillion to the Shapelings who came out.

Welcome, Salon readers!

Regular readers: my essay from Feed Me! Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight and Body Image, edited by Harriet Brown, is on the front page (eeee!) of Salon today. Check it out!

Visitors from Salon: Welcome! Well, most of you, anyway. Please note that the comments policy here is a whoooole lot stricter than Salon’s, and all first-time comments are held for moderation. So if you just dropped by to tell me that fat is unhealthy and disgusting, I’m deluded, I should look into diet and exercise, or anything along those lines, be aware that your comment will never show up on the site — unless it’s so exquisitely shitheaded, we decide to make you a Douchehound of the Day.

Everyone: If you want to get a copy of Feed Me! —  and you totally do — you have two options. 1) Go buy it. 2) E-mail Harriet with your name and address before 1 p.m. EST on January 26 to be eligible for a free copy.

Thanks for stopping by.

We Have a Pre-order Page!

I just discovered today that the Amazon pre-order page for Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body is up! Squee! As if that weren’t enough, I got a bunch of bound galleys in the mail. (So, you know, if you’re a super-influential, rockstar-type person who wants to blurb or review it, shoot me an e-mail.) Holy crap, y’all. It’s really a book! Well, almost.

I can’t get a decent picture of the galley cover (which, as far as I know, is pretty much the same as the real one will be), but when I do, you’ll understand why there are now hyphens in “Fatosphere.” Sigh.

Speaking of pre-ordering, if you haven’t got your copies of Yes Means Yes! and Feed Me! yet, you should go do that, too. It is evidently my year to appear in anthologies with exclamation points in the title.