Whip It: Girls Need to See This Movie

Someone once said they would go out tonight but they haven’t got a stitch to wear, and I’m feeling that way after watching Whip It: in need of clothes and a destination.

Having seen it, I’m predictably fascinated by roller derby, awed by Juliette Lewis, and delighted with Drew Barrymore and Kristin Wiig. I’m all-around pretty darn happy with this uncloying and montage-free female comedy. At last: a movie that isn’t ironic cheesecake, Bratz, Rival Brides or a warmed-over version of Clueless.

The main character, Bliss, really wants something seriously scary that demands a toughness not usually demanded of someone of Ellen Page’s build. It isn’t sensible and isn’t sex. God, that’s a relief. Girlish wildness so rarely gets channeled anywhere else.  (Incidentally I’m tired of sensibleness tonight. It’s boring, and my protests against my sensible self are even more boring. Wouldn’t it be great to take an actual risk? I ask myself and answer sensibly, yes. Yes it would.)

I want to say this: It has flaws, but it fired me up.

A tangent (if disinclined, skip to here*): If on a winter’s night a traveler is a “novel” whose plot is that you, the Reader, are trying to track down the rest of a novel you’ve started and instead you keep starting different novels that have the same title, or purport to be the one you want in translation, but aren’t what you started reading at all. They trail off in turn just when you start to get interested and you, the reader, end up frustrated—both in real life and in the novel. Instead of investing in the stories themselves, you start caring about the frame narrative: the story of the reader (you, male) tracking down the stories with the Other Reader, a woman.

When they started the book my students cared a lot about the novels-within-the-novel: they really wanted to know what happened in the first novel to the man waiting to hand off a suitcase to a fellow undercover agent at the train station. Or to the woman who ran the leather goods store. They were a little upset by the interruption. Now, midway through the book, I asked them where their investments lie. They say they don’t care about the interrupted stories at all. They express surprise at the very suggestion.

When I remind them of how interested they’d been in the man at the train station their faces change into that frown-twist of recognition that strikes when you remember a childhood feeling. It’s a look that dredges impressions from very long ago. They explain, then, that they didn’t know yet. But now they’ve learned not to invest in the beginnings because it’s clear, at this point in the novel, that they’re never going to get a full story.

Not surprising; we’re creatures of habit and we’re easily trained. What is kind of surprising is that they don’t remember the initial interest they felt until they’re reminded of it. Even their memories of the experience have been trained out of them. They forget that once it was otherwise—once upon a time they were more interested in the story than the frame.

(Exeunt Tangent, chased by a bear.)*

I feel that way tonight—startled that I can experience something as silly as a roller derby movie directly without having to transpose it into a different key, without experiencing it at one remove. I can’t remember the last time I felt anything but mildly depressed by a sports movie—elated in translation, maybe, in my imaginary incarnation as the boy the movie was meant for, but pretty convinced that those bodies and those possibilities aren’t mine.

These aren’t either, but they’re much, much closer, and that matters more than I thought it did. Not all movies are meant for identification, but this one is. Girls need to see this movie.

In addition: I feel like driving. And I miss L.A. And part of me wants nothing more than to work in a really plasticky commercial mall, the kind with Christmas ornaments the size of beach balls already hanging from an enormous tinsel tree. Another part wants to spray-paint a bicycle and start a zine. A third part wants to fight. A fourth wants a haircut and contemplates doing it herself. And the last part, the part that lets me sleep or not, wants me to finally get to the work that matters.

Four years ago someone wrote me asking me to fill out a survey about writing. It was the kind of thing I scoffed at—the hokey sort of “what is your ideal writing space?” quiz that forces you to come up with positive terms on which you will actually work instead of complaints or excuses. Hokey or not, I’m taking it seriously.

How would you whip it? Where would you go to write?

The Pleasure of Reading: Beginnings, Newness

[I’m rereading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. It’s a reminder of things I’d forgotten now that I do so much reading on my computer. From time to time I’ll post an excerpt here.]

You derive a special pleasure from a just-published book, and it isn’t only a book you are taking with you but its novelty as well, which could also be merely that of an object fresh from the factory, the youthful bloom of new books, which lasts until the dust jacket begins to yellow, until a veil of smog settles on the top edge, until the binding becomes dog-eared, in the rapid autumn of libraries. No, you hope always to encounter true newness, which, having been new once, will continue to be so. Having read the freshly published book, you will take possession of this newness at the first moment, without having to pursue it, to chase it. Will it happen this time? You never can tell. Let’s see how it begins.

If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler

finds pages missing from his book, I have a theory: