Feminist Research Paper (2013)

Recently discovered an old laptop with my best work on it. This was from a class with one of my favorite Lit professors.

Written in 1916, William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Young Housewife” is indicative of man’s take on the woman’s condition at that time in America. The early 20th century marked the height of the women’s suffrage movement that defined first-wave feminism. The modern woman’s perspective of herself at the time was that she was on the road to equality, and that she was now defining herself not just through marriage and housewifery, but also through activism and citizenship. The Modernist movement of the arts and literature was similar to the feminist movements in its goals—literary Modernism was all about deconstructing past, outdated rhetoric and recreating it in order to reflect the rapidly increasing modern advances of the early 20th century. However, despite Modernism’s progressive mindset, for many male writers, one portrayal from the past still seemed to remain the same in literature: the female’s condition, her societal role, and subsequently, her worth.

While Williams had some pieces that showed a respect for women, the respect was shown only when he was addressing them through a romantic lens, through her “feminine” loveliness and role as a lover and wife. It is known of Williams that in his perspective, “for male writers, poetry is a reparation to women for their beauty, which is culturally appropriated by men for their poetry via the mechanism of ‘the gaze’” (Dettmar). When the current female object of affection in Williams’ poetry was no longer ideal to him, whatever that ideal was at the time, he was rather harsh and unsympathetic in his portrayal of her, as were critics of first wave feminism when it did not conform to the mold of the politically voiceless housewife. In spite the suffrage movement giving women themselves a sense of individualism, and even with the presence of a few women in the Modernist rhetoric, it seems that the male perception of the woman as a passive, docile housewife did not change uniformly, even in the most “progressive” artistic and Modern minds of the time, of which Williams was considered. While it is only one poem in a sea of others, when isolated, “The Young Housewife” represents a complicated, gender-based dichotomy of that time period, a struggle between man wanting to control and repress the woman as an individual, and man wanting to love her as an intimate wife and childbearer. In “The Young Housewife,” the woman is defined by and given her identity through the lens of the male artist, the Modernist artist, and the narrator of the poem only defines the housewife he sees in terms of her marriage, her boundaries, her insecurity, and her weakness, in the end.

The the decline of the first “wave” of feminism was due in part to the fact that the women’s common goal at the time, the vote, had now been acquired (Banner). Women’s individual interests began to diverge after there was no one, solidified political cause for them to mobilize for, and because the women’s movement had not expanded to the arts, this gave way for men to be the major voice for both genders in literature, art and poetry. The early 20th century saw a paradoxical time were women were becoming more prominent in the public eye, in the forms of silent film actresses and “flappers,” but were still being sentenced to the isolation of the home in male-written rhetoric. In “The Young Housewife,” the narrator, a doctor and a poet, is not merely just an observer of the young wife he sees, he is not as distant from her as men were in earlier times, but rather he is able to access her mind as he watches her. In Modernism, “the poet is never simply an invisible figure who wields the power to name and describe but rather a speaker whose voice effects a relationship in verse” (Dettmar). However, even though he accesses her thoughts, the narrator’s analysis of her actions is still filtered through what he wants from her, not what she wants for herself.

“The Young Housewife”’s most vivid images are of the housewife’s attire and her body. In the first stanza, the man observes the housewife as she stands confined by her husband’s walls, and notes that the woman is “in negligee,” or a revealing nightgown garment (McMicheal). It is telling that even when visually impeded by a wall, and also visually impeded by the car he’s in, the first thing his eyes are drawn to is her clothing. Calling the walls “the husband’s” as well immediately places the woman into an unreachable place in his mind, a place where she cannot belong to him; however, the man still toys with the idea that because of her tempting “negligee,” he can attempt to peer through the wall of marriage, the wall of another man’s possession, and gaze at her anyway. It is also interesting that instead of saying that she is in a negligee, he writes “negligee” as though it is to resemble “negligence” (Aheam). Williams does this to signify both the negligence of the husband for leaving his wife alone in the yard at ten A.M., and the negligence of her to her own home, as she is standing outside of it, at risk of being viewed by other men.

The narrator does not just see the unattainable woman as held back from him because of her husband, but as he observes her futher, he goes on to create other boundaries as well. In the second stanza, the man drives back past the housewife to find that she is now outside the walls of her home, standing on the curb to greet the “ice man and fish man” (McMichael). However, “when she finally emerges, more physical limitations appear. The ‘curb’ seems to be one barrier that marks the boundary between herself and the delivery men, who she is waiting on(…)The poet, too, exists in a physical container—his car” (Dettmar). At this point the narrator has not only defined the woman’s personal boundaries from him as an individual, but also her boundaries from all other men who will pass by. It’s almost as if he sees it as unfair that she is standing on the street, in the open. The line “I pass in my solitary car” is the only sentence in the poem that is not purposefully separated by a line break, and the only sentence in the work that ends in a period and stands on its own. The man’s isolation is felt due to this; he notes that he is isolated as he then focuses his gaze on her physical appearance almost helplessly, despite being barred from her, focusing in on the vivid image of her “uncorseted” waist and her shy strands of hair (McMicheal). It is as if the narrator thinks that the only reason the woman has gone outside is to be viewed, to gain validation; and validation is what he gives her in his train of thought. When he describes her as “shy, uncorseted,” he sees her as having “have tucked away her individuality as casually as she tucked in her ‘stray ends’ of hair(…)Furthermore, the adjective ‘stray’ suggests her possible predilection for escaping orderly confines, whether in terms of hair arrangement or in terms of more serious transgressions” (Dettmar). At this point, the extent of the male’s fantasy about this housewife has reached his peak; by imagining her as uncorseted and imagining that she has the ability stray, he is imagining that this woman might actually return his gaze despite his separation via vehicle, that she is capable of “straying” from all of her boundaries, including her husband’s walls. This is all very interesting considering that, literally, all the woman is actually doing is waiting for the deliverymen. However, in the narrator’s fanatical gaze, she is seen not for her housework, but for her appearance; the woman is aware of the fact that her appearance is on display, as she self-consciously fixes her hair once she is outside, but she thinks of not much else of it; the narrator as a poet, as well as Williams as a poet, do not give her the chance to think past that sentiment in the narrative. Repressing herself behind walls is something that the female does by habit, in the male’s point of view. And once she has retreated into her own privacy, the man feels as though he has lost her and lost a chance at her, even if she is not his to begin with.

Fluently, in the same line that fantasizes about the young woman “straying,” the narrator artistically defines the woman, saying, “I compare her to a falling leaf” (McMicheal). This image of a single, falling leaf, and the romantic, poetic usage of the word “compare,” suggests one last portrayal of the woman as defined through her beauty. The narrator physically equates her to nature while at the same time retreating into his ability to express himself creatively, his intellect, his poetry (Aheam). He separates the two of them more by doing this, becoming an observer of nature instead of a human trying to connect with a another human; “There is an inward turning; the woman toward her appearance, the poet toward his art. (Note the parallelism of roles: she emerges as a housewife but also meets people at the curb as an object of desire; he passes by as a doctor, but also acts as a poet)” (Dettmar). By saying that she is “falling,” the man is only pushing the separation of him and the woman along; saddened, he is admitting defeat, and admitting that the woman is shy, withdrawn, and is too absorbed in her home life and her walls to ever stray with him. She does not want him, and thus “she is one fallen leaf among many—something to be swept away and forgotten” (Giorcelli).

The image of the woman as single, falling leaf quite suddenly abruptly, then, becomes that of a heap of dry, dead leaves in the third stanza. “The noiseless wheels of my car / rush with a crackling sound over / dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling” (McMicheals). The sudden crushing over of the leaves with the car instantly creates an almost sadistic change in the man’s attitude. From a single, unique leaf, the woman has become a heap of meaningless leaves in the street; from a desirable object that the man observes, the woman has become a group of women who are not desirable, who are worthy of being run over and passed up carelessly and quickly, as if they never mattered. It is also interesting that Williams writes that the wheels are ‘noiseless,’ but in the very next line the wheels ‘rush’ with a ‘crackling sound.’ It is ironic that he attempts to leave the woman behind noiselessly, but almost without even realizing it, he ends up leaving very noisily. The man also seems proud of the fact that he is able to bow and smile instead of want her; it is almost as if he is doing her a favor by behaving as a gentleman, by not acting in the frustrated way that would warrant him running over her with a car. So quickly, he went from feeling forlorn about her, to lusting after her, to admiring her, and then to dismissing her, and this is in no way a new or modern view of the way men feel about women in America. These two extremes, this rapidly fluctuating attachment and detachment, have always been present in the male’s take on the female gender. David D. Gilmore writes in his anthropological study on misogyny that, in Western and Eastern cultures, in ancient times and as of now, “wherever misogynist beliefs are the most sordid and flamboyant, one also finds their exact opposite: histrionic rituals of female imitation or glorification” (Gilmore). The “histrionic ritual” of the early American 20th century was still, as it always has been, childbirth, and the mysticism of the woman’s ability to get pregnant. Childbirth being defined exclusively through the female creates the inevitable necessity that mankind had to reproduce life through the woman’s body; he needs her, even though he may not want to (Gilmore). The American culture has always idolized the housewife role as the “female’s destiny” because of this need, and has thus socially determined that there is no other destiny for the woman besides her belonging to her husband’s lineage; hence the anti-feminist sentiment felt throughout the country, during the first-wave and others. Hence the male’s rejection of the female as anything other than a birthing vessel—and in the case of “The Young Housewife,” the narrator must harshly detach himself from this woman because, obviously, she belongs to and is the birthing vessel for another man; he has to resist the temptation to have her because of her biological destiny and duty to another.

Throughout his poetic career, Williams’ commentary of the woman continued to become disillusioned, despite his attempts to see women as he once did. Williams himself was said to had a complicated relationship with women (Crawford), and this is shown in the way some of his poetry about women regressed from 1916 on. In the McMicheal Anthology, the selected poems about women written by him in 1920 are “Queenannslace” and “Portrait of a Lady.” In Portrait of a Lady especially, he presents these almost Renaissance-like description of, again, the woman’s body parts, particularly those of her lower half, but abruptly breaks those descriptions with more realistic, pessimistic comments. “Your thighs are appletrees / whose blossoms touch the sky. / Which sky? The sky / where Watteau hung a lady’s / slipper. Your knees / are a southern breeze — or / a gust of snow…” (McMichael). He goes back and forth between romanticizing and dismissing the woman again, and by the end of the poem he still cannot determine a “new way” to view the woman, sexually, aesthetically, or otherwise. Williams is stuck on how to view them as of their place in the new century, as of their place in men’s’ lives at the time, even as a Modernist, dedicated to the movement of reform and change. The man and woman are not fused together in Modernist poetry unless they are intimate or married, or the women is just being viewed for her body; and when that narrow-minded definition of intimacy then fails and becomes “realistic,” “no longer are the lovers viewed as a pair, reflected in the living world of nature. Rather, the natural world splits and fragments, challenging the poet-lover to find what are, so to speak, new fields to conquer” (Giorcelli). These ‘new fields’ are the paths Modernist men, leading the movement, took intellectually.

Sometimes Williams praised women in earlier poetry, but his works show that eventually he grew weary of them; he got tired of trying to figure them out, tired of wondering why their images were so conflicting to him. He seemed to be blocked as to how to deal with the unattainable feminine object, unsure as to how to characterize her in his mind in the changing, modern world. His only answer to the incessant question of how to digest the woman’s presence was to ignore it, and although ignoring the woman’s condition is effective for a time, it is not a solution to the problem. In spite of both the male and female disillusionment with feminism, during the first-wave of Williams’ time, feminism eventually rose again in the second-wave, and the third. The female will always show herself; she is a part of this world.

The first half of “The Young Housewife” is an attempt to intimately connect with the woman as an equal; but after several failed attempts to intimately connect with her and surpass her so-called boundaries, the ones he invented for her himself, the “leaves falling” represent man separating himself from woman once again, represent women gradually falling back in the male’s sexism, pushed once again out of equality. The woman’s condition did not improve as a result of the literature of Modernism, and the complex, negatively-emotional relationship that the male gender has always had with the female was not quite transcended during the movement. In fact, this relationship, which has been embedded in our human experience ever since there have been two sexes, still has not been completely transcended even now; it has come a long way since Williams’ time, but is still a persistent that problem with no current solution that the American literary movements have taken a while to catch onto, delve into, and truly explore. “The Young Housewife” is indicative of something that Williams probably did not realize at the time, something that is apparent now in gender studies discourse: the reason that man cannot fully understand woman and what she wants is because he is constantly barring himself to her true nature, creating “mental boundaries” for himself, not even giving her the chance to speak for herself or tell the world what she wants. By constantly playing this guessing game with the female gender, instead of asking of the gender what exactly they want to know about it, and listening, the male gender may find that they will never quite get the woman’s condition right. They will never be able to occupy the woman’s mind unless the woman’s mind is hers, not theirs, unless it is expressed with its own individual perspective, emotions, and language. The integration of women into the discourse of literature is essential to having equality.


Works Cited

Ahearn, Barry. From William Carlos Williams and Alterity: The Early Poetry. Cambridge
University Press, 1994. Print.

Banner, Lois W. Women in Modern America; A Brief History. New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1974. Print.

Crawford, T. Hugh. William Carlos Williams And The Maternal Muse. American Literature
61.4 (1989): 720-723. America: History and Life with Full Text. Web. 20 May 2013.

Dettmar, Kevin, and Stephen Watt. The Fate of Gender in Modern American Poetry. Michigan:
University of Michigan, 1996. Print.

Giorcelli, Cristina, and Maria A. Stefanelli. The Fallen Leaf and the Stain of Love: The
Displacement of Desire in Williams’s Early Love Poetry.
Rome: Edizioni Associate,
1993. Print.

McMichael, George L. Concise Anthology of American Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1985.
Print.

Kurt and Sebastian Play SBURB: A Short Story

WORK:

[S]: BE THE BIRTHDAY GUY

A young man stands in his bedroom. It just so happens that today, the 13th of April, is his birthday. Sebastian would like more for his birthday than what he’s gotten so far: a couple sweaters from his dad, an exploding cake that his brother left for him this morning, and a hypothetical check that’s supposedly coming in the mail from his grandmother.

Turning twenty two has felt boring and adult, unlike his twenty first birthday, on which he was plastered in a gay bar for the first time, legally anyway. As far as Sebastian’s concerned, after 21, every birthday you have is just you rolling that much closer to 30, and then 40, and then senility, and then death.

Sebastian doesn’t have school or work today, so he’s planning on sitting at home, maybe getting a little wine drunk, and doing exactly jack shit. He’s never really been a social person, on account of his patience for most people is nonexistent. His dad and his brother, when they’re not playing pranks on him, tend to leave him alone to his own devices. Today, he decides he’ll stay in his room and waste his glorious free time on gaming. Maybe online. He can probably bother Kurt to get in on one with him.

Sebastian looks out his bedroom window for the little red flag on the mailbox, which should’ve been erected hours ago. Finally, the postman seems to have come, so Sebastian goes downstairs and heads outside to his front yard. The check from his grandmother is there, along with a slick, grey envelope with four green boxes printed on it, addressed to his brother. He takes the mail inside to the kitchen, not above opening his sibling’s packages, as the same is often done to him. Most of the time, his brother gets sent advance copies of PC games which Sebastian can steal. It appears that this is another one.

He has no idea what the hell SBURB is though. Inside the envelope are two discs – labeled “SBURB: server” and “SBURB: client” – wrapped in thin white sleeves. There’s nothing else in the envelope.

Continue reading

These Boots Are Made For Owning

In which SexyCyborg, a badass female hacker, designs 3D printed shoes that can break into computers and more.

From handguns to entire office buildings, 3D printing allows anyone, anywhere to design and build powerful engineering feats. Coders especially have utilized 3D printing in ways I’m a fan of, and one of these artists is Chinese hacker SexyCyborg, who created a pair of gravity defying shoes to give her a leg up in the pen testing field.

Penetration testing is like the chaotic good of hacking, wherein a hacker doesn’t just sell her independently researched exploit to the highest bidder from anywhere in the world. Many large organizations with vast data and IoT to protect will offer “bounties” for lone good guy hackers and private cyber security firms alike to compete for: if you can break into their systems, with proof, and show them how to nix the holes, they’ll thank you handsomely. The Pentagon once brought in a team of 1,400 individuals to find security vulnerabilities on their systems, and some were rewarded up to $15,000 each.

SexyCyborg is one of the many young people taking advantage of the opportunities in this industry. Working as an independent pen tester, she decided to get inventive with her method of sneaking tools onto a site. The more seemingly innocuous, the better. This led her to 3D print what she has dubbed her “Wu Ying” heels. “Wu Ying,” which means “shadowless,” is a name she derived from Chinese folk hero/martial artist Wong Fei Hung and his infamous “shadowless kick.”

On her Imgur, SexyCyborg details the build of the shoes and shares her blueprints so that other Printers can try them on for size. The block wedges holding her up would appear to be solid, but they’re hollowed out inside to fit a very specific set of tools. Each shoe’s removable portion works like a drawer. The coolest part? Even with all of that gear loaded, they’re lightweight enough for her to walk with ease. She says that she can stand on them without the heels in.

Wu_Ying_Shoe-Left-Size8_preview_featured

What she’s got inside:  an OpenWRT TL-MR10U wireless router, a USB keystroke recorder, a set of lock picks, and a retractable Ethernet cable. That small, harmless-looking router runs a software called Wispi, with which, as SexyCyborg states, “you can fake being a friendly/known WiFi access point and setup a fake login page to capture passwords.”

In a Q&A with vice.com, she explains why she specifically chose women’s shoes for her project. “Since most women’s clothing do not have pockets, if we lose our handbags or they get stolen, it’s really a huge problem. Shoes have a lot of unused space that’s not taken advantage of.”

Imagine your stashing phone, credit cards, and keys in the safety of your wedges the next time you’re out at a bar but don’t want to carry a purse but also don’t want someone reaching in for the valuables on your person when you slip them into the waistband of your pocket-less jeans for a second to hold your beer. (This happened to me. @ Mickey’s in WeHo, I love you, but your clientele is shady as fuck.) SexyCyborg also suggests using these shoes to store devices like LibraryBox, on which you can take ebooks, movies, music and more on-the-go.

On what it’s like to be a woman in her sometimes male dominated field, and on some of the backlash she received when her female-centric product went viral, she has some friendly words. The disclaimer at the end of her “Wu Ying” Imgur thread makes reference to one of the first times the Internet found her in a big way: Reddit, in true Reddit fashion, made some of the highest voted comments on her heel thread about her rack and whether or not they were fake, complete with edgy lines about “penetration” and what she was really distracting with. She doesn’t care.

“A lot of the doubt associated with my projects is a bit like people thinking about trees being cut down by burly men with axes,” she told Vice, “while dismissing the idea of a women cutting down trees because they are unaware that chainsaws have been invented.” Chainsaw away, sis.

“I have more ideas for 3D printable projects for young women that I’d like to do. It’s a good learning platform and I’d like to come up with a reason for girls to take an interest in it.”

True to her word, SexyCyborg has released her source files for free so that anyone can print shoes just as badass.

I Would Tell You What She Looks Like

Notes:

Lesbians Over Everything is a platform for women who love women to share their stories, heartbreaks and triumphs. A few months ago, I contributed to the segment “Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved,” a space for accounts of women who’ve moved us. The following is a concept I’d had in mind since 2015.

 

I would tell you what she looks like, but I can’t. She asked me not to. As a writer, it’s frustrating to be told that I can’t describe a subject, but I suppose I can tell you where we were the last time I saw her, when, and why:

The Firestone train station on the Los Angeles Blue Line, dim stone, chipped archways, and lingering smell of urine. Ten a.m. on a rainy February. She was returning some of my things. Our relationship was over.

I arrived at the platform long before she did, knowing that she was showing up late and making me wait for her on purpose. Sitting on the hard concrete slab that served as a bench, bored, I watched the rain fall on the empty tracks. This could be a scene from a romance novel, I said to myself, the trains are a symbol here, of her leaving my life, of my having to move on, or of the rapid, slapdash pace at which we modern humans live. And the rainfall, maybe, a symbol of my misery.

I thought this even though I wasn’t at all miserable. In fact, when she arrived and sat beside me, giving no hello or warning and wearing sunglasses in the rain, the moment was void of romance or sentiment.

Awkward and terse, making a strained effort to not make eye contact, she held out a plastic Target shopping bag at me. Is she seriously wearing sunglasses? I thought, taking the bag and almost laughing, though there was absolutely nothing funny about this moment.

Once the transaction was finished, she stood up, cleared her throat.

“Can you do me a favor?” She pitched her voice down to its deepest register, the way she often did when we fought. “Don’t make me a character in one of your little stories.”

She walked away, that line serving as her goodbye, and I realized that if there was a way to make me feel miserable over a break up, well. That was it.

She read all of my stories. She knew that writing about the women who have moved me, hurt me, or shamed me in the past is how I process things, how I really move on. If I can turn a random, painful situation into a meaningful narrative, write about our ending in another time and place, whatever pain I feel is worth it in the end. Was she taking my process on purpose?

The train arrived just moments later. I got on and tried to keep my mind from plotting points, coming up with idealistic character arcs for she and I. Though it went against my self imposed nature, I saw everything around me just for what it is, and not what it represents:

It was blindingly white inside the train. The light bulbs above me buzzed dull and monotone. The teal linoleum floors were sticky, and sweat and body odor permeated the steel seats. Rainwater slivered down the grey sides of the windows, whizzing and flowing in time with the moving industrial scenery. Immortal by Marina and the Diamonds played in my earbuds, the singer’s deep voice echoed and ethereal. She crooned of love lasting forever, earth’s end in fire, and seas frozen in time.

The song reminded me of her, of nights we spent in the dark, feeling like I’d finally found a love that was eternal. This was the part she didn’t want. Me romanticizing what was really a relationship wrought with fighting. Memorializing the details of her person would give it proof. Does she not want to be remembered for her wrongs? I assume she will always remember me for mine.

I looked down at the Target bag tied tightly shut in my lap, the logos redrawing images of drops of blood on white cotton pads. I opened the bag, curious as to why she tied it shut, and was overwhelmed by a sudden remorse. Everything inside of it smelled like her now, her skin, her house, her warmth and those nights. Will any of the following identify her? Aveeno lotion, men’s pine deodorant, faint hints of dust and cigarettes, burnt cinnamon incense. My t-shirts, lingerie, even the books were imbued with her scent. They weren’t just my things anymore.

Soon as the scent tinged my nostrils, my eyes watered instantly, stinging, without my permission. Tears fell, out of place and too late. I was out of the moment constantly when we were together. Always plotting the next thing, focusing on what I would write down about our hypothetical future on some date. If we got there. Fixating on both of our pasts, blaming our disharmony on our families, childhoods, society, anything.

Her scent brought her within my grasp, but not close enough, and all I wanted was not my obsession with future or the past, but a present moment:

It’s November. I’m lying on her bed alone in her room, naked, waiting for her to come home after work. I am blissful and content. I press my cheek to her still wet pillow, inhaling her sweet conditioner, that way her skin smells. Stare at the cracks in her window blinds, the chipping ceiling, the piles of her clothes, the various trinkets on her desk that haven’t been so much as nudged out of their “place” in over a year. I have existed in this room, I have loved in this room. It’s broken, and she often leaves me here alone in it. But it’s home.

I traveled further and further away from that home, as the train passed through Compton and Watts in the rain. The more miles I put between us, the more I knew and understood her intention: from now on, I can see the room in my mind’s eye, but she does not want me to have the privilege of imagining her there.

The temporary time travel, her scent on my things, overwhelmed me the point that something like miserable was going to be the next stop on the train. By that time, though, I had exited it. Moved through the Willow street station at the end of the Blue Line, walking the path back to my own space. In my solitary bedroom, I sprayed everything in the bag she gave me with my own perfume – heavy, syrupy, saccharine – suffocating the portal that pulled me back into her.

Ruminations On The Nature Of Lying

 

1.

You were the flower girl at your aunt’s wedding. After your procession, you stood next to the women in your family, tall and stark in green, velvet dresses, in a line on the stage.

As the pastor spoke, you played with your now-empty basket. It’d felt like hours since you’d been in the spotlight, since your debut. You were hungry, and you had to pee. But soon, you noticed that the women were crying; you wondered why you weren’t crying too, wanting to be more like them. You started to lick your fingers and streak them down your face, trying to look more like them.

Once your face was covered in spit, you tugged on your mother’s hand, made her look down at you. “Oh, honey, don’t cry,” she’d said. It was the first time you felt like a woman, like them.

2.

You sat on the treadmill in your parents’ bedroom, hiccupping as your Grammy fed you sugar from a spoon.

“Sugar will help stop the crying,” she said, in that all-knowing voice. You couldn’t remember how long you’d been crying, but a while ago, you’d been standing barefoot in the kitchen. Your mother, grandmother and a cop had talked over harsh walkie-talkie feedback. Your mother was holding a towel with ice to her forehead, and a head of lettuce sat in the middle of the floor. The condensation from it was dripping onto the tile.

The cop said your father threw the lettuce at your mom. He said your dad was handcuffed somewhere outside. The cop kept writing things down as your mother spoke, listening intently, nodding, sighing. You didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but at the end of it all, he knelt down to your level, took off his sunglasses, said,

“I’m sorry all this happened, little lady. Your daddy didn’t mean it.” You would go on to learn he did mean it.

That was when you’d started crying. Your Grammy took you upstairs for you privacy, and you stared at her as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, prepped more sugar for the spoon.

You didn’t think the sugar was working. You were crying too hard to say so, but even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stopped her. It tasted good.

3.

That year on Christmas Eve, you set a trap for Santa in your living room: ropes tied to chairs made a maze from chimney to tree, and you even placed Jacks on the floor at every turn. An Indiana Jones path to the milk and cookies.

You were hoping he would fall, maybe twist his ankles. The sound of him plummeting to the floor would reach only you, wake only you up, and then you would finally find him, the enigmatic glutton. That plate of sugar cookies that you and your sister baked? They would be yours, and so would all the presents.

Your mother and father watched you set up your trap, every step of the way. Your father said that you were much smarter than Santa, your mother said he would be no match for your prowess. Once it was done, all night long you fought sleep; drifting off, waking up the sounds of your parents’ fighting. Didn’t they know he doesn’t come if you don’t sleep?

The next morning, you went downstairs to find your trap expertly disassembled: the floor was clean, the ropes and jacks gone, the chairs moved back to the dining room table. All six of the cookies were bitten into, and the empty glass of milk held down a handwritten letter.

“Better luck next time! – S.” You’d soon learn he wasn’t real just a couple months later.

4.

You’d soon learn the purpose and the nature of lying: it’s okay as long as it protects people. At school, your little sister got her teeth knocked out. Too much horseplay at recess caused a boy to kick her in the jaw.

Your mother was on her way to pick her up from school, and you waited with her in the nurse’s office. She held her small, bloody hands over her mouth as the nurse prepared the mouthwash, put the tooth in a plastic bag. Secretly, you wished that you were hurt so you could go home too. At least you got to skip a class.

“Does it hurt?” you asked her.

“Kind of,” she mumbled, her hands over her mouth. “It does, but the tooth fairy will fix it. You know what they say, money makes the world ‘go round.”

That night, you realized that your parents forgot to be the tooth fairy. She was fast asleep, it was one A.M., and you were quietly sifting through the contents of her room. Trying to find pennies, quarters, anything, stuffed between cushions and stashed in the toy chests.

You found nothing a tooth fairy would leave. Instead, you listened to your parents scream down the hall, wishing you could open up their doors, see them like that. Somehow, your sister was always a heavy sleeper.

The next morning, your mom dropped the two of you off in front of your K-8 school. Your sister was upset all morning, quiet and cross-armed. She sat down on the front steps when your mother pulled away, refusing to go in. Crying.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” she lamented. “I’m broke.”

When you got to homeroom, you asked your teacher for a dollar in quarters. You slipped into her classroom next break, told her teacher what you were doing. You left them for her under the lid of her desk.

The next time you saw her, she was gap-toothed-smiling, clutching the change against her chest and spinning ‘round.

“I knew it, I knew it!” she told everyone who’d listen. “I’m gonna be rich!”

At the end of the day, you sat together on the steps again. She was no longer happy like before, dropping the coins one by one onto the concrete.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“I know what you did,” she said. “Someone in my class just told me about the tooth fairy. It’s not good to lie, you know.”

 

State Quarters

Originally posted on 101words.org

State Quarters

When I was ten, my parents divorced. I coped with repetition. I collect­ed state quarters.

Why state quarters? I loved the consistency. Name at the top, year at the bottom, and the pictures in the center I’d memorized: California, Delaware, Maine, engraved silver trees and patriotic birds and olive branches.

I dug through couches and coats, feeling their ridges on my fingers, always trying to recreate a full set of fifty. I always could.

No matter his or her house, no matter the struggle, I found each one and I kept them together, starting over the next day.

Why couldn’t they?

Your password might suck, but you can change that

In the digital age, making sure that your private data stays truly private is paramount. If you’re one of those people whose password is “password,” “starwars,” “12345678,” or anything on say, this list of most commonly used and compromised passwords, I have some news that you probably already know: Your password sucks.

You may be wondering why it matters, though, if you consider yourself a regular joe with nothing to hide on the Internet, and if the only people you know who might ever try to hack into your Facebook are your mother and your regretful ex.

However, your concern with your passwords should not be with the people you know, but with the people, and their botnets, that you don’t. I can’t be the only one who’s ever had a strange online credit card purchase appear on their statement, an onslaught of spam emails suddenly, or unusual activity on one of my social media accounts. Even if you haven’t, the likelihood that you will is increasing: according to SecurityWeek, 4.2 billion online records were hacked and released in 2016 alone. That’s up from 1.1 billion in 2013.

So what can you do to make your passwords as hack-proof as possible? I believe the best plan of action starts first with understanding just exactly how password s can get cracked. Sophisticated password-jackers don’t just sit in front of their computers manually typing guesses. They automatically spam the password fields on sites, servers, and routers with precompiled wordlists or “dictoniaries,” which offer guesses in the hundreds of thousands and millions. One of the most common ones, rockyou.txt, is so big that even just trying to read it as a simple text file nearly crashes my l’il laptop. (Also, for reference: if you’ve ever seen Mr. Robot, if you look closely, you can see Elliot using tools like this on Linux to hack his “friends”).

Equipped with enough processing power, a real hacker’s computer can file through these wordlists so fast, that passwords can be owned within a matter of hours. There are also ways of making the process even faster using terminal/command line utilities such as crunch. Crunch allows hackers to set up a rubric for the order or pattern they think the password will be in. For example, if you know there will be characters first, numbers second, and symbols third, you can specify this. Plus, this doesn’t include key words and numbers such as the birthday and pet’s name listed on your Facebook profile, that someone somewhere may’ve gathered about you via social engineering.

So, now that you know this information, what can you do to keep yourself safe? Here are some tips I’ve gathered, from personal experience and various readings across the Internet.

  • Use complex passwords, especially for banking and email.

Complexity is, for example: the more, characters the better, as many in the double digits as you can remember; a combination of alphanumeric and symbolic typing, such as AK&T!5V8F9; intentionally scrambling or misspelling dictionary words, so “cat” or “house” become tca and shuoe.

Check out this video in which Dr. Mike Pound of Computerphile gives his advice on how to achieve complexity.

  • Change your passwords often, and use different passwords on every site.

Even if you have the most obscure password on the planet, and even if the website you’re using encrypts your password as you type it, it doesn’t mean anything if the plaintext of your password has somehow become visible to hackers. One of the ways this can happen is if a hacker is able to steal raw data from a database, where the company keeps your password so the site can remember you.

While some companies willfully under-invest in their cybersecurity practices, there are many major corporations, some of the most secure in the game, who still fall victim to clever gray and black hatters besting them (I don’t think I have to tell you what we’ve heard about Yahoo! lately). In 2015, The New York Times released an interactive tool for people to check which major websites and services have had customer data leaked.

Most companies will inform their customers when breaches happen, but often times, breaches can go unnoticed by them for days, or even years. Because you never really know who’s able to get into what when, the safest way to play it is to make sure the data that someone hypothetically could have on you, is constantly changing and inaccurate.

  • Physically write your passwords down, or use a Password managing software.

Having unique complicated passwords, across multiple sites, means that you’re probably going to forget them often. Personally it has helped me to keep a list of passwords in a notebook, in a place where only I can find it of course. As of this date, there are no known ways that a computer can sift through a record I keep between a hardcover in a locked closet.

Password managers such as Lastpass and Roboform will generate hard-to-remember-passwords and fill them in for you when you log-in. Check out PCWorld’s comprehensive list for other similar helpful programs.

– L

Hello, world.

Have you ever wondered how much of you there is on the Internet? I have. My fellow millennials and I live in an age where employers use Facebook in hiring decisions, tweets can lead to violent protestnothing you do online ever really gets deleted, and games like Pokémon Go connect us in virtual real-time the way we’d only dreamed was possible (or at least I’d always dreamed, as a lifelong Pokemon fanboy).

It’s always been hard to imagine my life without the Internet, personally. I grew up living at a desk with my dad’s clunky IBM desktop on it. In 2003, in the good old fifth grade, I was using Windows XP to run America Online, which I had to do via dial-up, which meant that only one person in the house could use the phone or Internet at a time, which, as you can imagine, was first-world exhausting. By 2006 I was using Internet Explorer on Windows Vista, writing several Myspace, Xanga, and other dumb teenage angst blogs that I hope have faded into obscurity (but let’s be real, they haven’t) and torrenting with LimeWire (RIP).

Back then, creating HTML blog themes and finding obscure workarounds to download things for free taught me an important, now-lifelong lesson: no matter what censorship comes, the Internet truly belongs to everyone. But something that belongs to everyone can be edited and thus destroyed by anyone, and these days, it is: by some of the lovely humans out there who enjoy coding malware.

The thing that’s always fascinated me most about computers are their viruses. I’ll never forget the day I learned as a kid that Bonzi Buddy, a now well-known case of malware, was not a helpful search tool but was in fact a crime someone committed (and really f#cking annoying, too; if you had one you understand). I’m not glad cyber theft and crime exist, but it’s also humbling to know that a fifteen year old kid from the Netherlands with no name or money could hypothetically write a program powerful enough to shut down a government. I like the fact that online, there are no class boundaries. Code is the great equalizer.

I think it’s because of this that cybersecurity is a such fast-growing field of computer science. We spend 11 hours a day online and nearly 3 billion of us use a smartphone, taking up a virtual space that we now have to watch over. Sometimes our spaces are used to launch large-scale DDoS attacks without our knowledge, our video calls surveilled by governments and pervs. This website lets you view insecure webcam streams worldwide and god knows how many female celebrities (and females in general) have been hacked for nudes.

Humans must come up with complex cyberlaws and corresponding programs that determine, for example, whether or not the NSA should massively collect data and exploits, or where jurisdiction should be held when a criminal technically comes from nowhere, or what should be done about the environmental impact of tech on the Earth.

But where do the majority of us, and our iPhones with Instagrams of cat memes, fall into the grand scheme? What about the fun of it, the Snapchats and subreddits and vines (RIP)? Personally, I embrace our robot overlords – because at the end of the day, humans were behind them – and I appreciate the f#ck out of them being able to do things like drive by themselves, run like a cheetah, and dance in choreographed teams.

I started studying computers, hacking, cyber crime, robots, and social media trends about a year ago for hobby’s sake. Along the way here, I want to document what’s happening with surveillance technology in the U.S.: when the Internet is in our homes, watches, cars, and heart and baby monitors, is it always a good thing? Is there really too much information? This is a conversation I see happening all around me. I can’t wait to share more about what I’ve learned from the people having it.

It’s good housekeeping to take care of your digital house too.

– L