What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: G.I. Jane

When it comes to Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane, we are a nation divided. Ask someone about this 1997 film and you are likely to get one of two responses: a dismissive eye-roll accompanied by a jerk-off gesture, or a fist-pumping “Fuck yeah!” Rotten Tomatoes supports this observation, where the movie earns 55% on the Tomatometer and an audience score of 53%.

G.I. Jane tells the story of Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil — played by Demi Moore and her supernatural lats, quads, and glutes — the first woman to be accepted for U.S. Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team training (a fictional stand-in for U.S. Navy SEAL BUD/S). There is a plot here, something to do with Anne Bancroft’s Senator Lillian DeHaven making a deal to keep military bases open in Texas. But honestly, who cares? The power of G.I. Jane, its ridiculously strong heart, has nothing to do with plot and everything to do with action.


O’Neil is taunted and ostracized by her fellow trainees. Her military higher ups are a bunch of Sexist Evil White Men™, all of whom are conspiring to get her to ring out of the program. In one pivotal scene, her master chief (Viggo Mortensen and his lush mustache) beats the crap out of her and then threatens to rape her during a simulated POW training. In an environment known for pushing trainees to the absolute limit physically, mentally and emotionally, she is on her own, a pawn in a game she doesn’t even know she’s playing, and staring down institutional sexism that’s locked and loaded. But does O’Neil waver? She does not. She rejects any accommodation to her training (fuck that helper step on the obstacle course), does her push-ups like a man (no knees), and shaves off her hair while The Pretenders sing The Homecoming. As for the master chief’s attack, she breaks his nose with her head while her hands are tied behind her back and then tells him to suck her dick.

It will come as no surprise that, in the matter of G.I Jane, I am firmly in camp “Fuck yeah!” I love this movie, despite its predictable plot, stereotypically drawn characters, and unambiguous politics. I love it for its warrior heart and brutal training sequences, for Viggo Mortensen’s tiny shorts, Anne Bancroft’s silver-bobbed badassery, and Demi Moore’s buzzed head.


Among the eye-rolling set, a common complaint about G.I. Jane is that it’s an impossible scenario; that there is simply no way any woman could ever complete SEAL training.

This has always seemed a ridiculous argument to me.

This is an action movie. Last I checked, there are few complaints about a lack of it-could-happen-just-like-this-in-actual-life-as-defined-by-my-own-experience-and-abilities realism in action movies. Instead, we eat it up when a millionaire playboy is a secret superhero, humanity is enslaved to robot overlords, a regular cop defeats all the terrorism, a college professor takes on Nazism with a whip and a hat, and a lady in a yellow tracksuit is a sword-wielding assassin who can punch her way out of a buried coffin and kill you by tapping on your chest.

It may very well be true that no woman will ever have the physical ability and mental toughness to complete SEAL training. None have been allowed to try, although with the U.S. military lifting the ban on women in combat that is changing as I write this. We do know that most men who attempt it ring out, because it is hell. That anyone gets through elite Special Forces training is utterly remarkable.

For my money, I think there will be a woman SEAL one day. Women have a history of doing the “impossible.” But for those of us who cheer, “Fuck yeah!” at the mention of Jordan O’Neil, that’s not quite the point. Even if no woman ever makes it all the way through BUD/S, G.I. Jane will always be a clarion call, will always matter, because there is something deeper here, a truth we know in our bones and muscles.

G.I. Jane is a goddess myth in fatigues.

Jordan seems so much larger than life because she’s nothing less than Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, law and justice, and war. She is the stuff of myth, and like all myth, she rides in the place where awe crosses mystery. You may not know her name, but you do know her. She is the grit that stiffens your backbone when it would be easier to quit. She is the fire in your belly that burns hotter than fear. And when the world tells you what you cannot do, what you must not do, what has never been done before and will never be done, not ever, it is she who speaks when you say, “Watch me.”



What should you eat while you watch G.I Jane? I think you should go ahead and have whatever it is you’re truly hungry for. Whatever the hell you want. Tear it up.

Read What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: The Silence of the Lambs and What Should I Eat While I Watch That Movie: Blue Valentine.

Want to know what to eat with that movie? Leave a comment here or tweet me at @stefgunning and I’ll suggest a pairing for you!

Heart of the Matter

The night before Valentine’s Day was going to be celebrated at my daughter’s school, I received the following text from my husband, Jonathan:

Emmy bought God cards. Won’t give them up. Crying. Help.

To translate our married shorthand, he was telling me that our 9-year-old, Emerson, had somehow selected religious Valentine’s Day cards, and now that he had discovered the fact he was trying to explain why she simply couldn’t hand them out to her friends, and she was very upset.

I called the house and he answered on the first ring. “How bad?” I asked.


“Like ‘Jesus died for you have some candy’ bad?”

“Like, one puppy telling another puppy that God wants us to be friends.”


“Also, there’s a Bible verse.”

He felt terrible about it, but in all honesty, those cards were sneaky:


Awww. Puppies! I’m glad we’re friends too, puppies!


Wait, hold up a sec…

In the grand scheme of things, one animal baby telling another animal baby that God brought them together in friendship is no tragedy. But there are several factors operating here that made this a Threat Level Red, Zero Card Thirty, codename God Cardgate situation.

First, there is the fact that we live in the kind of neighborhood where trying to find the owner of a lost blue hat can turn into a culture war. I just want to write my check to the PTO and bring my pie to the annual pie-related fundraiser, not set off a debate about the imposition of religious values on a multicultural community through the distribution of propaganda with a kitten on it.

More significantly, we’re Jewish! Sort of. I’m Jewish, culturally at least. Emmy is technically Jewish in the same way I am, because she’s the child of a Jewish mother. Jonathan was raised Catholic. We’re both Buddhist. And yet, in the sprit of Candy is Delicious and Everyone Loves Presents, we celebrate all the things, our Christmas tree glowing in the light of our menorah, Easter candy decorating our Passover table. We leave offerings to our Ganesha statue when faced with an obstacle. We welcome Persephone on the first day of spring. We smudge any new apartment we move into. My point is, if we were going to hand out God Cards, they would not feature the God of 1 John 4:8.

“Put her on the phone,” I said, standing to pull on my coat. It was now 7pm, I was still at work, and the evening suddenly included buying replacement Valentine’s Day cards, bringing them home, helping her to fill them out, and soothing her hurt feelings. Oh, and explaining God to her.

So, a typical Thursday.

“Helllloooo moooooommmmy,” she warbled in a tiny little voice.

“Hello baby,” I said. “I hear you picked out some cards with God in them.”

“Yes,” she said, crying. “I don’t understand. Daddy says I can’t hand them out, but they are just puppies. And I worked so hard on them. And there’s one for my teacher. And why is there anything wrong with God saying we should be friends? That’s nice!”

“I know, sweetheart,” I said. “And I’ll explain everything to you when I get home. But for now, you just need to trust me. I’m going to go to the store and buy you some other cards, and you can give those out.” We negotiated a deal. She would shower and put on her pajamas. I would buy new cards and bring them home. We would fill them out together, and I would try to find a way to tell her about the difference between puppies who love each other under the benevolent gaze of a gentle deity and the centuries-long bloody complexities of organized religion.

I thought about what I could tell her, while I shopped for cards at the CVS and rode the subway home from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I was raised in an atheist home. My mother is so anti-religion, such a disbeliever, that she threw a fit when I wanted to mention heaven in my grandmother’s eulogy. In the house where I grew up, no book was off-limits, no movie inappropriate, no cultural or political topic not worth talking to death, and my boyfriends started sleeping over when I was 16 — but no one talked about religion. I once asked my mother what she thought happened when we died, and she said she thought it was nothing. No heaven, no hell, no ghosts or spirit, no afterlife. Just the power going off in a house about to be demolished. Nothing left but the memories other people had of you, and a pile of paperwork to be attended to.

I met God my freshman year of college, in a Western Civ. class taught by a professor who captured my full attention. More than God, he showed me god in all his forms, and hers. A universe of myth and story stretching from the underworld to Asgard, spanning time from the moment that first prehistoric ancestor looked up at the sky in awe to me in the drugstore buying cards for my good-hearted daughter, and in doing so wrestling with ancient mysteries about what we wish, what we fear, what we stand for. I minored in Religious Studies in college, and while it may have started as a way of flirting with my professor and horrifying my mother, it matured into a genuine fascination with the sacred places of myth and faith, the archetypical stories of heroes and gods, goddesses and monsters. But for all this, I am no true believer. I have no answers. I’m just another traveler. Another curious wanderer. A storyteller who loves a big yarn. Perhaps, I will concede, better read than most.

I arrived home to find Emerson freshly showered, her thick hair combed out, wrapped in a blanket on the couch. I showed her the cards I’d bought. They had gel window clings on them, in the shapes of dragonflies, butterflies, frogs and owls. She thought they were wonderful. And I’d brought a special card for her teacher, too, with Snoopy dancing on it. We sat at the dining table together, me and my sweet girl, and I read her the names of her classmates while she carefully filled out each card, selecting just the right cling for each friend — a butterfly for Sophie, an owl for Gus, a dragonfly for Paloma.

“Mommy,” she said when we were done. “Why were the puppy cards not ok?  They were so cute!”

They were, I told her, they were adorable. But the thing is, those cards were about a specific God, the God that is in the Bible called the New Testament, and not everybody believes in that God. The people that do are called Christians, and not everybody is Christian. Some people are Jewish, and Muslim, and Buddhist. Some people don’t believe in God at all. And if you are a person who doesn’t believe in that Christian God, or any God, it can feel upsetting or confusing to get a card about that God. And anyway, religion is between the religious person and the God they believe in, we don’t impose those kinds of beliefs on other people. And giving out those cards could feel like you expected the person you were giving it to to believe in that Christian God.

She nodded. “Ok,” she said. And then she asked me the real question, the question at the heart of it all. “Mommy, what do you believe?”

What do I believe? I believe that religion is the cause of endless suffering, of war and hatred. That it’s a way to control the rebellious, creative, far-reaching, fierce thing that makes us human to start with. That it is yet a another way of dividing the world into an “us” and a “them,” and we have far too many of those. I am no fan of religion. But I do believe in something bigger than me, something vast and ferocious, made of rage and pain, pleasure and goodness, vengeance and forgiveness, something unknowable and unsolvable. I believe that sometimes god is a lion, with hot breath and a rough mane, and you visit him by sneaking through a wardrobe. Sometimes god is a grey-eyed girl who carries a bow and a quiver of arrows. Sometimes he’s a dangerous swan. Sometimes she’s a demon slayer. Sometimes god is a lightening bolt, a crash of thunder, a flood, or a fire. Sometimes he is a dancing elephant who clears the way forward. Sometimes she is a fierce mother who finds you in the dark and rescues you from the arms of a monster. I believe in the stories we tell, in the kindnesses we do, in the ways we find to love each other. I believe in the mysteries. I believe in what I don’t know. I revel in everything I don’t know.

“You’re so silly mommy,” she said, and she crawled into my lap and hugged me. “God is a lion?”

“Sometimes,” I said. “His name is Aslan, you’ll read about him one day.”

There were several cards left over, and Emerson asked if she could have the clings. She arranged them on her window, a little scene where the dragonflies flitted with the butterflies, and the owls kept company with the frogs. “They’ll be so pretty when the sun shines through,” she said, and she climbed into bed. I kissed her and hugged her, wished her sweet sleep.

I do not know what she dreams about. And I revel in that too.

Medusa Got A Bad Rap


I have a complicated relationship with Medusa. Of course, Medusa herself is a complicated girl — with an identity that spans classical myth, castration anxiety (Really Freud? Really?), and angry feminism.

She’s been shadowing me forever, it seems. For one thing, my hair is a mop of spiral curls, and for a time, by certain people, I was referred to as having “Medusa Head.” It was meant as a joke, but when you consider that Medusa is variously considered a monster, a demon, and a terrifying symbol of rage — and that one of the people who called me by this nickname was my boyfriend — you can see how it might have ruffled my feathers a bit (or my iridescent scales, as it were).

And there is this too: I am scary.

Or so I have been told, always by men who said they loved me. They loved me but I was too intense, too ambitious, too dramatic, too overwhelming. They loved me but I was too sad, too broken, too raw. I over thought everything. I was a flight risk. Too much of a loner. They loved me but they didn’t trust me. They loved me but they were sure I’d break their heart, given half a chance.

They loved me but eventually I’d turn them to stone.

And maybe they were right, in part. A little. Some more than others, that’s for certain.

But here is what I have finally come to believe. There is a way to love Medusa. To truly love her, with her violent origin story, her rage, her danger, her twisty beauty. Not to slay her, or to let her harm you, but to find a way to get close enough to stroke every snake on her head. To see past the glamour she throws. There is a way to love Medusa, with her power to destroy and her mortal vulnerability.

There is a way to love Medusa, but it requires something more of you than mere adoration. It requires more than desire, however hungry. It demands that you look into her eyes and be willing to master the part of you that wants to run from things that aren’t easy. It demands that you make a stand, even when she hisses at you, even when she tells you to go.

And it helps to be a snake charmer.

Books & Letters

For years, I have been talking about writing a book. Talking about it and thinking about it, and wondering if I could, and what it should be about, and if anyone would read it, and if people would be mad at me if I did. I’ve made several starts at this, taking classes and trying to publish stories, blogging (very) occasionally, reading out now and then. But I’ve never managed to get any traction on it, to make a commitment (which, if we’re being honest, is kind of a theme with me anyway). And the reason is, writing is  hard. IT IS FUCKING HARD. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s boring, and awful, and you hate yourself and all the words. Sometimes it’s OK. Sometimes it’s like a door inside of you opens and a thousand unicorns come flying out on a double rainbow that tastes like dark chocolate and smells like lilacs. But mostly it’s really, really  hard. This is not news to anyone who has tried to write, or has listened to anyone complain about writing.

But hey! I’m doing it. I’m writing a book. I made a commitment. I hired a book coach. I have pages due on deadlines, and I wrote an extensive outline, and character bios, and parts of it are actually written, which is sort of remarkable, that I can open a Word document on my computer and see the beginnings of this book that I’ve been carrying around inside my head for so long.

That’s not what this is really about though.

My book is not a memoir, not by a long shot, but it’s fair to say that it’s influenced by some things that happened to me once, a long time ago. And I’ve been struggling with that, with where the line is between what happened, what I think happened, and what I wish had happened. And then there’s the matter of how to write about it at all, because I still am worried that people will be mad at me, that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, or tell a secret, or expose a lie.

Then again, I keep telling myself, it’s my story too. I get to tell it. Damnit.

Even that’s not really the point.

The point is this. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 9. There are gaps, to be sure, times when I didn’t write because I lost interest or got distracted, or fell in love (I almost never wrote about my happiness, but the breakups I recorded in obsessive detail). And there are other, sadder stretches, where terrible circumstances kept me silent. But mostly, I have been keeping a journal for 34 years. This story I’ve been writing for myself arcs across 24 books — plain notebooks, beautiful diaries with artful covers and creamy pages, moleskines. Many of these journals were gifts from people who knew me well and cared about me, and those books are inscribed with notes from them, on the inside covers. I carefully dated and numbered each journal, and jotted down poems and lines from songs on the first few pages, as inspiration or to set the tone. W.H. Auden’s Leap Before You Look was a favorite for years, this passage in particular:

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

Sounds about right.

My old journals — everything that pre-dates Emerson, her sunny sweetness and my uncomplicated, ferocious love for her — have been stored away in a large tote bag in the back of my closet for years. Now and then I’d glance at them, with curiosity, and a little fear. I was pretty sure I knew what was in there, and most of it was nothing I wanted to re-visit, nothing I needed to go back to.


Except that writing is hard. And it hurts. And it requires a kind of courage I didn’t really expect. And somewhere between what I think happened and what I wanted to happen and what I thought happened, I actually wrote down what was happening. At least as I understood it. At least how it felt at the time.

So last Sunday, I pulled out the bag, and I started reading. I began in 1983, my freshman year of high school. I’ve read through, so far, to 1999, the year after my first husband left me and I was hell bent on recreating my entire lost 20s in a single year (with near disastrous results). It has been a bizarre fling through time, and incredibly surprising. It’s sort of like reading someone else’s story, and I’m alternately charmed by this girl, her bravado and depth of feeling, and utterly horrified by her selfishness, the way she’s dominated by fear and longing, so completely unable to understand, much less ask for, the things she so desperately wants and needs.

Still, I’m happy to see her again. Happy to see the old friends and loves that wave to me from the pages. Happy to remember these things, even the really terrible ones, because I know how these stories turn out. They turn out with me safely snuggled in bed in Brooklyn, Emerson napping next to me, Jonathan in the living room reading about some battle. That’s where all those journals lead. They lead straight home.

And there’s another thing too.

When I was a freshman in college, I was enamored of a certain professor. He was the kind of professor that a girl like me was made to fall for — bearded and brilliant, tall and lean, outdoorsy and rebellious. He taught in the English department (of course he did), and we had long, meandering conversations about The Book of Job, and the problem of suffering, about the hero’s journey and ancient goddess religions, about the Greeks and the Romans, and the power of words, and The Word. I’d show up at his office door in the afternoons, long after office hours were over (no appointment necessary for me), and curl up in his guest chair. After a few weeks he started bringing me a thermos of hot tea, sweet with honey, and I’d sip from it while we talked.

He never touched me. I wanted him to, and was petrified that he would. I had a boyfriend I loved, for one thing. And this professor, with his hard hands and easy grace, his intense thoughtfulness, was a man. Not a boy I could figure things out with, or a friend I’d known for years, or someone who was mostly like me. He was a wild, unexplored wilderness. I was utterly mad for him.

I ended up transferring schools after my freshman year, and here I will confess, all these years on, that he invited me for tea at his house the day I left school for the last time, and there was an invitation in the air, a moment to be seized, and I let it go. He did kiss me though, a single kiss that stands out, still, as one of the most delicious moments of my  life. And then I got in my car and drove away as fast as I could.

We wrote for a long time after that. Postcards, and letters that he would type on an actual typewriter and then doodle and draw on. I kept those letters for years, in an old tin box, and then at some point I misplaced them. I know this because in 1998 I went looking for him, ready, finally, for him, and discovered he had died, two years before. In a haze of grief I went looking for the letters and couldn’t find them.

Until one night last week, when I pulled out a journal from 1989. It was bulky, with a packet of paper tucked inside, wrapped with a rubber band to hold it together. I flipped it open, expecting to find a sheaf of poems or pages ripped from another notebook, and instead, there he was. All his letters, typed on his wonky typewriter, inked with his slanted handwriting, tied in blue ribbon. I unfolded the pages with careful, shaking hands. He was as present and visceral as he had ever been, his voice and his thoughts, his wisdom and his playful, questioning flirting, his vision of me at 19 as someone worth knowing, someone extraordinary.

When I think about that afternoon, when he invited me for tea and so much more than tea, it is always with regret. Regret that I let the moment pass us by, and also that it was simply the wrong place, the wrong time. Regret that I went looking for him too late. This is how it goes sometimes. And it makes me sad, in a wistful way, the way missed opportunities always do. The way losing what you never had always hurts; that particular, confusing ache of something that was over before it started. But I can still hold him in my hands, this part of him he gave me, in words, in doodles and ideas.

And that is something worth having, regardless of how it all turned out, or didn’t, in the end.