January 03, 2014

What I Read in 2013

  1. Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
  2. When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
  3. Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
  4. Safe House Meg Cabot
  5. Sanctuary Meg Cabot
  6. 1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
  7. Prophecy Ellen Oh
  8. The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
  9. Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
  10. Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
  11. Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
  12. Altered Jennifer Rush
  13. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
  14. Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn
  15. Secret Identity Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
  16. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  17. Witches Incorporated K.E. Mills
  18. Wizard Squared K.E. Mills
  19. Wizard Undercover K.E. Mills
  20. Bitten Kelley Armstrong
  21. Raised by Wolves Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  22. Trial By Fire Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  23. Taken By Storm Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  24. Every Other Day Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  25. Nobody  Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  26. The Squad: Perfect Cover Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  27. The Squad: Killer Spirit Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  28. Full Moon Rising Keri Arthur
  29. Kissing Sin Keri Arthur
  30. A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
  31. A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin
  32. A Storm of Swords George R. R. Martin
  33. A Feast for Crows George R. R. Martin
  34. A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin
  35. Magic Rises Ilona Andrews
  36. Kitty in the Underworld Carrie Vaughn
  37. Blood of Tyrants Naomi Novik
  38. Ender's Game Orson Scott Card
  39. Divergent Veronica Roth
  40. Insurgent Veronica Roth
  41. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman P.D. James
  42. Death Comes to Pemberley P.D. James
  43. Chimes at Midnight Seanan McGuire
  44. The Bitter Kingdom Rae Carson
  45. Redshirts John Scalzi
  46. Legend Marie Lu
  47. Prodigy Marie Lu
  48. The Selection Kiera Cass
  49. The Elite Kiera Cass
  50. The Prince Kiera Cass
  51. The Giver Lois Lowry
  52. Gathering Blue Lois Lowry
  53. Messenger Lois Lowry
  54. Midnight Riot Ben Aaronovitch
  55. Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
  56. The Thing About Luck Cynthia Kadohata
  57. After the Golden Age Carrie Vaughn
  58. Omens Kelley Armstrong
  59. The Gathering Kelley Armstrong
  60. The Calling Kelley Armstrong
  61. The Summoning Kelley Armstrong
  62. The Awakening Kelley Armstrong
  63. The Reckoning Kelley Armstrong
  64. The Rising  Kelley Armstrong
  65. Parasite Mira Grant
  66. Champion Marie Lu
  67. Homeland Cory Doctorow
  68. Whispers Under Ground Ben Aaronovitch
  69. For the Win Cory Doctorow
  70. Pirate Cinema Cory Doctorow
  71. Tantalize Cynthia Leitich Smith
  72. Eternal Cynthia Leitich Smith
  73. Blessed Cynthia Leitich Smith
  74. Diabolical Cynthia Leitich Smith
  75. Feral Nights Cynthia Leitich Smith
  76. Gameboard of the Gods Richelle Mead
  77. Succubus Blues Richelle Mead
  78. Succubus on Top Richelle Mead 

Sigh. There were a lot of unfinished reads that I didn't note here. And a LOT of re-reads, which I also (mostly) didn't note. Even so, you can tell I'm reading about two books per week. Gobbling, actually. Many of these I couldn't remember at all. My memory has gotten really really terrible. Probably not helped by all the gobbling.

So, new rules: after gobbling one and before gobbling another, I have summarize the book in this here blog. So I don't forget, and so that, maybe, when the next in the series comes out, I don't have to go back and re-read the previous ones. Argh.

October 28, 2013

Clear Guidelines for Not Being Racist On Halloween

There's been a lot of talk about racist Halloween costumes in the last couple weeks, but I haven't seen any direct guidelines for the clueless (other than hilarious stuff like this.)

So I thought I'd provide.

Here's what blackface is. Relatedly, yellowface, brownface, and redface.

Here's the problem with racialized Halloween costumes. (If you need more, use those highly developed google skills. It's not like the discussion's been hiding somewhere.)

Okay? Okay. So here are your guidelines:

  1. Are you dressing as someone or something of a different race or ethnicity than yourself? For example, a fireman or a cop or a mouse or a sandwich is non-ethnic-specific, so your race or ethnicity could conceivably be that thing. So no worries, you're in the clear. Go forth and costume to your heart's content. On the other hand, a slave, brave, or geisha? Well, I guesss they could be someone who isn't African American, Native American, or Japanese, technically ... but we're not splitting hairs. If you're not of the typical ethnicity/race of your costume, you're in the red zone. Keep reading.
  2. Are you costuming UP or costuming DOWN? This is similar to "mocking up" or "mocking down," in that true humor always makes fun of power, not powerlessness. So if you're making a joke about people below you in the social hierarchy, you're exercising privilege over people less powerful than you, whereas if you're making a joke about people at your level or above you in the social hierarchy, you're speaking truth to power. Costuming is, similarly, imitation, parody, or travesty. Costuming down is usually a disgusting exercise of privilege. So do it up only, never down, unless you're doing it as an unambiguously positive way of honoring someone. So, are you dressing as someone, or something, of a race or ethnicity that is above or below your own on the racial hierarchy? If above, you're probably on the side of the angels, but be thoughtful about it. If below, you've moved even farther into the red zone. Keep reading.
  3. Did you choose this costume to mock, be cool, or honor? If you're costuming cross-racially and down, you have to ask yourself why did you choose this costume? If the answer is "because it's funny," then you hit the third rail. That's mocking down and you're wearing a racist costume. If the answer is "because it's cool," then zap again. You're culturally appropriating and your costume is racist. If your answer is "because I love this person/these people and I want to be like them/honor them," keep reading.
  4. Are you dressing as a person or a category? That is to say, are you dressing as an actual present or historical figure or as a fictional character, or are you dressing as a member of a category? A member of a category includes: Indian princess, Indian brave, geisha, ninja, martial arts whatever, Mexican dude in serape and sombrero, mariachi, gang-banger, chola, "pimp" complete with 'fro, any kind of ethnic costume, arab, chinese, indigenous Australian, Zulu, etc. etc. If you're dressing racially down to honor an individual, keep reading. If you're dressing racially down as a fictional character because you love that character/want to be that character, then keep reading. But if you're dressing racially down as a member of a category, because they're cool and you want to be like them, then you're culturally appropriating a stereotype and need to check yourself. Game show buzzer: your costume is racist.
  5. Are you changing your skin color and/or wearing a wig to change your racial appearance? If so, your costume is racist.

You'll note that, if you're:

  1. cross-racially costuming 
  2. down
  3. as a character or historical figure 
  4. because you love and want to honor them and
  5. have not changed your skin or hair color or put on an "ethnic" wig to approach that character's racial appearance more closely

... then the implication is that you're okay. Right? Well, again, be thoughtful about it. And check this out. Do you see a pattern there?

ETA: Oh, this one's good too!

June 07, 2013

Doctors Bad, Doctors Good

I wanted to write about something I was thinking about last night. I've been very frustrated throughout my life by the quality (or lack thereof) of the doctors I have to deal with.

To recap: I'm a type one diabetic with Hashimoto's -- both for about 32 years -- plus vitiligo, and a couple other smaller autoimmune isshooz, not to mention allergies. I've also recently (last 3.5 years) acquired chronic fatigue syndrome, which is suspected to also be an immunological disease. Basically, my immune system has fucked. me. up.

When you have diabetes and hypothyroid, your type of specialist is an endocrinologist (in the US, anyway. Germany is another story.) Endocrinologists (or Diabetologists in Germany) are doctors who deal with a lot of chronic and/or lifelong patients, and that necessitates ... well, let's let Wikipedia tell us:

Endocrinology involves caring for the person as well as the disease. Most endocrine disorders are chronic diseases that need lifelong care. Some of the most common endocrine diseases include diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and metabolic syndrome. Care of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases necessitates understanding the patient at the personal and social level as well as the molecular, and the physician–patient relationship can be an important therapeutic process.

You'd think that something that makes it into Wikipedia -- and has its own subhead, no less -- would actually make it into the real-world practice of endocrinology, wouldn't you? But really? Not so much.

I've been a diabetic/Hashimoto's sufferer for 32 years, on three continents, in three countries, in eight cities, and under the care of 13 diabetes/endocrinology specialists. Of these, only one was a good doctor (Professor Meissner of Berlin, Germany) and one was a decent doctor (Dr. Bohannon of San Francisco, who isn't really taking patients anymore.) The rest were folks I tolerated so I could get my prescriptions and tests.

So, what, in my opinion, makes a doctor good or bad? Well, I'll tell ya. And, as usual for me, I'm gonna do it with bullet points. Here's a comparison of "Bad Doctors Do" and "Good Doctors Do."

Big Fat Caveat: there are types of medicine which are very specifically fixit. I'm thinking orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine, plastics, maybe all surgery, ... even oncology to a certain extent (although maybe it shouldn't be. I dunno, should we look at cancer as a lifelong illness? Nobody wants to but ...) I'm not speaking to those kinds of doctors, who are being asked by patients and society very explicitly to fix a specific problem which tends to be localized. This is for all the other doctors, and especially the endos, who ought to know going in that their patients are patients for life.

Bad Doctors:

  • Problematize everything and want to fix the problem. I think this might be that the profession self-selects for people who want to fix problems mechanically, people who greatly desire prestige, or both. The media contributes to this by presenting us with narratives of good doctors who want to become doctors because they lose a loved one to a curable disease or catastrophic injury. The overwhelming glut of hospital shows (vs. private practice shows) mirrors our medical system's decline and the rise of HMOs. We're all viewing medicine as a case-by-case practice, in which patients only come when there's a problem, and tend not to come back. And again, the profession self-selects for people who thrive in, or at least desire, this kind of scenario. Thus, when a patient won't/can't live day-to-day according to the doctor's prescriptions for behavior and life-structuring, the patient is blocking their own treatment. Their lives/lifestyles are problems that need to be fixed, rather than human lives that treatment needs to be adapted to.
  • Get frustrated when they can't fix things and blame the patient. If they're fixit guys they just get frustrated, and if they're prestige-hounds, they take the inability to fix things as an attack on their prestige in addition to that. In either case, the problem is a blow to their self-esteem, and they tend to blame the patient either directly (by telling the patient that they're doing things wrong and getting mad at them) or indirectly (by losing interest in the patient and refusing to put themselves out for the patient any more.)
  • View themselves as the subject, and protagonist, of the patient's case. This is probably a rather subtle distinction for the doctor, but it's pretty damned glaring for the patient. In the doctor's mind, the doctor's thinking and actions are central to the case -- because the doctor's fixit action is the action that moves the plot -- and the patient's thoughts and actions, much less the course of their life, is of little to no consequence, because they don't have the medical expertise to understand their own bodies and lives. I think the problem may be that many patients also view themselves as camera fodder for a real-life movie about a heroic doctor. You should read the doctor testimonials on Yelp. The positive reviews read like episode treatments for a hospital show like E.R. or House.
  • View patients as grist for the heroic doctor mill. Yes, everyone is the center of their own universe, and the doctor's perspective is one of a person who is in the office all day while different people come in and out. Yes. But, as a consultant, I had no trouble understanding that I was there to serve a less skilled client with my greater expertise, and that it was not the client's duty to give me opportunities to hone my expertise against their inexperience. The practice of medicine does not use the language of "consultant/client" and that's for a very deeply rooted and problematic reason: namely that our medical system doesn't view doctors as consultants and patients as clients. The subjectivity/objectivity of doctor/patient is all backasswards. Patients are there for them to exercise their doctoring on. A patient who insists on viewing things differently is a difficult patient. A patient whose disease won't behave the way the doctor expects is a difficult patient. A patient who wants to make her own decisions is a difficult patient.
  • Don't listen to the patient. This is a problem with a number of facets. For example, many doctors I've encountered simply don't listen at all. They get impatient, interrupt, look away when you're talking, don't listen. (I had one doctor who stood at the door with his hand on the doorknob during our consultation. I had to call him back twice to finish telling him what was wrong.) But there are also the doctors who make a big show of having long intake interviews and long appointments, and give good bedside manner, but during that time, they're not really listening and it takes you a while to notice. (One doctor, touted as one of the best in the country, really made me feel heard during our intake interview. But when I saw his notes from that interview later, I discovered that he had actually written down the opposite of what I'd told him in the interview. He'd actually asked me yes or no questions, to which I'd answer no, and then he'd written down yes!) There are also doctors who listen to your answers to their questions, but dismiss extra things you tell them as unimportant. They determine what gets considered (by them) and what doesn't, and ignore anything outside of what they consider important. They don't trust the patient to articulate their own disease, their own experiences, and their own lives.
  • Doctor by numbers. This is an extension of not listening. I understand that doctors are trained to operate according to protocols, and that the protocols are established by numbers and probability. I get that it works, especially in triage/emergency situations, or with patients who don't have long-term chronic illnesses and are often appearing with new symptoms for the first time. I get it. But we're talking about chronic disease doctors who see their chronic patients 2-4 times per year, every year, and are supposed to be helping these patients manage lifelong, complex, and mutable diseases. Doctoring by numbers encourages doctors to stick to what's probable and expected and ignore outlying manifestations, and atypical symptoms.

    But for someone like me, whose entire life and course of disease has been atypical, this is a really dangerous way to treat a patient. I've had two doctors call me in a panic (only after taking a blood test) and refer me to another doctor because they had no idea what was going on with me, even though I'd been having weird symptoms for a while and had been asking them to work with me to figure out what was going on. (In both cases, they were simple, small things that they simply weren't trained to know about.) I've had another two doctors simply ignore a huge problem because their protocols didn't tell them how to fix it (which is how my chronic fatigue syndrome went undiagnosed for over two years.) They didn't even try to refer me to anyone else, or make any suggestions about how I could go about figuring out what was wrong. They just gave up.
  • Block communication between themselves and patients. Chronic disease docs need to be available to deal with issues as they come up. Life is lived in between appointments. Doctor's answering services (as opposed to their office staff) used to be perfectly adequate to connect doctor and patient. You left a message, they called the doc immediately and conveyed the message, the doc called you back when s/he could. Easy. I never used to have a problem talking with my doctor within 24 hours of reaching out. Nowadays, with email, docs have something even more simple (and inexpensive) patients could use to communicate directly. But now, docs aren't using either: the answering service, or the free email option.

    One doctor I've worked with used to have an email address, but then shut it down when he said that some patients were contacting him too often. Seriously, who does that? Who cuts off communications with all of his patients because one or two email him too much? (And does he not know how the delete button works?) This doc also takes a week to call back, if he calls back, and half the time, he doesn't. This issue of communication is directly related to viewing your patient as a guinea pig or a dependent rather than a client and decider. If you are a consultant, you can't consult without, you know, consulting. Consultants give their clients their phone numbers and emails. If you're a hero/fixit guy, on the other hand, you're probably thinking at some subconscious level that patients should be seen and not heard. You don't need the distraction and it only encourages them to think their thoughts and ideas and words are important.

Good Doctors:

  • View the patient as the decider. Patient as manager, patient as life-holder, patient as protagonist, patient as client, patient as employer ... what have you. Patient as the agent in the case. The (very few) good doctors I've seen have all been very laid back in the examining room. I think it's because they know it's not their life or health on the line. They're just there to give good advice to grown-ass adults who get to make their own decisions and have to bear the consequences alone. So their job is actually easier than the jobs of hero/protagonist/fixit doctors whose prestige and self-esteem are bound up in making the object/patient/grist/antagonist/disease behave according to plan.
  • Take active steps to empower patients to inform themselves. I can't tell you how important -- on many levels -- it is for a doctor to hand you an article or a slip of paper on which they've written down a book title or a website url. I can also tell you exactly how many have done so for me: two. Referring patients to outside information should be a no-brainer, but I actually think that bad doctors deliberately avoid it because they don't want to have to waste their time fielding the questions and theories that will ensue. There are a lot of other resources -- support groups, trainings, consultants, products, etc. -- that a doctor can offer or make known to you that most doctors simply don't. (In addition to the two mentioned above, only one other doc has offered any of these resources to me.) Perhaps they shouldn't be, but doctors are the primary source and clearinghouse of information and resources. We have no other. If the doctor does not act in this manner or instruct their staff to act in this manner, this service won't exist for patients.
  • Treat the patient as the decider. Some doctors will tell you that there were other choices but that they chose this for you, without explaining what the other choices were. (Yes, this has happened to me, many times.) Other doctors will only present you with one treatment option, and will only tell you there are others if you specifically ask. Most of these doctors won't, or will only reluctantly and angrily, lay out the pros and cons of each option and sit still while you consider and decide. (I once insisted on making a decision for myself and the doctor actually gave me a pamphlet and left the room to visit another patient "while I was deciding," rather than sticking around to lay it out for me and answer my questions. When he came back and found that I, inevitably, had questions, he got impatient. This was for eye surgery.) I can't stress enough that it is not the doctor's job to decide your treatment for you. The doctor has no right to do that. It's the doctor's job to enable you to make an informed decision for yourself, i.e. to consult with you, as a consultant, and lay out your options and their pros and cons. If they have to spend the whole day saying the same things over and over again to different people, well, that's their fucking job, and they get paid a mint to do it.
  • Give the patients plenty of time in appointments -- and make time for follow up phone calls. My wonderful doctor in Germany -- Professor Meissner -- typically made you wait 1-1.5 hours in his waiting room after your appointment was scheduled for. He took his last appointment at 4 pm, but people would be in his waiting room until nearly 7. And he took walk-ins every day and bumped scheduled appointments back for them. No one EVER complained, because everyone got exactly as much time as they needed with him. Sometimes it was ten minutes, sometimes half an hour. BTW, he only had office hours four days/week, like a lot of docs, but when he was there, he was completely there. He was available for phone calls but I never made them because our appointments were so thorough.
  • View disease/life management as a strategy, with tactics, and one that has to be adjusted to fit each life. I'm not sure I need to detail this. It's the opposite of doctoring by numbers. But I guess I would add that they view disease management as a subset of life, rather than something completely separate from life, or something that life interferes with and shouldn't be allowed to interfere with.
  • Ask you about your life, and follow up with detailed questions. Dr. Meissner would specifically ask, and Dr. Bohannon wouldn't ask, but would usually listen when I told her. I'd tell Dr. Meissner when I had a broken heart or when I was going on a trip, or if work was stressful or good. He always knew what was going on in my life in general (he took notes and followed up) and could ground his suggestions for management in the context of my actual life. He knew, and told me, that stress affected me physically, and that the course of my life affected how I approached my diabetes management. And his and sometimes Dr. Bohannon's suggestions for actual disease management tactics referred clearly and specifically to things I'd told them about what was going on in my life. Both of them gave me the party line about what I should be doing, according to protocol, but both listened when I said I wouldn't or couldn't do that, and helped me come up with compromises or alternative tactics to adjust to my actual life.
  • Listen to you and think about the things that you consider important. A good doctor will realize -- and actually tell you -- that you know your body best. A good doctor will empower you to think and talk about what's happening to you and to use their knowledge to improve your own knowledge and understanding. Dr. Meissner took my every idea and thought seriously, even if some of those were quite ridiculous. When he didn't have an answer, he'd say so, and say he'd think about it. And he proved that he had by coming back to me in a later visit with an answer or a study or a suggestion. If I said something silly, he'd explain to me why it wasn't quite right. Dr. Bohannon often snorted or dismissed my silly ideas, but she just as often walked me through the why. Frankly, the bedside manner is a lot less important than the substance. Even brittle, querulous patients can tell when they're being respected and when they're not.
  • Read and study and keep up with the field, and parallel tracks and make this knowledge available to their patients. Dr. Meissner was the head of the national diabetes association. Dr. Bohannon was heavily involved in research. Not every doctor can, or wants to, do this. But I think reading medical journals is less taxing and time-consuming anyway. Why aren't more doctors doing the reading? And if they are, why isn't the reading making it into their practice and their discussions with patients? Most doctors I've seen, you wouldn't even know if they were literate, because there was no evidence that they ever read anything (including your chart.) And it's not just their specialty, and not just medical journals. I've been given articles from mainstream magazines (because they're easier for a patient to understand) and also heard advice from good doctors that was gleaned from patient anecdotes and other sources. Funny thing about docs who listen to their patients: they hear really useful and interesting things they can pass on to other patients. Dr. Meissner would come back from conferences and tell me about the sessions he'd attended and what the takeaway was. Dr. Bohannon talked about what research was currently happening and what the implications of that research could be. They gave me ideas. They gave me grist.
  • Have a "let's find out" attitude. Yeah, one doctor can't know everything. And if your symptoms are atypical (as mine often are) they could mean anything. I get it. But there's a difference between your admission of ignorance causing you to shrug and look away, and your ignorance inspiring you to find the fuck out what's going on. A chronic illness practice like endocrinology is going to have a lot of daily management of disease issues, where the doc has to help the patient adjust a standardized treatment protocol to fit their life. But it's also going to have some of the special issues that are individual and unexpected -- sudden illnesses or creeping symptoms that puzzle both patient and doctor. And these things are often easily diagnosed wrong. I've recently had a lot of experience with docs easily diagnosing something weird that's wrong with me, only to discover later that they were wrong. It's at that "you were wrong" moment that the true quality of a doc comes out. Do they shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know what to tell you," or do they frown and say, "Hm, let's figure this out"? I can tell you right now which type of doc is the one who's actually going to be of help to you.

Okay, I know that Dr. Meissner operated in 90s Germany, where every individual was required to have health insurance, and there was a national insurance plan, government subsidized, that paid for everything: dental, eye, appointments, prescriptions -- everything. I know he had hella leeway and he fully took advantage of it. BUT. All of the other doctors I saw in Germany (and I saw a lot of them; the insurance allowed me to see as many docs as I wanted, for free, and I took hella advantage) were bad or mediocre doctors. Oh, I could tell you some horror stories. Point is: a good socialized medicine can make it easier for a doc to practice good doctorin', but it's not socialized medicine that makes a good doc. It's good doctorin' that makes a good doc.

One small note, and I know they've done studies on this and the majority feel the opposite of how I do, but: in Germany, doctors call the patients Mr. or Ms. Lastname. Here, until the last five or six years, my doctors have all been older than I am, so being called "Claire" by someone whom I address as Dr. Lastname isn't quite so outrageous. But now that I'm starting to see doctors my age or younger, the relationship implied in that naming inequality is starting to chafe. I'm the fucking client. I'm the employer. Either they give me their first name or they give me equal formality. Who do they fucking think they are?

April 16, 2013

Reading Update: Graphic Nobbels

  1. Secret Identity Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen  
  2. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross

These two were cool to read together, because they're two takes on the same theme: real people who are connected to popular and powerful fictional characters. But one has no edge, and the other, part of a long series, has the capacity to spin completely out of control.

SPOILERS FOLLOW: Secret Identity follows a boy from Kansas named Clark Kent through his lifetime. He was named "Clark" as a joke -- because his family name is Kent and they live in rural Kansas. He turns out to be a literary nerd who is bullied for his name. When he's thirteen, though, he disc0vers that he suddenly has superpowers like Superman's. His main issue is feeling alone and keeping his secret from his family. He uses his powers and is burned by a woman journalist who creates a disaster to out him. So he goes underground.

Later, when moves to NYC and works for the New Yorker, he is set up (as a joke) with a woman named Lois and they hit it off. During this time, he is briefly captured by the government, who puts him in a lab for testing. He escapes when he realizes they plan to dissect him, and finds the dead bodies of other test subjects, including children and babies. He finally shares with Lois his powers and the fact that he's been using them secretly, and somehow she doesn't have a problem with it.

From this point on in the story, his main conflict is his fear of the government and the media and how their fear of him will cause them to harm him or his family. But he handles it and, for the second half of the book, it isn't really a problem. The story mirrors the maturation of an individual -- his developing sense of self and increasing ability to handle the problems contingent upon every life and the problems specific to each individual's path. And it's true that people get more able as they get older. But it's also true that they get more infirm, lose attractiveness, attention, and respect, and find that some of their personal problems are intractable, and this never shows up in this novel. It's a friendly read, and nice, but it's not very suspenseful or exciting, because all problems are easily overcome and half of them are in the hero's head anyway. And many opportunities to explore the irony of the situation are completely missed.

The Unwritten is an ongoing series about Tom Taylor, the son of the writer of a Harry Potter-esque series of children's wizard novels featuring Tommy Taylor, a character based on him. His father disappears when he is a boy, leaving him with no access to his father's fortune, so he makes his living on the con circuit, signing books and being generally accessible to the public. Then, through a complex series of incidents, he runs afoul of a shadowy organization that appears to be controlling the collective unconscious by promoting the fictional narratives of writers whose written content they direct. (Like Rudyard Kipling, natch.)

The premise of this series is much more fascinating and rich than Secret Identity, and the movement of the plot is more twisty and complex, featuring stories from different points of view and different protagonists. There are also a LOT more characters. But it alreadys shows the capacity to get too twisty, so I hope it tones down in future installments. But it's terrific so far! I don't have much to say about this yet, because the first book doesn't get far enough into the story to evaluate said story. It's just the pilot, so to speak. But more to come.

April 03, 2013

Reading Update: Unholy Mess

Okay, I haven't done a reading update at all this year, I think. I'm still doing a lot of re-reading, especially since so many latest installments of my UF series have been coming out and with my CFS memory, I have to reread previous books. So I'm going to leave re-reads out. Here's what I've got so far:

  1. Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
  2. When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
  3. Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
  4. Safe House Meg Cabot
  5. Sanctuary Meg Cabot
  6. 1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
  7. Prophecy Ellen Oh
  8. The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
  9. Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
  10. Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
  11. Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
  12. Altered Jennifer Rush
  13. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
  14. Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn

All UF and YA. I love Meg Cabot series, even though they're pretty lightweight. The Ellen Oh book is a promising new series set in an alternate historical Korea. Altered looks like the first of a series. Not bad, rather fun, but with a bit of an I Am Number Four hit. The Rae Carson is the second in the series, and not nearly as fundie-esque, thank oG. And The Love Song of Jonny Valentine got a review in the NYT Book Review, even though it really should be very good YA. A little too lite for adult fiction, a little too despairing for YA. Everything else is updates of UF series.

I also spent some time in February doing some research reading for my own (stalled, of course) UF series. I'll list the titles here, but none of them were read to the end.

  • Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folklore and History Daniel G. Brinton
  • Journey to the West Wu Cheng'en
  • Various papers I won't detail here cuz I'm bored.

Okay, I'm done with this post.

March 18, 2013

Today's Mantra: It Does Not Help

It does not help to beat myself up for having no energy today, although I "feel fine."

It does not help to wonder if I just got up and put on street clothes would I feel differently.

It does not help to wonder if I'm just being lazy.

It does not help to reflect on how "curious" it is that sometimes "fatigue" means nothing more than a complete lack of will, and all the while secretly think that it's a cover for laziness. (Isn't it?)

It does not help to force myself into the presence of others when I'm in a "bad mood," thinking that I should just "get over myself."

It does not help to know intellectually that a "bad mood" means I'm tired today, but not to act appropriately on that knowledge.

It does not help to behave as if I'm not sick.

It does not help to be stoic. I do not have the energy to be stoic.

It does not help to second guess the decisions I make about being tired. I know when I have energy, and I equally know when I don't.

It does not help to waste time and brain space "regretting" that this time in my life is wasted. I have nothing to regret. I haven't done anything wrong. This is just a more subtle way of calling myself lazy.

It does not help to feel badly about not writing today, this week, this month. I do what I can.

It does not help to think that this is not who I am, really. This is really who I am, now. I am not my disease, but I am my responses to it, among other things.

... and yes, I am acting, slowly, on things that might help. Suggestions, and especially referrals, would help.

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

February 22, 2013

There ARE Second Acts in American Blog Posts

It seems my "damned if you do, damned if you don't" post about white writers writing about POC has been Tumblred and hit some sort of critical mass. It even reached people I know who missed it the first time around. Someone even emailed me today for permission to use it in a presentation. (The same day I deleted a comment calling it "reverse racist." I don't allow that term to be used on my blog.)

So I went to the original Tumblr post and read through all the comments (I still don't get Tumblr. Why make it so difficult to see people's responses?) and I find I have a couple more things to say.

  1. This is a "shut up and deal with it" post. It's not a post telling you what or what not to do with your life. It's a post telling white writers who have been fortunate enough to complete a book, find a publisher, find an audience, and have a public discussion happen about their work to "shut up and deal with the negative criticism in the midst of your good fortune." Shut up and deal with it.
  2. Dude, you don't know any of these people who might be criticizing you. Why would you let my saying that a few nameless, faceless (literally, this is the internet) POC will criticize you stop you from doing anything?

...

Yeah, that's pretty much all I had to say. Beyond that, whoever doesn't get it, doesn't get it. Maybe someday they will.

Also, here's a good rephrasing.

And here's a moment of perspective.

And, if anyone was wondering, here's an ideal response from a white writer.

February 15, 2013

CFS Info Gathering

I've been trying to read what I can about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome online but when I google the words, I get a lot of Mayo Clinic and WebMD stuff. Unfortunately, those medical sites only post what can be substantiated by studies, so the nuance is missing. Also, they only use scientific language, so you might not be able to recognize your symptoms.

It wasn't until I googled one symptom "post-exertional malaise" for my last post that I found a series of articles on About.com by a woman with CFS and Fybromyalgia (they often go together, although I only have the one), which is well-written, easy to understand, and describes what I have in a way I recognize. Finally!

Here's the finale from her article "Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Simple Explanation."

Chronic fatigue syndrome can take someone who is educated, ambitious, hardworking and tireless, and rob them of their ability to work, clean house, exercise, think clearly and ever feel awake or healthy.

  • It's NOT psychological "burn out" or depression.
  • It's NOT laziness.
  • It's NOT whining or malingering.
  • It IS the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and the brain that's hard to understand, difficult to treat, and, so far, impossible to cure.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious, life-altering, frustrating, often misunderstood illness. What people with ME/CFS need most of all from those around them is emotional support and understanding.

Exactly. That's what I keep trying to tell the new folks at KSW (where I worked/work on the board). I think they get it, but it's really hard to be getting to know new people when I'm like this. I feel like I'm coming across as moody, whiny, difficult, flaky, etc.

I was always "difficult," but I used to be more energetic than everyone else, passionate, dedicated, able, profoundly competent. I used to be the one who picked up everyone else's slack.

It's possible now that no one new will ever see me this way again.

February 14, 2013

Post-exertional Malaise

It's one of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and it basically means that after you exert yourself, you have a CFS flare-up -- a symptom flare-up. For me, it means getting really tired, or just getting really no-energy.

I had a really good three days the past three days. I got up at a reasonable hour, without too much dragging, made myself breakfast, did yoga, went out to a cafe or, on one day, the library, to do research/writing on my UF novel, walked there and back, made myself dinner, and stayed within my calorie limit (I'm trying to not gain any more weight.)

Today started out the same: reasonable get-up, breakfast, yoga, shower ... and then, yeah, I trailed off. I kept trying to get myself ready to go to the cafe and write some more. The cafe has good salads and that was going to be my lunch, and I sat at the internet and surfed and got hungrier and hungrier. But as I got hungrier, I also got more tired ... until I finally realized that I was having the latter half of a bad day. I considered making lunch but realized I was too tired, so I went to the Mexican place two blocks away, doing the CFS shuffle the whole way.

The CFS shuffle makes me look (in my imagination, I don't really know how I look) like a junkie on the nod trying to walk down the street. Have you ever seen that? Where they're so high they can barely put a foot in front of the other? That's me on a bad day. I'm walking, and my brain is going at close to normal speed, so I can tell that I'm moving too slowly, but I simply can't make my legs move faster.

Usually post-exertional malaise happens pretty soon after exertion. (And it's all exertion, not just physical. Having a two-hour meeting can knock me out for the rest of the day as well. So can having dinner with friends, or writing intently for a few hours.) Generally, the malaise comes because I've used up all my energy with the exertion.

But this time, it seems I'm PEMing for the past three days all at once. Interesting.

Also! I found this article from a lupus sufferer that explains how you have to get through your day when your energy is limited. It's called The Spoon Theory. From a website called "But You Don't Look Sick.com" Indeed.

February 08, 2013

"Smash," Sexism, and Prejudice

I've been watching the TV show Smash and, although it's really not a big issues show, the latest episode this week -- which features sexual harrassment heavily in the plot -- got me thinking a lot about prejudice.

Smash is a musical drama about a broadway show. Yeah, it's the about the show and everything that goes into making a show, from the creative team coming up with the idea for a musical, through writing it, finding a producer, finding funding, casting, rehearsals, etc.

SPOILERS FOLLOW: The first season got the show -- a bio-musical about Marilyn Monroe called Bombshell -- through its initial run in Boston. Along the way, the two actresses competing for the lead succeed in destroying each others' relationships (and pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone involved as well.)

The director of the show, Derek, initially makes a pass at one of the rivals, the ingenue Karen, during the drawn out casting process. He invites her to a late night audition at his apartment, tells her she needs to be sexier, and then sits on the couch while she gives him what is essentially a lapdance, while "doing" Marilyn. Then she leaves and goes home to her boyfriend. (When the boyfriend finds out about this later, he punches Derek out.)

Then Derek makes a more direct pass at the other rival, the experienced Ivy, and she not only goes for it, but they end up in a serious relationship, where the "L" word gets used.

Throughout most of the season, both characters are up for the role. First one gets chosen, then the other, then a Hollywood actress who can't sing gets cast for a while (and has an affair with Derek while she's doing it, putting a strain on his relationship with Ivy,) then they're both being considered again. Roller coaster. Finally, Derek makes the call and he chooses Karen, i.e. NOT his serious girlfriend.

The second season starts with the reviews coming in and the show getting ready to make its first run on Broadway. But everything is going wrong: the producer is accused of using mob money, the librettist's marriage is falling apart, and ... dunh dunh duuuuuuunnnh ... the Hollywood actress accuses Derek of sexual harrassment.

And this is where things get interesting. In the second episode, apparently emboldened by the Hollywood actress's accusation, six chorus girls from other shows that Derek has done come forward and accuse him of sexual harrassment as well. In many other shows, this would be presented as just another trial of Job to be heaped onto Bombshell, i.e., not something worth exploring for its own sake. And I never would have suspected Smash of having the heart or intelligence to make something more out of this.

But then we get this scene (s2, ep2, starts at 11:20 in the video above) in which Derek seeks out and confronts one of his accusers, a chorus girl named Daisy. He mansplains to her that she doesn't understand the term "sexual harrasment" and says he never touched her. She counters that she never said he did, and then outlines exactly what he DID do, which was hit on her through four callbacks and then refuse to cast her after she definitively turned him down. He insults her talent and says that's why he didn't cast her. Then this:

Derek: Since when is it harrassment to ask someone out on a date?

Daisy: You don't get it. You're a big-shot director. You're in a position of power from the minute you wake up in the morning, and you don't treat that power with respect. Or did you really think women say yes because they actually like you?

Being a decent show and not a great show, Smash goes on to blunt this incredible scene with a cheap musical number ("Would I Lie to You") in which Derek gets pushed around by a bunch of  chorus girls, plus Karen and Ivy, dressed identically:

Although the identically dressed girls could be said to be a comment on Derek's view of women, it looks too much like that's actually the show's viewpoint (and not just Derek's) for that point to come across. It looks too much like this:



So there's that. There's also the rest of the episode, which has Ivy letting a mopey Derek off the hook. But just for a moment, the show's understanding of the world and one of its characters opens up, and you get to see some of the underlying dynamics of this world, and how this fictional world connects to the real one:

  • The Hollywood actress is actually lying. Her sexual relationship with Derek was entirely consensual and welcome, and, in fact, she had the power there, because her star power got her a role that Derek didn't want to give her. In fact, his affair with her was partly intended to boost her confidence so she could sing better, i.e. he was "servicing" her. (Of course he was also just dogging and star-fucking.) Her accusation was made so that she could save face. She quit the show because she couldn't sing, and she wanted to quell the rumors.
  • Even though she nominally has the power, because she's a woman and he's a man, his opinion of her abilities is still important and still has power over her. Note that her attack on him was, in essence, for her to take on the role of victim.
  • This is a common (and largely unwarranted) fear of women: that women will take power over men by falsely accusing them of exercising their power.
  • The show is just good enough that it can't quite make itself depict the Hollywood actress "playing the harrassment card." That whole thing happens offscreen, frankly because we wouldn't believe it if they put it onscreen.
  • Derek is a huge sexual harrasser, although clearly not a sexual assaulter, and his power has prevented anyone from stepping forward before.
  • The Hollywood actress's accusation, although false, is what finally allows Derek's real victims to come forward, because sexual harrassment is entirely about power: who has it and who doesn't. Only the powerful Hollywood actress can make such an accusation without negative repercussions, and the chorus girls require the shelter of her power to do the same.
  • Since the real accusations are enabled by the false one, this lets Derek off the hook in his own mind; the real accusations are just copy-cats of the false one, and equally false.
  • Until Daisy breaks it down for Derek, he genuinely doesn't understand what sexual harrassment is, and genuinely doesn't believe he's doing it. When she says "you didn't really believe all those women liked you?" the look on his face says it all: yes, he did really believe all those women liked him. He really didn't have a clue that it's his power, and not his attractiveness, that makes the women accessible to him. It's equally never occurred to him that his relationships have all been with women who want something that he has the power to give or withhold.

I think it was this last one that really opened something up for me. Yes, it was fiction, but it felt real; rang true, as they say. It was that Derek genuinely believed that he wasn't doing anything wrong that got to me. Because, when it comes to -isms, I always tend to look at things from the oppressed pov, and not from the -ist pov. Or at least to try to.

I understand that privileged white people think that they have a right to a spot in a university that a person of color got "through affirmative action." But I always thought that that was more about the white person thinking that POC can't possibly "deserve" a spot in a university. It had never really gotten through to me that white people think that they DO deserve the spot, have earned it, etc. Although I never thought it through in those terms, I might have thought that, were there no affirmative action, the same white complainer wouldn't complain about not getting into the school of their choice because "their" spot went to another white person. But now I'm wondering if the white complainers wouldn't complain anyway, find other reasons why they were denied their just deserts.

Now, obviously, privilege requires a lack of privilege to be privilege. If there's no lack of privilege, there's no privilege. But privilege is self-referential. It bounces off the Other, but doesn't refer to the Other.

Without the power differential, Derek wouldn't have all these willing chorus girls for his bed. And without all the willing chorus girls, he wouldn't have learned to think so well of his attractiveness. But his view of sexual dynamics is entirely self referential: girls say yes because he's attractive, not because they're afraid to say no. The latter conclusion requires you to refer to the other person, to be aware that the other person has needs and fears and other mechanics. The former conclusion is all about you.

Which leads me to clarifying for myself that prejudice is not just -- and in many cases not even primarily -- prejudice against someone, but rather prejudice for oneself, and by extension, one's own group. This should be obvious, but I've never seen anyone break it down this way (I'm sure others have, I just haven't seen it.) In antiracism we focus so much on the prejudice against, that we never end up talking about the prejudice for. But prejudice for is much more prevalent in the world, simply because the people with the power still control the media, the narrative, and the world's voice.

And this might be why the antiracism/feminist/lgbt/intergenerational/body-positive messages are so often ineffectual: because most people genuinely don't recognize that being prejudiced in favor of you and yours necessarily means that you're prejudiced against others.

That's the end of this thought for now, but I might have more to say about this in the future. Still processing.

January 23, 2013

When Is the World Unfair to You?

I had a strange and unusual thought yesterday: this whole dizziness thing is unfair.

It's strange because I've been sick for three years and have, bit by bit, been losing my physical conditioning, cognitive ability, ability to work, relationships, and pretty much everything I value about myself or my life. But I guess because it's all been bit by bit, at no point have I stopped and thought: wow, this is unfair.

But yesterday I thought that the dizziness was unfair. ... not on a global scale; nor even on a personal global scale; but rather with reference to the fact that it came now, in January, a couple of weeks after my expected CFS "remission" finally came, and three or four months late at that. I finally was getting some relief -- some energy, some ability back -- only to have it swatted away by the worst symptom of all the symptoms I've had in the past three years: vertigo.

It's funny that that seems unfair to me, but nothing else has struck me as particularly unfair in all of this.

Of course, I've always -- well, always in my adult life -- been aware that all my privileges in this world are unfair in the other direction. Surprisingly, I've never been harshly bothered by unfairness that benefits me (/sarcasm.) I have been struck now and again -- and increasingly as I get older and more aware that I'm not the center of the universe -- by how unfair things are for other people. Maybe that's why I don't usually think "unfair!" about myself.

But I don't think it's because I'm used to thinking of myself as privileged. I just don't think about things with regard to myself as fair or unfair. They just are. I've been sick all my life but it hasn't been enough of an inconvenience to prevent me from doing the things I want to do, so I don't think of my illnesses as unfair. I think it also has to do with the fact that I've never thought about my illness -- or my body for that matter -- as separate from some essential me.

Or maybe I'm wrong. I can't think too well right now because I'm dizzy. :P

Whatever the reason, thinking about the world being unfair to me is a strange and unusual thought for me. I wonder how many people out there genuinely think "unfair!" about their personal circumstances with any regularity.

January 20, 2013

Dizzy Broad

So I promised to post at least weekly and today's the day or I'll have failed in my resolution while still in January.

And I was really feeling better this month, for a whole three weeks or so, but then I got dizzy a couple of days ago. Sigh. That's what my life has been for the past three years: a few good days, followed by weirdness and scaryness. Or scariness.

I've been dizzy before: three times in fact. The dizziness is one of the things that really made me completely consciously aware of how doctors work: according to protocols mostly, and not by really paying attention to patients and taking cases each one at a time. I had the same kind of dizziness (mosty "lightheadedness" not spinning) three times, and each time I got a different diagnosis. Well, the first time it was a virus, and the second time BPPV. The third time I self-diagnosed it as allergies when the BPPV exercises didn't work.

This time, it's spinning, as well as lightheadedness. And it's worse all around. I have the lightheadedness a lot more, PLUS spinning when I tilt my head in particular ways. It might even be allergies, since my nose is a little bit, a tiny bit, runny. But that's it.

Anyway, this isn't very interesting, even to me, but it also does kind of fill my attention and leave room for nothing else. I think I'm gonna go do something. Maybe if I get outside I'll feel better.

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.

The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...

January 12, 2013

Nothin' To Do No One To Do It With

There's a funny interaction between having nothing to do and having no energy to do it with. It's Saturday night and I have nothing to do and nowhere to go because I've had chronic fatigue syndrome for three years and can't reliably go out and be with people. So I've stopped looking for things to do, staying on mailing lists, exporting evites and checking my FB events, and making dates with friends and dates.

There's a feeling of relief when I survey the night and realize it's Saturday and I have nothing to do and no one to do it with. I'm not sure if the relief is that I have nothing to do because I wouldn't have the energy to do it if I did and then I'd feel like I was missing out ... or if I'm relieved that I don't have the energy or desire to do anything because I wouldn't have anything to do or anyone to do it with if I did. Not sure it matters.

How do you maintain friendships when you can't do anything social?

I'm thinking about this because I'm feeling better and actually have a little bit of energy right now. I could:

  • MAYBE go to the gym for 25 min.
  • do some yoga at home
  • go out for something specific: a movie or theater show, if it was nearby or somebody picked me up
  • spend 30-60 min at a party if I could get home again right away afterwards

But just thinking about doing any of this (except the yoga) makes me tired. It would have had to be planned ahead of time. And I don't need to do anything. There's a kind of satisfactory balance to this, that's the only kind of satisfaction you can get from this illness.

Part of me dreads getting better, because when my will and desires come back with my energy (if they ever do), having nothing to do on a Saturday night will drive me crazy.

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view.

And then, this:

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

And this:

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.

But then, this:

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

"There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.

Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.

But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat."

From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

January 08, 2013

How to Stay in Touch with Friends When Sick?

Just had brunch with Praba this morning (at Brown Sugar Kitchen!) and it was the first time in a minute that I'd seen her. That's the suckiest thing about being sick: you don't have the energy to keep up with friends. And with Praba dealing with health issues too, it's even harder for us to keep up. (Although, I have to say, we keep up better than some well friends I know ...)

So we talked about how to maintain -- health, sanity, relationships -- and I told her about how I've been considering lately how to reach out to my friends in a way that actually works for me in this illness.

The first thing is to let everyone know that I'm sick and what the sickness is. What it does to me.

Then I have to figure out what kind of interaction I want with my friends. This is the big problem. Because I lose touch with people precisely because I don't have the energy to talk on the phone, or email, much less meet with them. I want to let my friends know that I need them to take responsibility for contacting me regularly, because I can't be relied upon to do that. But I'm not sure how capable I'm going to be of responding to their contacts.

Sigh. It's confusing. And difficult.

Anyone have any thoughts?

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