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16 posts from June 2006

June 29, 2006

Just Happening

Today marks the 10,000th time I've seen the phrase "just happens to be black" in print, so it's time for a celebration!

Yay white liberals who actually think that some people---you know, the ones who don't make trouble---can just happen to be black, while impenitent others insist on making their race an issue! (Did they laboriously become black, rather than just happening? Never mind! Yay!)

Yay this world, in which people just happen to be born, through no action of their parents, no pressure or support from their communities, no models of behavior or expections or opportunities made or opportunities withheld in the society that rules them!

Yay this country, where race is only skin color, which just happens, and doesn't actually mean anything, and doesn't usually come attached to culture, or values, or mores, or norms.

Yay the token black people in the political administrations, or in the offices, or in the schools, who just happen to be there, through no effort on the part of affirmative action recruitment, which is belabored, reverse-racist, and doesn't just happen!

Yay the police who just happen to stop more, and the taxi drivers who just happen to stop less, for black people, since it clearly all balances out in the matter of transportation!

Yay the people stranded without rides on the Gulf coast, who just happened to be predominantly black! And while we're at it, yay the laws that allow these same black people to work without identification, that just happen to benefit undocumented immigrants, and also just happen to permit a dip below minimum wage!

Yay an administration that just happened to contain two black cabinent members, and just happened to draw its mandate from an election rigged by just happening to exclude black voters to a degree not seen since the Wilson administration!

Yay the confusion of racism, that causes white liberal commentators and critics to just happen to primarily battle each other!

Yay the white entitlement that makes poc views on racism just happen to be irrelevant! Unless of course, it supports what white people already think! Which it never does! Unless you're Ward Connerly!

Yay the conditional acceptance of so many people who just happen to be white!

I just happened, too! Yay me!

June 28, 2006

Living With My Parents

It is June, and therefore the third month of my staying with my parents, with no end in sight. Therefore, I think I can safely be said to be "living with my parents", yes, that self-accusation, that self-evident sentence of blight.

Anyway, an observation, for you teenagers out there: while my parents no longer (much) insist upon my telling them where I'm going (mainly because I go nowhere but upstairs to my computer) (although occasionally, when I get up to go upstairs my Dad will demand, suspiciously, an accounting, which I am teenagorially reluctant to give, unless I'm going to pee, in which case I will just say so), they yell up the stairs to me throughout the day reports of what they're doing. Frex: my Dad just called up to me that he is taking a nap. While this may seem to be a superfluous bit of information, in reality this is mainly done to affect my behavior: for the next hour, I am not to go yelling through the house for my Dad.

This was for the teenies because it goes both ways, kids. It's not just about controlling you or being annoying. It's about controlling you and being annoying in two directions.

June 24, 2006

Reading List

I'm just posting this so I don't lose the link. About half of these books are actually books I've kinda been wanting to read.

And for the record: Phillip Roth was one of my formative influences, especially that part in the Zuckerman Bound trilogy (don't remember which book), where Zuckerman discovers that Anne Frank is alive and well, and fornicating with an old literary fart in Connecticut.

June 22, 2006

Deadlining

Gwenda has just reported setting a deadline for herself on her novel. This is a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?

So here goes, public commitment. (Not that that is binding or anything, just look at my public commitment to write all those posts about hybridity, none of which are yet writtttten.)

By August 31, 2006 I will have:

1. completed all the squibbling little meat packets I didn't complete in the first draft (if that made no sense to you, it did to me, so don't worry.)
2. outlined/storyboarded and rearranged to my satisfaction the whole plot, details and all, according to my current understanding of what needs rearrangement (that is to say, by the time Aug. 31 rolls around, I'm sure I'll have a whole list of things that need further rearranging or rewriting)
3. followed up outline/rearrangement in the actual text of the draft so that the whole MS is rearranged and smoothed out
4. resolved my entire list of "notes", i.e. small details to take care of "later"
5. completed my research as I understand it now ... finally

And that will be draft 2!

I'm further committing myself to, by December 31, 2006:

1. completing Draft 3, whatever that will be
2. preparing a book submission, which I will put on a pdf and make available to you all here
3. preparing a list of publishers and agents
4. sending out said submission to said list of publishers and agents

...

Yeah, right.

June 20, 2006

SciTalk

I thought I had posted about SciTalk a long time ago, when I first discovered it (through an email from some genius), but I'm guessing now that I didn't, since I can't seem to find it on my blog.

SciTalk is a lovely lovely website, somewhat like an online dating website ;), designed to hook writers up with scientists. Yes! You heard right! Writers and scientists! Together again!

Scientists need to show writers — poets, playwrights, novelists – the wealth of possibilities that are opened up to fiction by using science and scientists in their work. Just as a novel with an accountant as a main character need not be about accountancy, a novel with a scientist need not be about science. Scientists need writers to show that they are 'normal people' from all backgrounds, with normal concerns.

SciTalk offers a way for scientists to communicate their expertise and their enthusiasm to writers, and a way for writers to find out about science and how scientists ‘work’ — through personal contact and meeting face-to-face, not just by email or phone.

Writers: you need no longer fear the apparent mystique and impenetrability of science, or worry about getting facts wrong, or having to resort to the scientist as cliché for a character. As you will discover here, there are scientists for every occasion, for every character. Science is individual or collaborative; scientists may be based in a laboratory or an office or a tent out in the wilds. The language and jargon can be exciting; the images are extraordinary; and the workplaces offer a wealth of different settings and scenarios.

Ideally, the organizers want the Ws and Ss to meet in person, but for those of us who want to do this cross-Atlantically, that's okay too (there's always iChat if you can't afford the phone bills.) I found a lovely Mars biologist who's been very helpful (Hi Lewis!) and a geologist for a quickie (just a simple question on where to look on Mars for gold.)

With all the research dollars here in the States, you'd think someone here would have come up with something like this before now, but no. Leave it to the Brits.

I just returned to SciTalk today to see if I could finally get an answer to a niggling question/detail in the nobble which has never been satisfactorily laid to rest. Will see if I get a response from the woman I emailed. Very excited!

By the way, folks, scientists from all over the world can register at this site and any writers with internet access can access them. Get on it!

June 19, 2006

Bad Poetry

... [it] as a rule, isn't poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry. ... [it] tends to be anecdotal, wistful: more often than not a middle-aged creative writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside — watching the geese head south, getting lost in the woods, this sort of thing.

John Ash, writing of the brilliant, fellow English poet Roy Fisher, speaks of Fisher's "rage, his refusal to be politely depressed." There is a virulent strain of the "politely depressed" in American poetry. There are other, equally obnoxious and resistant strains, but the "politely depressed" is a pertinacious little bugger ...

August Kleinzahler, complaining about Garrison Keillor's taste in poetry, hits the nail on the head about why I stopped reading poetry after college. Wistful melancholy is impressive in its first 500 iterations, but after that, you kinda need something new.

June 17, 2006

Children's Letters

Found a nifty thing today, doin' online research.

I was looking for letters from children to serve as models. One of my main correspondents in the nobble is a boy of 11 at the beginning of the book -- by the end he has turned 14. (Yes, Chinaman Treetops is epistolary. It's an epistolary fin de siécle feng shui novel on Mars.) I keep feeling that the bad spelling/writing skills I give him are stereotypical and I need models of children's writing from age 10 to 15 to see what the range of language acquisition is. This is a really smart kid, but one very sheltered from the world and with few educational resources.

Anyway, extensive google searching only turned up a limited archive of begging letters kids in the Great Depression sent to Eleanor Roosevelt (some of them very sad) asking for clothing or money or other things, and this archive of facsimiles of letters by children in Badsey, Worcestershire in the 1930s.

In April 1933, Mr Frank Amos, Headmaster of Badsey Council School, asked his students to write to Sir John Russell, of Rothamsted Experimental Station, in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, describing their life in a market gardening district. Whether Russell contacted the school for information, or whether Amos initiated contact is not known. Copies of the letters are deposited in the Worcestershire Record Office, with a title, "Letters written by local rural school children in the Vale of Evesham to Sir John Russell (Rothamsted); the letters relate to the children’s life in agriculture and market gardening." The vast majority of the letters are by Badsey pupils, though a few are from a school in Pershore. They provide a remarkable insight of life in market gardening families of nearly 70 years ago.

It's about 30 years too late, and the wrong idiom to boot, but what a find! The kids range in age from 8 to 13 (perfect), and the letters are deliberately expository, describing their lives for an adult stranger unfamiliar with such (my child, Tommy, is writing letters about his life back home to his aunt on Earth). And since they're facsimiles of the letters, you can see their very neat penmanship. (The nobble's conceit is that it is an edited transcription of a photographic archive of letters from the Martian Colony.) Anyhoo, more time wasting happ'nin' here.

June 16, 2006

Sin Fronteras

My friend, radio producer and sound artist Robynn Takayama reveals the hidden cultural connection between Yugoslavia and Mexican music in her podcast on Latino American punk rock band La Plebe.

La Plebe turned down an opportunity to tour Western Europe so that they could go to the Balkans and spread friendship (and also investigate Yu Mex music, the result of Yugoslavian communist dictator Tito's break with the USSR, which necessitated Yugoslavia importing culture from elsewhere -- primarily the Mexico of "permanent revolution" rhetoric.)

Robynn's podcast is good listening for its own sake and for the interest of the story. It's also a perfect example of hopelessly tangled 21st century hybridity, with its Mexican Americans (calling their tour "Sin Fronteras") playing gigs with Balkan "Gypsy" Americans before heading off to Bulgaria to practice their bribing skills at the border.

You can get a little bit more of the story from La Plebe's as yet minimal tour blog. (I'm hoping they'll happen upon some better writing skills as they go along, but if not, the blog also offers some more free samples of their music.)

June 15, 2006

Orifice Supplies

Okay, so I did it. I tried to look at my old outline for da nobble and nearly had a meltdown (I didn't, though. My eyes just crossed.) So I decided to write a new outline, balked (this is not as lazy as it sounds. My stolen word processing software has a glitch which makes it hard to navigate quickly between two different files) and decided that I needed to write out my outline by hand. Then it Occured To Me that I could put the "outline" on index cards instead, which would be handier, since I'm gonna rearrange a shitload of stuff. Then I went to the store, forgot to buy the index cards, and had to stop off at a grocery store with a small stationery section. Then, while selecting from the four types of index cards, my eye was caught by the post it notes instead. Agonizing decisionmaking processes later, I walked out the store with post its, posterboards, markers and tape.

I now have no further excuse not to get started today.

(BTW, did I never mention that da nobble is called "Chinaman Treetops"? Yes it is, and the title will just have to remain out of context for a while longer. Yes, there is a Chinese involved. Yes he's a man. No, there are no trees. We're on Mars.)

June 12, 2006

The Long Overdue Cultural Approprittymatationing Post

Pam, who was at Wiscon but I dint get to (finally!) meet, says almost everything about cultural approap that I would want to say, but better, as usual.

Therefore I will neglect to control myself and add a few items:

1. One thing no one wants to say, so let me be the first: yes, having been marginalized does give me privileges in this question. So there!

No I'm not gonna play duelling discomforts. Any white American man with a stutter or an empty bank account probably had a worse childhood than I, granted easily. But any white American man growing up on American soil got to see himself reflected a million-fold in the forms of family, language, and uses around him, in media, in school, and most especially in precious, precious fiction. And I, quite simply, did not. The first media creature that anyone in my neighborhood ever compared me to was the bleached blonde Chinese girlfriend in George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" video (I was fifteen). I always felt a great yearning toward David Carradine's character in "Kung Fu", because, until the last ten years or so, he was the only Eurasian media character I ever saw. They wouldn't even let me have him, though: I was too foreign, and waaay too uncool.

Some of the best storybooks I read as a child -- Mulan and bandit stories, bilingual comic book versions of "Journey to the West" -- were things I couldn't share with friends. They wouldn't have been interested in an immortal monkey when there's a superman around. Plus, I didn't need to be distinguishing myself even more. I was too busy perfecting my ability to memorize song lyrics after three hearings, an ability I developed to make up for my inability to pick out slang and idioms from the rock-star-slurred lyrics, a skill that is pretty much the last thing you pick up when learning a second language. I was too busy consciously regulating the rhythms of my speech, something my friends did without thinking; too busy covering my embarrassment when I blurted out the wrong expression and everyone, once again, laughed at me; too busy scrabbling at the gates my friends didn't even know they were keeping.

So no, you don't get to have Mulan now. Don't even try it with Monkey King. Don't show me your tai chi moves, mofo. I don't care how many semesters of Mandarin you took in college, or how many years you taught English in a little village a hundred li west of Guangzhou. I don't care that your Chinese is better than mine, or that my "familiarity" with the muddercountry is less recent than the building of skyscrapers in Shanghai. And go scrub that stupid tattoo off your arm, here's some steel wool. Yes, I am the fucking arbiter of all things Chinese, as far as you're concerned, and if I don't give you a pass, you're a fraud.

You don't get to have the whole world and my little piece of it, too.

2. Pam says:

To me, writing is three things:

Empathy
Research
Effort

and to that I'd have to add: talent

In our relentlessly middle-class way, we want everything to seem egalitarian. But everything is not equal. The one thing the Art-screamers (those who celebrate Art with great passion and ignore Responsibility) love to avoid is the thing that sheparates most of 'em from the goats. People can try, with great willingness and honesty, to be respectful of another culture in their writing, and simply fail because they don't have the talent.

Geoff Ryman creates a fictional, third-world, "other" country in Air, which succeeds because it's so damned alive, because we can almost hear the characters breathing in the next room. Someone of lesser talent could try almost the same thing and offend nearly everybody simply because their world-building and characterizations fall flat through choplessness. (And no, I ain't gonna name names.)

The POC (people of color) in this current debate are busy trying to reassure the Majority Types (lessay, "MT's"?) that no one is trying to bar anyone from the field permanently. So let me take an utterly sober moment to say that people who suck at writing should be barred from the field permanently. If you've got your little elven-sword-Bombaday formula down and you're serving the 13-year-olds and no one's getting hurt, then stick to it. If your planet-hopera has no people of tint, but you're also straight-to-mass-market and not getting reviewed, be my guest. No one cares. Find your level.

Writing the Other takes skill, sensitivity, perfect pitch, oh, and talent, and -- just as I would not entrust my tumor-riddled brain to a mediocre surgeon to learn on -- I will not entrust my precious few reading hours to a lesser talent to mangle an "other" culture. I want Geoff Ryman, Maureen McHugh, Ursula Ursula Ursula, and oG help me, before all others, I want my Octavia, Nalo and Chip.

Yes yes, everyone should have to take a Writing the Other class early on in their writing development so that they learn early that it's okay and yes there are ways to do it. Then the ones with the inner tuning forks should be petted and kicked by turns, and the ones with the tin ears ruthlessly culled. Licenses should be issued ... and denied.

3. All hair-splitting triumphalism aside, those who write without Responsibility are just plain bad writers. The best writers -- both the ones who really turn me out, and the ones consistently rewarded with Appropriate Prizes -- spend a great deal of time and skill in their works cultivating and developing their audience. They use their books to teach you how to read their books, to teach you the language they wish to use, and to bone you up on the terms of their discourse. Their books end, leaving you, not sated, but full of intelligent, knowledgeable questions, full of Things To Talk About. The best writers do not write to please -- either themselves or their audience. The best writers serve their audience -- and themselves.

Such writers can certainly be, and often are, huge, squirming assholes in person: arrogant, faithless, vindictive. On the page, though, they hold to their duty like it's sacred. Truly good writers may in interviews spout arrant hooey about the Muse and Sacred Art, but they are workhorses, yolked and patient and, between the lines, even humble for the exigencies of making their work what it needs to be. Good writers will not, just now, because of the shrieking of bloggers recently returned from Wiscon, be waking up to the problems of cultural appropriation. Because of their acknowledged and already engaged responsibility toward their work and towards their readers, they will have spent a great deal of time already working through these questions.

And it'll come out in the work, quietly, loudly ... somehow. And I will read their work with quiet satisfaction, feel my intelligence shuffle forward immeasurably ... and then turn screaming back to the cult approap debate, leaving them out of it.

Happy Loving Day!

Loving Day is a new holiday promoted by this organization to celebrate interracial relationships. Loving vs. Virginia was the historic Supreme Court case that overturned all antimiscegenation laws in the US. The date of the decision was June 12, 1967 -- that's right, less than 40 years ago, it was still illegal in 17 states to marry across racial lines.

This date is particularly meaningful to me because it was my parents' third anniversary: they got married on June 12, 1964. Also, the decision came down only a few weeks before my older sister was born. It makes a great difference to me that my parents dared to start a family before the morality of their relationship had been acknowledged by the highest court in the land ... but that my sister and I were born afterward, into a new world, as it were.

Please take some time today to think about the unjust marriage laws that are still in effect in this country, and the bigotry that is passing new unjust marriage laws as we speak. Take some time to think about the couples you know whose relationships happen across strong social dividing lines. Your friends don't need your approval today, or even your sympathy. Not today or ever. But you could give them your acknowledgement -- your recognition -- by wishing them a Happy Loving Day.

And a Happy Loving Day to you too, however you love!

June 11, 2006

Novel Drafts

Just a thought from yesterday:

My first draft was entirely to please myself; that is, to please and satisfy my sense of what the draft should become. To discover what the novel was going to be and let that become itself. Which is to say, the novel is me, a 3.5-year-long exposure snapshot of the inside of that portion of my head/soul. Something like that. I don't know. I don't know!

My second draft, so far, seems to be about taking care of a prospective audience. Not pandering to them, taking care of them. The first draft was planning the cruise to the Cape of Good Hope. So far now I'm seeing to it that the passengers aren't seasick and the shuffleboard decks are sanded. I'm building cabanas next to the pool and pointing out the schools of dolphins, and, of course, fitting the prow with steel to cut through those troublesome, unexpected mid-Atlantic ice-floes. If later on, someone comes and said they had rather we went to Greenland, or wish we'd flown instead, I'll invite them to my cabin for dinner, but no more. I'll do everything I can to make them comfortable, but if they don't want this cruise, I have some real estate to offer, right there, at the end of that short plank.

Fascinating, learning to write a novel.

(Plus, you know the cruise ship metaphor? That would have nothing to do with reading Naomi Novik. Nothing at all.)

June 10, 2006

Posts I Would Like to Write

1. Something on cultural appropriation and cultural misappropriation -- jes' 'cause. (Not that I need to. yhlee and oycester over at live journal have done a bang up job as it is.)
2. A response to Hal Duncan's post about same.
3. My central posting about hybridity , which I've put off for over a month now.
4. Something on Geoff Ryman's wonderful Air, which I just read and feel deserves a chapter in the hybridity book, not to mention the cultural appropriation discussion.
5. A raving wonderful review of Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, which is the perfect (no exaggermatation) fantasy/action/boy-and-his-dragon/bildungsroman. Just perfect: perfectly structured, perfectly written, no flaws or catches anywhere.

BUT, I cannot write any of these for the best of all possible reasons: I am actually working on my novel again. I am actually revising it. Right now. I actually got some work done on it today and plan on getting more work done on it tomorrow.

So I will write more lovely posts when I've been working for a while and need a brain break. Until then, maybe some links or something.

Sorry!

June 08, 2006

Wiscon/Trip WrapUp, Second Try

Fortunately, the virus has scrambled my brains, and memories would be fading anyway, if the virus had not scrambled my brains, so I don't really have to ...?

Sigh.

Okay, here's what I did:

1. Flew to Los Angeles for a one-day meeting of a committee to plan an Asian American book festival in L.A. next year, and also for a subsequent one-day Asian American writing conference. Fun. Lotsa talkin'.

2. Stayed in Los Angeles for the next week with friends Jose and Ana and Pato. Fun. Lotsa talkin'.

3. Went back up to San Francisco for three days for friend Kristina's show, and for friend Jaime's graduation from Berkeley and his MFA show at the Berkeley Art Museum. (I missed the graduation because of traffic.)

4. Stayed an extra day in San Francisco sleeping from exhaustion.

5. Drove back down to L.A. with Kristina and stayed with her for an additional four days, which included a STAR MAPS! tour of Beverly Hills. (We didn't see anyone famous.)

6. Flew out to Chicago, then drove up to Madison, Wisconsin for Wiscon, where I spent the next five days.

7. Drove back to Michigan (where I be now), and promptly fell ill.

Wrap-up stats:
• 10 furious, hours-long conversations with friends I haven't seen since I don't know when
• 300 furious, half-hour-to-hour-long conversations with Wiscon friends
• 4: number of times brain exploded
• 1 movie seen (X-Men 3. yuck.)
• 141 boingboing posts unread (actually, more, but I deleted a bunch without reading. Will I be a worm in my next life?)
• 33 days AWOL (counting the illness)
• 33 days' worth of novel revising undone
• 100,000 spots (I didn't count them, I was too busy being sick, but they covered my entire body)
• four cities visited
• not nearly enough alcohol imbibed
• two diseases tended, two overcome
• social life seen to, for the rest of the year

I've genuinely forgotten/lost details of what happened at Wiscon panels and such so I'll just dovetail onto other, older discussions in the succeeding post/s and chime in that way.

I'm sooo back.

June 05, 2006

Still Sick

Spots fading, thanks to steroids (yay 'roids!) but still sick. Been sleeping pretty much all day, every day. This is around the fifth day of the illness. I'm over it. It can go away any time now.

June 01, 2006

Spots

So I broke out in spots yesterday, all over my body. These are accompanied by exhaustion and muscle aches. Any ideas?

p.s. No real blogging until this is done. Going back to bed now.

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