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19 posts from July 2006

July 30, 2006

Vin Diesel Breakdancing

I'm pretty sure most of you won't care, but here's a video of a very young Vin Diesel break dancing for an instructional video.

I heart Vin!

Fad Writing and Morality

Regarding "Strunk and Light" fussiness, I do feel, strongly, that bad language affects all readers at a deep but subtle level. For early readers (and by "early, I mean both young readers and adults who haven't read very much and are therefore as susceptible as young readers to the power of written language), poor or lazy usages become elevated in their minds as "proper" or even "literary" usage, and teaches and/or confirms them in bad habits at a time when they should be learning good ones. (I think now more than ever, it's not so much an individual's lack of education that makes his/her writing bad as it is the lack of education of the bloggers and novelists s/he reads.)

More experienced readers will be more sensitive to language fads, without being at all critical about them. These will pick up on the fads even more readily and propagate them in their own speech and writing, as well as in their patronization of writers who use these faddish techniques. In fact, language-sensitive folks who collect enough faddish chops often feel empowered by their usage of faddish techniques to become writers in the first place. Their sensitivity towards the shape and sound of their own writing tells them that they are writing fashionably, which they will articulate to themselves as "beautifully". Feedback from others confirms this.

Disclaimer: this is as much, or more, self-accusation as anything else. Reading over my blog entries from a year and two years ago, I'm finding massive usage of Strunk and Light-prohibited items. I know that faddishness is a phase of adolescence, and writers have a writing adolescence they must get through as well. Pray it be short.

Unfortunately, writers themselves, who should be the most sensitive to such errors, are often the most susceptible. This is, I stronlgy believe, because of creative writing programs, which have come to substitute an MFA as a writing credential in place of long years of hard publishing experience. (This refers to me as much as most. I have one "legit" publication and an MFA. Apparently, this entitles me to teach seven writing classes.) Too often, writers receive an MFA at a still juvenile phase of their writing development (I don't think I'm a writing juvenile anymore, but if I'm wrong, who gets to debate my MFA?)

But the MFA and the finished thesis are enough for a publishing world more fixated on comforting novelty than on challenging maturity. So you have a literary world flooded by writers of all ages whose writing minds are still in teenagerhood: delighting in and flaunting linguistic fads, ignoring the style, simplicity, and elegance of maturity, some elements of which will always be of their era, and others of which are timeless.

Like teenagers who see their elders settling into a personal style of dress, these writers miss their elders' subtle, but constant, experimentation with style, structure, music, etc., and see maturity as a sort of death or "mellowing". In this description, I can see myself still; my experimentations are still fairly wild, brazen, and completely predictable., like teen piercing her nose, shaving her head, or getting a tattoo.

In the visual and time-based art world this is called "student work". Curators recognize it instantly. That phrase is a dismissal, both contemptuous and tolerant, understanding that if the artist persists with integrity, this phase will pass.

Because the elements of student work in the fine arts appear to be less easily catalogued, less easily articulated, it is, or should be, much easier in the art world to use accusations of jejunity to dismiss artwork for reasons other than immaturity---reasons such as racism or sexism, for example, work that challenges prevailing ideas too much. I said "should be" easier in art than in writing because the literary world is absolutely obsessed with formal writing education; hundreds of books are currently in print taxonomizing the crafts of fiction, poetry, memoir, playwriting, screenwriting, etc. No one should have any trouble identifying what is supposed to make up "good writing", according to the literary establishment.

My guess, from experience, however, is that no one is actually reading these books. My MFA workshops had their own vocabulary about writing, but no one actually discussed (using any vocabulary) structure/plotting, characterization, or setting. Excuse me, from my position in realizing-too-late-land, but how the fuck do you learn fiction writing without directly addressing how to plot, populate, and set your stories?

I have both a BA and an MFA in creative writing, from two of the most respected (if not competitive or revered) programs in the country (University of Arizona and San Francisco State) and I did not learn a single solid element of craft from any of the many classes and workshops I took. Everything I know about the formal craft of fiction writing comes from my own experience, books I've read (especially Goldman's Writing Down the Bones, Orwell's essays, and Delany's About Writing), watching a few of my talented classmates teach their own classes (Ali Baker in particular), and having to codify formal writing by teaching myself.

I've also had to invent my own vocabulary, because no commonly understood vocabulary exists to discuss writing in English. There's the workshop vocabulary, a variety of popular critical vocabularies, the academic vocabulary of the post-structuralist scholar and the other academic vocabulary of the obsolete (if only they would know it) New Criticism/close reading scholar. Then there's whatever you make up and use on your blog, which last one, scarily enough, is beginning to prevail.

Thus, it's not the smartest or most educated voices that are heard about writing---it's the loudest and most fashionable. In the writing world, right now, it is the teenagers who are taking over the school. The indy and online journals and blogs that tell you what to read are run by twenty-- and early thirty-somethings, those unmarried and childless souls (guilty!) who have the time to throw away unsalaried, for the love of it. Needless to say, they do not name their school of thought, nor explicate their critical sources. Good for them, and all that, but if I'm naked, I want to be led by someone who's ... well, not blind.

And our blind guides? Still, despite internet freedom and anarchy and democracy and all that, predominantly white, middle-class, straight, and, as things progress upwards, male. And the writers they are drawn to? With the exception of the always and perennial usual suspects like Zadie Smith (the Whoopi Goldberg of lit fic), Monica Ali, and um ... um ... well, with the exception of the usual, nonthreatening suspects (who are always Brits anyway), the writers they discuss are always like them: white, straight, middle class, and male in the upper parts of the parabola.

It is, in fact, easier to dismiss threateningly challenging, or merely culturally unfamiliar, writing than it is to dismiss the same qualities in visual art. The internet revolution in writing is mirrored by the street art revolution in visual art ... and so the democratizing of visual art has genuinely made it more public, whereas writing always does, and always will, have a skin around it that indifference will make the reader bounce off of. This skin around writing is what makes literary gatekeepers so important. Our contemporary lit gatekeepers are getting more and more ignorant---in fact, they seem to be getting more ignorant in indirect proportion to their decibel level.

I'm leading into all of this because these seemingly craft-related issues I'm raising here have implications for writerly integrity on many fronts: that of artistic integrity, of integrity in social responsibility and ethics, of moral integrity, and so forth.

And let me be clear here: I'm not one of those people who is going to curry favor with an American public operating on received ideas by discounting the importance of my art. Most writers---even expressly political writers---start by saying that they don't expect their novels to set the world on fire. Well, why the fuck not? Mary Shelley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Upton Sinclair, H.G. Wells, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, William S. Burroughs, and Salman Rushdie did expect it, and guess what?

In all reality, I don't expect my current nobble (may it ever be published) to set the world on fire because, although it's critical and, I hope, challenging, it doesn't address really controversial subjects, so it's not going to piss people off, or inspire them all that much, no matter how good it might be. But, not at all secretly, and not at all deep-down, I'm hoping it does just that. And my next novel? Will be written to set the world on fire. Because this writing is what I've chosen to be my life project. This is what I've been putting, and continue to put what my yoga teacher calls my "best self" into. I'm in love with my nobble, and it's not just a teenage crush. This is how I"m participating in the world, and I'm trying to do it as an adult.

If I didn't hope to, desire to, and (let's be honest), however ridiculously see the potential for me to set the world on fire with my writing ... then I wouldn't do it. Why the fuck would I give myself to something less than that? Why would I demand less of myself than that? And why would I claim the attention of an intelligent reading world with less than an attempt to engulf my world in flame, in flame?

All of which ecstasy brings us back to the issue of fad writing, writing which, Orwell tells us, obscures the meaning it appears to seek to convey. Through faddish usage, writers can express their literariness without actually having to tell a story or produce an image, or offer a rational thought. Faddish writing isn't about communication at all. It is ultimately only about the writer making him/herself look/sound good. It's disposable, despicable, immoral. Fad writing will not set the world on fire.

So I'm going to address writing fads I've been noticing the last few years in the next few posts. That is all.

July 27, 2006

Comment Rules

Since this is a small personal blog with a small readership of 99% People I Know, I hadn't thought I'd need to post rules about commenting. And I probably still don't need to. But I just deleted a comment from an angryperson offering a personal attack---not to me or to someone who commented on this blog, but to someone I quoted on the blog. Naturally, I'm not gonna allow that.

So for the sake of nipping such things in the bud, or at least having a policy on the books, here's my rules for commenting on this blog:

1. No profanity. Of course, I fucking swear all the fucking time and fucking well expect you to, too. But I won't have it used against me or any other commenters. So, officially, no profanity. I will mostly turn the other cheek.

2. No name calling. Again, I reserve the right to call names on my own damn blog. But you don't get to. I will not be turning any cheeks. Seriously. No name-calling.

3. No personal attacks. If you don't like my opinions (or someone else's, for that matter) you are welcome to debate them. You are not welcome to speculate on my appearance, question the frequency or nature of my sexual encounters, cast aspersions on my parentage or upbringing, etc, etc. Grow the fuck up.

4. No racism, sexism, classism, ageism, or any other kind of categorical prejudices about groups of people. Again, someone who comes in debating respectfully and offering thoughtful racism, sexism, etc. may very well be tolerated as a devil's advocate. Then again, I might just delete you. Anyone who doesn't come in with respect and thoughtfulness will just be deleted. Am I shutting out the things I don't wanna hear? Fuck yeah! This is my blog. I have to listen to ____ist shit out in the real world all day long. Why do I have to tolerate it, much less debate it, on my personal blog?

5. The definitions of all of the above are made at my discretion. No, I won't justify it.

***

6. I'm updating the comment rules because of stupid people. No stupid comments allowed. What's my definition of "stupid"? See number 5.

7. Comments to the effect of "I've never been here before and I won't come again, but I just had to comment here to say that you're wrong. And stupid!" will be deleted. I don't care if you disagree with me, and won't field a long column of comments to that effect, especially if your comment makes it clear that you didn't bother reading the other comments first, and especially if all your comment is about is relieving your feelings because I criticized a stupidity that you committed.

*** 12/15/07

8. It's always stupidity (someone else's) that forces me to update. Comments that are actually "viral" rants produced by the Campaign for This Candidate or the Campaign Against That Candidate will be deleted. If I become irate enough, the commenter will be banned. If I get even more irate than that, the commenter's email address will be hinted at in the comments in such a way that bots will not find it but literate readers will. DO NOT SHIT ON MY INTERNETS! Oh yeah, and please don't think that you can write your comment in such a way that I can't sniff you out. A goldfish on crack could sniff you out. That is all.

***1/22/08

9. Don't get me wrong, I'm always happy to have links to other people's blogs in my comments. Blog marketing is what it is. But if you made up a stupid comment specifically to have an excuse to link to yourself, expect to be deleted. Please at least try to read the post and make your comment relate to that post, or better yet, come here with the intention of participating in a discussion.

10. Please note (I probably should have mentioned this at the beginning) I don't always respond to comments, but that doesn't mean I don't read them. I, like many people, suffer from terminal self-consciousness, and if I can't think of something to say that doesn't make me squirm with embarrassment, I won't say anything at all. I looooove getting praise and encouragement in comments, but I have no idea how to respond to them ... so I usually don't. Likewise, a well-phrased argument that says all that needs to be said? Don't know how to respond to it, so I operate the better part of valor. Doesn't mean I think you're dumb. If I thought you were dumb, I'd delete you (see above).

***12/10/08

11. I see no reason to put up with abusive comments. So if your post is worthless enough, I WON'T delete it. Instead, I'll just post your IP address underneath your comment. I consider this fair warning.

***10/25/13

12. Any comment with "tl;dr" in it will be immediately deleted. If you didn't read it, why did you comment on it? This applies whether you're saying "tl;dr" to my post or to a comment above you. Seriously, how much of an asshole can you be?

July 26, 2006

Strunk and Light Addendum

Yes, people continue to offend me with their bad English usage. Bad people! Bad!

to proffer: there is absolutely no reason to use "proffer" instead of "offer", unless it is to drive me batshit.

priveledge or priviledge: both of which spellings are wrong. It is "privilege", without a "d". And let me just say here that it's pretty ironic that this is one of the misspellings that best announces someone's class and educational privilege.

thusly: "thusly" was originally coined as a humorous term, but I'm starting to see it used seriously a lot. "Thus" is already an adverb, so adding an "ly" to the end of it is unnecessary and incorrect.

prolly: for "probably". I don't actually object to this, personally. In fact, I've never seen it outside emails and blog entries. But I'm gonna take Wendy's word for it.

equally as: as in My coffee is equally as strong as your coffee. "Equally" and "as" serve the same function in this sentence. They are both adverbs, modifying the adjective "strong". They are both comparative. Listen:

My coffee is equally strong as your coffee.
My coffee is as strong as your coffee.

The first sentence is correct, but awkward, because we are used to using the "as blank as" construction when comparing. If you want to emphasize the "equally", it's best to reconstruct the sentence thus: My coffee and your coffee are equally strong. Can you tell what I'm drinking as I write this?

"blank and blank" constructions: like "above and beyond" the call of duty, or "each and every" one of you. People like these constructions because "blank and blank" is euphonious and rhythmic. Too often a particular euphony, a fashionable euphony, takes over the airwaves and everyone loses sight (or sound) of the music of simplicity. Choose one word and go with it. This belongs to the category of things needlessly superlativized. Just trust the single word to mean what it means without having to call a crowd of words in for backup.

curling up: to read. Why do we only ever "curl up" to read? Why do we always "curl up" to read? Is there no other possible reading posture?

self-identity: um ... identity is self. "Identity" refers to self. My identity means my idea of myself. It does not mean my idea of anyone else. "Self-identity" is not just redundant, it's dumb. Use the one or the other.

to hail: for anything other than "to greet" or "to get someone's attention". You do not "hail from" somewhere. You may be from somewhere, but you don't stand there and yell out greetings to people (do you?) And critics don't "hail" books. Books can't hear. This is something of a dead metaphor, trying to create the image of an audience of critics loudly acclaiming a book with greeting-like noises. But they're not really doing it, you know, and it's become a meaningless cliché. Say goodbye to it.

dilemma: does not mean "problem". It's from Greek di (two) lemma (proposition), which means that you are faced with a choice between two propositions. Do I marry Vin Diesel for love and money, or do I save the world by becoming Dubya's mistress and exerting my powers of mind control on him? It's a dilemma! "How to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "How to get my teenager to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "I only have enough money to send me or my teenager to rehab" is a dilemma. Got it?

July 24, 2006

More on Why SF is Relevelevant

" ... the default condition of all literary genres will soon be science-fiction.

Look at the recent genre-defying work of Kazuo Ishiguro, Michel Houellebecq, David Mitchell, Rupert Thomson, Alex Garland; soon even Zadie Smith will be writing sci-fi. Note, as well, that whilst [sic] mainstream American literary novelists appear increasingly incapable of doing anything other than reimagining their own national past – Philip Roth, say, or the forthcoming Thomas Pynchon – as if endlessly recycling historical micro-narratives will result in something new (it won't) – Anglo-European fiction appears to have accepted, with great success and enthusiasm, the futurist inclinations already so obvious in everyday life.

To be rather broad here – for instance, does Michael Cunningham invalidate my argument? do I even have an argument? – it seems that while British fiction in particular has already accounted for the slippage of contemporary life into sci-fi, even welcoming it with a newfound literary ambition, mainstream American fiction is content simply to enroll itself in unnecessary MFA programs, writing 800-page novels about family farms, the period between WWI and II, shopping, or the supposedly "atmospheric" end of the 19th century.

Run of the mill student architectural proposals are infinitely more stimulating to read than are most of today's American novels. ... Meanwhile, the rest of the world has already discovered the future, and it's no real wonder that the U.S. publishing industry is in the midst of a kind of slow financial crisis. In fact, one has only to look at the ongoing revival of interest in Philip K. Dick – sci-fi novelist and volunteer FBI informant – to see that Americans don't exactly lack a literary taste for the future; it's just that all the wrong novels keep getting published here."

Yes, we got there from a discussion of plastic airplanes. This is why I love BLDGBLOG .

July 23, 2006

An Asian American and Multiracial Reading List

I didn't get my understanding of the world and my knowledge of the racial/ethnic landscape of the US entirely by osmosis, but it often feels that way. I chose to enter into and live in activist poc spaces, and from this vantage point, it's sometimes hard to remember how I learned what I learned.

Most of it I got from being there in those spaces: having those discussions (ad nauseum) either in person or online, or seeing the discussion played out in writing (essays, stories, poems), art, performance, film. A lot of it I got just from watching dynamics and interpreting them from my vantage point.

Also, creating a voice for yourself necessitates having something to say. Writing articles for my friends' zines, creating online fora for discussion (which I've done many times), creating in-person fora for discussion (which I've also done a great deal of), and especially, starting a magazine, all meant that I had to go scrambling for content. That also forces you to open up your eyes, ears, and mind, and see what's going on. It forces you to go digging, to do research.

All of these are sources of my knowledge and understanding, sources of my vocabulary. But, of course, I've done some study and reading as well, and I should be able to share some print sources with you. And because it's amazing how difficult it is for a google search to occur to the ignorant (I'm complaining about myself as well; I'll go halfway around the world to ask a friend a question before I'll sit down and do a google search about something I'm ignorant of) here's a non-threatening reading list of things that might help you share the current common understandings that shape the activist Asian American and Hapa spaces in the US today. Basically, I'm providing this (as my last post for IBAR) so as to give no one who reads this an excuse for not knowing. These are my reading recommendations. You can start here and let the reading itself guide you on.

This is not any sort of definitive reading list. It's not even the list of books you should read for the best information. It is, instead, the books I've read that have helped me shape ideas. I've deliberately chosen things that are narrative and interesting to people who read novels and stories, and not heavy on the theory and dry academic language. So, of course, most of this is fiction or memoir. Some of this stuff is "radical" though, and holds its fists high, so you'll need to swallow your pride and sense of personal injury before partaking.

ASIAN AMERICAN

Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers
by Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, Shawn Wong
This was the first Asian American literature anthology, published in 1974, and phenomenally important to the development of Asian American identity and thinking. The introductory essays will ground you quickly and brutally in the politics of the 60's and 70's Asian American Movement better than pretty much anything else can. The excerpts included in the anthology will give you an impression of how new the current monolithic As Am lit establishment really is. A warning: the editors' stance is pretty macho, and their attitude toward some of the influences that have shaped subsequent As Am lit (including Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Amy Tan) are at times positively sexist. Keep in mind while you read this that they're drawing their understanding of As Am history from the "bachelor" society that prevailed in American Asian enclaves since the gold rush, and that were intensified after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented men from bringing their wives and families over. These guys are the children of people who came over in that atmosphere; subsequent generations of writers are the children of post-Exclusion Act immigrants.

Bulletproof Buddhists
by Frank Chin
Chin is one of the "Aiiieeeee! boys" and most definitely the most controversial. He has no problem attacking people in print (his public feud with Maxine Hong Kingston is legendary; she wrote Tripmaster Monkey about him) and burns bridges right and left. His critque of Kingston and other As Am writers of her generation is unjust and blind at best. On the other hand, he's one damned smart cookie, and the essay "Pidgin Contest on the I-5" is the best defense of politically correct speech I've ever read ... and also an interesting take on the Rodney King riots.

No-no Boy
John Okada
One of the novels excerpted in Aiiieeeee!, this tells the story of a "no-no boy" (Japanese American man who answered "no" to the two most important questions in a loyalty questionnaire administered to JAs in the internment camps--which meant he refused to be drafted) and his rejection by his JA community after returning home from prison (for refusing the draft) after the war.

Eat a Bowl of Tea
Louis Chu
Another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. A funny and weird portrait of 50's New York City Chinatown tells the story of a young Chinese immigrant who begins to have problems with impotence when his father arranges a marriage for him and all of bachelor Chinatown begins watching his wife for signs of pregnancy.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History
Carlos Bulosan
Yet another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. This one is more of a memoir of a Filipino American migrant laborer. Also a portrait of a life we only know a little bit of through Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, part of an oeuvre that whitewashed California labor dynamics.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Maxine Hong Kingston
Read what Frank Chin fulminates about. This book is groundbreaking in a number of ways: Kingston introduces and simultaneously remakes Chinese legend in a fantasy sequence that expands the meaning of memoir. She also created the context and set the scene for the Asian American lit genre popularized by Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club.

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment
by Jeanne Houston, James D. Houston
A memoir. The title pretty much says it all, but this is the classic memoir of internment.

Darkness
Bharati Mukherjee
A collection of stories that opened my eyes to some of the dynamics happening right under my nose in middle-class immigrant communities, both in Canada and the US. Just plain good writing.

The City in Which I Love You
Li-Young Lee
Poetry, but reads something like a narrative. An excellent introduction to the issues and experiences of the "one point five" or the "1.5" generation immigrant, who was born abroad but raised partly in the United States, a very common demographic in postwar Asian American immigrants. Also, Lee's family is just interesting in itself and he spends his first two books obsessing on it.

Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The first such fiction anthology, came at just the right time to collect exemplars from writers of both the pre-Aiiieeeee!, the Aiiieeeee!, and the Amy Tan generation as well as those shut out of the mainstream acceptance offered to the Amy Tan generation (like R. Zamora Linmark.)

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The sequel, published a decade later, that demonstrates loudly and viscerally how much As Am lit, and the As Am self-conception, has changed.

Dust and Conscience
Truong Tran
Also poetry, this is an idiosyncratic, as well as archetypal take on the experiences of a Vietnamese American who fled as a refugee at the end of the war and returned to his "home country" as an adult. This was inspired by an actual trip Tran took. Don't expect your common identity/finding yourself narrative here. Among other things, the narrator falls in love with his traveling companion (another Vietnamese American man), and embodies his ideas in the shape of the creatures of fable, which then verbally entice and abuse him.

Hyphen magazine
The only current national Asian American news and culture magazine. This one is expressly progressive and represents the prevailing progressive pan-Asian American viewpoint. Yes, I co-founded it. That doesn't mean what I said about it is incorrect.

HAPA

The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders As the New Frontier
edited by Maria P. P. Root
Root is the preeminent scholar of multiraciality. Yeah, it's academic stuff, but her introductory essay, including the Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, rocked my world when I first read it.

My Year of Meats
Ruth Ozeki
First of all, a terrific novel about a Japanese/American hapa tv producer traveling the United States producing a show to promote beef consumption in Japan. Secondly, this book tackles so many turn-of-the-millenium demographic issues, I can't even list them all: 1.5, multiraciality, internationalism, transracial adoption, queer adoption, bilingual/bicultural, third culture kids, etc. etc.

Mavin Magazine
The multiracial magazine, based out of Seattle. Publishes irregularly and is of uneven quality, but is completely earnest, heartfelt, and open to a variety of understandings of race (as a multiracial magazine should be.) (By the way, whatever you read, do not take "Interracial Voice" seriously.)

That's all for now. I might update as things occur to me.

***
update for the hapa list:

Paper Bullets
Kip Fulbeck
I was wracking my brain trying to come up with hapa narratives that are representative, or that offer ideas and "philosophies" ... but I guess that's part of the point of hapa narratives is that they are all necessarily idiosyncratic, since The Mix is always particular, if not peculiar. Kip Fulbeck's book is probably the closest I can come to "representative", and that because Fulbeck's entire oeuvre (of videos, artwork, performance, etc.) is geared toward examining the East Asian/white hapa male experience. It's a "fictional autobiography" that uses Fulbeck's life experiences as object lessons in understanding the intersection of racial and gender issues. It's deliberately, slyly, (and probably also less than deliberately) self-indulgent, as well as underhand macho (acknowledging feminism as a way of making yourself seem more of a man.) An eye-opening read.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In
Paisley Rekdal
A collection of personal essays that will give you an excellent view of the contortions hapas of my generation went through to find an identity that would stick internally and make sense externally. And yes, her mother really does meet Bruce Lee.

July 22, 2006

Books I'm Reading

I hate writing reviews, so I've been avoiding mentioning what I'm reading here. But then, it occurred to me, why do I have to write reviews? I don't even have to write comments if I don't want to. I can do whatever I want! Hahahahahahahahahaha!

Books I've read so far this year that I've remembered:

Air - Geoff Ryman
His Majesty's Dragon (and subsequent) - Naomi Novik
Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion - Jane Austen (re-reads, obviously)
Specials - Scott Westerfeld
Magic Lessons - Justine Larbalestier
The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi
A Rabbit's Eyes - Haitani Kenjiro
The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo - Peter Orner
From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame - Mark Monmonnier

Books I'm reading now for enjoyment:

Imaginary Maps - Mahasweta Devi
Trash Sex Magic - Jennifer Stevenson
High Aztech - Ernest Hogan

Next in line:

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares
How We Got Insipid - Jonathan Lethem
The New World Border - Guillermo Gomez-Peña
The Death and Life of Great American Cities - Jane Jacobs (partial re-read)

Books I'm reading now for nobble research:

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890 - 1940 - George Chauncey
Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century - Graham Robb
Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush - Susan Lee Johnson

A few comments:

1. Everyone's been raving about "A Rabbit's Eyes" but it is one of the worst translations I've ever seen. I went looking for reviews to see if anyone agreed with me and the insanely stupid reviewers just called it "poorly written"! As if the author is responsible for the translator's poor grasp of English grammar and style! This translator, Paul Sminkey, doesn't even know the difference between past tense and past participle (although I'm more shocked that his copyeditor didn't seem to know either.) Some sentences were so badly wrought that I had to rewrite them before I could even go on. Clearly, translation needs to be government regulated, because this was a crime against humanity.

2. I really, really want to write essays on "Air" and "Mavala Shikongo", but I'm waiting until I've read a number of other books so I can compare and contrast. For example, I really have to read "The Quiet American" to compare with "Mavala Shikongo"; and I'm thinking of drawing in "The Last of the Mohicans" as well, but I'd have to re-read it. And I'm probably going to include "Air" in something I write about hybridity, that includes "New World Border" and "High Aztech" as well as "Atomic Aztex" by Sesshu Foster. I might post some of that energy here.

3. I posted stuff (inspirations, enjoyments) from "Squaw Tit" over on atlast(t) blog. I much prefer that to reviews, although I was thinking of writing a review anyway. I'll just do it now: the book was fun and gave a lot of great examples and procedural details on toponymy or place naming. It didn't include enough theory and abstraction for my taste, though. I wanted all this fun information grounded in ideas. That's all.

4. My recent hybridity post/manifesto came less out of my usual thinking about race, and more out of reading Chauncey's "Gay New York". Chauncey makes the point (over and over again; this was his dissertation) that the binary homo/hetero conception of sexuality that prevails today didn't exist before the beginnning of the 20th Century, and that previous to that the binary was entirely a gender one (if you act like a man, you're normal, even if you fuck men. If you act like woman, you're an invert.) Trying to wrap my head around this paradigm shift has made me temporarily loosey-goosey about categories, so I'm taking advantage of this to propose hybridity.

July 21, 2006

Ignorance Ignorance

So much of my first draft was just placeholders. "Here, in this spot, something like this happens." I've got crap like that everywhere. I've spent the summer, so far, on the first five of what is now 17 chapters, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting that, because I can't rewrite the later chapters until I understand the earlier chapters.

For example, Leonard, my most verbose speaker (and the newcomer to the Martian colony, so he gets to lay out the whole world) is gay and not happy about it. You'd think this would be fairly straightforward---or at least I thought this would be fairly straightforward. But everything about his gay life and loves came out false-seeming in the rough. So I've been doing a lot of reading and discovering mainly how little I actually know about gay life and community now, not to mention a hundred years ago.

I have no "instincts" about a community that's closed to me. I've been bugging my queer friends and reading reading reading. I am so ignorant. I seem to get more ignorant the more I know. Leonard's central scene (literally central in the nobble, and the scene around which his earlier and later actions hinge) is completely opaque to me. What would happen here? Why would it happen? How would it play out? What would motivate these men and how would Leo respond to all of this? I know what needs to happen in this scene for the plot to move forward but I have no idea how it's going to work.

And here I was thinking that the rough draft was such an achievement.

And when this whole gay thing is all done, I'm going to have to tackle the woman thing and the immigrant thing. At least I have an in to both of those, but who knows? That might be more of a handicap and not less.

argh

July 20, 2006

Hybridity vs. Colorblindness and Cultural Appropriation

See? For my main International Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) post I'm bringing aaaaalllllll the catchphrases into my title.

First, some definitions (caveat: these terms have been used in many different ways in many different contexts. I'm just defining these for me, and for this blog post. You may disagree and use them otherwise.):

Race: 1) biologically based group status denoted by phenotype; i.e. the idea that people who all bear the same or similar phenotype markers (physical size and shape, skin and hair color and texture, shape and size of facial features) all belong to a particular group (and the phenotype markers, such as skin color, can be so faint or conceptually-based as to be nearly imaginary). 2) the idea that people from the same region (usually a continent or half-continental region) bear the same phenotypical markers. 3) this is different from "ethnicity" since race bases itself on biological realities (yes, people from sub-Saharan Africa do tend to have darker skin), although in practice these realities are stretched so thin as to become transparent. 4) this also differentiates from "ethnicity" in that a taxonomy is created where race is a more general grouping and ethnicity more specific. E.g.: "Asian" is the race and "Chinese" is the ethnicity; "African" or "black" is the race and "Bantu" the ethnicity; "Latino" is the race and "Colombian" the ethnicity.

Ethnicity: 1) culturally based group status denoted by common cultural markers and often by racial characteristics; i.e. the idea that people from the same region or culture will behave distinctively, including language, dress, gesture, values and uses. 2) ethnicity tends to be more specific than race (although not always) and gets much nitty-grittier about specific cultural uses and how these differentiate one group from another, even in the same region. 3) usually used to refer to cultural groups who are in the minority in a certain culture; i.e. the idea that a non-dominant culture is "ethnic", or has a special cultural quality that the dominant or mainstream culture or ethnicity does not; the idea that dominant or mainstream ethnicities are not "ethnic" at all.

Nationality: although usually used interchangeably with race or ethnicity (many people think it's a nicer or more pc term than race or ethnicity), I actually use it only to refer to a person's national status, i.e. what country you are a citizen of. This has more cultural and ethnic relevance than Americans like to think.

EXAMPLE: In terms of race I am multiracial Asian and white; In terms of ethnicity I am multiethnic Chinese and white; my nationality is American.

Melting Pot: This is an American concept from the first half of the century that has all racial/ethnic identities melting together like a metallic alloy, each losing its distinctive characteristics and becoming a new whole that everyone shares from equally. This is debunked and continues to become more problematic with each passing year. Why? The melting pot ignores the integrity of culture as well as how cultures actually mix. It ignores the importance of identity to "minorities" and ignores the impossibility of equally mixing privileged and non-privileged identities (because privilege would have to be given up to achieve this.) Ignores the human fear of losing one's identity. The Borg are the ultimate melting pot type. 'Nuff said.

Multiculturalism: This is a concept from the 70s and 80s that has races and ethnicities mixing not like a soup in the melting pot, under heat and pressure, but like a salad, cold and easy, where each identity maintains its cultural integrity but exists, piece by piece, side by side with all the others. A patchwork quilt. A mosaic. This concept ignores that to maintain absolute cultural integrity, cultures must be isolated from one another, because cultures inevitably syncretize when they come into contact. Multiculti assumes that "respect", "understanding" and "celebration" of other cultures will result in the integrity of each and the happy forward motion of all. It doesn't take into account that the inequality of cultures will result in the dominant culture raiding and exploiting the minority cultures, which then lose integrity without gaining validity in the process. It ignores that minority cultures will either adopt aspects of the dominant culture for the sake of the privileges it offers, or harden their borders with the dominant culture to express their displeasure at the lack of privilege. The display of integral cultures on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the perfect example of what multiculit looks like. But have you ever seen this in real life?

EXAMPLE: Under the melting pot regime, I am to ignore particularities of both of my heritages and assimilate to American mainstream culture. Also, I am a salutary step toward the full melding of all cultures (and races). I am to be viewed as an undifferentiated "American", and not to claim any ethnic identity at all. Under multiculti I'm a bit problematic. I am simultaneously evidence that multiculti works (my parents living harmoniously side by side) and a threat to cultural cohesion. Under multiculti I'm either a third category, multiracial, or two things simultaneously (at all times) Asian and white.

Colorblindness: Refusal to acknowledge racial (and by extension, ethnic) difference. Runs against both melting pot and multiculti. It is a fear of noticing color/racial/ethnic-based differences because in noticing them you might notice 1) that things are not as they should be and 2) that you are occupying a privileged position. Colorblindness is in itself a privilege. You never hear people of color claiming color blindness unless they have been raised in mostly white communities or now inhabit and wish to continue to inhabit mostly white spaces.

Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture (neighboring in the salad sense), and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the "home culture" or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and ebonics-derived slang, graffiti art, etc.

***

All of which brings us, finally, to "hybridity". It's not yet a term being used with any sort of common consciousness, with any consciousness of it's being a term for a new idea about race or ethnicity. So it's still free, still amorphous, still ambiguous in meaning and value. Which is exactly what it means to me and exactly the way I like it.

I present "hybridity" as an anodyne, an antidote, and antithesis and synthesis and thesis, against and after all of the previous ones. Hybridity is none of the above and partakes of none of the above. It is about neither melting together and losing all sense of original differences, nor existing side-by-side without cultural "bleed".

It is, instead, a way of proceeding in knowledge, thoughtfulness, and awareness. It is a combination of knowing the history of all of your cultural sources, understanding the dynamics among different groups, accepting and honoring both your disadvantages and privileges, and -- and here's the most important part -- allowing cultural mixing and progress then to happen the way it happens, without prescription, and with understanding of the mechanics, aesthetics and feel of it.

Hybridity is about fascination with culture, about studying people and how they become themselves, and how this becoming changes when they come into contact with other people. It's about the joy of being human and how we express this in our various ways, and how we take joy in others' expressions and let those influence us. It's about being open to others and also letting yourself flow outwards to them.

Hybridity requires flexibility in the observer. It requires, more than anything, comfort with ambiguity. You must be able to recognize that human identity is ultimately mysterious and that you can only grasp a small corner of anyone's identity at any given moment. You have to let go of your need for hard-lined categories.

You also have to recognize the ambiguity in yourself. This is more difficult for whites than for anyone else. Whites like to try to understand hybridity in ethnic terms ("Well, I'm Swedish, Dutch, and French, so I'm hybrid, too!"), which is false and misleading. White America was a hybrid identity before mid-century. Now it's monolithic in its self-conception. Also, if you're white, your ethnic integrity is not affected by the minor appropriation of small cultural objects from "other" identities, becuase "white" is a culturally absorptive identity, not an orthodox one.

If you're white, your hybridity can be best understood in terms of gender, sexuality, familial roles and social/professional roles. You are both daughter and lover, mother and employee. You are both volunteer and boss, annoyance and hero, father and brother. To different people at different times and in different situations, of course.

There are times when your love for your best friend takes on the intensity of romance. There are times when you choose to walk like a man, or listen like a woman, and secretly enjoy it. There are times you masturbate to the thought that you are of the opposite sex, receiving from someone like yourself. Every time you get bored with life, you do something that surprises you about yourself, and usually it is something that scares you. You didn't know you could drink that much. You didn't know you could behave that recklessly around the kids. You didn't know you were such an asshole. You didn't know you thought that way. You didn't know you'd leap so quickly into action. You didn't know it would be so easy to say no. You didn't know it would be so hard to be happy.

That's what it's like.

EXAMPLE: Hybridity simply acknowledges that I am what I am when I am it. It's the simplest concept for identity because it has no problem with complexity and does not try to organize complexity into something simpler and easier to grasp. It just lets things be and become. If one week I talk about being multiracial, another week I can emphasize being biracial, and the next day I can speak for all Asians, and later that day be specifically Chinese, and then wake up the next morning white and privileged --- and all these things are consistent and coherent with who I am and require no accounting or schema.

I just made this all up, but we need a new way to think about race, so here's mine.

July 19, 2006

Brad Pitt and Envy

Via Gwenda Bond, this hatred-barely-covered-by-moth-eaten-snark commentary on Brad Pitt's new mission-oriented celebrity.

The writer, Hank Stuever, quotes Brad and Brad-loving celebmediates in their claim that neoBrad is a result of fatherhood. He then points out that most fathers (he neglects to say: middle and upper middle class fathers) respond to fatherhood by moving to the suburbs, buying gas-guzzling SUVs, and taking their jobs seriously.

But Brad wants more from us and for us. It turns out the future lies in this constant upscaling of the volunteer heart. Your child must now do charity work to get a diploma, your co-workers are training for another bike-a-thon, and your movie stars are forever looking for a cure -- not a cure for them, a cure for you.

To this, Stuever pleads poverty. Not relative poverty, but the actual variety. He doesn't reflect that the middle/upper-middle class sense of "responsibility" that drives otherwise perfectly serviceable men out to the suburbs in Hummers (which houses, cars and private schools then necessitate a six figure salary) isn't responsibility at all but a need to maintain the status symbols of class.

There are good schools inside cities. There's safe-driving to be had in a ten-year-old station wagon. You can raise kids on a decent, but not spectacular salary. But you can't keep up with the Joneses that way. I'm not complaining about the choices these men make. My parents made the same choices, and I might well do so too, if I ever have kids. I don't know if I'm rebellious enough to thoroughly repudiate all class associations.

But I'm thoroughly disgusted by Stuever's implicit claim that men of his class can't do otherwise because they're not rich and famous like Brad Pitt. He pooh-poohs the "upscaling of the volunteer heart" as if volunteerism were an upper class privilege. He even references 20th Century America's most reactionary idiot, as if her very name could put the kibosh on all of Pitt's pretensions:

That reliable anti-volunteer, Ayn Rand, would grab a barf bucket (not for you, for her). That sort of cynicism is so passe; you have not seen the light.

But the very idea of "charity work" as noblesse oblige passed (like bad seafood) out of the cultural understanding of pretty much everyone in the world except middle/upper-middle class Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. "Service", "giving back" and "volunteering" is something that we have absolutely no idea how many Americans of all classes participate in, because the narrowness of our definitions precludes any real intelligence-gathering. But as someone who's done a great deal of low-level community fundraising in my life, I've found that the poorer the community, the more likely they are to "do what they can" for good causes.

When canvassing for environmental causes, I got smaller, but much more frequent donations from working class neighborhoods. When asking for outright in-kind donations for a variety of organizations (as opposed to "sponsorships", where the org gives value back), I had much better luck with small-business owners than with companies. And, as any adult volunteer coordinator knows, when looking for reliable volunteers for one-time duties, like a mailing or a special event, call on the folks in your community with the lowest incomes; they'll be the ones who are most likely to say "yes".

It's not willingness, nor a "volunteer culture" that's lacking among poorer Americans, but rather information about how to and when to and to whom to donate your money and time. Which is where the celebrity bleeding hearts come in. They draw attention to causes and to organizations that have the infrastructure sufficient to handle large volumes of small donations. Far from being ridiculous, the Brangelinas of the world are serving a vital role in the economy of global service organizations: a vital PR function that can't be done any other way.

Everything about this tactic, though, seems a calculated insult to middle/upper-middle white men. That they might ever care about celebrity opinion is an insult. That an appeal from an undereducated prettyboy would work on them more than their own NYT-readin', independent-thinkin', unsusceptible-liberal-considered-opinion-actin' selves is a much greater insult. And the idea that they need to be prompted to "do the right thing" is the greatest insult of all. What they do for "the community" will always, inevitably, spring out of their own intelligence and knowledge of the world, like Athena out of Zeus's skull. They don't need no stinkin' badgers.

It never occurs to Stuever that Pitt might not be aiming at him.

Thus, Stuever's article was nothing more than cheap excuse-making. Brad Pitt reminded him of how little he's actually doing to make the world a better place, but he's damned if he'll let a prettier, richer, more desirable, and gorgeouser-woman-fucking celebrity tell him what to do. Stuever, who writes for the Washington Post, is too busy making money for his children to spend any time, or the remains of his tiny salary, on such silly things as rebuilding New Orleans or saving Darfur orphans. Fuck off, Brad Pitt, you can't fool America's intelligent(sic)sia.

(Cross-posted at Other.)

July 18, 2006

International Blog Against Racism Week

From writer Justine Larbalestier I found out that this week is somebody's International Blog Against Racism Week.

From oyceter:

If you would like to participate, here's what to do:

1. Announce the week in your blog.

2. Switch your default icon to either an official IBAS icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAS icon, you may modify one of yours yourself or ask someone to do so.

3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn't yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find much information about it in the blogosphere, just viral spreading. So let it spread!

I'm not on LJ so I can't do anything about the icons. Since I'm always blogging about racism, I'm not going to go out of my way this week. But please let me encourage you to address the topic in your blogs this week. And I'll see if I can drum up something appropriate. Why not? There's always something that makes me angry.

If not, I'll just post links to cool blog entries other people have written. Like this.

(Cross-posted at Other.)

July 14, 2006

TV Show Meme

A tv show meme courtesy of Gwenda Bond. You're supposed to paste all the shows' names and bold the ones you've seen more than three times and italicize the ones you've seen all episodes of, but the list is too long and I haven't seen most of them. So if you want the original list, go back to Gwenda.

I'm just gonna list all the ones I've seen three or more episodes of. I'll bold the ones I've seen all episodes on available DVD so far, and italicize the ones I've seen all episodes of. Why do we do this? I don't know. We're fascinated with ourselves.

I'm also annotating.

24
First season amazing (although I hated the wife and cheered when she bought it), but it just gets more and more fascist as time goes on.

Alias
First and second season amazing (although I hated the Rambaldi stupidity and would cheer if it were revealed as a hoax), but it just gets more and more fascist as time goes on.

Angel
It got better and better until the last season, which sucked cock. Speaking of cock, part of the reason that Firefly sucked was that, after Angel, Joss Whedon really didn't need to wave his dick around in the air anymore. After Angel, it was all just self-parody.

Battlestar Galactica (the new one)
The. Best. Show. On. Television.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A very good show. Hated season seven. There was no excuse for it.

Charmed
Now I understand why so many people were addicted to 90210 and Melrose Place. Charmed is outrageously bad, but I can't stop watching it.

Cheers
Who didn't?

Dark Angel
Still one of my favorite shows. Yes, even the second season. How can you go wrong with James Cameron, Jessica Alba, and the most multiracial cast on television, ever? Plus, sci-fi and hip-hop? Please.

Dead Like Me
Compelling, but unsatisfying. I'm not sure why. I think it was supposed to be the Un-Six Feet Under, but didn't quite make it. It's good, but there's something missing.

Deadwood
The second best show on television. At least, the first season was outstanding. The second season was so damned short it's hard to tell if it was good or not. We'll see when the third season comes out. I'm worried that Swearingen is becoming a softie. He's much more fun when he's scary.

Desperate Housewives
First season lotsa fun. Second season boring. Didn't finish it.

ER
Not on a regular basis. Only when it comes on late night tv and I have nothing better to do, which I usually do.

Facts of Life
Who didn't?

Family Ties
Ditto above.

Firefly
I'm working on a post about why this show is sad and wrong. Here's a hint: it's not because I hate sci-fi westerns.

Friends
I missed Friends' heyday so I've really only watched it in reruns. But very enjoy it. Don't know why everyone complains about it so much.

Grey's Anatomy
Hated it, but you can rent the entire first season on two discs all together and watch in a day, if you're built that way. Why did I hate it? Well, in a nutshell: 1) the lead xtr has no personality or physical charisma; 2) none of the xtrs has more than two facets, although a couple of them are played by actors (like Sandra Oh) that are so good that they can invest their xtrs with more facets just through ... well, acting; 3) the whole thing is presented on film stock so washed out from overexposure that it took me six episodes to realize that what I had thought was bad skin on the lead xtr was actually freckles, and that has so darkened the face of the most attractive actor (Isaiah Washington) that you can barely see his affect; 4) it suffers from what I can only call "sex and the city moralizing", that is to say, end-of-episode voice overs telling you what the events of that episode meant, but since so much of it is about silly anecdotes, there's no real moral to be drawn from them, so they end up flailing around in heavily-meant language and sounding like idiots; 5) there's no chemistry between the lead lovers.

LA Law
Did I watch this? I don't remember it.

Lost
Loved the first season; couldn't get through the first episode of the second season. WCS (who cares? syndrome).

Miami Vice
Oh yes, indeed.

Moonlighting
Ditto above

Nip/Tuck
I can't tell if this is a guilty pleasure or a really good show. Can't wait to find out if Troy got slashed.

Scrubs
What Grey's Anatomy would be if it had a sense of humor ... or any talent involved in the project. It shames me that Scrubs is the male version and Grey's Anatomy the female version. But if I can just rag on Grey's for a little while longer: I watched the DVD extras for clues as to why it sucked so much and it came out that the show was "created" by committee---not because it was "troubled" and too many cooks came in to help, but because that was the culture of the show. Yes, tv is a collaborative medium, but this sort of thing should not be. I believe in the female principle of community, but not when it comes to art, nor even to entertainment. Even highest common denominator is not good enough, and the show is so inoffensive, it's offensive.

Sex and the City
Love it. Hate it. Love it.

Six Feet Under
Why do I love Six Feet Under? I do not know. It's just good. The characterization is stronger on this show than on anything else except Deadwood and Galactica. When I'm watching it, I think about the characters all day long. And I think about the season I've just watched for weeks afterward. That's just good tv. That's, in fact, great tv.

Star Trek
Not my favorite, but so unique it's impossible not to have a personal relationship with.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
My first favorite tv show. Started watching in 1989; stopped watching in 1992.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Loved the last season. Have tried to pick up the first seasons but too difficult to get them via netflix or greencine. Maybe I'll download them.

Star Trek: Voyager
My all-time favorite Star Trek, for too many reasons to detail here.

Star Trek: Enterprise
Gave it the college try: the whole first season and half of the second. If it hadn't been on tv, I would have thrown it across the room, every week. Hated it.

The Cosby Show
Of course.

The Jeffersons
Of course.

The Love Boat
One of only four shows (with Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Fantasy Island) I got to watch regularly before I was 13. That was because these were on Friday and Saturday---not school nights. Children have bad taste.

The Office (UK)
Funny. Painful. Funny. Painful. Funny. Painful. _______.

The Simpsons
Hate it, but couldn't entirely avoid it. I count it a triumph that I've probably only seen about ten episodes in my life.

The Wonder Years
Loved the first two seasons or so.

Three's Company
Got to see a few episodes of this and loved it. I was a child.

Twin Peaks
I found it terrifying without being at all compelling. Does that make me uncool?

Whose Line is it Anyway? (US)
I've seen only one episode of the Brit version, and that blew every episode I've seen of the American version out of the water. Why do Americans suck?

Will and Grace
Funny but a little boring.

July 13, 2006

New Posts

I actually had two (2!) brief new posts---brilliant thoughts, your minds would've been blown---but because typepad was down yesterday, I wasn't able to post them, and I was too lazy to put them on a sticky for later.

Oh well.

July 09, 2006

How To Welcome Outsiders

Since I posted all those links to discussions on how the privileged should behave when entering "minority spaces", I think it's important to address the other side of things: how we should behave when the privileged enter our spaces.

It may not seem like a problem, but it is. Those white men (and it's almost always white men) who have entered my minority spaces were usually invited in ... and to their credit, they clearly would not have come in without invitation.

The problem, then, in the cases of "guests" behaving well, is that those of us at home in the space feel:

• unprepared to deal with the privileged in a place and time where we were not expecting to have to deal with them;
• just plain annoyed that even this space, created and maintained with such effort and sacrifice, can also be coopted by a privilege that doesn't (usually) offer a worthwhile recompense;
• threatened, especially if we've experienced the hard end of white privilege personally;
• empowered by our obvious, first-time, absolute belonging in the space, to turn around and show the hard end of our hard-won privilege right back.

All of these feelings are understandable, and the first two are even legitimate. But even the first two often lead to unworthy behavior. If this doesn't sound like such a huge problem, let me illustrate:

Seven years ago I started an annual Asian Pacific American arts festival with a group of other young APAs. As we were all amateurs in event production, we had trouble managing the technical side of things: lights, sound, stage management, etc. By the second year of the festival, we had expanded so much that we needed people to take shifts in handling tech and I had trouble finding enough volunteers.

A very close friend of mine (a white woman) had been a professional theater tech and I asked her to volunteer a shift. She was very supportive of what I was doing at this organization and very willingly took on a shift. At the event, after her shift, she mistook a young woman she saw only from behind for one of the organizers. (Understand: this was not an "all Asians look alike" moment. She only saw the young woman from behind, and realized her mistake the moment the young woman turned around.) She apologized and, as she was walking away, heard someone from their all-Asian group say "Stupid white girl." Let me add that my friend was, at this time, wearing a brightly-colored t-shirt that marked her as a volunteer for the event.

A few years (and one further incident) later, I threw a birthday party for myself at the apartment I shared with this same woman friend, and invited all the staff from an Asian American magazine that I'd co-founded a few years before. These folks spread the word and brought friends, and quite a few young Asians showed up whom I didn't know. This same friend/roommate told me later that she had overheard a conversation among a small group of young Asians who clearly thought that this party belonged to the magazine's crowd. They had been looking around them in disgust and wondering aloud who all the white people were and why they were there.

Now understand that these are extreme cases, and that the misbehavior in both cases was committed by people I didn't know, didn't work with, and who were not responsible for creating and maintaining the minority spaces they (sort of) happened in (that is, the festival and the magazine.) However, that such things were able to happen in spaces that I helped to create, or, in the latter case, in my own house and in the house of the person so insulted clearly confers responsibility for these incidents upon me. I was, and still am, ashamed that such things happened, and to one of my closest friends, under my watch. I'm doubly ashamed that it happened to someone who came into that space out of love for me.

I am not monoracial and I do not live a monoracial life. I also do not restrict my social life to people who share my sexual orientation, age, religion, etc. The circle of my life intersects many, many more or less enclosed circles---in fact, I'd venture to say that I intersect more circles than most people (not my friends, though; they're just as culturally slutty as I am). My friends, family, colleagues, models, and other loved and respected ones come from all communities. All are welcome in my life, and all are welcome to follow me into circles I belong to that are not their own. But it is up to me to make sure that anyone I invite into my life, into any room of my life, is safe there.

So if you are tired of being restricted to your enclave, or if there are important people being shut out of important aspect of your life, here are some rules to make this happen:

• Know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior.

Alot of this bullshit continues because it's not recognized as such. Using a "minority space" to talk about group privilege, or even about individual instances of it, is not only acceptable, but necessary. However, using a "minority space" to make a privileged individual feel uncomfortable about themselves or to feel unwelcome is not acceptable.

Here's a rule of thumb: if the person being made uncomfortable had risked his/her life to save yours the day before, would you let him/her be treated this way? If not, don't let anyone, no matter what race or state of belonging, be treated this way.

• Think before you invite.

This is unfortunate, but necessary. Since these incidents with my friend, she's been wary, in any case, of coming to my Asian American functions, where she worries that she'll be unwelcome, (and can I just add here that white men are more welcomed into APA spaces than white women?), and I'm much more wary of inviting her.

Think about whether the event or circumstance will offer your guest at least safety from feeling awkward or conspicuous or on-the-spot. If the event or circumstance will not offer this, think about what you can do to offer this safety yourself. If it is absolutely impossible, don't invite them, or let them know why you're reluctant to encourage them to come.

• Don't sigh over bad situations, change them!

Thinking about your guest's safety, and the recognition that they might not be safe, does not let you off the hook. If there's no safety in the situation, but if you might be able to create safety, then you have no excuse not to do it.

In the cases I've mentioned above, I was one of the organizers of the events and circumstances. If this is the case and you've invited someone to a party, event, list-serv, or what have you that you're involved with organizing, there's absolutely nothing (but cowardice) stopping you from saying directly to your compatriots that you're bringing a guest and that you expect everyone to treat your guests with courtesy. Remind them that the honor of the organization is at stake, because frankly, it is.

If you are not a leader or organizer, but "merely" a member/participant, there's still nothing wrong with raising your voice (although if you're observing Asian America, you'd never know that.) Occasional strangers (active, intelligent strangers) have emailed me before an event or party to ask if their white friends would be welcome. This, in turn, reminded me to put the question to the organizers at large, to remind them to be thinking about this issue. It never hurts and usually helps a great deal.

• Remember that if you claim that "minority space" as your own, then you are a host to whomever enters it.

Ownership is a privilege that confers a great deal of responsibility. This doesn't just mean be polite to everyone. This means it's your duty to go out of your way to make sure that everyone there is comfortable.

You share this responsibility with all the other "hosts", but if you can't count on them to share the work with you, you still have to do it yourself. And if you're an organizer, don't be shy about reminding the other organizers of their responsibilities as hosts.

If you're at an event and you see someone standing by themselves (whether they "belong" or not) it's up to you to go up to them and draw them into conversation, draw them into a group. This is something you would imagine everyone would do for the friends they invite into the space, but that's not always the case. Make sure you introduce the guest to at least three new people. Take a few seconds to think of people who will actually talk to your guest, and, in fact, give them things to talk about. "My friend Eric is a photographer, too!" "Steve also started his own magazine. You might have seen it." etc.

• Don't let anyone of your group, even strangers, get away with bullshit.

This is more difficult, because the type of incident that I mentioned above, doesn't happen in front of me. You can't prevent all silly buggers from playing in your space, but you can go a long way towards creating an atmosphere that discourages such attitudes. And if your fellow members see you talking animatedly with "outsider" guests, they'll feel less certain about openly insulting outsiders.

But if you should happen to hear someone say something questionable, by no means let it pass! You don't need to be angry or hostile, but you do need to nip it in the bud, straight away. Often, a simple "It's funny you should feel that way, because I don't at all," will do the trick, but if you need to be more explicit, get explicit. And don't hesitate to call on someone you trust to back you up. It is a group effort, and a group atmosphere that you are striving for. You don't need to---and in fact, can't---create it alone.

• There's a difference between guests and invaders. You don't have to permit invasion.

All of the above having been said, you are not a gatekeeper, but you are a host, and as such, part of your responsibility to guests is to neutralize outsiderss who would impinge on the comfort of both guests and members.

Let me give some examples from real life (all of these invaders were white): a man who attended the above-mentioned arts festival only to buttonhole several organizers and tell them how it would have been done in their families' countries of origin; a middle-aged man who attended an open mic for South Asian young adults and took the mic for longer than his allotted time to read poems about North and South Korea and harangue the audience on this topic; a man who attended the launch party for an independently published book about Japanese American internment which had the term "concentration camps" in the title, who harangued the publisher's representatives about the Holocaust and prevented them from selling books, a man who stood at the back of a poetry reading by a Chicana poet and yelled things like "Viva la Raza!"; the father of multiracial children who hung around a multiracial list-serv, attacking everything the members wrote about their feelings as "racist", etc.

Permitting intrusiveness from "invaders: (i.e. not "guests", people not invited into the space) is not only not necessary, it's wrong. The space was created for a reason, and the strength and power everyone draws from the space must not be made genuinely vulnerable to vulgar attack. At the same time, permitting aggressive attacks by invaders only makes members of the space more resentful toward the more polite and vulnerable guests. Effectively neutralizing invaders makes it easier for everyone to welcome guests.

This means that you have to call for group assistance and be prepared to offer assistance to others in this task. You need to stand together and support one another (and not just walk away and leave the unpleasantness to your stronger, more outspoken colleague to deal with.) You need to be polite and firm, and politely and firmly repudiate the attack. You need to not permit the attack to absorb more of your time and attention than is absolutely called for by your own sense of justice to everyone. Usually the invader is just looking for attention and the best way to shut him/her down is to withdraw attention. If the invader is offering insult or danger to others, you need to call on an organizer, or if you are an organizer, to escort the invader out and not let them back in.

One final note: there are always borderline cases, cases of "guests" who step forward to take on a more active role in the community, a role which should really belong to a community member if your community is to remain self-defining. Yet these guests remain respectful, and offer intelligent contributions to the group effort. I have encountered three such cases directly (and no, I'm not going to talk about them.) I don't have any easy answers. All I can say is that respectful, contributing guests deserve a great deal of thought and care in their handling.

• And, a special last rule for organizers: don't fall into cliqueishness within the "minority space" itself.

There are hip activists and there are dweeb activists. There are people of your race/class/gender/sexual orientation/etc. who believe what you believe, but whose faces are ugly and whose clothes are offensive to you. Who cares? If your space is an activist space (and most "minority spaces" are, by their very nature, activist) then you have no business with exclusiveness. Activist minority spaces are developed specifically to combat exclusive practices in the mainstream. You must be always putting your behavior where your politics are.

If you are an organizer, you are doubly a host of the space and doubly responsible for everyone's comfort. A fellow _______ (whatever your "minority" space addresses) who comes to you offering time, money, effort, skills, or merely attention, deserves your time and attention back; deserves to be a full member and not excluded. Although having a community, a social life, is a powerful motive for joining such activist groups, it is not, and cannot, be the primary mission of the group. Please to remember that, and act accordingly.

One last observation: those who feel the most hostile toward outsiders are the ones who feel the least confidence in themselves or in the stability of their space. Those who are the least threatened by outsiders are those who feel themselves most stable and confident in their space. For the sake of the space, and of your place in it, be welcoming to the respectful outsiders who cross your path.

July 07, 2006

Privilege and Its Discontents

Andrea Rubenstein blogs intelligently and readably about how a privileged person should interact with (for lack of a better term, since I refuse to use the word "oppressed") a person who does not share that privilege.

I strongly urge everyone to read the entire article (it's not painful, unless you're on the defensive, and there's good advice here.) From my years working in the Bay Area Asian American community (which is what Andrea calls "a minority space") I have met many "invaders", all of whom, at some time or another, have broken Andrea's rules. If you have ever entered, do currently enter, or have any intention in the future of entering a "minority space", you really, really need to read this.

Actually, before you read this, you might want to read the articles below. Andrea mentions in her post above the problem the privileged have with recognizing their privilege (that's the core of privilege: the privilege not to recognize itself.) I found these from surfing through a number of links (It all started at Other Magazine's blog with Liz's last post):
• a checklist of invisible items of male privilege
• a checklist of items of white privilege

• also, here in a way, is a checklist of class privilege.

Cross posted on Other Magazine blog.

July 06, 2006

Why Joss Whedon Kinda Sux

This post at Girls Read Comics and They're Pissed talks about Joss Whedon's terrible track record in keeping the women in his fictions alive and unbetraying.

What is it with Whedon and strong women? Not Whedon and strong "girls", or at least his version thereof - they all get happy endings, even when they are, in fact, unacknowledged sexual abusers*. But what happens to his women?

She then goes on to list all the already-women or the eventually-become-women in Buffy and Angel, and to repeat some rumor about Firefly. This next quote got my attention:

I'm not saying "JOSS WHEDON HATES WOMEN." Given his association with Equality Now and his numerous interviews on the issues of writing strong female characters, it seems evident that he doesn't. However, wanting equality and shucking one's culturally-ingrained prejudices sufficiently as to successfully write it are two different things.

Wow. That was said in three sentences. That would've taken me a whole blog entry, and I still wouldn't've gotten it out right.

July 04, 2006

My country, 'tis of thee ...

... sweet land of hybridity
of thee Time Magazine this week sings in its article about why there is no novelist Voice of a Generation right now.

The world has changed, and the novel has changed with it. Fictional characters just can't get away with being generically white and middle class and male anymore, the way they used to. Not and still be the object of mass identification and adoration the way the Voice has traditionally been. We just don't think about people that way anymore: we're interested in the specifics of their racial and ethnic and historical circumstances, where they came from and who made them that way. If the novelists under 40 have a shared preoccupation, it is--to put it as dryly as possible--immigration. They write about characters who cross borders, from East to West, from Old World to New and back again, and the many and varied tolls they pay along the way. Their shared project, to the extent that they have one, is the revision of the good old American immigrant narrative, bringing it up to code with the realities of our multicultural, transcontinental, hyphenated identities and our globalized, displaced, deracinated lives. It's a literature of multiplicity and diversity, not one of unanimity, and it makes the idea of a unifying voice of a generation seem rather quaint and 20th century. I may love and empathize with the transplanted Bengalis who populate Lahiri's fiction, or Shteyngart's semi-Americanized Russians, or Foer's uprooted Old Worlders or Smith's international extended families. But I would never be so foolish as to mistake any of them for myself.

Yeah. What he said.

Not in my name

The other side of Independence Day should be our independence from paying for, financially and morally, such wars as this.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who was reminded of this, not to mention this. Yes, Operation Desert Storm was the opening to a new Vietnam, in the same way that sending "advisors" to Vietnam led to sending troops years later.

My god, think about it: it's been fifteen years already.

This is not what our country, my country, should be doing. Would that fireworks could somehow remind us of that.

July 02, 2006

Jane Austen Gets Defensive

'... I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common with novel writers, of degrading, by their contemptuous censure, the very performances to the number of which they are themselves adding: joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronised by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers; and while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogised by a thousand pens, there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel reader; I seldom look into novels; do not imagine that I often read novels; it is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss -------?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference or momentary shame. It is only ... some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name! though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste; the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation, which no longer concern any one living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.'

-- Jane Austen Northanger Abbey

Replace:

"novel writers" with "science fiction writers" or "genre writers"

"novels" with "genre fiction"

"the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne" with "the nine-thousandth sex in the suburbs imitator"

"the Spectator" with "anything written by John Updike"

"their language, too, frequently so coarse" with "their language, too, frequently so obtrusive and yet cliché-ridden"

and you'll have my sentiments exactly.

It's funny to think that she was living and writing two hundred years ago now. Somehow, in the 80's, it was easy to think of the early 19th century as only a century ago. It's also funny to think of the domestic literary novel as a despised mass entertainment ... but then, it's come a looong way down the entertainment pole since then. Now, it's a duty. Then it was an unalloyed pleasure ... but then they had Jane Austen.

Someone from my Clarion West class asked recently who the Jane Austen of science fiction was. (Was it you, Wendy?) Forget that! Who's the Jane Austen of now, period? I don't think there is one. There are no women fiction writers who write of common domestic concerns in highly structured novels using neat, concise, simple, and wicked language and always taking care to deliver a happy ending. None, that is, who are unafraid of boldly two-dimensional characters drawn in a few alarmingly apt lines. None who, while providing male characters who are to be romantic objects, insist upon giving them some character tics.

I dunno, is it possible to have a Jane Austen nowadays? It is possible to have our version of Emily Dickinson.

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