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12 posts from November 2008

November 30, 2008

I'm Boring

Don't agree with me!

Now that the election is over, I have nothing to saaaaaay! Argh.

But I've reshuffled some blogging dooties: I'm blogging again at Hyphen magazine, if you wanna check me out

November 27, 2008

Things I am Thanksful Fer

In no particular order:

  1. The existence of eggs and bacon, or eggs and toast, or eggs and toast and bacon. Bring it!
  2. My cat, Charlie.
  3. In-born gifts and gifts acquired.
  4. My friends.
  5. Food, and the plentifulness thereof. That's, at base, what thanksgiving is about anyway, isn't it?
  6. Books, especially the good ones, but even the bad ones.
  7. Art scenes with lots of stuff to do and see in 'em.
  8. Blogosphere!
  9. My family, especially my parents.
  10. Getting to know my Panama family much better this year and understanding our history better.
  11. The Golden Age of TV Serial Drama.
  12. The Second Golden Age of YA.
  13. Speculative Fiction in general.
  14. Having people out of your life when it is time for them to go.
  15. Finding the concept of balance, if not the thing itself.

There's more, but this is a good start.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! What are you thankful for?

November 20, 2008

Reading Update

I've been reading Terry Pratchett. Re-read Monstrous Regiment, and then read Making Money.

It's Terry Pratchett. What's there to say?

November 14, 2008

888 and Readin' Update

I have 888 comments on this blog! That's very lucky!

I finished Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King last week, one of my American Indian Heritage Month reads. It was published in 1993, I have to note, and reads--quite frankly--as original text for Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys novels. Which is to say that Gaiman's tactic of incorporating gods and myths into contemporary settings, and then sending human and mythical characters on a road trip across the American landscape, seems to have originated here.

Only this is much better. King gets a bit meta on it, incorporating the narrator's voice into an ongoing dialogue with one of the mythical characters (Coyote, to be precise). And the novel is structured in a meta manner as well: as a story telling that keeps going wrong. The four main mythical characters--pop culture archetypes--each get a turn telling the story from the beginning, and each time Coyote messes up the telling. Each time the telling starts anew, the tension resets, although the story continues to move forward for the human characters.

It's pretty cool.

On the downside, there are too many characters and no protagonists. None of the characters is very likeable, either, so it's hard to care about them. Why is this problem so prevalent in fiction?

All-in-all, though, a good, fun, interesting read.

November 06, 2008

Historic

"Historic" means it's in the past, people. Yes, the election of Obama is now in the past, technically. But just barely. Also, the mid-term 2006 election is "historic," as was the 2004 election, the 2002 election, the 2000 election, etc. They're all part of history. They all affected the course of our future.

In fact, everything that has happened is "historic." Everything.

I think the adjective you're looking for might be "world-changing." Other options:

  • paradigm-shifting
  • momentous
  • earth-shattering
  • amazing

Okay?

Sigh.

November 05, 2008

Yay1000!

Over the next four years, there's gonna be a lotta Obama crit coming from this blog, so let me just take the opportunity right now to say: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Holy shit!

Last night was amazing! I spent the evening with some friends at their house and finally, we couldn't stay in anymore. We drove downtown. People were driving up and down Broadway in Oakland, honking and dancing. I stuck my hand out the window and a blockful of people ran up and high-fived me. Jaime said it was like we won the world cup but it was much, much heavier than that. People were elated, but also dazed and serious.

I hope this feeling lasts long enough for us to change the way we've been doing business. I'm so glad to have my country back.

Oh, also: Jaime made a chocolate cake with white frosting and an American flag on top in berries. Perfect.

November 03, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Finished two small items today. Third day of NaNo and I'm already behind. But I was traveling today! (said in a whiny voice.)

November 02, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Well, NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) isn't going too smoothly so far. Yesterday I was busy and didn't do anything. Today I tried for two hours to manage a tiny detail: I needed to put in what Christian sect one of my main characters grew up in (he's no longer religious, so it's important, but minor.) I needed a non-communitarian, abolitionist but not pacifist sect. I spent two hours looking online for such a sect before I realized that this was a detail that I could let go. Do we really need to know exactly what sect he belonged to? It won't be referred to again. Seriously.

Then I looked for other small things to handle and decided that we didn't need to know how they mark trails to clear after dust storms (who cares?) or need 100% to hear that mention of a transport line to Alba Patera (I don't even remember what that refers to, but I'm sure it's unimportant.)

Then I figured out that a small detail I need to seed in there so it will bear fruit later is actually already part of a larger fix. Then I moved two small fixes to the medium fix column because I don't know what I was thinking, they're going to take longer than that. And that's about three hours of work right there.

Welk, I guess this is the job. I guess a lot of revision is planning and then planning again, and then getting disgusted with your obsession with unwanted detail and revising your PLAN, all without actually touching your text. Arg. I have only eleven items in the short fix column now.

Tomorrow, a few short fixes in the airport, yes?

As Sarah Failin' Would Say: Readin' Update

So I just finished Obama's Dreams From My Father.

Not sure how to get into this discussion. Obama is, surprisingly, a very good prose writer: assured, smooth, with a good sense of prose rhythm and shape. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised: there are a lot of lawyers who end up writing fiction, so there must be something in the education that trains one's prose style. But the outlines of his career that he lays out in the book tend to indicate little interest in the life of the imagination, or in aesthetics.

But maybe it's what I talked about once, with language issues and writing. I don't know if I ever blogged about this, but when I first lived in Berlin, I was part of an American writers group: five of us, two women and three men, two poets and three fiction writers, all in our twenties, most of us creative writing or English majors, all--except me--white. We didn't do too much workshopping (thank oG), we mostly just sat around talking about books and reading. We'd have poetry face-offs, where one person would bring in a favorite poet and read the favorite poems, and then another would respond with poems on similar topics or using similar tactics. Good--if geeky--times.

So one day I told the group that I had--apparently, I was too young to remember--had a bit of a problem with language acquisition as a toddler. I had started out in Cantonese (I was born in Hong Kong). When I was one and a half, we moved to the States and at about two years, we started speaking mostly English at home. Between two and three, I spoke a personal brand of Chinglish--not one I learned from a community, that is--which mixed vocabulary, grammar, and tones from both languages. Apparently, only my older sister fully understood me. By the age of three, I had separated the two languages and was speaking both correctly, and by four I had pretty much stopped learning Cantonese.

So I told the group  maybe my fascination with language and my desire to master it through writing arose from my early troubles with language acquisition, and suggested that maybe a lot of writers had early troubles with language as well. They all immediately pooh-poohed the idea. Then, over the course of the next hour, it turned out that: the other woman in the group had actually spent her early childhood somewhere in Africa with her linguist father, and apparently (she doesn't remember) spoke the local language fluently; one of the men in the group had had a bad stutter as a child and had to go to speech therapy for years; and another of the men in the group--and this is the best story--had been unable to learn to read or write until he was fourteen years old. He came from a well-off family of all college-educated professionals, and his disability simply stumped everyone until he was fourteen and they sent him to a new program that taught him how to juggle. Something about developmental steps that connect eye-hand coordination and mental processes. In any case, he caught up with thirteen years of school within three, and was able to go off to college "on time".

So, out of five writers, four had had some sort of issue or circumstance in their lives that had made language acquisition either "thorny" (in the words of the one writer of the group with no thorniness) or something of particular import and weight. Something to think about.

All that just to suggest that Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia from six to ten and spoke Indonesian fluently, might have something similar going on here. With the language issue, the writing issue. With the wanting to be the most powerful man in the world issue? Not sure what's up with that.

Although it's well-written in the prose-style sense, it's poorly written in the emotional sense. Obama sticks too closely to the expected emotional/dramatic arc of search and redemption. Along the way, he writes remarkably little--and that very ineffectively--about his own feelings or responses. When he does write about his feelings, it's in a detached way, and he eliminates feelings from the narrative frequently. In what is supposed to be the book's emotional climax (I had not thought, until that moment, that there was going to be one) I didn't even know that he was experiencing any emotion until he described the tears running down his face. Very strange.

All this might have something to do with the fact that, throughout this book, which is an autobiography, not a memoir, there's an 800 pound gorilla in the room: Barack Obama Sr. had three wives and a girlfriend, usually simultaneously, two of them white Americans, and couldn't--didn't--take care of them or the six-odd children he fathered with them. The situation is made clear in the book, but no one addresses it directly. The book is full of resentments toward fathers, full of passive aggressive moments of almost-accusation made toward Obama the father or the grandfather. But no one, not even the narrator, ever sits down and says: we have a problem with fathers and fatherhood here; let's state some facts baldly before we attempt to interpret them.

Maybe Obama felt he would be betraying the complexity of his father's story if he laid out the facts that way ... although I have to say, he had no problems betraying the complexity of his grandmother's feelings about race in his much-praised race speech earlier this year. This is one of my ongoing problems with Obama: the half-assedness of his gender awareness compared with his race awareness. Maybe he felt he would be underlining a stereotype of black men if he characterized his father as being an irresponsible Johnny Appleseed with six or more kids from four women whom he left to the rest of his family to support ... but then that would be the truth. Maybe it would be a betrayal of complexity to point out that his father left his first--African--wife, twice, for white women. Maybe it's too much to ask Obama to speculate on the meaning of this. But I don't think it's too much, given that he wrote the damn book--subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance"--in the first place. And while he was ducking this issue, writing a book about a father who hadn't cared enough about him to include him in his life, his mother was dying of cancer.

Yes, I'm supporting Obama. And I read the book with a great deal of excitement, because I felt convinced that maybe I had misread what I perceived earlier as Obama's lack of enthusiasm when it came to women's issues and gender equality. I was reading the book to increase my knowledge of, and excitement about, Obama's candidacy. But there it all was, in his book. Let me clarify: you don't have to be an outright sexist to just not give a shit about women's rights. You can love and respect the women in your life and like women in general, and still feel that gender equity really isn't your problem. And this is the feeling I get from Obama.

I just got an email this summer from a man who was one of my best friends in college. He had contacted me again about a year and a half ago and we've been emailing back and forth. In response to a complaint from me about the lack of confidence I see in men I'm dating online, he wrote, "All the men our age grew up being beaten down by the Feminist Revolution." I have been unable to write back to him since receiving that email, because I simply don't know how to express my outrage and betrayal at such a simple-minded and viciously wrong statement, that faults the liberation and uplift of HALF OF HUMANITY for the loss of a few privileges of a few members of the other half.

It is this same betrayal I'm feeling from Obama and his campaign and too many of the men of my age cohort who support him. I thought this was over, but it's not over and it's not gonna be over. He cares about the big issues, but not about a little tiny issue like the difficult climb to equality for half the world. Fuck him.

November 01, 2008

Reading Update

I'm a little behind in updating, as usual.

I listened to the first half of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood while driving to Mono Lake, and the read the rest when I got home. Got nothing to say about it. Literally. That's no judgment, it's a great book, I just got nothing to say.

Then I read The Insufficiency of Maps, by Nora Pierce, which should be called "The Insufficiency of This Book." Oh, it's fine. It's one of those pebbles that makes no impression on the pond, sinks to the bottom, and is never heard from again. It probably would have been a better book if Pierce had been more concerned with telling the damn story, rather than being all poetic and distanced, and creating a lyrical, melancholy sense of unreality that made it impossible for me to give a shit about anything in the book ... but then maybe it wouldn't have been a better book, either.

I think I read something else in there, too, but it clearly made so little impression on me that I can't even remember, so who cares.

American Indian Heritage Month Book List

I know, I know, you were told to say "Native American," or "First Nations." But the official name for the month is American Indian, so just deal with it, okay?

As you all should know by now (after three of these lists) the Carl Brandon Society just started a heritage month book advocacy program this year in which our members have selected ten speculative books in English, in print, by writers of that particular heritage, for each month.

We've been sending and posting these book lists far and wide, trying to get them into libraries and bookstores to promote the writing of writers of color during the months that they are featured. PLEASE distribute this list even farther! We're relying on word of mouth, folks! Post it on your blog! Email the list to your reading friends and family! These are good books!

*****

The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends

the following speculative fiction books by writers of First Nations/Native American heritage

for American Indian Heritage Month:

THE WAY OF THORN AND THUNDER trilogy, Daniel Heath Justice
This trilogy speculatively re-imagines the Cherokee history of removal and relocation and redefines European fantastical tropes using Cherokee-centered imagery and worldviews.

GREEN GRASS, RUNNING WATER Thomas King
One of the best books I've ever read: a funny, sad, gorgeous story that ties together a contemporary narrative about 
Indians living on Canada's prairies with slightly skewed creation myths and accounts of the historical horrors endured by First Nations people during the continent's European colonization

THE BALLAD OF BILLY BADASS AND THE ROSE OF TURKESTAN, William San! ders &nb sp;
A wry love story that also incorporates critiques of nuclear testing and dumping on Native lands.

EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF FORT SMITH, William Sanders
A collection of short stories from Sanders' entire career. You can see some of his best here, including the alternate history "The Undiscovered," in which a shanghaied, shipwrecked Shakespeare is trapped in 16th Century Appalachia and must stage his plays among the Cherokee, and the near-future "When the World is All on Fire" when climate change and toxic waste have caused Indian reservations to become prime property again.

ALMANAC OF THE DEAD, Leslie Marmon Silko
Silko uses magical realism to chronicle numerous characters' journeys ! toward t he prophetic, violent end of white dominance in the Americas.

TANTALIZE, Cynthia Leitich Smith
A departure from Smith's previous, realistic Indian YA stories, this YA novel jumps onto the vampire bandwagon, this time in a vampire-themed restaurant in Texas.

THE BONE WHISTLE, Eva Swan (Erzebet Yellowboy)
The Bone Whistle is about a woman who discovers her true heritage. She is the child of a wanaghi, one of the creatures of Native-American folklore.    

THE NIGHT WANDERER, Drew Hayden Taylor
A gothic young adult vampire story.

THE LESSER BLESSED, Richard Van Camp
A coming-of-age story of a native Canadian boy obsessed with Iron Maiden. Has elements of magical realism.    

BEARHEART: THE HEIRSHIP CHRONICLES, Gerald Vizenor
Perhaps the first Native American science fiction, this is a journey through a dystopian future United States destroyed by the collapse of the fuel supply. 

NaNoFiMo & Diabetes

Hey chicks 'n' chickens! It's November!

It's National Novel Writing Month, National Diabetes Awareness Month, and National American Indian Heritage Month. All three.

For National American Indian Heritage Month I have a book list fer ya, which will follow in the next post.

For National Diabetes Awareness Month, I pledge to find out three new and important thing about diabetes (Type One) and post about them.

And (drumroll please) I will be half-assedly participating in NaNoWriMo, but, as usual, in my own imitable way. Namely, I will be using this month to knock off my To-do list for draft two (or draft three?) of da nobble. Call it National Novel Finishing Month or NaNoFiMo. To wit:

  1. I have 15 "short fixes," things that should only take a few minutes to an hour or so.
  2. I have 17 "medium fixes," things that'll take a whole day.
  3. I have 9 "long fixes," things that require me to rewrite whole sections, or change the style of a narrator's entire text.

So my pledge is to do one short fix and one medium fix every day until they're done. That'll leave 13 days for the nine long fixes. I'll try to knock off one long fix every day, but we'll see how that works out.

That's the plan, Stan.

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