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14 posts from January 2009

January 29, 2009

Ann Coulter Sci Fi

This is pretty sci-fi, don't you think?

January 24, 2009

Obama's Arts Policy

From his Agenda on the White House website:

Arts:
Our nation's creativity has filled the world's libraries, museums, recital halls, movie houses, and marketplaces with works of genius. The arts embody the American spirit of self-definition. As the author of two best-selling books — Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope — President Obama uniquely appreciates the role and value of creative expression.

That's it. That's the whole thing.

Pretty fuckin' weak, Barry. You're gonna have to do better if you want to get into FDR's ether. Three punk-ass sentences do not get those mural painted, those Okies photographed, and those plays staged, okay? It's time your smug ass recognized the giants whose shoulders DREAMS FROM MY FATHER stood on, and how fucking many of them worked for the WPA.

Time to cough up.

January 23, 2009

Readin' Update

Nisi Shawl FILTER HOUSE

A book of short stories from a fabulous writer who is my friend so the no-review rule holds. Awrsome.

Ernest J. Eitel WHAT IS FENG SHUI?: THE CLASSIC NINETEETH-CENTURY INTERPRETATION

Just what the title says: an 1873 publication from an English-language press in Hong Kong. Eitel was a German Protestant missionary -- apparently with a gift for languages -- who spent his career in China and ended up becoming something of an expert in Feng Shui, Buddhism, and Cantonese, writing texts on the first two and a dictionary of the last. He has his own form of Romanization for Cantonese, apparently.

Anywho, the book is extremely valuable not just for helping me to cut through all the latter day, Westernized, interior decorating crap that fills most feng shui books I can find, but it also teaches 19th Century feng shui and conveys the attitude of an educated and enlightened Western man towards feng shui.

Eitel is alternately contemptuous of and fascinated by feng shui, condemning it as "rank superstition" at the same time that he claims it as legitimate Chinese natural science. He makes the point that I've had to make before, that although the art/science of feng shui is infused with hoo doo and superstition, and doesn't follow the strict rules of western empiricism, there has been a science to the manner of study of feng shui; there is a form of empiricism and experimentation involved -- only it isn't "pure."

Perfect research item for da nobble.

January 19, 2009

Obama Thoughts: Hope and Despair

Stimulating and challenging discussion with Shailja yesterday over the course of a writing date. She expressed distrust towards the Sense of Hope TM that has risen around Obama's campaign and election (and now inauguration.) She's concerned that it's another mass-opiate.

I was thinking rather that it was a swing back to the other emotional extreme, after 8 years of the American public (and that is both right and left) being completely helpless to influence or affect the administration or national policy, and the concomitant despair that has been collecting over that. The despair, interestingly enough, although felt increasingly by the farther left all along, has only manifested in the mainstream in the last eighteen months or so -- not coincidentally, around the same time that long-ass campaign started. So I think the public can't maintain a sense of hope OR despair for very long: we avoid despair for as long as we can, and I think hope is fickle, if not fragile.

What I'm saying is that despair can't motivate us for long, and hope can't motivate -- or opiate -- us for long.

It also makes me think about the alchemy of the election. Our sense of despair arose right around the same time as our sense of hope. I think neither could manifest in the collective consciousness without the other. As a people, we staved off despair about Bush until two not merely viable, but transformational alternatives appeared. Then we all, as a mass, dropped any hope of Bush transforming his administration into something of any value and turned to Hillary and Obama.

And let's not gainsay Hillary's importance in this alchemical equation. The Hope TM came from a conjunction of symbolic sources (and when I say "first ____ candidate," I mean "first viable _____ candidate"):

  1. First Woman candidate = potential final barrier to gender inequality being removed. Curiously, at no time since the women's movement has there been a moment, or an issue, that has been elevated to Symbolic of the Continuing Oppression of Women TM in the public consciousness. Not Anita Hill, not the many abortion fights, not the Duke Rape Scandal, not Lorena Bobbitt. Each of these and many others simply elevated its specific issue to public consciousness, but feminism failed in -- or was blocked from -- connecting each issue to the general issue of gender inequality. I think this is part of the reason that misogyny could be so blatant in this campaign. People think of sexism as smoke and mirrors -- whiny, crocs-wearing women -- and don't connect it to unequal pay, workplace sexual harrassment, rape, domestic violence, and reproductive control.

    And yet we carry with us as a nation a vast, painful uneasiness with each other (after all, half of us are men and the other half women), a vague sense that something is not right that we wish was right. And the appearance of Hillary, while arousing a terrible, sexist rage and hatred in men -- particularly men of my generation, heartbreakingly enough -- also aroused a strong, if vague, hope in them that her presence in the election, and her potential election, would lay this terrible uneasiness to rest.

    And let's be clear: it was only Hillary who could have done this. Immediately below I point out that only someone like Obama could have done his part, and I say that not to discount Obama's individual personality, but to point out that Obama had to simultaneously build his individual image and build his image as symbolic of national and racial healing. I don't think -- I really, really, really don't believe -- that a woman could have done the same thing in the same amount of time. I believe that there is a much greater resistance in the public consciousness to accepting a woman in a leadership image than there is to accepting a man in a leadership image. And that includes men of color, because we've been seeing strong, amazing men of color in leadership roles since Frederick Douglass ... and even during the Civil Rights Movement men-as-leaders of the race wasn't a hard concept to take in. The resistance to women is greater, so women have to take more time to develop their image. Compare Obama to Sarah Palin, who had even less time to build an image than he did. She was very popular on the right, but popular as a mascot, an attraction, a curiousity ... NOT as a leader. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes her to become leaderly in the public consciousness. I'll take bets as to whether she manages it by 2012 or if it'll take until 2016.

    In any case, I've argued before that for liberal or moderate women to achieve leadership in government, they have to be part of a political dynasty (and also that conservative women have to claw their way up through the ranks, be more tough than the mens, and have husbands who aren't in politics, all of which obtains in the Hillary/Sarah Palin case.) Hillary isn't just the only moderate/liberal in American politics who fulfills that requirement (although that's enough); she's also the only one who has a powerful and distinct public image both as an individual, and as a leader. It is this last -- her image as a leader -- that has caused such rage and hatred among sexist men: they don't think she should be viewed as a leader, Because She Hasn't Earned It TM. And this is part and parcel of what made Hillary so effective as a woman candidate: deep down, the men who oppose her don't believe that any woman could deserve such a position, so if Hillary won it, it might be enough to shut up those feminists.

  2. First Candidate of Color = potential final barrier to race inequality being removed. I really don't think I need to comment much on this except to remind everyone that the general confusion about what Obama actually IS, racially, worked entirely in his favor. He was able to stave off the descent of the usual stereotypes onto his image for long enough to build a distinct, and unique, image for himself. That is entirely to his credit and the credit of his campaign team, but he should be credited for taking advantage of the blessed circumstances he was born to, and not for inventing a world in which a strange, multiracial, transnational man of partial African descent is the only possible person who can simultaneously tap the hope for racial union and short-circuit the fear of the Angry Black Man TM.

    And he was the only possible person. A Gen-X, American-born descendent of American slaves could not have done it. A woman of Obama's background could not have done it. Someone of a non-African lineage could not have done it. It had to be someone like Obama, and we, as a nation, did not -- prior to this election -- have the imagination to realize that it wasn't The Next Jesse Jackson TM, who was going to get it done but someone as peculiar and Inexplicable and twenty-first century as Obama.

  3. First Gen-X-ish candidate (just as Gen-Xers are taking over leadership positions in all sectors) = potential final enfranchisement of our generation, otherwise known as accession of our Generation TM to boss-status. We've been ruled by Baby Boomers in the media since Reagan, and in the government since Clinton. The worst president in living memory (and that includes Herbert Hoover) is a Baby Boomer. It's Time for A Change.

  4. First Woman + First Gen-X-ish Candidate of Color + Horrible Failure of a Conservative White Male = we're ready to lay off all our white, male guilt on George W. Bush and cleanse our own souls. We can only be talking about a post-race, post-feminist era now because all these terms and ideas have finally reached -- if not penetrated or convinced -- the mainstream public consciousness. No white, and no male, can walk comfortably around in the world without worrying if they're racist or sexist -- or at least worrying if others will see them that way.

    Combine this with the utter and complete failure of every single Bush policy to achieve what he said it would, or to even achieve anything of value unexpectedly, not to mention the steady deterioration of the national sense of self-esteem as we watched ourselves turn into rabid, nationalistic torturers and imprisoners (seriously, we can justify becoming brutal until the cows come home -- and believe it, too -- but at the end of the day, we're still brutal) and what we have is a perfect storm. Nobody wants to be the horrible, entitled white, or male, or white male, and Dubya pretty much set himself up to be hated. So let's pile our load of guilt on his goatish back and slaughter the bastard (now, if only we could take that symbolic slaughter past the election and into a courtroom ...)

If any of these elements had been missing, Obama might not have succeeded (it took a scary white women to frighten the decisive number of recalcitrant white males into supporting Obama.) More importantly, if any of these elements had been missing, our plate of hope would have been missing a major food group. Not a balanced meal. The Obama campaign made us feel completely healthy for the first time in 8 years of junk food. If a vegetable or a fruit had been missing, or protein, or whatever, it would not have been the whole hog: Hope.

So yes, it's definitely a monolithic Feeling TM that is easy to exploit commercially (although I think it's appropriate and salutary that Obama's first effect in office will be a minor boost to our economy through Obamabilia), but I'm not too worried about it opiating people indefinitely. Losing that Perfect Hope Storm TM will pique the public (I hope), and the first time Obama feels like compromising (or maybe the second or tenth) the More Than A Feeling TM will go away and people will sink back into Apathy As Usual or be moved to protest.

Obviously, I hope it's the latter, but I don't believe that people as a group entity can sustain political action -- or even political concern -- for very long. It's more important that we have an administration that is affected by the protest and action of the few, than that we mobilize everyone forever ... and to possibly little effect.

January 18, 2009

Requisite BSG Post

I really want to want to blog about Battlestar Galactica, but I just can't be bothered. I just don't care. Is that wrong?

January 15, 2009

Defining and Identifying Cultural Appropriation

Here's what's going on and why I'm doing this now.

First of all, I'm not gonna deal with global cultural appropriation, but rather focus on American appropriation of cultures brought into the US either by immigrants or by Americans who went abroad and brought stuff back. Okay, here's a brief and incomplete definition of "cultural appropriation" I wrote in this post a couple of years ago (you have to read the whole post to really get where I'm coming from.):

Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture ... 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.

I think that's adequate as a basis, but I DO think I need to distinguish between two concepts so that people get it. The two concepts are:

  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Cultural Syncretism

Syncretism generally refers to the process of reconciling or melding of differing views or beliefs or uses. This can happen intentionally, or by a natural, unconscious process.

More or less discrete cultures that come into contact with one another, either through geographical proximity, migration, conquest, trade and exploration, or in other ways, will start to syncretize aspects of each culture. This is inevitable, and neither undesirable nor preventable. Cultural items tend to get taken on in a new culture if they are useful, convenient, resolve a problem, or appeal to a value that already exists in the host culture. Examples of this would be:

  • the adoption of potatoes into the European diet after contact with the new world (the introduction of potatoes was more or less deliberate, but the spread of potatoes was a natural cultural movement)
  • Christianity becoming a cult (one of many) in ancient Rome, a culture that tolerated multiple gods from many cultural origins, and incorporated them into its pantheon
  • the partial adoption of Japanese corporate organizing practices in the US auto industry in the eighties, when Japanese auto companies began building factories in the States

And of course, small things like words and whole slang idioms, small gestures or sets of gestures, rituals and ceremonies, manners, clothing and accessories, music, visual design elements, etc. can get taken on deliberately or without thought.

This is just how we are. US mainstream culture is a mass of syncretism, from our political culture, to our language ("ketchup" is Chinese, "frankfurter" and "wiener" are German, "chili" is Nahuatl, "onion" is Latin, and "soda" is Arabic, so your standard chili dog and coke is about as syncretic -- and American -- as you can get), our religions, our design, our ... etc.

HOW syncretism happens is not defined under the term. It can be forced (Indian boarding schools, Catholic church incorporation of local gods as saints), it can be friendly, or it can happen unconsciously. Cultural appropriation is actually, therefore, a subset of cultural syncretism -- one way that syncretism happens.

It's a strange, post-colonial way of making syncretism happen, though. Whereas previous to modern decolonization, no one was truly uncomfortable with the idea that the Other was "barbaric" (it was only the argument over who constituted the Other, us or them), it's only since the 20th century that we've consciously moralized this position, and created an understanding of Otherness as having value and even virtue, simply because it is Other. This is the "noble savage" point of view, the exotifying point of view, the model minority point of view, that elevates Otherness rather than denigrating it. It's still a process of Othering, though.

It's also only since the 20th century that groups of people have accepted their identity as Other to the mainstream or dominant group, and turned it into a power position.

Today, in the United States, we have groups, tribes, cultures, of people whose primary identity is that of Other. Although we spend a lot of time saying "we are not Other," people of color ... African Americans, Asian Americans, etc. ... are people and Americans who must define themselves using a modifier. This is an Other identity, not a mainstream one. You can see the difference when you talk to my mom, who immigrated in her twenties and has been a US citizen for half her life: she'll tell you she's Chinese. Not Chinese American, Chinese. She has a mainstream identity from a different country. Here, she's a foreigner or immigrant, but there's a place where she is not an Other. I, on the Other hand, am Chinese American and multiracial. I was born an Other in the world, and have no home ground to go to where I'm not Other.

I make this point because accepting and claiming an Other identity, which has politically empowered a lot of people of color, has been largely misunderstood on the white side as meaning that "it's better to be colored than white." This is an unconscious understanding, but it feeds into the noble-savaging and Othering of POC. This comes about because it's accepted and empowering to be outspokenly proud to be "black," "Asian," "brown," "Latino," what have you, but it's not okay to use the same language to be outspokenly proud to be "white." So this gets translated into the following set of principles:

  1. whites have no 'ethnic' identity because being proud of one's whiteness is just racism
  2. people of color are the only ones with real ethnicity
  3. having an ethnicity is better than not having an ethnicity

Which brings us to cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is a method of cultural syncretism that is specific to our primary-Other-identity, post-colonial, identity-politics era. It arises when a dominant culture, as I said above, raids a subordinate culture for cultural items that it then pulls out of context. The dominant culture -- in our case, white Americans -- doesn't properly acknowledge the borrowing -- or else the dominant culture makes a complete hash of the borrowing and then tries to pass it off as authentic. This happens for three reasons:

  1. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they find or make up a nonwhite ancestor and go acquire aspects of that ancestor's culture (see "1/16th Cherokee" or "we're southern so we must have a black ancestor") which they weren't brought up in and haven't acquired in ways that people generally consider to be "authentic."
  2. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they decide to strongly identify with a nonwhite culture and then acquire aspects of that culture (see "I taught English in China for two years," or "I'm blacker than you are!")
  3. Whites of a particular class or position need to appear worldly and eclectic -- not to mention liberal -- so they spend a great deal of cultural time "broadening their horizons" in ethnic shops and exercise/dance classes. This last one is itself an item of a liberal white American subculture: the need to have a culturally eclectic affect.

The reason I made this distinction between cultural syncretism in general and cultural appropriation specifically is that -- you guessed it -- cultural appropriation is about an exploitive power dynamic, whereas not all forms of cultural sycretism are. We see cultural syncretism everywhere in our mainstream culture because the US is an immigrant country and we really do meld a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. The power dynamic lies in the fact that the genuinely syncretic and layered culture of the mainstream is dominated by whites. That broad river of culture is considered -- consciously by POC and unconsciously by whites -- to be the home ground and domain of whites, even though everyone has contributed to it.

So when a new cultural item is added to that mainstream, it is done by whites deliberately, and in a manner that doesn't acknowledge its debt to any subculture or alternate culture. That mainstream is powerful because it is the mainstream and because it is the homeground of the white power-majority. Likewise, whites are powerful because they are white and because they control the powerful mainstream, both. It's true cultural synergy.

The principle of the mainstream is inherently melting-pot-ish, so once something has joined the mainstream, it becomes very difficult to pick out its origin and path to the mainstream. This is an aspect of the cultural mainstream that shores up its power. Likewise, people of color rarely see their cultural product make it into the mainstream intact because of the melting pot principle; it's easier to not give up power if you dismantle a subculture and incorporate it piecemeal: for every Boyz 'n' the Hood there will be twenty Colors's; for every Better Luck Tomorrow there will be twenty Fast and Furious sequels. Dismantle, then control. This is why the live action Avatar can be cast all white. Avatar already began the process of dismantling the cultures by making them secondary cultures.

Cultural appropriation is also hard for whites to understand because it's hard to distinguish between melding and appropriation when we simply don't know where each individual got it from.

For example: generation after generation, African American slang gets incorporated into mainstream white slang. At one point in this process, it's straight up cultural appropriation. But there does come a moment when enough white people are using the slang, that other white people are picking it up from whites in their own communities, without necessarily knowing its origin. At that point, it's already fused into the mainstream culture and the less "cutting edge" whites really aren't appropriating it ... because it's already thoroughly appropriated.

I'll give you a funny example: I left the US (Tucson) in 1992 and came back (to San Francisco) in 1998. During that time, a new set of "urban" slang hit the mainstream. Not a lot of this reached us in Europe during that time. So when I came back to the States in 98/99, I was working at a number of Asian American arts orgs. A lot of the volunteers had gone to ivy league colleges (model minorities) and I noticed something: all the people I knew who had gone to Yale were using this slang expression "My bad." I'd never heard that before so I pointed it out to a Yalie friend and asked if it was a Yale thing. She found that very amusing. Of course, subsequently, I heard it all over the place and it became clear that it was part of a slang set that -- once again -- came from African America. But by the time it reached me, it was so thoroughly appropriated that I was able to think -- just for a moment -- that it was an ivy league thing.

Because cultural appropriation either succeeds or fails -- that is, items are either thoroughly appropriated or they aren't -- it can be hard to tell with successful appropriations where they've been appropriated from. So a LOT of whites, who get these things from their white communities, hear POC screaming about cultural appropriation and are genuinely confused. Aren't we a melting pot? I didn't steal this from anybody! Even my Mom says it for chrissake!

There's also a lot of unconscious disagreement about a statute of limitations on accusations of cultural appropriation. For example, I still hear some Af Ams complaining about how Elvis jacked Little Richard and others. It's true, but we're so many musical generations down the line from Elvis, and most Af Am musicians wouldn't touch rockabilly with a ten-foot pole now, so can we let go of that? I'd still be willing to talk about Vanilla Ice, but there are folks who think that's over, too. So that's another issue that no one can agree on: when does it stop being cultural appropriation and just become culture?

Sadly, I have no answers for you today. Because, of course, cultural syncretism and its various methods are a spectrum, not a clearly defined taxonomy. And where your own actions fall on that spectrum will depend on your point of view.

One thing I can say, and have said before, is that when it comes to creating fictional worlds and fictional characters, you do have the opportunity to control your cultural appropriation, to step back and err on the side of not appropriating. That is not the same thing as not writing the Other, but I happen to fall down on the side of don't write the Other if you can't do it right. Rather, make sure that enough People of Color are getting published and noticed.

But that's just me.

Life in Oakland Today

I just got my voter registration card from Oakland's voter registration office. Today. January 14th. Well, yesterday now. It told me that I was officially a voter as of November 2, 2008, even though I registered two years ago.

Oakland is broken.

In other news, BART stations in downtown Oakland were closed briefly tonight as I was coming home because of a protest against the new year's day police shooting which turned violent near the end. I don't get behind the violence tonight at all -- it seems clear that a few people went downtown just to start some shit -- but the riot last week is something else.

I heard a lot of people saying things about how the riot didn't solve anything and people shouldn't have done it and they were mostly attacking downtown small businesses that are members of their own community and they're right, of course. But it seems pretty clear that riots happen only after too much shit has gone down and been swept under the rug. Then a really blatant incident happens and people just explode. It's not a good choice, but neither is letting police brutality against young black men go on and on, year after year, without consequences. Last week's riot was a consequence and, sadly, it may be what makes something happen in this case.

Even more sad is the fact that this protest is around an incident caused by the BART police, when the anger is really against the Oakland police. It may turn out that the murder was a terrible mistake caused by an inexperienced officer, whereas the city police commit brutal acts year after year as a matter of policy, and the attention may not be turned on them. The last time the BART police killed someone was in 2001, but the Oakland police had six fatalities last year.

The worst part about this is the misdirected anger, but I have a hard time feeling anything more than sad about it.

January 13, 2009

2009 Goals, Take Two

Wow. I just looked over my 2009 goals and they're entirely selfish and internally focused. All about me, me, me. Of course, that's what personal goals are about, but I have other goals this year. Let me reorganize and add to these.
  1. BALANCE: Find and maintain balance. In 2008, I was able to start identifying some elements of life that are essential to me that I've been neglecting, and I was able to start putting these back together. I'll continue that this year. In other words, do the things that keep me stable and happy. This includes all of the below categories, and can include some combination of side things like:
    1. Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.
    2. Going dancing or taking dance exercise classes. Dancing in general.
    3. Taking singing lessons (can anyone recommend a teacher?) or joining a choir. Singing in general.
    4. Learning recorder again, maybe taking lessons?
    5. Getting into taking Cantonese lessons again. Or maybe Spanish.

  2. WRITING:
    1. Get writing again. Of course. This needs little explication; writing is both my big problem and my raison d'etre. I need to find not the perfect balance, but sufficient balance to enable writing again, so that's the big goal here is to get to that balance and get writing again. Specific objectives:
      1. finish da Nobble by August: I actually think I can do it, once I find the adequate balance that enables writing. I'm almost there.
      2. get started on second novel.
    2. Work on two publication projects, which I will not specify here. Also, get some of those stories published in journals, i.e., continue sending them out.
    3. Work the blogs. This one, atlas(t), and Hyphen.

  3. READING: Read more challenging and inspiring material. In general. Specifics:
    1. Finish my research reading for da nobble
    2. Do the reading I've set for atlas(t)
    3. Knock off some of my pile of classics

  4. HEALTH:
    1. Get on the insulin pump, which will require me to test four times a day for six weeks straight and go get my results downloaded every two weeks. Huge pain in the ass, but not impossible. In fact, I'll set a date to start: next Monday. Let me go put it in my calendar.
    2. Exercise 5 minutes a day. I know, that sounds lame, but I can do that more easily than 20 minutes five times a week, and the 5 minutes a day actually makes a difference in my mood, which is the whole point.
    3. Lose that 15 pounds.
    4. Continue getting regular massages.

  5. SERVICE: I really haven't been doing community service at all in the past two years. It surprises me that I didn't notice. But that needs to start happening again now. Some possibilities:
    1. Working more regularly with Moveon.org to advocate for particular positions with Congress and the new administration. I'm trying out Moveon right now to see if it's a good fit. If it isn't, I'm ... er ... moving on to something else. But what I'm looking for is a grassroots political organization that addresses national politics in a comprehensive manner, not just one issue or issue area.
    2. Finding a local (Oakland) homelessness org and volunteering. This can't happen right now, but in a couple of months I'm going to be looking for an org to volunteer for. By then, perhaps the issue I'm interested in will change, although I doubt it. Yes, I'm being vague.

January 09, 2009

2009 Goals 'n' Objectives

  1. Find and maintain balance. This is both the end and the means to an end. Actually, the "end" is a good life, and the balance is means to it, but finding balance is also an end in itself. Working with a shrink in the latter half of 2008, I was able to start identifying some elements of life that are essential to me that I've been neglecting, and I was able to start putting these back together. I'll continue that this year.

  2. Get writing again. Of course. This needs little explication; writing is both my big problem and my raison d'etre. I need to find not the perfect balance, but sufficient balance to enable writing again, so that's the big goal here is to get to that balance and get writing again. Specific objectives:
    1. finish da Nobble by August: I actually think I can do it, once I find the adequate balance that enables writing. I'm almost there.
    2. get started on second novel.
  3. Work on two publication projects, which I will not specify here. Also, get some of those stories published in journals, i.e., continue sending them out.

  4. Read more challenging and inspiring material. In general. Specifics:
    1. Finish my research reading for da nobble
    2. Do the reading I've set for atlas(t)
    3. Knock off some of my pile of classics
  5. Get on the insulin pump, which will require me to test four times a day for six weeks straight and go get my results downloaded every two weeks. Huge pain in the ass, but not impossible. In fact, I'll set a date to start: next Monday. Let me go put it in my calendar.

  6. Work the blogs. This one, atlas(t), and Hyphen.

  7. Exercise 5 minutes a day. I know, that sounds lame, but I can do that more easily than 20 minutes five times a week, and the 5 minutes a day actually makes a difference in my mood, which is the whole point.

  8. Lose that 15 pounds.

  9. Continue getting regular massages.

  10. Other feelgood stuff I want to do but will not beat myself up over not doing if I don't do them:
    1. Take dance exercise classes.
    2. Take singing lessons (can anyone recommend a teacher?)
    3. Take recorder lessons (ditto?)
  11. Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.

January 08, 2009

Update On 2008's Goals 'n' Objectives

Before I really get into this, I should mention that I spent most of 2008 in a mild depression. I won't get into why, but I'm not ashamed of it and think that people should be clear when they're in a depression that they are (or were, in my case, I'm out of it again, thank oG) depressed. It helps for other people to know. I was depressed from about Sept 2007 to March 2008 and then again from June 2008 until November. I snapped out of it at the end of November and am going strong now.

So I was actually unable to fulfill many of my goals for this very specific reason: writing was mostly out because of it, and exercise was iffy. But here goes:

  • Get writing again. This is the big, important one. The goals are more immediate:
    • full draft of a new short story every month
    • completed first draft of the YA fantasy
    • completed second draft of da Nobble 

Okay this is a tricky one. I DID get started writing again in March and made some serious headway on da nobble, but got stuck again around June-ish. But by rearranging my work plan, I finished the second draft. Also in the spring, I wrote the initial pages and notes for a new novel. But then, of course, got stalled. Only drafted one complete new story -- in fact, I only came up with the one new short story idea. Did ZERO work on the YA fantasy, which may be dead.

  • Read more challenging and inspiring material. In 2007 I read a shitload of YA. Deliberately. And I'm glad I did ... but I kinda feel my muscles atrophying, and I have a pile of grown-up books waiting for me. Also, nonfiction, hello?

Spent a large part of the middle of 2008 doing re-reads and reading fantasy and YA series for escapist purposes, so no, not "challenging."  But I did read a bit more nonfiction and a few more books specifically for analysis purposes, so I did head in the general direction of this goal.

  • Get on the insulin pump, which will definitely happen. I've taken the first steps already and the thing will appear in January most likely. 

I got stalled by a hoop my insurance wanted me to jump through and then the depression got me. Made some strides, but they're void now and I'll have to go back and make them again this year.

  • Work the blogs. This blog you are reading is easy, because when I don't feel like doing a big, long post about something challenging, I can do my equivalent of catblogging. But that's boring for me and you. Plus, I've figured out the difference between atlas(t) and atlas(t): Galleon Trade Edition, and I want to work both. 

I did get started again on atlas(t) and decided definitively to kill Galleon Trade. I also started a new, paid blog and did a good job with it, I think. But then, I got stalled on my personal blogs, and then got started again. Did a LOT of political writing on this blog, which I'm proud of, but I also think I alienated a lot of people with it. Unintended consequence. So, again, sort of.

  • Get fit. I.e. exercise five days a week, minimum twenty minutes. No other goals there, because apparently, this is challenging enough. 

I tried. I managed to do some exercise most weeks, although certainly never five days a week.

  • Lose that 15 pounds. It really just slides off when I eat right, so the key to all of this is wanting to eat right, which means handling stress better. Which relates directly to the above objective and the three directly below. 

Lost it, got depressed, gained it back.

  • Get regular massages. 

Yes! I actually met one of my goals!

  • Go dancing regularly. 

No, not at all.

  • Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.

No, in some ways I did less of this, and in some ways, I did a bit. But my couch broke in June and I didn't get it fixed (part of depression) and it was a convenient, but also unavoidable, reason for me not to entertain. It's getting picked up by the upholsterer on Monday (no shit) so that excuse/reason will be gone after next week. Yee haw!

So I have to say, I'm not as badly off as I thought I was. I did make some headway on most of my goals last year during the times that I was able. When I was disabled by a (mild) depression, I still struggled, and I took steps to address the depression (mostly by getting the massages, still trying to exercise, and finding a shrink finally.) So I'm actually ... proud of what I was able to do last year, although bummed that I took such a hit, moodwise.

So next post, I'm setting goals for 2009, since -- on this reflection -- it DOES seem like goals-setting is worth my while.

January 06, 2009

BSG 'n' Readin' Update

I'm trying to get myself psyched about the final season of Battlestar Galactica, but it's slow going. There's been such deadeningly bad TV in between, that I can't seem to care very much.

Plus, the clips from Caprica suck.

In other news, I finally read Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, a Latina vampire chicklit. Yes, it is. Of course, it's genre-y and there are some plot detail problems, but IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!  HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH! Truly, I say to you, I loved it.

I just ordered the next two books on Amazon.

January 05, 2009

What I Read in 2008

Take two, i.e. I wrote this entire post a couple of days ago, and then lost it because Typepad is stooopid. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a couple from the list below because I didn't post about them or didn't tag them "whatcha readin'?" Sigh. Whatever.

I've bolded the books that really did something for me: made me think, changed or created an idea. You'll notice that I didn't include A Passage to India or Huckleberry Finn among these. Those were rereads, so they actually stank up my universe this year. Maybe if I read 'em again in a few years, they'll be good again.

  1. Christopher Barzak's One For Sorrow
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  3. Passing by Nella Larsen
  4. High Wizardry Diane Duane
  5.  A Wizard Abroad Diane Duane
  6. The Wizard's Dilemma Diane Duane
  7. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  8. The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  9. At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson
  10. Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
  11. The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
  12. Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce
  13. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  14. First Test Tamora Pierce
  15. Page Tamora Pierce
  16. Squire Tamora Pierce
  17. Lady Knight Tamora Pierce
  18. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  19. His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
  20. Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
  21. Black Powder War Naomi Novik
  22. Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
  23. A Wizard Alone Diane Duane
  24. Wizard's Holiday Diane Duane
  25. Flora's Dare Ysabeau Wilce
  26. Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  27. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  28. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  29. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  30. The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  31. Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  32. In Cold Blood Truman Capote
  33. Nora Pierce The Insufficiency of Maps
  34. Four Letter Words by Truong Tran
  35. Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler
  36. E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  37. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil
  38. Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam
  39. E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
  40. Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy.
  41. Barack Obama Dreams from My Father
  42. Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
  43. Terry Pratchett Monstrous Regiment
  44. Terry Pratchett Making Money
  45. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
  46. Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
  47. Buffy Season 8 comic book (three omnibus volumes)
  48. The Last Man first omnibus
  49. Nation Terry Pratchett
  50. Outliers Malcolm Gladwell
  51. Octavian Nothing Vol. II MT Anderson
  • 51 books completed in total, just about a book a week, like last year.

  • 5 nonfiction books

  • 1 graphic novel and 2 comic book series

  • 21 YA or middle grade novels, or novels packaged as such

  • 31 books in speculative fiction genres

  • 21 male and 17 female authors (however, I read several books each from certain female authors)

  • 12 authors of color, as far as I know

  • 11 re-reads

  •  9 series that the books I read were part or all of, not including the comics

  •  19 books with strong female protagonists (down from 27 last year! That must be because I read less YA!)

One thing that's noticeable here is that I did a lot of escapist reading. I didn't intend to reread so much, nor read so much YA. Not that YA is automatically escapist, but I read deliberately escapist YA. This had to do with my being depressed for large chunks of the year (Jan - Feb and June - Nov). Escapist reading has always been a primary coping mechanism, but this year I also watched a lot of TV. Not as much as last year, mind you, because TV sucked so bad this year, but a lot.

Another thing was the lower count of strong female protagonists in this year's narrative. That was a little shocking. First of all, a number of my favorite women writers had male protags, such as Naomi Novik, Susanna Clarke, and Vandana Singh. Nothing wrong with that. But there were also a couple of books with female protags who were weak: Kate T. Williamson's memoir and Nora Pierce's novel. Of course, the memoir was about two years when Williamson was stuck living with her parents (and yes, the book was just. that. boring.), and Pierce's protag was the small, dependent child of a mentally ill single mother. But that raises the question of why literary narrative is so interested in women and girls at their weak moments and why we have to turn to genre fiction to get stories of powerful women and girls.

I'm certain that part of it has to do with the fact that the gatekeepers of lit fic are primarily male, and get to decide what is and isn't appropriate or "good." And I'm sure that part of it has to do with the fact that genre is engaged in a lot of escapism and therefore wish-fulfillment--of whatever sort--is on the menu. Wow, that's depressing. Any arguments there?

So, I'm thinking I'll probably be reading less from series in 2009 ;) and branching out a little more into other genres. There will be even more nonfiction since soon I'll be going into final research mode for da nobble, and because I want to do more reading for atlas(t). Other than that, I am, as always, open to suggestions (although I'm so distractable that I'll probably forget your suggestion as soon as I read it.) What did you read last year that blew your mind?

January 04, 2009

Reading Update

Knockout Mouse by James Calder

I met Calder once, at a friend's party in 2004 or thereabouts, and he told me about his books, which were a mystery series set in the Bay Area. I went out and got one -- a decommissioned library book -- from Amazon marketplace, and promptly failed to read it.

Too bad, 'cause I just picked it up last weekend and had a great time with it. It's grade A mystery genre, taking place along a well-drawn axis between Silicon Valley and San Francisco. I say "well-drawn" because the descriptions of places and social scenes are familiar and accurate, and don't trip my "bullshit" or "bad writer" wires.

Weaknesses: the protag is an aging Mission hipster filmmaker (you gotta love that he's the detective!) whose appearance is never described nor hinted at and whose motivations are presumably that he's the protag of a mystery. (The only motivation even suggested is that he was attracted to the murdered woman, but we all know that Mission hipster boys can't even be bothered to walk across a room for an attractive woman, much less solve a mystery.) Characterization overall is minimal, leaving many of the characters to knock helplessly against each other until they collect enough action to distinguish themselves.

But overall enjoyable and I'm definitely picking up the next one.

January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Things are looking up!

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