« September 2012 | Main | February 2013 »

10 posts from January 2013

January 23, 2013

When Is the World Unfair to You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 20, 2013

Dizzy Broad

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

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

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

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

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

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

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

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

January 12, 2013

Nothin' To Do No One To Do It With

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

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

And then, this:

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

And this:

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

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

But then, this:

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

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

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

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

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

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

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

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 08, 2013

How to Stay in Touch with Friends When Sick?

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

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

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

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

Sigh. It's confusing. And difficult.

Anyone have any thoughts?

January 05, 2013

What I Read in 2012

  1. Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!
  2. Terry Pratchett Men at Arms
  3. Terry Pratchett Feet of Clay
  4. Terry Pratchett Jingo
  5. Terry Pratchett The Fifth Elephant
  6. Terry Pratchett Night Watch
  7. Terry Pratchett Thud!
  8. Terry Pratchett Snuff
  9. E.C. Myers Fair Coin
  10. Naomi Novik Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
  11. Faith Hunter Raven Cursed
  12. Kim Harrison A Perfect Blood
  13. Diana Rowland Sins of the Demon
  14. Naomi Novik Crucible of Gold
  15. The entire Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (reread)
  16. Seanan McGuire Discount Armageddon
  17. Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice
  18. Robin Hobb Royal Assassin
  19. Robin Hobb Assassin's Quest
  20. The entire Carrie Vaughn Kitty Norville series (reread)
  21. Robin Hobb Fool's Errand
  22. Robin Hobb Golden Fool
  23. Robin Hobb Fool's Fate
  24. Holly Black Black Heart
  25. The Hunger Games series (reread)
  26. Kristin Cashore Bitterblue
  27. Patricia Briggs Bloodbound
  28. The entire Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (reread)
  29. Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
  30. C.E. Murphy Urban Shaman
  31. C.E. Murphy Thunderbird Falls
  32. C.E. Murphy Walking Dead
  33. C.E. Murphy Coyote Dreams
  34. C.E. Murphy Winter Moon
  35. C.E. Murphy Demon Hunts
  36. C.E. Murphy Spirit Dances
  37. C.E. Murphy Raven Calls
  38. C.E. Murphy Heart of Stone
  39. Ilona Andrews Gunmetal Magic
  40. Ilona Andrews Magic Dreams
  41. Carrie Vaughn Kitty Steals the Show
  42. Saima Wahab In My Father's Country
  43. Faith Hunter Cat Tales
  44. Kalayna Price Grave Witch
  45. Kalayna Price Grave Dance
  46. Kalayna Price Grave Memory

And this is where I stopped updating, sometime in ... August? In August, I think. The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was worse this year than the previous two years and didn't let up when the summer was over. Also, I had to work through it so I was even more exhausted. So I did a LOT of rereads (which are comforting and unchallenging) especially of urban fantasy series (which are comforting and unchallenging) so it didn't really seem worth mentioning. But here, in no particular order and with no guarantee of completeness, are some of the new reads I completed since then:

  1. Seanan McGuire Ashes of Honor
  2. E. Lockhart The Boyfriend List series (four books)
  3. Diana Wynne Jones The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (five books)
  4. Mira Grant The Newsflesh Trilogy (three books, obviously)
  5. Seanan McGuire Velveteen vs. the Junior Super-Patriots
  6. Rachel Vincent Stray
  7. Stacia Kane Unholy Ghosts
  8. Lilith Saintcrow Night Shift

I know among my rereads was Harry Potter, Temeraire, all the Kristen Cashores, and the Ellen Kushners ... sigh, oh well, I'm not gonna remember. And it doesn't matter.

I seem to have torn through all the good woman-centered urban fantasy series and am now scraping the bottom of the barrel: series involving wish fulfillment about men controlling women in (apparently to others) sexy ways. Yuk. Stray was like that. And ... there was another one, whose title I've forgotten. No other female characters, but lots of vampires and werewolves telling our heroine what to do and she not objecting very much. Ugh. Oh well.

It's occurred to me this past week that something productive should come of reading (and rereading) so much urban fantasy: I should be able to write some. I've decided to see if I can come up with a good series -- but not in the usual organic way I write fiction. Rather, I'm going to try to outline a series, book by book, in detail; structure it from the ground up. And only write it if I can figure out the whole story beforehand. I don't know if I have the energy for this, but I'm going to try. Fun!

January 01, 2013

New Year's Resolution

I'm not sure why exactly, but reading GGP's account of his two-months' struggle with a rather mysterious illness has just kicked me in the ass a bit. I'm going to make an actual resolution for 2013 ... maybe two.

  1. I'm going to write in this here blog every week. I've been too unmotivated -- lacking in energy -- to write. But I'm going to do it, even if I have nothing to write about. And I'll write short.
  2. Get on top of this stupid disease: go to the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome clinic in Palo Alto. I forget what it's called. But I'm going to go. And I'm going to do what they tell me. And I'm going to try every stupid California new age acupusher thing that crosses my path.

Join My Mailing List!