251 posts categorized "all about me"

November 27, 2015

Claire's Writing Workshop Guidelines

For some reason, I've been having this discussion a lot lately with folks who are teaching and/or participating in writing workshops. I've brought up my own rules for conducting workshops several times, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to someone if I posted these.

For those of you who need qualifications: I have an MFA in fiction writing from SF State, have published some short stories and a short collection of stories, and have run two nonprofit community writing programs. I've participated in about 17 workshops (in my BFA and MFA programs, in adult community writing workshops, and at Clarion West) as a student and conducted about 15 of them as an instructor: as a TA at SF State, as an artist in residence at a high school, and in adult community workshops. 

I developed these guidelines out of my experience being fruitlessly (and endlessly) workshopped as a student, and wanting better for my students. There are plenty of instructors out there who run a good workshop and do it differently from how I do it. But this is what works for me and -- based on apparent impact and student feedback -- for my students.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

So, without further ado:

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CLAIRE'S WORKSHOP GUIDELINES

 What it is:

Workshopping writing is a process of gathering a group of people to read and discuss a writer’s work. The workshop process is intended to give the writer assistance in completing their piece through:

  • An outside perspective; a reader’s perspective
  • Multiple points of view on their work
  • Dispassionate (though never objective!) analytical assistance

How it works in my class:

  1. Everyone will have one week to read the pieces that they will workshop
  2. While reading, the reader will make notes in the margins (or using “track changes”) about what they are experiencing as they read. Note: boredom, confusion, excitement, pleasure, questions raised by the text, etc.
  3. After reading, the reader will write up an analysis of the piece using the tools we learned in this class.
  4. The reader will bring both the marked up manuscript and the analysis to the workshop class and give them to the writer afterwards.
  5. During the workshop session for that piece, the readers will discuss with one another their analyses of the piece. The participants should feel free to disagree and debate with one another, using concrete examples from the piece.

What to talk about in workshop:

Your written critiques and our workshop sessions will address the issues outlined below. We will be using the craft elements in the lessons (characterization, world-building, conflict, story arc, POV/voice) to talk about the following:

  1. Where is the power, heat, fire, life in the piece coming from?  What makes it feel alive, rather than inert?
  2. What is this piece literally about? What's the story? What did you get and what didn't you get?
  3. What is the writer trying to do with this piece? Is it a meditation on a particular theme?  a raging good story? an experiment with forms? 
  4. What techniques and strategies is the writer using to get at her theme or purpose? Talk about the craft elements of the piece (structure, character, dialogue, action, voice, etc.) 
  5. What are the advantages to the writer's strategy, and how can the disadvantages be avoided? (Please note: this is not an opportunity for you to tell the writer how you would have written the piece or what you would prefer to read or to encourage the writer to change her strategy.  This is a place for you to discuss the disadvantages of the writer’s chosen strategy and help him find ways to turn these into advantages.) 

Rules:

Workshopping is a difficult and unnatural process. Effective workshopping is a skill that must be learned. The process outlined below may seem awkward or counterintuitive to you.  Please trust this process and try it out.

  • No evaluative statements: these are sentences using the phrases I liked, I didn’t like, … was good, … was working, wasn’t working, etc.  Instead, please
    • make observations.  These are sentences that simply state what is there.  So, instead of I liked how you used dialogue to reveal character say You used dialogue to reveal character.  This showed us the characters in speech and action, rather than telling us in exposition, which can be awkward.  Instead of Your sarcastic tone wasn’t working for me say, The tone of the piece was sarcastic.  This can be disadvantageous if it alienates a reader who takes the theme seriously, but if your intention is to distance the reader from the action, this can be an effective tool.
    • ask questions.  Rephrase a criticism into a question about why the thing you didn’t like had to be that way.  Instead of I didn’t like the stop-and-start rhythm of the piece ask Why did you choose to break up the flow of rhythm in the piece? Was this deliberate?
  • No orders: don’t tell the writer what to do in phrases like You should or I suggest that you or Why don’t you try.  You are not here to rewrite the piece for the writer.  Period. You are here to:
    • reflect what you received from your reading back at the writer so that they know what their readers are understanding and what they aren't understanding. So tell them what you got without evaluative framing.
    • reflect what you understand of writing craft back at the writer, so that the writers can distance themselves from their work enough to place their work in the context of the overall discipline. So do this for them: take what you know about the craft, and use it to analyze the work. Remind them of the effect certain tactics tend to have; the advantages and disadvantages.
  • THE WRITER WILL NOT SPEAK. PERIOD. The whole point of writing is to "speak" to an audience that is dislocated from you in space and time. This means you do not get to stand over your audience's shoulder and tell them what they missed. They get it from your writing, or not at all. Thus, in the workshop, writers do not speak. You can ask specific questions at the end, but no explanations!
  • All work will be treated as fiction: which means that even if you are actually writing about yourself in first person, using your own name, we will still treat that character as a character … because it is a character in a story and not actually you. We will also be using the Law of Fictional Plausibility (see world-building handout), which states that if something doesn't feel plausible told in a story, then it doesn't matter whether or not it actually happened in real life.

January 03, 2014

What I Read in 2013

  1. Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
  2. When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
  3. Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
  4. Safe House Meg Cabot
  5. Sanctuary Meg Cabot
  6. 1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
  7. Prophecy Ellen Oh
  8. The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
  9. Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
  10. Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
  11. Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
  12. Altered Jennifer Rush
  13. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
  14. Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn
  15. Secret Identity Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
  16. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  17. Witches Incorporated K.E. Mills
  18. Wizard Squared K.E. Mills
  19. Wizard Undercover K.E. Mills
  20. Bitten Kelley Armstrong
  21. Raised by Wolves Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  22. Trial By Fire Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  23. Taken By Storm Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  24. Every Other Day Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  25. Nobody  Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  26. The Squad: Perfect Cover Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  27. The Squad: Killer Spirit Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  28. Full Moon Rising Keri Arthur
  29. Kissing Sin Keri Arthur
  30. A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
  31. A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin
  32. A Storm of Swords George R. R. Martin
  33. A Feast for Crows George R. R. Martin
  34. A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin
  35. Magic Rises Ilona Andrews
  36. Kitty in the Underworld Carrie Vaughn
  37. Blood of Tyrants Naomi Novik
  38. Ender's Game Orson Scott Card
  39. Divergent Veronica Roth
  40. Insurgent Veronica Roth
  41. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman P.D. James
  42. Death Comes to Pemberley P.D. James
  43. Chimes at Midnight Seanan McGuire
  44. The Bitter Kingdom Rae Carson
  45. Redshirts John Scalzi
  46. Legend Marie Lu
  47. Prodigy Marie Lu
  48. The Selection Kiera Cass
  49. The Elite Kiera Cass
  50. The Prince Kiera Cass
  51. The Giver Lois Lowry
  52. Gathering Blue Lois Lowry
  53. Messenger Lois Lowry
  54. Midnight Riot Ben Aaronovitch
  55. Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
  56. The Thing About Luck Cynthia Kadohata
  57. After the Golden Age Carrie Vaughn
  58. Omens Kelley Armstrong
  59. The Gathering Kelley Armstrong
  60. The Calling Kelley Armstrong
  61. The Summoning Kelley Armstrong
  62. The Awakening Kelley Armstrong
  63. The Reckoning Kelley Armstrong
  64. The Rising  Kelley Armstrong
  65. Parasite Mira Grant
  66. Champion Marie Lu
  67. Homeland Cory Doctorow
  68. Whispers Under Ground Ben Aaronovitch
  69. For the Win Cory Doctorow
  70. Pirate Cinema Cory Doctorow
  71. Tantalize Cynthia Leitich Smith
  72. Eternal Cynthia Leitich Smith
  73. Blessed Cynthia Leitich Smith
  74. Diabolical Cynthia Leitich Smith
  75. Feral Nights Cynthia Leitich Smith
  76. Gameboard of the Gods Richelle Mead
  77. Succubus Blues Richelle Mead
  78. Succubus on Top Richelle Mead 

Sigh. There were a lot of unfinished reads that I didn't note here. And a LOT of re-reads, which I also (mostly) didn't note. Even so, you can tell I'm reading about two books per week. Gobbling, actually. Many of these I couldn't remember at all. My memory has gotten really really terrible. Probably not helped by all the gobbling.

So, new rules: after gobbling one and before gobbling another, I have summarize the book in this here blog. So I don't forget, and so that, maybe, when the next in the series comes out, I don't have to go back and re-read the previous ones. Argh.

June 07, 2013

Doctors Bad, Doctors Good

I wanted to write about something I was thinking about last night. I've been very frustrated throughout my life by the quality (or lack thereof) of the doctors I have to deal with.

To recap: I'm a type one diabetic with Hashimoto's -- both for about 32 years -- plus vitiligo, and a couple other smaller autoimmune isshooz, not to mention allergies. I've also recently (last 3.5 years) acquired chronic fatigue syndrome, which is suspected to also be an immunological disease. Basically, my immune system has fucked. me. up.

When you have diabetes and hypothyroid, your type of specialist is an endocrinologist (in the US, anyway. Germany is another story.) Endocrinologists (or Diabetologists in Germany) are doctors who deal with a lot of chronic and/or lifelong patients, and that necessitates ... well, let's let Wikipedia tell us:

Endocrinology involves caring for the person as well as the disease. Most endocrine disorders are chronic diseases that need lifelong care. Some of the most common endocrine diseases include diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and metabolic syndrome. Care of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases necessitates understanding the patient at the personal and social level as well as the molecular, and the physician–patient relationship can be an important therapeutic process.

You'd think that something that makes it into Wikipedia -- and has its own subhead, no less -- would actually make it into the real-world practice of endocrinology, wouldn't you? But really? Not so much.

I've been a diabetic/Hashimoto's sufferer for 32 years, on three continents, in three countries, in eight cities, and under the care of 13 diabetes/endocrinology specialists. Of these, only one was a good doctor (Professor Meissner of Berlin, Germany) and one was a decent doctor (Dr. Bohannon of San Francisco, who isn't really taking patients anymore.) The rest were folks I tolerated so I could get my prescriptions and tests.

So, what, in my opinion, makes a doctor good or bad? Well, I'll tell ya. And, as usual for me, I'm gonna do it with bullet points. Here's a comparison of "Bad Doctors Do" and "Good Doctors Do."

Big Fat Caveat: there are types of medicine which are very specifically fixit. I'm thinking orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine, plastics, maybe all surgery, ... even oncology to a certain extent (although maybe it shouldn't be. I dunno, should we look at cancer as a lifelong illness? Nobody wants to but ...) I'm not speaking to those kinds of doctors, who are being asked by patients and society very explicitly to fix a specific problem which tends to be localized. This is for all the other doctors, and especially the endos, who ought to know going in that their patients are patients for life.

Bad Doctors:

  • Problematize everything and want to fix the problem. I think this might be that the profession self-selects for people who want to fix problems mechanically, people who greatly desire prestige, or both. The media contributes to this by presenting us with narratives of good doctors who want to become doctors because they lose a loved one to a curable disease or catastrophic injury. The overwhelming glut of hospital shows (vs. private practice shows) mirrors our medical system's decline and the rise of HMOs. We're all viewing medicine as a case-by-case practice, in which patients only come when there's a problem, and tend not to come back. And again, the profession self-selects for people who thrive in, or at least desire, this kind of scenario. Thus, when a patient won't/can't live day-to-day according to the doctor's prescriptions for behavior and life-structuring, the patient is blocking their own treatment. Their lives/lifestyles are problems that need to be fixed, rather than human lives that treatment needs to be adapted to.
  • Get frustrated when they can't fix things and blame the patient. If they're fixit guys they just get frustrated, and if they're prestige-hounds, they take the inability to fix things as an attack on their prestige in addition to that. In either case, the problem is a blow to their self-esteem, and they tend to blame the patient either directly (by telling the patient that they're doing things wrong and getting mad at them) or indirectly (by losing interest in the patient and refusing to put themselves out for the patient any more.)
  • View themselves as the subject, and protagonist, of the patient's case. This is probably a rather subtle distinction for the doctor, but it's pretty damned glaring for the patient. In the doctor's mind, the doctor's thinking and actions are central to the case -- because the doctor's fixit action is the action that moves the plot -- and the patient's thoughts and actions, much less the course of their life, is of little to no consequence, because they don't have the medical expertise to understand their own bodies and lives. I think the problem may be that many patients also view themselves as camera fodder for a real-life movie about a heroic doctor. You should read the doctor testimonials on Yelp. The positive reviews read like episode treatments for a hospital show like E.R. or House.
  • View patients as grist for the heroic doctor mill. Yes, everyone is the center of their own universe, and the doctor's perspective is one of a person who is in the office all day while different people come in and out. Yes. But, as a consultant, I had no trouble understanding that I was there to serve a less skilled client with my greater expertise, and that it was not the client's duty to give me opportunities to hone my expertise against their inexperience. The practice of medicine does not use the language of "consultant/client" and that's for a very deeply rooted and problematic reason: namely that our medical system doesn't view doctors as consultants and patients as clients. The subjectivity/objectivity of doctor/patient is all backasswards. Patients are there for them to exercise their doctoring on. A patient who insists on viewing things differently is a difficult patient. A patient whose disease won't behave the way the doctor expects is a difficult patient. A patient who wants to make her own decisions is a difficult patient.
  • Don't listen to the patient. This is a problem with a number of facets. For example, many doctors I've encountered simply don't listen at all. They get impatient, interrupt, look away when you're talking, don't listen. (I had one doctor who stood at the door with his hand on the doorknob during our consultation. I had to call him back twice to finish telling him what was wrong.) But there are also the doctors who make a big show of having long intake interviews and long appointments, and give good bedside manner, but during that time, they're not really listening and it takes you a while to notice. (One doctor, touted as one of the best in the country, really made me feel heard during our intake interview. But when I saw his notes from that interview later, I discovered that he had actually written down the opposite of what I'd told him in the interview. He'd actually asked me yes or no questions, to which I'd answer no, and then he'd written down yes!) There are also doctors who listen to your answers to their questions, but dismiss extra things you tell them as unimportant. They determine what gets considered (by them) and what doesn't, and ignore anything outside of what they consider important. They don't trust the patient to articulate their own disease, their own experiences, and their own lives.
  • Doctor by numbers. This is an extension of not listening. I understand that doctors are trained to operate according to protocols, and that the protocols are established by numbers and probability. I get that it works, especially in triage/emergency situations, or with patients who don't have long-term chronic illnesses and are often appearing with new symptoms for the first time. I get it. But we're talking about chronic disease doctors who see their chronic patients 2-4 times per year, every year, and are supposed to be helping these patients manage lifelong, complex, and mutable diseases. Doctoring by numbers encourages doctors to stick to what's probable and expected and ignore outlying manifestations, and atypical symptoms.

    But for someone like me, whose entire life and course of disease has been atypical, this is a really dangerous way to treat a patient. I've had two doctors call me in a panic (only after taking a blood test) and refer me to another doctor because they had no idea what was going on with me, even though I'd been having weird symptoms for a while and had been asking them to work with me to figure out what was going on. (In both cases, they were simple, small things that they simply weren't trained to know about.) I've had another two doctors simply ignore a huge problem because their protocols didn't tell them how to fix it (which is how my chronic fatigue syndrome went undiagnosed for over two years.) They didn't even try to refer me to anyone else, or make any suggestions about how I could go about figuring out what was wrong. They just gave up.
  • Block communication between themselves and patients. Chronic disease docs need to be available to deal with issues as they come up. Life is lived in between appointments. Doctor's answering services (as opposed to their office staff) used to be perfectly adequate to connect doctor and patient. You left a message, they called the doc immediately and conveyed the message, the doc called you back when s/he could. Easy. I never used to have a problem talking with my doctor within 24 hours of reaching out. Nowadays, with email, docs have something even more simple (and inexpensive) patients could use to communicate directly. But now, docs aren't using either: the answering service, or the free email option.

    One doctor I've worked with used to have an email address, but then shut it down when he said that some patients were contacting him too often. Seriously, who does that? Who cuts off communications with all of his patients because one or two email him too much? (And does he not know how the delete button works?) This doc also takes a week to call back, if he calls back, and half the time, he doesn't. This issue of communication is directly related to viewing your patient as a guinea pig or a dependent rather than a client and decider. If you are a consultant, you can't consult without, you know, consulting. Consultants give their clients their phone numbers and emails. If you're a hero/fixit guy, on the other hand, you're probably thinking at some subconscious level that patients should be seen and not heard. You don't need the distraction and it only encourages them to think their thoughts and ideas and words are important.

Good Doctors:

  • View the patient as the decider. Patient as manager, patient as life-holder, patient as protagonist, patient as client, patient as employer ... what have you. Patient as the agent in the case. The (very few) good doctors I've seen have all been very laid back in the examining room. I think it's because they know it's not their life or health on the line. They're just there to give good advice to grown-ass adults who get to make their own decisions and have to bear the consequences alone. So their job is actually easier than the jobs of hero/protagonist/fixit doctors whose prestige and self-esteem are bound up in making the object/patient/grist/antagonist/disease behave according to plan.
  • Take active steps to empower patients to inform themselves. I can't tell you how important -- on many levels -- it is for a doctor to hand you an article or a slip of paper on which they've written down a book title or a website url. I can also tell you exactly how many have done so for me: two. Referring patients to outside information should be a no-brainer, but I actually think that bad doctors deliberately avoid it because they don't want to have to waste their time fielding the questions and theories that will ensue. There are a lot of other resources -- support groups, trainings, consultants, products, etc. -- that a doctor can offer or make known to you that most doctors simply don't. (In addition to the two mentioned above, only one other doc has offered any of these resources to me.) Perhaps they shouldn't be, but doctors are the primary source and clearinghouse of information and resources. We have no other. If the doctor does not act in this manner or instruct their staff to act in this manner, this service won't exist for patients.
  • Treat the patient as the decider. Some doctors will tell you that there were other choices but that they chose this for you, without explaining what the other choices were. (Yes, this has happened to me, many times.) Other doctors will only present you with one treatment option, and will only tell you there are others if you specifically ask. Most of these doctors won't, or will only reluctantly and angrily, lay out the pros and cons of each option and sit still while you consider and decide. (I once insisted on making a decision for myself and the doctor actually gave me a pamphlet and left the room to visit another patient "while I was deciding," rather than sticking around to lay it out for me and answer my questions. When he came back and found that I, inevitably, had questions, he got impatient. This was for eye surgery.) I can't stress enough that it is not the doctor's job to decide your treatment for you. The doctor has no right to do that. It's the doctor's job to enable you to make an informed decision for yourself, i.e. to consult with you, as a consultant, and lay out your options and their pros and cons. If they have to spend the whole day saying the same things over and over again to different people, well, that's their fucking job, and they get paid a mint to do it.
  • Give the patients plenty of time in appointments -- and make time for follow up phone calls. My wonderful doctor in Germany -- Professor Meissner -- typically made you wait 1-1.5 hours in his waiting room after your appointment was scheduled for. He took his last appointment at 4 pm, but people would be in his waiting room until nearly 7. And he took walk-ins every day and bumped scheduled appointments back for them. No one EVER complained, because everyone got exactly as much time as they needed with him. Sometimes it was ten minutes, sometimes half an hour. BTW, he only had office hours four days/week, like a lot of docs, but when he was there, he was completely there. He was available for phone calls but I never made them because our appointments were so thorough.
  • View disease/life management as a strategy, with tactics, and one that has to be adjusted to fit each life. I'm not sure I need to detail this. It's the opposite of doctoring by numbers. But I guess I would add that they view disease management as a subset of life, rather than something completely separate from life, or something that life interferes with and shouldn't be allowed to interfere with.
  • Ask you about your life, and follow up with detailed questions. Dr. Meissner would specifically ask, and Dr. Bohannon wouldn't ask, but would usually listen when I told her. I'd tell Dr. Meissner when I had a broken heart or when I was going on a trip, or if work was stressful or good. He always knew what was going on in my life in general (he took notes and followed up) and could ground his suggestions for management in the context of my actual life. He knew, and told me, that stress affected me physically, and that the course of my life affected how I approached my diabetes management. And his and sometimes Dr. Bohannon's suggestions for actual disease management tactics referred clearly and specifically to things I'd told them about what was going on in my life. Both of them gave me the party line about what I should be doing, according to protocol, but both listened when I said I wouldn't or couldn't do that, and helped me come up with compromises or alternative tactics to adjust to my actual life.
  • Listen to you and think about the things that you consider important. A good doctor will realize -- and actually tell you -- that you know your body best. A good doctor will empower you to think and talk about what's happening to you and to use their knowledge to improve your own knowledge and understanding. Dr. Meissner took my every idea and thought seriously, even if some of those were quite ridiculous. When he didn't have an answer, he'd say so, and say he'd think about it. And he proved that he had by coming back to me in a later visit with an answer or a study or a suggestion. If I said something silly, he'd explain to me why it wasn't quite right. Dr. Bohannon often snorted or dismissed my silly ideas, but she just as often walked me through the why. Frankly, the bedside manner is a lot less important than the substance. Even brittle, querulous patients can tell when they're being respected and when they're not.
  • Read and study and keep up with the field, and parallel tracks and make this knowledge available to their patients. Dr. Meissner was the head of the national diabetes association. Dr. Bohannon was heavily involved in research. Not every doctor can, or wants to, do this. But I think reading medical journals is less taxing and time-consuming anyway. Why aren't more doctors doing the reading? And if they are, why isn't the reading making it into their practice and their discussions with patients? Most doctors I've seen, you wouldn't even know if they were literate, because there was no evidence that they ever read anything (including your chart.) And it's not just their specialty, and not just medical journals. I've been given articles from mainstream magazines (because they're easier for a patient to understand) and also heard advice from good doctors that was gleaned from patient anecdotes and other sources. Funny thing about docs who listen to their patients: they hear really useful and interesting things they can pass on to other patients. Dr. Meissner would come back from conferences and tell me about the sessions he'd attended and what the takeaway was. Dr. Bohannon talked about what research was currently happening and what the implications of that research could be. They gave me ideas. They gave me grist.
  • Have a "let's find out" attitude. Yeah, one doctor can't know everything. And if your symptoms are atypical (as mine often are) they could mean anything. I get it. But there's a difference between your admission of ignorance causing you to shrug and look away, and your ignorance inspiring you to find the fuck out what's going on. A chronic illness practice like endocrinology is going to have a lot of daily management of disease issues, where the doc has to help the patient adjust a standardized treatment protocol to fit their life. But it's also going to have some of the special issues that are individual and unexpected -- sudden illnesses or creeping symptoms that puzzle both patient and doctor. And these things are often easily diagnosed wrong. I've recently had a lot of experience with docs easily diagnosing something weird that's wrong with me, only to discover later that they were wrong. It's at that "you were wrong" moment that the true quality of a doc comes out. Do they shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know what to tell you," or do they frown and say, "Hm, let's figure this out"? I can tell you right now which type of doc is the one who's actually going to be of help to you.

Okay, I know that Dr. Meissner operated in 90s Germany, where every individual was required to have health insurance, and there was a national insurance plan, government subsidized, that paid for everything: dental, eye, appointments, prescriptions -- everything. I know he had hella leeway and he fully took advantage of it. BUT. All of the other doctors I saw in Germany (and I saw a lot of them; the insurance allowed me to see as many docs as I wanted, for free, and I took hella advantage) were bad or mediocre doctors. Oh, I could tell you some horror stories. Point is: a good socialized medicine can make it easier for a doc to practice good doctorin', but it's not socialized medicine that makes a good doc. It's good doctorin' that makes a good doc.

One small note, and I know they've done studies on this and the majority feel the opposite of how I do, but: in Germany, doctors call the patients Mr. or Ms. Lastname. Here, until the last five or six years, my doctors have all been older than I am, so being called "Claire" by someone whom I address as Dr. Lastname isn't quite so outrageous. But now that I'm starting to see doctors my age or younger, the relationship implied in that naming inequality is starting to chafe. I'm the fucking client. I'm the employer. Either they give me their first name or they give me equal formality. Who do they fucking think they are?

March 18, 2013

Today's Mantra: It Does Not Help

It does not help to beat myself up for having no energy today, although I "feel fine."

It does not help to wonder if I just got up and put on street clothes would I feel differently.

It does not help to wonder if I'm just being lazy.

It does not help to reflect on how "curious" it is that sometimes "fatigue" means nothing more than a complete lack of will, and all the while secretly think that it's a cover for laziness. (Isn't it?)

It does not help to force myself into the presence of others when I'm in a "bad mood," thinking that I should just "get over myself."

It does not help to know intellectually that a "bad mood" means I'm tired today, but not to act appropriately on that knowledge.

It does not help to behave as if I'm not sick.

It does not help to be stoic. I do not have the energy to be stoic.

It does not help to second guess the decisions I make about being tired. I know when I have energy, and I equally know when I don't.

It does not help to waste time and brain space "regretting" that this time in my life is wasted. I have nothing to regret. I haven't done anything wrong. This is just a more subtle way of calling myself lazy.

It does not help to feel badly about not writing today, this week, this month. I do what I can.

It does not help to think that this is not who I am, really. This is really who I am, now. I am not my disease, but I am my responses to it, among other things.

... and yes, I am acting, slowly, on things that might help. Suggestions, and especially referrals, would help.

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

February 22, 2013

There ARE Second Acts in American Blog Posts

It seems my "damned if you do, damned if you don't" post about white writers writing about POC has been Tumblred and hit some sort of critical mass. It even reached people I know who missed it the first time around. Someone even emailed me today for permission to use it in a presentation. (The same day I deleted a comment calling it "reverse racist." I don't allow that term to be used on my blog.)

So I went to the original Tumblr post and read through all the comments (I still don't get Tumblr. Why make it so difficult to see people's responses?) and I find I have a couple more things to say.

  1. This is a "shut up and deal with it" post. It's not a post telling you what or what not to do with your life. It's a post telling white writers who have been fortunate enough to complete a book, find a publisher, find an audience, and have a public discussion happen about their work to "shut up and deal with the negative criticism in the midst of your good fortune." Shut up and deal with it.
  2. Dude, you don't know any of these people who might be criticizing you. Why would you let my saying that a few nameless, faceless (literally, this is the internet) POC will criticize you stop you from doing anything?

...

Yeah, that's pretty much all I had to say. Beyond that, whoever doesn't get it, doesn't get it. Maybe someday they will.

Also, here's a good rephrasing.

And here's a moment of perspective.

And, if anyone was wondering, here's an ideal response from a white writer.

February 15, 2013

CFS Info Gathering

I've been trying to read what I can about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome online but when I google the words, I get a lot of Mayo Clinic and WebMD stuff. Unfortunately, those medical sites only post what can be substantiated by studies, so the nuance is missing. Also, they only use scientific language, so you might not be able to recognize your symptoms.

It wasn't until I googled one symptom "post-exertional malaise" for my last post that I found a series of articles on About.com by a woman with CFS and Fybromyalgia (they often go together, although I only have the one), which is well-written, easy to understand, and describes what I have in a way I recognize. Finally!

Here's the finale from her article "Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Simple Explanation."

Chronic fatigue syndrome can take someone who is educated, ambitious, hardworking and tireless, and rob them of their ability to work, clean house, exercise, think clearly and ever feel awake or healthy.

  • It's NOT psychological "burn out" or depression.
  • It's NOT laziness.
  • It's NOT whining or malingering.
  • It IS the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and the brain that's hard to understand, difficult to treat, and, so far, impossible to cure.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious, life-altering, frustrating, often misunderstood illness. What people with ME/CFS need most of all from those around them is emotional support and understanding.

Exactly. That's what I keep trying to tell the new folks at KSW (where I worked/work on the board). I think they get it, but it's really hard to be getting to know new people when I'm like this. I feel like I'm coming across as moody, whiny, difficult, flaky, etc.

I was always "difficult," but I used to be more energetic than everyone else, passionate, dedicated, able, profoundly competent. I used to be the one who picked up everyone else's slack.

It's possible now that no one new will ever see me this way again.

February 14, 2013

Post-exertional Malaise

It's one of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and it basically means that after you exert yourself, you have a CFS flare-up -- a symptom flare-up. For me, it means getting really tired, or just getting really no-energy.

I had a really good three days the past three days. I got up at a reasonable hour, without too much dragging, made myself breakfast, did yoga, went out to a cafe or, on one day, the library, to do research/writing on my UF novel, walked there and back, made myself dinner, and stayed within my calorie limit (I'm trying to not gain any more weight.)

Today started out the same: reasonable get-up, breakfast, yoga, shower ... and then, yeah, I trailed off. I kept trying to get myself ready to go to the cafe and write some more. The cafe has good salads and that was going to be my lunch, and I sat at the internet and surfed and got hungrier and hungrier. But as I got hungrier, I also got more tired ... until I finally realized that I was having the latter half of a bad day. I considered making lunch but realized I was too tired, so I went to the Mexican place two blocks away, doing the CFS shuffle the whole way.

The CFS shuffle makes me look (in my imagination, I don't really know how I look) like a junkie on the nod trying to walk down the street. Have you ever seen that? Where they're so high they can barely put a foot in front of the other? That's me on a bad day. I'm walking, and my brain is going at close to normal speed, so I can tell that I'm moving too slowly, but I simply can't make my legs move faster.

Usually post-exertional malaise happens pretty soon after exertion. (And it's all exertion, not just physical. Having a two-hour meeting can knock me out for the rest of the day as well. So can having dinner with friends, or writing intently for a few hours.) Generally, the malaise comes because I've used up all my energy with the exertion.

But this time, it seems I'm PEMing for the past three days all at once. Interesting.

Also! I found this article from a lupus sufferer that explains how you have to get through your day when your energy is limited. It's called The Spoon Theory. From a website called "But You Don't Look Sick.com" Indeed.

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 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.

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.

August 26, 2012

Reading Update: Yes, I'm Still Alive, and Still Reading Urban Fantasy

  1. Naomi Novik Crucible of Gold
  2. The entire Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (reread)
  3. Seanan McGuire Discount Armageddon
  4. Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice
  5. Robin Hobb Royal Assassin
  6. Robin Hobb Assassin's Quest
  7. The entire Carrie Vaughn Kitty Norville series (reread)
  8. Robin Hobb Fool's Errand
  9. Robin Hobb Golden Fool
  10. Robin Hobb Fool's Fate
  11. Holly Black Black Heart
  12. The Hunger Games series (reread)
  13. Kristin Cashore Bitterblue
  14. Patricia Briggs Bloodbound
  15. The entire Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (reread)
  16. Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
  17. C.E. Murphy Urban Shaman
  18. C.E. Murphy Thunderbird Falls
  19. C.E. Murphy Walking Dead
  20. C.E. Murphy Coyote Dreams
  21. C.E. Murphy Winter Moon
  22. C.E. Murphy Demon Hunts
  23. C.E. Murphy Spirit Dances
  24. C.E. Murphy Raven Calls
  25. C.E. Murphy Heart of Stone
  26. Ilona Andrews Gunmetal Magic
  27. Ilona Andrews Magic Dreams
  28. Carrie Vaughn Kitty Steals the Show
  29. Saima Wahab In My Father's Country
  30. Faith Hunter Cat Tales
  31. Kalayna Price Grave Witch
  32. Kalayna Price Grave Dance
  33. Kalayna Price Grave Memory

Well, it turns out that I didn't post about this, but around the time I stopped posting again this past spring, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Please note, that this is the diagnosis, not the onset of the disease. The onset happened around December 2009.

So, around the time I got the diagnosis, I realized that I actually had a pattern established, and that the disease got worse in the spring and summer and better in the fall and winter. And that is, indeed, what happened again this year.

This year's edition of Summer Slump was both better and worse than the previous years. Better because, unlike the previous two freelancey years, I had a regular, go-to-work job at KSW, and there was no one else around to keep the org afloat, so I had to do it. So I was forced to stay active. Worse for the same reason: I was forced to stay active, so what little energy I had was spoken for, and even that wasn't enough, leaving less energy than ever before for taking care of myself.

You'll notice that I have a lot of re-reads here, and most of my reading has been re-reading or catching up on the latest installments of my favorite urban fantasy series. I think it's a good indicator of my state of mind. Simply no energy to try to handle new input, only rehashes of the old input.

No other commentary. It's too hard on my brain.

Oh, wait, one other thing: my short term memory has grown so bad, from the CFS, that rereading entire series is necessary before I can read the latest installment. Sad.

January 02, 2012

2012 Resolutions

Sigh.

There's basically only one: figure out this health thing and get on top of it.

That includes some sub-resolutions, though, including:

  • Talking to my GP this week
  • Trying out the gluten-free diet
  • Getting health insurance
  • Maybe visiting the Mayo clinic, if my hypothetical health insurance will pay for it
  • Getting acupuncture
  • Doing exercise every day, no matter what
  • Working on going to bed early and getting not only enough sleep, but the right kind of sleep
  • etc.

I'm so boring.

August 25, 2011

Not My Fault

Today is a Bad Day. I woke up with my alarm and knew instantly that I wouldn't get up. It took me two hours of dozing off and lazing around and cuddling with my cat. At times it felt a little luxurious, but mostly I just felt the fatigue: the mild exhaustion I knew wouldn't go away with more sleep; the minor fatigue that doesn't actually prevent me from doing anything in particular; that is like fog, that retreats in a vague diameter around you as you drive forward, but doesn't dissipate, and closes in behind you as you go.

It's taken me three years, but I'm finally learning to recognize the Good Days from the Bad, on a granular level. And I'm slowly learning to recognize that Bad Days are Not My Fault. When I started to really slow down three years ago, getting these waves of energy loss and occasional fatigue, I thought it was my fault. Of course, I was still drinking then, so I could blame them on the occasional hangover (although I was becoming surprised at how aging can cause you to get a hangover from one glass of wine.) I was also still drinking caffeine at that point, so I could treat the "hangover" with caffeine.

Three years and a myriad symptoms later, I'm through with the medical concept of blame. Being a lifelong chronic illness sufferer, I actually get blamed by my doctors for new symptoms less than most women. It's not the who's to blame game that I'm over, it's the what's to blame: which illness? Which condition? Which system? What can we blame this on? What is the single, root cause of your current suffering, and which drug can take care of it?

I've been seeing the evidence for thirty years, but it finally all came together for me earlier this year when I got dizzy again. I had started having dizzy spells in 2007 and was told by the ENT that it was most likely a virus that infected my inner ear and there was nothing I could do about it, only wait for it to go away. It did and I didn't think about it again until last year when I started getting dizzy spells again. The next ENT diagnosed it as BPPV, an easily treatable condition that you treat with exercises. I did the exercises, it went away. When I ask the doctor if maybe the previous bout was also BPPV, he laughed and said probably; they just diagnose the virus first because that's the protocol.

This was disturbing, but I didn't think about it until earlier this summer when I was hit with the worst allergies I've ever had ... accompanied by a return of the dizzyness. This time, the exercises didn't work right away, and it didn't matter anyway because I was so fatigued and sick-feeling from the allergies that the dizziness was the least of my problems. When the allergies cleared up -- lo and behold -- so did the dizziness. Then I remembered that the "BPPV" had also appeared around allergy time and disappeared as allergy season died down.

I didn't consult an ENT this time. Instead, I thought about it: what if it never was a virus or BPPV at all, but was always allergies? What if allergies had affected me the way a virus did, so it was essentially a "virus" after all? What if it was both a virus and BPPV? What if there were other factors? What if he only diagnosed BPPV because that's second on the protocol? Etc.

Upshot: the dizziness went away, but I still don't know for sure what the problem was and may never do so. The main point is that the dizziness went away, and if and when it comes back, I know it will most likely go away again, and I just have to manage it until then.

And the same thoughts can be applied to all my problems. There's probably more than just one cause for everything that's wrong with me -- given how many things are wrong with me. I can't wait for the savior diagnosis. I have to just live with what's going on now, and still have a life, even if things don't get better.

Sounds depressing, but it's actually heartening. It makes me feel stronger.

June 28, 2011

On Being Harassed in the Street

Up front I'm telling you that this is about Hollaback's "I've Got Your Back" campaign, to create an online and offline movement to end street harassment. I've donated and I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Boy, it's been a long time since I posted. Actually, the last time I posted was right around the time that I moved back to San Francisco. And I'm so glad to be back.

But I don't tell people that one of the reasons I'm so glad to be back in the city is that the amount of harassment I encounter has gone waaaaaay down. The main reason I don't mention it is that the reactions of many people break my heart. Too many people, upon being told in general that I get a lot of harassment, act uncomfortable -- with me! -- and don't offer me any sympathy, much less engage in any discussion. I'm talking about abstract conversations here, where there's no immediate danger, and all I'm doing is communicating.

It's so much worse, then, when the harassment happens in front of your friends or social circle and they do nothing or act uncomfortable with you, as if you were the one who had done something wrong. I know that those situations can be sometimes scary or emotionally heightened. But think about the general emotional orientation of someone who doesn't, when the scary moment is over, automatically offer help and sympathy to a friend who has just been verbally assaulted.

I mean, c'mon, people! How hard is it to say to your friend who was just harassed, "I'm sorry you had to deal with that," or ask her "are you alright?"

It's those simple offerings that can make the difference between you being part of the problem, and you being part of the solution. Either you kick a friend who's just been kicked, or you blow on her bruise and offer her salve. Why is that such a hard choice?

The immediate sympathy and help is key, but what's an even greater act of friendship is listening, discussing, and helping your friend to process the harassment, to understand it, contextualize it, and help render it less powerful. Treating your friend as a thinking, feeling adult who is capable of understanding what has happened to her, and capable of insight, is a really important part of being an empowered woman in a society that often treats us as meat.

And the greatest act of friendship -- and righteousness -- of all is intervening on the spot, and standing up to the harasser for and with your friend.

This last one -- standing up for your friends -- should be automatic. If it isn't, maybe it's time to think long and hard about how you were raised, and what choices you learned to make to survive. Yeah, I was a bullied kid and I threw other outcasts under the bus if it would save me ... when I was in grade school. But now I'm an adult, and every failure of mine to protect and support my friends when they are attacked is my failure, not theirs. And yes, as an adult I've failed many times, or been weak or stupid in my support. But I'm glad to say that there have also been times when I was mindful enough to succeed in supporting and backing up my friends. And I strive to be that person every day.

I'm thankful for those fierce friends of mine who have done all of these things: Jaime, Patty, Cyndie, Robynn, and others whom I'm forgetting right now. (There have been so many incidents over the years, and when I was younger I deliberately forgot about it when friends failed to support me, so I managed to also forget when they did support me.)

And I'm also remembering people who shall remain nameless -- some of them people I greatly respected -- who stood by and did nothing. And, though I forgive quickly, I'll never forget. As MLK said:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

You're not alone -- in being harassed, in feeling helpless, in not knowing what to do. But tackling street harassment as it happens in front of you is your responsibility, as it is the responsibility of every citizen of a free state.

Please donate to the Hollaback "I've Got Your Back" campaign, and start (or continue) to get everyone's back on this.

March 13, 2011

The Apocalypse Artist on Stretcher

ShieldsSeeSaw

Hello everyone! A collaboration I worked on has just been posted on Stretcher, the local San Francisco arts webzine.

The feature is called See|Saw, and features works by artists and writers responding to each other. I was supposed to look at artist Christine Shields' work and respond to it, but she and I decided to get a little more complicated than that. She showed me a couple of her paintings, then I wrote a story responding to them. Then she read an early draft of my story and made a painting responding to that. (That's, of course, the painting you see above.)

Here's the post.

It was a really fun project and I look forward to seeing future See|Saw projects!

January 08, 2011

SLIGHTLY BEHIND Can Haz E-Reader Version!

Also, I just checked and the e-Reader version of Slightly Behind and to the Left is now available on Aqueduct Press' site, and on Amazon, both for $5.95.

Do buy directly from the publisher when you can, though -- I mean for small presses -- because then they get the whole price and not just the 50% or less that they get from distributors.

Yay!

Hey, my leetle book got onto io9's list of the top 15 books of 2010! Yay! It's good to have friends in high places!

Thanks, Annalee!

January 02, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for 2010

I've done this in the past: made new year's resolutions that I didn't keep. They were too ambitious. I'm going to do smaller ones, that are important, this year. We'll see how this works.

  1. Keep up with my bills. My credit score has gone down, ironically enough because I took steps to pay my bills on time. I used to pay all my bills a bit late. Not three notices late, but sometimes I'd get a late notice or something to remind me. Okay, not "sometimes" but often. So I Took Steps and put all my regular bills on automatic payment from my bank, so that I wouldn't have to think about them. And it worked. I mean, I didn't think about them. The regular bills were fine, but the non-regular ones started seriously falling by the wayside: doctor's bills and parking tickets especially. And those are the two that really don't mess around. So this year, I'm going to pay bills as they come in. No more letting them collect and putting them out of my mind. I'm sure my credit score will start rising immediately, and in seven years I'll be clear of this completely. Sigh.
  2. Exercise. Regularly. No benchmarks this time. No amounts or measurements. Just keep exercising. It's when I get ambitious and want to achieve something with the exercise that I get discouraged. Just get. to. the. gym. Doesn't matter when, doesn't matter why, doesn't matter what I do when I get there. Just go. Regularly.
  3. Finish the damn nobble already. No more fancy processes. No distractions by other projects. Butt in chair. Write. Finish it. This year.
  4. Get insulin pump by April. April is when my COBRA ends. If I'm gonna do it, I gotta do it by then. Maybe I'm still not committed to it, and if not, then I won't do it. I'm still very ambivalent about getting a pump. But I'll resolve intellectually to do it, and my gut (which is, appropriately, where I'll be carrying the damn thing) will make the decision.
  5. Be at peace. I know it's a lifelong, ongoing process, but I'm aiming for it now.

That's all. Maybe too ambitious. Maybe not enough. But we'll see what happens.

January 01, 2011

What I read in 2010

  1. Cinda Williams Chima The Warrior Heir
  2. Cinda Williams Chima The Wizard Heir
  3. Cinda Williams Chima The Dragon Heir
  4. Canyon Sam Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History
  5. Jane Yolen Wizard's Hall
  6. Terry Pratchett Unseen Academicals
  7. Tamora Pierce Alanna: The First Adventure
  8. Tamora Pierce In the Hand of the Goddess
  9. Tamora Pierce The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
  10. Tamora Pierce Lioness Rampant
  11. Lois Duncan A Gift of Magic
  12. Tamora Pierce Melting Stones
  13. Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven
  14. Jacqueline Woodson If You Come Softly
  15. Rick Riordan The Lightning Thief
  16. Rick Riordan The Sea of Monsters
  17. Rick Riordan The Titan's Curse
  18. Rick Riordan The Battle of the Labyrinth
  19. Rick Riordan The Last Olympian
  20. Cynthia Kadohata Outside Beauty
  21. Georgette Heyer The Nonesuch
  22. Georgette Heyer Friday's Child
  23. Georgette Heyer The Reluctant Widow
  24. David Small Stitches
  25. Malinda Lo Ash
  26. Georgette Heyer Faro's Daughter
  27. Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army
  28. Kristin Cashore Graceling
  29. Kristin Cashore Fire
  30. Scott Westerfeld Leviathan
  31. Zetta Elliott A Wish After Midnight
  32. Robin McKinley Sunshine
  33. Robin McKinley Chalice
  34. Robin McKinley Spindle's End
  35. Ed Lin This is a Bust
  36. Ed Lin Snakes Can't Run
  37. Robin McKinley The Hero and the Crown
  38. Nami Mun Miles from Nowhere
  39. Cynthia Kadohata Kira Kira
  40. Sarah Rees Brennan The Demon Lexicon
  41. Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol I
  42. Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol II
  43. Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol III
  44. Shailja Patel Migritude
  45. A. Lee Martinez The Automatic Detective
  46. Slave narratives:
    • Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw 
    • The Confessions of Nat Turner 
    • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
    • Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green by Jacob D. Green
    • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
  47. John Green and David Levithan Will Grayson Will Grayson
  48. Mark C. Carnes Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America
  49. S. C. Gwynne Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
  50. Afsaneh Mogadam Death to the Dictator! A Young Man Casts a Vote in Iran's 2009 Election and Pays a Devastating Price
  51. Shauna Cross Whip It
  52. Nick Hornby Slam
  53. Robin McKinley The Blue Sword
  54. Suzy McKee Charnas Walk to the End of the World
  55. Suzy McKee Charnas Motherlines
  56. John Gardner On Becoming a Novelist
  57. Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol IV
  58. Angela S. Choi Hello Kitty Must Die
  59. Stieg Larson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  60. Suzy McKee Charnas The Furies
  61. Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Played with Fire
  62. Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
  63. Meg Cabot The Mediator #1: Shadowland
  64. Meg Cabot The Mediator #2: Ninth Key
  65. Meg Cabot The Mediator #3: Reunion
  66. Meg Cabot The Mediator #4: Darkest Hour
  67. Meg Cabot The Mediator #5: Haunted 
  68. Meg Cabot The Mediator #6: Twilight
  69. Suzy McKee Charnas The Conqueror's Daughter
  70. Sharon Shinn Troubled Waters
  71. Patricia Wrede Mairelon the Magician
  72. Patricia Wrede The Magician's Ward
  73. Kate Elliott Cold Magic
  74. Gail Carrigan Soulless
  75. Gail Carrigan Shameless
  76. Gail Carrigan Blameless
  77. Robin McKinley Pegasus
  78. Marta Acosta Haunted Honeymoon
  79. Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games
  80. Suzanne Collins Catching Fire
  81. Suzanne Collins Mockingjay
  82. Richelle Mead Vampire Academy
  83. Richelle Mead Frostbite
  84. Richelle Mead Shadow Kiss
  85. Richelle Mead Blood Promise
  86. Naomi Novik Tongues of Serpents
  87. Richelle Mead Spirit Bound
  88. Ally Condie Matched
  89. Richelle Mead The Last Sacrifice
  90. Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
  91. Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
  92. Pete Hautman Sweetblood
  93. James Dashner The Maze Runner
  94. A.S. King The Dust of 100 Dogs

Okay, that's a LOT of YA. This, more than any before, was the year of YA reading. Clearly I'm meant to be writing some of this. We'll see if that happens.

94 books

59 YA; 7 nonfiction; 1 single straight up litfic.

53 authors: 32 women/21 men; 19 writers of color (as far as I know.)

I'll be straight witcha: this year's reading was almost all escapism. I didn't try to see where the art form was going, how adult fiction is experimenting or developing. I read for pleasure and escape only. And I'm fine with it; 2011 was a rough year for me and I needed my escapism.

But I am looking forward to getting back to other kinds of reading in 2011.

December 31, 2010

E-existential Question of the Last Day of the Year

Why do I blog?

November 15, 2010

I'm Reading This Friday!

Fire flyer full color lo-res

October 26, 2010

Na No Wri Mo Pledge

Every year I try to do something alternative for NaNo and every year I fail. Part of the reason is that I'm still writing on the same nobble, so I can't do the actual NaNo project. But part is just laziness and unpreparedness.

This year I'm just going to pledge early and try to psyche myself up. I haven't written any short stories in a long time -- I think da nobble has dried me up somewhat -- so I'm hoping this will shake some things loose.

My pledge this year is to write a piece of instant fiction every day during November. "Instant Fiction" is my name for the piece I write on the spot, and post on the spot, inspired by an image or video I've found on the internet. I tried writing some instant fictions in July of '09 and they weren't very good, but it was kind of a fun process. So this year, in November, I'm going to write one every day.

I noticed, when writing "Abducted by Aliens!" which is mostly a collection of 40 100-word episodes, that as I got into it, I found it easier and easier to draft an episode and have it land close to 100 words the first time (the first several episodes were much longer and had to be edited down.) So I'm hoping that I'll settle into a particular length or shape as the month goes on and will sort of invent my own form -- for the month anyway.

That's all.

October 04, 2010

Migration and Identity

No, this isn't another race post.

You might have noticed a slight change in the look of the blog recently ;). The amazing Derek Chung is redesigning my online personality right now. When he's done, I will not only have a MUCH prettier blog (though my soul will remain as schmutzig as a pig's latrine), but I'll also have a whole website with stuff.

Feel free to express positive opinions about the lovely redesign. And also feel free to tell me if something is uncomfortable or doesn't work right.

That is all.

August 15, 2010

Miners and the Year Abroad

From Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth Century America by Richard Stott:
The argonauts felt free to reject the tenets of bourgeois conventionality not only because of the absence of white women and churches but also because their California sojourn was temporary. ... Most of those involved understood that the day would come when they would return to their settled existence in the states. Horace Greeley thought that rural men went to cities "to balance a year's compelled decorum by a week's unrestrained debauchery." If a week on the Bowery could compensate for a year of pious and sober behavior, what would a year in California do? Balance it for a lifetime? California lived on in the memory of former miners as something close to paradise, a place that had afforded them a charmed season of youth, jolly fellowship, and few responsibilities. One forty-niner wrote of his "fascination in the memories of that time ... [and] intense longing for such days again, ... I feel a pang, almost a pain, at the thought that I shall never see their like again." Perhaps the careful gold-rush diaries that so many men kept were to help them vicariously relive their once in a lifetime adventure. For the returnees, indulging their unruly impulses during the gold rush may have helped reconcile them to their more sedate later lives in the field, workshop, and office and thus have facilitated the embrace of the values they temporarily abandoned.

It is possible that the rush thus served a significant function in consolidating the transformation in male comportment that had begun earlier in the century.
Indeed. In fact, the main part of the rush took place over only three years: between 1849 and 1851. By 1852, the placer gold had been removed, and individual mining was done for. But men -- especially young men -- were still coming out. It seems certain that they were looking more for the experience than for the fortune.

All this reminds me of the atmosphere in Prague in the early nineties. I remember well a conversation I had with an acquaintance in 1990. She was a fellow creative writing student a year ahead of me in the program and getting ready to graduate the following year. I asked what she would do then and she said she was going to Prague. "That's in Czechoslovakia," she automatically elucidated. I was astonished. Less than a year after the fall of the Wall, anyplace in a Warsaw Pact country felt like falling off the edge of the Earth to me. I asked why and she explained that it was cool there. I don't remember the words she used or the images. What she conveyed, though, was excitement at something wide open, intellectually and morally. "Their president is an avant-garde playwright!" she said. "How cool is that?"

I imagine that the word-of-mouth about the gold rush probably sounded a lot like that: the stories about picking up chunks of gold from the soil was probably less about making a fortune and more about conveying excitement at something wide open. When I finally got to Prague three years later, it was probably like arriving in Calaveras County in 1852. The gold was over, but the rush wasn't. The American gold miners were so thick on the ground, you couldn't have found the "gold" even if there had been any. But it was no longer about that anyway. It was about experiencing the openness, and the "miners" had started making a business out of making life possible and easy for newbies. The American cafes and hostels I found in Prague were like the groceries and saloons and general stores of 1852 San Francisco.

Not to belabor the point, but my sojourn in Europe ended around the time the struggle between former east and west was settling down, the renovations were finishing, the rents were going up, and the openness was closing down. And my nostalgia for that time has been at times an "intense longing," and "a pang, almost a pain." I suppose everyone has nostalgia for their young adulthood, particularly when they first start to hit middle age. But I do wonder if that nostalgia is stronger when it is for a time spent on the frontier between the productive middle-class existence to which we are all doomed/destined, and the open and anarchic freedom of the unsettled territories that are left to us.

And are there any such unsettled territories left to American youth? Where would they go now? Is that the attraction of the military and of places like Iraq and Afghanistan?


July 25, 2010

Encyclopedia Project Vol. 2 Out Soon!

Hey hey hey!

So I submitted stuff to the Encyclopedia Project ... yeeeeeaaaars ago now, and stuff was accepted, and then other stuff happened, and as it turns out, stuff got published in my leetle chapbook first.

But now Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia Project is finally coming out!

The project is a very cool thing. It's an "encyclopedia" of narrative organized in narratives. The editors asked a buncha writers to select entries for each volume (1 is A-E, 2 is F-K) and collected these pieces (mostly stories and experiements) into encyclopedia volumes. Volume 1 came out about four years ago or so. And now Volume 2 is finally ready!

The book includes entries from such luminaries as Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Chip Delaney, and Aunt Jemima (?). But there's also stuff from a bunch of really cool lesser-knowns. I'm super excited to be part of this and hope you'll spread the word.

Also, if you order now (the book will be out in October) you can get it for $25. That's a discount. Not sure how much it will be regularly, but probably at least $30. It's a serious, hardcover, encyclopedia. You can also get Volume 1 for $25, or both for $37.50. Do it!

June 28, 2010

Nobble Reading Thursday!

Hey all, I'm breaking out da nobble for a first ever reading this Thursday. For those of you in the Bay Area, it'll be at a private home in Oakland, so please follow the directions below to get the address.

Hope to see bunches of you there!

DEBUTANTES: A FIRST LOOK AT WORKS IN PROGRESS

with Sita Bhaumik, Samantha Chanse, & Claire Light

WHEN: July 1; doors 6:30 pm; presentation 7-9 pm

WHERE: a very lovely home in Oakland. RSVP at SFDEBUTANTES (at) gmail (dot) com

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested; proceeds go to KSW
(the broke and the forgetful not turned away)

WHAT: Three Kearny Street Workshop artists will present works in progress in fiction, theater/performance, and visual art. It is a complete coincidence that they are all female and mixed race. Tea, wine, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches will be served. Someone will spike the punch. All proceeds from the event benefit Kearny Street Workshop's programs educating, supporting, and presenting multidisciplinary arts. Attendees are encouraged to bring seat cushions and wear flowered hats.

WHO:

SITA KURATOMI BHAUMIK is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is an MFA/MA candidate at California College of the Arts and likes to exhibit at galleries that appreciate good food. She is the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a community advisor for Kearny Street Workshop, and currently teaches at Rayko Photo Center. You can reach her at www.sitabhaumik.com

SAMANTHA CHANSE is a writer&performer, educator, and arts organizer whose work has been presented with Kearny Street Workshop/Locus, The Marsh, the NY International Fringe Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, Asian American Writers Workshop, Asian American Theater Company, PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep, Intersection, Bindlestiff, and others. She received an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission, an Artist In Motion residency from Footloose/Shotwell, and an Emerging Artists Residency from Tofte Lake Center. She served as KSW's artistic director & as a Locus co-director, co-founded salon series Laundry Party, and is pursuing a MFA in playwriting at Columbia University in NYC as part of her bicoastal lifestyle. Her solo play, LYDIA'S FUNERAL VIDEO, will be published by Kaya Press in 2011. For more information please visit www.samanthachanse.com.

CLAIRE LIGHT used to be KSW's program manager and is now on the board. She has an MFA from San Francisco State, a little collection of short stories called SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT from Aqueduct Press, and a Bay Area-based freelance practice in nonprofit hackery. At this event she will be debuting her novel-in-progress, CHINAMAN TREETOPS, an intensely literary masterpiece about a Chinese feng shui master on Mars.

June 24, 2010

Depressed

Okay, I'm copping to it.

The last in a series of minor -- and correctable -- but relentless medical mishaps finally sent me over the edge and I'm now in full-blown -- if very mild -- depression. You can tell because I'm not blogging, and I'm not reading blogs. ;)

Things are in hand. I am Doing Something About It. But posting will be slow hereabouts for the foreseeable future. (I am still reading, and a constipated Reading Update will appear, eventually.)

Sorry.

June 02, 2010

I Am Writer, Hear Me Read

Just poking my head in for a second to note that a story I recorded for KQED's "Writers' Block" podcast is now up on the internet. You can check it out onsite here, or just listen to the embedment below. ... or, you know, just ignore it.

May 16, 2010

Reading Update

Nami Mun Miles from Nowhere

Cynthia Kadohata Kira Kira

Sarah Rees Brennan The Demon's Lexicon

I don't really know what to say about Miles from Nowhere. Or more accurately, I don't know how to approach writing about this book. Just thought it was very good, without it being a book that I would want to read, necessarily. Mun's prose is great: not quite transparent, but well able to fall to the background when it's time for us to see what's going on inside the page rather than on it. And when she does step forward and use prosey-prose, it's to pick out a vivid moment or image -- usually image -- either because it lights up the scene, or because she's found a particularly great way to do it. The images or moments aren't always -- or usually -- important in themselves or even symbolic. But they all do connect to the viewpoint character, either physically or through her noticing them, at key moments. The effect is of a generally grey or monochromatic landscape, well rendered, with occasional bright objects, rendered photorealistically, in full color.

I still don't like linked stories, but this one worked because she allowed herself to skip over the connecting tissue. No boring or dead spots in the narrative. Of course, you couldn't always tell if the stories were in chronological order, so you couldn't tell where or when they were happening. But that didn't distract much.

Kadohata's Kira Kira was very well done all around. A good portrait of immigrant parents and their American born kids in the 50s. A tear-jerker, too. But the ending was weak and mushy, just like the ending to Outside Beauty. I think Kadohata needs to work on her endings.

Loved The Demon's Lexicon! Very well done character study of what seems like someone teetering on the brink of sociopathy. Here's the thing: first person and close third (I've said before that these are virtually indistinguishable, right?) are wasted if the viewpoint character takes what is essentially the author's view. That is to say, when you're seeing things through a character's eyes, you should be seeing things through that character's opinions, too -- with that character's passions, desires, limitations, and blindspots. Which one of the reasons I'm usually so frustrated with contemporary "literary" fiction: it's dominated by 1st person and close 3rd, but doesn't limit the narrative to only what that character would be able to see and to understand. Which is why these characters end up feeling so flat.

In Demon's Lexicon the close 3rd narration follows just the "sociopathic" protagonist, Nick. It might be called an "unreliable narrator," since he's something of a naive viewpoint. But I don't really believe in "unreliable" narrators. All people are unreliable narrators by virtue of their limited perspectives. If you're doing 1st or subjective 3rd properly, then your narrator is necessarily unreliable.

Anyhoo, great book.

April 06, 2010

Beautiful Websites

I'm finally getting the website train rolling. It's a part of my declaring that this first book will not be the last; declaring a sort of grand opening of the professional enterprise of my writing (though I don't expect to ever make money off of it.)

So anyway, I'm collecting beautifully designed websites that can help me and my designer figure out what I want. I'm going to post some here, and please post the URLs of any websites whose design you love and would like me to see.

Thanks!

The Bold Italic: this is an SF Bay Area culture, events, and tips magazine. Very cool design in terms of visual aesthetics, and also in terms of how they intend the site to be used (see the icons on the left edge of the frame?) Too busy, though, and a little difficult to figure out what the different categories mean. Also a little too difficult to figure out what the website IS at first.

Cranky Girl Archive Project: this is a very old art project around family archives online. The aesthetics aren't really me, but I just love clicking through this piece. Nothing here that I can really use for my own website, but it belongs on a list of website I dig.

Snog: a great commercial site for frozen yogurt. It declares its target demographic immediately, and brands hard and fast. I love the single bright color and the sepia photos against the white backdrop. A bit stark, but that works for me in this context. Great choice of photos too. Also a bit too busy with the text. I like a clean, simple homepage.

Like Falcon, for example: this is the anti-splash page. Eyeball kick, but no splash. Just the image that declares what the site is about (yay!) and a much smaller company logo. The navigation isn't hard to find or use, but it's so small and held back that it is essentially not there, aesthetically. I also dig how, when you move into the site proper, the aesthetic impact reverses and you have a black background with machinery guts, and white text. I don't do white text, but it's a great concept: outside/inside.

Monty Lounge: I don't like too much text on the homepage, but I love this idea: the text IS the graphic element. The only image on the entire site is the (small) logo. On this homepage, the text is text, not linked. But this would be a great idea for a writer's website: using chunks of text in different fonts, sizes, and shapes to link to pages, to be a graphical navigation that was more radially oriented, or at least oriented in tables.

Finch: I like the simplicity of this design, with the huge logo, the small nav bar on the side, and the single paragraph of blog text leading directly to the blog. The more complicated navigation is below in the dark, so it doesn't look like the one page is too cluttered.

Seven Trees: I like the framing conceit on this one, and how it is continued in the banner top and sides inside the site. Not my aesthetic, but it works for this company and is good branding.

Matt: Although I don't like how this site works (log in, enter through only one link), I like the aesthetic here, and how the aesthetic works into how the information on the site is presented: the drawing, the torn edge, it all works together.

Great Works: I really like this website, but there's nothing about it that I want for my own. It's got too many layers of navigation, too many different levels of logo, too much going on. I don't like a homepage that you have to keep scrolling down on. But I think it looks great for itself and works well for its purpose.

Colourpixel: Love the bright colors! Love how the theme demonstrates the company's title! The designer has a lot of stuff going on on this page, but somehow manages to keep things in order and easy to understand and find. That's some talent there.

Jak & Jil Blog: This is just a blog, but I love the "splash page": the type and the chic simplicity of it. It's a photo blog, so it can get away with not having any images in its design. I love that it does that.

March 27, 2010

Reading Update and Kindle

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Yummy yummy deeeelicious fantasy! Intelligent without losing the wish fulfillment. So much more tasty than, say, Twilight, since you still get SPOILERS! the incredibly handsome, superpowered boyfriend who reads minds, but the Mary Sue is also superpowered and usually able to beat him, and the whole deal is that they each have to learn to rely on the other.

Also, very well-written, transparent, precise, flowing, no glitches or hitches. That's so hard to do!

Plus, the heroine is actually likable and not an asshole who breaks every girlfriend rule in the book!

Sign me up for the next Cashore book, in advance!

Also, so far this year I've read about 28 books in 12 weeks, which puts me at well over 2 books a week. My rate in the past few years (especially early in the year) has been a book a week. Of course, a lot of this is YA, which is usually a quicker read for me than adult fiction, but so has my reading in the past years been. I think the reason for this is simple: my Kindle.

I had no idea that this would happen, but having all my new reads in one place, in one easy-to-access, light to carry, easy to hold, and easy to read place, has eased my entry into each book considerably. I've noticed in recent years an increasingly tough surface tension around books for me, a resistance I have to overcome to "get through" and get into a book. The surface tension is much less around YA books, which is why I read so many of them: I'll choose them first. For some reason, reading the books on the Kindle has lessened the surface tension around all books considerably, and in multiple ways.

There's the tension you have to get through to start a book, the tension you have to get through to return to a book again and again if the book is written in a more fragmentary fashion, and the greater tension of reading a book you know you will find difficult, or requiring greater concentration than usual. The Kindle has eased all of these. I'm reading a book now which I've actually been reading slowly for a month. I don't have to go back to it regularly, and yet I do; for some reason it's much less threatening to pick up where I left off on the Kindle, and also less confusing.

I wonder if this is all psychology, all on a cognitive level, or some combination of the two. Be interesting to find out.

March 18, 2010

Updates: Reading and Writing

Okay, since I hate writers' blogs that are just post after post of "look at my reviews!" I've decided to combine updates on my writing stuff with posts about other things. Ready?:

And in reading, I just disposed of Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child and The Reluctant Widow. Like I said before, I tend to consume Heyer books in threes. I enjoyed Friday's Child a great deal (although I feel like I've read it before ... probably because it's so similar in plot to others of hers) but didn't like The Reluctant Widow at all. The hero and heroine were neither of them attractive, interesting, or likable. So now I have to read a fourth one to finish out my Heyer fix.

March 15, 2010

Ten Fashion Basics

Since I've pretty much given up on fashion (my feet have given out and I can't wear cute shoes anymore, and that's where it all begins) I've started reading fashion blogs. I'm sure there's some Psych 101 in there somewhere, but don't bother me with it. Anyway, I'm reading The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, and Jak & Jil blog, aside from Go Fug Yourself.

Garance just posted about her ten fashion basics, which seemed like a fun meme to me, so I'm gonna do that here. Just the fashion basics, mind you, the things I do to (in my mind) look good, not the things I always wear because they're comfortable. Well, actually, I'll post about the comfortable things I wear because I think they look good. I never wear anything uncomfortable. I might not have ten.

  1. Urban Outfitters oversize v-neck t-shirts. I have a jillion of 'em, each in a different color with a different print. These are my staple top because I love the cleverness of the prints and the cut is flattering.
  2. Free People extra long sleeved tops. They have a variety of styles, but the key here is that their thick, long-sleeved tops are all very long in both sleeve and torso length, and are thick enough to serve as pullovers, rather than just shirts. I've been wallowing in these all winter. A bit on the expensive side, but oh, so worth it for the long of limb.
  3. My 2" woven leather bronze belt. This was a score at some mall store in Michigan. I just happened to be looking for a belt to match my copper flats (which have since been retired) and this one turned out to be the solution for all my belting needs. ;P
  4. My Haflinger felt booties. Not at all fashionable, but compare to any random Crocs style, and you have the fashionable option for bad feet. (and my feet are baaaaaad.)
  5. Short jackets: for winter, my vintage 70s Gunilla Ponten (Brutus Rex) jacket, which I got in Berlin about 15 years ago. It's white, quilted faux fur with white ribbed collar and forearm-length sleeve cuffs. The lining is falling out and the faux fur is turning grey, but I loves it, precious! My summer jacket (I live in the Bay Area, remember) is a Sitwell sea-foam blue, collarless, stretch cotton, zip-up, portmanteau between a forties ladies jacket and a motorcycle jacket. Acquired at Anthropologie perhaps six years ago and getting nicely faded.
  6. My current favorite purse (I am a purse whore, so the favorite changes frequently), a red Nicole Lee thingy with brass-colored stuff all over it,  T.J. Smaxx find. (I never claimed to be fashionable.)
  7. An ongoing, never-to-be-concluded search for the perfect jeans. I.e., I wear almost nothing but jeans, but they change frequently. Tend to prefer wide-leg trouser jeans.
  8. H&M wraparound, half-sleeve dresses are my little black dress. I have three of them, in different prints. Come to think of it, I have two more wraparound dresses aside from those. I guess wraparound dresses are my thing. They're very flattering and highly recommended for people who have trouble finding dresses because they don't properly have a dress size!
  9. Necklaces! All kinds and shapes and sizes and colors! I generally go for cheap novelty necklaces from cheap stores, but sometimes I'll lay out a bit more for the right thing. My favorites right now are a stainless-steel-beaded long necklace from Target and a silver leather snap choker from the SF MOMA gift shop.
  10. Knee-high boots, which enable me to wear dresses (I can never find the right low shoes to wear with dresses.) Because of my recently-gone-bad feet, though, only two pairs of knee boots are still working for me, so I'm going to have to rebuild this section of my wardrobe.
Okay, that was a fun, if pointless, exercise. Now you!

March 11, 2010

io9 Review

I'm a bad self-promoter, but I gotta do this:

Annalee Newitz reviewed my book on io9! Yay!

February 23, 2010

Birthday Party/Book Release

Yay! As of three minutes ago, I'm officially fort-- er ... twenty-nine. Yay for me!

To celebrate, I'm having a party tonight (Tuesday) apropros of which the following information will be relevant:


Tuesday, February 23, 2010
7:00pm - 10:00pm
Socha Cafe, 3235 Mission Street, San Francisco

Come celebrate my four decades on this earth, and the start of the next four! Also: Help officially launch my new chapbook, SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT. I'll also be selling limited edition, hand-printed book jackets by Wasabi Press (see the image to the right and the video of Patty printing covers below!)

There will be readings (by me and others) as well as music and performances and silliness. We'll have a mic, so if you have five minutes' worth of something creative, please let me know!

Plus, we'll just be celebrating the start of a new, more morally prosperous and creatively appreciative decade. Yee Haw!

February 15, 2010

My First Review!

Squeeeeeeeeeee!!!

January 27, 2010

Reading and Interview

Hey all, quick self-promo here:

This Saturday afternoon I'll be doing a reading at the Oakland Library as part of the kickoff for the Oakland Word project, a series of free writing classes at the library. (I'll be one of the instructors.)

Here's the website with info on the program. And here's the event info:

Saturday, January 30, 2010; 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Oakland Public Library (Main) Auditorium
125 14th St
With words and music by:

  • Award-winning novelist DANIEL ALARCÓN, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
  • Poet and writer TENNESSEE REED, author of Spell Albuquerque: Memoir of a "Difficult" Student and multiple poetry collections
  • Our exceptional Oakland Word instructors, LINDA GONZÁLEZ, CLAIRE LIGHT, CARRIE LEILAM LOVE and BISOLA MARIGNAY
  • Beats provided by DJ MAX CHAMP
Also, Bryan Thao Worra just posted an interview he did with me on Asian American Press, which you can read here.

January 20, 2010

Squeal!

I'm on Amazon! Look! I even have a sales rank 'n' everything! (663,210 ... strangely that means nothing to me.)

January 09, 2010

Today's Photo

Bachcel

Barb has a call for submissions up, for pieces about Paul Celan. 

Made me think of the time in Berlin that Angelika called me at five in the morning because she'd stayed up all night reading, and just found out that Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, jeweils my and her favorite poets, had had an affair.

There they are, the two to the left, sigh, to the other left, i.e. to the right.

January 02, 2010

What To Get Me: Geographical Shot Glasses

This is the first Christmas that my parents haven't tried to buy me either clothing or jewelry. I trained them out of it, and it only took just under 40 years!

But while I'm thinking of this subject: if you are a good enough friend that you feel you need to give me a Christmas, birthday, or traveling present, here's a tip:

I collect "geographical" shot glasses, i.e. shot glasses with place names on them. I have them from several states and American cities. I have one from a Mexican McDonald's (sort of). I have one from the Korean demilitarized zone (thanks, Kristina!) I used to have one from the Panama Canal Zone before my cat broke it. I have some cool ones from Graceland.

I like old-fashioned souvenir styles, or extreme tackiness. I don't like the attempts at class tourist trap designers keep trying to impose: I spent waaaaay too much time in Graceland shops looking for tacky Elvis and finding only "classy" Elvis. Boo!

So try to remember to pick up a cheap shot glass for me on your travels and put it someplace you won't forget to wait for my birthday or something.

This message is brought to you by my reading of Scroogenomics, which I got for a friend for Christmas, but haven't given to her yet. The book talks about how Christmas gift giving destroys value, since the recipients so often get gifts they don't value.

And please feel free to email me with your own tips, if you're a good enough friend to get presents from ME.

January 01, 2010

What I Read in 2009

  1. Knockout Mouse by James Calder
  2. Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta
  3. Nisi Shawl Filter House
  4. Ernest J. Eitel What is Feng Shui?: The Classic Nineteenth-Century Interpretation
  5. Midnight Brunch Marta Acosta (2nd Casa Dracula novel)
  6. Bride of Casa Dracula Marta Acosta (3rd Casa Dracula novel)
  7. About Face James Calder (2nd Bill Damen mystery)
  8. In A Family Way James Calder (3rd Bill Damen mystery)
  9. The Plain Janes Cecil Castelucci and Jim Rugg
  10. Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist
  11. The Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch
  12. Type O Negative by Joel Tan
  13. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  14. Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper series, Bloodhound
  15. The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti
  16. Gifts by Ursula Le Guin
  17. Voices by Ursula Le Guin
  18. Powers by Ursula Le Guin
  19. The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
  20. Distances: A Novella by Vandana Singh
  21. The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
  22. Dilek Güngör Unter Uns
  23. L. Timmel Duchamp's De Secretis Mulierum: A Novella
  24. L. Timmel Duchamp's Alanya to Alanya
  25. Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth
  26. Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens
  27. Epileptic by David B
  28. Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible
  29. China Miéville's The City and the City
  30. the first Buffy comics omnibus
  31. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  32. We3 by Grant Morrison
  33. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
  34. Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede  
  35. the fourth Buffy Season 8 Omnibus.
  36. Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin
  37. Friend's MS
  38. (re)Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin
  39. Girl in the Arena Lise Haines
  40. Liar Justine Larbalestier
  41. Exclusively Chloe J.A. Yang
  42. The Child Garden Geoff Ryman
  43. Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602
  44. Cory Doctorow's Little Brother
  45. His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
  46. Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
  47. Black Powder War Naomi Novik
  48. Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
  49. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  50. Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book Tamora Pierce
  51. Circle of Magic: Tris' Book Tamora Pierce
  52. Circle of Magic: Daja's Book Tamora Pierce
  53. Circle of Magic: Briar's Book Tamora Pierce
  54. Magic Steps Tamora Pierce
  55. Street Magic  Tamora Pierce
  56. Cold Fire  Tamora Pierce
  57. Shatterglass Tamora Pierce
  58. The Will of the Empress Tamora Pierce 
  59. Slumberland Paul Beatty
  60. Flygirl Sherri L. Smith

So this year I've conveniently color-coded these books so I can see myself what I've read:

  • YA books
  • Genre books (any genre)
  • Lit fic or mainstream fic, can have speculative elements, but more likely to be taken seriously by snobs

So. The stats:

  • 60 books total. That's 1.15 books per week or 0.16 books per day.
  • 27 YA (nearly half)
  • 20 authors were women and 20 were men (!)
  • 10 authors of color (out of 40)
  • 45 had speculative elements or were outright speculative fiction
  • 4 were outright mysteries (among other things)
  • 6 graphic novels
  • Only 6 were re-reads (for a change)
  • 24 had been published in the past two years.
  • 1 book in a foreign language

In addition, as usual, there were a number of books I didn't complete. I don't count fiction/narrative that I don't complete, since you haven't really read a narrative until you've read the whole thing. But I do have a strong tendency, since I left college, to never read a book a poetry all the way through unless I'm reviewing it. So I have a couple of poetry books that I've been walzing around and digging through without, probably, having read the whole things. I'll consider whether or not to include those in 2010.

As usual, the books from the beginning of the year feel like I read them decades ago. And even though slightly less than half of my reading was YA, a good three quarters of it was SF, and most of the YA was SF, so I feel a continuum there, and I feel like 3/4 of what I read was YA. Funny that I still feel guilty about that, as if I should be reading "more serious" books. Fuck that. One thing to go on my resolutions list: stop taking YA not seriously.

I went and underlined the books I felt were really good or from which I learned a positive writing lesson (as opposed to books that were so bad that I learned what not to do from them.) Nothing this year really blew me away, but as you can see, I didn't hit pretty much ANY "lit fic" this year AT ALL, not that lit fic would necessarily blow my mind. I don't know. I guess I wasn't going for my mind to be blown. I think I should do that in 2010 as well: look for books that will blow my mind.

December 16, 2009

White "Privilege"

I'm writing this because it came up in a conversation I had with some friends recently. I don't want to get back into race blogging, but I've been thinking about making this distinction between "rights that not everyone has" and "privileges" for a while. And now that it's actually come up, I think I should put it out there.

In the conversation, my friends, who are white, protested that white people mostly don't use white privilege ... at least the white people that they know: by implication, the "good" white people. I was a bit shocked, and said, in essence, yes they do, all the time. They gave each other the "I'm not going to dispute this with a POC even though she's wrong" look. I couldn't shake off the feeling that we'd been talking at cross purposes ... again.

So I went back later, when there was an opening, and started talking about what I had meant by "white privilege." And judging by the reaction (listening rather than disputing,) my friends clearly had been working with a different definition of "white privilege" than the one that I was using. They also had clearly been working with the idea that "white privilege" referred generally to one thing, and that one thing was absolutely negative, and something all people could do without.

Their definition of "white privilege" seemed to be the one  in which "white privilege" becomes a less murderous version of "racism." Somehow -- not sure how -- all whites have access to white privilege, but only the bad whites actually use it. And when they use it, it's always a negative thing: pushing non-white opinions aside, taking credit for the work of POC, ignoring POC voices, etc. In this definition of "white privilege," the privilege is like an arsenal to which you have a key, but which you don't ever have to enter, much less take weapons from. This is the most basic level of understanding of white privilege.

But there are more levels to this issue. The next level of understanding white privilege, beyond the actively malevolent racism most people think of in the race debate, is "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." If you're unfamiliar with this idea, please read the article. In essence, the knapsack is about understanding that white privilege isn't necessarily something you choose, but something white people are born into (in this society) and walk through life with, without ever realizing it. The knapsack demonstrates that there are aspects of white privilege that you have no choice about. The article says that you can choose to give up your privilege, but it doesn't say how. And, really, how do you give up the privilege of, say, "taking a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race?" That's not a privilege you can give up or fail to use, because it's a privilege that is bestowed upon you by others, not one you take for yourself.

There are two dichotomies happening here that are confusing the issue. The first dichotomy is between active use of privilege and passive possession of privilege. Most white allies have no trouble understanding this dichotomy. (If you do, read "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" again.) But the second dichotomy is between a privilege that is good to have, but that nobody needs, and a right that everyone needs and should have, but which not everyone has.

So, at the third level of understanding white privilege, you have to understand the difference between those things that should be given up by the "privileged" and those things that should be extended to everyone, and NEVER given up. Here's where the term "privilege" gets very confusing, because we associate it, in our hysterically class-phobic society, with upper classes and that great American sin: unfairness. A "privilege" calls up images of yachting, and private tutors, and ivy-covered neo-gothic compounds in which secret societies choose future presidents at the age of 19.

"Privileges," strictly speaking, are things that are either earned, bought, or inherited. They are not "rights." Back in school, our teachers would make a distinction between  what we had a right to (an education, to walk down the street) and what was an earned privilege (a driver's license, permission to leave campus during school hours.) But when we talk about "white privilege," we're talking about a complex of things, not just the one thing. This complex includes (but isn't limited to):

  1. The ability to get away with tormenting and discriminating against people of color in small and large ways: from lynching and job exclusion to racist media representation and social stereotyping
  2. The ability to ignore the complaints of POC about being tormented and discriminated against; in essence, to live in a world in which this kind of discrimination doesn't need to breach your consciousness
  3. Easier access to "privileges" or luxuries, that are more difficult for POC to access, such as admission to clubs and elite schools
  4. Relatively unobstructed access to universally acknowledged rights, such as good health care, decent education, a fair chance in applications for jobs and schooling, decent housing, freedom from harrassment and danger, opportunities to thrive.
  5. General social acceptance of the legitimacy of what you say and do
  6. A sense of entitlement to fair or good treatment, that allows one to take effective action to receive fair or good treatment
If you'll notice, numbers 1 and 2 are simply negative: "privileges" that exist solely in a society in which a racial hierarchy exists. Without a racial hierarchy, numbers 1 and 2 would be impossible. They are solely bad, and are the most obvious form that a racist society takes. It's relatively easy to avoid number 1 if you are racially conscious, and relatively easy to tackle number 2 as well, which many white allies do by simply never disputing POC complaints of racism, and by making an effort to pay attention to racial discussions among POC. (It's a start, anyway.) I think we can all agree that these "privileges," if that's really what they are, can be done away with without further concern (were it only that easy!)

Assuming that number 3 is true (and I'm not asserting this unequivocally), this is where we're dealing with the actual "privileges" of wealth, status, and social power. As long as we are people living in groups, there will be such privileges. It's impossible to get rid of them. I don't argue with people who say that these kinds of privileges are unfair, but I'm also not super-exercised about acquiring them for everyone. I'm more interested in making sure that everybody gets a decent education, than in making sure that everyone gets a shot at getting into Harvard. These are privileges that people can resent, but until everyone has their basic rights and freedoms, these privileges won't--and shouldn't-- be the main business of social justice movements, because they sit above the basic rights that social justice movements are still trying to gain for everyone.

And that brings us to number 4. These things are called "privileges" because not everyone has them. But what they really are is rights. This is where the "white privilege" discussion really starts to get tangled up. Because these aren't "privileges" and they aren't things that white people who have them should give up. You can achieve social parity by taking away whites' ability to discriminate against POC. But you can't achieve social parity by blocking whites' unobstructed access to, say, a good education.

Now, of course, no one is blocking whites' access to these things. But the language of "white privilege" constructs this very simple dichotomy between things whites have that they shouldn't have, and things POC don't have that they should. So when greater access to jobs and schools results in a white person not getting the place they wanted, they revert back to this paradigm of access to a job or school being a "white privilege" that has been taken away by POC. They don't realize that:

  1. it was never a privilege, it was a right;
  2. the right wasn't getting the job or the school acceptance but rather having equal access to it;
  3. and that the right wasn't taken away by a POC, but rather extended to POC in general, thus making the pool of applicants larger and the chances of getting in smaller.

This is where the language of "white privilege" really starts to fail.

Numbers 5 and 6 are more complex still. Having what you say and do generally accepted as legitimate is a good thing. It's one of those things that POC should acquire, without whites having to give it up. But on the other hand, it's also not a right. We don't have the right to be believed. We don't have the right to be considered credible. We don't have the right to have all of our actions applauded. This, above all, is a privilege in human society that must be earned. The injustice isn't that people must earn credibility, it's that in disputes between members of different races, some people automatically have greater credibility and some people have an automatic lack of credibility, in both cases, unearned. In this case, social justice would not be automatically granting everyone credibility, but rather making sure that everyone has an equal chance to earn the privilege of credibility.

This is supremely hard to do because you can't mandate conferral of credibility. You can't tell people who to believe and who not to believe.

And number 6 is even more complex still, because the feeling of entitlement to speak up or act on behalf of yourself hangs, to a great extent, on the possession of number 5: a chance to earn credibility for yourself. POC who grow up being smacked down every time they speak up for themselves, being disrespected every time they act for themselves, will not feel entitled to speak out or to act. A lifetime -- and a community full -- of this experience, results in situations in which whites and POC are discussing or negotiating, and, because of this sense of entitlement, whites always speak up first, setting the terms of debate, and unknowingly using their greater credibility (yes, the credibility is general among whites and POC) to get more of a hearing.

POC antiracists tend to be very conscious of number 6, but number 6 is the one that white allies have the most trouble with. Because the strength to speak out and to act comes hard for everyone. It's an unequivocally good thing to learn to speak and act. And generally, people speak up when their rights are being abrogated in big or small ways, or when they have a chance to get what they really want, at no one's expense. But, at the same time, this is one "privilege" that whites often have to give up to vouchsafe POC access.

I'll give you an example, which I think I've mentioned on this blog before: I helped start and was involved in an Asian American arts festival for several years. The all-volunteer festival organizers were grouped into curatorial teams, with a team leader for each group taking point. The year after I left, a white man, who was friends with a lot of the organizers and spent most of his social time with them, joined the organizing committee, and became a member of the visual art team. When the festival coordinator asked for a team member to step forward and take point, no one did. So this white man, after some hesitation, did step up. It was apparent to him (he told me) that someone needed to do it, and that none of the others were going to step up.

He didn't know that in an Asian American group, you'll never know how much people will hang back, partly out of various Asian politenesses, and partly out of that POC lack of credibility and empowerment mentioned above. Working with a POC organization centered around self-determination is a long process of empowering yourself and others to take responsibility. Furthermore, this festival was specifically designed to give young adult As Ams an opportunity to empower themselves by doing. He didn't know that, when I was the festival coordinator, getting folks to step up to be team leader was a multi-step process, involving announcing it at a meeting where no one spoke up, calling team members individually later and asking if they *might* be willing to take point, then bringing it up again at the next meeting and delicately negotiating among the now two or three people who really wanted to do it, but hadn't spoken up before. He didn't know that, far from being frustrating, the process of empowering young folks to step forward is exhilarating, and wonderful to watch in all its slow, agonizing glory.

But, once he spoke up, there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that anyone else would touch it. The visual arts team leader is traditionally the person who gets up at the gallery opening and welcomes the audience. And since the gallery opening was the first event, and the official kick-off to the festival, that year we had a white man welcoming a mostly Asian American audience to an Asian American-organized festival of Asian American artists. It was quite a message, let me tell you.

When I talk about empowering people to step up and speak up, it's something they have a hard time understanding, coming from me. I'm a very assertive, step-up-and-speak-out kinda gal, both online and off. But what they don't see -- and what folks in my own community even don't see, is what it took to get me here. I've always been an assertive loudmouth: it's in my nature. I used to walk into neighbors' houses as a toddler and start talking to them in Chinglish, completely undaunted by the fact that they had no idea what I was saying. But early on in school I started getting smacked down verbally, and sometimes physically, by my peers and by my teachers and other adults. I got smacked down for everything: for speaking up at all, for being a child, for being unfeminine, for not being white, for speaking up at the wrong time or for saying the wrong thing or laughed at for saying it the wrong way, for having an outsider's point of view, for NOT having an outsider's point of view, etc. There was always SOMETHING to smack me down about, but it was almost always ultimately about not wanting to hear from me, because I didn't belong. By the time I was ten, I heard my father explain to some strangers whose children I wouldn't play with: "She's shy. She's not really shy, but she acts shy until she's known you for fifteen years." By the time I got to college, I had to learn how to talk to strangers at all, and one of the biggest revelations of my freshman year was that I could go up to people and just talk to them without being slapped in the psyche.

In college I started exploring identity issues by myself. There were a few Asians and mixed Asians around, but they (literally, no joke, no metaphor) ducked their heads and scuttled sideways away from me if I tried to talk to them about any issues. When I tried to talk to my white friends, they very simply and confidently denied everything I said. The conversations usually never got past my insisting that they not call me "that tall Chinese chick" since I was "half-Chinese." (By the way, don't call me that! ;)) "It's just a way of describing what you look like," they'd say dismissively, already losing interest in the conversation.

It took me five years of living in Germany and reading every identity lit and theory book I could get my hands on to find any confidence in my own point of view; everyone denied that my perspective had validity, so why would I think I was right and everyone else was wrong? And I came to the Bay Area, where there were a lot of Asians and mixed Asians, and spent a couple of years on online discussion groups with people like me, before I really felt comfortable speaking up on any of these issues, both within and outside of my community.

It took me, in fact, until I was past thirty to really feel like I could speak up in confidence and dispute other people -- particularly white men -- without getting hysterical or feeling smacked down. And I still get over-aggressive. Over-aggression is the reaction of someone who is afraid that she will be unsupported and attacked when she speaks up. And that fear is justified: it was my usual experience for the first thirty years of my life, and it's only because I'm a natural assertive loudmouth that I was able to (mostly) overcome it.

(Think about that the next time you think a POC is being overly loud, angry, assertive, aggressive, or just generally hysterical. Maybe they are. And maybe they need to be, to speak up at all. And the POC you'll see speaking up and taking leadership positions are often (not always) people who, like me, are natural assertive loudmouths who reconnected with their voices after discovering that they were externally silenced for political reasons. It makes for an explosive kind of leadership.)

Back to working in POC groups: The example of the white guy who stepped up to a leadership position that put him in the forefront of a POC org is relatively rare. But lesser examples of this happen all the time: for example at panel discussions organized by POC groups with mixed audiences. Often, when time comes for Q&A with an all-POC panel, the first audience members to raise their hands are white. It's not that they don't have the right to speak first, but whoever speaks first gets to set the terms of debate, and often gets to set the topic for debate. There are times when it's better to hang back and let the debate go someplace where you didn't want it to go, for the sake of the greater good.

This is what I was talking about above when I was discussing "white privilege" with my friends: those moments of mild culture clash, where whites are doing the unequivocally good things they were taught and empowered to do -- stepping up, speaking out, volunteering, taking responsibility -- not realizing that they are stepping on POC's opportunities to do the same. This is the one area in all of the above where whites would have to consciously give up a "privilege" that is good and beneficial so as to protect the empowerment of POC. 

And it's a hard thing to do, to keep your mouth shut and your rump in the seat, to trust that eventually someone will speak up or step up ... and that if they don't, it's their right--their privilege--to fail.

In breaking this down, I'm realizing that it's not just a battle of definitions we're talking about when we talk about "white privilege." It's a failure of nuance and complexity. And, yes, there is genuine sacrifice asked of white allies here: the sacrifice, in fact, of some of your most precious rights. Because white allies tend to be politically conscious activists who have had to go through a process of empowering themselves to speak and act. For these allies, finding themselves in a world where everyone had the same rights and privileges as they did would be no hardship -- quite the reverse in fact. But giving up -- even only occasionally -- the right to speak and act so that others may have it ... well it doesn't necessarily make sense. And it's not going to feel right.

This is what happened in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when Malcolm is approached by a young white woman who asks him what she can do, and he says "nothing." He acknowledges later that it is true that she couldn't do anything from within a self-determinist black power movement, but he was partly speaking out of bitterness. And it isn't true that she could do nothing; she could be active for social justice in white communities. This is not the perfect solution. In my world of anti-racism, although we seek to create and maintain safe POC-only spaces sometimes, the ultimate goal is an integrated -- not assimilated -- society that respects and celebrates difference and offers equal opportunities to all. In such an ideal world, no one would have to shut up and sit down, no one would have to keep to "their own" community to be active,  no one would have give up their own power to protect someone else's.

But we don't live in that world yet, and sometimes, compromises that feel wrong have to be made.

That's all for now, except to say that there is a lot of hurt in all of this activism, and there's plenty of hurt to go around. Even when no one is trying to hurt or exclude anyone, the dictates of a certain kind of justice means that sometimes allies have to step back to let Others step forward. Not doing so doesn't mean that they are bad people or racists, but that is sometimes what POC mean by an exercise of white privilege.

December 13, 2009

My Chapbook Is Out! Yay!

Conv-series-26-cover  (Although someone pointed out that, because it's perfect bound, it's not technically a chapbook.)

Yay! My little book, called Slightly Behind and to the Left: Four Stories and Three Drabbles, and is available NOW at Aqueduct Press' website! (Click on the "orders" button and scroll down.)

Right now, for the holidays, the book, usually $12, is $9, so get it now! Also, the book is part of a series called "Conversation Pieces," which you can subscribe to at $80 for 10 consecutive subscriptions (and you can choose which title to start with.) I've read a handful of these titles and they're all worth it, so you might consider a subscription, or make it a gift for the feminist or progressive geek in your life.

OMG, I'm so excited!

November 21, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

Just wrote a post and then lost it. Annoying. Spent the day making pace charts after Scott Westerfeld's recommendations. Very helpful.

November 19, 2009

Writing Update

My NaNoFiMo is back! I did an entire mailbag (mailbag 6) today (that's, like, four short chapters to you.) But tomorrow, when I do the next mailbag, I'm going to get into some serious cutting out of things. And some serious rewriting of things. I think the hardest rewriting of things will start in mailbag 8 or 9. (Can't remember.) So I'll have a little space to run up to it.

Also, because I got stalled, my Mo is going until Dec 11th. I don't know why I chose that. Random, I guess.

November 17, 2009

Oh Yes!

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