It used to be that saying "Life's too short" about giving up on a book or a movie was a very serious accusation of suckitude. The lesser insult was "I have better things to do."
But now I'm about halfway through my expected life span as an American. I've noticed recently, with books, movies, and even TV, that I'll give up on things much more easily, with the thought that I don't have all the time in the world to read (or watch) crap, and I still haven't read Moby Dick (or seen The Bicycle Thief) or whatever, so I shouldn't waste my time on this. I think it's a function of mid-life crisis.
It's also a real consideration, though. I'm genuinely starting to feel how limited time is and how crappiness is a terrible thing to waste my mind on. But I'm still working on the idea that I should finish every book I start, and still working with the sensation of failure when I don't.
Right now I'm trying to get through William Gibson's Virtual Light, which I picked up because it mentions Thomassons in it. Every time I pick it up, I'm reminded that: a) I still haven't read Neuromancer, b) I'm not all that interested in Gibson or cyberpunk, but really should read at least that one seminal text before I kick the bucket, and c) I'm not really into this book, but feel I should finish it since it's not at all a bad book.
So I think the new rule should be: since I'm going to spend this time reading anyway, but I'm never going to get this reading time back, should I really be reading THIS? Or more precisely, at the end of my life, if I were granted the power to remember every book I had read, would I regret wasting my time on this?
I think the answers are no and yes. So I'm kicking this book to the curb and instituting this as a rule.
I'm currently working on a monster grant proposal that's due Monday. And I'm still working on proofing the galley for my chapbook. I don't know why it's taking me so long, but it is. Those take precedence over other stuff. So, once again, NaNoFailMo.
I'm hoping I can get going on da nobble again on Wednesday. Sigh.
I just realized today that the sixth mailbag is where I start hitting my really hefty revisions (as opposed to edits.) What a way to start the month! I was busy running hither and thither today, so I wimped out and just did one letter. Sigh. Tomorrow. Nothing planned for tomorrow. Just a work day. Work Day!
Yep, another reading. Fall is a busy time. Since I'm counting down to my chapbook publication, I'll probably be reading something from the chapbook. Here 'tis:
Kimberly DaSilva & Guests*
Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street, San Francisco November 12th / 7:00 p.m.
Local author Kimberly DaSilva will read from her current manuscript: The Same Tide For Us Both, a ghost story about a demon, a mother, and the end of the world.
Kimberly’s work has been described as “impressive” by Kirkus and “elegant” by The Advocate. She has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, an American Library Association Stonewall Book Award, as received an ‘also noted’ in Ebony Magazine.
Guest readers include a myriad of local writers of color and queer writers. Come hear: Claire Light / Natalia Vigil / Jaime Cortez / Carole Simmons / LeConte Dill / Elissa Perry / Kenji Liu / Adam Smyer / Mel Hilario / Mahru Elahi / and Rona Fernandez all in one place!
Discussion between the audience and the writers will follow the readings.
*This reading is a product of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grant program.
Sigh, was busy trying to catch up on stuff today so not a lot done on the NaNoFiMo front. My first task was to go through mailbag #5 and punch it up a bit. So I read through the mailbag and then ran out of time to do anything about it. I'm going to have to go back in and read it again tomorrow, because I was distracted by the story in this reading (if I haven't read something in da nobble for a while, it comes fresh to me and I settle in and enjoy it -- or not, as the case may be.) So not a lot of progress, but this is how things are with dis nobble. Hard to move forward quickly.
Also, read Neil Gaiman's graphic novel Marvel 1602, and Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.
Marvel 1602 was kind of a waste of space. Hey, let's take a bunch of Marvel comics characters and put them in the year 1602! Why? Why, I dunno ... cuz it'd be cool, I guess. ...
Yeah, boring and pointless and not even much fun. Plus, it's hard to tell who's who when they're not wearing brightly colored spandex suits.
Little Brother I enjoyed like the Dickens. Very entertaining, fun, emotionally engaging, very politically aware and engaged, etc. Doctorow even was aware that his protag Marcus is a white male from the creative class, and built that privilege into the character (spoiler: at one point his Latino best friend refuses to help him out any further because he points out, realistically, that he would get reamed much harder than Marcus.) There's a bit of white-geek-boy fetishizing of Asian chix, but it's not too bad. It's just a shame that the characters of color tended to wimp out a bit, but I could find fault with anything if I tried hard enough. Suffice it to say that if you're going to have a white male hero, it's a great idea to point out that his privilege is one of the things that gets him the last yard into heroism.
Also very very impressed with Doctorow's very clear and engaging descriptions of how technology works. I really admire anyone who can do this -- Ted Chiang is one who takes his technical writing skill and turns it into amazing fiction. I learned a lot about possibilities from this book, and had fun doing it. Maybe I'll read more Doctorow. I'll definitely read more YA if he writes any more.
I've never succeeded at a NaNoWriMo-type project, but a few years ago, when I tried to write a No in a Mo (not exactly the Mo of November) I did get more than half of it written.
So I'm going to try (again) to use NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to Get Stuff Done. As in, Get My Novel Done. So this year's November is my National Novel Finishing Month, or NaNoFiMo.
Actually, I'm not going to finish finish Da Nobble; that's not even in my plan. I just want to finish the third draft. Once that's done revision should get easier. Here's how it's going to work:
Da Nobble is epistolary (written in letters) and is organized by mailbags. Each correspondant contributes one letter to each mailbag, of which there are 15. There are five correspondants, which gives us a grand total of 75 letters. I'm currently in the middle of the fifth mailbag.
Of course, some of the letters are short and some are long; some of the letters require hefty rewriting and some do not.
I intend to complete planned revisions on 3 letters per day--that is, three letters that require revisions--until I hit the difficult ones. The difficult ones are the ones that don't just need revision, but the actual incident described in the letters needs to be thrown out and rethought. For each one of these, I will simply work three hours per day on them until they're done.
The Agony Column podcast came to the panel, which was part of the SF in SF series hosted by Terry Bisson, and recorded both the panel discussion, and separate interviews with each of the panelists: awesome black-lesbian-vampire-novelist Jewelle Gomez, awesome Latina-chicklit-vampire-novelist Marta Acosta, and non-vampire-novelisting me (but wouldn't it be cool if I had written Asian vampires and was able to complete a trifecta?)
The reading and panel was a tribute to Octavia Butler and a fundraiser for the Butler Scholarship, which is administered by the Carl Brandon Society (which I'm on the Steering Committee of.)
The podcasts have been posted now and here they is:
Here's the panel discussion (minus the readings from each panelist, which is why we're all referring to things we said earlier that you didn't get to hear.)
I was asked to participate on a six-week blog panel discussing current issues surrounding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the federal government's national arts agency, now that it has installed a new director and will be facing new challenges (in this economy), and new opportunities (under the new president.)
The panel is hosted on Barry Hessenius' Barry's Arts Blog at the WESTAF site. Each week of the project brought in a new panel, composed of different sectors of the art world:
National arts leaders
Funders - public & private
Arts Education leaders, Academia, Emerging Leaders, and Consultant
I took part in this Moveon.org action about a week ago, in which they had folks take pictures of themselves with these signs saying who in their lives "can't afford to wait" for the public option. Then they made a video of it. If you watch all the way through, near the end you can see the truly unflattering picture of me I took. I'm bummed because I went with the unflattering picture because it was the only one out of about 25 I took that included the whole sign I wrote. Then they went and cut off the bottom of my sign anyway. But I guess it made its point.
Please call Congress today. Really, none of us can afford to wait.
I started to respond in a comment, but then it got really long, so I thought I'd just take it over here.
Voyager was a groundbreaking show. The first half of the show's run was shaky, but once 7 of 9 stepped in, the show became truly groundbreaking. In the 7 of 9 era, the characters and roles were slightly reshuffled, until the ship was led by a triumvirate of strong women. In fact, the ship, and the show, were led by the three archetypes of crone, mother, and virgin (that's Janeway, Torres, and 7 of 9 to you.) It took a little while for these roles to shake out, but watching them develop was thrilling. And watching how Voyager took these three archetypes and thoroughly subverted them, was even more thrilling.
Janeway started out as a shaky and boring character for one simple reason: we have archetypes of male leaders of all ages, but we don't have valid archetypes of early-middle-aged female good leaders. Think about it: there are the bad mommies (Medea) and evil witches galore (Circe, wic witch of west), there are the insane women-of-a-certain-age (neither good nor bad), and there are the various monsters (harpies, sirens, Medusa, oh my!), and there are the magical wimmins, like sphinxes and such, who help heroes to something, but exact a price. There are no heroines, no protagonist archetypes, who are early-middle-aged women.
And let's face it: Star Trek's bread and butter has always been Western archetypes.
So Janeway got off to a shaky start, since she had no archetype to embody. After a great deal of silly romantic trouble, and a genuinely touching reckoning with her relationship with Chakotay, she finally settled into her role as, not the captain of the ship, but the mother of all mankind. Yes, it took them about three seasons to realize that, out in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager was a microcosm of all humankind and Janeway was the crone queen. They picked up on this when they opposed her to the Borg queen and discovered that they were equals. The good mommy of diversity, and the bad mommy of assimilation.
What was brilliant about the way they wrote her character was that they then used her position of power to question the way leaders in hierarchies make decisions. She didn't always make the right one, but, while always acknowledging that, the show didn't look down on her for it. Her wisdom was always greater than everyone else's, but her wisdom wasn't always right. They used the Borg queen and 7 of 9 to underline this lesson, comparing the hierarchy that may be necessary among diverse individuals, with the consensus that is possible among the thoroughly assimilated. Hierarchy and diversity were not always shown to be the best choice.
Torres started out as the fiery hottie, the amazon, which is why her character didn't work so well: it's hard to have a fiery hottie who's also a brilliant leader. Amazons are forces of nature, tamed by the love of a hero stronger than themselves. By "taming" her fieriness a bit with marriage and a child, they slotted her into the archetype of mother. However, the man she married wasn't the hero stronger than herself, but the reformed weasel. So she got to remain a leader. This ended up being the perfect platform to talk about a young woman growing into a position of leadership. It subverted, whether intentionally or un-, both the archetypes of mother and of amazon.
And Seven subverted the virgin archetype thoroughly. Raped (in the sense of being abducted) and thoroughly physically violated at the age of 6, Seven as an adult retains a childlike innocence, coupled with some seriously dangerous hardware. And by hardware, I don't mean the kind of asskicking karate-hardware that is the substance of millenial male fantasies from Buffy to whatever happened in the action film genre yesterday. By hardware I mean smarts: brain enhancements, databases, skills, abilities. She also has a fading sense of certainty about herself and her place in the universe that is the legacy of her Borg upbringing. This Borg confidence is depicted as one of the good leftovers of her background; the show doesn't assume that everything she learned as a Borg is bad or wrong except her military capabilities, as a more salacious show would do. And there's some very sophisticated discussion of her Borg spirituality (yes, they have some) and her Borg worldview.
This bumps into the fact that Voyager dealt with multiraciality and transnationality in a much more sophisticated way than all the previous (and subsequent) Treks. Although Torres is largely treated as a tragic mulatta, and her two species viewed reductively, note that her human half is Latina, itself a multiracial identity. Although the two episodes in the series that deal directly with her multiraciality are stupid (there's an early episode where she splits into her Klingon and human
halves, and her Klingon half can't think, while her human half can't
fight -- not offensive at all!; and a much later one in which she's pregnant and goes crazy trying to make sure her daughter doesn't end up with Klingon brow ridges), the rest of the show, when not focusing on what they think she should be doing with her multiraciality, deals with it rather delicately: showing how she extracts strength and trouble, questions and confirms herself, both, through her cultural uses and memories of her parents.
Seven, on the other hand, is a transracial adoptee, a third culture kid, and a multiracial (since she carries marks of both races on her face and body.) Like I said above, Voyager, unlike TNG, doesn't assume that a Borg separated from the collective is better off. We see Seven having a lot of trouble adjusting, and learn slowly that part of her successful adjustment is owing to the confidence and centeredness she found as a Borg. In one episode, she says that her memories and experience as a child and as a Borg remain with the collective, and it comforts her to know that she will be immortal in that way. Nobody else on board has that kind of certainty of an afterlife. The show's treatment of Seven is an example of true diversity: Janeway sometimes finds Seven's ideas and decisions abhorrent, but she tolerates them and learns to live with them.
I find it strange that people are so hostile to Seven. She was brought in to replace the ingenue character of Kes, who never quite worked out. Kes was both the virgin/ingenue, and the sexual/romantic partner of an old-looking and seeming character (Neelix.) That never worked out, for obvious reasons. And when they started giving her superpowers, it wasn't believable -- or desirable -- because she'd spent the previous three years being annoyingly perky and powerless. Seven was very carefully thought out to replace her: Seven was a virgin/ingenue, but with built-in strength and power. She was the opposite of perky, and was clearly on a coming-of-age trajectory. When Seven got with Chakotay, it was clearly the next phase in her evolution: she wasn't going to be expected to get it on and remain virginal, like Kes was.
I truly think that people who think Voyager was a bad show either didn't watch the second half of the run (most likely) or haven't yet become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership positions. Even the somewhat groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica, which started out with women in leadership positions in civilian and spiritual life, couldn't quite bring itself to depict a good woman military leader. That's pretty radical.
Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women. Chakotay is a strong character in more than one sense: he takes his own path, he's a military leader and also a leader in personality, and he straddles the military and rebel worlds without breaking apart or going crazy. Chakotay, halfway through the show, in the episode in which he and Janeway confront their romantic feelings for each other, lays it out: he's accepted the role of helpmeet, of the man who enables the woman leader. It's completely awesome. Later, he becomes Seven's lover, and it's clear that he's an older teacher-type lover, a kind of Kris Kristofferson to Seven's Barbara Streisand.
Tom Paris is a stereotype, not an archetype: he's an immature wild-boy, who's the best pilot in the whatever, but is traumatized by the consequences of his own cowardice and immaturity. He eventually grows up enough to atone for his past wrongdoings and Become A Man, but he doesn't have the personality of a leader. Instead he falls in love with Torres, who is a leader, and takes on the implicit role of a woman leader's partner. And then there's Tuvok, who has a wife and kid at home, and is smarter, older, more controlled, and better educated than everyone else on board. And he makes himself Janeway's instrument because he recognizes the power of her leadership, and because he believes that it's the right thing to do.
(And one more thing: the Doctor plays the vain, fussy, diva character. The male Doctor. Think people might have a problem with that?)
The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it. In fact, no one ever mentions the male characters on the show at all, not to love or to vilify them. I think it's the absence, the lack of male leadership that causes people to clock Voyager as "boring," or "silly." I used to watch queer films and think they were boring, until I read somewhere that this is a privileged response: most of the films I watch show heteronormative sexuality, which is more interesting to me in the titillating sense, so I don't have to have any interest in other types of sexuality. But (cue violin music) once I got with the program and stopping making every narrative have to be about ME, I found a whole world of narratives out there about people nothing like me with concerns nothing like mine that were not just interesting, but amazing. Including queer narratives. (Here's one among many, by the way, and you can watch it free on the web.)
Which is all by way of saying that Voyager was definitely uneven. And I don't hold it against people for misjudging the show based on the first few seasons. But ultimately, Voyager was one of the groundbreaking shows of the ages, and definitely the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series.
The book will be called Slightly Behind and to the Left, and will contain four stories: "Pigs in Space," "Pinball Effect" (which will be published as the "gravity" entry here,) "Abducted by Aliens!", and "Vacation." There are also three drabbles (100 word stories) in it, all written for FarThing, although she only took two (beeotch!)
It'll be out most likely by the end of the year, although that's not yet locked down. Open the champagne!
(I wasn't gonna write anything about John Hughes, but then my friend Joel Tan called for submissions on Facebook for a little Facebook anthology of John Hughes/80s memorials. I will post a link when it's ready.)
At first it seemed like John Hughes was just bad timing for me.
I was fourteen when "Sixteen Candles" came out and sixteen was too far away. I was a late bloomer and had never known what it was like to have a devastating crush on somebody in school. And let's not even talk about Long Duk Dong. I blocked him out and had to be reminded of his existence, frequently. I also suspected that the character I most resembled was Anthony Michael Hall's. Ugh.
When "The Breakfast Club" came out, I was in a brief fresh-faced phase, not popular, but at the height of my high school popularity, only an average student, the first cut from the team, and unable to identify with any of the stereotypes therein represented. A year later, I'd turn into The Basket Case, but by then the movie had ceased to matter, and the dandruff thing just grossed me out anyway. I never got dandruff until after college; it was a distant, adult thing.
When "Pretty in Pink" came out, as I said above, I had moved to a more Hughes-like public school and morphed into the Basket Case, and was watching Stephen Frears/Hanif Kureishi movies and reading Paul Celan. The previous year the movie would have spoken to me. The previous year I was buying skippy little sixties dresses with my best friend and strategizing how to sneak into clubs we never tried to sneak into. Now I was dropping out of school and trying to ignore how the furniture moved every time I looked away from it. Now the movie appeared to be exactly what it was: a cheap knockoff of an outsider life.
I laughed at "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" along with everyone else: it was funny. I never could articulate then -- nor can I explain even now -- the dread feeling in the pit of my stomach that movie gave me. I still feel it. It had a cold, existential edge to it, and the characters, aside from looking like adults, were so unpleasantly alien to me as to kill any enjoyment aside from that of purely cynical entertainment.
When "Some Kind of Wonderful" came out, I was -- miraculously -- in college, with a blonde bob, and my dream of being a drummer blossoming (it was to peak two years later when I actually bought a used drum kit for $60.) But ... I was in college. I couldn't even bring myself to express the wish of seeing the movie in front of my friends. I waited until I got home for winter vacation and went to see it at a second run theater by myself, a throwback to my Basket Case year. I did not allow myself to love it, even though the misfit finally got the misfit and this was perhaps the only John Hughes movie I could ever have loved; I was too grown up.
But, it turns out, it wasn't timing at all. I never fit the schedule; I never fit the mold. I was not pretty and graceful and cool like Molly Ringwald or Mary Stuart Masterson, and strangely, I never quite wanted to be. I was not exactly the white kid down the block, either; and the goofy and neglectful parents of this universe were nothing like my involved, overeducated, transnational pair. The characters I wished myself into were Maria from "West Side Story" and Alex from "Flashdance": parentless, urban, racially ambiguous girls who risked being shot for love, being fired for art. Self-sufficient girls who made up their own minds and were leagues away from the shallow problems of suburban high school popularity contests.
John Hughes movies were themselves the round hole I never fit into. They ruled my teenaged years like bullies, like Reagan, like the eighties. John Hughes fading out of the consciousness of my age group was a fact akin to the mainstreaming of alternative rock and Bill Clinton: the decline of a set of ideas that had poisoned the end of my childhood; the cultural accession of values more closely in alignment with my own; a huge weight off my chest.
I've been moved by the outpouring of emotion at the death of John Hughes, as I was by the fallout from Michael Jackson's death. But I was moved by the emotions of others, not by the deaths themselves. MJ meant nothing to me, but he was harmless. There was nothing in his message (such as it was) that hurt me. I can't say the same of John Hughes, whose shallow examinations of class distinctions in suburban high schools were a throwback to the geography of the fifties and sixties -- when different classes were still being schooled together.
Hughes never understood real power dynamics as they played out in American public schools. His blithe assurance that a drunken party could achieve social parity between two groups with vastly disparate levels of power was the teenaged version of the blithe assurances that if you laughed along with them, bullies would stop torturing you, or if we stopped talking about color, we'd see that racism was over, or if we squirted more ketchup on our tater tots, we'd get the nutritional equivalent of vegetables.
I was so glad to be shut of John Hughes, that I never thought about him from that day to this, except to murmur unconsciously insincere agreement when somebody nostalgized about one of his deathly movies. But now that he's dead, and I have to look squarely at his legacy, that's over for me. Time to let out the dead, grey feeling in my gut that his movies always birthed. Time to wash away the worst of the previous bad era.
Read the first Buffy comics omnibus; not the season 8 series but the comic based on the original screenplay.
Then I read Waylaid by Ed Lin. It's a Kaya Press book. It's about a twelve year old Chi-Am boy growing up in a sleazy motel on the Jersey shore, where he and his parents live a really marginal existence. It reminded me of Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child, in that there's a fascination with disgust and the disgusting. A lot of descriptions of gross food that makes people sick in gross ways, and details of pores, and hairs, and sweat and body odor.
Makes me wonder if the authors live their lives in disgust, since they've written books so interpenetrated by it. Depressing. A good book in many ways, but depressing.
I read China Miéville's The City and the City. Cool idea, but it ended up being a bit of an anticlimactic, nearly straight-genre mystery. I think the book's core was his story "Reports of Certain Events in London" stretched out to book length. "Reports" is a terrific short story about a Pickwickian society of people who study feral streets, i.e. streets that don't tamely remain in a particular place but wander around.
Of course, The City has a completely different premise and purpose, but has a similar feel or feel of intention: to mess with the structure of cities using a surprising novum. And to introduce a mystery that can only happen within that particular situation. And I think this ... idea? structure? purpose? ... was better served in the short story than in the novel.
But still a good read.
Also re-read Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible and it really holds up. Well structured and thought out. Insightful. Fun to read. Some minor glitches with the representation of the female protag, but altogether a good job.
I'll be teaching a weekend blogging workshop through Kearny Street Workshop this weekend in San Francisco's SOMA district. Saturday is a free two-hour blogging 101 class for absolute beginners. The goal will be to set up your first blog. Sunday is a three hour blog writing and marketing workshop with me and Glenda Bautista that costs $50.
You can get details here or below. Please spread the word to those folks in your life who want more blog in theirs!
Weekend Blogging Workshop
July 18-19, 10:00am - 1:00pm
KSW @ PariSoMa, 1436 Howard Street
This weekend intensive blogging workshop will take
you from beginner basics to blog bragging rights. Sign up for one day
or both, and get into the blogosphere.
DAY ONE: Writing 101 with Claire Light
Saturday, July 18, 11am - 1pm
This FREE two-hour class will help absolute beginners
get off the ground. We will discuss what a blog is; what things
(skills, technologies) you will need to start a blog; how to actually
create your blog; and how to connect with the blogosphere so you're not
casting your pearls into the void.
Prerequisites: familiarity with email programs and
web browers; moderate skill with Microsoft Word; possession of a laptop
DAY TWO: The Art of Blogging with Claire Light and Glenda Bautista
Sunday, July 19, 10am - 1pm
This three-hour paid class is designed around
examining blogging as a writing form, or a written art form. We will
discuss blogging as a form; what are its opportunities and limitations;
what is commonly done within the blogging form and what are some
interesting outliers; what technologies exist to facilitate blogging as
a writing form. We will discuss "blog marketing" not as a commercial
enterprise but as a method of connecting to a community that furthers
the art of the blog. We will also do writing exercises in various
blogging forms, on the internet. The result of this three-hour workshop
will be a number of blog texts and a group project (for example: a blog
carnival, or possibly even a group blog.)
Prerequisites: you must have a laptop with wireless
for the session and have an established blog; this session may not be
ideal for absolute beginners.
Cost: $50 per person Minimum class size: 5
To register by check, please send check or money order to:
Kearny Street Workshop, PO Box 14545, San Francisco, CA 94114-0545.
Or pay online by clicking here and then clicking on the Buy Now button.
Finished Epileptic by David B. The first half was wonderful. The second half kinda fell apart. But that was because it was a memoir, and when kids get into their teens, the world gets immensely larger and it's harder to make a clear narrative out of it.
Still haven't started on Phase Two of Draft Two. Too much other stuff to do.
Okay, so I've finished Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, which is an extremely mediocre book. Waaaay overrated. Both Pratchett and Gaiman are much better on their own. Also finished Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is the melancholy, literary, zombie YA nov. It's good, only ... somehow Ryan manages to flub the writing of the key moments and scenes. Like, where a scene turns, somehow the transitions tend to falter, so I don't know the scene has turned and have to go back a couple of paragraphs to figure out what the new situation is again. Argh.
Also, been stuck for a week about a dozen pages from the end of da nobble. Next time I get to it I'll finish it, and then Phase One of Draft Two will be done. I also might have found a novel writing group. Yay! More good news forthcoming in upcoming weeks.
My sister was given a book as a young teen by a friend, which I read, and I just now remembered. Can anyone tell me the title/author?
It involved a beautiful, dark-haired princess or chieftain's daughter, who was a spoiled brat and had an affair with some dude and got pregnant. He bailed and she shamed her family with her bastard son. The son had red hair, which was a sign of magic, and punishable by death. I can't remember what happened next, but they both ended up as slaves under the protection of some other chieftain and she had to dye the son's hair dark to hide his magic. She ended up becoming the chief's concubine. Meanwhile, there's another slave there (male, of course) who also has magic and he starts teaching the boy.
Don't remember most of the plot, but at some point it comes out that she herself is the one who passed magic on to her son (not the dude who bailed on her) and, if she would only learn it, she could become a powerful magician herself. Or something.
Did a little work on da nobble over the weekend and got through quite a bit today. I only have the last two or three chapters to go now, and these'll go fast. I've noticed, actually, that the beginning third and the end third don't need a lot of work (just minor edits), but the middle third is a mess and I'm going to have to go back in after this pass and rewrite a whole bunch of stuff. Argh. But good. I'm progressing.
I did not work on da nobble today. I was in my favorite cafe during my writing time, and there was one too many assholes talking on their cellphones. Yes, inside. Yes, in a room in a cafe where people mostly sit and work, not talk. I can manage to ask people to take it outside at most once a day. Today the third cell phone user drove me outta the cafe. When I got home there was netflix. Argh.
However, I did go to netflix and put myself on vacay for two months, to see if I can do without. If I can, I might just cancel it altogether. It should at least get me reading more.
Didn't work on the MS yesterday, but it's okay, because I spent my writing time thinking about what I posted about in my previous post, and that was a really, really important realization for me. I've been able to get granular about what setup I need to have to get writing again.
Really got rolling on the MS today and worked through probably about 60 pages (I didn't count) including the most sticky chapter of all, the one I know is completely wrong and out of character, but which needs to happen in some way for themes to get played out and for the character to get moving across the geography again. I figured out, in general, how I'm going to rewrite this, and it's good. It'll kill about three birds with one stone. I been killin' lotsa birds today.
I'm starting to get excited about finishing the editing phase and getting back into rewriting. Hope it's soon.
Good writing day. And now a friend is coming over with wine and we're going to have the awesome dark rye/fig/olive/nut crackers I got at Whole Paycheck and it'll be a good evening as well.
Via Barb, this article in the New Yorker, by Louis Menand, about the creative writing program.
One thing I've been realizing lately -- as I've been tamping down temptation to apply to a creative writing PhD program, despite my contempt for, even hatred of, creative writing programs -- is what the real purpose of a creative writing workshop is. In the past I've been too caught up in my anger at the workshop's uselessness to notice that the point of the workshop is not what happens in the workshop, but the existence of the workshop in whatever form. The lack of a universal program or vocabulary or set of concepts isn't the point. The existence of the workshop is the point.
Which is all by way of saying that the reason we have workshops is to give apprentice writers the structure to write.
That sounds simple, but it's immensely complex. When I was in my MFA program, I seemed to write enormous amounts (I estimated that in 3.5 years I probably spent about 5000 hours writing.) Being able to -- simply and easily and without thinking or agonizing -- sit down and write appeared natural and effortless. It has now been 3.5 years since I graduated, and the enormous difficulty I've had just sitting down and writing regularly has been ... instructive.
The MFA program is compelling; i.e. it compels you to follow its dictates. You've paid for it, you've applied for it, people are expecting things of you, and you must deliver. It is also immutable: it is what it is and it's up to you to fit yourself to it or get off the pot. So -- in subtle and blatant ways -- you reshape your life around the MFA program. You don't necessarily notice yourself doing this ... particularly if you're a single woman with no children who is changing jobs and apartments (for separate reasons) right around the time she starts school, as I was. But you do it.
You organize so that you have time to do your homework (which is writing). You organize so that you have time to do your reading for class. You organize traveling time to and from classes. And you find, slowly or quickly, ways to structure your working day so that the thought that goes into work doesn't interfere with the thought that goes into reading and writing. In doing so, you organize your world so that you can think about writing, or write, throughout most (or the majority) of your waking hours ... not to mention your sleeping ones.
My living/working situation during my MFA program was a perfect storm for writing. Everything I did after my MFA program was -- unintentionally -- a perfect storm of cluelessness. I took myself out of the Bay Area and away from any friends, support network, or artists community for six months, basically situating myself in a cultural and social desert for a half year, and somehow expected myself to be able to produce. I didn't produce.
When I returned, I moved to the East Bay, where my social and professional network wasn't, thereby ensuring that I wasn't surrounded by the inspiring presence of other people doing creative work. I took on a full-time office job that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, in a sector that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, thereby ensuring that the largest portion of my day was spent thinking about anything but writing, and doing everything but writing. I also, in the name of freeing up more time to write, cut myself off from most of my volunteerism and freelance work in creative and arts organizations, thereby ensuring that I had no easy and natural contact to creative communities, except what I cobbled together, meeting by meeting, through my social life.
My life in the 3 years after graduating from my MFA program was basically the opposite of an MFA program ... and the opposite of a writing life. And I did not write.
The one aspect of my former writing life that I could have slipped easily and unobtrusively into my nonwriting life was a weekly or monthly writing group or workshop. I had many opportunities to join a workshop, and did not: becausse of my contempt for workshops and the writing they produce, because of my need for a long break from group dynamics, after seven solid years of working in creative and cultural collectives and seeing those pitfalls firsthand. I was looking, as I said above, at what happened within a workshop. I wasn't looking at what happens around a workshop.
And what happens around a workshop is very simply that you write around a workshop. It gets you writing. It gets you to write.
MFA programs can't work without workshops because, for people to learn to write, they have to actually be writing and have recent writing to talk about. So the MFA programs have to have a way to ensure that everyone is actually doing constant, steady writing. Otherwise the discussions about writing will be silly and hollow.
But it's more than that. Because, more than anything, you learn about writing in an MFA program because you spend the whole time writing. Enormous amounts, in fact. Even if all your teachers are assholes and idiots, all your classmates are cretins, you'll still learn a lot from doing so much writing (and reading.) And the MFA program has to make sure you're doing that.
So a few conclusions:
MFA programs are still the best way we have to make sure that people who want to become writers shut the fuck up, sit down, and spend a couple, three years writing a lot. That means something very important.
Creative writing workshops are a great opportunity to do something cool with learning, but they don't have to take that opportunity. Because the classroom opportunity is not the point of the workshop: the outside-the-classroom coercion is the point.
If almost all writing -- that is, almost all writers -- come through creative writing programs, that simply means that we've found a really effective, regularized, and reliable way of creating writers. If the workshop seems a ridiculously simple way of conquering American letters, all I have to say is that it so obviously works that we need to stop yammering about it at that level. (And by that I mean that I have to stop yammering about it at that level.)
As Barb points out, the discussion around MFA programs loves to ignore the other structures and communities writers develop for themselves. I tend to think, based on nothing but anecdotal, personal evidence, that the writers who continue to write after their MFA programs are over, are the ones who use the MFA program to learn how to set up their lives to facilitate writing. They can do this by recreating the structure of their lives during the MFA, after the MFA. They can do this by connecting with a community in the program and keeping that community together after the program. Or they can do it by using MFA certification to join academia and make The Writing Life their paying job. However they do it, the MFA offers tools to create The Writing Life, which tools then become invisible after the MFA program is over.
Writers like myself -- who indulged in magical thinking about MFA programs or MFA periods as times when The Writing Just Flowed like manna and ambrosia, and other things that rain from heaven without effort on the part of recipients -- are left gasping for air on the shore, refusing to just jump back into the water a few inches away. That is to say: I am mixing metaphors. That is to say: we stop writing when the MFA is over.
I'm not participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon because I do other fundraising among my friends and family throughout the year and need to choose where I spend that energy.
But I think it's a great idea, both as a fundraiser, and as a writing initiative. So I made a private commitment to write every day during Clarion West-time. Today was my first day. Officially it started yesterday, but Clarion West officially starts the night before classtime starts when the first instructor is introduced, and NOT when your writing needs to start. So I took advantage.
Anyhoo, I'm going through a printed out MS of da nobble right now, editing. And by "editing," I mean both line-editing and hefty, more structural stuff. When I'm done with this phase, I'm taking the heavily marked up MS back to Scrivener and doing the rewrites there. After this rewrite, I think I'll actually be ready to show it to some first readers.
I'm hoping this phase will be done by the end of the Write-A-Thong. But I'm not holding my breath. Will make an effort to post daily about my progress but, again, no breath-holding.
So what I wanted to do -- about a month ago now, in the weeks leading up to WisCon, when I was considering "breaking up" with the antiracist blogosphere as a result of RaceFail and MammothFail -- was write a series of posts about how antiracist action online actually works, and why I have problems with it.
But a number of things intervened.
*****First, right before WisCon, Al Robles, an elder in my Bay Area Asian American activist community, died suddenly. His family organized a memorial event and I was asked to help, so I took over volunteer coordination for the six-hour event. The event took place at the venue where we had staged the Asian American arts festival I ran for its first few years; being there as a coordinator reminded me of that work and of the atmosphere of common purpose and mutual help that can arise out of creating a "real world" racial community. It also reminded me that I had a real world community in the first place, that I had been neglecting, partly in favor of my online stuff.
Also, being at Manong Al's memorial really made me think a lot about Al. The sort of elder whose memorial event draws thousands of people, requires ten tables to hold all the food, and has trouble restricting the stories, poems, and testimonials to six hours, is a very particular person. Al was a leader, not in that he put himself and his agenda first, nor in that he had great managerial skills he used to organize people. Al was a leader by example. He was everywhere he needed to be to get the work done. He was physically there; he put his hand on your arm when he saw you. He knew everyone in the community because he talked to them, partied with them, and remembered them whenever he saw them next. He never lost his interest in individuals, never lost his excitement about the new (and old) things people were doing, never failed to connect the creative life (he was a poet) with the activist life, and the activist life with the good life.
The consideration that makes my eyes well up, both in love for Al and in shame for my own failures, is the memory of Al as someone who always gave respect, gave face, to everyone, from the most snot-nosed, fist-pumping teenager, to the oldest, out-of-commission elder. He made you want to earn the respect that he gave you unconditionally. He loved whatever it was that you did. Thousands of people turned out to say goodbye to him because people like that are so rare.
It makes me really think about who is going to take over for Al. Less than two years ago we lost another elder, Manong Bill Sorro, who had a similar role in the community as Al Robles, had a similar way with people, although the two were very different. As I said, these people are rare. Manong Al and Manong Bill were my touchstones in the community and now that they're both gone, I'm all out of touchstones. They were it for their generation. Who will be it for my generation?
I'm not that kind of person, but I can try to be more of that kind of person. I don't have to be the Manong Al or Manong Bill of my generation, but I think we can split up those duties a little more evenly, especially if we believe in community and continuation. But to do that, I have to get off the fucking internet and get my butt down to where the community is.
***** Second, I went to WisCon. Given the atmosphere surrounding RaceFail and then MammothFail, I was expecting WisCon to be emotionally fraught, stress-filled, and conflict-ridden. Instead, what I found was that there were more POC there than ever before, and that the POC there were organizing, coming together, and also connecting outside the POC community with a confidence and interest and even joy that I hadn't seen at WisCon before.
I realized that the online fights that had stressed me out so much, make my stomach tie up in knots and feel like all was sick with the world, had energized a lot of other folks. I was forcibly reminded of how I felt eleven years ago, when I first joined battle -- in a very limited and constrained way -- with folks online on the multiracial list-serv and the Asian American writers list-serv I joined. It was energizing; it did make me want to do stuff. And, because I was in San Francisco, I just went right out and did stuff: joined orgs, started programs, etc. It was a wonderful cycle of discussion and action: I discussed ideas online, and then took those ideas out into the real world and acted on them.
Of course, the energizing aspect of the arguments and sometimes fights had a limited efficacy. They were only energizing as long as they were still new to me, and still had something to teach me about that particular way of viewing the issues. Once I had been through the cycle of argument once or twice (and had experienced intelligent, articulate opponents who just plain didn't listen to you) the argument stopped energizing me and started to stress me out. Eventually, I had to quit the two list-servs, and I didn't miss them much when I had. That was mainly because the people I "knew" on the list-servs were just usernames. I was also spending time with folks in meatspace and many of those folks are still my friends; I'm not still friends with a single person I interacted intensely with online at that time, even the people I met in person and tried to work with there. But what I got out of those discussions didn't go away. The results -- the ideas and ability to articulate arguments -- stayed with me.
***** Third, I went back to Berlin, where I spent much of my twenties, and saw a lot of my friends, ten and fifteen years later. I saw that my friends had taken one of three tracks: folks who hadn't quite gotten started on a career and were still struggling to figure out where to go and what to do; folks who had started a career, then started a family and were now negotiating the limitation on their career that a young family imposes; and folks who were well into a creative career, some simply moving forward and others wondering if they wanted to stay on this track or make an adjustment.
I'm with the last group. I've spent the last decade plowing ahead full steam in ethnic-specific arts and culture, and I've accomplished much that I'm proud of. But I've definitely reached a point where I'm trying to make an adjustment in my direction, and that's a difficult thing to do. While in Berlin, I got a rare perspective on where I am in life, by seeing my peers dealing with being in that same place. And I think I can take this adjustment more quietly -- be less manic and bewildered about it -- and focus in. I think that's the key: letting some options go, and focusing in on what's most important to me.
I came back to online antiracism a few years ago with my interest in speculative fiction, and with working with POC SF communities that I had connected with through Clarion West and WisCon. And the community here is wonderful, and vibrant, and full of energy and purpose. I've learned a lot from reading blogs, and getting into discussions ... and even from some of the less pleasant fights I've gotten into. Some things I've learned couldn't have been gotten at another way.
But there are also problems with it ... and it was my intention to tease out those problems in a series of posts, as I said above. But after Al's memorial, and after WisCon, and after my visit back to the site of my young adulthood, I think I'm realizing that I don't need to do that right now. What I'm feeling is particular to me and my situation. Maybe down the road I'll have some perspectives that will be useful to someone else, but I don't think I do right now.
I've been upset and angry at an argument that I've heard too many times before that doesn't have the power to inspire me anymore, but that doesn't mean that this discussion isn't inspiring anyone else to new and great things. I think I'm probably best off shutting up and getting out of the way.
One thing I do want to clarify: when I said in an earlier post that the best thing that came out of RaceFail was the smart posts published early in the incident, a few outraged people pointed to Verb Noire (which has just announced its first publication, which makes me want to pee with excitement) as a direct result of RaceFail. I was surprised by that perception. Having been involved in so many start-ups (APAture, Hyphen, the San Francisco Hapa Issues Forum chapter, the now-defunct Digital Horizon afterschool program) and seen so many from a peripheral viewpoint, it's second nature to me to assume that any start-up or initiative has its roots in longstanding dreams and long planning processes ... that then come together around a particular opportunity.
Yes, I believe that RaceFail brought on a convergence of a number of things that led to Verb Noire being launched right then, but I don't believe that without RaceFail there would have been no Verb Noire. (Please tell me if I'm completely wrong here; I have no telepathic connection to the publishers, and no idea what specifically got them going.) Furthermore, I'd be worried if I really thought that RaceFail was the only or main impulse to starting Verb Noire. Last straw, yes; main thrust, no. It's a terrific project, coming at the right time, but it's larger than just RaceFail. The language and direction of the project already seems larger -- seems to fill up a space that has to do with more than just a failure of the general SF community to understand cultural difference and appropriation.
Basically, until it was pointed out to me, I didn't connect Verb Noire directly with RaceFail. RaceFail to me is just an incident: an incident that got drawn out way too long and produced some good writing, some bad writing, and a lot of bad feeling ... but still just an incident. Verb Noire is ... an organization, a long-term program, an institution of new perspective in the making. The two are bound up together, certainly: all good organizations, programs, institutions have their roots in unacceptable circumstances, or ongoing failures, and series of incidents that demonstrate these circumstances and failures.
But the two are distinct. One is discussion; the other, activism. For me, there does come a time when the discussion that inspires activism starts to get in the way of activism, and I have to opt out of direct discussion for a while.
I don't know what this means for me on a practical level. I have an online presence that takes some work to maintain and that brings me a lot of pleasure, aside from other things. But it also, I have to admit, sucks too much time away from my writing and my working in my community. I might have to cut back on being present online for a while, but I'm not sure how or how much. I'm not making any quick decisions.
I have no conclusions yet, no declarations to make. I think I'm going to be reading less from blogs, and participating less in any sort of online discussions in this area for a while. But at this point, I'm just thinking out loud.
ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.
WisCon starts in a week, and, as a result of RaceFail and the more recent resurgence of controversy around race, I've been thinking a lot about the issue of how antiracist action is handled on the internet. I'm going to spend the next week on a series of posts about my thoughts on this topic. I need to clear my head and -- not knowing what to expect from WisCon this year -- prepare my thoughts for whatever comes.
(One quick caveat here: I despaired years ago of getting through to ignorant, privileged whites on the internet through argument, and haven't engaged in that sort of argument for a long time: because it kills me, and because it doesn't seem to do much good. The only thing that works, in my experience, is providing copious resources that someone, who wants to seek and understand, can find and use in his/her own way, so that they can choose to prepare themselves to join a discourse, rather than argue their way into knowledge.
So if I seem to be only criticizing the antiracist POC side here, it's because I am. No amount of tantrums, unprofessionalism, and bad behavior from the privileged side surprises me anymore, and I find it pointless to even criticize it. At the latest, after last year's Rachel-Moss-WisConFail, and the conscious delight privileged white males (and females) took in baiting feminists, people of color, differently abled, and transgendered people, I have refused to engage with such perspectives, which I consider a continuum. I only now engage with "our" responses to such perspectives, or more accurately, with a broader-based strategy to combat ignorance and prejudice in our media and in our society. Doubtless RaceFail blame falls much more heavily on the side of baiters and privileged idiots. But they can't bait those who won't be baited. They can't enrage those who won't be enraged.)
Back in February, around the time I thought that RaceFail was going to die down, I started writing a series of posts on this topic. But RaceFail didn't die down then, nor for another couple of months. The residue of a contentious and conflict-soaked election campaign, and of a devastating economic collapse, the impact of which we'll be unraveling for years, was like jetfuel to the usual flame. Whereas internet blowups usually only last a couple of weeks -- a flash flood -- the almost palpable panic and fear and weariness cracked open the levees we'd been ignoring for so long, and our little corner of the blogosphere was overwhelmed. What started as an initially salutary repeat of a discussion that had never quite been put to rest, soon turned into a community eating itself.
Not coincidentally, February was the time the Carl Brandon Society's Heritage Month book advocacy campaign kicked off. We'd chosen one recommended reading list in January -- immediately before RaceFail had started -- and were trying to put together a second list in February as the tone of the discussion got ugly. The difference was dramatic. In January our members were joyfully and actively participating, just like last year. By mid-February, our list-serv had fallen silent: everyone was too busy at work or in their lives to participate. For the first time since I joined the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee, our members actually ignored direct requests for participation. And I have to say: I don't blame them one little bit.
Heartsick and anxiety-ridden over the tone the public discourse began to take on, I bowed out of the discussion and abandoned the posts I had started. I did save them, though, and, although I'm even more heart-sick and anxiety-ridden now, I have to talk this out, if only with myself. Essentially, I have to decide, in the next couple of weeks, if I'm going to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere.
This is not the first time I've had to make such a decision. In the year 2000, I had to "break up" with the discussion list-servs I was on in 1998/99, that helped me learn and understand so much about my own identity and community, and that helped me formulate my own thinking about race and organizing and why these are important. Without those list-servs and those discussions, I could not have become an effective community organizer, teacher, and advocate. I would not have been able to articulate to myself or anyone else why building a community voice is essential to racial justice.
But the discussions on those list-servs stayed in one place and cycled around that place over and over again, like a ferris wheel. Staying in that discourse after I had completed a few cycles was not merely annoying, it actually militated against progressive action. It made me anxious and sick to my stomach, it made me angry, and -- whereas initially it had brought me closer to my fellow community members -- it began to drive a wedge between us, emphasizing small differences in opinion, and sucking energy and air away from broader-based action.
I thought I would miss it too much. I said I'd "take a break" for three months and then see if I could go back and take part in a more rational manner. What happened instead was that, within a few weeks, I had nearly forgotten about the list-servs, and had discovered a pocket of free hours that I could now dedicate to more real-world action.
But those were purely discussion list-servs; not only were they not intended for action, but calls for action and event announcements weren't allowed on those lists. Breaking up with the antracist POC blogosphere is a much more complex proposition, because it exists not just for discussion, but also for discourse, not just for expression of outrage, but also for action and organizing. And there are people in this community who are so geographically far away, I can't access them any other way.
So this consideration is not just a "in or out" proposition. Being on the CBS Steering Committee requires me to use online organizing and keep up with what's going on in the communities. Writing for Hyphen blog requires me to participate in POC bloggery. I'm not quitting these organizations, so the question is: how to tailor my participation in online POC antiracist action so as to curtail the negative influence of discussion loops, while keeping me in the loop?
This is what I'll be considering over the next few posts. I probably won't respond to comments until I'm through, since this is a longer thought process than usual, and I don't want to break it off or argue until I've gotten through it. Be advised that anything that smacks to me of attack (in comments) may well be deleted. (That's another tactic I'm going to be considering.)
This is just one thread, but it's confusing, so pay attention.
Great-great-grandfather went to San Francisco to pluck duck feathers and carve candles. Great-grandfather didn't join him in the States. Why? It's possible that, returning to Zhong Shan, Great-great blew all the money he had saved on gifts and banquets and couldn't afford to bring his only son over. Another possibility is in the timing: Great-grandfather would have been only 14 in 1882, so perhaps it would have been impossible for him to go, son of a duck-plucker that he was.
Older Cousin, who was going to Costa Rica in 1885, got off the boat too soon and had to establish himself in Colon, Panama instead. Import/export/retail. Cousin offered to pay young Great-grandfather's way to Panama. Skip Ahead.
The year the Canal construction began, now rich enough to support two families, Great-grandfather got a new wife, Great-grandmother, and brought her out to Panama. With three children, and Grandfather on the way, the family moved to Macau, the Portuguese colony off of Hong Kong. Two years later they returned to Panama. Don't know why. Move on.
Great-grandfather and Co returned to Macau in 1922 following his retirement, then Grandfather:
studied engineering in Indiana,
taught math in Shanghai, where he met Grandmother (who was from Hong Kong, but that's a whole other thread,)
settled in Hong Kong until the Japanese invaded,
worked for the Chinese nationalist government in Chong Qing until the communists came down,
went back to Hong Kong,
retired to Vancouver, Canada, and died there.
Which brings us to Mom. She grew up entirely in Hong Kong and mainland China, went to the States to go to graduate school and married there. ... Or something like that.
So my question: if the family makes a good faith effort to return to country of origin, does it all reset? Does Mom get to be a traditional immigrant?
Grandfather is fourth from the far right, last row, holding Youngest Uncle. Mom is seventh from the far right, last row. Oldest Uncle is first on the far right, standing, Second Uncle is seated fourth from the right in front. Grandmother is second row from the top, second from the far left. The rest is family.
For the Joy Luck Hub blog carnival, which I'm running over at Hyphen blog. If you're of Asian diasporic extraction, please submit your 300-word immigrant story, which is NOT like The Joy Luck Club!
Had lunch with Karen Tei Yamashita this week. She's awesome. She writes speculative fiction, but isn't in that world, so I had a great time throwing titles at her head and then lending her books. She filled me in on a decade's worth of book publishing gossip over Ethiopian food. Fun!
Freaking out about the Kaya Press authortours and the two weeks worth of publicizing I lost in there because I couldn't sleep. Sunyoung is at the Association for Asian American Studies conference in Hawai'i, and Patty is in New York, so communication is slower than usual. But one of our authors came in this week! And we're off and running next week. Argh! Too fast!
I'm sleeping now, for some reason. At the suggestion of my massage therapist, I started sleeping with a rolled up towel behind my neck to tilt my head back. It can't be that simple, can it? Must buy a shaped memory foam pillow. Still freaking out. Plus, went to the doctor this week and found out I definitely DON'T have sleep apnea, and nobody knows HWAT's wrong with me.
Saw Vin Diesel's new bad movie with Jaime. Really enjoyed it. Absolute fluff, nothing to analyze, but the car chases were exciting and fun.
The chicks are out around Lake Merritt. The baby birds, I mean. I saw two Canada goose chicks today, each one with its own set of parents. I wonder if the Canada geese lay in batches or only have one at a time. Wikipedia sez batches. They were hella cute! Did you know Canada goslings are yellow? That's right! Like larger versions of chick'n chicks with dark smudges on the down and longer legs. Very cute. Also saw two young seagulls ... not so cute.
Interesting article in Salon about eating organic and cheap: can it be done? Interestingly, yes, but you still need two privileges: flexible time schedule and cooking skills. I hadn't thought about the cooking skills part as a privilege, but of course, you have to have a kitchen at all, plus one with all the right pots and pans and equipment, to learn to cook properly. No, actually, you don't. I'm still remembering the best meal we had in China in 1983, which was a 13-course feast cooked by our host's 18-year-old son on two gas burner rings, a pot, and a wok. Of course, he DID have the flexible schedule and the cooking skills, though.
I'm a little tweaked about this racial Fatal Attraction knockoff called Obsessed. Not going to see it, but I'm bracing myself for the inevitable online onslaught. I already googled it and one of the top entries was from a white woman blogger, who goes out of her way to tell us she's blonde, screaming about the racism directed against blonde white women by black people. No, I'm not gonna link to it. She's already getting too much attention for it. Also, the comments would raise your blood pressure and I don't wanna do that to you.
What else? Not much else percolatin', although a lot is going on. Have a good week!
While I appreciate efforts like this one to bring attention to bullying, particularly bullying that happens around homophobia and other prejudices, I think the organizers are still missing some essential points about bullying, how/why it happens, and how to stop it. (Not surprising: many very smart commentators are missing the point.)
"-Isms" like racism and homophobia are one issue, and bullying is an entirely separate issue. You can address an "-ism" effectively and still have terrible, soul-shattering bullying. (Likewise, you can stop bullying and still drive people to suicide with your prejudice.) The "day of silence" and similar efforts are doomed to only partial success, or outright failure, because they conflate homophobia (or prejudice) with bullying behavior, and assume that addressing prejudice among school-age kids will stop the bullying behavior.
It will not.
*** I was always an unpopular kid in school--precocious (put in school a year early), nerdy, outspoken, uncontrolled ... and multiracial. I was occasionally bullied in grade school, but I went to a small parochial school where everyone knew everyone. I was a nerd, but I was their nerd, and god help anyone from outside the school if they wanted to talk down to me.
So it wasn't until we moved to Ohio when I was ten that I encountered really bad bullying. The school was public, and bigger--30 kids per homeroom and two homerooms--and the neighborhood was all white except for us, one other Chinese family, and one other multiracial white/Japanese family. All the Asian kids were considered nerds. The boys started calling me names and harrassing me physically, and no one stopped them. So they kept doing it. Every day. All day long. For a whole year.
Now, when I say "no one stopped them," I don't mean that my parents didn't try anything. From what I understand now, they were on the phone to the principal almost weekly. At one point the school arranged to have one of those theater groups sent to our class to do a role-playing workshop around bullying. It was embarrassingly bad and actually helped me out only because for a week afterward we all spent our bullying time making fun of the theater group. No one (including me) connected the theater group to what was happening to me because their program was so divorced from reality that it didn't get any hooks into our actual behavior (the roleplay centered around taking someone's lunch money.)
At another point, the homeroom teachers suddenly introduced a new item into our curriculum: a family biography, in which we were to get our parents' help in writing a paper on where our families came from. Then a handful of us were asked to do a presentation in front of the class. Guess who was picked to do a presentation? And my family history is really very interesting, so everyone was interested and had a lot of questions for me afterwards. But it didn't stop the bullying because, guess what? The bullying had nothing to do with why I was different and everything to do with how my difference made me less socially powerful. Explaining why I was different was interesting for everyone, but didn't change the fact that I was less socially powerful.
In desperation, the school had me sent out of class while the assistant principal went up there and told the class point blank to stop harrassing me. That lasted about a week. Guess what happened then? When they started, tentatively, poking me again, and no consequences were forthcoming, we were soon back to a full-blown bullying schedule.
Early on in the year, the boys started calling me a "chink." That lasted for maybe two weeks and then stopped. I wasn't there when it was stopped, but in retrospect, I think some adult heard the boys calling me that, was horrified, and put an immediate stop to it. After all, racism was not tolerated at my school. At all. You really never heard any racial epithets at my school, very few racial jokes. Everyone revered them some MLK and Rosa Parks, which was made easier by the utter lack of any black people in a 10 mile radius of our neighborhood. So the "racist bullying" lasted for only two weeks and was effectively stopped. But the non-racist bullying lasted a year (until my parents pulled me out of the school) and intensified throughout.
No, they didn't need to call me a "chink" to make my life hell. They called me "dogie" when we sang cowboy songs in music class. They called me "Nebuchadnezzar" when we studied the ancient world. They'd just say my name in a really nasty voice. They didn't need to know why I was socially weak, they just needed to know that they could get away with tripping me, calling me names, spitting on me, pointing at me whenever somebody said the insult of the week. They just needed to know that the teachers and administrators didn't value my daily presence enough to punish, or even notice, the daily harrassment. They didn't need racism. They didn't need homophobia (early on, someone tried to call me a lesbo, but for some reason it didn't stick. I'm not sure if they were heard by a teacher, or if I was just so not bothered by that that it wasn't worth it. In either case, they didn't need it.) All they needed was to not be stopped. And they weren't. ***
Bullying is no more or less than a person or group of people with social power, expressing their social power over a person or smaller group of people with less social power. Bullying requires two conditions only:
A social hierarchy in which varying degrees of social power are delineated;
An immediate community in which bullying is considered acceptable.
If you have a situation in which both of these conditions exist, you WILL have bullying, regardless of the prejudices or social enlightenment of the group. A group of all white, straight boys, for example, who have been raised to tolerate racial and sexual difference will still bully within their group if the two conditions exist. Bullies do not need an "-ism" as an excuse.
The first condition is impossible to combat. Human beings of all ages will find ways to create social hierarchies. If you make kids wear uniforms to prevent them from using wealth as a measure, then they will structure the hierarchy not around what clothes you wear, but how you wear your clothes or how you behave. The socially powerful will set trends in how to color on your shoes with magic marker, or how high to roll up your pants cuffs, or which lunch dishes to eat and which to treat with disdain.
It is utterly pointless to try to dismantle hierarchies of social power. But you can change the way the hierarchies work, to make them livable. There are two things you can do: one is to create smaller social units (smaller homerooms, or mandatory club membership) so that every individual belongs to a unit small enough that their participation is necessary, and therefore valued. The other is to make sure that every member of each social unit has a role in the social unit that both suits them and is recognized as valuable by the whole unit. (For me, it was art. When my class discovered that I could draw well, suddenly I had my place and a small amount of respect. A couple of classmates actually commissioned me to paint portraits of their pets.) The powerless will still be low on the hierarchy, but they will not be considered expendable, and they will have a small measure of social power that they can leverage to negotiate better treatment.
The second condition is what really needs to be addressed, though. It is both mutable and extremely difficult to change. When a community decides that a certain type of behavior is unacceptable, and imposes consequences for that behavior, the behavior stops immediately. Look at how quickly the racist bullying was stopped in my case. My community had a huge stake in not seeing itself as racist, and would go to great lengths to stop the appearance of racism.
They didn't have any stake in stopping bullying, though. In fact, I think they relied on bullying, as most American communities do. Because societies rely on their members buying into conventional behavior to maintain stability. There aren't enough police in ANY society to patrol all unconventional behavior. Stability is achieved by getting people to police themselves. This can be difficult if you have to convince individuals to adhere to convention with good arguments and rewards. Punishing unconventional behavior is much easier. Bullying is the quick 'n' dirty version of policing the borders of conventions. The bullying punishes the worst offenders, and serves as an example for those who might consider straying. It's easy to do: just step back and let the bullies do their work.
And they will, because the socially powerful have many ways to express their power, and will use them all if left to their own devices, exercising power by:
using their social connections to connect disparate groups to each other (networking) or make resources available unilaterally (thereby making themselves indispensible to everyone);
selecting an elect group and rewarding that group with privileges;
offering their friendship as a favor to those of lesser status, and
withdrawing that friendship at their own whim to show that they can;
occasionally offering privileges to the whole community as an exercise of noblesse oblige;
setting activities and agendas for the whole community, particularly if they're fun or rewarding;
selecting an ostracized group and forcing the whole community to ostracize them;
squashing challenges to their authority on an individual basis, or empowering proxies to do so;
Only some of these exercises of power lead to bullying. There's no way to stop the socially powerful from being powerful or from exercising their power. But a community CAN get together and stop the bullying that results; i.e. certain exercises of power can be made unacceptable. This requires that the entire community be able to see the advantage to them of stopping bullying, and that the entire community participate in imposing consequences on bullies.
I don't recommend addressing bullying as a whole phenomenon, because it is so misunderstood. The simple fact that people still call bullying "teasing" is a testament to how misunderstood bullying is.
"Teasing" is to "bullying" as "sex" is to "rape."
Teasing is a general term for a method of communication -- a type of mockery that people use in social situations. Sex is a type of intercourse between people ... essentially a way of communicating or being together, or an activity that people share socially. Bullying is abuse that often leverages a kind of mockery that is similar in form to teasing. Rape is a violent crime that leverages sex as a method of coercion and humiliation. Just as rape uses sex to commit violence, bullying uses mockery to commit abuse. The point of both is an expression of power by the bully or rapist over the victim.
I think if you'd asked my bullies why they bullied me they couldn't have
given you a terribly articulate answer. It wouldn't have had anything
to do with race in their minds, although, of course, race is always a
factor, especially in a neighborhood where the only people of color
just happen to be the outcast nerds. No, they would have told you that I was a
nerd, or a geek, or stupid, or didn't know how to behave. They would
have a thousand ways to say it: I was was beyond the pale. What pale,
they probably still don't know. But they could zero in on my, and
everyone else's, relative power in our shared community. And I had the
And if you ask kids at one of these homophobic
schools where kids are bullied for their sexual orientation--or their
perceived sexual orientation--you'll get a hundred variations on "he's
a fag!" as a reason. But listen to the tone, watch the body language.
The problem is not that "he's a fag!" What they're really saying is:
"Because he's weak! Because I can!" And because no one has stopped
them. Put a really effective gay-straight alliance in place and people
will stop calling people "fags" and "lesbos." But the bullying won't
I think, rather, that bullying has to be addressed piecemeal: by breaking up bullying into component parts and addressing each individually. Break it up into a set of rules that don't mention bullying, for example:
No name calling: of any kind. This includes making fun of people's names. Online or off.
No mockery of your peers. Online or off.
No ganging up on people. Online or off.
No practical jokes. Online or off.
No poking, pinching, hitting, kicking, punching, tripping or any kind of physical violence.
No spitting, squirting, or otherwise throwing anything on anyone.
If this sounds overly restrictive: it is, in a way. But it's very clear: these are the things you don't get to do. Find another way to be social with your peers. And it's very clear for the adults who monitor kids, too: you see one of these behaviors, you cut the kid from the herd immediately and put them in timeout. In two weeks, all those behaviors will stop. Most people can't imagine kids socializing without these behaviors because they've never seen kids (or sometimes, adults) socializing without these behaviors. But I have.
When my parents took me out of the bullying school and put me into an (expensive, private, all-girls) school, I found myself for the first time in a community where bullying was utterly unacceptable. No one called me names. No one mocked me. No one ganged up on me. No one played nasty practical jokes on me. No one poked, pinched, hit, kicked, tripped, spit on, or threw things at me. And I was still unpopular, I was still an outcast. People still had plenty to do and plenty to say to each other, and were still very clear on the fact that I was beyond the pale; weird; ridiculous, nerdy. No one said anything about it. They didn't have to. When I said something nerdy, people nearest me would roll their eyes and then move quickly on to the next topic, excluding me. If I tried to join a more popular group by standing or sitting near them, they'd ignore me. If I got too close, someone would glare at me or ask me directly what I wanted until I went away. My position hadn't changed. The only thing that had changed was that I wasn't being abused.
It took me two years to recover from that awful year of bullying; two years to not wince when someone asked me what my name was, two years to stop cowering away when someone approached me; two years to start trusting my teachers enough to do the work they asked me to do; two years to feel like life was worth living again. And during those two years, I had no friends. But what I had was peace. I had quiet. I had a chance to recover. And two years later I started making friends and collecting social power, and a few years after that I had put myself beyond the power of bullies forever.
I hadn't put the racism behind me, though, or the sexism. I still had to deal with that ... in fact, the more social power I had, the more people wanted to be around me because I was cool now, the more I had to deal with their prejudices and misconceptions and fears. But I was able to manage the -isms myself -- find a group of people like me, study and understand the phenomenon, advocate for my racial group (or for women) -- because I had social power and personal confidence as a result of being taken out from under bullying behavior.
Now, none if this is by way of saying that prejudice shouldn't be addressed early and often. You can stop bullying without addressing prejudice, but then you'll still have an active prejudice that will come out in other ways. Even if a gay teen isn't being actively bullied, that teen can still be ostracized, ignored, earnestly told that he is immoral, wrong, or bad, told that his very being disappoints his parents and embarrasses his family, and generally put into such extremes of cognitive dissonance that can cause depression, suicidal tendencies, and the like. Bullying isn't the only social behavior that kills.
I'm just saying: recognize the difference. Prejudice is one thing, bullying is another. Address them separately if you want to get rid of both.
Okay, I'm calling it: Life has jumped the shark. Suddenly, everything's been about Charlie? The whole thing has been about getting Charlie into whatever their organization is? Please. Oh, and also, now he and Danny are oogly over each other? Because she was in danger? There's nothing like a damsel in distress, right? Am I right? And he's the perfect ... cop, gangster, guy, whatever? You can't hold him cuz he can kill you with a karate chop to the throat? Too bad none of the rest of those fools who do time have learned that jailhouse trick. Argh. Stupid show.
Food poisoning this week. That was fun. Sad thing was, I was so doped up from illness that I actually got two good nights' sleep.
Then I went in for a sleep study. Very weird sleeping in a hotel room with about fifty wires glued to my skull and chest and four down my pant legs, plus elastics around my chest and waist. Very creepy. But maybe I'll get to sleep right now. Here's hoping.
Got through another season of The Wire. Now I'm just waiting for season five to show up in my mailbox. Omar is definitely still my favorite character.
I'm reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist, a birthday gift from Pireeni. I'm not throwing it across the room so much as writing "dumbass!" in it frequently. The dude is a good popular science writer but he doesn't seem to understand how novels work at all. Will have more to say about it when I finish the book.
Went for a walk in the Oakland hills this weekend with Jaime. Very beautiful in springtime. Didn't know there were so many colors of green. But part of one path was along a very steep cliff and had a near panic attack. Funny moment during the worst part when we had turned back and I was talking myself through it: "It's okay, you can do it. It's not a problem. It's okay. You can do it ..." and then a dude came barreling towards us on a mountain bike and I almost lost it. Weird that it was bad when the cliff was on my left side, but when we turned around to come back and the cliff was on my right side it was much, much worse.
I'm putting together a carnival of 300-word Asian American immigrant stories for API Heritage Month on Hyphen blog. This is also to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the publication of The Joy Luck Club. The idea is to get non-Joy-Lucky immigrant stories. Here's the link.
Also, the Carl Brandon Society's API Heritage Month book list will be the same as last year's. Here's that link.
And posted a review-ish piece on the current 21 Grand show on KQED. Here's the link.
My folks were in town for a while but left this week. And I've been having trouble getting to sleep, which is making me tired and bad-memoried.
I had to scramble to finish my Asian American women profiles for Hyphen blog this week, before Women's History Month was over. It was a good project, but a lot of work. I asked the readers for suggestions, and most of the suggestions were for artists and writers, which tells you what kind of readers we have, but wasn't terribly helpful. So I had to curate the profiles for age, ethnicity, and field of endeavor. That also meant I had to do some research to actually find a range of women to profile. But I'm glad of the result. You can see all the posts here.
By the way, I'm going to be asking Asian Americans to send in 200-word family histories for me to post on Hyphen Blog for May, which is API Heritage Month. Spread the word!
Also, currently working for Kaya Press and putting together book tours for Australian novelist Brian Castro and Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara. We've been watching Hara's films lately, and I have to say, although I would never have sat through one otherwise, I'm glad I was forced to: this guy's a genius. For writers out there, you HAVE to see A Dedicated Life (which you can get on Netflix). It's a documentary about a Japanese novelist, famous for one particular book, who used to be a member of the Japanese communist party and was excommunicated for kicking off his novel writing career by writing a book criticizing it. But that's not what the film is about. The film, an amazing 2.5 hours long, is about narrative and how people build their lives. That's all I can tell you, because it's the kind of film that does what only film can do ... so you can describe it. Watch the film and if your jaw isn't on the ground after the first half hour, and STILL on the ground two hours later, I'll buy you dinner.
I didn't really like his Goodbye CP, which I think was his first film, and which is basically about forcing the audience to watch endless footage of people with cerebral palsy moving through public space and being ignored by others. But definitely see The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which is about a super-crazy protester in the 80's who tries to kill his former WWII commander for reasons best understood by watching the film.
Katherine Mieszkowski, probably my favorite writer at Salon, has an article about a couple in Berkeley who acquire most of their stuff by scavenging. It's really interesting and has some tips for down 'n' out East Bay Areans. The irony here is that this couple has written a book about scavenging, which you have to buy new, because presumably most people who buy it aren't going to toss it out.
My friend Jaime said last weekend, after the funeral of the four Oakland policemen, that he thinks a city can reach a point where its reputation is just broken, and there's no coming back. I've been watching The Wire on netflix these past few weeks, and Oakland feels like that right now: broken beyond repair. The anger that Oscar Grant's killing unleashed was one side of the violence coin -- and the police DO have a lot to answer for, over the years and right now. But these killings are the other side, an indication that when violence gets this out of control, no one is safe. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Mayor Dellums is an asshole. The feeling in Oakland right now is sadness just on the edge of despair; there's no real anger, just shock. And the violencecontinues.
And I've started revisions on Draft 3 of da nobble. And started writing dates with other writers. If this works out, I might have a way of sticking to it. I have to get this sleep issue resolved, though, because I don't have much brain power this week.
Saw Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, on BART last weekend. At first I thought she was someone I knew down the way, so familiar did she seem. I stared a little, but tried not to bother. She was with a group of geek girls, which is cool.
Been watching the first season of 21 Jump Street on Y*O*U*T*U*B*E. Yeah, it's cheesy (the music is truly horrible), but the storytelling is actually pretty decent. I remember LOVING this show back in the day: it started the year I went off to college. I was still seventeen when I first went: still a teenager in a lot of ways. So I watched it off and on until Johnny Depp left. The gender and racial dynamics are so clear in this show, it makes me understand the 80's much better. Holly Robinson's character is the only woman on the force (there are no female extras in uniform). She's depicted as being just as capable as the men ... but she never has to fight anyone. Whenever there's a shooting or an accident that she's involved in, all the men get this look of concern on their faces and touch her shoulder and ask if she's alright. God, I remember that.
As far as the racial dynamic goes, the only black characters on the show so far are bad guys, except for Robinson and the captain. There's even one episode where a rich white kid gets hooked on smack and is forced by his black dealer, also a teenager, to rob stores to pay for his dope. The black dealer gets put away and the white junkie gets off scot free with no explanation. Everyone feels sorry for him. And yet, there's some sophistication in the way the individual characters interact racially. In the pilot, Johnny Depp's character is surprised that Holly Robinson's character owns an MG. She laughs at him and asks him if she should have a pimpmobile instead. No pretty-boy cop-show hero nowadays would ever be allowed to make racist assumptions like that.
Apparently BSG is finale-ing, (today? tomorrow? I don't know) and I don't even care. I'm behind two episodes as it is, and I'm certainly not going to watch it at the time of broadcast. No spoilers, please, even though I don't care. I'm going out on a limb though: it's gonna suck.
In other news, I'm writing again. I had a good writing day today. If this keeps up, I won't be blogging much. But then, I've been so busy the past month, I haven't been blogging much, anyway. So let it be for a good reason I'm not blogging.
I'm not interested in participating in RaceFail '09 in any way, and I don't want to compound the folly by inscribing yet another diatribe about cultural appropriation when everyone is running around screaming, with their fingers stuck in their ears. But I do think that the Asian Women Blog Carnival is a good opportunity to kill a few birds: my thinking on a particular close-to-home topic, which will also offer a cautionary tale to the clueless, the allies, and the POC alike.
For those of you just joining us, "hapa" is a word currently used by many/most politically conscious Asian Americans to refer to mixed-race or multiracial Asians. The word is Hawai'an, and is actually part of the term "hapa haole," meaning literally "part foreigner," but connoting people who are half or part Hawai'ian and half or part white. Hawai'ians still use "haole" to refer to whites.
Sounds like a politically correct word, and it has been a "word of power," as Wei Ming Dariotis puts it (see below). But, it turns out, it's a strange example of cultural appropriation: cultural appropriation by Asian Americans, against native Hawai'ians, for the purpose of empowering Asian American multiracials in a context in which we have been historically disenfranchised. This isn't what we usually refer to as "cultural appropriation," but I think it's illuminating, and may help some white Americans who are resisting being labeled "appropriators" to understand what's at stake.
I want to talk about what the word means to people who use it -- especially to me -- and why the word might be problematic and ripe for retirement. This is about using words to express disadvantage and marginalization ... and it's about your words disadvantaging and marginalizing others. It's about walking your talk and why that isn't as easy as it sounds.
Before I discuss the word and its problems, here are some points of necessary information (I hope I don't need to say this, but these points are from my personal perspective and experience, and have to do with my own opinions and understanding, not universal truth):
Why multiracials need their own word: Multiracial organizing only really started in a big way in the late eighties, when Generation X was coming of age. Gen X is also known as the "multiracial baby boom," the result of a boomlet in interracial relationships following the Civil Rights Movement, related Chicano and Asian American movements, and the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, which reversed centuries of anti-race-mixing laws. On the Asian side, the multiracial boom also followed the Immigration Act of 1965, which substantially increased the flow of Asian immigrants into the US.
Previous to the "multiracial baby boom," people understood as multiracials did not constitute a significant minority in the US. Although the African American community has always been multiracial, owing to the type of power dynamics that made black women sexually available to white men, due to the "one drop rule," anyone with African blood was considered black, and multiraciality was not recognized per se. (A similar situation is true of Native American communities, for somewhat different reasons.) So a great deal of the initial organizing around multiracial identities had to do with rejecting the one drop rule and reclaiming all identities, or constructing a third identity.
Also, multiracial African Americans were a much larger group than multiracial Asian Americans, and the history and nature of their issues was and remains very different. During the first twenty years of constructing a "Multiracial Movement," a great deal of the work was simply sharing and discussion. Because As Am multiracials were numerically overwhelmed by Af Am multiracials in the organizations, and felt as if their issues were less urgent, they often felt that they didn't have enough space to talk about Asian-specific issues in general multiracial organizations. On the other side of the question, multiracial Asians were finding themselves under the gun in their Asian communities, being invalidated or outright told that they were a threat to the racial and cultural purity of their communities.
For all of these reasons, multiracial Asian Americans needed, for a time, to differentiate themselves from other multiracials to discuss their particular issues, and to create a power base for themselves to use in their Asian communities to reclaim membership and a stake. A word for specifically Asian multiracials was essential to this effort.
Asian and Pacific Islander American organizing: In the eighties and nineties, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans were grouped together officially, and so pan-Asian organizations were actually pan-API (Asian Pacific Islander) and made a greater or lesser point of reaching out to Pacific Islander communities and being inclusive in that way. In the 2000s, though, the two categories -- Asian and Pacific Islander -- have been split off from one another and the urgency in pan-Asian organizations around including Pacific Islanders has dropped off to a certain extent. (For example, Hyphen magazine, which I co-founded, was established in 2002 as specifically Asian American and not API, because the other founders felt that our entirely Asian staff couldn't do justice to Pacific Islander issues. I dissented but was overruled, and they were, as always in such cases, partially correct: we couldn't do Pacific Islander issues justice if we weren't going to do them justice ... and we didn't.)
This is both good and bad. It's good because in the former scenario, the vast differences in cultures, experience, perception, and privilege between the two groups were often glossed over or outright ignored. It's bad because Pacific Islanders are a small group compared to Asians, and did have some access to a stronger power base and some public attention through being included in API organizing. Also, the inclusion was both a challenge and an opportunity for illumination to an Asian American organizing class that was often ignorant of what was going on in Pacific Islander American and recent immigrant communities. Splitting the two groups off from each other has not led to greater attention being paid to Pacific Islander-specific issues and many incoming young adult As Ams remain very ignorant. (Please note that some API orgs remain genuinely and sincerely API.)
(An example: Last year the de Young Museum in San Francisco had a Pacific Islander artist from New Zealand in residence and produced a performance evening including two Pacific Islander artists from the Bay Area. Ten years ago, such an event could and did turn out substantial numbers from the Asian American arts-loving crowd. This event, though taking place at a major venue, didn't turn out any Asians that I saw, besides myself, and I only went to support my friends whom I hadn't seen in a while.)
How hapa got here: As I understand it, "hapa" as a general term for Asians and Pacific Islanders of mixed heritage was being used in Hawai'i before the Second World War, and might have made its way to the mainland as a result of Japanese Americans from both Hawai'i and the mainland fighting together in the war. In any case, on the continental US, the word was first used in the Japanese American community, and stayed there until the late eighties or early nineties when mixed race Asian Americans of all ethnicities started organizing around a mixed race identity together, and needed a general word that could refer to everybody, which had no bad connotations for Asian Americans.
Previous terms used are:
"Eurasian": which arose in European colonies in Asia to refer to the children of mostly white European men and native Asian women through a variety of types of sexual liaisons, from rape and prostitution to marriage. The word has always had a disreputable cast, a negative connotation that suggests that the Asian mother is a prostitute or easy woman, and the child is a bastard. Eurasian women tend to be viewed by both whites and Asians as sexually available, and Eurasian men as untrustworthy. Tragic mulattism ensues.
The word is also problematic because it declares the mixed race Asian to be part European, and nowadays in the US many multiracial Asians are Asian and African American, or Native American, or Latino, or Middle Eastern, etc. What to call them?
"Amerasian": arose to refer specifically to the children of soldiers in Asian wars of the latter half of the twentieth century. I'm not sure if it was being used post-Korean War, but it was definitely what the children of Vietnam War soldiers were called. The term has occasionally been applied to multiracial Asian Americans from some other context, but never really stuck or gained any mainstream recognition as such. It also has an unsavory, prostitute/GI connotation, and a tragic mulatto implication, given the dire political situation of Amerasian children in their country of origin at wars' ends.
Also problematic because it implies that the Asian parent is not American, and the non-Asian parent is.
"Multiracial": has no real negative political connotations, but is also not specific enough, as I explained above.
"Cablinasian," "Blackanese," "Korgentinian," and the like: There's definitely a value in the Multiracial Movement that holds personal descriptors -- i.e. personally invented descriptors -- in high esteem. Therefore: Tiger Woods' famous "Cablinasian," or the fairly common (among Black and Japanese multiracials) "Blackanese," or the very specific "Korgentinian," which I got from former Hapa Issues Forum Director Sheila Chung, who is Korean and Argentinian. However, unlike "multiracial," these are all too specific. They're great used on an individual basis, but you can't build a movement or group identity around them.
Do we need "hapa" now?: in 2007 Hapa Issues Forum, the main organization collecting hapa-centered clubs and associations together, officially closed its doors. It had been latent for three years. There were a number of reasons for this, the first being that the generation that started HIF, my generation, were now on the doorstep of middle age, marrying, having kids, and generally backing away mightily from nonprofit volunteerism. It happens. Another reason, though, was the the next generation of organizers, who always came up through student associations, were no longer organizing under "hapa"; they were now organizing under general multiraciality. This meant that they would transition (if at all) from general mixed race orgs in college to general mixed race orgs out in the world, of which there are many.
What had happened in the interim was that mixed race Asians had radically increased in number, and our issues had become "mainstream" within the Multiracial Movement. Thanks to HIF and other hapa-based orgs, the materials (books, films, plays, artwork, music, performances, etc.) available to explain us had exploded. We were no longer ignored and marginalized. We had a seat at the table, at least, at the table of mixed race and Asian American organizing. Our advocacy had worked. The word "hapa" had worked.
Okay, do you feel caught up? I feel caught up.
So, I've just spent a lot of bullet points explaining why the word "hapa" has been so important -- to Asian America, to the Multiracial Movement, and to multiracial Asian American organizing. I've also hinted at how Asian American organizing may have gotten in the way of Pacific Islander organizing.
Okay, now read this article by Dr. Wei Ming Dariotis, a specialist in Asian Americans of mixed heritage. In it, she talks about how the word "hapa" has been her "word of power," how it freed her to identify herself in a powerful way, and also to find a community of free choice rather than a community of shame:
It has given us a space of our own, a place where we can be us, without
having to explain ourselves. Anyone entering the space created by the
word accepts our identity. In this way it works opposite from Bilbo and
Frodo's ring of power, which makes the wearer invisible; the word
“Hapa” makes my community visible, that is its power.
power, as we all know, always creates the seeds of its own
destruction. The very success of the word “Hapa” has been in some ways
its downfall. What I mean to say that the word “Hapa” as it is used
now can never go back to what it (or what “hapa”) once meant: a Native
Hawaiian word meaning mixed or part or half, as in the phrase hapa
... Increasingly, many Native Hawaiian
people object not only to the way the word has been changed in its
grammatical usage, but also to how it is applied to anyone of mixed
Asian and or Pacific Islander heritage, when it implies Native Hawaiian
mixed heritage. This is not merely a question of trying to hold on to
word that like many words encountered in the English language has been
adopted, assimilated, or appropriated. This is a question of power.
Who has the power or right to use language?
She goes on to point out that Asians are not native to Hawai'i but rather settlers. Although they were exploited and mistreated on Hawai'i and the mainland, their settlement was a choice, and their subsequent success came through supporting and bolstering European/American hegemony on Hawai'i. Let me repeat that: Asian American success on Hawai'i came through Asian American collusion in the colonization of Hawai'i.
So this admittedly symbolic usage of "hapa" by Asian Americans feels to many native Hawai'ians like the appropriation of land and culture perpetrated by all Hawai'ian settlers and colonizers. Further, that mixed race Asian Americans appropriated a word to find their own power is an item of their own blissful ignorance ... and privilege. As Dariotis points out in her article, Asian Americans appropriated "hapa" because it had no negative connotations for Asian Americans. But that was because the word arose out of a colonizing situation between Europeans and native Hawai'ians. The fact that Asian Americans saw no negative connotations in the word had to do with the fact thatn in this colonizing situation, Asian Americans played a helping role on the side of the colonizers. That's about as ironic as it gets.
When I first read Wei Ming's article, I was just as resistant as she said she was to giving up the word "hapa." It had a similar meaning to me as it did to her. I had experienced some pretty bad bullying as a child based largely on my racial identity (if you want to get the flavor of it, read this; it's pretty much exactly my experience, except that I'm Chinese and my parents were both on the spot), and like many multiracial and monoracial As Ams, I grew up isolated from "people like me." Having a word that identified me accurately, and conferred power on me instead of taking it away was more important than I can explain to anyone who has always had the right to name themselves without question (ask me sometime about how bullies use names to take away your dignity and self esteem, how any word can be turned into something that hurts you.)
Wei Ming's article first appeared on Hyphen magazine's website (I can't find it there now) in late 2007 and I rejected the argument out of hand. "What do they expect us to use then, huh?" I thought. "We have no other word, and the meaning has already changed. It's too late. Besides, a lot of Hawai'ian words, and a lot of Asian words, too, have been incorporated into English without anyone's explicit permission. These words honor the contributions of Hawai'ian and Asian cultures in the American mainstream. Plus, this word is being used to give non-whites power. Don't these hysterical Hawai'ians get it?" At the time it seemed a pretty unanswerable argument. Yeah.
I didn't think too much about it over the next year or so. But then I got into an argument a couple weeks ago or so with a Korean American friend about US Americans' use of the word "American" to refer to ourselves. Don't get me wrong. I think the argument that all people in the Americas are "American" is pretty obvious and silly. If a Bolivian wanted to refer to herself as "American," she'd be totally within her rights, as far as I was concerned. Of course, that's ridiculous, though. She already has a country name, Bolivia, which she can use to refer to herself, whereas our country name IS "America." "the United States of" is a modifier, and it would be grammatically problematic to call us "Unitedians" or "Statesians" (then everyone else could argue that they're also united or they are also states.) And having other people assign to us the name "USians" is inappropriate and goes against all my principles; people name themselves, and people outside of the group don't get any say in it at all.
But then, on the other hand, the USA declared itself caretaker and patron of the entire Western Hemisphere nearly two centuries ago, without anyone else's say so, and has been running around like it's all agreed ever since: setting up murderous dictators, couping out popularly elected officials, and generally acting like anything in the Americas is ... well ... American, in the sense of "United States of." I don't believe that the original use of "American" to refer to British colonists in the American colonies was at all intended to claim hegemony over the entire hemisphere. No USA citizens intend that our use of the word "American" confers hegemony on us. Not even our government intends that. But the fact remains that we've wreaked might-makes-right havoc on the entire hemisphere, and that we dominate it in such a way that all other countries in the Americas must define themselves in alliance or opposition to us. I mean US.
So the jury is very much out on that issue. On the one hand, it would be ridiculous for me and other bleeding hearts to say "Hey, we'll stop calling ourselves 'American' because we don't want to offend our fellow Americas-ians," when nobody else wants to use the word to refer to themselves. On the other hand, maybe none of us should be using the word as a national signifier, since it belongs to all of us. And on the foot, what do we call ourselves then?
Which brings us back to "hapa," and that debate, which broke back over me in the past week as a result of the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival declaring a hapa theme this year. In this case, it's not a matter of us trying to share a word with Others that we all have equal right to, and that they don't particularly want to use for themselves. In this case, it's a matter of trying to get the power of a name by ignorantly taking the power of a name away from someone else.
See, the history of "hapa" is that it was a term specifically created to refer to the children produced by European/American hegemony in Hawai'i. Without the colonization, you don't need the term "hapa haole." And it's a specifically positive Hawai'ian word for mixed children, a word created to include mixed children into native Hawai'ian society, to find a place for them. You can't have power in a Hawai'ian word for multiracial Hawai'ians if it doesn't exist solely for multiracial Hawai'ians. Having this word appropriated by Asians who settled or were settled on Hawai'i only after it was literally stolen from the Hawai'ian people -- having this word stolen by Asians brought over to work the plantations that the haoles stole Hawai'i to create -- would be pretty damn hard to take, wouldn't it?
What we've done here is stolen the power of the word. Period. This is not like the whole "American" thing where we didn't steal the word, and the power in it now is something that has accumulated with time. This was a straight-up decision that was made in living memory to use this word because there was nothing standing between us and it ... kinda like the decision made in recent times to simply take Hawai'i because there was nothing military standing between us and it.
This is no longer acceptable to me. Yes, it took me over a year of subconscious mulling to get here but I'm here now. I don't want to use the word anymore; its power is gone and its savor has soured for me.
And at the same time, multiracial Asian organizations have re-assimilated (word used advisedly) with general multiracial organizations; mixed race Asians now have an important seat at the table of both Asian America, and Multiracial America. We don't need the word "hapa" anymore, not to organize around, anyway. So maybe we're able to say "let it go" because we don't need it anymore.
But that doesn't make the letting go any less difficult, or any less necessary.
I printed draft 2 out and am reading it through and put it down because I was so bored. Yes, BORED!
This is good news because Orwell said that:
Writing a book is a horrible,
exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness.
One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by
some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
Which I feel to be true in my case to a certain extent (minus a little hyperbole.) I've been working on da nobble for 6.5 years now and I've felt actually possessed by a demon which is essentially the spirit of the nobble. The "horrible" part was the year I spent NOT working on it ... but still being possessed by it, and stung, and taunted, and told I was worthless by it because I wasn't paying it its due attention.
The possession feels like infatuation or love, and very easily turns into hatred, contempt, loathing. So my boredom with the (boring parts of the) MS is like a light at the end of the tunnel. My infatuation wanes! I see a way out! All I have to do is cut away the chaff and preen up the rest and I'll be free of this ... thing.
is that it's hopelessly dark, as always, but without the greatness. It's not the darkness itself that made it a good show. It was a combination of things: great writing, acting, directing, art direction, music, and just a general commitment to the world and the piece as a whole by everyone involved.
Now, pieces have been falling off for two seasons and it's pretty much JUST dark, no longer good. It's like the people who created the characters and situations were body-snatched by aliens who have access to their memories but no inherent understanding of human nature or of nuance. Take Roslyn and Adama. Their bond was romantic, certainly, but not literally romantic, as in I-want-to-date-you romantic. In turning their relationship into an ordinary sexual one, the writers have pretty much destroyed what we loved about each of them separately and together. They were two sides of the same lonely-at-the-top archetype, and now ... they're just a couple.
(They could salvage it by turning them into a real archetype -- like maybe Isis and Osiris, where Adama would get symbolically chopped up and distributed around the galaxy and Roslyn would have to collect his pieces. Or something. --- Oo! Adama should try to jump in a shuttle and the shuttle blows up and Roslyn goes around obsessively collecting the shuttle pieces from where they've been strewn all around by the screwed up jump. The last piece is a sealed part of the cabin with air in it and she finds him still alive. Or something. See? I can do this better than they can now. --- I know they're supposed to be Adam and Eve, barred from Eden, but that's worn thin, and the whole point of Adam and Eve is original sin and fertility, and Adama and Roslyn aren't really fitting into either of those plays.)
The same thing happened in season three with Starbuck and Apollo. They were the classic, archetypal, hopeless unrequited love scenario, and oh ... so well done. They pulled in all kinds of mythical issues. Like the classic Judaic one: do I marry my dead brother's widow? or the Greco/Roman unrequited incest issue with twins Apollo and Diana. But now, they're just characters that had a tawdry affair.
(And hey, what's with the men getting the mythical names and the women not so much? Thrace is a place of little significance and Roslyn?)
Who's making this show now, anyway? And what did they do with the geniuses who did the first two seasons?
Wow. I just looked over my 2009 goals and they're entirely selfish and internally focused. All about me, me, me. Of course, that's what personal goals are about, but I have other goals this year. Let me reorganize and add to these.
BALANCE: Find and maintain balance. In 2008, I was able to start identifying some
elements of life that are essential to me that I've been neglecting,
and I was able to start putting these back together. I'll continue that
this year. In other words, do the things that keep me stable and happy. This includes all of the below categories, and can include some combination of side things like:
Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.
Going dancing or taking dance exercise classes. Dancing in general.
Taking singing lessons (can anyone recommend a teacher?) or joining a choir. Singing in general.
Learning recorder again, maybe taking lessons?
Getting into taking Cantonese lessons again. Or maybe Spanish.
Get writing again. Of course. This needs little explication;
writing is both my big problem and my raison d'etre. I need to find not
the perfect balance, but sufficient balance to enable writing again, so
that's the big goal here is to get to that balance and get writing
again. Specific objectives:
finish da Nobble by August: I actually think I can do it, once I
find the adequate balance that enables writing. I'm almost there.
get started on second novel.
Work on two publication projects, which I will not specify
here. Also, get some of those stories published in journals, i.e.,
continue sending them out.
READING: Read more challenging and inspiring material. In general. Specifics:
Finish my research reading for da nobble
Do the reading I've set for atlas(t)
Knock off some of my pile of classics
Get on the insulin pump, which will require me to test four times a
day for six weeks straight and go get my results downloaded every two
weeks. Huge pain in the ass, but not impossible. In fact, I'll set a
date to start: next Monday. Let me go put it in my calendar.
Exercise 5 minutes a day. I know, that sounds lame, but I can
do that more easily than 20 minutes five times a week, and the 5
minutes a day actually makes a difference in my mood, which is the
Lose that 15 pounds.
Continue getting regular massages.
SERVICE: I really haven't been doing community service at all in the past two years. It surprises me that I didn't notice. But that needs to start happening again now. Some possibilities:
Working more regularly with Moveon.org to advocate for particular positions with Congress and the new administration. I'm trying out Moveon right now to see if it's a good fit. If it isn't, I'm ... er ... moving on to something else. But what I'm looking for is a grassroots political organization that addresses national politics in a comprehensive manner, not just one issue or issue area.
Finding a local (Oakland) homelessness org and volunteering. This can't happen right now, but in a couple of months I'm going to be looking for an org to volunteer for. By then, perhaps the issue I'm interested in will change, although I doubt it. Yes, I'm being vague.
Find and maintain balance. This is both the end and the means to an end. Actually, the "end" is a good life, and the balance is means to it, but finding balance is also an end in itself. Working with a shrink in the latter half of 2008, I was able to start identifying some elements of life that are essential to me that I've been neglecting, and I was able to start putting these back together. I'll continue that this year.
Get writing again. Of course. This needs little explication; writing is both my big problem and my raison d'etre. I need to find not the perfect balance, but sufficient balance to enable writing again, so that's the big goal here is to get to that balance and get writing again. Specific objectives:
finish da Nobble by August: I actually think I can do it, once I find the adequate balance that enables writing. I'm almost there.
get started on second novel.
Work on two publication projects, which I will not specify here. Also, get some of those stories published in journals, i.e., continue sending them out.
Read more challenging and inspiring material. In general. Specifics:
Finish my research reading for da nobble
Do the reading I've set for atlas(t)
Knock off some of my pile of classics
Get on the insulin pump, which will require me to test four times a day for six weeks straight and go get my results downloaded every two weeks. Huge pain in the ass, but not impossible. In fact, I'll set a date to start: next Monday. Let me go put it in my calendar.
Exercise 5 minutes a day. I know, that sounds lame, but I can do that more easily than 20 minutes five times a week, and the 5 minutes a day actually makes a difference in my mood, which is the whole point.
Lose that 15 pounds.
Continue getting regular massages.
Other feelgood stuff I want to do but will not beat myself up over not doing if I don't do them:
Take dance exercise classes.
Take singing lessons (can anyone recommend a teacher?)
Take recorder lessons (ditto?)
Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.
Before I really get into this, I should mention that I spent most of 2008 in a mild depression. I won't get into why, but I'm not ashamed of it and think that people should be clear when they're in a depression that they are (or were, in my case, I'm out of it again, thank oG) depressed. It helps for other people to know. I was depressed from about Sept 2007 to March 2008 and then again from June 2008 until November. I snapped out of it at the end of November and am going strong now.
So I was actually unable to fulfill many of my goals for this very specific reason: writing was mostly out because of it, and exercise was iffy. But here goes:
Get writing again. This is the big, important one. The goals are more immediate:
full draft of a new short story every month
completed first draft of the YA fantasy
completed second draft of da Nobble
Okay this is a tricky one. I DID get started writing again in March and made some serious headway on da nobble, but got stuck again around June-ish. But by rearranging my work plan, I finished the second draft. Also in the spring, I wrote the initial pages and notes for a new novel. But then, of course, got stalled. Only drafted one complete new story -- in fact, I only came up with the one new short story idea. Did ZERO work on the YA fantasy, which may be dead.
Read more challenging and inspiring material. In 2007 I read a shitload of YA. Deliberately. And I'm glad I did ... but I kinda feel my muscles atrophying, and I have a pile of grown-up books waiting for me. Also, nonfiction, hello?
Spent a large part of the middle of 2008 doing re-reads and reading fantasy and YA series for escapist purposes, so no, not "challenging." But I did read a bit more nonfiction and a few more books specifically for analysis purposes, so I did head in the general direction of this goal.
Get on the insulin pump, which will definitely happen. I've taken the first steps already and the thing will appear in January most likely.
I got stalled by a hoop my insurance wanted me to jump through and then the depression got me. Made some strides, but they're void now and I'll have to go back and make them again this year.
Work the blogs. This blog you are reading is easy, because when I don't feel like doing a big, long post about something challenging, I can do my equivalent of catblogging. But that's boring for me and you. Plus, I've figured out the difference between atlas(t) and atlas(t): Galleon Trade Edition, and I want to work both.
I did get started again on atlas(t) and decided definitively to kill Galleon Trade. I also started a new, paid blog and did a good job with it, I think. But then, I got stalled on my personal blogs, and then got started again. Did a LOT of political writing on this blog, which I'm proud of, but I also think I alienated a lot of people with it. Unintended consequence. So, again, sort of.
Get fit. I.e. exercise five days a week, minimum twenty minutes. No other goals there, because apparently, this is challenging enough.
I tried. I managed to do some exercise most weeks, although certainly never five days a week.
Lose that 15 pounds. It really just slides off when I eat right, so the key to all of this is wanting to eat right, which means handling stress better. Which relates directly to the above objective and the three directly below.
Lost it, got depressed, gained it back.
Get regular massages.
Yes! I actually met one of my goals!
Go dancing regularly.
No, not at all.
Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.
No, in some ways I did less of this, and in some ways, I did a bit. But my couch broke in June and I didn't get it fixed (part of depression) and it was a convenient, but also unavoidable, reason for me not to entertain. It's getting picked up by the upholsterer on Monday (no shit) so that excuse/reason will be gone after next week. Yee haw!
So I have to say, I'm not as badly off as I thought I was. I did make some headway on most of my goals last year during the times that I was able. When I was disabled by a (mild) depression, I still struggled, and I took steps to address the depression (mostly by getting the massages, still trying to exercise, and finding a shrink finally.) So I'm actually ... proud of what I was able to do last year, although bummed that I took such a hit, moodwise.
So next post, I'm setting goals for 2009, since -- on this reflection -- it DOES seem like goals-setting is worth my while.
Take two, i.e. I wrote this entire post a couple of days ago, and then lost it because Typepad is stooopid. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a couple from the list below because I didn't post about them or didn't tag them "whatcha readin'?" Sigh. Whatever.
I've bolded the books that really did something for me: made me think, changed or created an idea. You'll notice that I didn't include A Passage to India or Huckleberry Finn among these. Those were rereads, so they actually stank up my universe this year. Maybe if I read 'em again in a few years, they'll be good again.
Christopher Barzak's One For Sorrow
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Passing by Nella Larsen
High Wizardry Diane Duane
A Wizard Abroad Diane Duane
The Wizard's Dilemma Diane Duane
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson
Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
First Test Tamora Pierce
Page Tamora Pierce
Squire Tamora Pierce
Lady KnightTamora Pierce
Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
Black Powder War Naomi Novik
Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
A Wizard Alone Diane Duane
Wizard's Holiday Diane Duane
Flora's Dare Ysabeau Wilce
Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
In Cold Blood Truman Capote
Nora Pierce The Insufficiency of Maps
Four Letter Words by Truong Tran
Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler
E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil
Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam
E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy.
Barack Obama Dreams from My Father
Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
Terry Pratchett Monstrous Regiment
Terry Pratchett Making Money
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
Buffy Season 8 comic book (three omnibus volumes)
The Last Man first omnibus
Nation Terry Pratchett
Outliers Malcolm Gladwell
Octavian Nothing Vol. II MT Anderson
51 books completed in total, just about a book a week, like last year.
5 nonfiction books
1 graphic novel and 2 comic book series
21 YA or middle grade novels, or novels packaged as such
31 books in speculative fiction genres
21 male and 17 female authors (however, I read several books each from certain female authors)
12 authors of color, as far as I know
9 series that the books I read were part or all of, not including the comics
19 books with strong female protagonists (down from 27 last year! That must be because I read less YA!)
One thing that's noticeable here is that I did a lot of escapist reading. I didn't intend to reread so much, nor read so much YA. Not that YA is automatically escapist, but I read deliberately escapist YA. This had to do with my being depressed for large chunks of the year (Jan - Feb and June - Nov). Escapist reading has always been a primary coping mechanism, but this year I also watched a lot of TV. Not as much as last year, mind you, because TV sucked so bad this year, but a lot.
Another thing was the lower count of strong female protagonists in this year's narrative. That was a little shocking. First of all, a number of my favorite women writers had male protags, such as Naomi Novik, Susanna Clarke, and Vandana Singh. Nothing wrong with that. But there were also a couple of books with female protags who were weak: Kate T. Williamson's memoir and Nora Pierce's novel. Of course, the memoir was about two years when Williamson was stuck living with her parents (and yes, the book was just. that. boring.), and Pierce's protag was the small, dependent child of a mentally ill single mother. But that raises the question of why literary narrative is so interested in women and girls at their weak moments and why we have to turn to genre fiction to get stories of powerful women and girls.
I'm certain that part of it has to do with the fact that the gatekeepers of lit fic are primarily male, and get to decide what is and isn't appropriate or "good." And I'm sure that part of it has to do with the fact that genre is engaged in a lot of escapism and therefore wish-fulfillment--of whatever sort--is on the menu. Wow, that's depressing. Any arguments there?
So, I'm thinking I'll probably be reading less from series in 2009 ;) and branching out a little more into other genres. There will be even more nonfiction since soon I'll be going into final research mode for da nobble, and because I want to do more reading for atlas(t). Other than that, I am, as always, open to suggestions (although I'm so distractable that I'll probably forget your suggestion as soon as I read it.) What did you read last year that blew your mind?
I got a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for Christmas and read it in one day. One of the things he talks about in the book is the idea that, to achieve mastery over any field, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.
I'd heard theories like this before, but Gladwell unpacked it in a particularly enticing way. So naturally, the first thing I did was to calculate when I would have hit my 10,000 hours. I wasn't the only one.
It's hard to do, because I write, and have always written, everything: fiction, plays, poetry, screenplays, essays, articles, letters, journals, online discussions, and most recently, blogs. And I count all of this together. Although I recognize genre differences, and differences of purpose, as far as mastery of writing -- including the use of the imagination that is so necessary in fiction -- every kind of self-expressive writing that I do contributes equally to my development. I accept that other people may write differently, and may process their different kinds of writing differently. But I don't.
It's also a difficult calculation because I haven't written at a steady rate. There have been years when I would come home and just write for hours every day, and other years when I would write for a few hours maybe once a week ... and to no "productive" purpose. There were years when I wrote nothing "creative" at all, but rather handwrote letter after letter to friends who never received any of them. You know how it goes.
Anyroad, I decided to go conservative and average ten hours of writing per week. Starting at fifteen (the year I bought my first journal -- as opposed to my first "diary" which was bought for me when I was maybe 8 -- realizing that I could write down what I was ACTUALLY thinking rather than some boring YA version of "Dear Diary, this is what happened to me today ...") this would take twenty years; subtract four years (conservatively) for the long stretches when I was writing thirty hours a week, and that would put me at 31 when I hit my 10,000 hours.
I got very excited when I figured this out because 31 was, of course, the age at which I finished the first draft my "breakthrough" story, "Pigs in Space," the one that got me into grad school, got me into Clarion West, and then got published in McSweeney's. (McSweeney's subsequently asked me to record it for an audiobook, which you can download here.) It remains my sole big story publication, (although I'm sure that will change this year ;) ) so take that as you will.
More importantly, though, I remember writing that story, and it took me a while. I wrote the first part and it was a good idea, like a lot of "first parts" I had written before. But this good idea actually brought together a lot of social and political concerns that had been on my plate for a long time, but that I hadn't found a way to put into a story. I couldn't figure out how to end it, though, for a few months. After processing it internally, the solution popped into my head one day and I wrote the rest of the story. I then spent the next two years revising it, putting it through nine drafts, never quite satisfied that it was ready to go.
I turned it in as a writing sample for grad school, got in. Worked on it some more. Workshopped it in class. Wrote 20,000 words of backstory. Used it as a writing sample for Clarion West. Got in. We were supposed to workshop it the first week but I asked to do a new story, since I was sick of "Pigs." Fortunately for me, our first week instructor, Nancy Kress, had read and prepared a critique and gave it to me in our one-on-one session. It was a substantial, but simple, structural rearrangement that she suggested, and she was right about it.
It still took me a few months to see that she was right, but when I went over the story for that last draft, the scales almost literally fell from my eyes and I understood not only what Nancy had said about the structure, but why. It was a small moment that hid a huge transformation. After that, I could actually see story structure in my head: an amorphous, not quite solid, three dimensional shape.
When I look back on it, I think what I was doing was taking the last steps towards understanding story as an integral -- a living -- organism. Not thinking about it as a living thing, which is the same as saying "asking a question," but understanding it a such, which is the same as saying, "having an answer." Just one answer, of course.
That was also the point at which I realized that I had been struggling, without knowing it, toward an end goal which I had reached without ever defining it. And, in reaching it, I realized that it wasn't an "end" goal. The way I explained it to my students at the time was that writing is like running up a steep flight of stairs to a locked door at the top. You bang on and push against the door until it finally gives way ... and then you find yourself on a landing, at the foot of another steep flight of stairs with another locked door at the top.
What changed at that point for me was confidence in what I was doing, and in my ability to do it. This transformation actually took two years, but it started right around the time I would have hit 10,000 hours, and ended in the middle of a four year period where I increased my writing time to over thirty hours a week, adding over 5,000 hours to my total.
I've seen photos of writers' rooms before and didn't care that much about it except to envy them.
But I'm right in the midst of considering how to rearrange my workspace so this (via) was a very good thing for me to see, for on-the-ground ideas.
I don't have a whole room for the writing, just one wall of my "bedroom", which is a bedroom, study, and sitting room in one. (The other large room in my apartment is living room and dining room, and I have a kitchen, bathroom, and walk-in closet.) The way the room is laid out, I have little choice about where to put my bed, which gives me little choice about where to put my desk. So I'm stuck with this one particular wall. (the white crumple in the foreground of the photo above is my bed.)
It's kind of a weird and uncomfortable place to sit, but it's the longest wall in my apartment, and pretty much the only place I can put my table short of transplanting the two rooms. I solved the problem of storage by raising the table up high (it has IKEA screw up and down legs) and getting a draftsman's stool to sit on. Problem is, this isn't comfortable, and I simply stopped using the table. So I've decided to lower it to a normal height again, but now I have to consider a number of things:
What do do with all the crap stored beneath it. Should I install wall shelves over the desk? Put organizers on top of the desk? Invest in storage containers for under the desk?
Should I create some kind of mild barrier between the end of my desk and the doorway right next to it, as a kind of psychological boundary marker? And if so, what?
Which of my current organizers aren't working? What should I keep, what should I build out, and what should I get rid of?
Any detailed responses or principles would be welcome. Sigh.
SeeLight, this very blog, is 58% male, but is also "quite gender neutral."
APAture Live, the live blog I kept for the 10th Annual APAture arts festival, is 52% male, but also ... you know.
EnterBrainment, my paid entertainment blog, which I've abandoned now, is 57% FEMALE (but quite gender neutral).
It's interesting, because I use pretty much the same diction and sentence structures in all five blogs, but the vocabulary is different because the topics covered are different. Atlas(t) has a lot of abstract terms, and a very wide variety of terms, because of all the blogs, this one covers the broadest range of topics. Galleon Trade Edition is mostly about art, and SeeLight is mostly about literature. APAture Live was about multidisciplinary arts, but also about relationships and community. And EnterBrainment was about entertainment and celebrities, written for a primarily female audience.
So what I can gather from all of this is that they have simply gendered sets of vocabularies. Sigh.