171 posts categorized "annoying"

October 28, 2013

Clear Guidelines for Not Being Racist On Halloween

There's been a lot of talk about racist Halloween costumes in the last couple weeks, but I haven't seen any direct guidelines for the clueless (other than hilarious stuff like this.)

So I thought I'd provide.

Here's what blackface is. Relatedly, yellowface, brownface, and redface.

Here's the problem with racialized Halloween costumes. (If you need more, use those highly developed google skills. It's not like the discussion's been hiding somewhere.)

Okay? Okay. So here are your guidelines:

  1. Are you dressing as someone or something of a different race or ethnicity than yourself? For example, a fireman or a cop or a mouse or a sandwich is non-ethnic-specific, so your race or ethnicity could conceivably be that thing. So no worries, you're in the clear. Go forth and costume to your heart's content. On the other hand, a slave, brave, or geisha? Well, I guesss they could be someone who isn't African American, Native American, or Japanese, technically ... but we're not splitting hairs. If you're not of the typical ethnicity/race of your costume, you're in the red zone. Keep reading.
  2. Are you costuming UP or costuming DOWN? This is similar to "mocking up" or "mocking down," in that true humor always makes fun of power, not powerlessness. So if you're making a joke about people below you in the social hierarchy, you're exercising privilege over people less powerful than you, whereas if you're making a joke about people at your level or above you in the social hierarchy, you're speaking truth to power. Costuming is, similarly, imitation, parody, or travesty. Costuming down is usually a disgusting exercise of privilege. So do it up only, never down, unless you're doing it as an unambiguously positive way of honoring someone. So, are you dressing as someone, or something, of a race or ethnicity that is above or below your own on the racial hierarchy? If above, you're probably on the side of the angels, but be thoughtful about it. If below, you've moved even farther into the red zone. Keep reading.
  3. Did you choose this costume to mock, be cool, or honor? If you're costuming cross-racially and down, you have to ask yourself why did you choose this costume? If the answer is "because it's funny," then you hit the third rail. That's mocking down and you're wearing a racist costume. If the answer is "because it's cool," then zap again. You're culturally appropriating and your costume is racist. If your answer is "because I love this person/these people and I want to be like them/honor them," keep reading.
  4. Are you dressing as a person or a category? That is to say, are you dressing as an actual present or historical figure or as a fictional character, or are you dressing as a member of a category? A member of a category includes: Indian princess, Indian brave, geisha, ninja, martial arts whatever, Mexican dude in serape and sombrero, mariachi, gang-banger, chola, "pimp" complete with 'fro, any kind of ethnic costume, arab, chinese, indigenous Australian, Zulu, etc. etc. If you're dressing racially down to honor an individual, keep reading. If you're dressing racially down as a fictional character because you love that character/want to be that character, then keep reading. But if you're dressing racially down as a member of a category, because they're cool and you want to be like them, then you're culturally appropriating a stereotype and need to check yourself. Game show buzzer: your costume is racist.
  5. Are you changing your skin color and/or wearing a wig to change your racial appearance? If so, your costume is racist.

You'll note that, if you're:

  1. cross-racially costuming 
  2. down
  3. as a character or historical figure 
  4. because you love and want to honor them and
  5. have not changed your skin or hair color or put on an "ethnic" wig to approach that character's racial appearance more closely

... then the implication is that you're okay. Right? Well, again, be thoughtful about it. And check this out. Do you see a pattern there?

ETA: Oh, this one's good too!

June 07, 2013

Doctors Bad, Doctors Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Doctors:

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

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

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

Good Doctors:

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

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

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

January 23, 2013

When Is the World Unfair to You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 20, 2013

Dizzy Broad

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

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

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

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

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

January 08, 2013

How to Stay in Touch with Friends When Sick?

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

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

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

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

Sigh. It's confusing. And difficult.

Anyone have any thoughts?

March 03, 2012

Reading Update: Tired of Urban Fantasy?

Raven Cursed Faith Hunter
A Perfect Blood Kim Harrison
Sins of the Demon Diana Rowland

All of these are the latest installments of urban fantasy series I've been devouring since last year. I love the combination of mystery, horror, fantasy, and romance in the genre -- not too much of any one of these genres, each of which -- except for mystery -- is largely a turn-off for me. And I really dig that the wish-fulfillment in these series can only be fulfilled by that particular combo of elements. Because it's not something simple like needing the perfect man, or needing to be vindicated by solving a crime, or needing to cleanse the Earth of an evil, or needing to find a MacGuffin. It's all of those together, plus the complicated need of a not-super-young, urban, professional woman for self-actualization ... whatever that means.

Guilty pleasures though they be, good books in this genre manage a real socio-cultural balancing act in pushing so many buttons at once, but not pushing them too hard; and in moving the character arc forward book-by-book, without either resolving too much, or repeating the central conflict over and over.

However. I'm starting to get tired of the genre. None of these latest installments really got me excited. Maybe it's because I read the series that each of them belongs to all at once, and then had to wait for the next book and kind of forgot the last book in the meantime. But I also think I've sucked the genre dry, and am sated. Pun intended.

Also! I'm tired of Kim Harrison using mixed-white-Asian features as an attention-getter, without any culture backing it up. And duuuuude, Diana Rowland actually wrote "oriental" in reference to her mixed-white-Asian character's featurs at the end of Sins of the Demon. That is SO not okay. Dude, hasn't she read Said?

I'm feeling a need for nonfiction right now. I've got a couple of ideas lined up. Stay tuned.

January 02, 2012

2012 Resolutions

Sigh.

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

That includes some sub-resolutions, though, including:

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

I'm so boring.

August 29, 2011

Reading Update: Just Disembodied Kids

I was explaining Just Kids to a friend today and she asked me if Patti Smith was a feminist. I immediately said no, although Smith might perhaps espouse feminism if you asked her directly. There's none of it in her work, though, and none of it in this book. Instead, there's her patent desire for boys, and to be a boy, both.

Until the book came out, I was a Patti Smith fan, but I had never delved into her life and wasn't aware of her association with Robert Mapplethorpe. But reading the book made the connection between Johnny in the hallway and Mapplethorpe's delicious hustlers. It all made sense. I'm not a connoisseur of her work, but I'm noticing now that she only becomes physical in the world when she's embodying a boy figure, like in "Birdland," or "Land." Her girl-bodies are all abortive, like in "Kimberly," or "Redondo Beach."

Her physicality is borrowed. And in the book, she has to be herself, so she's not physically present. She expresses no desire, no press or pressure, no sex, no gender. She's a mind wandering through a very physically enacted world, full of drag queens and drug addicts and street hustlers -- all of whom perform and live through their bodies. For most of the book she doesn't drink or do drugs, doesn't seem to experience the sex she has, goes for long periods without sex, goes for long periods without food, fails to describe the hunger she claims she felt, and finally admits to prudishness and alienation around the transgressive physicality of Mapplethorpe's photographs.

All the men she describes have physical descriptions and auras. The women only have resumes. Although she mentions many women who affected her life, reading the book is like reading a life led by a floating mind in an all-male camp.

So it meant something completely different to me than she likely intended when I saw her disclaim a "female artist" or "woman artist" identity in an interview on Youtube from 1998. Aside from my contemptuous "Way to throw all other women artists under the bus" response, I also thought: of course you don't see yourself as a woman artist. In the arts, do you see yourself as a woman at all?

August 25, 2011

Not My Fault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 28, 2011

On Being Harassed in the Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 27, 2011

Rewriting "Hanna"

SPOILER ALERT. Don't read any of this until you've seen the movie!

I just saw Hanna and I'm both exhilarated and disappointed. The first three quarters of the film are wonderful: fresh and exciting and great filmmaking. Then the last quarter is shit.

The film takes a fairy tale situation and forces it into interaction with an elevated version of "reality." A beautifully filmed, highly selective version of the beauties of everyday life. A girl grows up in the forest, raised by her father, who is a hunter. She reaches a point in her growth where she has to go out into the world and claim her true identity. This is all stuff of fairy tales and myths: a child of mysterious birth who is supernaturally strong and powerful. In a fairy tale she'd be a secret princess, hidden from her father the evil king. In a myth, she'd be a demi-god, child of a god and a human, hidden from the human's evil king father, or something. Her quest is to discover her true identity and claim her power and status. So far, so good.

Along the way, on her quest, she receives help from various characters; in fairy tales they'd be kind humans and figures of power: a good witch, supernatural creatures who make bargains with her, etc. In the fairy tale, people who help her get left behind, never to be heard from again.

In the film, Hanna and her hunter/woodcutter father decide it's time for her to kill the evil king -- in this case, an evil CIA project director named Marissa Wiegler. She goes to the king's castle, kills a fake version of the king, and then escapes the castle into the "real world." Once there, the movie gets really great. The castle is an underground bunker in Morocco, and Hanna wanders through Morrocco and Spain, encountering a bunch of really surprising and beautiful set pieces, including women singing while they launder clothes in a river, and a group of Roma wearing Juicy Couture singing and dancing flamenco. She also hooks up with a quirky and wonderfully written family on vacation in their minibus, and sees what a good, albeit weird, family looks like. She gets her first kiss; not from the Spanish boys we expected, but rather from the English family's young daughter.

But then the fariy tale intrudes again. The evil king turns into a combination of evil witch and big bad wolf. Hanna careens through France and Germany and ends up confronting the baddies in Berlin. And this is where the movie turns to shit. Once she leaves the weird family, things get muddy. And, as my friend Jaime pointed out, once she starts using a computer to research her past, the movie completely falls apart.

This is because, once the English family gets left behind, she reenters the realm of fairy tale, but the filmmaker/s sort of lose their grip on the structure of the fairy tale. She discovers her true identity -- she's a genetically engineered supersoldier, of course. This shouldn't be a problem, because in a "modern" fairy tale, the demi-god/prince/ss would be a genetically engineered supersoldier. There's no such thing as gods or princesses or the supernatural in this story. And that's fine. BUT, the filmmakers -- or maybe just the writers -- let the genetically engineered supersoldier narrative take over the fairy tale, and those are two completely different (and not complementary) narrative structures. So the fairy tale goes to shit, as does the CIA supersoldier program story, because the latter wasn't how the story was set up.

The first half or more of the film is expansive, showing us how big and beautiful the real world is, and hinting at the stakes for this girl in trying to leave her fairy tale and enter reality. But the film narrows, in the latter part, to a simple confrontation between her and Marissa, and Marissa's defeat stops meaning anything broader for Hanna and for the audience members who identify with her as an everyman protagonist. Hanna, as would happen in a fairy tale, leaves all the people who have helped and nurtured her behind, but the baddies, as would happen in a spy tale, follow her and kill or hurt everyone who has helped her. Hanna never looks back, never even wonders what has happened to these people. This is made even more problematic by the revelation that she's been engineered to feel less fear, less pain, and less empathy. There's no redemption or expansion for her.

So I'm gonna try rewriting this to fix it and take this from a film that could have been great, to a film that would have been great. Wanna hear it? Here I go:

In the film Hanna doesn't return to see what happens to the people she left behind. In my version, she does. She turns around and goes back, one by one, to all the people who have helped her, thus retracing her steps back to the world of people and "reality."

We have three fairy tales being referenced here: The three little pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Once she leaves the English family, we're brought into these three, and reminded that she's on a quest through the scary forest of the CIA-ordered spy world. We also have three locations: her grandmother's house, a gingerbread house inhabited by a good gnome, and a fairy tale theme park, which was a really bad choice. But the three locations are important, because she's left four people, or sets of people, behind: the English family, the grandmother, the gnome/contact, and her father. The latter three, being part of the fairy tale world, die. But the English family's fate is left ambiguous. What she has to do is "bury" the dead, and save the family.

In the film she visits her grandmother's house -- where Marissa had invaded and killed her grandmother -- long before the climax, and the scene is completely thrown away. I'd rewrite this so that the grandmother's house is an actual house (the grandmother belongs to the fairy tale world) and not an apartment, and I'd show brief scenes of the grandmother in her house, getting the message from the hunter/father that Hanna is around and probably coming, reviewing the tapes from her daughter, cooking, cleaning, etc. But Hanna doesn't visit her house before the climax.

I'd also get rid of the climax in the playground. Marissa has sent three assassins after Hanna, and this could have been a smart choice: the three little pigs as bad guys going after the protagonist wolf, Hanna. Only ... the three little pigs is all about houses. They each have a house, and they run to each succeeding house until they find the one that will protect them. So the defeat of the evil three pigs has to involve a house, not an open air playground. There are two houses in this part of the movie: the grandmother's apartment and the gingerbread house the gnome/father's contact lives in. They should have put in a third one, maybe a CIA safe house, where Hanna traps the three pigs inside and kills them by blowing up the house. Or something, some inversion of the three pigs story.

In the process of this, her father gets killed, as he does in the film. In the film he distracts the pigs from her and she runs away and he kills the pigs and gets killed by Marissa. Bad choice. What should happen is that he distracts the pigs, she runs away, then he gets killed by the pigs. Hanna hears the gunshot that kills her father, but she doesn't go back in the film. In this one, the gunshot should be the turning point for her, the point where she makes the choice between being the killer/princess/demigod she was made to be, or the real person with a real family that the film keeps hinting she could be.

In my version, she stops, struggles with herself, and goes back to find her father. The pigs catch her there, and she traps them in the house and kills them, then makes some sort of burial/goodbye gesture to him. Then she returns to the gingerbread house where, in the film, the good gnome was tortured and killed for her sake. Marissa, in the guise of Hansel and Gretel's evil witch, should be waiting for her there. Hanna then traps Marissa in the oven; in this case, the only oven in the house is a waffle iron we see the gnome/contact using to make Hanna waffles. Maybe she burns Marissa with the waffle iron, or knocks her over the head with it. Then she makes some sort of settlement with the dead gnome/contact, and leaves without killing Marissa.

Next stop, grandmother's house. Of course, Marissa gets there before she does, and the grandmother is already dead. There, Hanna has a final confrontation with Marissa, kills her with an axe, as the big bad wolf must be killed, and finds her grandmother's body. Possibly, there's a final piece of the puzzle hidden in the grandmother's house, that Marissa tried to destroy by killing the grandmother, but Hanna finds it on the grandmother's body. She then "buries" the grandmother, symbolically.

I think when Hanna sneaks into her grandmother's house, she should hear the tail end of a phone conversation between Marissa and some agents who are holding the English family. In the film, these agents are the three pigs, but in my version there are other agents. Marissa tells them to get all the information they can out of the family and then dispose of them. After dealing with Marissa and the grandmother, Hanna has another struggle: her own personal issues have been dealt with, her demons killed, her questions answered, her family buried. Does she still have a responsibility?

And, of course, the answer is yes, because her quest here is to rejoin reality. So she races back to France to try to save the family, and does so, undramatically. My version of the film ends with them walking into a police station -- not a Hollywood police station, but a police station in a rural French town on a weekday, where nothing is going on and the police are doing whatever rural French police do to while away the time. Another lovely set piece.

And that's how Claire "C's" it.

March 23, 2011

Why You Still Need to be a Feminist

Here they are, in black and white (or red and blue, actually): the breakdown of male/female representation in the most elite publications in the country in 2010 from Vida. Here's the speculative fiction version from Strange Horizons, along with links to discussion of the above.

Spoiler alert: men review more books and get more books reviewed than women -- and by a factor of two to three, depending on the publication.

But then, there's a good reason why; more men are being published:

We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. ... Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.

I speculated that independents ... would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. ... Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? ... Dalkey Archive Press ... it would be nice if more than 10 percent of [their books] were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women.)

... these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.

So now you know.

Of course, this plays out across all elite and desirable fields:

According to a fact sheet published last year by the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2008, women constituted 32.4 percent of all lawyers and 32.2 percent of physicians and surgeons. (We’re 68.8 percent of psychologists, 92 percent of nurses, and 50.4 percent of technical writers, the only type of writer included in the report.)

We've evened out in law school and med school ... but then we outnumber men in MFA creative writing programs, and look at the publication and review numbers. So there are actually several moments of concern.

And, of course, Jessa Crispin at Bookslut uncovers further isshoes:

After talking with editor after editor, a pattern started to emerge. "We don't get enough submissions by women." At each publication I talked to, women were submitting an average of 35% of manuscripts, poems, articles, and pitches.

Which, of course, leads us to (part of the reason) why:

There's something about the culture at some of these places listed at Vida that make me think I would never in a million years be accepted there, and after taking a sampling of some female writer friends, I'm not the only one. Take the Atlantic, for example. Their rates of publishing women were not as devastatingly horrible as, say, The New York Review of Books. (What the fuck, NYRB?) But the women they are perhaps best known for publishing are Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about how abortion is bad, sex is bad, staying at home with the kids is awesome, doing her husband's laundry gives her purpose. Also Sandra Tsing Loh, who writes about her infidelity, the breakup of her marriage, being a bad mother. There is absolutely nothing about The Atlantic that screams out to me: We are totally respectful of women and their various viewpoints, and we'd be interested in publishing the work of a single, globetrotting, pro-choice feminist who does not under any circumstance want to write about her relationships, her femininity, or her sex life.

Hm. That's starting to sound strangely familiar.

So here we are again, folks. And, as usual, my response to all of this is to want people to do something about it. Only this time, instead of giving advice to others, I'm doing something myself.

If women aren't submitting at all in the proportions in which they are actually writing (and I've made that contention myself before) then let's get women submitting their work. I'm working on a way and will have more to say about that later. But here's a beginning.

March 09, 2011

Oh My God

Gwenda has a post pointing to Ursula Le Guin talking about cursing.

Le Guin is talking essentially about the devaluation of language that's happened because everybody says and writes "shit" and "fuck" a lot.

But I just wanna say that I wish people would take the "Lord's" name in vain the way god intended. I'm really tired of hearing "Oh my gosh," as if that's somehow better than "Oh my god." "Gosh" exists for one reason only, to soften the use of the word "god" as a swear word. Since it's unchristian to swear using the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god, somehow it's more christian to swear using soundalike stand-ins for the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god (and states of lack of salvation,) instead of swearing using the names of flowers or household implements or pets, or just, I dunno, not swearing at all.

If you're gonna swear, swear, goshdarnit. Geez. Golly. Dang.

February 12, 2011

Reading Update: Fuzzy Head

Graceling Kristin Cashore
Fire Kristin Cashore
Disgrace J.M. Coetzee
Buffy Season 8 Vols. 1-7
Bud, not Buddy Christopher Paul Curtis


I had a whole idea for this post which is long gone now. And I was going to actually talk about these books, especially Disgrace, but then I didn't and now I'm about five books down the road and it's almost a month later and I haven't posted this so forget it.

December 31, 2010

E-existential Question of the Last Day of the Year

Why do I blog?

December 28, 2010

Reading Update: A Waste of Time

James Dashner The Maze Runner

One of the worst books I've read this year.

Let me qualify that: when I was in eighth grade, I took the bus to a private school on the other side of town. My "bus friend" was a neighbor my age who went to the same school but was a year behind me. We kept each other entertained on the 45-minute ride by playing storyteller and audience. She was the storyteller and I was the audience. I wasn't allowed to watch TV, you see, and she could watch whatever she wanted. So she'd retell the stories of TV shows she'd seen, and I'd listen avidly. (Please note, this was, probably not coincidentally, the year I finally started to make friends, although the stink of book-reading nerd didn't come off for a while after that.)

Our favorite series was Voyagers!, a time travel show with a womanizing time travel dude and his boy sidekick, that only lasted one season. My friend and I developed a sort of storytelling ritual, much like the ritual of watching a TV show, with its snacks, and its commercials, and its cold opens. But ours was much more interactive. For example, whenever the dude met his love interest for that episode, she'd look at me, say, "and ..." and we'd both clap our hands and shout, "Chemistry!" It was a lot of fun.

She was a better storyteller than most seventh graders, but let's not fool ourselves: it was nowhere near as good as actually getting to watch the shows she described. But a) it was better than nothing, and b) it was a way for us to interact. We felt like very good friends, but when we started trying to invite each other over for dinner or sleepovers, the friendship didn't turn out to work so well. We were bus friends only, storytelling friends only.

This is what the experience of reading The Maze Runner was like: it wasn't as good a reading a good book, but it was a) better than nothing, and b) a way for me to interact with the newest YA dystopia trend while waiting for something better to come along.

The story is mostly okay, although it doesn't end up making a lot of sense. And the fact the story isn't over yet (it's a trilogy) can't account for all of it. It was suspenseful enough to keep me reading to the end to find out what it was all about, but when I got to the end, I was so bored by the whole thing that I can't be bothered to descri- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And the writing is terrible. Here's a sample paragraph:

Thomas cried, wept like he'd never wept before. His great, racking sobs echoed through the chamber like the sounds of tortured pain.

Uh ... aren't great, racking sobs actually the sound of tortured pain, and not just "like" them? Did anyone edit this book? The whole book is written like this. Argh.

Needless to say, I'm not reading the other two.

December 24, 2010

Reading Update: Beasties, Silly Aliens, and Boring Vampires

Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
Pete Hautman Sweetblood

I am totally loving Scott's Leviathan series, and can't wait for the next one to come out. Yay! Go read it!

I saw a trailer for I Am Number Four and had to go read the book. It's about -- in case you hadn't heard -- a kid from another planet, Lorien, which was attacked and destroyed by the Whatchamacallits (I'm too lazy to look it up.) The Whatchamacallits had their own planet, but used it all up, so they attacked Lorien to extract all their natural resources. They killed everyone except for 18 people: 9 kids and their keepers. The kids are "garde," people with superpowers. Somehow, the kids are going to repopulate the planet or something. And somehow, the Whatchamacallits want to kill them off. (I'm not sure why; it's never explained and makes no logical sense. I mean, if you're a user-upper species and you've used up your own planet to the extent that you need to go use up somebody else's, don't you want those people to go back and make their planet all shiny and new again, so that you can use it up again in a pinch? Anyhoo.

It's compulsive and fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but ... well, it's kind of ... "contrived" is not the word I'm looking for to describe the wrong note in a science fiction/fantasy YA novel, is it? It felt deliberately constructed to appeal to teens, and the fact that a movie is coming out so soon after the book suggests that it was marketed more than conceived. I mean, it has all the elements that'll appeal to boy readers: a Mary Sue protag with superpowers, a hottie girlfriend, another hottie girl with superpowers, for boys who swing that way, a nerdy best friend who puts the Mary Sue before himself, a cool father figure, and a school bully who is easily tamed. What is missing is any real world-building integrity, any essentail logic in the premise or how it plays out. The bad guys are unremittingly, irrationally bad. And it makes no sense that beings from another planet are capable of breeding with humans, and in fact, look like us. This should have been a fantasy novel, not a -- nominal -- sci fi.

I'll keep reading, for a while, but I'm not going to talk about the, I'm sure, entirely contrived hype around the identity of the author.

Sweetblood sounded like a good read from the blurb. A diabetic girl has theories about vampirism and diabetes, and then meets a creepy guy who might be an actual vampire. Only SPOILER! he's not. He's just a creepy middle aged dude who lures teens to his house with parties and booze, and then hits on the girls. And she doesn't even meet him until halfway through the book. It's reasonably well-written, but it's boring. It's just about a diabetic girl who has trouble controling the diabetes and gets into a little bit of trouble. Then she straightens up and flies right.

It's rather typical thinking, actually: making the disease the bad guy in the story. It's never that simple in real life. Diabetes is a problem, always, especially when you're a teenager and learning how to manage it on your own. But it's never the only problem, and doesn't cause meltdowns like that in isolation. There's always other stuff going on that raises the stress levels and makes the disease harder to control.

Anyway.

November 24, 2010

Exploratory Phase of Writing

When I teach writing, I'm constantly trying to get my students comfortable with the concept of exploratory writing. This is a part of the generative phase of writing, where you're producing a body of text which will become the subject of the other half of writing: revision.

Exploratory writing is where all your plans have broken down or been fulfilled; you've written whatever parts of the story you intended to write and now have to move forward without plans. Or else, if you're an obsessive outliner, you've tried to fulfill your plans, but the sketchy story you had in your head doesn't work out so well when you try to make rounded characters perform it. Or you're writing an unplanned story entirely, inspired by some sort of trigger or idea, and you're letting it unspool organically. Whatever way, you're in unmapped territory, and you don't know where you're going in the immediate future, and you don't know what will, much less what should, happen now.

This is a moment where you have to just let yourself go. You can't start making new plans. You can do research to make you more comfortable with the situation, but there comes a moment when you have to break off the research and just write. And that writing has to be open and experimental, because, as we just noted, you don't know what has to happen.

What happens for me in this phase is that I wander all over the place. I see a shiny thing, and I hare off in that direction, talk about it for a while, examine it, then eventually lose interest or turn it into something else. I'll see another shiny thing, and run off after that, often in exactly the opposite direction, and do what I need to with that. I let my interest level determine my course. Often an idea will lead me to the logical next idea, but the logical next idea isn't as interesting as the original idea. When I get bored, I stop going in that direction and head off in another one.

The goal of all of this is to hit the fire lode, the vein of liquid heat that consumes your conscious mind and takes you off in the right direction, the direction that will make your story amazing for you to write and for your readers to read. You don't always hit the motherlode. Sometimes you only find, so to speak, placer nuggest of fire, and you have to build your story around small, bright moments, knowing that this is a "good" story, but not a "brilliant" one -- by your own standards, that is. ;)

You can see it in my story "Vacation," where the first part of the story is told in short episodes that explore the new world, and the protagonist's relationship to it. This is all exploratory, and originally included a lot more exploratory stuff: how the women in this new world recreate government, how the media changes, etc. But once I hit the scene on the basketball court where the young boy disappeared, I took off. I knew that this was the direction the story needed to go in, and when I went back and revised, I cut out all the exploratory stuff that didn't contribute either to this part of the world, or do development of the protagonist's capacity to do what she does. I left the first part deliberately sketchy and exploratory, because I felt it set up the somewhat choppy rhythm of the story -- which isn't plot and action-heavy, but rather centers around a moment of transformation which proceeds from mosaic emotional logic rather than a causal chain.

Do this enough and you can see the different phases of writing in another writer's work as well. When I started being able to see this more clearly in the work I was reading, it inspired me to want to hide my tracks better. ;)

I'm going on about this right now because I'm in an exploratory phase right now with da nobble. And I'm not comfortable with it. I've just started year nine of work on da nobble (holy shit!) and thought I had left generative work behind me and was just going to revision. But I've hit a very important chapter that just wasn't working. I've rewritten this chapter twice, and have to rewrite it again now. And I'm having to generate. The research I did got me through an important scene, but now I'm dealing with the aftermath of that scene and I have no idea what happens now. Argh!

Now I just have to let-go-let-it-flow. I hate that shit! It's much easier telling my students to do it than doing it myself. I think part of the problem is that I'm out of practice. But part of it is certainly that I resent having to go back into exploratory on a novel that I've been working on for 8 years and have two finished drafts of. I don't feel starry-eyed and excited and in that fresh phase. I feel jaded and worn out. Committed, but worn out, like eight years into a rocky but loving marriage.

Sigh.

November 03, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Stratosphere

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

I tried four times and couldn't write anything. Argh! Now I'm gonna have to write two tomorrow!

October 31, 2010

Why Isn't College Dramatic?

During the summer TV slump, I watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars again. Yes, the first season was great, the second was good, and the third was heeeeeeinous. Still. What puzzled me was why the third season was so bad. I mean there's the fact that they moved to a different network, and that they were forced to cut the stories shorter, so there was no season-long arc. The shorter stories turned the show's premise into schlock: high-concept detective TV. Like Hart to Hart.

But what was really the problem with season three was that the show suddenly focused on (young) adult female sexuality, and it totally went to pieces. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.) In the first two seasons, Veronica was a nerd male fantasy: hot, smart, smart-ass, ass-kickin', and not at all scary with the sexual confidence 'n' stuff. She was a raped virgin. It was okay for white-hat-wearin' girls on this show to be virgins, or at least not sexually active.

But when she gets to college, it would look weird (i.e. non-normative) for her (and everybody else) to not be sexually active. And that's where the fantasy falls apart. Because for a hot chick who's that kickass to be sexually active, she has to be great in bed, too. And then she's suddenly beyond the nerd-boy's reach, not to mention scary. It's a dilemma, because for her to not be good in bed would kill the fantasy as well.

So suddenly the show has all of these weird sexual politics in it. The first story is about a serial campus rapist who shaves his victims' heads, just to make the power dynamic of a rape more visual. (Of course, it was completely ridiculous, b/c instead of actually shaving the actors' heads, they made them wear totally fake-looking fuzz-head wigs.) It's as if (showrunner) Rob Thomas had to balance out Veronica's suddenly active sexuality with a classic punishment for female sexuality.

Then he introduces what is apparently the only on-campus feminist group (at a private college? in California?) protesting the rapes (as if women who weren't outspoken feminists wouldn't be protesting serial rapes too: welcome to the 21st century you creep) who are a bunch of lying, cheating, conniving -- not to mention humorless -- bitches. He actually opposes da feminists to the lampoonists, two nerdy/misogynist guys who write a bad humor mag. As if the third wave of the most successful social justice movement of the last century -- which represents half of humanity, by the way -- was as trifling as a misogynist college humor mag. The "feminists" actually fake one of the rapes to make a point, an incredibly irresponsible thing to do in fiction in a culture that still blames rape victims and tries to scare them away from the very organizations that are there to help them. Gee, Rob, threatened much?

The second long story is a completely noirish story about the murder of a wealthy college dean, and the affair his young, beautiful wife is having with the hot, young professor. The wife isn't even an attempt at realism. Her hair is done forties-style, she dresses forties-style, and she has no personality, besides breathiness and lipstick. We, of course, never get to see her even kissing the hot young prof, although we do get to see him naked in a hotel room with her. (Why do we only get to see men in states of undress in this show? Could it be a fear of female sexuality?) And, of course, the hot-to-trot young wife is a femme fatale: she turns out to be the one who killed her husband and set up her lover to take the fall.

There's another story about a nerdy college boy whose friends hire a prostitute to take his virginity. He falls in love with her and hires Veronica to track her down, but then gets turned off to her when he realizes that her being a stripper and a prostitute isn't just an abstract concept: men are going to remember her and treat her accordingly. The show seems to think his hypocrisy is only natural, and rewards him for dumping his prosty girlfriend by giving him Veronica's best friend as a new girlfriend.

The problem here is clear: the male creator of the show didn't (doesn't?) understand adult female sexuality, and college is -- for people who go to college -- often or usually the place where sexuality blossoms and becomes adult. To write/create effective, realistic stories about girls becoming sexually active women, you have to understand how this happens.

Rape, usually date rape, is far too often a part of this. But the weird roofie-then-shave-head rape of Veronica Mars is most definitely not the usual way campus date rape happens. (Rob Thomas loves the roofie, by the way -- Veronica was roofied and raped in the first episode of the entire series. But far more often, the intoxicant of choice is simple booze.) And even -- or especially -- when rape doesn't happen, consensual sex in college is a very complicated mishmash of negotiation, persuasion, emotional blackmail, self-consciousness, wish-fulfillment, awkwardness, weird body issues, desperation, and, always always, desire. And that's just the women.

Because the cameras cut away the moment the bodies start getting horizontal, the real substance of a sexual liaison between very young adults is also cut away. There's a weird commitment, in this and all other shows, to making all consensual sex satisfying for both parties. (The first time in the series that we see Veronica in the afterglow, she's complimenting her 18-year-old boyfriend Logan on his sexual prowess by saying he could monetize it. That's not problematic at all.) Thus the weird, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, and above all, loooong sexual learning curve we go through throughout our twenties is compressed into a single encounter, and a whole new generation of late teens is subjected to a sexual inferiority complex.

Nobody ever shows a sexual encounter that is just as awkward and unpleasant as it is exciting and pleasurable. Nobody ever shows the young woman's sexual arc getting cut off before climax again and again as she (very slowly) learns to articulate her desires, and her young man partner learns (very slowly) to satisfy her. Instead of a multi-episode story arc in which Veronica complains embarrassedly and irritatedly to Mac that she's not getting off, and she and Mac puzzle over what they want and how to get their boyfriends to do it, instead we get super hot single girls being roofied, raped, and shaved, while Veronica looks unsympathetic and has sweaty orgiastic rock in a penthouse suite with a mysteriously game 18-year-old.

I remember the spring before I graduated, I and my equally 22-year-old friend took a road trip to San Diego to stick our toes in the ocean. We met two boys on the beach, 18 and 16, the elder of whom was trying to school the younger in picking up girls. We had the usual "how old are you?" discussion, which, at 22, was already becoming not so usual anymore. The boy told us "I'm 18, and I fuck like an 18-year-old, too!" My friend and I laughed and tried to convince him that wasn't a good thing. But beneath our overeager superiority and condescension, there was a very immediate realism informed by the four years of college we'd just been through, and the constant sexual disappointment we'd both experienced, plus our fairly recent awakening to the fact that good sex took a lot of work from both parties.

The highschooler was a veteran of sudden gropes and makeout sessions at parties. He hadn't yet gone through the process we'd gone through, which complicated sex and made it much more interesting, but also more confusing. It was an interesting moment, in retrospect, and meant much more than we thought it did at the time.

*****

I could go on, but I think I've made my point about Veronica Mars (which also applies to Buffy): kickass, hot, young, girl-things aren't necessarily evidence of feminism in their male creators.

But all this got me to thinking about why it is that there aren't any compelling dramas about college life. College always ends up being a joke in popular culture. This came up for me a few years ago when I was a devotee of Yahoo! Answers (where people ask questions and anyone can try to answer them. I was there mainly for the book recommendations.) Someone asked for recommendations of novels about college life, and wondered why this didn't seem to be a genre, in the way that YA high school novels were. People had a hard time coming up with titles (as did I.) The only one that anyone could think of was The Secret History. (I also thought of Brideshead Revisited but I don't really consider that a college novel, since the college part was just a prelude to the midlife crisis part.)

I think part of it is that, similar to Rob Thomas and female sexuality in Veronica Mars, people see and understand the difference between adolescence and adulthood, but don't seem to be aware of, or able to articulate, the process of moving from one to the other. Of course, for the half of the U.S. population that doesn't go to college, the transition between high school graduate and working adult is technically immediate. There's no discrete period of years or distinct set experience that is considered the coming of age moment. That's a large part of why college is considered so important: it's a distinct coming-of-age process that set off from the rest of the world -- age segregated -- and that is opaque to anyone who's not in it.

This opacity is bizarre to me. Half of us go through it. Why is it so hard for us to understand what happened? My boss of four years has a daughter who was fifteen when I started working for her and who was nineteen and coming out of her first year of college when I stopped working for her. I remember the girl being very shy and self-conscious and unable to talk to grownups like me in high school. Then she disappeared for nine months and came back from her first year of college smart, confident, firm, and able to look me in the eye, shake my hand, and ask me adult questions about how I was and what I was doing. The transformation was dramatic.

I  remember my freshman year myself. A lot happened, and I came back physically as well as emotionally different. But if I tried right now to narrate the incidents and trends that led me to dress differently, stand up straight, and represent myself with confidence to hundreds of strangers (I canvassed for a PIRG that summer) it would sound trifling and inconsequential. (There was a couple I befriended with a Doberman puppy. There were desperate makeout sessions with a guy friend I wasn't attracted to in a baseball dugout. There was a high-school-best-friend breakup scene long distance on the phone. There were mosh pits and vomit and second-hand clothing stores. There were various physical and emotional transformations happening throughout my family that I was leaving behind. There were certain dreams and desires collapsing, and other ones aborning. Need I go on?)

Why is it that everything that happens in college seems humorous or unimportant, like first world problems? Even when you're talking about the kids who have to work full time during school, or who have to take care of ailing parents, or of their own kids, or deal with illness or disability or abusive relationships, etc. etc. Even then, while the problems aren't inconsequential, somehow they don't seem as serious in narrative as the same problems in teenagerhood or in adulthood.

Maybe it's that the coming of age that happens in college is always triumphal (unless it culminates in someone dropping out.) Graduating from college, in our society, is in effect sealing your membership in the educated classes. Even if you work at McDonald's for the rest of your life, you'll never be less than middle class (whatever that means these days.) And you don't have to work at McDonald's for the rest of your life. This is always viewed as an accomplishment, meritorious, a permanent safe passage.

There's also the fact that college life is protected. High schoolers are protected as well, but they're a part of "real life," being part of families of people "out in the real world" dealing with problems in all classes, races, sectors, neighborhoods. Teens are dramatically transforming people half in and half out of childhood, but part of the totality of society. College, however, even city colleges and community colleges in urban campuses, are still physically and psychologically set off from the rest of the world.

This awareness of the special protectedness of college life and the privilege it confers is probably an enormous part of why, in this supremely class-conscious society, we don't take college drama very seriously. Especially not the people who go through it. There's some sort of merit in acknowledging privilege not by straightforwardly acknowledging it, but by tearing oneself or one's own peers down for being privileged.

Hm.

I think what I just said above is true, but it doesn't feel like the whole story. Any ideas? Why isn't college fictionally dramatic?

September 16, 2010

Reading Update: Hornets' Nests and Stupid Writers

Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

Holy crap writer, Batman! This is the third of a series, but there is a limit to the number of characters you can stuff into a book before it explodes. By my count:

  • Two heroes: Salander and Blomkvist
  • Two main antagonists: Zalachenko and Niedermann
  • The gang at Millenium magazine (3 or 4 active characters)
  • The gang at SMP newspaper (4 or 5 active characters)
  • The Stockholm police team (5 active characters?)
  • The Goteborg police team (2 or 3 minor characters)
  • The Bad secret police team (4 or 5 active characters, two of whom die during the book's action)
  • The Good secret police team (2 active characters and 4 minor characters)
  • The private security firm team (4 active characters)
  • The hacker team (3 active characters so far)
  • The motorcycle gang (3 active characters, one of whom dies during the book's action)
  • The politicians (4 active characters: PM, Justice Minister, former PM, ambassador)
  • The prosecuting attorney
  • Salander's mentor Palmquist
  • Salander's doctor Jonasson
  • Salander's lawyer Giannini
  • Random Kurds with speaking parts and personal histories: 2
  • Berger's husband Beckmann (Is that his name?)
  • ... And some others ... mumble mumble ...

Did I MISS ANYONE? IT'S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE!

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you NOT SUPPOSED TO TELL THE MYSTERY AT THE BEGINNING OF A MYSTERY BOOK? Isn't NOT KNOWING the mystery supposed to be what drives you through the whole process of discovery kinda thing?

ARGH. Argy.

Seriously, how do you write a flawed but seriously interesting book, with a fascinating and thrilling main character, and then in the succeeding two books systematically destroy everything that was great about the first book (and character)? How? Why? Argh!

August 21, 2010

Reading Update: YA Trash

We break from our regularly scheduled nonfiction to bring you

Whip It by Shauna Cross

Which I read because I just couldn't bring myself to see the movie. I hate Ellen Page, ever since she made that horrible crypto-pro-life hipster jizz-bag Juno. A grown-ass woman who looks like a child is not my idea of a hipster queen. Argh.

And the book was YA genre trash that I tore through in two hours (seriously, three paragraph chapters are the rule here) but it was fun. The best part about it is the roller derby, and I really wish she had spent more time explaining and describing it. I was never interested in roller derby before (because of its extreme hipster cred) but now it sounds fun and interesting.

The rest is just typical YA crap: misfit teen with Parents Who Don't Understand Her. She finds something she loves and eventually Has A Showdown With Her Mom. Mom gets over it and turns up to cheer her on. Yay. The end. Whatever.

June 24, 2010

Depressed

Okay, I'm copping to it.

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

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

Sorry.

February 16, 2010

Why Aren't Women and POC Submitting Their Work?

ETA 5/6/13: I'm re-reading this now because of a discussion I'm having with someone, and I'm realizing that some of the criticisms below in comments are more accurate than I could see at the time I wrote it. I wrote this post with the explicit intention of "validating" the perception that women/poc submissions "aren't as good" as white submissions as a rhetorical device. My intention was to validate that perception to draw the reader in, and then smack them over the head with the fact that too many terrific women/poc writers simply aren't submitting for the following reasons (etc.)

I'm realizing now that this was not a super-effective tactic. And I have to admit that I didn't think it through clearly. When I conceived of this piece, I had recently been fired from a paid gig at an online magazine that was all white (except for me) and mostly male. Although I got some legit-sounding excuses for being fired, I didn't think it was a coincidence that I was fired right after I intensified my campaign to diversify the artists and writers being covered in the magazine. These things are hard to prove, though. The editor in question had told me that: a) they didn't get enough submissions from writers-oc and b) the ones they got weren't good enough. I had also been trying to diversify another (paid) online magazine that some friends were involved with and that I read but didn't contribute to. They told me the same thing: not enough submissions, not good enough. The way the editors I knew said this reminded me of how editors in this online fight had been saying that they don't get enough woc subs, and I noticed (or thought I noticed) that there was an unspoken implication that the subs they did get weren't good enough.

The other thing was that I thought it might well be true that the editors I had talked to weren't getting good submissions from woc because the good woc weren't submitting to them. I had had that experience as an editor of a poc magazine -- one of not getting enough good submissions even though I was seeing terrific writers in the community all the time. That was something that no one would say in public, and I was struck with the idea of writing a piece that did say it, and then turned it around on its ear. And then I simply wrote it, without thinking of how off-putting or ultimately inaccurate that would be. Bait-and-switch is fundamentally dishonest, and even if my intention was always honesty, honest dishonesty is ... uh ... problematic? I should have been more straightforward, is what I'm saying.

Also, a writer below took me to task for saying that most women or poc "fail" to make the leap to mainstream mags. My intention was always to use the word "fail" to mean "didn't do," and my critic contended that my use of "fail" expressed actual failure in the not doing. I.e.: it sounded like I was criticizing women/poc for not making that leap, and calling them failures. Because this was never my intention, I dismissed the criticism at the time. In re-reading, I'm realizing that she was completely right. This is exactly how that sentence, and its contextualizing language, reads. I should have worded that much more carefully. My critic, understandably, didn't believe me when I wrote back that an accusation of "failure" wasn't my intention with that wording. All I can say about that is that when I wrote this post, I had just recently made a completely conscious decision to publish my first book with a diversity-focused feminist small press, and deliberately did not submit it anywhere else. I did NOT consider this "not doing" a "failure."

Now, on to the original post:

***

I'm about to post something more on the general topic area of literary diversity, but I realized that I've never actually written a more foundational post that I've been meaning to write for a couple of years now.

Basically, this is about the totally valid and justified complaints of white editors that writers of color and women aren't submitting enough work to them. This is absolutely true (as far as it goes.) If you teach (as I do) writing in community orgs, 90-99% of your students will be women and poc. If you've studied creative writing in universities, even or especially at the MFA level (as I have), you'll know that about 60-75% of students are women. But start reading slush for a major publisher or journal and you'll notice a sudden, steep drop in the percentages of women, and an even steeper drop in the percentages of poc submitting work. And look at what is actually published and you'll see the drop is even steeper: mostly men, mostly white.

ETA: Some of Those who read slush know will tell you (although it's not cool to talk about in these terms ETA: as evidenced by the heated comments below. Please note, this is my experience and that of many folks I've talked to or read stuff from, not a universal experience.) that the submissions from women and poc are often disproportionately sucky, which is sometimes why even the proportions of women and poc who submit aren't reflected in the proportions of women and poc actually published. (Sometimes. There's usually also a factor of white male editors not quite getting the culture or language of marginalized writers, so they don't fully appreciate the nuances of the work. But that's another discussion.) So when a white male editor says, "We only had one woman and one poc in the anthology because we were going for the best work," that could be true, or true-ish.

(ETA: with reference to comments below, let me just put in here that your percentages may vary. We're still working with more women (and a larger percentage of poc) attending writing classes, but more men and white writers actually submitting work. How radical your discrepancy is, like I said, varies, but the discrepancy exists.)

And yet, I know from teaching and learning in community and academic settings that there are metric tons of good poc and women writers out there, just waiting to be plucked from the vine.

What gives?

For someone like me, and many of you, who are in on every step in the long, slow process of literary accomplishment (looks like this: community writing classes, MFA courses, community readings, ethnic magazines, indy publishers, mainstream lit magazines, major publishers -- I am or have been involved in all of these except the last two) it's very easy to see that there's a huge chasm at one step in this process. And that chasm comes between writers developing their craft in the bosom of their communities, and writers taking a leap away from their local identity communities into the ether of the mainstream -- basically at the point where writers have to take a deep breath and submit their work to mainstream editors who don't know them and aren't familiar with the communities they come from.

Here's the problem:

MOST WOMEN AND POC WRITERS FAIL TO MAKE THAT LEAP.

Yeah, that's right: most of them. You know all the "ethnic" and women midlist writers at majors who will get dropped soon and move to indies because they get no attention? For every one of those, there are at least three who never bothered with the majors but stayed in indie and community publishing, and ten who never made the leap to publishers at all. Yes, it's true. It's not that most women and poc writers fail to become good enough to make that leap. It's that, of those that reach a point where they CAN make the leap, most either don't recognize that they've reached that point, or, for other reasons they never manage to make the leap.

I have a friend near my age who was taking community writing classes with me, started an MFA the year after I did, and has been writing just as long. When this friend finally got a story published, it was in an ethnic mag. Last time I checked, my friend still hadn't submitted any work to mainstream journals.

Why not? What are those reasons? Enlightened editors want to know. Well, I have some ideas, although I can't speak for all women/poc writers who don't make the leap (please feel free to add ideas in the comments.) These reasons are in order of frequency (in my opinion):

  • Many women/poc writers don't hang out in mainstream literary circles locally or online so they don't know what to expect or what's expected of them in this scene. They don't understand how to "break in" to mainstream markets, so they stick to the literary scene they know how to work.
  • They don't know about your publishing house/journal (see directly above).
  • They know about your publishing house or journal but don't think you take work from women/"ethnic" writers. (This impression usually comes from the actual dearth of women/poc writers in your mag or on your list.)
  • They know you'll technically read work from women/ethnic writers, but don't believe their work will be taken seriously or given a fair reading.
  • They know you'll read their work with an earnest intention of fair play, but don't believe you're equipped to understand it.
  • Those who do submit work often don't submit their best work, because they fear their best work will be considered "too ethnic" or "chicklit," so they submit more standard "literary" work that their hearts weren't really in.
  • They don't think that anyone like them READS your books or your magazine, and they want to reach their own audience.
  • They have a political agenda around their work and have decided that that agenda is best served by keeping their work within their communities.
  • ETA: Ide Cyan and Minal Hajratwala added another good point in the comments. As Minal put it: "A serious economic/class differential that means that many women of color who write are barely able to eke out the hours to write, let alone any extra hours to venture into a whole new & unwelcoming literary 'scene,' to network, attend conferences/ workshops, research publications, submit work, blog or read blogs, deal with rejection (in the face of a host of other societal rejections)... Some of the students in my community-based classes are writing mainly because it helps them survive, and the idea of publication is not a priority."

Most of those good writers who don't submit do it for the first two reasons. I know, it's hard for editors and publishers to remember a time when they didn't know the rules and the landscape. Many editors and publishers grew up in culturally savvy families or communities, so they don't even know how they learned the rules and the landscape. But the folks who aren't submitting either don't know the rules, or don't think they're considered important enough to engage the rules. They either don't have a map to the landscape, or simply think that it's a closed, privately-owned parcel of land. And far too often they're right.

And most of them aren't necessarily even aware that they think this way. I can't tell you how many writers I've encouraged to submit their work who had never done it before because it simply never occurred to them. They never signed up for a writers list-serv. They don't read lit blogs that post opportunities on them. They don't know about Writers Market or the Poets & Writers database. They don't know that you can (and sort of have to) look the various markets up and note down their guidelines and simply submit work according to the guidelines. (There's a big component in here of internalized racism, where the writer has been absorbing messages of her inferiority for her entire life, and is unwilling to risk being rejected on that basis, but that's another blog post.)

I have a good friend who has been writing for decades. My friend has a towering reputation in local and extended identity communities, is invited to read around 10 times a year in a variety of venues, has had work published in a number of anthologies, has edited an identity-based anthology published by an indy publisher, and has also been the editor of a literary journal. This friend had an offer of a book on the table from an indy before the economy went to shit and the publisher had to taper off publications for a while. This friend has never made an unsolicited submission. So when the indy publisher had to rescind the book offer, my friend didn't know what to do. When I suggested we get proactive and prepare a package of work to send out as an unsolicited submission, my friend was both surprised and relieved. And this is someone with a lot of publication and literary experience. This is someone even the most boneheaded white male publisher would be delighted to get a submission from.

So, the point of all of this is that editors have to go out and find good writers of color and women writers just like they have to go out and find good white male writers. The obvious first place to start is independent magazines and publishers, but editors will need to go deeper than that. (I won't go into it again here.) And the big issue is not just knowing where to look, but knowing how to approach.

A number of small gestures can make a huge difference. Make the whole experience as painless and welcoming as possible. For example:

  • Make sure your submission guidelines are easy to find on your website. Don't hide them. Add language to your guidelines that specifically welcomes women and writers of color. Something like "We are especially interested in innovative work by women, writers of color, and writers from historically marginalized groups. We love to discover new writers!" Don't beat around the bush. Be plain.
  • When you go through your back issues/backlist for the big names to list on your website, be sure to put the names of women writers and poc front and center. A publisher/magazine that has a lot of recognizable "minority" names on its website is basically putting out the welcome mat for "minority" writers. This is a subtle language you must learn to speak.
  • When you send a call for submissions out on a list-serv or send it to a website for a "minority" group, be sure to personalize it and express your strong desire to get submissions. Sign it with your name. Say something like, "I really want to encourage you all to submit work. Our submissions pile isn't nearly as diverse as it needs to be, and as a result, our publications aren't as diverse as they need to be. You can help change that. Please take a chance on us and send us your best work!"
  • Write up a brief primer (maybe a paragraph) on how to make an effective submission (including maybe a little something about what to put, and what not to put, in a cover letter.) Include this in your call for submissions. Make your expectations plain, and don't give anyone any excuses not to submit.
  • Be sure to ask them to tell you in their cover letter where they heard about your magazine or publishing house, so you can track where the submissions are coming from; and ask them to include a brief bio that talks about their origins, so you can get a sense of where your writers are coming from. Encourage them to talk to you about who they are and what their process is, so you can understand it all better.
  • If you're rejecting a promising submission from someone who's obviously a writer of color or who says they're coming from a poc website or list-serv, be sure you personalize the rejection with at least some minimal feedback, and an encouragement to submit again. Yes, I know you don't have time, but it's part of an editor's job to cultivate promising writers, and if you want a healthy field of diverse writers in ten years, you have to plant now. This is assuming that you actually DO send rejection letters out. Many journals don't reject in a timely or consistent manner, and there's nothing more off-putting to someone who already thinks they're not going to get a fair shot, than being utterly ignored. Basically, acknowledgment is key, even when you're rejecting.

That's all fairly easy, surface stuff. But if editors and publishers really want to become more diverse and reflective of 21st Century reality, they're going to have to change the way their organizations approach the work itself. Changes like:

  • Having some non-white, non-WASPy names on your masthead or staff list. Yes, we do read these. Yes, we are turned off when we don't see any names like ours. Yes, I'm much more likely to send a story to a market with an editor of color or a woman editor first (although there are so few of these that I've learned not be picky.) And if a market's guidelines don't say anything about multiculturalism, but do say stuff about "no genre" and "high quality" (both euphemisms for New Yorker-style Carverism,) all the masthead names sound white, and all the author names on the website are or sound white, I'm probably not going to bother to submit to you at all.
  • Having a diverse editorial board or a diverse set of guest editors. Aside from the above issue, they'll make an effort to reach out to their communities if they understand that that's their job (no, you can't just tokenize an editor and watch her go. If your mag isn't diverse, she'll often just assume you only want white male writers and do her job that way.)
  • If you're successful in all this, your volume of submissions should increase. Go to ethnic and gender studies departments at your local universities and pick up an extra, slush-reading intern there. Put the intern's name on the masthead. Let your intern know that their expertise in ethnic/gender studies is needed and they should point out any boneheadedness in editorial decisions if they see it.
  • Having an editorial mission statement and a strategic or business plan whose language fundamentally reflects a deep commitment to diversity.
  • Being advocated for in the community by a diverse set of respected writers. (Yes, when one of us has been published by a market, we DO immediately go out and tell our peeps to submit there. When one of our respected leaders tells us this stuff, we particularly prick up our ears. And when an editor buttonholes one of us and says "How do I get [your folks] to submit to [my magazine/house]?" without sticking their feet in their mouths, we do go straight to Facebook and post a link.)
  • Having a "usual round" of in-person visits to open mics, reading series, classrooms, etc that are in diverse communities, so you're "touching" minority writers all the time.
  • When you request work from big name writers, hit up women writers and poc as often as you can. This is not to fill out your minority quota with big names, but rather to use the big names to entice emerging marginalized writers to submit to you.
  • Be constantly reading marginalized writers. Duh.
  • This is whole 'nother blog post, but start actively (and savvily) marketing your books/magazines to marginalized communities. It's a cycle: if they're reading it, they'll want to submit to it. If they're being published in it, they'll want to read it. Rinse, repeat.
Yeah, as I've said before, it's a lot of work. And you do have to change the way you do that work in the first place. But if you want actual diversity and not just lip service and real frustration, this is where you start.

January 17, 2010

Show Of Hands

Which of youse writers actually wad up paper and toss it away as you write? How many of you actually write a few lines on a piece of paper, sigh, tear it out of your notebook, wad it up, and toss it on the floor?

Anyone? Anyone?

January 11, 2010

Has Chuck Jumped the Shark?

I'm worried that "Chuck" has jumped it. At the end of last season, the Intersect 2.0 downloaded kung fu and other spy skillz into Chuck's brain. This clearly threw off the balance of the show, in which Sarah had all the spy skillz and looked good and always saved Chuck's ass, and Chuck had the brain, and came up with last minute clever solutions as well as having all the intel. It worked.

Now that it seemed Chuck wouldn't need Sarah to save him anymore, the whole balance would be thrown off. So instead, they made him "more emotional" so that his emotions would get in the way of the Intersect working. In practice, this means that his personality, always right on the edge of whiny, goes right over the cliff into fully annoying. Whereas before he would almost mess up and then pull it out when things got tough, in the first two episodes of the new season, he keeps fucking up by injecting his emotions into the situation at the most inappropriate times. It's not funny. It's annoying. And it's inconsistent with his character.

I could barely make it through those two episodes. I'll keep watching, but they're going to have to come up with a better way to keep balance. They want to have their cake (Chuck gets to kick ass) and eat it too (but he still stays nerdy.) But the point of that proverb, or whatever it is, is that you can't have both.

Also, Zachary Levi looks as insanely toothy and handsome as ever in interviews, but he doesn't look that great on the show. Is it the cheezy smile he keeps displaying? Bring the handsome, helpless nerd back!

January 10, 2010

Peeved Reading Update with SPOILERS

Things That Drive Me Mad In Fiction, Episode 56,902:

I can't stand it when the stakes are really high, and a character makes a totally obvious rookie mistake, just because the author doesn't want to have to write an extra few pages to get them through it. Like when their enemy serves them food or drink and they hesitate, thinking it might be drugged, and the enemy says, "It's not drugged," and they just take their word for it.

Right now the one that made me put the book down for a while in sheer frustration is in Cinda Williams Chima's The Dragon Heir. The heroine has her younger brother and sister taken hostage by an evil wizard, who wants her to do something for him. He says he's stashed them someplace she'll never find if she kills him. She asks him how she's supposed to know that they're still alive and he says he's keeping them alive for leverage. And she just takes his word for it.

Of course, later they'll turn out to be still alive, because this is that kind of book, but it'll be too late for me because I've already lost my respect for her and for the author. Argh!

I also hate when there's a simple explanation that can prevent all kinds of trouble and misunderstandings and the character doesn't make it. SOOOO unrealistic. Real people spend all their time explaining; they'll shout you down to give you their explanation. We're all excuse-givers. But there's a part in the book where one of the many bad guys is trying to seduce this heroine's family by enticing the brother and sister with horseback riding. The heroine says no, they can't go horseback riding, but for some inexplicable reason, utterly fails to tell her younger siblings that the guy offering them the rides is the same one who has been causing their family serious trouble for over a year now. Instead, she just weakly gives in to their pleading. Why? There's no reason not to just tell them! There's no reason to give in on this one! It makes no sense!

In other bad news, the bad wizard puts a slave collar that only he can take off around the neck of a girl wizard, forcing her to do stuff for him. She goes into a sanctuary area, where he can't use the collar to hurt or kill her, but still does stuff for him! And she, again, utterly fails to tell anybody inside the sanctuary that the reason she's working for the bad wizard is that she has a slave collar on, even though they all know she's working for the bad guys. What the hell? Everyone knows that as long as she stays inside the sanctuary she's safe. So why wouldn't she tell them she has it on? If they help her while she's in the sanctuary, then there's nothing the bad wizard can do. Totally stupid and pointless! Argh!

Also! Everybody in this one family is magical except the mom ... SO THEY DON'T TELL HER ABOUT THE MAGIC! FOR NO REASON! UNTIL THE VERY END!

But the worst thing is that Chima invented a really interesting character in book two, who's interesting because he has strength of character, but not any strength of magic. So in book three he's useless, having no strong magic, and runs around the entire book being annoying because he feels useless. Then! Then! Chima proves to us that he's useless by killing him off! Damn! If your own creator thinks you're useless ...

Okay, wrap up to the trilogy: first book (The Warrior Heir) good, second book (The Wizard Heir) less good but more interesting, third book (The Dragon Heir) too many characters, too little common sense, a hot mess. Overall: a decent fantasy, but a little too cartoony. The bad guys are just bad. They have no real reason for being so. The magical world doesn't intersect at all with the real world in any way, even though they keep saying it does. And pretty much everybody's white. Yak.

January 02, 2010

What To Get Me: Geographical Shot Glasses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2009

Reading Update & Resolution

I just read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Yes, I'm far behind. It was published seven years ago. Yes, that's how long it took me to get past my now-entrenched contrarianism. Yes, I'm that bad: if a book is being hyped, then I simply won't read it. It takes something as deeply in-tune with all of my priorities and isshooz as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to get me around the contrarian thing and actually reading the hyped boox.

And no, I didn't have an epiphany reading The Lovely Bones that caused me to realize that by being contrarian I was missing wonderful boox like this one. The Lovely Bones just wasn't that great. In fact, it's a perfect example of one of those boldfaced lie family melodramas in which everyone is a good guy, and everyone, even though they make mistakes, does it for the most noble and loving of reasons. The book proposes a universe in which there is an organized Heaven (which is problematic for me right there), in which Everything Eventually Is Okay, in which families always love each other, even when they fuck each other up (the serial killer's mother loved him, she was just crazy), in which dead people get a chance to fulfill their whatevers before they move on, in which the people dead people leave behind wait around and don't move on until the dead people are ready for them to, blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, and much was made of how this book, that came out soon after 9/11, touched a nerve in American society. You bet it touched a nerve: it told us exactly the kinds of soothing lies we needed to hear about death: that death is always meaningful, that lives are always meaningful, that trauma can be overcome (even after you're dead) and it's your fault if you don't overcome it, that you will live on after death, and that all of your fantasies about being loved and missed after death will come true, and then some.

Also, the whole literary writing style thing? After about the midpoint of the book, it seems the book wasn't edited that well, because there are whole paragraphs where you can't tell who the subject of the sentences is, or what's going on at all. But, of course, it's all Beautifully Written.

What I DID realize was that contrarianism isn't protecting me from this kind of drivel. Sturgeon's Law applies across the board, unless you're reading only canon classics and prize-winners (and even then.) What I AM missing is a big part of the public discourse on literature. I realize that much of the public discourse on literature is about drivel, and taking drivel seriously. But I do need to know what drivel is being taken seriously and why. So my new resolution is to read the biggest hyped books every year. I'll wait to the end of the year to find out which ones were the biggest hyped, but I'll read them. This includes the "literary" stuff (was The Lovely Bones considered literary?) and the Dan Brown/Stephenie Meyer stuff.

Sigh.

November 17, 2009

Oh Yes!

November 16, 2009

The New "Life's Too Short" Rule of Consumption

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.

November 07, 2009

NaNoFailMo

Argh! My NaNoFiMo has fallen apart already!

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.

October 25, 2009

Lost in Battlestargate: Voyager

So, I've gotten addicted to the new Stargate: Universe series, and, just as quickly, started losing interest in it.

It steals storytelling and camera styles from the BSG playbook. Don't mind that. But there's no actual characterization involved. The much-touted lesbian Ming Na character didn't actually turn up a single characteristic until episode five. Her personality point? Craven manipulativeness. Ah so, Madame Ming Na!

Also, the black character is an out of control, violent brute who first shows up imprisoned, emphasis on "prison". But With A Heart Of Gold Of Course! And the high-status white girl? A slut. A slut who sleeps with one man while using another (the requisite Seth-Rogan-a-like Mary Sue geek.) The other two white women? A hot blonde whose hair never gets out of place, and tough cookie with huge bazoombas, who is first seen fucking the same guy the high-status slut later fucks. Oh and that guy? He's the honorable, young, white lieutenant we all love. Plus, this universe is full of wives who stay at home and reject their honorable, white husbands, or are too dependent on their honorable white husbands so that they fall apart when they die, or who die themselves, driving their formerly honorable, genius, white husbands mad (potentially.) But what else would a woman do? Unless she's a dyke, of course, or a slut?

Also: the good colonel is a white guy and teh bad colonel is Lou Diamond Phillips.

The good news: an early conversation between the hot blonde and Ming Na puts the Bechdel Save on this series. Unless it's just a setup for them to have hot lezbo secks. The bad news: see above.

Plus, did I mention? No characterization. We have a volatile genius scientist guy who may be manipulating everyone and everything and may have put them all out in space in the first place (Dr. Longhair, I know Gaius Baltar, and you, sir, are no Gaius Baltar.) We have an honorable, white captain leader type. (Sir, I know Captain Picard and you are no Captain Picard.) We have the honorable lieutenant (see above), we have the supposed hottie all the guys are starting to want (the not-so-hot and very annoying Senator's daughter, but high-status!), we have the dykey, cowardly, Asian bureaucrat, we have the scary, violent black soldier, we have the potentially dykey hot blonde medic (Ma'am, I know Izzy Stevens and you are no Izzy Stevens), we have a bunch of ineffectual, white, male geeks (Sirs, I know Joss Whedon, and you are no Joss Whedon. Whedons), and ... uh ... yeah.

Characters? We don't need no stinkin' characters!

Is it sad that this is my best SF of the season?

September 15, 2009

Domestic Violence Is A Preexisting Condition

I often act outraged when I'm really just angry. But this is outrageous. Call your representative today and tell them to do something about it. Public Option Now!

September 08, 2009

Can't Afford To Wait For The Public Option

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.

August 14, 2009

Four Years in the Life of John Hughes, Fascist

(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 also, at the time, going to an all girls' school, 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.

Now, how do we wash away the Bush years?

August 11, 2009

Editorial Work Is HARD, Asshole!

Argh!

I wasn't gonna mix into this discussion (in fact, I've said pretty much all I thought I wanted to say before) but dude. Come on.

We're back to the stupid argument about whether editors just take what's coming in through the transom vs. what writers whom they've invited to submit have sent them vs. what they've read before. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Are those the only options? WHEN DID EDITORS BECOME SO FUCKING PASSIVE?

Okay, look, I come into fandom via "literary" fiction, not the other way around. And yes, a lot of lit fic editors are lazy fuckers, too. But the basic expectation over there is that you get work by:

  1. calling for submissions
  2. keeping up with your peers so that you know what other editors are publishing. This is so you know what's current in the field, but also so you know what's being overplayed, so that you DON'T publish that.
  3. research into new authors, works, and trends. That's what this post is about, so keep reading.
  4. inviting interesting writers to submit. You know who's interesting by keeping up with the field and doing your research.
  5. maintaining relationships with agents and writers and asking them to find or create specific types of work. This is more proactive than #4, which passively asks specific people to submit what they've already written or to submit what they want to write for your collection. #5 is about actively shaping what people write; and it gives you the opportunity to give writers new opportunities, and to push promising writers in new directions, if you are so inclined. This is a tactic used for books primarily, but can be used for themed anthologies as well (and is so used, frequently.)

What boggles my mind is not that SF readers are ignorant of the editorial process, but that the implication that has been coming out of this argument is that SF editors DON'T GO THROUGH ALL THOSE STEPS. Somebody please tell me I'm wrong about that!

Because "resting on the laurels of what you've already read" is not one of the above steps, and is not part of the editorial process. People who are experts in a field are chosen to, or permitted to, create anthologies because they have a strong background in the field that allows them to understand the new stuff that they're seeing, and NOT because they've already read everything they need to read to create an anthology. Anthologizing is hard work not because you have to read so much slush (get an intern to weed that shit out) but because of all that other work you have to do. And if you're not doing it, you're doing a piss-poor job.

So, to get down to the nitty gritty, as someone in Tempest's comments asked to do, how do you -- not "become a good editor" but -- change the way you do business so that your editing becomes more than an exercise in futility? Here are some steps:

  1. Go out an read diverse stuff. This is not hard. There is google. Go to google and look up "African American fiction anthology," "Asian American fiction anthology," "New Women Writers," "LGBT Fiction" etc. Check these books out of the library. Read them. Then pick the two or three writers whose stories you liked the most AND WHOSE STORIES YOU HATED THE MOST, and read a book each by them. Look them up on wikipedia and find out who their influences and mentors were and read a book each by them. Etc.
  2. Go to Wiscon, Diversicon, Gaylaxicon, whatever, and talk to people who don't look or talk like you. Ask them what they're reading and what they think you should be reading (the answer to these two questions will usually be different.) Take notes. Then GO READ some of what they told you to read.
  3. Send your calls for submissions out to all the people of color you know and ask them to forward it. Follow up with them a week later and ask them where they sent/posted it. Sign up for those lists/groups and follow up on those lists/groups a week later with a personal invitation from the editor to EVERYONE ON THE LIST to submit work. Also go here and send calls for subs to these folks and follow up. ALWAYS FOLLOW UP!
  4. If you are a real editor, then you live in a real city with real readings. Go to them. Ask around for the POC/LGBT/Women's/whatever readings and attend them. They will be mostly boring or painful. That's how it is. You have to dig for gold. Keep going. Every time you go, talk to two people you don't know, especially if they look like they're in charge or if they know a lot of people. Ask them to recommend other readings in the city you should see. Carry cards and call for subs fliers with you. EVERY SINGLE TIME you see writer you think is remotely good, hand them a flier. In fact, hand them to writers you don't think are that good either, and ask them to pass it around. Do this in every city you go to.
  5. Keep doing this. This is not a remedial course that will eventually finish, after which, you will now be diversified. This now how you do your job. Keep doing your job.

Yeah, sounds impossible doesn't it? Right? Right? I mean, who has time to do all that learning about writers and keeping up with writers when you have so much ... editing to do?

And before you ask, YES I HAVE DONE IT, not as an editor, but as a multidisciplinary arts curator. I did it for four years, spent four years going out almost every night to shows, talking to total strangers and asking them to send me stuff, designing and printing calls for submissions and handing them out everywhere, etc. etc. Yeah, it's a full-time job. That's why they call it "a full-time job".

As far as editing an anthology goes, I haven't done that, but it's akin to (but a lot more serious and long-term than) the work I put into creating a reading binder for a writing class. Class reading binders are about book-length, like a short anthology, and need to demonstrate a variety of writing techniques clearly. They also need to tell a variety of types of stories so the students have models of the types of stories they can tell, so that they aren't limited by the narrow scope of their current imagination (my writing assignments tend to focus on both content and form.) And, as a writer of color who generally teaches writing in the context of community antiracist organizations, I make it a point to make my binders diverse in terms of who is writing the stories, their point of view, and their content.

So, how do I do all of this? Dude. I read. A lot.

I ask my list-servs (I've been on a few writers' and readers' list-servs) and I ask friends that I know are readers and experts. And then I go online and look up reading lists, and go to Amazon and look up anthologies and then get them out of the library.  And read them. And mark them up with those bookmark post-its, so that I have stacks of books around the house that look like they're wounded and bleeding (because if a book was wounded, wouldn't it bleed pink paper?) These are books with subtitles like "An anthology of fiction about 9/11" and "New African fiction," and "Poetry About War."

And, here's the thing: I START OUT with, not a quota system, but a food groups scheme: this meal has to have meat, veg, fruit, grain, dairy. And it has to fit into another of my diversity categories: one of the formal ones, and one of the content ones. So I can't just grab at random one story each by an Arab, African, Asian, Latino, and Native American about their families. One of these stories has to be science fiction, and one has to be about war, and one has to have a sex scene in it, and one has to be a coming-of-age. One of these stories has to be in first, one in second, and one in third person. One has to be minimalist, and one has to contain a lot of lists, and one has to be written in lush, lyrical prose. Etc.

Yes, I start out there, with the categories, but I don't end there. Because the most important thing I talk about with my writing students is LIFE, or that mysterious something in a story that makes the whole piece of writing come alive for the reader. So, just any contemporary fiction by any Arab or Latino won't do. It has to get under my collar, whisper to me, pop, or just make me uncomfortable. It has to be alive. I'm fine if it's going to make the students angry, as long as it makes them feel something.

I made a spec fic reader for high school students once that included Jaime Hernandez' first few pages of his Locas series, and a story by Ursula Le Guin. I chose both of these because they were both from genre-changing writers, and because I thought the pieces were cool. The Locas piece baffled them: comic books weren't about Latina punk rock chicks arguing about their waitressing jobs and then becoming rocketship mechanics! WTF? And the Le Guin story, "Darkrose and Diamond," pissed them off. It was a sort of YA-ish coming-of-age story about a kid who had magic but chose to pursue his gift for music instead. His choice angered them incredibly because they were led to believe this was a story about the acquisition of a superpower, and instead the protag chose to ignore the standard reader wish-fulfillment.

These discussions, about stories that I thought they would love, became incredibly rich discussions about reader expectations, and the rewards and dangers of subverting them. The kids actually learned more than I intended to teach them. And at the end of the class, those two stories were the ones they remembered the best.

If I hadn't made a point of making that SF reader diverse, if I had just gone by the white, male classics, I might not have thought to include Jaime Hernandez, or even Ursula Le Guin. The point here is that when you go for diversity -- by setting up food groups or quotas, by going for work that has challenged you or others in the past, by taking a chance with something slightly outside the mainstream -- you often get more even than you thought you were getting. You often get a challenge you didn't realize was there, a subversion that hadn't occurred to you, a lesson you didn't know needed to be made.

Yeah, it's a shitload of work. And this is just the reader for a class. It's not an anthology for the ages. It's not going into libraries and personal collections. It makes no claim to definitiveness. Imagine how much reading you would have to do for that.

But that's the job, Asshole. And if you're not willing to do that much work, then don't make anthologies. THAT'S why people are so pissed off at Mammoth Mike Ashley, not because he's a white male, but because he didn't do his job, and the rest of us marginalized folks are gonna suffer, as usual, for it.

July 24, 2009

Check In

Haven't posted in a while. Was thrown off course by having to track down a NEW health problem (because I didn't have enough already.) But have probably cornered the sucker (doing the test tomorrow.)

Then there will be a week of diminishing fear, a week of understanding the treatment, a few weeks of getting used to it, all coupled with getting back on track with my exercise program.

So maybe in a month's time I'll be myself again. Or I'll be something, anyway.

July 14, 2009

I'm Teaching A Blogging Class (post #666)

Hey Bay Areans,

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 with wireless.

Cost: FREE
Minimum class size: 4

To register, please email ellen@kearnystreet.org with your full name and contact info.

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.

June 27, 2009

Reading Update and Check In

Argh! My writing time yesterday was hijacked by a FIVE HOUR MEETING that wasn't supposed to start for another two hours when I arrived at the cafe. ARgh.

I did finish reading Timmi's Alanya to Alanya two nights ago, and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next installment. Awesome (that is a comment, not a review. No-review rule holds.)

June 25, 2009

Cell Phone Assholes

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.

June 20, 2009

Up(Yours!)Dike's Rules for Book Reviewing (And Why They Suck!)

John Updike's Golden Rules for Book Reviewing, via (you'll have to catch this link quickly, since it forwards after a few seconds):

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?
  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

Okay, let's just be clear here: these are "golden rules" insofar as they are John Updike wishing reviewers would do unto him as he would have them do unto him. I know he wrote reviews himself, but he was primarily a fiction writer and had no benefit coming to him for developing a reputation as a strong and honest reviewer. Rather, the opposite: he had a stake in not pissing anyone in the industry off and in building goodwill among writers, publishers, and other folks with cookies.

I'm a writer as well, though a barely published one (no book yet, so no nasty reviews yet, so grain-o-salt it.) I also write reviews for my blogs and for more ... er ... legitimate venues. And I, openly, thoughtfully, and advisedly don't follow Updike's rules (with a few exceptions), even though I know it could hurt me as a writer in the long run. Here's why, point for point:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    Really? So if we've seen -- in the past decade -- twenty, or fifty, or two hundred debut novels by white, male writers in their late twenties about rediscovering their and their family's place in the universe by backpacking around ________ (fill in foreign locale here), we don't get to blame the 201st writer for not attempting anything different? That's bullshit. Book reviews are part of a larger conversation analyzing our culture by examining artistic and artificial products of that culture. The writer's choice of subject is absolutely fair game. If we're bored by a book not because it's horribly written but because it's the five-thousandth iteration of that particular subject -- stale, clichéd, and unoriginal -- the reader needs to know ... and we need to say so.

    Or to get more granular: if a writer chooses something hot-button and difficult as a subject and displays her huge blind spot in doing so, do we not get to point that out? Say she's writing about prejudice against the disabled in a city like, say, Oakland (to get really blatant) but there are no characters of color anywhere in her narrative. In Oakland. It's bullshit to say "she didn't want to address race so she left the POC out." You can't address anything in a mimetic scenario that in real life would include X, if you don't include X. And reviewers get to call writers on this.

    Maybe I'm laying too much weight on reviewing, but I consider it part of cultural criticism, which I consider to be something of a sacred trust (or a profane trust?) I consider cultural production itself a sacred trust: people talking to other people about what they think is important; telling stories about what it is in our society we should be paying attention to. If they leave stuff out, ignore stuff, or choose not to address stuff, they get to be called out for it
    , one hundred percent, you betcha.

  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

    Ar to the Gh. Seriously? This explains a lot about Updike and about how MFA lit fic is written. It's written so that it can be quoted, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph, in reviews! Think about it, folks. What's the point of writing (or reading) a 80,000-word work of prose if you can get an adequate "taste" of it in 50 words? Doesn't that basically tell you that the 80,000 words are written in (bo-ring) equal, like increments of 50-100 words? Why would anyone wanna read that?

    A book is long-form prose. It should not be quotable, that is: it should not be tastable via quotation. It should be so integral and complete a piece that you have to read the whole fucking thing to get a real "impression" of it. This is not to say that enjoyment -- "mouth feel" -- of the language is unimportant. It is, however, to say that insisting that a quotation be included will disadvantage books that were written as wholes, and not as excessively long and plodding and plotless prose-poems by people whose prose poetry would never be accepted as such by the poetry industrial complex. And, in my not-humble opinion, all books (excepting collections) should be written primarily as wholes, with the lovely language taking second priority to the integrity of the piece. (Unless, of course, the writer specifically chooses a project that deconstructs novel or book structure and focuses in on the moment of language, in which case the writer should be prepared to be called out for it.)

  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

    Again, this means that you can only describe the language of the book, and not character, structure, plot point, theme, setting, action, thought, or that indescribable something that animates (or fails to animate) the whole and makes it a living piece of art. The only things that are quotable in a review are small increments of language. You can't quote a plot, or confirm a plot by quotation. You can't quote a character, or confirm a book-length characterization by quoting a phrase. And, let's be clear: a characterization that can be confirmed by quoting a phrase? My people call it "stereotype."

    And "fuzzy precis?" Eat me, Updike. The typical review is 500 - 1000 words. You can't give anything but a general summary of a novel or book in that space. You just can't. The succinct precis is the reviewer's most basic tool, you tool. In fact, I would even say that the "art" of the review is being able to convey a sense of the book without having to hack up the book into pieces to do so. Casting contempt upon this "art" by referring to it as a "fuzzy precis" doesn't do anything. Reviewers won't, and can't, stop using it, and whole books will become no more quotable thereby. Asshole.

  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

    I mostly agree with this, but want to point out that Updike gives only the example of his own books being spoilered, and not having his experience of reading another's book spoiled thereby. That's pretty revealing.

  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

    No and no! Comparisons are odious! This is the one, specific place where what Updike said above -- about not calling out a writer for failing to do what he didn't attempt -- applies. My rule number one: DO NOT COMPARE INDIVIDUAL WRITERS AND DO NOT CALL OUT A WRITER FOR FAILING TO ACHIEVE WHAT ANOTHER WRITER ACHIEVED. This is the best way to encourage people to imitate one another: by implying that there is a correct way to do something and an incorrect way to do something. Saying "this writer's way of addressing the subject is correct, yours is incorrect" only sets up an orthodoxy. Writers should rather be critiqued purely on the successes and failures of their own projects, and not on how their projects compare to those of others. If someone tries something and fails, yes, say so. But with an eye towards how THAT SPECIFIC ATTEMPT could have been more successful, rather than with an eye toward how that specific attempt is wrong, but hey, look at this one!

    The only thing I agree with is this: "
    Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?" That goes double for me.

  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

    Yeah, yeah, fine. I can't really disagree with any of this. But I have to say, if a book fails to relay the "joys in reading," that needs to be said. Readers must become more discriminating through reading reviews. Readers must learn over time what makes a book ordinary, and what makes it challenging or interesting. They must be given a vocabulary they can use to talk about books. They must understand that some joys of reading, the ones they are always seeking, are not the only joys. They must learn that simply because a small joy may be discerned in a book, it doesn't mean that the book is worth reading. And they must ultimately learn that every mediocre book that is published, reviewed, bought, and read, means very specifically that another, much better book will not be published, much less read. Readers must learn how to improve the publishing economy for good writing, and poison the publishing economy for bad writing.

May 11, 2009

Can We NOT Do Racefail Again, Please?

I'm sticking my head out of its hole here (please note: my head is NOT wearing its CBS hat) to make a plea ... and realizing that I'll probably either get ignored, or get my head bitten off. This plea goes out to my fellow active and activist PoC and white antiracist SF/F fans. Anyone who doesn't fit this description, please refrain from commenting below (I will probably delete you.)

Apparently, Patricia Wrede has written an alternate history YA in which American Indians/Native Americans simply never existed, replaced by magical mammoths. If you don't immediately see what's wrong with this, read this list of links. (I also surfed through from this post and found a buncha stuff that wasn't on the links post above.) The posts linked often link to further reading, so go knock yourself out surfing.

Okay. I, for one, think this list of posts offers a perfect summation of what the problem with Wrede's premise is. What I'm asking for now is for PoC and white antiracists to take a REALLY DEEP BREATH ... and to fail to have a massive, collective, monthslong comment thread freakout like the one that happened this January/February/March/April (a.k.a. RaceFail '09.)

I know you guys are tired of it. We all are. I know the ignorant and vicious attempts to block and derail discussion are making you crazy. But responding to them in comments didn't do much good a few months ago ... and I think it'll do even less good now that the clueless are still smarting from the pileups at various whitepeople blogs which caused everyone to freak out and f-lock and delete their blogs and out each other's real identities and and and ...

What good did any of that do? What good will it do to go there again? The best thing that came out of RaceFail was a list of good, thoughtful posts about cultural appropriation that we can point out to people who want to be educated. Unfortunately, as much as people during RaceFail were linking to these great posts, they were ALSO engaging in increasingly angry comment threads with flamers and trolls who weren't interested in learning anything, and wouldn't have learned anything even if they were BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE DEFENSIVE, AS EVERYONE IS IN A COMMENTS THREAD BATTLE.

So my suggestion -- my plea -- is to avoid engaging in comment threads as much as possible. You can't argue someone out of their ignorance. You can only lead them to water and WALK AWAY, hoping they'll drink after you've gone. There are some links pileups starting already. Let's contribute to them, and then make some private pledges to simply link to the links posts in comments and NOT COMMENT FURTHER.

WisCon is a week and a half away. I DO NOT want to walk into WisCon wondering who has put themselves in the wrong now. I DO NOT want to have to navigate sudden, new schisms having to do with random ignorant comments-thread comments. We DO NOT have to use this opportunity to excavate every ignorant corner of our fellow SF/F fans' racial consciousness. Let's put the info out there and let them do what they want to with it.

(A suggestion: those of you planning your own blogpost about this, please consider closing comments, so that anyone who wants to respond cannot do so anonymously, but MUST respond by posting something on their own blog. This will cut down on a lot of opportunities for people to enrage you from the safety of anonymity. I'm leaving comments on this post open because I'm hoping we can discuss ways and means of NOT engaging in a RaceFail 1.5.)

*****

In other news, (putting my CBS hat on): the Carl Brandon Society is sponsoring a "Cultural Appropriation 101" class at Wiscon (Friday afternoon during The Gathering -- it will only take up part of the Gathering time, so you can still attend.) The class will be taught by Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond (both CBS Steering Committee members) and Cabell Gathman.

This will be a SAFE SPACE for anyone who suspects they may be missing some of the basics to come to and learn and discuss, and ask the questions you're afraid to ask for fear of being jumped on. We strongly recommend that anyone who feels a little shaky in the basics, or who doesn't agree with what a lot of PoC are saying about cultural appropriation, come and attend this class BEFORE going into any panels on race or cultural appropriation. Forearmed is forewarned.

May 06, 2009

Today's Linguistic Pet Peeves

predominately: I've been seeing this one in newspapers! Folks, it's predominantly. Two different words: to predominate, which is a verb, and predominant, which is an adjective. You get the adverb by adding an "ly" to the adjective. I don't know how to make this one any clearer; it gets to the heart of the logic of parts of speech. "Predominately" makes no grammatical sense. That is all.

shrunk and sunk: used as past tense, as in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, or My heart sunk. (The correct setences are Honey, I shrank the kids. and My heart sank.) Shrunk and sunk are past participles. The past tense form of each word is shrank and sank. Shrink shrank shrunk. I shrink the kids every day. Yesterday, I shrank the kids. In the past, I have shrunk the kids, but that time is over. Why does this bother me so much? No idea.

May 05, 2009

So The First Thing I Do?

After declaring a daily blogging month? Is to forget to blog the very next day. Yay me.

April 14, 2009

Was Today Such A Poor News Day?

Oh my god, who cares?

April 07, 2009

The Gross-out Dolls

Okay, I've been pretty ambivalent about the TV show Dollhouse, which, if you're unaware of it, is a Joss Whedon show about people whose memories are wiped so they can be reprogrammed as any type of character to help rich clients play out their fantasies. Gross, right?

I'm ambivalent because, although the show gives plenty of French-maid-lace-thigh-highs-my-perfect-girl moments, it DOES seem to be tending towards some sort of complexity about personality, memory, and ownership of self. Tending, I said, not actually building.

But then I was watching last week's episode on Hulu and this commercial for Target came on (see vid above and pay attention to the lyrics) and I'm so completely grossed out by it that I'm not sure I can watch the show anymore. The commercial was clearly designed specifically for the show, and has no faux-redeeming irony or humor in it at all.

Gross!

Also, the show isn't getting any better. Sierra, the fine-boned Asian chick, keeps getting more and more victimized. First she's raped by her handler -- who is then executed by hand for his crime, because delicate-boned Asian chicks are so precious and helpless that we need to commit extreme violence on the men who rape them -- then it turns out she was brought into the dollhouse by a guy she wouldn't sleep with, who has since had her every which way to Sunday.

Gorsh, this show is awful empowering! Ugh! I'm just grossed out right now.

There's been this real "true crime" style undercurrent of salaciousness to all of the evils the show is committing on the women characters. There's lots of frowning and moralizing around the women, even as the show depicts at least one over-the-top sexy outfit per episode. They just can't stop raping Sierra, and then wagging their fingers about it, or playing sad music every time Echo is wiped and wanders around looking blank ... and with her mouth slightly open in the primate signal for sexual availability ... remarkably like a supermodel in a Prada shoot.

And in the meantime, no one's bothering their godless heads over the men's loss of power and self ... in fact, the men are even made fun of: one episode revolves around Victor's crush on Sierra and how they have to track its progress by watching for his boners in the shower.

To summarize: women powerless and sexually available = delicious and sad ... and wrong! Men powerless and, er, available fer whatever = ridiculous and funny. Oh, and the one active that has escaped? A dude. Named "Alpha." Who's extremely violent.

Ugh. This show is just gross. I think I'm done watching.

April 05, 2009

Weekly Roundup: March 29 - April 4


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 violence continues.

I saw the William Kentridge show at SFMOMA last weekend and highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. Also saw the Nick Cave show at YBCA. Candylicious!

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.

Pireeni gave me Proust Was A Neuroscientist for my birthday (very belatedly) and I've started reading it.

Will do a sleep study next week.

That is all.

March 22, 2009

BSG Finale. Yawn.

Talk about no bang and not much whimpering.

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.

That is all.

February 28, 2009

The Glamorous Life

Here's yet another iTunes meme, via Gwenda. Yes, they're annoying, but I loves 'em. You're it!

***

My Life in Itunes

RULES

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.

4&5. Deleted the part about tagging people, so just do it if you like.

6. Have Fun!


IF SOMEONE SAYS 'ARE YOU OKAY' YOU SAY?

Warm Air Cooling JUDAH JOHNSON

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF

Bootie Intro EARWORM

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?

Let's Take a Ride JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?

Don't Stop Believin' in Planet Rock A PLUS D

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?

Bleeding Love LEONA LEWIS

WHAT'S YOUR MOTTO?

Bhangra Fever MIDIVAL PUNDITZ

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?

Si Me Prueba No Me Olvidas SAMY Y SANDRA

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?

Brrrlak! ZAP MAMA

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?

The Space Between ROXY MUSIC

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?

Alagemo THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?

Lizard Brain THE INVISIBLE CITIES

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

Better Together JACK JOHNSON

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?

In a State UNKLE

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?

Din Din ZAP MAMA

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR?

Wish Someone Would Care IRMA THOMAS

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?

Mercury KATHLEEN EDWARDS

WHAT DO YOU WANT RIGHT NOW?

Constellations JACK JOHNSON

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?

One for the Head M.I.A.

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?

The Glamorous Life SHEILA E.

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