228 posts categorized "personal"

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 24, 2009

Check In

Didn't work on the MS yesterday, but it's okay, because I spent my writing time thinking about what I posted about in my previous post, and that was a really, really important realization for me. I've been able to get granular about what setup I need to have to get writing again.

Really got rolling on the MS today and worked through probably about 60 pages (I didn't count) including the most sticky chapter of all, the one I know is completely wrong and out of character, but which needs to happen in some way for themes to get played out and for the character to get moving across the geography again. I figured out, in general, how I'm going to rewrite this, and it's good. It'll kill about three birds with one stone. I been killin' lotsa birds today.

I'm starting to get excited about finishing the editing phase and getting back into rewriting. Hope it's soon.

Good writing day. And now a friend is coming over with wine and we're going to have the awesome dark rye/fig/olive/nut crackers I got at Whole Paycheck and it'll be a good evening as well.

June 23, 2009

Creating Writers: MFA Industrial Complex

Via Barb, this article in the New Yorker, by Louis Menand, about the creative writing program.

One thing I've been realizing lately -- as I've been tamping down temptation to apply to a creative writing PhD program, despite my contempt for, even hatred of, creative writing programs -- is what the real purpose of a creative writing workshop is. In the past I've been too caught up in my anger at the workshop's uselessness to notice that the point of the workshop is not what happens in the workshop, but the existence of the workshop in whatever form. The lack of a universal program or vocabulary or set of concepts isn't the point. The existence of the workshop is the point.

Which is all by way of saying that the reason we have workshops is to give apprentice writers the structure to write.

That sounds simple, but it's immensely complex. When I was in my MFA program, I seemed to write enormous amounts (I estimated that in 3.5 years I probably spent about 5000 hours writing.) Being able to -- simply and easily and without thinking or agonizing -- sit down and write appeared natural and effortless. It has now been 3.5 years since I graduated, and the enormous difficulty I've had just sitting down and writing regularly has been ... instructive.

The MFA program is compelling; i.e. it compels you to follow its dictates. You've paid for it, you've applied for it, people are expecting things of you, and you must deliver. It is also immutable: it is what it is and it's up to you to fit yourself to it or get off the pot. So -- in subtle and blatant ways -- you reshape your life around the MFA program. You don't necessarily notice yourself doing this ... particularly if you're a single woman with no children who is changing jobs and apartments (for separate reasons) right around the time she starts school, as I was. But you do it.

You organize so that you have time to do your homework (which is writing). You organize so that you have time to do your reading for class. You organize traveling time to and from classes. And you find, slowly or quickly, ways to structure your working day so that the thought that goes into work doesn't interfere with the thought that goes into reading and writing. In doing so, you organize your world so that you can think about writing, or write, throughout most (or the majority) of your waking hours ... not to mention your sleeping ones.

My living/working situation during my MFA program was a perfect storm for writing. Everything I did after my MFA program was -- unintentionally -- a perfect storm of cluelessness. I took myself out of the Bay Area and away from any friends, support network, or artists community for six months, basically situating myself in a cultural and social desert for a half year, and somehow expected myself to be able to produce. I didn't produce.

When I returned, I moved to the East Bay, where my social and professional network wasn't, thereby ensuring that I wasn't surrounded by the inspiring presence of other people doing creative work. I took on a full-time office job that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, in a sector that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, thereby ensuring that the largest portion of my day was spent thinking about anything but writing, and doing everything but writing. I also, in the name of freeing up more time to write, cut myself off from most of my volunteerism and freelance work in creative and arts organizations, thereby ensuring that I had no easy and natural contact to creative communities, except what I cobbled together, meeting by meeting, through my social life.

My life in the 3 years after graduating from my MFA program was basically the opposite of an MFA program ... and the opposite of a writing life. And I did not write.

The one aspect of my former writing life that I could have slipped easily and unobtrusively into my nonwriting life was a weekly or monthly writing group or workshop. I had many opportunities to join a workshop, and did not: becausse of my contempt for workshops and the writing they produce, because of my need for a long break from group dynamics, after seven solid years of working in creative and cultural collectives and seeing those pitfalls firsthand. I was looking, as I said above, at what happened within a workshop. I wasn't looking at what happens around a workshop.

And what happens around a workshop is very simply that you write around a workshop. It gets you writing. It gets you to write.

MFA programs can't work without workshops because, for people to learn to write, they have to actually be writing and have recent writing to talk about. So the MFA programs have to have a way to ensure that everyone is actually doing constant, steady writing. Otherwise the discussions about writing will be silly and hollow.

But it's more than that. Because, more than anything, you learn about writing in an MFA program because you spend the whole time writing. Enormous amounts, in fact. Even if all your teachers are assholes and idiots, all your classmates are cretins, you'll still learn a lot from doing so much writing (and reading.) And the MFA program has to make sure you're doing that.

So a few conclusions:

  • MFA programs are still the best way we have to make sure that people who want to become writers shut the fuck up, sit down, and spend a couple, three years writing a lot. That means something very important.

  • Creative writing workshops are a great opportunity to do something cool with learning, but they don't have to take that opportunity. Because the classroom opportunity is not the point of the workshop: the outside-the-classroom coercion is the point.

  • If almost all writing -- that is, almost all writers -- come through creative writing programs, that simply means that we've found a really effective, regularized, and reliable way of creating writers. If the workshop seems a ridiculously simple way of conquering American letters, all I have to say is that it so obviously works that we need to stop yammering about it at that level. (And by that I mean that I have to stop yammering about it at that level.)

  • As Barb points out, the discussion around MFA programs loves to ignore the other structures and communities writers develop for themselves. I tend to think, based on nothing but anecdotal, personal evidence, that the writers who continue to write after their MFA programs are over, are the ones who use the MFA program to learn how to set up their lives to facilitate writing. They can do this by recreating the structure of their lives during the MFA, after the MFA. They can do this by connecting with a community in the program and keeping that community together after the program. Or they can do it by using MFA certification to join academia and make The Writing Life their paying job. However they do it, the MFA offers tools to create The Writing Life, which tools then become invisible after the MFA program is over.

    Writers like myself -- who indulged in magical thinking about MFA programs or MFA periods as times when The Writing Just Flowed like manna and ambrosia, and other things that rain from heaven without effort on the part of recipients -- are left gasping for air on the shore, refusing to just jump back into the water a few inches away. That is to say: I am mixing metaphors. That is to say: we stop writing when the MFA is over.

  • I need to get myself a writers group. Stat.

June 22, 2009

Write-A-Thong

I'm not participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon because I do other fundraising among my friends and family throughout the year and need to choose where I spend that energy.

But I think it's a great idea, both as a fundraiser, and as a writing initiative. So I made a private commitment to write every day during Clarion West-time. Today was my first day. Officially it started yesterday, but Clarion West officially starts the night before classtime starts when the first instructor is introduced, and NOT when your writing needs to start. So I took advantage.

Anyhoo, I'm going through a printed out MS of da nobble right now, editing. And by "editing," I mean both line-editing and hefty, more structural stuff. When I'm done with this phase, I'm taking the heavily marked up MS back to Scrivener and doing the rewrites there. After this rewrite, I think I'll actually be ready to show it to some first readers.

I'm hoping this phase will be done by the end of the Write-A-Thong. But I'm not holding my breath. Will make an effort to post daily about my progress but, again, no breath-holding.

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.

June 16, 2009

Breakin' Up Iz Hard 2 Do, Part II

So what I wanted to do -- about a month ago now, in the weeks leading up to WisCon, when I was considering "breaking up" with the antiracist blogosphere as a result of RaceFail and MammothFail -- was write a series of posts about how antiracist action online actually works, and why I have problems with it.

But a number of things intervened.

*****First, right before WisCon, Al Robles, an elder in my Bay Area Asian American activist community, died suddenly. His family organized a memorial event and I was asked to help, so I took over volunteer coordination for the six-hour event. The event took place at the venue where we had staged the Asian American arts festival I ran for its first few years; being there as a coordinator reminded me of that work and of the atmosphere of common purpose and mutual help that can arise out of creating a "real world" racial community. It also reminded me that I had a real world community in the first place, that I had been neglecting, partly in favor of my online stuff.

Also, being at Manong Al's memorial really made me think a lot about Al. The sort of elder whose memorial event draws thousands of people, requires ten tables to hold all the food, and has trouble restricting the stories, poems, and testimonials to six hours, is a very particular person. Al was a leader, not in that he put himself and his agenda first, nor in that he had great managerial skills he used to organize people. Al was a leader by example. He was everywhere he needed to be to get the work done. He was physically there; he put his hand on your arm when he saw you. He knew everyone in the community because he talked to them, partied with them, and remembered them whenever he saw them next. He never lost his interest in individuals, never lost his excitement about the new (and old) things people were doing, never failed to connect the creative life (he was a poet) with the activist life, and the activist life with the good life.

The consideration that makes my eyes well up, both in love for Al and in shame for my own failures, is the memory of Al as someone who always gave respect, gave face, to everyone, from the most snot-nosed, fist-pumping teenager, to the oldest, out-of-commission elder.  He made you want to earn the respect that he gave you unconditionally. He loved whatever it was that you did. Thousands of people turned out to say goodbye to him because people like that are so rare.

It makes me really think about who is going to take over for Al. Less than two years ago we lost another elder, Manong Bill Sorro, who had a similar role in the community as Al Robles, had a similar way with people, although the two were very different. As I said, these people are rare. Manong Al and Manong Bill were my touchstones in the community and now that they're both gone, I'm all out of touchstones. They were it for their generation. Who will be it for my generation?

I'm not that kind of person, but I can try to be more of that kind of person. I don't have to be the Manong Al or Manong Bill of my generation, but I think we can split up those duties a little more evenly, especially if we believe in community and continuation. But to do that, I have to get off the fucking internet and get my butt down to where the community is.

***** Second, I went to WisCon. Given the atmosphere surrounding RaceFail and then MammothFail, I was expecting WisCon to be emotionally fraught, stress-filled, and conflict-ridden. Instead, what I found was that there were more POC there than ever before, and that the POC there were organizing, coming together, and also connecting outside the POC community with a confidence and interest and even joy that I hadn't seen at WisCon before.

I realized that the online fights that had stressed me out so much, make my stomach tie up in knots and feel like all was sick with the world, had energized a lot of other folks. I was forcibly reminded of how I felt eleven years ago, when I first joined battle -- in a very limited and constrained way -- with folks online on the multiracial list-serv and the Asian American writers list-serv I joined. It was energizing; it did make me want to do stuff. And, because I was in San Francisco, I just went right out and did stuff: joined orgs, started programs, etc. It was a wonderful cycle of discussion and action: I discussed ideas online, and then took those ideas out into the real world and acted on them.

Of course, the energizing aspect of the arguments and sometimes fights had a limited efficacy. They were only energizing as long as they were still new to me, and still had something to teach me about that particular way of viewing the issues. Once I had been through the cycle of argument once or twice (and had experienced intelligent, articulate opponents who just plain didn't listen to you) the argument stopped energizing me and started to stress me out. Eventually, I had to quit the two list-servs, and I didn't miss them much when I had. That was mainly because the people I "knew" on the list-servs were just usernames. I was also spending time with folks in meatspace and many of those folks are still my friends; I'm not still friends with a single person I interacted intensely with online at that time, even the people I met in person and tried to work with there. But what I got out of those discussions didn't go away. The results -- the ideas and ability to articulate arguments -- stayed with me.

***** Third, I went back to Berlin, where I spent much of my twenties, and saw a lot of my friends, ten and fifteen years later. I saw that my friends had taken one of three tracks: folks who hadn't quite gotten started on a career and were still struggling to figure out where to go and what to do; folks who had started a career, then started a family and were now negotiating the limitation on their career that a young family imposes; and folks who were well into a creative career, some simply moving forward and others wondering if they wanted to stay on this track or make an adjustment.

I'm with the last group. I've spent the last decade plowing ahead full steam in ethnic-specific arts and culture, and I've accomplished much that I'm proud of. But I've definitely reached a point where I'm trying to make an adjustment in my direction, and that's a difficult thing to do. While in Berlin, I got a rare perspective on where I am in life, by seeing my peers dealing with being in that same place. And I think I can take this adjustment more quietly -- be less manic and bewildered about it -- and focus in. I think that's the key: letting some options go, and focusing in on what's most important to me.

*

I came back to online antiracism a few years ago with my interest in speculative fiction, and with working with POC SF communities that I had connected with through Clarion West and WisCon. And the community here is wonderful, and vibrant, and full of energy and purpose. I've learned a lot from reading blogs, and getting into discussions ... and even from some of the less pleasant fights I've gotten into. Some things I've learned couldn't have been gotten at another way.

But there are also problems with it ... and it was my intention to tease out those problems in a series of posts, as I said above. But after Al's memorial, and after WisCon, and after my visit back to the site of my young adulthood, I think I'm realizing that I don't need to do that right now. What I'm feeling is particular to me and my situation. Maybe down the road I'll have some perspectives that will be useful to someone else, but I don't think I do right now.

I've been upset and angry at an argument that I've heard too many times before that doesn't have the power to inspire me anymore, but that doesn't mean that this discussion isn't inspiring anyone else to new and great things. I think I'm probably best off shutting up and getting out of the way.

*

One thing I do want to clarify: when I said in an earlier post that the best thing that came out of RaceFail was the smart posts published early in the incident, a few outraged people pointed to Verb Noire (which has just announced its first publication, which makes me want to pee with excitement) as a direct result of RaceFail. I was surprised by that perception. Having been involved in so many start-ups (APAture, Hyphen, the San Francisco Hapa Issues Forum chapter, the now-defunct Digital Horizon afterschool program) and seen so many from a peripheral viewpoint, it's second nature to me to assume that any start-up or initiative has its roots in longstanding dreams and long planning processes ... that then come together around a particular opportunity.

Yes, I believe that RaceFail brought on a convergence of a number of things that led to Verb Noire being launched right then, but I don't believe that without RaceFail there would have been no Verb Noire. (Please tell me if I'm completely wrong here; I have no telepathic connection to the publishers, and no idea what specifically got them going.) Furthermore, I'd be worried if I really thought that RaceFail was the only or main impulse to starting Verb Noire. Last straw, yes; main thrust, no. It's a terrific project, coming at the right time, but it's larger than just RaceFail. The language and direction of the project already seems larger -- seems to fill up a space that has to do with more than just a failure of the general SF community to understand cultural difference and appropriation.

Basically, until it was pointed out to me, I didn't connect Verb Noire directly with RaceFail. RaceFail to me is just an incident: an incident that got drawn out way too long and produced some good writing, some bad writing, and a lot of bad feeling ... but still just an incident. Verb Noire is ... an organization, a long-term program, an institution of new perspective in the making. The two are bound up together, certainly: all good organizations, programs, institutions have their roots in unacceptable circumstances, or ongoing failures, and series of incidents that demonstrate these circumstances and failures.

But the two are distinct. One is discussion; the other, activism. For me, there does come a time when the discussion that inspires activism starts to get in the way of activism, and I have to opt out of direct discussion for a while.

*

I don't know what this means for me on a practical level. I have an online presence that takes some work to maintain and that brings me a lot of pleasure, aside from other things. But it also, I have to admit, sucks too much time away from my writing and my working in my community. I might have to cut back on being present online for a while, but I'm not sure how or how much. I'm not making any quick decisions.

I have no conclusions yet, no declarations to make. I think I'm going to be reading less from blogs, and participating less in any sort of online discussions in this area for a while. But at this point, I'm just thinking out loud.

June 13, 2009

"Not Too Soon" Demo

Interesting early version of one of my favorite songs from the early nineties.

June 12, 2009

First Book Trailer!

Wow! I'm super proud of this book trailer we produced for Kaya Press (Sam Arbizo did the work.) After having a look at the field, it seemed there was a lot of room for improvement. What do you all think?

(By the way, I'm still working on some longer posts. Just recovering from jet lag and getting back into the swing.)

June 02, 2009

Reading Update

Still in Berlin. Still on vacation. Still not ready to grapple with topics undertaken.

Just finished Distances: A Novella by Vandana Singh, which I picked up at Wiscon. Almost finished The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor, but had to give it to my niece. Will have to buy another one to finish it when I get back. ;)

Distances interesting and rather lovely here and there. Feels like rather standard SF, but there's nothing wrong with that. I like the experiment with describing the art of mathematics. Not always successful, but fun to watch.

Now reading other Aqueduct Press offerings. We now return to our regularly scheduled vacation.

May 25, 2009

atlas(t) Now On Twitter!

Just created a twitter feed for my mapping blog atlas(t). It's at atlastweet.

May 13, 2009

Al Robles Memorial On Sunday

For those of you who knew -- or knew of -- Al Robles, and who are in the Bay Area, please come down to his memorial event this Sunday:

WHEN: Sunday, May 17; 12 - 5 PM

WHERE: SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan Street (btw. 8th & 9th) in San Francisco

WHAT: A community memorial for poet and activist Al Robles. There will be readings, performances, and testimonials from folks from all eras of his life. Plus food and drink.

VOLUNTEERS: We'll need a lot of people to help out. If you'd like to volunteer, please contact me at claire at the domain of hyphenmagazine with a dot com.

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 10, 2009

Blogfail Excuse

Yesterday's blogfail was NOT MY FAULT. I was nowhere near a computer between 9 AM and 11 PM, and you can imagine how much that 14-hour deprivation exhausted me. ;)

I was squiring Brian Castro around San Francisco, which was really fun. My inner tour guide got to come out to play, big time. I was probably having more fun than Brian. Then he read at Writers With Drinks (second Saturdays, for anyone who comes to the Bay Area, it's not to be missed) and I drove him straight to the airport. Well, not straight. I took the wrong freeway initially. Annoying.

Anyway, I'm tired out today and have nothing to say and am planning on spending the whole day, minus some exercise time, on the couch watching Smallville. So there. More interesting stuff (I hope) next week.

May 08, 2009

Busy Today


Brian 1 color300dpiWofford2

Brian Castro and Jenifer Wofford in conversation tonight at SomArts.

Now I have to go pick up Brian from the airport. Will be a headless chicken today.

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.

May 03, 2009

Daily Blogging

Okay, I've been watching my friends who took on the daily blogging thing in April, and I've been really enjoying what they've been coming up with.

Also, I tried out a month's worth of weekly roundup posts and I didn't like them. They don't feel like proper blog posts and I don't feel any satisfaction at doing them.

So I'm going to start blogging every day for a while and see where that leads. Let's give it the month of May.

April 29, 2009

Traditional Immigrant Story

Shipping_routes_national_interest

Pacific shipping routes.

This is just one thread, but it's confusing, so pay attention.

Great-great-grandfather went to San Francisco to pluck duck feathers and carve candles. Great-grandfather didn't join him in the States. Why? It's possible that, returning to Zhong Shan, Great-great blew all the money he had saved on gifts and banquets and couldn't afford to bring his only son over. Another possibility is in the timing: Great-grandfather would have been only 14 in 1882, so perhaps it would have been impossible for him to go, son of a duck-plucker that he was.

Older Cousin, who was going to Costa Rica in 1885, got off the boat too soon and had to establish himself in Colon, Panama instead. Import/export/retail. Cousin offered to pay young Great-grandfather's way to Panama. Skip Ahead.

The year the Canal construction began, now rich enough to support two families, Great-grandfather got a new wife, Great-grandmother, and brought her out to Panama. With three children, and Grandfather on the way, the family moved to Macau, the Portuguese colony off of Hong Kong. Two years later they returned to Panama. Don't know why. Move on.

Great-grandfather and Co returned to Macau in 1922 following his retirement, then Grandfather:

  • studied engineering in Indiana,
  • taught math in Shanghai, where he met Grandmother (who was from Hong Kong, but that's a whole other thread,)
  • settled in Hong Kong until the Japanese invaded,
  • worked for the Chinese nationalist government in Chong Qing until the communists came down,
  • went back to Hong Kong,
  • retired to Vancouver, Canada, and died there.

Which brings us to Mom. She grew up entirely in Hong Kong and mainland China, went to the States to go to graduate school and married there. ... Or something like that.

So my question: if the family makes a good faith effort to return to country of origin, does it all reset? Does Mom get to be a traditional immigrant?

Familypicture

Grandfather is fourth from the far right, last row, holding Youngest Uncle. Mom is seventh from the far right, last row. Oldest Uncle is first on the far right, standing, Second Uncle is seated fourth from the right in front. Grandmother is second row from the top, second from the far left. The rest is family.

For the Joy Luck Hub blog carnival, which I'm running over at Hyphen blog. If you're of Asian diasporic extraction, please submit your 300-word immigrant story, which is NOT like The Joy Luck Club!

April 25, 2009

Weekly Roundup: April 19-25

I need chocolate.

Had lunch with Karen Tei Yamashita this week. She's awesome. She writes speculative fiction, but isn't in that world, so I had a great time throwing titles at her head and then lending her books. She filled me in on a decade's worth of book publishing gossip over Ethiopian food. Fun!

Freaking out about the Kaya Press author tours and the two weeks worth of publicizing I lost in there because I couldn't sleep. Sunyoung is at the Association for Asian American Studies conference in Hawai'i, and Patty is in New York, so communication is slower than usual. But one of our authors came in this week! And we're off and running next week. Argh! Too fast!

I'm sleeping now, for some reason. At the suggestion of my massage therapist, I started sleeping with a rolled up towel behind my neck to tilt my head back. It can't be that simple, can it? Must buy a shaped memory foam pillow. Still freaking out. Plus, went to the doctor this week and found out I definitely DON'T have sleep apnea, and nobody knows HWAT's wrong with me.

Saw Vin Diesel's new bad movie with Jaime. Really enjoyed it. Absolute fluff, nothing to analyze, but the car chases were exciting and fun.

The chicks are out around Lake Merritt. The baby birds, I mean. I saw two Canada goose chicks today, each one with its own set of parents. I wonder if the Canada geese lay in batches or only have one at a time. Wikipedia sez batches. They were hella cute! Did you know Canada goslings are yellow? That's right! Like larger versions of chick'n chicks with dark smudges on the down and longer legs. Very cute. Also saw two young seagulls ... not so cute.

Interesting article in Salon about eating organic and cheap: can it be done? Interestingly, yes, but you still need two privileges: flexible time schedule and cooking skills. I hadn't thought about the cooking skills part as a privilege, but of course, you have to have a kitchen at all, plus one with all the right pots and pans and equipment, to learn to cook properly. No, actually, you don't. I'm still remembering the best meal we had in China in 1983, which was a 13-course feast cooked by our host's 18-year-old son on two gas burner rings, a pot, and a wok. Of course, he DID have the flexible schedule and the cooking skills, though.

I'm a little tweaked about this racial Fatal Attraction knockoff called Obsessed. Not going to see it, but I'm bracing myself for the inevitable online onslaught. I already googled it and one of the top entries was from a white woman blogger, who goes out of her way to tell us she's blonde, screaming about the racism directed against blonde white women by black people. No, I'm not gonna link to it. She's already getting too much attention for it. Also, the comments would raise your blood pressure and I don't wanna do that to you.

What else? Not much else percolatin', although a lot is going on. Have a good week!

April 17, 2009

On Bullying

While I appreciate efforts like this one to bring attention to bullying, particularly bullying that happens around homophobia and other prejudices, I think the organizers are still missing some essential points about bullying, how/why it happens, and how to stop it. (Not surprising: many very smart commentators are missing the point.)

"-Isms" like racism and homophobia are one issue, and bullying is an entirely separate issue. You can address an "-ism" effectively and still have terrible, soul-shattering bullying. (Likewise, you can stop bullying and still drive people to suicide with your prejudice.) The "day of silence" and similar efforts are doomed to only partial success, or outright failure, because they conflate homophobia (or prejudice) with bullying behavior, and assume that addressing prejudice among school-age kids will stop the bullying behavior.

It will not.

***
I was always an unpopular kid in school--precocious (put in school a year early), nerdy, outspoken, uncontrolled ... and multiracial. I was occasionally bullied in grade school, but I went to a small parochial school where everyone knew everyone. I was a nerd, but I was their nerd, and god help anyone from outside the school if they wanted to talk down to me.

So it wasn't until we moved to Ohio when I was ten that I encountered really bad bullying. The school was public, and bigger--30 kids per homeroom and two homerooms--and the neighborhood was all white except for us, one other Chinese family, and one other multiracial white/Japanese family. All the Asian kids were considered nerds. The boys started calling me names and harrassing me physically, and no one stopped them. So they kept doing it. Every day. All day long. For a whole year.

Now, when I say "no one stopped them," I don't mean that my parents didn't try anything. From what I understand now, they were on the phone to the principal almost weekly. At one point the school arranged to have one of those theater groups sent to our class to do a role-playing workshop around bullying. It was embarrassingly bad and actually helped me out only because for a week afterward we all spent our bullying time making fun of the theater group. No one (including me) connected the theater group to what was happening to me because their program was so divorced from reality that it didn't get any hooks into our actual behavior (the roleplay centered around taking someone's lunch money.)

At another point, the homeroom teachers suddenly introduced a new item into our curriculum: a family biography, in which we were to get our parents' help in writing a paper on where our families came from. Then a handful of us were asked to do a presentation in front of the class. Guess who was picked to do a presentation? And my family history is really very interesting, so everyone was interested and had a lot of questions for me afterwards. But it didn't stop the bullying because, guess what? The bullying had nothing to do with why I was different and everything to do with how my difference made me less socially powerful. Explaining why I was different was interesting for everyone, but didn't change the fact that I was less socially powerful.

In desperation, the school had me sent out of class while the assistant principal went up there and told the class point blank to stop harrassing me. That lasted about a week. Guess what happened then? When they started, tentatively, poking me again, and no consequences were forthcoming, we were soon back to a full-blown bullying schedule.

Early on in the year, the boys started calling me a "chink." That lasted for maybe two weeks and then stopped. I wasn't there when it was stopped, but in retrospect, I think some adult heard the boys calling me that, was horrified, and put an immediate stop to it. After all, racism was not tolerated at my school. At all. You really never heard any racial epithets at my school, very few racial jokes. Everyone revered them some MLK and Rosa Parks, which was made easier by the utter lack of any black people in a 10 mile radius of our neighborhood. So the "racist bullying" lasted for only two weeks and was effectively stopped. But the non-racist bullying lasted a year (until my parents pulled me out of the school) and intensified throughout.

No, they didn't need to call me a "chink" to make my life hell. They called me "dogie" when we sang cowboy songs in music class. They called me "Nebuchadnezzar" when we studied the ancient world. They'd just say my name in a really nasty voice. They didn't need to know why I was socially weak, they just needed to know that they could get away with tripping me, calling me names, spitting on me, pointing at me whenever somebody said the insult of the week. They just needed to know that the teachers and administrators didn't value my daily presence enough to punish, or even notice, the daily harrassment. They didn't need racism. They didn't need homophobia (early on, someone tried to call me a lesbo, but for some reason it didn't stick. I'm not sure if they were heard by a teacher, or if I was just so not bothered by that that it wasn't worth it. In either case, they didn't need it.) All they needed was to not be stopped. And they weren't.
***

Bullying is no more or less than a person or group of people with social power, expressing their social power over a person or smaller group of people with less social power. Bullying requires two conditions only:

  1. A social hierarchy in which varying degrees of social power are delineated;
  2. An immediate community in which bullying is considered acceptable.

If you have a situation in which both of these conditions exist, you WILL have bullying, regardless of the prejudices or social enlightenment of the group. A group of all white, straight boys, for example, who have been raised to tolerate racial and sexual difference will still bully within their group if the two conditions exist. Bullies do not need an "-ism" as an excuse.

The first condition is impossible to combat. Human beings of all ages will find ways to create social hierarchies. If you make kids wear uniforms to prevent them from using wealth as a measure, then they will structure the hierarchy not around what clothes you wear, but how you wear your clothes or how you behave. The socially powerful will set trends in how to color on your shoes with magic marker, or how high to roll up your pants cuffs, or which lunch dishes to eat and which to treat with disdain.

It is utterly pointless to try to dismantle hierarchies of social power. But you can change the way the hierarchies work, to make them livable. There are two things you can do: one is to create smaller social units (smaller homerooms, or mandatory club membership) so that every individual belongs to a unit small enough that their participation is necessary, and therefore valued. The other is to make sure that every member of each social unit has a role in the social unit that both suits them and is recognized as valuable by the whole unit. (For me, it was art. When my class discovered that I could draw well, suddenly I had my place and a small amount of respect. A couple of classmates actually commissioned me to paint portraits of their pets.) The powerless will still be low on the hierarchy, but they will not be considered expendable, and they will have a small measure of social power that they can leverage to negotiate better treatment.

The second condition is what really needs to be addressed, though. It is both mutable and extremely difficult to change. When a community decides that a certain type of behavior is unacceptable, and imposes consequences for that behavior, the behavior stops immediately. Look at how quickly the racist bullying was stopped in my case. My community had a huge stake in not seeing itself as racist, and would go to great lengths to stop the appearance of racism.

They didn't have any stake in stopping bullying, though. In fact, I think they relied on bullying, as most American communities do. Because societies rely on their members buying into conventional behavior to maintain stability. There aren't enough police in ANY society to patrol all unconventional behavior. Stability is achieved by getting people to police themselves. This can be difficult if you have to convince individuals to adhere to convention with good arguments and rewards. Punishing unconventional behavior is much easier. Bullying is the quick 'n' dirty version of policing the borders of conventions. The bullying punishes the worst offenders, and serves as an example for those who might consider straying. It's easy to do: just step back and let the bullies do their work.

And they will, because the socially powerful have many ways to express their power, and will use them all if left to their own devices, exercising power by:

  • using their social connections to connect disparate groups to each other (networking) or make resources available unilaterally (thereby making themselves indispensible to everyone);
  • selecting an elect group and rewarding that group with privileges;
  • offering their friendship as a favor to those of lesser status, and
  • withdrawing that friendship at their own whim to show that they can;
  • occasionally offering privileges to the whole community as an exercise of noblesse oblige;
  • setting activities and agendas for the whole community, particularly if they're fun or rewarding;
  • selecting an ostracized group and forcing the whole community to ostracize them;
  • squashing challenges to their authority on an individual basis, or empowering proxies to do so;
  • etc.

Only some of these exercises of power lead to bullying. There's no way to stop the socially powerful from being powerful or from exercising their power. But a community CAN get together and stop the bullying that results; i.e. certain exercises of power can be made unacceptable. This requires that the entire community be able to see the advantage to them of stopping bullying, and that the entire community participate in imposing consequences on bullies.

I don't recommend addressing bullying as a whole phenomenon, because it is so misunderstood. The simple fact that people still call bullying "teasing" is a testament to how misunderstood bullying is.

"Teasing" is to "bullying" as "sex" is to "rape."

Teasing is a general term for a method of communication -- a type of mockery that people use in social situations. Sex is a type of intercourse between people ... essentially a way of communicating or being together, or an activity that people share socially. Bullying is abuse that often leverages a kind of mockery that is similar in form to teasing. Rape is a violent crime that leverages sex as a method of coercion and humiliation. Just as rape uses sex to commit violence, bullying uses mockery to commit abuse. The point of both is an expression of power by the bully or rapist over the victim.

I think if you'd asked my bullies why they bullied me they couldn't have given you a terribly articulate answer. It wouldn't have had anything to do with race in their minds, although, of course, race is always a factor, especially in a neighborhood where the only people of color just happen to be the outcast nerds. No, they would have told you that I was a nerd, or a geek, or stupid, or didn't know how to behave. They would have a thousand ways to say it: I was was beyond the pale. What pale, they probably still don't know. But they could zero in on my, and everyone else's, relative power in our shared community. And I had the least power.

And if you ask kids at one of these homophobic schools where kids are bullied for their sexual orientation--or their perceived sexual orientation--you'll get a hundred variations on "he's a fag!" as a reason. But listen to the tone, watch the body language. The problem is not that "he's a fag!" What they're really saying is: "Because he's weak! Because I can!" And because no one has stopped them. Put a really effective gay-straight alliance in place and people will stop calling people "fags" and "lesbos." But the bullying won't stop.

I think, rather, that bullying has to be addressed piecemeal: by breaking up bullying into component parts and addressing each individually. Break it up into a set of rules that don't mention bullying, for example:

  • No name calling: of any kind. This includes making fun of people's names. Online or off.
  • No mockery of your peers. Online or off.
  • No ganging up on people. Online or off.
  • No practical jokes. Online or off.
  • No poking, pinching, hitting, kicking, punching, tripping or any kind of physical violence.
  • No spitting, squirting, or otherwise throwing anything on anyone.

If this sounds overly restrictive: it is, in a way. But it's very clear: these are the things you don't get to do. Find another way to be social with your peers. And it's very clear for the adults who monitor kids, too: you see one of these behaviors, you cut the kid from the herd immediately and put them in timeout. In two weeks, all those behaviors will stop. Most people can't imagine kids socializing without these behaviors because they've never seen kids (or sometimes, adults) socializing without these behaviors. But I have.

When my parents took me out of the bullying school and put me into an (expensive, private, all-girls) school, I found myself for the first time in a community where bullying was utterly unacceptable. No one called me names. No one mocked me. No one ganged up on me. No one played nasty practical jokes on me. No one poked, pinched, hit, kicked, tripped, spit on, or threw things at me. And I was still unpopular, I was still an outcast. People still had plenty to do and plenty to say to each other, and were still very clear on the fact that I was beyond the pale; weird; ridiculous, nerdy. No one said anything about it. They didn't have to. When I said something nerdy, people nearest me would roll their eyes and then move quickly on to the next topic, excluding me. If I tried to join a more popular group by standing or sitting near them, they'd ignore me. If I got too close, someone would glare at me or ask me directly what I wanted until I went away. My position hadn't changed. The only thing that had changed was that I wasn't being abused.

It took me two years to recover from that awful year of bullying; two years to not wince when someone asked me what my name was, two years to stop cowering away when someone approached me; two years to start trusting my teachers enough to do the work they asked me to do; two years to feel like life was worth living again. And during those two years, I had no friends. But what I had was peace. I had quiet. I had a chance to recover. And two years later I started making friends and collecting social power, and a few years after that I had put myself beyond the power of bullies forever.

I hadn't put the racism behind me, though, or the sexism. I still had to deal with that ... in fact, the more social power I had, the more people wanted to be around me because I was cool now, the more I had to deal with their prejudices and misconceptions and fears. But I was able to manage the -isms myself -- find a group of people like me, study and understand the phenomenon, advocate for my racial group (or for women) -- because I had social power and personal confidence as a result of being taken out from under bullying behavior.

****

Now, none if this is by way of saying that prejudice shouldn't be addressed early and often. You can stop bullying without addressing prejudice, but then you'll still have an active prejudice that will come out in other ways. Even if a gay teen isn't being actively bullied, that teen can still be ostracized, ignored, earnestly told that he is immoral, wrong, or bad, told that his very being disappoints his parents and embarrasses his family, and generally put into such extremes of cognitive dissonance that can cause depression, suicidal tendencies, and the like. Bullying isn't the only social behavior that kills.

I'm just saying: recognize the difference. Prejudice is one thing, bullying is another. Address them separately if you want to get rid of both.

April 13, 2009

Weekly Roundup: April 5 - 11

Okay, I'm calling it: Life has jumped the shark. Suddenly, everything's been about Charlie? The whole thing has been about getting Charlie into whatever their organization is? Please. Oh, and also, now he and Danny are oogly over each other? Because she was in danger? There's nothing like a damsel in distress, right? Am I right? And he's the perfect ... cop, gangster, guy, whatever? You can't hold him cuz he can kill you with a karate chop to the throat? Too bad none of the rest of those fools who do time have learned that jailhouse trick. Argh. Stupid show.

Food poisoning this week. That was fun. Sad thing was, I was so doped up from illness that I actually got two good nights' sleep.

Then I went in for a sleep study. Very weird sleeping in a hotel room with about fifty wires glued to my skull and chest and four down my pant legs, plus elastics around my chest and waist. Very creepy. But maybe I'll get to sleep right now. Here's hoping.

Got through another season of The Wire. Now I'm just waiting for season five to show up in my mailbox. Omar is definitely still my favorite character.

Posted about Koreatowns on atlas(t). So I live in Oakland Koreatown now. Whatever.

Two birthday parties this weekend. Fun.

I'm reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist, a birthday gift from Pireeni. I'm not throwing it across the room so much as writing "dumbass!" in it frequently. The dude is a good popular science writer but he doesn't seem to understand how novels work at all. Will have more to say about it when I finish the book.

Went for a walk in the Oakland hills this weekend with Jaime. Very beautiful in springtime. Didn't know there were so many colors of green. But part of one path was along a very steep cliff and had a near panic attack. Funny moment during the worst part when we had turned back and I was talking myself through it: "It's okay, you can do it. It's not a problem. It's okay. You can do it ..." and then a dude came barreling towards us on a mountain bike and I almost lost it. Weird that it was bad when the cliff was on my left side, but when we turned around to come back and the cliff was on my right side it was much, much worse.

I'm putting together a carnival of 300-word Asian American immigrant stories for API Heritage Month on Hyphen blog. This is also to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the publication of The Joy Luck Club. The idea is to get non-Joy-Lucky immigrant stories. Here's the link.

Also, the Carl Brandon Society's API Heritage Month book list will be the same as last year's. Here's that link.

And posted a review-ish piece on the current 21 Grand show on KQED. Here's the link.

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 31, 2009

Weekly Roundup: Concept

I've been so bad about blogging here on my beloved personal blog that I feel I have to Take Steps. Or Step.

The Step I'm Taking is to do a weekly roundup post, which will be a repository for things from that week -- links, thoughts, experiences -- writ small. So it's low pressure. I can still post throughout the week, of course, but the roundup will be there if I don't ... or even if I do. (semi-evil cackle.)

We'll see if this works.

Just for clairification, I'm having trouble posting here regularly because I'm posting again (since November, actually) at the Hyphen blog, and taking it very seriously. It's tantamount to a part-time, unpaid writing gig, but I think it's important. And we're bringing the blog back from a low point, so please check it out. Right now I'm rounding up a series of profiles of Asian American women I'm doing for Women's History Month, so have a look.

Another recent thing: I wrote a review of Joel Tan's new book Type O Negative over at KQED, which I'm still writing reviews for. Do check that out as well.

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.

March 15, 2009

On "Hapa" And Cultural Appropriation

Fulbeckhapa

Image by Kip Fulbeck.

I'm not interested in participating in RaceFail '09 in any way, and I don't want to compound the folly by inscribing yet another diatribe about cultural appropriation when everyone is running around screaming, with their fingers stuck in their ears. But I do think that the Asian Women Blog Carnival is a good opportunity to kill a few birds: my thinking on a particular close-to-home topic, which will also offer a cautionary tale to the clueless, the allies, and the POC alike.

For those of you just joining us, "hapa" is a word currently used by many/most politically conscious Asian Americans to refer to mixed-race or multiracial Asians. The word is Hawai'an, and is actually part of the term "hapa haole," meaning literally "part foreigner," but connoting people who are half or part Hawai'ian and half or part white. Hawai'ians still use "haole" to refer to whites.

Sounds like a politically correct word, and it has been a "word of power," as Wei Ming Dariotis puts it (see below). But, it turns out, it's a strange example of cultural appropriation: cultural appropriation by Asian Americans, against native Hawai'ians, for the purpose of empowering Asian American multiracials in a context in which we have been historically disenfranchised. This isn't what we usually refer to as "cultural appropriation," but I think it's illuminating, and may help some white Americans who are resisting being labeled "appropriators" to understand what's at stake.

I want to talk about what the word means to people who use it -- especially to me -- and why the word might be problematic and ripe for retirement. This is about using words to express disadvantage and marginalization ... and it's about your words disadvantaging and marginalizing others. It's about walking your talk and why that isn't as easy as it sounds.

Before I discuss the word and its problems, here are some points of necessary information (I hope I don't need to say this, but these points are from my personal perspective and experience, and have to do with my own opinions and understanding, not universal truth):

  • Why multiracials need their own word: Multiracial organizing only really started in a big way in the late eighties, when Generation X was coming of age. Gen X is also known as the "multiracial baby boom," the result of a boomlet in interracial relationships following the Civil Rights Movement, related Chicano and Asian American movements, and the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, which reversed centuries of anti-race-mixing laws. On the Asian side, the multiracial boom also followed the Immigration Act of 1965, which substantially increased the flow of Asian immigrants into the US.

    Previous to the "multiracial baby boom," people understood as multiracials did not constitute a significant minority in the US. Although the African American community has always been multiracial, owing to the type of power dynamics that made black women sexually available to white men, due to the "one drop rule," anyone with African blood was considered black, and multiraciality was not recognized per se. (A similar situation is true of Native American communities, for somewhat different reasons.) So a great deal of the initial organizing around multiracial identities had to do with rejecting the one drop rule and reclaiming all identities, or constructing a third identity.

    Also, multiracial African Americans were a much larger group than multiracial Asian Americans, and the history and nature of their issues was and remains very different. During the first twenty years of constructing a "Multiracial Movement," a great deal of the work was simply sharing and discussion. Because As Am multiracials were numerically overwhelmed by Af Am multiracials in the organizations, and felt as if their issues were less urgent, they often felt that they didn't have enough space to talk about Asian-specific issues in general multiracial organizations. On the other side of the question, multiracial Asians were finding themselves under the gun in their Asian communities, being invalidated or outright told that they were a threat to the racial and cultural purity of their communities.

    For all of these reasons, multiracial Asian Americans needed, for a time, to differentiate themselves from other multiracials to discuss their particular issues, and to create a power base for themselves to use in their Asian communities to reclaim membership and a stake. A word for specifically Asian multiracials was essential to this effort.

  • Asian and Pacific Islander American organizing: In the eighties and nineties, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans were grouped together officially, and so pan-Asian organizations were actually pan-API (Asian Pacific Islander) and made a greater or lesser point of reaching out to Pacific Islander communities and being inclusive in that way. In the 2000s, though, the two categories -- Asian and Pacific Islander -- have been split off from one another and the urgency in pan-Asian organizations around including Pacific Islanders has dropped off to a certain extent. (For example, Hyphen magazine, which I co-founded, was established in 2002 as specifically Asian American and not API, because the other founders felt that our entirely Asian staff couldn't do justice to Pacific Islander issues. I dissented but was overruled, and they were, as always in such cases, partially correct: we couldn't do Pacific Islander issues justice if we weren't going to do them justice ... and we didn't.)

    This is both good and bad. It's good because in the former scenario, the vast differences in cultures, experience, perception, and privilege between the two groups were often glossed over or outright ignored. It's bad because Pacific Islanders are a small group compared to Asians, and did have some access to a stronger power base and some public attention through being included in API organizing. Also, the inclusion was both a challenge and an opportunity for illumination to an Asian American organizing class that was often ignorant of what was going on in Pacific Islander American and recent immigrant communities. Splitting the two groups off from each other has not led to greater attention being paid to Pacific Islander-specific issues and many incoming young adult As Ams remain very ignorant. (Please note that some API orgs remain genuinely and sincerely API.)

    (An example: Last year the de Young Museum in San Francisco had a Pacific Islander artist from New Zealand in residence and produced a performance evening including two Pacific Islander artists from the Bay Area. Ten years ago, such an event could and did turn out substantial numbers from the Asian American arts-loving crowd. This event, though taking place at a major venue, didn't turn out any Asians that I saw, besides myself, and I only went to support my friends whom I hadn't seen in a while.)

  • How hapa got here: As I understand it, "hapa" as a general term for Asians and Pacific Islanders of mixed heritage was being used in Hawai'i before the Second World War, and might have made its way to the mainland as a result of Japanese Americans from both Hawai'i and the mainland fighting together in the war. In any case, on the continental US, the word was first used in the Japanese American community, and stayed there until the late eighties or early nineties when mixed race Asian Americans of all ethnicities started organizing around a mixed race identity together, and needed a general word that could refer to everybody, which had no bad connotations for Asian Americans.

    Previous terms used are:
    • "Eurasian": which arose in European colonies in Asia to refer to the children of mostly white European men and native Asian women through a variety of types of sexual liaisons, from rape and prostitution to marriage. The word has always had a disreputable cast, a negative connotation that suggests that the Asian mother is a prostitute or easy woman, and the child is a bastard. Eurasian women tend to be viewed by both whites and Asians as sexually available, and Eurasian men as untrustworthy. Tragic mulattism ensues.

      The word is also problematic because it declares the mixed race Asian to be part European, and nowadays in the US many multiracial Asians are Asian and African American, or Native American, or Latino, or Middle Eastern, etc. What to call them?

    • "Amerasian": arose to refer specifically to the children of soldiers in Asian wars of the latter half of the twentieth century. I'm not sure if it was being used post-Korean War, but it was definitely what the children of Vietnam War soldiers were called. The term has occasionally been applied to multiracial Asian Americans from some other context, but never really stuck or gained any mainstream recognition as such. It also has an unsavory, prostitute/GI connotation, and a tragic mulatto implication, given the dire political situation of Amerasian children in their country of origin at wars' ends. 

      Also problematic because it implies that the Asian parent is not American, and the non-Asian parent is.

    • "Multiracial": has no real negative political connotations, but is also not specific enough, as I explained above.

    • "Cablinasian," "Blackanese," "Korgentinian," and the like: There's definitely a value in the Multiracial Movement that holds personal descriptors -- i.e. personally invented descriptors -- in high esteem. Therefore: Tiger Woods' famous "Cablinasian," or the fairly common (among Black and Japanese multiracials) "Blackanese," or the very specific "Korgentinian," which I got from former Hapa Issues Forum Director Sheila Chung, who is Korean and Argentinian. However, unlike "multiracial," these are all too specific. They're great used on an individual basis, but you can't build a movement or group identity around them.

  • Do we need "hapa" now?: in 2007 Hapa Issues Forum, the main organization collecting hapa-centered clubs and associations together, officially closed its doors. It had been latent for three years. There were a number of reasons for this, the first being that the generation that started HIF, my generation, were now on the doorstep of middle age, marrying, having kids, and generally backing away mightily from nonprofit volunteerism. It happens. Another reason, though, was the the next generation of organizers, who always came up through student associations, were no longer organizing under "hapa"; they were now organizing under general multiraciality. This meant that they would transition (if at all) from general mixed race orgs in college to general mixed race orgs out in the world, of which there are many.

    What had happened in the interim was that mixed race Asians had radically increased in number, and our issues had become "mainstream" within the Multiracial Movement. Thanks to HIF and other hapa-based orgs, the materials (books, films, plays, artwork, music, performances, etc.) available to explain us had exploded. We were no longer ignored and marginalized. We had a seat at the table, at least, at the table of mixed race and Asian American organizing. Our advocacy had worked. The word "hapa" had worked.

Okay, do you feel caught up? I feel caught up.

So, I've just spent a lot of bullet points explaining why the word "hapa" has been so important -- to Asian America, to the Multiracial Movement, and to multiracial Asian American organizing. I've also hinted at how Asian American organizing may have gotten in the way of Pacific Islander organizing.

Okay, now read this article by Dr. Wei Ming Dariotis, a specialist in Asian Americans of mixed heritage. In it, she talks about how the word "hapa" has been her "word of power," how it freed her to identify herself in a powerful way, and also to find a community of free choice rather than a community of shame:

It has given us a space of our own, a place where we can be us, without having to explain ourselves. Anyone entering the space created by the word accepts our identity. In this way it works opposite from Bilbo and Frodo's ring of power, which makes the wearer invisible; the word “Hapa” makes my community visible, that is its power.

But:

power, as we all know, always creates the seeds of its own destruction.  The very success of the word “Hapa” has been in some ways its downfall.  What I mean to say that the word “Hapa” as it is used now can never go back to what it (or what “hapa”) once meant: a Native Hawaiian word meaning mixed or part or half, as in the phrase hapa haole.

... Increasingly, many Native Hawaiian people object not only to the way the word has been changed in its grammatical usage, but also to how it is applied to anyone of mixed Asian and or Pacific Islander heritage, when it implies Native Hawaiian mixed heritage.  This is not merely a question of trying to hold on to word that like many words encountered in the English language has been adopted, assimilated, or appropriated.  This is a question of power.  Who has the power or right to use language? 

She goes on to point out that Asians are not native to Hawai'i but rather settlers. Although they were exploited and mistreated on Hawai'i and the mainland, their settlement was a choice, and their subsequent success came through supporting and bolstering European/American hegemony on Hawai'i. Let me repeat that: Asian American success on Hawai'i came through Asian American collusion in the colonization of Hawai'i.

So this admittedly symbolic usage of "hapa" by Asian Americans feels to many native Hawai'ians like the appropriation of land and culture perpetrated by all Hawai'ian settlers and colonizers. Further, that mixed race Asian Americans appropriated a word to find their own power is an item of their own blissful ignorance ... and privilege. As Dariotis points out in her article, Asian Americans appropriated "hapa" because it had no negative connotations for Asian Americans. But that was because the word arose out of a colonizing situation between Europeans and native Hawai'ians. The fact that Asian Americans saw no negative connotations in the word had to do with the fact thatn in this colonizing situation, Asian Americans played a helping role on the side of the colonizers. That's about as ironic as it gets.

When I first read Wei Ming's article, I was just as resistant as she said she was to giving up the word "hapa." It had a similar meaning to me as it did to her. I had experienced some pretty bad bullying as a child based largely on my racial identity (if you want to get the flavor of it, read this; it's pretty much exactly my experience, except that I'm Chinese and my parents were both on the spot), and like many multiracial and monoracial As Ams, I grew up isolated from "people like me." Having a word that identified me accurately, and conferred power on me instead of taking it away was more important than I can explain to anyone who has always had the right to name themselves without question (ask me sometime about how bullies use names to take away your dignity and self esteem, how any word can be turned into something that hurts you.)

Wei Ming's article first appeared on Hyphen magazine's website (I can't find it there now) in late 2007 and I rejected the argument out of hand. "What do they expect us to use then, huh?" I thought. "We have no other word, and the meaning has already changed. It's too late. Besides, a lot of Hawai'ian words, and a lot of Asian words, too, have been incorporated into English without anyone's explicit permission. These words honor the contributions of Hawai'ian and Asian cultures in the American mainstream. Plus, this word is being used to give non-whites power. Don't these hysterical Hawai'ians get it?" At the time it seemed a pretty unanswerable argument. Yeah.

I didn't think too much about it over the next year or so. But then I got into an argument a couple weeks ago or so with a Korean American friend about US Americans' use of the word "American" to refer to ourselves. Don't get me wrong. I think the argument that all people in the Americas are "American" is pretty obvious and silly. If a Bolivian wanted to refer to herself as "American," she'd be totally within her rights, as far as I was concerned. Of course, that's ridiculous, though. She already has a country name, Bolivia, which she can use to refer to herself, whereas our country name IS "America." "the United States of" is a modifier, and it would be grammatically problematic to call us "Unitedians" or "Statesians" (then everyone else could argue that they're also united or they are also states.) And having other people assign to us the name "USians" is inappropriate and goes against all my principles; people name themselves, and people outside of the group don't get any say in it at all.

But then, on the other hand, the USA declared itself caretaker and patron of the entire Western Hemisphere nearly two centuries ago, without anyone else's say so, and has been running around like it's all agreed ever since: setting up murderous dictators, couping out popularly elected officials, and generally acting like anything in the Americas is ... well ... American, in the sense of "United States of." I don't believe that the original use of "American" to refer to British colonists in the American colonies was at all intended to claim hegemony over the entire hemisphere. No USA citizens intend that our use of the word "American" confers hegemony on us. Not even our government intends that. But the fact remains that we've wreaked might-makes-right havoc on the entire hemisphere, and that we dominate it in such a way that all other countries in the Americas must define themselves in alliance or opposition to us. I mean US.

So the jury is very much out on that issue. On the one hand, it would be ridiculous for me and other bleeding hearts to say "Hey, we'll stop calling ourselves 'American' because we don't want to offend our fellow Americas-ians," when nobody else wants to use the word to refer to themselves. On the other hand, maybe none of us should be using the word as a national signifier, since it belongs to all of us. And on the foot, what do we call ourselves then?

Which brings us back to "hapa," and that debate, which broke back over me in the past week as a result of the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival declaring a hapa theme this year. In this case, it's not a matter of us trying to share a word with Others that we all have equal right to, and that they don't particularly want to use for themselves. In this case, it's a matter of trying to get the power of a name by ignorantly taking the power of a name away from someone else.

See, the history of "hapa" is that it was a term specifically created to refer to the children produced by European/American hegemony in Hawai'i. Without the colonization, you don't need the term "hapa haole." And it's a specifically positive Hawai'ian word for mixed children, a word created to include mixed children into native Hawai'ian society, to find a place for them. You can't have power in a Hawai'ian word for multiracial Hawai'ians if it doesn't exist solely for multiracial Hawai'ians. Having this word appropriated by Asians who settled or were settled on Hawai'i only after it was literally stolen from the Hawai'ian people -- having this word stolen by Asians brought over to work the plantations that the haoles stole Hawai'i to create -- would be pretty damn hard to take, wouldn't it?

What we've done here is stolen the power of the word. Period. This is not like the whole "American" thing where we didn't steal the word, and the power in it now is something that has accumulated with time. This was a straight-up decision that was made in living memory to use this word because there was nothing standing between us and it ... kinda like the decision made in recent times to simply take Hawai'i because there was nothing military standing between us and it.

This is no longer acceptable to me. Yes, it took me over a year of subconscious mulling to get here but I'm here now. I don't want to use the word anymore; its power is gone and its savor has soured for me.

And at the same time, multiracial Asian organizations have re-assimilated (word used advisedly) with general multiracial organizations; mixed race Asians now have an important seat at the table of both Asian America, and Multiracial America. We don't need the word "hapa" anymore, not to organize around, anyway. So maybe we're able to say "let it go" because we don't need it anymore.

But that doesn't make the letting go any less difficult, or any less necessary.

And what, if anything, do we call ourselves now?

January 15, 2009

Life in Oakland Today

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

Oakland is broken.

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

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

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

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

January 13, 2009

2009 Goals, Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

January 09, 2009

2009 Goals 'n' Objectives

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

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

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

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

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

  8. Lose that 15 pounds.

  9. Continue getting regular massages.

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

January 08, 2009

Update On 2008's Goals 'n' Objectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost it, got depressed, gained it back.

  • Get regular massages. 

Yes! I actually met one of my goals!

  • Go dancing regularly. 

No, not at all.

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

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

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

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

January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Things are looking up!

December 29, 2008

10,000 Hours

I got a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for Christmas and read it in one day. One of the things he talks about in the book  is the idea that, to achieve mastery over any field, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.

I'd heard theories like this before, but Gladwell unpacked it in a particularly enticing way. So naturally, the first thing I did was to calculate when I would have hit my 10,000 hours. I wasn't the only one.

It's hard to do, because I write, and have always written, everything: fiction, plays, poetry, screenplays, essays, articles, letters, journals, online discussions, and most recently, blogs. And I count all of this together. Although I recognize genre differences, and differences of purpose, as far as mastery of writing -- including the use of the imagination that is so necessary in fiction -- every kind of self-expressive writing that I do contributes equally to my development. I accept that other people may write differently, and may process their different kinds of writing differently. But I don't.

It's also a difficult calculation because I haven't written at a steady rate. There have been years when I would come home and just write for hours every day, and other years when I would write for a few hours maybe once a week ... and to no "productive" purpose. There were years when I wrote nothing "creative" at all, but rather handwrote letter after letter to friends who never received any of them. You know how it goes.

Anyroad, I decided to go conservative and average ten hours of writing per week. Starting at fifteen (the year I bought my first journal -- as opposed to my first "diary" which was bought for me when I was maybe 8 -- realizing that I could write down what I was ACTUALLY thinking rather than some boring YA version of "Dear Diary, this is what happened to me today ...") this would take twenty years; subtract four years (conservatively) for the long stretches when I was writing thirty hours a week, and that would put me at 31 when I hit my 10,000 hours.

I got very excited when I figured this out because 31 was, of course, the age at which I finished the first draft my "breakthrough" story, "Pigs in Space," the one that got me into grad school, got me into Clarion West, and then got published in McSweeney's. (McSweeney's subsequently asked me to record it for an audiobook, which you can download here.) It remains my sole big story publication, (although I'm sure that will change this year ;) ) so take that as you will.

More importantly, though, I remember writing that story, and it took me a while. I wrote the first part and it was a good idea, like a lot of "first parts" I had written before. But this good idea actually brought together a lot of social and political concerns that had been on my plate for a long time, but that I hadn't found a way to put into a story. I couldn't figure out how to end it, though, for a few months. After processing it internally, the solution popped into my head one day and I wrote the rest of the story. I then spent the next two years revising it, putting it through nine drafts, never quite satisfied that it was ready to go.

I turned it in as a writing sample for grad school, got in. Worked on it some more. Workshopped it in class. Wrote 20,000 words of backstory. Used it as a writing sample for Clarion West. Got in. We were supposed to workshop it the first week but I asked to do a new story, since I was sick of "Pigs." Fortunately for me, our first week instructor, Nancy Kress, had read and prepared a critique and gave it to me in our one-on-one session. It was a substantial, but simple, structural rearrangement that she suggested, and she was right about it.

It still took me a few months to see that she was right, but when I went over the story for that last draft, the scales almost literally fell from my eyes and I understood not only what Nancy had said about the structure, but why. It was a small moment that hid a huge transformation. After that, I could actually see story structure in my head: an amorphous, not quite solid, three dimensional shape.

When I look back on it, I think what I was doing was taking the last steps towards understanding story as an integral -- a living -- organism. Not thinking about it as a living thing, which is the same as saying "asking a question," but understanding it a such, which is the same as saying, "having an answer." Just one answer, of course.

That was also the point at which I realized that I had been struggling, without knowing it, toward an end goal which I had reached without ever defining it. And, in reaching it, I realized that it wasn't an "end" goal. The way I explained it to my students at the time was that writing is like running up a steep flight of stairs to a locked door at the top. You bang on and push against the door until it finally gives way ... and then you find yourself on a landing, at the foot of another steep flight of stairs with another locked door at the top.

What changed at that point for me was confidence in what I was doing, and in my ability to do it. This transformation actually took two years, but it started right around the time I would have hit 10,000 hours, and ended in the middle of a four year period where I increased my writing time to over thirty hours a week, adding over 5,000 hours to my total.

Okay, now you: when did you hit your 10,000?

December 16, 2008

Writers' Rooms

IMG_3318

I've seen photos of writers' rooms before and didn't care that much about it except to envy them.

But I'm right in the midst of considering how to rearrange my workspace so this (via) was a very good thing for me to see, for on-the-ground ideas.

I don't have a whole room for the writing, just one wall of my "bedroom", which is a bedroom, study, and sitting room in one. (The other large room in my apartment is living room and dining room, and I have a kitchen, bathroom, and walk-in closet.) The way the room is laid out, I have little choice about where to put my bed, which gives me little choice about where to put my desk. So I'm stuck with this one particular wall. (the white crumple in the foreground of the photo above is my bed.)

 It's kind of a weird and uncomfortable place to sit, but it's the longest wall in my apartment, and pretty much the only place I can put my table short of transplanting the two rooms. I solved the problem of storage by raisinIMG_3319g the table up high (it has IKEA screw up and down legs) and getting a draftsman's stool to sit on. Problem is, this isn't comfortable, and I simply stopped using the table. So I've decided to lower it to a normal height again, but now I have to consider a number of things:

  1. What do do with all the crap stored beneath it. Should I install wall shelves over the desk? Put organizers on top of the desk? Invest in storage containers for under the desk?
  2. Should I create some kind of mild barrier between the end of my desk and the doorway right next to it, as a kind of psychological boundary marker? And if so, what?
  3. Which of my current organizers aren't working? What should I keep, what should I build out, and what should I get rid of?

Any detailed responses or principles would be welcome. Sigh.

November 27, 2008

Things I am Thanksful Fer

In no particular order:

  1. The existence of eggs and bacon, or eggs and toast, or eggs and toast and bacon. Bring it!
  2. My cat, Charlie.
  3. In-born gifts and gifts acquired.
  4. My friends.
  5. Food, and the plentifulness thereof. That's, at base, what thanksgiving is about anyway, isn't it?
  6. Books, especially the good ones, but even the bad ones.
  7. Art scenes with lots of stuff to do and see in 'em.
  8. Blogosphere!
  9. My family, especially my parents.
  10. Getting to know my Panama family much better this year and understanding our history better.
  11. The Golden Age of TV Serial Drama.
  12. The Second Golden Age of YA.
  13. Speculative Fiction in general.
  14. Having people out of your life when it is time for them to go.
  15. Finding the concept of balance, if not the thing itself.

There's more, but this is a good start.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! What are you thankful for?

November 02, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Well, NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) isn't going too smoothly so far. Yesterday I was busy and didn't do anything. Today I tried for two hours to manage a tiny detail: I needed to put in what Christian sect one of my main characters grew up in (he's no longer religious, so it's important, but minor.) I needed a non-communitarian, abolitionist but not pacifist sect. I spent two hours looking online for such a sect before I realized that this was a detail that I could let go. Do we really need to know exactly what sect he belonged to? It won't be referred to again. Seriously.

Then I looked for other small things to handle and decided that we didn't need to know how they mark trails to clear after dust storms (who cares?) or need 100% to hear that mention of a transport line to Alba Patera (I don't even remember what that refers to, but I'm sure it's unimportant.)

Then I figured out that a small detail I need to seed in there so it will bear fruit later is actually already part of a larger fix. Then I moved two small fixes to the medium fix column because I don't know what I was thinking, they're going to take longer than that. And that's about three hours of work right there.

Welk, I guess this is the job. I guess a lot of revision is planning and then planning again, and then getting disgusted with your obsession with unwanted detail and revising your PLAN, all without actually touching your text. Arg. I have only eleven items in the short fix column now.

Tomorrow, a few short fixes in the airport, yes?

As Sarah Failin' Would Say: Readin' Update

So I just finished Obama's Dreams From My Father.

Not sure how to get into this discussion. Obama is, surprisingly, a very good prose writer: assured, smooth, with a good sense of prose rhythm and shape. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised: there are a lot of lawyers who end up writing fiction, so there must be something in the education that trains one's prose style. But the outlines of his career that he lays out in the book tend to indicate little interest in the life of the imagination, or in aesthetics.

But maybe it's what I talked about once, with language issues and writing. I don't know if I ever blogged about this, but when I first lived in Berlin, I was part of an American writers group: five of us, two women and three men, two poets and three fiction writers, all in our twenties, most of us creative writing or English majors, all--except me--white. We didn't do too much workshopping (thank oG), we mostly just sat around talking about books and reading. We'd have poetry face-offs, where one person would bring in a favorite poet and read the favorite poems, and then another would respond with poems on similar topics or using similar tactics. Good--if geeky--times.

So one day I told the group that I had--apparently, I was too young to remember--had a bit of a problem with language acquisition as a toddler. I had started out in Cantonese (I was born in Hong Kong). When I was one and a half, we moved to the States and at about two years, we started speaking mostly English at home. Between two and three, I spoke a personal brand of Chinglish--not one I learned from a community, that is--which mixed vocabulary, grammar, and tones from both languages. Apparently, only my older sister fully understood me. By the age of three, I had separated the two languages and was speaking both correctly, and by four I had pretty much stopped learning Cantonese.

So I told the group  maybe my fascination with language and my desire to master it through writing arose from my early troubles with language acquisition, and suggested that maybe a lot of writers had early troubles with language as well. They all immediately pooh-poohed the idea. Then, over the course of the next hour, it turned out that: the other woman in the group had actually spent her early childhood somewhere in Africa with her linguist father, and apparently (she doesn't remember) spoke the local language fluently; one of the men in the group had had a bad stutter as a child and had to go to speech therapy for years; and another of the men in the group--and this is the best story--had been unable to learn to read or write until he was fourteen years old. He came from a well-off family of all college-educated professionals, and his disability simply stumped everyone until he was fourteen and they sent him to a new program that taught him how to juggle. Something about developmental steps that connect eye-hand coordination and mental processes. In any case, he caught up with thirteen years of school within three, and was able to go off to college "on time".

So, out of five writers, four had had some sort of issue or circumstance in their lives that had made language acquisition either "thorny" (in the words of the one writer of the group with no thorniness) or something of particular import and weight. Something to think about.

All that just to suggest that Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia from six to ten and spoke Indonesian fluently, might have something similar going on here. With the language issue, the writing issue. With the wanting to be the most powerful man in the world issue? Not sure what's up with that.

Although it's well-written in the prose-style sense, it's poorly written in the emotional sense. Obama sticks too closely to the expected emotional/dramatic arc of search and redemption. Along the way, he writes remarkably little--and that very ineffectively--about his own feelings or responses. When he does write about his feelings, it's in a detached way, and he eliminates feelings from the narrative frequently. In what is supposed to be the book's emotional climax (I had not thought, until that moment, that there was going to be one) I didn't even know that he was experiencing any emotion until he described the tears running down his face. Very strange.

All this might have something to do with the fact that, throughout this book, which is an autobiography, not a memoir, there's an 800 pound gorilla in the room: Barack Obama Sr. had three wives and a girlfriend, usually simultaneously, two of them white Americans, and couldn't--didn't--take care of them or the six-odd children he fathered with them. The situation is made clear in the book, but no one addresses it directly. The book is full of resentments toward fathers, full of passive aggressive moments of almost-accusation made toward Obama the father or the grandfather. But no one, not even the narrator, ever sits down and says: we have a problem with fathers and fatherhood here; let's state some facts baldly before we attempt to interpret them.

Maybe Obama felt he would be betraying the complexity of his father's story if he laid out the facts that way ... although I have to say, he had no problems betraying the complexity of his grandmother's feelings about race in his much-praised race speech earlier this year. This is one of my ongoing problems with Obama: the half-assedness of his gender awareness compared with his race awareness. Maybe he felt he would be underlining a stereotype of black men if he characterized his father as being an irresponsible Johnny Appleseed with six or more kids from four women whom he left to the rest of his family to support ... but then that would be the truth. Maybe it would be a betrayal of complexity to point out that his father left his first--African--wife, twice, for white women. Maybe it's too much to ask Obama to speculate on the meaning of this. But I don't think it's too much, given that he wrote the damn book--subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance"--in the first place. And while he was ducking this issue, writing a book about a father who hadn't cared enough about him to include him in his life, his mother was dying of cancer.

Yes, I'm supporting Obama. And I read the book with a great deal of excitement, because I felt convinced that maybe I had misread what I perceived earlier as Obama's lack of enthusiasm when it came to women's issues and gender equality. I was reading the book to increase my knowledge of, and excitement about, Obama's candidacy. But there it all was, in his book. Let me clarify: you don't have to be an outright sexist to just not give a shit about women's rights. You can love and respect the women in your life and like women in general, and still feel that gender equity really isn't your problem. And this is the feeling I get from Obama.

I just got an email this summer from a man who was one of my best friends in college. He had contacted me again about a year and a half ago and we've been emailing back and forth. In response to a complaint from me about the lack of confidence I see in men I'm dating online, he wrote, "All the men our age grew up being beaten down by the Feminist Revolution." I have been unable to write back to him since receiving that email, because I simply don't know how to express my outrage and betrayal at such a simple-minded and viciously wrong statement, that faults the liberation and uplift of HALF OF HUMANITY for the loss of a few privileges of a few members of the other half.

It is this same betrayal I'm feeling from Obama and his campaign and too many of the men of my age cohort who support him. I thought this was over, but it's not over and it's not gonna be over. He cares about the big issues, but not about a little tiny issue like the difficult climb to equality for half the world. Fuck him.

November 01, 2008

NaNoFiMo & Diabetes

Hey chicks 'n' chickens! It's November!

It's National Novel Writing Month, National Diabetes Awareness Month, and National American Indian Heritage Month. All three.

For National American Indian Heritage Month I have a book list fer ya, which will follow in the next post.

For National Diabetes Awareness Month, I pledge to find out three new and important thing about diabetes (Type One) and post about them.

And (drumroll please) I will be half-assedly participating in NaNoWriMo, but, as usual, in my own imitable way. Namely, I will be using this month to knock off my To-do list for draft two (or draft three?) of da nobble. Call it National Novel Finishing Month or NaNoFiMo. To wit:

  1. I have 15 "short fixes," things that should only take a few minutes to an hour or so.
  2. I have 17 "medium fixes," things that'll take a whole day.
  3. I have 9 "long fixes," things that require me to rewrite whole sections, or change the style of a narrator's entire text.

So my pledge is to do one short fix and one medium fix every day until they're done. That'll leave 13 days for the nine long fixes. I'll try to knock off one long fix every day, but we'll see how that works out.

That's the plan, Stan.

October 23, 2008

Mono Lake Materials

Just a quick check-in: I'm up at my cousin's (bless him!) house on Mono Lake for a week (I'm halfway through the week now.) I had visitors with me the past five nights: Patty until yesterday and Sam the past three days until today. The next three nights I'm on my own. That's good, in its way, but it does mean that I'm not going to be reading Turn of the Screw in this phase of the retreat ;).

Patty was working on some sketches for her new calendar project, and Sam did some work yesterday on residency applications. I do not envy her. I've been working on an essay for Timmi, which I have no idea if it is good or not. (I also have no idea if I structured that clause correctly.) I'm hoping to get that done today so I can get at least two good days of work in on da Nobble, but I'm not sure that'll happen. This essay is a monster and it's killin' me.

Anyway, last night, after Patty was gone, Sam and I brainstormed. We are both looking down the barrel of Kearny Street Workshop's 10-year APAture retrospective (called Shifted Focus), part of which will be a reading and a performance night at the de Young Museum in conjunction with their Asian American art exhibition (called Shifting Currents, see what they did there?). I'll be doing a reading on December 3 and Sam will be doing a performance on January 23.

Anyway, we agreed a few weeks ago to a) both present new work created specifically for this event, and b) collaborate on that work by c) coming up with a set of "materials" from which we would both create our pieces. By materials, I mean characters (and names), concepts (like "fossil"), locations, (like "rooftop"), activities (like "two fisted drinking"), words, phrases, etc. The idea is that we'll come up with a short set of things--one in each category, perhaps five or less--which we will both be constrained to use in the pieces we create. (The examples I used above are probably not the ones we're going to use, by the way.)

So we're still brainstorming, but we'll have the set ready by next week. I don't think I'll post them here. I think, instead, I'll encourage you all to come to the reading (maybe I'll post a video of it on YouTube) and the performance and see the results for yourselves. Itsth an ecthperiment!

October 08, 2008

Making My Mind Up Over Obama

Ooo! New Blog App Display! Me like!

Having a crappy, post-drinking, pre-menstrual day. Beautiful day, by the way. The light in my house has been gorgeous today.

Anyway, I was thinking about why I haven't been blogging about politics for a while and the real reason is that my mind is made up. I blogged for a long time about Clinton/Obama not because deep down I didn't support Clinton, but because I hadn't made my mind up about Obama ... as anyone who read my posts could tell. I mean, I didn't know how enthusiastically I could support him if he won, and then after he won, I wasn't sure how I felt about him.

This is not because he isn't close to my position politically, or close to me demographically. Obama is the (viable) presidential candidate in the entire history of the United States who is closest to me in politics and demographics. And that includes Hillary Clinton. It's been less difficult to figure out my support for typical white, male, establishment candidates because there's never been any possibility for me to identify with them personally. They are just symbols, or figureheads for the half of the political spectrum I happen to land in.

But I've always expected more from Obama because there's so much I have in common with him. He's biracial; he moved to an area where he could really live within his minority community, and he chose for a time to identify totally with that minority community. During that time he became a community organizer. He's come out of that time strong in his understanding of progressive racial politics, yet ready to be post-race, to put his stronger understand of race in America to work to the advantage of the almost universally more ignorant populace he's serving. And he's just 8 years older than I am--he's essentially of my generation; we have similar cultural referents.

So I'm much more sensititve to his mistakes, much more betrayed by his failures to take the "right" position on issues important to me ... and especially betrayed by his failure to speak out strongly against sexism in the election and sexism in general. All of this has meant that I've been hesitant to fully embrace him as "my" candidate ... because that embrace would be so much more meaningful, and would go so much more deeply than my aligning with all the candidates I've previously voted and campaigned for.

So it's interesting that it's Sarah Palin who has gotten me over the hump. She kicked me in the head with the previously overused "anyone but her" motivation. I realized two things: the first is that I don't have to decide to fully identify with Obama to support him. We're a two-party system and I only have two choices. It's never caused me trouble before. And the second is that I had a problem with the first because Obama is the first candidate we've had in EVER so long whom people are looking at as not just a lesser of two evils, but actually as a bearer of hope and change, a possible bringer of What We Want rather than an obstruction to What We Don't Want.

That's powerful. This election is amazing. We are living in interesting times.

Oh yeah, and I'm supporting Obama for President of the United States. Duh.

September 28, 2008

I Am So Sad About Paul Newman

Newmanwoodward

I did not know that he meant anything to me, but I guess he did. That kind of beauty, combined with intelligence and goodwill, can be a profound thing.

September 18, 2008

Reading Update and APAture LIVEBLOGGING!

Also, I just finished Maugham's The Painted Veil. Can't write about it right now. I'm reading it as material for an essay I'm trying to write about politics of narrative. Maybe I can work out some ideas here but not for the next couple of weeks because

I'M LIVEBLOGGING APATURE!

APAture is a festival I started with a group of people at Kearny Street Workshop ten years ago. This year is its first big anniversary and I've started a liveblog where I'll be documenting all the events. I've also put a feed to this blog in the upper left hand corner of the page you're reading now. Look over there! It says "APAture Live." That's it!

Please follow along with us, dudes and dudettes.

I gotta run now and start blogging. The gallery opening starts in 45 minutes.

September 15, 2008

iWordle? iTurdles? WordTunes?

Scott Westerfeld has started a new meme in which you:

1) In iTunes, select View Options under the View menu.
2) Turn off everything but “Artist.”
3) Select all and copy.
4) Search and Replace the word “track” with nothing.
5) Paste the results into the Wordle.net Create page.

Yes, it is awesome. Here's mine:

Wordletunes

September 04, 2008

*Triumphant Screech!*

I have finished Draft Two of da nobble!

\o/

I did it by employing a little trick. I was in phase two of three phases of Draft Two. Phase one was a major revision of a problematic area of the book and fixing the outward ripples of this revision. Phase two was then going back and writing in all the peripheral material I had always wanted to include but didn't in the first draft (which was about creating a coherent novel, without necessarily the richness of a complete thing.)

Phase three was going to be going back in and fixing all the fixes I had noted throughout draft two.

BUT. Draft Two has now taken a year all told (although that year was spread out over two calendar years). And the list of fixes now comprises about ten pages in Word. This is not a Phase. It is its own draft. So the list of fixes is now Draft Three, which shall commence next week.

Woot!

Also, Draft Four will be me going back in and doing chiropractic work. (Structure and deep character fix.) Then there will be a spit and polish and we're done. I have until August 2009.

Deep breath.

ETA: oh, ... uh ... and actually, there's that little matter of cutting out 50 or 80 thousand words. The MS at this moment is 203,036 words. I shit you knot. I'm gonna hafta rethink the whole draft numbering system. Maybe I'm back to Phase three of Draft Two. Sigh.

September 03, 2008

Oh My oG

I'm so close to done with phase two of draft two I can TASTE IT.

August 08, 2008

Holy Moly! It's 080808!

This is velly, velly auspicious date! Eight is lucky to Chinee!

Anyway. I'm off to a cafe--in this crappy weather--to start on the last leg of da nobble. No better day to do that.

Have a lucky day y'all!

July 29, 2008

UpCatch

Did I mention that I'm in Panama?

I'm in Panama, on a family reunion. Currently on my third night in a schmancy beach resort on a schmancy beach, lying around getting relaxed and wearing aaaaaaalllll my sundresses. And a string bikini. (Note to "fat" people: I'm the fattest I've ever been and I've never rocked a string bikini before because I always wanted to wait until I looked like a concentration camp victim first. I'm over it.) Tomorrow back to Panama City for some power-touristing.

Nyah Nyah.

Reading Update: After reading the fifth Naomi Novik Temeraire book (Victory of Eagles, fab) I went back and re-read the whole series, just to make sure it was really as good as I thought it was. It is. I have a long post in the works about Novik, which may never see the light of day, but there it is.

Also, while on vacay, I'm reading the rest of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, of which I've read A Wizard Alone so far. I'm reading Wizard's Holiday right now, which is perfect, because they're on a Beach Planet. I might have more to say about Duane as well, but not while on breaky-break.

No, I did not finish adding to Da Nobble. I was stressed out. So there. It Will Get Done. I Have Faith.

I'm posting more thoughtful shit about Panama the next couple of weeks over at atlas(t): the Galleon Trade Edition because ... well, go over and read.

July 01, 2008

Pledge

I'm going to Panama at the end of July and I still have a bunch of new stuff to write on da nobble before I can start the long, cantankerous process of cutting out the old stuff. So my pledge is to work my ass off on the new stuff and get all new text filled in before I go to Panama on July 25. That means writing every day.

I have 24 days, starting today, and 25 new letters to write (da nobble is epistolary, dig?) These letters are from the peripheral correspondents and aren't required to move the central story forward. They're also much shorter letters because these correspondents have to be brief for various reasons: one is illiterate and has others write for him, one is a child, and one is simply writing an introductory note to the other letters. So these are very brief letters, but they do need to be coordinated to the longer letters.

So, basically, I need to write at least one letter a day, every day, until I leave for Panama. So that's my pledge. At least one letter at day from here on out, and the whole thing done by the time I leave for Panama. Panama will be a vacation and I will let the whole thing rest then, for two weeks. Basta.

June 26, 2008

Having a Bad Week

Just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, which is terrific.

A lot is going on this week. Aside from all that, I'm realizing how wearing it is to participate emotionally in this election.

The Carl Brandon Society did a panel at Wiscon about identity intersectionality in an election year. It was called "Some of Us Are Brave" and focused on African American women.

That's how I've been thinking of intersectionality, too, and not really applying it to myself. At the same time, though, I've seen Asian Americans as a group called out for supporting Clinton, called racist. I've seen white feminists as a group called racist for supporting Clinton. I've seen my male friends, Asian Am and otherwise, supporting Obama and giving Clinton's Iraq War vote--and nothing else--as a reason. At the "Some of Us Are Brave" panel I've had a middle-aged male Asian American Obama supporter try to school me on how to manage Asian American activism--something I've been doing for ten years. And this week I got called out by an older feminist for disagreeing on a minor matter, and again schooled on issues I've been discussing and acting on for twenty years.

And another thing: I've gotten no second of public space to enjoy the ascendence of our first biracial presidential nominee because absolutely everyone, from white Republican to black Democrat and back again, is deeply invested in reading Obama as just black (except when it suits their agendas not to), despite the extremely nuanced reading of his own identity that he's offered the whole world for years now. I don't get to feel a kinship with him based on that.

I am extremely dissatisfied with every party, every Democratic campaign, and the behavior of every group of supporters in this election. There is no group, no campaign, and no candidate who has not been treated unfairly in public, and who has not also treated someone else unfairly. And because of the multiplicity of my own identity, group belonging, and loyalty, I have been able to come down nowhere.

My loyalty to Clinton has been treated as racist and suspect, because of hatred of Clinton herself, because of the stupidity of Clinton's supporters, and because of my own identities: my Asianness, my whiteness, my non-blackness, my gender, and my age. If Clinton had lost fair and square, i.e. not because she's a woman, I would be now recovering my joy at Obama's candidacy. But I feel no joy whatsoever, because I feel that every part of my public, political self has been attacked from one angle or another.

And it goes on even now. It's as if there's no joy anywhere at Obama's win, because we've already built up too much bitterness. The racial and gender watchdog machines are on red alert, the racial and gender offense-taking machines are white hot from cranking out product, but where are the liberal joy machines?

This is not all that's going on and stinking up my week. But it's a big chunk. I think I'm going to try ... try ... and take a break from politics for a week or two. Maybe that'll lighten things up a bit.

June 23, 2008

Betraying Hillary


So, after being bitchy about Michelle Obama last week, I finally sat down and watched Hillary's whole Obama endorsement speech. I'd been avoiding it without noticing that I was actively avoiding it. This is how out of touch with my own feelings I am: the moment Hillary walked onto the stage in the video, I literally burst into tears and continued sobbing sporadically throughout the entire speech. I completely surprised myself.

It's been a long campaign already.

It was what I wrote earlier about my experience of Hillary that triggered it. See, Hillary is my Hillary. She came onto the scene in a big way in early 1992, which was when I was getting ready to graduate from college and go out into the world and ... do what? We'd drained our already compromised coffers with a pointless war, added immeasurably to the national debt, and the economy was in the toilet. There were no jobs for kids fresh out of college.

Plus, we'd been at war barely a year before. The frenzy of that time and its immediate aftermath, the protests, the car-horn fights on the streets over bumper stickers, wondering if my friends were really going to be drafted, feeling utterly betrayed by my leaders in a very visceral and immediate way ... all of that exhausted the part of me that engaged in public life.

The war was a capper on a very long 12 years of incredibly damaging, nation-changing Republican rule. I'd been brought up at constant odds with the culture around me. My entire adolescence and young adulthood had been about being politically and even morally under the public gun. I couldn't bear thinking about entering adulthood in that atmosphere of hostility to everything that was important to me.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

By 1992 I didn't care anymore, and, in fact, left the country four days before the election. (I voted early, of course.) I didn't come back for six years.

But something else that happened in 1992 was that I got to meet Hillary. My parents are heavily involved Dems in their Midwestern town, so when Hillary did a charter plane tour of the Midwest to visit local party stalwarts, my folks got an invite. They brought me along.

The deal was that the local Dems would bring out the folks to the lobby of the chartered plane terminal at the local airport--usually a prettied up hangar--get their name tags on, entertain them with refreshments and local politicians (this was the first time I was ever glad-handed and it freaked me out), and then line them up along the wall when Hillary's plane landed. Hillary would step off the plane, go into the lobby, walk around the rectangle of people, shaking hands, get back on the plane, and go to the next town. She could hit five or six towns a day, if not more.

And the whole thing went off without a hitch. I got smarmed by local candidates, I ate some kraft cheeze on crackers, and then stood against the wall. Hillary appeared, short and smart in her pastel suit, headband in place (remember the headband, ladeez?) and started her circumlocution. She was good at it. When she got to me she managed to get my name without appearing to look at my name tab. "Hello, Claire," she said, and shook my hand, looking me right in the eye.

Hillary's the only politician I ever fell in love with, so I have nothing to compare it to. Of course, it's not like falling in love, but the only language we have for our intensely personal feelings for a public figure is the language of love and seduction. She "seduced" us with her charisma---and folks, let there be no doubt about it, the woman is dripping with charisma. It takes a charismabomb like Obama to make her look bloodless by comparison. Remember, she even held her own standing next to Bill Clinton, and that man radiates from a distance of a football field. It's why she sets so many men's teeth on edge: that's how you feel about a person you hate, whose charisma is unavoidable.

And anybody who wants to say that in 1992 Hillary was touring the country by herself as a wife and not a politician in her own right can go fuck themselves with a chainsaw. That was why Hillary was so profoundly hated by men from the git-go: because she and Bill offered her as a co-politician, not a wife. She helped get Bill into office and then was resented for doing so.

But more than her qualities as a politician (charisma and the ability to command loyalty, interest and collaboration among her colleagues, which, let's face it, she has in spades) it was the fact that she was outspokenly feminist at at time when the backlash against the women's movement in the 70's hadn't quite died down yet. She changed the paradigm of the First Lady. She drew attention to her own career and skillsets. She wasn't a helpmeet; she was a partner, at a moment in history when our culture was struggling to find a term for "life partner" that could apply to both women and men, both married and unmarried couples. She was a partner in every sense of the word. And she was the first First Lady who was a Ms.

Let's remember how important language and naming were in the Clintons' campaign. Hillary insisted on being called "Hillary Rodham Clinton," making it clear on a sub-verbal level that the "Clinton" part was the compromise, not the "Rodham" part. This is why she became "Hillary" to the nation at large--both to her supporters and her detractors: she was using language and naming protocols still too new in the mainstream culture for people to be comfortable with, so they stuck to her first name. Even this was a triumph: she did an end-run around people's feelings and got them on a first-name-basis with her out of sheer discomfort. From there on out, even the most vitriolic attack had a slight ring of familiarity, of affection, to it.

I can't tell you how profound having Hillary center mainstream was for me. I was just 22 when Bill secured the nomination and Hillary declared her cookielessness. The female-empowerment I was raised with was turning into a feminism that I didn't quite know what to do with. I was discovering that while I shared the concerns of my male friends--concerns that didn't always affect me directly--they were not sharing my concerns, even those that DID affect them directly, like reproductive rights.

I had no public leadership in these concerns. Don't get me wrong: there were the Gloria Steinems and the Camille Paglias (I love that she's so passé now; she wasn' t then), but they were considered either tokens from the margin, or special interest leaders. Hillary was the first outspoken feminist at the center. She was also the first Baby Boomer at the center, not a coincidence. To have my opinions and concerns reflected back at me for the first time in my life from the campaign stump---to see a person on the stump who "looked like me" in a profound way, who respected and shared my beliefs about myself---created a revolution in my thinking about politics, my nation and its possibilities, and even about who I was in the world.

I was a young woman in 1992 looking for a place in a world that had changed a great deal, but hadn't yet finished changing to accommodate me. And Hillary's leadership changed my view of how the world could work.

Does any of this sound familiar to you young Obama supporters out there?

If I was 22 now, I might well be feeling the same way about Obama. But I'm 38 now, and I don't believe that I'm young enough in mind to ever feel that way about a politician again. That so many of my male cohorts DO feel this way about Obama saddens me. It tells me that they never got to fall in political love when they were young enough to do it. They've had to wait too long. Their love is now tinged with an ugly bitterness: they couldn't, perhaps were not allowed to, love Hillary when they were young, and now hate her for trying to interfere with their overripe love for Obama.

I never realized that Hillary was a wedge driven between me and my male cohorts back then, because wedges start out in a tiny crack. It isn't until the wood splits that you can even really see the division. I can't ever care about Obama as much as I care about Hillary because Hillary has been with me for sixteen years. She's been a light on the political landscape for sixteen years. She's been my Hillary for all my adult life. Obama made a speech three and half years ago, two years ago started scrabbling at the position that my Hillary has been earning for two decades, and suddenly, I'm supposed to love him?

But I don't think men of my generation or older can love Obama as much as they hate Hillary, and for the same reason. They've been threatened by her for sixteen years. Part of Obama's appeal during this campaign has been that he has a chance of defeating a very strong Hillary. They'll never admit it, these men who have been living with Hillary, as I have, for sixteen years, but their votes until now have been as much a not-Hillary vote as they are an Obama vote.

My anger is the anger of someone who has looked around her and seen that her peers, her partners in the world, the men of her cohort, do NOT share her values ... not really. (I'm not talking about the fringe that constitutes my social circle. We're all freaks here.) But my sadness is all directed at myself. I did not acknowledge, did not even realize, how much Hillary meant to me personally until it was too late. I was intimidated by the loathing men I used to respect unleashed in public. Even while I saw how wrong it was, I allowed myself to be mealy-mouthed in supporting Hillary.

And I allowed the people of color who supported Obama, both men and women, to intimidate me with their covert and overt accusations of racism directed at all Clinton supporters. (Again, not necessarily those of my freakish fringe.) I have always refused to tacitly support the idea that a person's argument is only as good as their identity by refusing to present my credentials before I speak. But I've allowed myself to be afraid in this debate that my identity and my decade of full-time anti-racism work would not be enough. And I did not speak out clearly enough that this woman of color supported and loved Hillary.

My male liberal cohorts did not betray Hillary. They've always been clear about hating her. They betrayed ME, but that's almost another story. My sadness is that I'm the one who betrayed Hillary ... because all of this hatred--all of this hatred from liberals towards a successful, strong liberal ALLY--hurt and intimidated me and succeeded in making me less effective than I know I can be. I let it go too much, and I suspect I'm not the only one who did. And perhaps my failure in strong advocacy is what made the tiny percentage point differences that lost Hillary the nomination.

Feminists intimidated by male hatred into advocating their cause less strongly. Is there a more powerful argument for the continuing effectiveness of misogyny than that?

So last week, I mourned Hillary's lost chance, and my lost chance, the way I should have celebrated it while it was still alive. And I'm writing about it this week so that I can put it away in time to get the Obama campaign on the clue train. Yeah, that's right, I'm not asking if they want me ... I'm not asking at all. I'm there and they're going to listen to what I have to say about gender issues and what the fuck have they been thinking for the past year and half.

I might even write them an open letter. We'll see.

June 19, 2008

Finish This Year

It's also occurred to me today that da nobble was conceived and drafted entirely within the Bush administration. That's why it's so damn dark. I need to get it finished before the election so I can maintain the proper mood.

Because, you know, McCain won't win.

June 18, 2008

Wow

Da Nobble is about to hit the 200k word mark.

That's a lot. In traditional pages it's between 670 and 800 pages. That's a lot.

Wow, that's a lot. And I still have more to add.

June 17, 2008

Conversational Rhythms

I'm working in a cafe, as I often do, and my biggest peeve of working in a cafe, especially this one, where the inner room of the cafe is pretty much always colonized by people working, is when people take cell phone calls inside.

Folks, it's obnoxious to force everyone else to experience your phone call with you. Don't do it!

Anyway, I was thinking about it and wondering why cell phone calls are so much more obnoxious than face to face conversations, which are also common in cafes and usually don't bother me. It's partly because f2f convos are almost always carried on at half the volume of a cell phone call. But that's not the only reason.

I think the other reason is that hearing one half of a cell phone call means that you miss out on the back and forth rhythm of the call. And that's very disturbing and distracting.

Conversations, as anyone who has studied dialogue writing can tell you, have rhythms. I haven't done much reading on this, but I'm sure there are studies out there that show that people can only communicate when they set up an effective rhythm. Probably your brain can only take in information conveyed verbally if it's lulled by a rhythm into a receptive mode. Don't take that as given. I haven't read that anywhere, I'm just guessing. But I think that's why rhythm is so important in writing as well.

By rhythm I mean that you and your conversational partner literally set up a da da duh, da da duh back and forth rhythm with your speaking, only it's a little more complex than a poem. You can hear it best at the beginning and end of a conversation when the greetings and leave-takings are more ritualized.

Hello?

Hi, John, it's Marsha.

Marsha! Hi! How are you?

I'm well, thank you, how are you?

Great! I've been great, thanks. What's up?

Well, I'm calling because I was thinking of having a dinner party ...

OR

da duh?

da da, da da duh.

da duh! da! da da duh?

da duh, da duh, da da duh?

etc.

If I did the whole conversation in "da duhs" but with the proper voice inflection, you'd know exactly what was being said. Same with sign-offs:

Well, I've got a lot of work to do. (da, da da da da duh da duh duh)

Me too. I have  a deadline tomorrow. (da duh. da da da da duh da duh duh‚

Well, it was great talking to you! (da, da da da da duh da da)

You too! Thanks so much for calling! (da da! da da da duh da da)

Let's check in at the end of the week. (da da da da da duh duh da da)

Yes, let's do that. (da, da da duh)

Okay, take care. (da duh, da da)

You too. (da da)

Bye. (da)

Bye. (da)

Notice how the length and rhythm of each side of the conversation mirrors that of the partner? Notice how they spiral down, each piece getting shorter until they're down to one beat each, in the same way that the greeting spirals up from "hello" into complex sentences?

Interestingly, when the cell phone user gets into the long spiral down, I start to relax. They're no longer conveying information, but rather entering the get-rid-of-you ritual and I know exactly how the other side of the conversation is playing out.

The difficult part is the middle, where the speakers must, not mirror each other, but rather find a way to foster a mutual rhythm that is first of all, capable of keeping the conversation flowing without a hitch, and secondly, satisfying to both speakers. Usually, with most conversations, the second one isn't possible. The first one is essential, however, to the continuation of the conversation.

This can be done by one speaker dominating the conversation and delivering a monologue in discrete packages, each one of the same shape and length. The speaker will have to pause at the end of each package to allow the partner to respond, at least briefly. If the speaker doesn't pause, the partner is shut out and it's not a conversation. If it's not a conversation, the non-speaker will mentally disengage (no matter how good a listener he/she is) and then get bored because s/he isn't engaged.

Some really good conversations consist of two speakers taking turns dominating the conversation.

Another tactic is to exchange packages of information in similarly shaped pieces; equal on both sides. This is rare, however. I don't think most people operate this way. What I see most often is two people exchanging similar information in different shapes and pieces. One person will be more voluable and the other more terse. So the voluable person will speak for a longer time than the terse person, and they'll take turns. This works well if they can set up a rhythm of more, less, more, less, that feels rhythmic.

As the person who is usually more voluable, I can tell you that I know when it's time for the other person to speak when I get a sudden feeling that I've been talking too long. That feeling is not a scientific thing: two minutes of solid monologue is all that is allowed, for example. It has to do with the rhythm we've set up and my warning signals that if I exceed my limits, the rhythm of the conversation will be broken and we won't be able to communicate anymore.

It's a delicate thing. I've often been in conversations with really great people that just felt terrible because we couldn't set up a satisfactory rhythm. Once they got started talking, I really enjoyed hearing them. But they'd stop talking, it seemed to me, at a weird place, and I'd have nothing to respond with. Then there'd be a long pause while I scrambled for something to say and they waited. This awkwardness has to do with having incompatable rhythms.

I think the rhythms have to do with the speed and pulse of how your mind works. In a conversation, your mind is delivering up thoughts to you, turning them into packages of speech, processing the response, and then delivering up another thought. Often your mind will deliver two thoughts or more during the time you're listening and processing. If you have a jumpy, quick mind, you produce more thoughts than you can utter during a conversation. What happens to me during awkward conversations is that my partner will stop while I'm in the middle of a second or third thought, whereas in a good conversation, my partner will stop when I've just finished a thought.

I guess this means that you have the best conversations with people whose minds work at the same rate, or a half the rate or double the rate of yours, so that your mental rhythms can sync. I might be talking out my ass, though.

Back to work.

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