inasmuch as it concerns Political Maunderings:
There's a whole world of people behaving badly out there. They have weird neuroses and they get up to all sorts of shenanigans. Sometimes it's prudent to pay attention.
this fictionette does not approve of your use of gladiators
- 1,195 wds. long
Hola! So it's Friday again. A fictionette appears! In this corner, chthonic beasts from the darkest depths of the earth. Opposing them: a quartet of careless picnickers and their unfortunate army of disposable gladiators and household staff. It's called "A Fine Day for a Picnic," and it's unabashedly a satire of E. Nesbit's Psammead Trilogy.
Now, to be fair, I enjoy rereading those books. But they always hit a sour note when the children, piqued that one of the servants is fed up with their bad behavior and is threatening to bring such to the attention of their mother, will threaten their politically powerless serf with something or other that will undoubtedly lead to them getting sacked. Or they'll play horrible pranks on them. Or they'll take them away on their magic carpet and dump them on a desert island, and leave them there, and say, "Good, serves Cook right for being so horrible to us." I'm really not sure where Nesbit stood on social injustice, but she doesn't exactly go out of her way to show that the children are wrong to do this. In fact, it might be argued that since the Cook wound up queen of the savages (CW: racism) and happily married, it was good for the kids to carelessly strand her on that island. Argh.
So I sort of indulged in this short-short story about a nice afternoon outing with a high body count. Enjoy, I guess?
(The Word Dash writing prompts for that day, by the way, were "jugular" and "junket.")
So there's a fictionette out and a blog post done before 8:30 p.m. on a Friday, just for a change. Success! But on a less successful note, right after declaring war on my short story revision, I sort of knuckled under. I have no good excuse. All I can do is extend the mission to next week and keep working at it. I will get there eventually...
But, however, not tonight. Tonight I'm about to drive down to Denver, put on my skates, and do some ROLLing around. So now I will finish scarfing down my leftover gumbo, print out my electronically signed waiver, throw on something roughly similar to what I used to wear in high school, and get the heck outta here.
this fictionette got taken apart to see what its insides look like
- 1,199 wds. long
Today: The Friday Fictionette for January 16! Also, baby's first MRI, I think, and a brief rant about the politics surrounding women's reproductive care.
This week's Friday Fictionette (excerpt here) is a fantasy short-short that wandered into the horror zone. This happens sometimes. I actually do identify as a horror writer, which sometimes surprises people. "You? Write that? But you seem so sweet!" It's oddly similar to the reaction that some of my family and friends had when they found out I play roller derby. "You? I can't imagine you doing that..."
(My usual response is, "You don't have to imagine it! Read this short story! Come watch a bout!")
Thankfully, I'm more or less surrounded by people who are happy to adjust their mental image of me to accommodate new data. Not everyone is that lucky. I know... well, I'm sure I know one or two people who'd rather get me to adjust my life to conform to their mental image, but right now I can't think of who they are. I'm sure they're hugely outnumbered.
Speaking of roller derby, and why I haven't been skating this week, I had my MRI today. That was fun. I think it was my first time getting one--if not, it was my first time in about 10 years. I may have gotten MRI'd, or maybe CAT scanned, when I had that horrible migraine scare involving loss of peripheral vision and sudden unaccustomed klutziness. I think that's when I found out that the correct answers to "Are you claustrophobic? Would you like a Valium to help with that?" are no and also no, at least for me. What's worse than being scared of a medical procedure? Being scared and knowing that my body has been drugged into a sluggish dead weight, so I can't fight or run away! Not doing that shit ever again, thank you very much.
Anyway. Have you ever had an MRI done? It goes something like this.
First, they ask you a bunch of questions. Are you pregnant or do you think you might be pregnant? Do you have a pace maker? Have you any metal bits inside of you? Previous surgeries? Are you pregnant? History of kidney failure or kidney disease? History of cancer? Might you possibly be pregnant? What about--
Yes, I know I'm repeating the pregnancy thing. They repeat it a lot. They repeat it more than they repeat the other things. They even have a placard in the changing/locker room, "IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE PREGNANT, TELL YOUR TECHNICIAN IMMEDIATELY." This is, of course, after you've filled out all the paperwork that asked all the questions. Basically, if you're a woman, you are presumed not to be able to answer this question honestly until it has been asked sixty gazillion times, by every person in the office as well as by the walls themseleves. Apparently, uterus-equipped humans are stupid and untrustworthy. "All right! All right. You got me. I was gonna just not say anything, because the condom broke last night, and coming in for an MRI seemed more convenient than the morning after pill, but since you asked me for the tenth time, I'll come clean."
I mean, seriously, they ask you about pace-makers all of twice: once on the phone when you make the appointment, and once on the paperwork you fill out in the office. Clearly the industry is a lot more concerned with the possibility of killing a fetus you may or may not know about and may not even want than they are with killing you. If you're able to get pregnant, that makes you everyone's property and everyone's business and everyone's responsibility, and also utterly incompetent as an adult. And also expendible as a life in your own right.
Do I sound bitter? I might just possibly be. I don't hold it against the specific place where I got my MRI, understand; it's just the prevailing social politics of women's medical care that I'm fed up with.
Once you answer all the questions satisfactorily, you divest yourself of all your metal objects. This done, you are ushered into the imaging lab, which looks like the docking station for a very small spaceship. They slide you into the very small spaceship. Then they give you a call button to push if you need someone, a set of noise-cancelling headphones, and the instruction to lie as still as you can for the next twenty minutes.
Then they leave the room. At which point you start hearing scary alarm noises, and you wonder if maybe you should have left the room too, because it is evidently on fire. Or maybe it's about to get bombed. Isn't that what air raid sirens sound like?
The noises soon change from "whoop! whoop! whoop!" to variations on "d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d," at which point you realize that although the machine looked like a small spaceship it was in actuality a gigantic dot matrix printer. Or maybe a Braille writer. Braille writers are louder.
(When they offered me the headphones, I asked them, "What're they playing?" They told me, "Anything you want! Right now it's James Brown." I'm glad they told me. Once the noises started up, there was no way I could have figured it out for myself.)
About five minutes into the process you realize that you don't actually like having your hands clasped over your belly. It seems to constrict your breathing. And your fingers are slipping. And your right shoulder doesn't feel entirely supported by the bed. How narrow is this bed, anyway? And the knee they're taking pictures of is kind of tired of being straight out. And you would like to scratch your nose. Can I move now, please? How about now?
(Given how twitchy I got today, I'm not sure how I got through LASIK without twitching anywhere above my neck. On the other hand, LASIK took only about five minutes per eye.)
Then at last you hear the "whoop! whoop! whoop!" siren again, and it's over. You get up, reclaim your things, go pay what you owe for the procedure (ouch), and receive a CD which you are to take to the doctor for your follow-up appointment. (Have we no email? Have we no FTP? Maybe this is a HIPAA security precaution, that they can't just send the digital images over to your doctor direct?) And then you're free! Free to go home and collapse in the bed, because lying still for a medical procedure is apparently exhausting as hell.
That was my adventure with magnetic imaging today. No answers regarding a recovery plan yet, however. I don't get to talk with my doctor about the results until Tuesday morning. Alas.
Until then, fingers crossed.
an overly elaborate manifesto about the games i don't play
Today's post is difficult to write. It's heavy, emotionally, for me. It'll be too easy for me to come across as defensive. And there's also a sticky matter of confidentiality, in that the conversation that moves me to write happened in a private space. But the opinions and thoughts it inspired are my own and I would like to express them. I can only hope I have succeeded at doing the latter without violating the former.
It's a mess, is what it is. I hope you'll bear with me.
Monday, a dismaying event happened on the national scale. A grand jury announced its decision that a white police officer who killed an unarmed black boy need not go to trial, and that the killer's demonstrable racial prejudice was somehow a mitigating factor and not evidence that the a police officer was unfit for his job and not to be trusted with a gun. The grand jury made this announcement at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, 8:00 Central. The announcement and its implications have dominated national and online discourse since then.
Here are other things that happened Monday:
- I had my last regularly scheduled farm day for 2014.
- The Saints played the Ravens to a disappointing loss.
- I did some more work on the Refurbish the Closet Doors porject
- I blogged about the farm work and the closet doors.
Now, I have a TwitterFeed account set up such that anytime I blog, that blog post gets announced on Twitter. Which means that in the middle of a Twitterstorm about injustice in Ferguson, I not only blogged about something that had nothing to do with that outrage at all, but I committed a self-promotional tweet telling people to go check out that blog post.
Which is something I would not have thought twice about--except that in the course of the aforementioned private conversation, I became informed that such a tweet makes a person look self-absorbed, tone-deaf, offensively oblivious. It would have been even more offensive, apparently, if I'd live tweeted my reactions to the football game (as I sometimes do), or promoted my Patreon campaign (as happens on those Fridays when a fictionette goes up). But my one self-promoting tweet was bad enough. As a responsible citizen of the internet, and especially as a writer with a Twitter account, I should have gauged the online climate before allowing such an inconsequential tweet to go through. Given what an important conversation was going on, I suppose I should have turned off automatic Twitter announcements of my blog posts for the night. Or, better still, not blogged at all unless it was about Ferguson.
Except... well, no.
There's a difference between disrupting a focused conversation on someone else's blog (like, say, the comment thread at the above-linked Slacktivist post) and, well, using Twitter for what Twitter is for. It's a grave misunderstanding of any social media to think that there is only one conversation going on at any time, to which you either contribute appropriately or shut up. Twitter is a microblogging platform on which millions of people have hundreds of thousands of separate conversations at any one time. And different people are listening to different pieces of that conversational storm depending on whom they follow. It's not unlike a huge version of a party where you can talk to your friend about whatever, and other people can overhear you or not as they choose. You can still abuse the venue by interrupting someone else's conversation--for example, at-checking someone inappropriately with your book-promo tweet--but simply talking to someone else about something else while in that room is not an abuse of the venue.
So I blogged Monday because I hold myself to a Monday-through-Friday blogging schedule, and I'm damn proud of myself when I succeed at keeping to that schedule. I post a Friday Fictionette every first through fourth friday because that's the committment I've made to potential Patrons. And someday I hope to be able to tweet that my first published book has become available in bookstores. If something globally awful happens on a day when I'd be blogging, fictionetting, or book-promoing, I'll probably still blog, fictionette, and/or book-promo, though I may choose not to. I may or may not have anything useful to say about the globally awful thing; that too is entirely up to me. One thing I know for sure: My tiny "off-topic" tweet is not going to make the globally awful thing objectively worse.
There is room on the internet, much as there is room in a single mind, for many things at once: raging at injustice, conversing quietly about the changing season, complaining about how long it takes to sand a paint-stripped door, and wondering when the national sportscasters will get tired of their love affair with Jimmy Butterfingers Graham and turn some of their attention to, say, players who are actually catching the ball tonight (or running it for 70+ yards holy fuck Joseph Morgan you are my hero).
That football game it would have been tone-deaf of me to tweet about Monday? A significant subset of both teams' players were a hell of a lot more personally affected by the Ferguson outcome than I. Some of them have sons who could have been Michael Brown. Some of them could have been Michael Brown. I don't know if they got to hear the grand jury's announcement when it happened, or if they were shielded from the news until the game was over. In either case, they had to know the announcement was coming. They probably predicted the way it was going to turn out, while hoping it would turn out otherwise.
And they still played that game, because Monday Night Football happens on Monday night. They participated in post-game interviews and they talked with their coaches and teammates about what tonight's game means for next week.
Normal life doesn't stop for tragedy. Sometimes we wish it would--sometimes it seems downright malicious that the world should keep spinning and gravity keep tugging as though anything could possibly be the same again. And sometimes we're grateful that normal life just keeps driving on regardless, because a veneer of normality can make the difference between coping and spiraling into a black hole of despair.
What you need right now, at this particular moment in American history, is a story that doesn’t stoke your feelings of rage, depression and moral exhaustion. And I am here to give it to you.
--Mary Elizabeth Williams, "The Ferguson library gives a lesson in community"
Monday we learned, or had our suspicions confirmed, that we have a lot more work to do as a society than we might have hoped, that the road toward justice is a lot longer than it has any right to be in 2014. And yet we still have to cook the next meal, earn the next paycheck, write the next story. We may not have to tweet about the latest football game or converse with friends via at-replies, but small pleasures and human interactions can make the hard work easier to bear. It certainly can't hurt.
And metaphorically wearing sackcloth doesn't materially aid the cause of justice any more than finishing your lima beans did a damn thing for the children starving in Ethiopia.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: There are things going on in my life. I'm going to talk about them. I may use Twitter to do it. I'm not going to preemptively gag myself on subjects that aren't objectively as important as the latest breaking national news. The conversations I choose to have aren't subject to anyone else's sense of propriety. That I choose to have one conversation doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring about other issues. The game of Prove That You Care is rigged, and the only way to win is not to play.
You don't have to be in those conversations with me. You may judge me harshly for having those conversations at all. But you can't reasonably expect me to always make the same choices you would about which conversations to have and when. If the choices we make differ enough to make you unhappy with mine, by all means disconnect from me on social media. We'll probably both be happier that way. But I think maybe composing nastygrams about How Dare You Tweet Banalities While Ferguson Is Burning isn't a positive contribution to any situation.
What might be a positive contribution? Well, if you're so inclined, you can donate to the Ferguson Library, because they need it and because they are awesome. Change.org has a petition demanding that Michael Brown's killer be prosecuted in the Missouri Supreme Court; the petition has nearly reached 150,000 signatures tonight. And this HuffPo article has more suggestions for activism in addition to these.
That's (some of) what's on my mind tonight, so that's what I'm choosing to blog/tweet/FB about.
That's how this works.
A Brief Interlude For Rude Feminist Ranting
Hey! Hey there! Hey? ...So. What's the deal with giving every creepy, offensive joke or comment ever total benefit of the doubt, but bringing down the full weight of societal disapproval on a woman who openly expresses any discomfort with such?
I mean, just for example, say a woman traveling alone goes to eat dinner in the dining car, right, and the attendant directs her to a table already inhabited by two men sitting opposite one another. And say that the man sharing the side of the table she's been directed to is taking up so much bench that she's about to fall out into the aisle. And just say that the women politely points this out.
And the man says to her, "Oh, you shouldn't feel shy about sitting close to me!"
What are your thoughts on this exchange?
- Ew, skeezy!
- What? He was just trying to reassure you that he doesn't bite!
Oddly, the first woman to speak to me about overhearing the exchange went with A ("Did he really say to you what I think he said?" "Yes, he did." "Honey, you know you can ask for another seat, right?") while the first man to comment on the subject went with B.
You never would have guessed, right?
For what it's worth, he probably was just trying to reassure me that he wouldn't take it amiss if I scooted closer to him. That's something--and I will bold and italicize this next bit because it's important to understanding how I navigate my world, y'all--something that both a polite, accommodating man and a total creepster perv would have in common. Funny, I am not comfortable making assumptions about which one he'll turn out to be! But, you know, it just figures, if I assume he's a perv and I'm wrong, I'm rude, but if I assume he's polite and I'm wrong, it's "Well, what did you expect, the way he came on to you? You didn't want to be groped, you shouldn't have taken him up on his invitation."
This is called Being In Public While Female.
For the record, my read on the man in question was a combo plate of "Attempting to be polite and accommodating" and "Phenomenally tone-deaf." This entree turned out to include a free side dish of "criminally unaware of the movements of his left elbow and its resulting proximity to dining companion's stomach, arm, shoulder, and/or face." Even if I'd felt comfortable snuggling up to his armpit, I'd've ended up with bruises to rival a Thursday scrimmage, and also half my dinner in my lap.
IN ANY CASE, my immediate response to his unfortunate joke/inappropriate overture was to give him a serious glare and say, "That sounded really creepy. Please do not do that."
He responded with an exasperated chuckle and a mild swear of "JEE-sus!" whilst looking to the man across the table from him for commiseration. The man across the table wisely stayed out of it. (Perhaps he already got an earful and learned his lesson after he greeted the dining attendant with "You can seat me anywhere you like, cutie!" Ew.)
I haven't accepted but I have acknowledged that any sort of pushback from me is going to be met with "Can't you take a joke?" (Yes, when they're funny) or "Couldn't you have been nicer?" (Couldn't he?) or "He was just trying to be friendly!" (He failed). I know that any attempt on my part to set personal boundaries will be read as rudeness and not encouraged. I know that I will always be pushing against societal disapproval for my right to say "That made me uncomfortable and I would rather you stop doing it."
It will never come easy. But it's important to push back. The societal impetus to always excuse, always give the benefit of the doubt to men who make women feel uncomfortable is what gives the genuine creeps cover. The unapologetic perverts, the sexual harassers, the gropers, the skeevy pick-up artists, they are relying on everyone around them to excuse their creepiest overtures under the same umbrella that covers the friendly-but-tone-deaf. And I am full up to here with that shit.
Society wants me to assume everyone who succeeds at creeping me out is just a well-intentioned goof, one whose feelings are much more important than mine--the latter because why else would the onus be on be to swallow my discomfort, keep my mouth shut, and uphold the contract that simultaneously punishes women for assertion and protects men from experiencing consequences for their thoughtless behavior? No, no, and hell no.
In practice, how someone responds to being told "That makes me uncomfortable. Please don't do it" is the only safe way to differentiate between... well, not between Socially Awkward Dude and Genuine Creeper, that's not the binary I'm ultimately concerned with... but between someone who cares about how his actions impact others and someone who doesn't.
The guy whose response is "JEE-sus!" followed by a "bitches be crazy, amirite?" expression aimed toward the other man at the table? Not safe for me. Not pleasant to be around. Not worth my time, now or ever.
Meanwhile, if you're reading this and nodding along at home 'cause you've been there before and you'll be there again and you're fucking sick of wearing the T-shirt, know that--if you need it--if no one else will give it to you--you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement and entreaty to be rude as shit to the next guy who creeps you out.
I swear, sometimes I think that's the only way this is ever going to get better.
On Self-Critiques and Louisiana-Style Fried Chicken
- 2,481 wds. long
Today started rather too early. John had to catch a 10:15 AM flight to Indianapolis (Gen Con!), so we left the house at 7:15 AM. Sometimes the thing I miss most poignantly about Metairie is the 15-minute drive from just about anywhere in town to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. From Boulder to DIA? On a weekday morning in I-270 commuter traffic? Allow an hour and a half, and hope.
But we made it on time -- early, even, despite bumper-to-bumper on the 270 -- and in proof of this you can see happy tweets from my husband in Indy. Which left me with two goals for the morning:
- A writing session involving, at least in part, revising the phone story, and
- An 8-piece box of Popeye's spicy fried chicken.
See, just at I-70 and I-270 and Quebec, there's a TravelCenters of America truck stop with an all-purpose diner, no free internet, and a Popeye's. This is the closest I get to a Popeye's on my way anywhere unless I'm actually in the New Orleans area. And there is nothing like grazing on cold Popeye's chicken out the fridge for days after Mom brings home far too much of it for a weekend lunch.
(Sometimes, I get so angry and exasperated at the whole "They be stealin Dan Cathy's freedom of speech, don't look at the millions of dollars going to Exodus Int'l and groups supporting death penalties for gay people in Uganda, you will know us by our Sparkly Moral Outrage!" that the most intelligent response I can come up with is "Boy I'm glad I'm a born-and-raised Popeye's fan. I yam what I yam, yo.")
What I discovered this morning was, the Popeye's at that TA outlet opens at 9 AM. Like, for breakfast.
Still, I delayed gratification and betook myself to the diner counter for coffee, oatmeal, toast, and a thorough self-critique of "It's For You." And when I say "thorough," I mean it. My MS Word copy of that manuscript is filled with inserted comments from tip to toe. Only once done with this, and a couple of other righteous tasks besides, did I venture to exchange money for hot greasy crispy juicy chicken bits.
But like I said: Thorough. Like, every single sentence of that draft evoked second thoughts and despair. Clunky here! Tighten this there! No wonder this reader was confused here and that reader told me not be so coy there! Erase this! Expand on that! Rearrange this paragraph because it is not in a logical, causal order! Arrrrgh.
Somewhere under the bewildered deer-in-headlights wibble of OMG there is so much that needs fixing here where do I START?! I am sure there is a kernel of subconscious working on the answers to that question. Which leaves my conscious brain free today to work on other worthwhile things, like (say) Examiner blog posts about Puzzle Pirates. (OK, that was sarcasm, but I do need to write that post.) Or like all things roller derby. (ALL THE THINGS.) Then maybe I can dredge out some of the answers tomorrow and make improvements happen.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering why an 8-piece box of Popeye's spicy fried chicken didn't last me past nightfall on the day of purchase.
Hangs head in shame. Woe. Contemplates the drive to the airport Sunday night.
On Desired Bookburnings In Wisconsin
Apparently there's this elderly group of self-described Christians in West Bend, Wisconsin, who feel that the presence of non-anti-homosexual literature in their local library ("Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang") is damaging their mental and emotional well-being and may in fact be putting lives in jeopardy. They want a lot of money in compensatory damages for being exposed to a book that teaches that beating up gay teens is bad (and that gay-bashers have a tendency to shout homophobic slurs while engaged in gay-bashing). They want, further more, all copies of this book delivered unto their pious, shaking hands, that they may pitch them into a holy bonfire and reduce them to char and ash, for the public's eddification and moral betterment.
Says Neil Gaiman, wise man that he his,
...if their mental and emotional well-being was that damaged by the proximity of a Francesca Lia Block book, I'm just happy they didn't pick up and read the library's copy of American Gods; their eyes would have been fried and their lives put so far in jeopardy that their nearest and dearest would have been ordering caskets before the end of Chapter One.To which I can only reply, in my best wide-eyed Temeraire-like plaint, "Oh! but can we not? It sounds most satisfying, and would improve Wisconsin to no end."
My *Thunk* Is Dwarfed By National *Thunk*
- 21,286 wds. long
Me at 6:30 (ish): *Thunk.*
The United States of America at 9:00 (ish): *THUNK!*
Congratulations, President Elect Barack Obama.
(One day, people will ask, "Where were you when they called the election for the first black President of the United States of America?" And I will say, "Watching Indecision 2008 on Comedy Central." That's right. Colbert was blathering, and Stewart made the announcement, and what's-his-bucket came out from backstage bawling and wearing no pants.")
(What? Look, it'll be on YouTube. You look it up.)
Regrets In the Home Stretch
- 15,859 wds. long
It may not look like it from the word count, but I'm in the home stretch. I know where every one of those 4000-ish words left to write goes; it's mainly going to be a matter of writing down the facts already in my head and the citations for where I learned them.
In having finished this project late, I've gotten three days behind on the NaNoWriMo novel. But that's not my biggest regret. My biggest regret is having left myself no time to volunteer in this, an incredibly historic election year for the U.S.A. I didn't campaign for Obama, I didn't make GOTV calls, and I wasn't even able to work as an election judge between this and other obligations that kept me from attending the training sessions. I feel like a total bum.
I'm doing this much: I'm hosting an election results party for some friends. After everyone gets off work, they'll come over here to watch the news and tune their laptops to various liveblogging events. I'll be cooking stuff from our CSA-overloaded fridge - I'm thinking colchannon and stuffed acorn squash. And, if Nate Silver's election predictions are correct, I will finally have occasion to make Schadenfreude Pie.
(Why, yes, that was an unprompted suggestion in the Google search bar.)
All right, back to the grind. See you after the *thunk*. At which point I'm breaking out the Scotch. And yes, if you know me and you're within easy traveling distance of me, you're totally invited. But if you didn't vote, your role tonight will be piñata.
Good Stuff! Pass it on.
Another disappointingly non-writing-related blog entry from me. Except, it kinda sorta relates to writing. Inasmuch any philosophy of how society should work can apply to writing, that is. I'm just passing it along because it's that good.
My current rules for working in this new world:
- Make something other people can use.
- Respond to existing conversations.
- Buy real.
- Use your best material.
- The neighbor you beggar is a customer you've lost.
- You own a share in the world, your country, your government, your laws, your economy, your community, your public discourse, and in the well-being of its citizenry. Do not let yourself be tricked into despising it. The share you abandon will be snatched up by the same people who are telling you it's worthless.
—Teresa Nielsen Hayden, in commentary.
Read the whole thread for both artistry in blogging and further discussion of what it means to be a viable and beneficial part of today's creative economy. (One might argue that there is no other economy worth speaking of, but that is a discussion for another time. You can have that discussion if you want; I have Deadlines and must disappear now.)
The way these rules apply to writing are fairly obvious, although, like the symbols of an alethiometer, the applications reveal more hidden depth the more you follow the associations...
What other people can use. The writer should never forget that s/he's part of the entertainment industry. Well, that's probably overstating things. Not every writing is meant to be entertaining. However, it must be part of what might be termed a communication industry. If the writing fails to communicate, then the reader cannot use it, and no amount of artistry can save it.
Existing conversations. Writing doesn't live in a vacuum, no more than does the writer. It responds to the pressures, issues, and concerns surrounding the writer's life. A book responds to the real conversations of the day, or it doesn't get read much.
Real. The thread in which Teresa posts talks about buying objects made with real components: oak rather than pressboard, leather rather than plastic, wool rather than fake fur. There's an analog to this in writing, I think. In writerly circles, the question "What does the writer owe the reader?" often comes up. It elicits answers varying from "The truth" to "A ripping good story" to "Nothing at all." My own response is somewhere in between. It's not that the writer owes the reader anything directly. Who knows whether there will, in fact, be a reader? The writer's obligation is, I'd say, to the writing. To the story. And to him/herself. The obligation is to write something real. A story we had to tell, one that we're emotionally invested in, one that speaks to real concerns we ourselves have. If we do that, then we'll find we've fulfilled our obligation to the reader quite adequately. But if we don't, we've pulled a cheap trick and made the equivalent of bubble gum and cheap pleather purses, something valuable not in lasting service to the consumer/reader but rather in its producer-enriching need for frequent replacement.
Put another way: if we ourselves are bored with what we're writing, how can we expect a reader to be interested in the result?
Best material. Never do a half-assed job. Never be a hack in the pejorative sense. If you hold a certain publisher in contempt (say, it's a second-string magazine and you don't want to "waste" your best writing for $0.01/word), it is better to not submit anything at all to them than to submit sub-par work. Anything you publish is attached to your name. Anything you write that isn't published is still attached to the way you view yourself as a writer. Well, that's how it works with me, anyway. Don't hold back: always write the best material that's in you. You won't waste it. There will be more. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but your name, your self-esteem, your craft are where you rise or fall. Never sell yourself short.
The neighbor you beggar. What can I say? Contempt for your reader is the road to self-destruction. I suppose I might point out the recent anti-piracy circus in the SFWA, but really, does a rational human being need to be shown examples as to why it is bad business to treat one's customer as though s/he were a criminal or an idiot? Is this not simply obvious on its face? As a writer, your customers are your publisher and your readers. Respect them, or suffer their disrespect in return. It's really that simple.
The share you abandon. This is the most abstract and all-encompassing of Teresa's rules, I think, and the one that deserves the most thinking-about. I don't think I want to try to reword it much. Mostly I want to just meditate on it. But I'll offer the conversation this much: We all have unique opportunities to make the world a better place. We mustn't let the cynics convince us not to bother. Else entropy triumphs. This is true in writing as much as it is true in philanthropy and politics.
Finally, Teresa further clarifies "buying real" some hours later in the comment thread.
This is your reading assignment. Go to it. (Meanwhile, like I said, disappearing now.)
Suprise! Political Content
- 30,252 wds. long
Regardless of how the finished product looks, please believe me when I say that I very rarely set out to make a political point with my fiction. In fact, I can only think of one example--the post-Katrina New Orleans ghost story I began writing, flush with rage and helplessness during that first week after the storm as reports came in that the Red Cross had been denied entrance and trucks full of water were held indefinitely at the parish border--and that story will probably never be finished.
I certainly never set out to put politics in the books about Gwen and her bookstore. But tonight's writing turned up politics, all right. Tonight's writing featured the talemouse, that shy, retiring is-not-a-character, giving the Bookwyrm a furious lecture on reproductive freedom. I didn't expect that at all.
Her name is Gwen. Not 'prodigy.' Has a name. Isn't just a function. The talemouse is getting really mad now. How can the Bookwyrm be so obtuse? It knows so much, it governs the entire Fictional Hierarchy--how can it be so blind? Men characters, bad ones mostly, say, 'Woman's function is to reproduce.' Say, 'Should not have a job, should not write, should not be distracted from making babies.' Bookwyrm says, 'Gwen's function is to reproduce. Should not have bookstore, should not have family, should not be distracted from making stories.' He doubles over, panting with the effort of such speech. He has had to remember the voices of certain tertiary characters he's hidden inside in order to express himself so clearly. Bookwyrm. Woman-hating villain characters. Can't tell the difference.Well then. Rakash Sketterkin tells us how he really feels.
Perhaps we can blame the never-ending Election Thread over at Slactivist. I just caught up on reading it today, watching the thread go from readers staying up all night tracking county-by-county results from Virginia to all abortion, all the time. Or maybe this had been building up for a long time now, and I never knew it until my timid little talemouse got mad enough to stand up and say--to the Bookwyrm, who is for all practical purposes his God--"People aren't just functions. They're people."
Brave little talemouse. Bless him. One day he may become a real character after all.