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.
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.
Tomorrow, Life Will Suck.
Which is not to say that you should not visit the polls tomorrow. Not at all. You should totally go to the polls and VOTE. Really, few things are as depressing in this so-called democratic republic than the concept that a 20% turnout is considered high. Go vote! However, I will continue to whine about how much life will suck for me as I work the 14-hour day involved in running my home precinct's polling place. During a general election. With poll watchers telling me how to do my job.
And no laptop.
I am not allowed to bring my laptop! It is electronic. It has ports. It could potentially be used to hack into the electronic voting booth that I'll be running. So it's not allowed on the premises.
And for once I have nothing ready to knit.
So given that work on the Nano-novel tomorrow will be a no-go, I prioritized it today. I brainstormed about how to throw pointier rocks at Gwen, who is up the tree of Being In Charge Of A Bookstore No One Will Shop At Because Of Suspicions Of Past Criminal Activity. She thinks she knows how to handle this. She is wrong! So wrong! Give me an hour, and I'll figure out why she's wrong. Something to do with digging up copies of her own books and discovering one of the missing children in it, I think. Also, I decided that the scene with 7-yr-old Gwen meeting the Bookwyrm, which I've written before, will be rewritten from the point of view of the talemouse, who will be amazed at seeing a story character travel to the place between stories.
Meanwhile, I plan to bring the short story along with me in hard copy tomorrow: critiqued copies, print-out of current work, and spiral notebook. Perhaps by the end of the day I'll have something ready to type up. I am so very sick of dragging this revision out.
There's a Time and a Place...
And sometimes that time and place are never and nowhere. Quoth PNH:
Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos wasn't funny and it wasn't okay. I understand (from third parties; I haven't spoken to her about it) that Connie Willis's position is that Ellison has done worse and she can handle him, but I really didn't want to watch it and neither, I think, did a lot of other people in the audience. Up to then the comedic schtick aspects of the Hugo presentation had been genuinely funny. After that, I think, many of us just wanted it all to stop.I have pathetic fantasies of having been in the audience--which I wasn't--and yelling, "Shame on you, Mr. Ellison!"--which I don't think anyone did--and having there been a standing ovation in response--which is nice to dream about, but, in absence of the action having occurred, who can say how the rest of the audience would have reacted?
Just as with George W. Bush's now-famous uninvited shoulder-rub of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the basic message of Ellison's tit-grab is this: "Remember, you may think you have standing, status, and normal, everyday adult dignity, but we can take it back at any time. If you are female, you'll never be safe. You can be the political leader of the most powerful country in Europe. You can be the most honored female writer in modern science fiction. We can still demean you, if we feel like it, and at random intervals, just to keep you in line, we will."
It's not okay. It's not funny. It wasn't a blow against bourgeois pieties or political correctness. It was just pathetic and nasty and sad and most of us didn't want to watch it. It's another thing that's going to stop.
Knowing me, had I actually been there, I would have blushed with rage and said not a word, for fear of being smacked down by Mr. Ellison's clever tongue and a roomful of acquiescing silence. Then I'd've gone looking for a knot of attendees to gripe with at the bar afterwards.
But I can fantasize. And I am in good company in the fantasizing, apparently.
And Patrick is absolutely right about what this kind of behavior, from Bush or Ellison, is intended to communicate. And that it has got to stop. And it is going to stop.
Not Sleeping Only Means You Care
- 50,830 wds. long
- 22.25 hrs. revised
Things take time. If nothing else, that's what I'm learning from all this daily goal setting. Submitting critiques takes time, because I can't freakin' shut up. Finding and emailing interview subjects takes time, because I don't know many names off-hand in the fields I'm researching and I'm anal about getting my emails worded just right. Revising fiction takes time because I'm a freakin' perfectionist with maybe shades of ye olde obsessive compulsive disorder.
And four-hour training sessions on how to facilitate use of evil yet compellingly shiny electronic voting devices from Hart Intercivic take a really long time, especially if you hang around the county clerk's office for an hour afterwards to discover whether your out-of-town plans have turned out to interfere with your availability as supply judge. (They do. I won't be around on Saturday, August 5 to pick up the supplies, see. But I will be retained as a machine judge, so the training hasn't gone to waste.) And then if the bike ride to and from the county clerk's office exposes you to more sun than you prepared yourself for, afternoon naps take a really really long time.
So. After a night of not sleeping, where are we at?
- Not a word written today on the freelance gig, but lots of progress made Monday morning in seeking interviews.
- Revised chapter 3 of The Golden Bridle and will email it as soon as this poor old WinME-running laptop stops giving me hell via its context menus. Chapter 3 took so long that we'll just talk about chapter 4 next week.
- Turned in a very long and wordy critique at the Critters site. One more by Wednesday and my ratio will be happy.
- Poked my head in a friend's private novel critique forum, as promised, at Critique Circle. Although if my day's obligation is merely to poke my head in the forum, it's probably not worth a bullet point here.