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On making a difference

Monday October 04, 2010 @ 05:15 PM (UTC)

I tweeted yesterday about a student teacher being reassigned for admitting he’s gay. It’s a story that came to my attention through my RSS reader but, sadly, is local: the district where this student teacher was originally assigned is the one where I went to elementary school.

I wrote a letter yesterday, planning to send it to the Superintendent and post it here, but an attack of cynicism shook that intention. There’s a lot of easy, feel-good (re)activism that goes on here on the interwebs. You submit your name for an online petition, retweet something, and ta-da! You are an activist! Writing one letter is sort of the same thing: drive-by activism. It’s shallow, brief, and perhaps accomplishes little but puffing up the letter-writer. Some might say one person picking up a pebble, repeated many times, will move a mountain; but it’s easier to find historical examples of dedicated mountain-movers pushing boulders over years and decades.

But on the other hand, this news story isn’t coming from another state or another country, the vast hinterlands of Elsewhere that filter through webpages and RSS feeds into our consciousness. This is where I grew up. This district, thanks to the execrable Measure 5 (which my family campaigned against while I was matriculating in that school district, and which is why I ultimately left), is underwritten by Portland’s tax dollar as well as Beaverton’s.

I’m not endorsing a proximal approach to morality and politics in general, since all too often that means a cozy sort of privileged insulation. But in this case I think it’s reasonable: perhaps I can’t make a difference in every case of homophobic discrimination in the world, or even in America, without devoting my life to it. But this is my neighborhood, this is my home. If I don’t speak out, I’m letting this be part of my home without protest: my silence says this discrimination is acceptable. (Just like not voting at all is an extra-effective way of voting down taxes and ruining our schools! That’s a little Measure 47 joke for the locals.)

Perhaps I look a little foolish, and perhaps I’m an armchair activist. But I’m printing out my letter, and I’ll post it here tomorrow. Because this is where I live, and because LGBT people live here too.

A genealogy of sneezes

Saturday October 02, 2010 @ 08:43 PM (UTC)

I’ve been thinking about sneezing lately. Mostly because I’ve been sneezing so much today I can barely finish a sentence. Either our landlords’ bamboo only flowers every seven years and gives me seven years’ worth of pollen allergies, or crawling out of my comfortable hobbit hole to attend social functions has given me a cold.

Anyhow, this sneezing has made me reflect. I myself have what I jokingly term the Atomic Sneeze (best restrained with ruby quartz face masks, à la Cyclops). It is extremely loud, and my poor sensitive-eared companion Ryan complains bitterly about it. (He kept covering his ears when we watched TV tonight, and eventually I saw him building acoustic barriers out of sweatshirt.) I keep telling him it could be even worse, and my sister’s sneeze is proof. Of course, since she isn’t allergic to everything on Earth except water and mold, few witnesses can back me up on this. My paternal grandfather’s sneeze was even more prodigious than my sister’s and mine, and my usual joke is that if he sneezed like that while he was in the Army, his comrades probably hit the deck.

Of course, it could be even worse: on my maternal side, my relatives seem to sneeze in consistent numbers. My grandma sneezes in the same pattern every time — I think it’s five sneezes? Of course, they’re such cute little noises that they’re quieter than a cat sneezing. Other family members appear to sneeze in threes, et cetera. I think Ryan should just be glad the two traits haven’t been mixed, because even a double-barrel of this noise could destroy our block, and five at a time would doom the entire city. Or at least give me whiplash.

Peaches and Cream Pause

Tuesday September 28, 2010 @ 04:11 PM (UTC)

I forgot to show you guys this pie I made. Look, a pie!

Peaches and Cream Pie
Peaches and Cream Pie

As usual, this pie is from Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. I made it with a mix of white and gold peaches. Unlike many of the pies I make from that book, it was rather easy. Unlike most of the pies I make, I didn’t get to taste it: the recipient ate it too fast. From this and other indications, I conclude that it was good!

If you missed “Conditional Love” when it appeared in January’s Asimov’s Science Fiction, you will have another chance! I found out today that Escape Pod bought my story!

I’ve been listening to Escape Pod for a while (although my reluctance to take walks whilst the daystar is holding its cruel summer sway has led to a podcast backlog) and it is a consistently excellent podcast. I am extremely glad to have my story there, and I look forward to hearing what they do with it!

How do you say "Conditional Love" in Polish?

Wednesday September 15, 2010 @ 04:31 PM (UTC)

I should find out in December, when my story will be reprinted in Poland’s anthology Kroki w nieznane (Steps Into the Unknown), edited by Mirosław Obarski.

This will be my second translation overall, and the first time one of my stories has been invited to a reprint anthology in any language. I’m very pleased, especially because the anthology has an interesting background and a history of very high-powered authors in its pages.

I’m so happy to see my stories travel around the world!

Interlude

Saturday September 04, 2010 @ 11:19 PM (UTC)

In case any particularly sensitive information-brains have noticed a downtick in my posting rate, I thought I’d let the blog readership know I’ve been called out of town. Back to Grants Pass, in fact. Nothing serious, but I’m far, far off my normal routine and haven’t been working down the list of blog topics upon which I am burning to opine.

I may be moved to rant about the amount of unwanted junk mail my grandma gets from a political party she abandoned twenty years ago, but that wasn’t previously on the topic list!

(And for those of you who are also Twitter readers: I shall try not to tweet about Scrabble too much. Really, I shall be trying. Even if you can’t tell.)

The October/November double issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction has been out to subscribers for a few weeks, and now it is available at bookstores and newsstands around the United States! My story “The Termite Queen of Tallulah County” appears in this issue, as well as ten other stories, novelettes and novellas from authors listed here.

Magazine cover with a NASA photo of the Witch Head Nebula

Getting a paper copy: Traditional newsstands often carry Asimov’s. Many Barnes & Noble and Borders locations carry Asimov’s, but it’s best to call ahead if you’ve not seen it at that particular store before.

Portlanders allergic to big-box stores can head down to Rich’s Cigar Store, which carries Asimov’s in their extensive magazine collection. The main store on SW Alder has the most copies. Also, the main store will ship magazines to out-of-town customers — call them up!

Getting a digital copy: This issue is available digitally from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I’ll update this post when it comes out from Fictionwise and the Sony eBook store!

Many thanks to all who’ve expressed interest in this story, and to my early readers who helped it take form. Also, thanks to my grandma, for having termite trouble!

Update, 9/12/2010: The Sony eBook store now has October/November’s issue available.

Update, 9/17/2010: Fictionwise has October/November available in several digital formats as well.

Fantasy trope: the possessing progenitor

Monday August 30, 2010 @ 02:25 PM (UTC)

This post contains a slight spoiler for Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio. If you haven’t already read this webcomic, press that link (it’ll take you to the beginning) and do. I’ll wait. Girl Genius was steampunk before steampunk sold out!

This post also contains a spoiler for the Mage Wind Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. But if you were going to read that, you probably already have.

Oh, and a wee spoiler for Buffy Season 1.

I hereby predict this post’s length will only exceed its spoiler warnings’ by a small margin.

I was reading the latest installment of Girl Genius when it struck me that one plot point in that fine comic is familiar from another story: the evil sorcerous (wyrd scientist?) ancestor who can possess his or her present-day progeny. This was used to great effect in Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Wind trilogy. When the good guys and I found out that the evil mage we were up against had slain the Last (and most powerful) Herald-Mage in a previous incarnation, we thought all was lost. It was a pretty effective way of increasing the creep-factor on an already very creepy foe. In Girl Genius it operates a little differently and over only one generation, but it’s the same general idea. In Buffy, too, a witchly mama did once switch bodies with her child.

I wonder if I’m overlooking (or haven’t read) other examples of this trope in fantasy. In sci-fi, I think the equivalent would be making clones of yourself in order to prolong your life, whatever the clones think — which has definitely been done. I think the fantasy version is more intriguing, and here’s why:

It’s a pop-psych truism that people fear becoming their parents. This trope hooks right into that fear, as well as another potentially unhealthy dynamic: the parents that want their children to be carbon-copies of them. Sure, it’s icky that your pediatric neurosurgeon dad wants you to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. But it would be even ickier if he wanted to steal your body and do his own pediatric neurosurgery with it, destroying or sidelining your spirit and desires, robbing you of your free will and your natural human span. (This is the subtext that the Buffy episode makes into text.)

As if that weren’t enough psychoanalytic reason for this trope to send a shiver up the fantasy fan’s spine, the multi-generational version offers a healthy dollop of the “sins of the father” thing that’s so popular in Judeo-Christian circles. Sure, as people are so fond of pointing out, they didn’t commit genocide, or enslave anyone, or cut down the oak forests of Ireland, or what-have-you. In a fantasy setting, however, your link with those pasts are not theoretical. In any world with sympathetic magic, blood does tell.

Story sold to Asimov's: "Apocalypse Daily"

Wednesday August 25, 2010 @ 10:20 AM (UTC)

I am so very pleased to announce that I have sold another story to Asimov’s Science Fiction! Asimov’s has been dear to my heart for many years, and I am incredibly proud to have had four stories accepted there.

This story is called “Apocalypse Daily”. Many thanks to those who gave it a read, and to my cousin Sylvia who helped me with some vocab.

I was thinking, since of course I can’t offer you anything so concrete as a date of release or an issue, that I’d emulate Mary Robinette Kowal and offer you a teaser from the beginning of the story instead.

Apocalypse Daily

“How shall I end the world today?” Katrina Vang asked the ceiling. The ceiling didn’t respond, and her cat offered only a petulant mew.

“What kind of question is that to ask a poor dumb animal?” Natalie said from the doorway, and Katrina blinked to make sure she was actually awake. Right, her sister was supposed to be there. Sleeping on the couch due to a sudden lack of job and apartment.

“Traddles woke me up by sticking his paw in my eye socket. He owes me.”

“Still, you can’t ask the cat to do your job for you. End the world yourself.”

What is the purpose of blog comments?

Tuesday August 24, 2010 @ 01:33 PM (UTC)

A while back, Ryan mentioned to me that he may remove the capacity to comment from his blog, wonko.com. This rocked my world. No comments? But blogs have comments! It’s a universal constant! Okay, so I exaggerated there. Sure, I’ve seen comments-disabled posts, often on touchy or personal matters, on otherwise comment-enabled blogs. And I’ve visited a few blogs with no comment system. It tends to have a more…austere feeling. Like a museum, rather than a tearoom. Comments invite you to stay a while and have a scone. No comments? You are invited to move along to the next exhibit.

Ryan tends to think things through, so he had plenty of arguments against the necessity of comments for his blog. His blog is increasingly about technical matters. I pointed out that people like to discuss these matters, and he pointed out that they are welcome to do so by e-mail or on twitter. If their comment is longer than 140 characters, he pointed out, they’re welcome to post it on their own blog and send him a link. Obviously, he has a point.

Different blog spaces carry different necessities. I read a fair amount of social justice blogs, like Racialicious and Feministe. Part of their purpose is discussion — lively at times — and to provide a space dedicated to hashing out issues, often nominally or actually “safe” for those participating. Many major blogs of this type even have “open threads” from time to time, where the management offers no guidance on what the commentariat should mull. Obviously, these blogs are part forum.

But my blog isn’t like that. I am glad it’s not. Writing a social justice blog means setting yourself up as an authority and giving yourself a certain responsibility to keep up with and comment on current events. That’s admirable, but it’s not the path I’ve chosen in life. I’ve chosen to be a fiction writer, which means a certain amount of dreamy detachment is part, parcel, perquisite and peril of my vocation. Some of my blog posts ask for audience participation, but some of them don’t.

I can see some arguments against comments in general. Where the commentariat is largely people one knows, there is a sort of social pressure. If I post good news, do you have to publicly fête me? I like congratulations as much as the next person, but I don’t want to make anyone feel they must pipe up. (I’m the sort of person who tends to send off-list congratulations to on-list good news, so obviously I’m a little weird about the dynamic of clapping people on the back in front of a crowd.) In other cases, I’ve heard people talk about the social pressure of commenting – someone you don’t know or barely know comments on your blog, so you feel you have to comment on theirs.

This brings me back to the responsibilities of blogging: I don’t want to ever be in a position where I have to blog about something. If something dreadful happens in the world – which happens all too often – I usually feel that my perspective on it is redundant, if not useless. I may feel stunned and wordless. Political bloggers and social justice bloggers seem to have a socially mandated duty to speak on current events. I never want to be there. Neither do I want to be committed to post everything of a certain sort in my own life — every time I make a pie, for instance (I guarantee you, while it makes useful filler here and there, that I don’t post every pie I make!). There’s too much speaking for speaking’s sake in the world. That isn’t a call for seriousness, by any means: anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am chock-full of nonsense. What I am advocating is sincerity. Don’t blog if you don’t feel it. Don’t comment if you don’t want to (and if you do want to, don’t feel constrained!)

And if you do want to respond to something, I hope you have the space or make the space. Ryan’s point that would-be commenters can post on their own blogs is well taken. Even in the forum-like bustle of large social justice sites, people take a step back into their own spaces and respond there. A long comment may not get much attention when it’s attached to someone else’s work. On your own blog, it has the chance to breathe, to be read on its own merits and for its own sake. Much of what we want to say in the world is a response: to someone else’s speech, yes, or to our own lives, our own experiences, to nature or culture. Maybe it would be silly to start a blog just because you wanted to comment on someone’s post and comments were locked. But maybe it will happen again, and again. Maybe you should have, if not a blog, a text document on your own computer. Even if you don’t need or want anyone else to hear, hearing yourself is vital and healthy.

Maybe I’ll close down comments on a post here and there. I experimented with this on the most recent update on my upcoming story. Just the facts, ma’am, and no meaty topic for discussion. But upon reflection, I’ll be keeping comments open on most posts here. I like the idea of putting out tea and biscuits for all comers.

This blog’s purpose has shifted over the years. When I began, I hoped to share a few silly anecdotes, but mostly give myself room to write and hear myself. I needed a place for words and creativity in a life that didn’t otherwise hold that space. Now my life fully inhabits those spaces, and the blog serves to share — my news, my nonsense, things that make me laugh, delight me, or make me think. It’s my blog, but I need to believe you’re a part of it. I’ll definitely be keeping comments, but I’m glad to have considered the question. Rethinking and questioning keeps blogs, as well as people, healthy.

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