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Thursday January 08, 2009 @ 11:51 PM (UTC)

I do my best to avoid these blog-meme thingummies, but if Ryan, King Curmudgeon and Captain Crankypants, has accepted the tag and passed it on, it must be a powerful tag. I absolutely refuse to perpetuate the cycle by tagging people though. I have some scruples. Also, I am not sure there are seven bloggers I wouldn’t feel mean tagging who haven’t done this months ago.

I do, however, blabber a great deal. So you may very well know all of these already.

Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me, yada yada

1. I had a speech impediment for a while as a child. It’s hard to describe. It was rather like a stammer, but not quite, and seemed to be caused by overexcitement.

2. I am allergic to cats, but Qubit has largely cured me. I type this with Her Majesty in my lap (and, ooph, over my right arm.) For most of my life, having a cat in this proximity to my mucus membranes would have made life an unbearable torment. Now I can pet her, scritch her, and give her nose-kisses. Qubit has built up in my system like allergy shots. Or she’s magic, take your pick.

3. As a youngster, I believed Ewoks really lived in the Redwood Forest. When your parents tell you the Endor scenes were filmed there, what are you supposed to think?

4. I have a hard time remembering easy names. Especially simple female names. I think it’s a side effect of growing up in a family with extremely unusual names for all the women.

5. One of my legs is slightly longer than the other. I think it’s genetic, as my dad has the same leg shorter by the same amount.

6. I played the violin and the clarinet for a year each before starting the oboe. After I quit the violin, my parents wanted me to prove I could commit to something before they shelled out for an oboe rental, and the family had a wooden clarinet I could borrow. I also played the piano for five years, but I’m sure more of ye know that.

7. I don’t like touching rough brown kraft paper. It often gives me a flinch, like hearing nails on a blackboard might. Huzzah for cloth grocery bags!

There. Go forth, and be untagged if ye will, and tagged if ye’d rather! And blame Ryan for all this blather.

Official Rules, which I shamelessly disregard:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post — some random, some weird.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

My thesis as a cloud

Saturday January 03, 2009 @ 12:46 AM (UTC)

My friend Robert Peake, a thoughtful poet gifted in procrastination, recently turned in his MFA thesis and made word clouds of his critical essay and creative thesis (collection of poems, in his case), which you can see on his blog. (Clouds show each word at a size proportional to its number of uses in the text. Wordle defaults to removing dead-common words like ‘and’, and uses the 150 most used words unless you specify differently.) Of course I jumped at the chance to be the next to perform this act of procrastinatory genius, and plugged my opus into Wordle.

Here is my nearly-complete story collection/complete creative thesis, Sea Selves, in cloud form:
Thesis Wordle

I really liked the random font and other options Wordle chose, and the layout that came out first try, so this is exactly what Wordle pumped out, transformed only in color. I took all these shades from photos I’ve taken of the Pacific Ocean. (Pretentious? Moi?)

Here is my critical essay, Sea Change: Visions of the Ocean, which I tweaked a little more:
Essay Wordle

If for some reason you want to look closer at either, you can click through to the Flickr page and press the ‘all sizes’ button right above the image. My word clouds look very different from Robert’s, which is to be expected. Not only is my thesis prose, but mine is themed. I hope someone with a non-themed short story thesis tries it next to compare! There are a few words I’m slightly surprised by on my thesis word cloud, others I’m glad came through so strongly, and some which were a matter of course. And it’s interesting to see the names of characters from very different stories and worlds nestle so promiscuously together.

For fun, here is a wordle of Sea Selves with 1500 words rather than 150. I think it makes clear why 150 is the default:
Thesis Wordle with 1500 words.

In short, I hope Robert has started a fashion. This was fun, and I hope to see other MFAers follow suit.

Geek Social Fallacy Addendum

Friday January 02, 2009 @ 01:51 PM (UTC)

The Five Geek Social Fallacies were established in 2003 by this dude named Michael Suileabhain-Wilson, and can be read in detail here. They are as follows, in short form:

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil
Geek Social Fallacy #2: Friends Accept Me As I Am
Geek Social Fallacy #3: Friendship Before All
Geek Social Fallacy #4: Friendship Is Transitive
Geek Social Fallacy #5: Friends Do Everything Together

My friend RockStar and I have come up with another one (as the author has always said is more than possible) which comes up a lot in our lives. It might be a corollary to #5, rather than a fallacy in its own right:

Geek Social Fallacy #6 or #5b: Friends Like All the Same Things.

I definitely am a carrier for this, though my intellectual brain rejects it. Really, people have different tastes and that’s okay. But when someone I cherish, whose opinion matters to me, dislikes something I love, there is a palpable sting. This is, of course, how this fallacy came to be formulated, for RockStar is a man of strong opinions and discerning tastes, whereas I am a woman of strong opinions and occasionally permissive tastes. There are many things I like that he doesn’t like, and it helps that we formulated this rule to remind us that it’s okay for geeks not to geek out over all the same things.

Of course, being sarcastic beggars, it doesn’t exactly play out as:

R: I think [X] is an ultimately shallow and brainless movie.
F: That’s okay, because friends don’t have to like all the same things!

It actually played out:

R: I hate Star Wars.
F: We are no longer friends!

and subsequently:

R: I think [X] is an ultimately shallow and brainless movie.
F: That’s okay, because we aren’t friends.

But we both understand it as meaning the same as the first example.

I’ve been meaning to tell ye about this Fallacy Addendum for some time, but I was spurred into action this morning by yet another Goodreads update e-mail wherein etmorpi gave a horrible rating to yet another Norby book. It’s okay that etmorpi doesn’t enjoy the antics of superpowered, whimsical and supremely confident robots made of barrels of nails. Because people are different, their expectations from literature and entertainment differ, and the landscapes of life and mind that affect any one reading of the same work render it utterly distinct from any other. Friendship is about something more lasting than mere aesthetic symmetry: about compassion, support, and overcoming difference in favor of lasting sympathy.

Or, in other words: Etmorpi, we are no longer friends!


Thursday January 01, 2009 @ 03:48 PM (UTC)

Sadly, this news comes too late for you to fly over to Russia and get a copy, but “Burgerdroid” was published in the December issue of Если (“Esli” or “If”) Magazine. I’m really proud that this happened and excited that people with whom I wouldn’t normally be able to communicate (I can say “hello”, “goodbye”, “how are you?” and “fine, thank you” — and I can’t spell anything) can read my story.

Invented word edition! Because I come from a cluttery and packratty folk, I find a lot of use for clutter words, such as the slightly fear-inducing ‘kipple’ invented by P.K. Dick. But here’s another neologism of decades’ standing, which has much currency in my family:

…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.
Prologue, The Ring Sets Out, The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien and P.K. Dick have my number entirely. Mathoms and kipple, alive, alive-o.

Random note: doll diversity

Monday December 22, 2008 @ 08:32 PM (UTC)

In my interwebby travels, I found myself at a list of black dolls available from a web store, linked to by a blogger suggesting dolls for Zahara Jolie-Pitt. Yes, I was reading a blog about the care of African-American hair. No, I can’t remember why. It’s the internet, it’s like that.

Anywho, looking at the ranges of dolls reminded me of something from my childhood: my favorite dolls were Asian (and Pacific Islander). My favorite Barbie for many years was a Hawaiian doll named Miko, who was succeeded upon her eventual decapitation (Mom always told me not to take them outside — dropping Barbies on the sidewalk is fatal) by an Asian-American doll named Kira. I was already deeply ambiguous about Barbies as a child, thanks to my feminist upbringing, but I did like them and created epic storylines where they warred around the room in various outfits (the blondes were usually the villains.)

I had forgotten why Miko and Kira were my favorites until I was looking at the above-linked list of black dolls. Several of the dolls are parts of lines that include a blonde doll, an “Asian” doll, and a “Black” doll. Some, like the one I linked above, include a redhead. Some lines have a whole mess of white dolls (in this case, with crazy hair colors) with one “Asian” and one “Black”. Another side note: apparently you can’t have Asian or Black dolls with purple hair when all the white dolls have pink, lavender, et cetera — the Asian doll has just streaks of pink, while the Black doll has black hair and what really look like hair-curlers. I hope many theses have been written on this stuff, because damn.

My point is that toy companies now apparently try to satisfy diversity, when they do at all, by rounding out their lines with one Black doll and one Asian doll. This was even less widespread when I was a little brunette (and my hair was almost black as a child) — mostly there was just one white doll, usually blonde, and if there was another option she was black. I grabbed any doll with light skin and dark hair I could — and often they were Asian dolls (I saw ads for brunette Barbie friend Teresa but never found her in the store.) Heck, I even grabbed redhead Midges, to have a relief from the sea of blonditude.

So I have to wonder what little Latina girls are getting at the toy store. I’ve heard that retail spending by Latinas (teens and up, but still) is the fastest growing in America. So why the hell wouldn’t you make a doll with dark hair? It seems that there’s some realization that Bratz’s diversity as well as their much-vaunted “style” made them popular — Barbie’s attempt to hit back at Bratz had black, Asian-American and brown-haired white dolls, and was adding a Hispanic doll. But it’s still puzzling to me that the blond hegemony is so firmly in place overall. Dark hair is a dominant trait — there’s a lot of us. If rarity were the rationale, all dolls would be redheads. Since that’s not the case, what’s with the lack of brunettes?

I made this a rambling, casual note on purpose because this is one of those topics that yawns before you, demanding endless research, and it isn’t really my field. But seriously, why so few brunettes? And is this Asian/brunette partial equivalency well-established, because now Barbie seems to sell more Teresas and no Kiras?

Beauty and erasure

Sunday December 14, 2008 @ 12:37 AM (UTC)

I recently finished the meaty nonfiction tome The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander. It led me to reflect on youth and responsibility, the totally different worlds that coexist within a given culture and time period, and many other things. One line of thought was inspired by a throw-away line and a series of illustration plates.

A surviving, highly stylized portrait shows Nessy [Heywood, sister of a mutinous young gentleman] as the ideal young woman of her time, with large, limpid eyes and a small ‘rosebud’ mouth, her slim, pale face framed by a mane of soft curls – a portrait that does not accord entirely with Peter’s own fond and forgiving description. His sister’s features, he allowed, ‘were by no means regular’, although her long-lashed eyes ‘redeemed the whole face’.

The portrait, seen here, is reproduced in a plates section further on in the text. It is, in fact, pretty but insipid, a sharp contrast to the portrait of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley on the facing page. Pasley’s portrait is more detailed and by a noted portraitist, so perhaps it’s natural that his face shows hints of cunning and perhaps a twist of humor, where Nessy’s portrait gives no real insight on her character.

But turning the page again, I find character after character. The officers at Peter Heywood’s court martial appear in different media, by different artists, and most of them are strikingly individual. I could very easily label each with an adjective: self-absorbed, stodgy, idealist, bold; or use each picture as the jumping-off point for a character in a story. I turn the page again, and here are more portraits, few of them detailed oil portraits, but most of them, again, with that indefinable spark that speaks, if not of likeness, then of humanity, perhaps of essence. Take a look at Rear Admiral John Knight, small tho’ he be here, and then look at Nessy again. Isn’t she amazingly devoid of character?

Another woman I find myself unable to envision as real from her portrait is Tahitian noblewoman Poedua (WARNING: exposed breasts). On the other hand, Elizabeth Bligh, Captain Bligh’s wife, seemed very real to me. But when I turned the page to her portrait, I felt a sting of embarrassment on her behalf. Despite the intellect I know from the text she possessed, there is something weak, perhaps a desire to please, in her face. She would seem puppyish even without the accompanying dog. And there is something unprepossessing in her mouth and teeth. More than Poedua, she seems naked to me. Naked because she is real, unbeautiful.

In our perturbation over before and after airbrushing photos, perhaps we forget this earlier precedent. When likeness was a matter both of the skill and of the tact of the portraitist, these flattering lies were rampant (whither Marie-Antoinette’s Hapsburg chin, Mme. Vigée-Le Brun?). There’s no reason to suppose that the men’s portraits are immune – some of these men may have a more dashing set of the head or stronger set of the jaw than they did in life. But those envied physiognomies of manly virtus are not so demanding and distorting as the fickle ideal of beauty.

I remember arguing once with someone who argued that we shouldn’t have a Sacagawea coin because we don’t have any contemporary portrait of her, and can’t be sure our coin is accurate. I pointed out that before photography, only rich, ruling class/race men (and a few women) could have their likeness preserved for posterity – insisting on a likeness before a stamp or coin could be produced would mean perpetuating the effacement of poor people and people of color throughout the ages. And now I realize that there is another effacement here, that of personality and individuality (and occasionally ethnicity) in many of the portraits that were painted. Perhaps Marie-Antoinette was mortified to be sketched on her way to the Guillotine by Revolutionnaire Jacques-Louis David. Under the circumstances, more mortified than most celebrities enduring the paparazzi’s flashes can possibly be. But I feel this picture, stark and incomplete as it is, shows more of Marie-Antoinette’s personality than the many posed and prettified portraits of her I have seen. Her jaw is set and her back is straight. That seems both real and admirable. To be without the veil of beauty is to be exposed, for good or ill.

The beauty ideal isn’t weakening. Rather than allowing a less restrictive and more attainable range of female appearance to be celebrated, our culture is upping the pressure on men to perfect, pore-minimize, depilate and smooth. When you can open a magazine and find Clive Owen in the uncanny valley almost as easily as Beyoncé, perhaps it’s time to celebrate the fragmentary, distorted truth-telling the camera can provide. Perhaps next time we look at a photograph of ourselves, we can look, not for the bulge or the pimple or the wrinkle, but the spark of humanity, the essence that has been preserved and transmitted. Something that says, “I was there.”

Little bit o' news

Monday December 08, 2008 @ 08:46 PM (UTC)

Sorry I’ve been a bad blogger of late, folks. I’ll whip something up soon.

At any rate, I wanted to share my little bit of news: check out this list of this quarter’s Honorable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest. Oh, okay, it’s a long list, I won’t make you search. I’m on there.

I was finally convinced to try sending to WotF for the first time this quarter — I’m still eligible because I’ve only had one pro sale. When I decided to start entering, there were only a few days left before the deadline, so I sent in a fabulist short story from my thesis even though I wasn’t sure it was a great fit for the contest. But it got an Honorable Mention, so I think that constitutes ‘encouragement’. I feel encouraged, at any rate!

Battlestar Galactica strikes back

Monday December 01, 2008 @ 10:47 PM (UTC)

Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica disappointed me. “Disappointed me” is a weak term. It took all my trust and affection and wrung them out of me, then pressure-washed the floor to make sure no traces stained the concrete. Only Fox’s Cancellation Department (motto: You like it? We kill it!) has ever used TV against me to better effect. So when people said Season 3 was good, I laughed cynically and ran away. When Ryan said he was going to watch it, I performed last rites just in case. When he told me it was ‘awesome’, I told him, “I’ll let you sing your canary song from a leeeetle deeper in that mineshaft.”

But Ryan knows me very well. He knows that I love Lucy Lawless, that I’m insatiably curious, and that I love a good space battle. He bought the premiere in HD. And here I am again, with that horrible tooth-grinding narrative tension settled in my bones. That lean forward from the couch so easily readopted. We’re so weak, we humans. (I mean, Joss Whedon is working with Fox again. We are a weak species.) Please, BSG, keep rocking. I don’t think I can heal again. I’m taking you back, but don’t break my heart.

Orycon 30

Sunday November 23, 2008 @ 09:03 PM (UTC)

So it’s over, my first con appearance as a writer. I loved it. That’s even though I was initially terrified that I would be expected to arrive full of wisdom and pithy jewels, and even though my first panel was so poorly attended I considered closing my eyes and trying to levitate to make sure it wasn’t an anxiety dream. I learned (or sensed) that I am what I’m expected to be: full of opinions and odd scraps, self-deprecating jokes and nonsense; and that I know more than I realize. All my subsequent panels were well-attended, and even at the first one, I learned something. It’s an odd thing, a convention panel. It arrives sometime after you do, assembled from audience questions and bits of every person at the front of the room. You go partially to find out what it is you’re going to say.

I met splendid people, and in general, everyone was radically friendly (even by Northwest standards.) I made new friends and bought new books. I haven’t assimilated everything yet — that will require time, and quite a bit of sleep.

But one thing I think I will remember forever. It’s both a shining moment and a little bit of a regret. After a panel I was on where my story, “Burgerdroid”, was relevant, I was taking the escalator down to the main meeting floor. A woman leaned over the railing and called, “Felicity! I just wanted to tell you I loved your story.” I very nearly started running backwards up the escalator. I did not want to miss this. But I decided to err on the side of caution and confined myself to grins and thanks. “Have you got anything else coming out?” she said.

“No sci-fi,” I replied.

“Too bad. It was the most badass story I read all year.” (this is of course reconstructed. She may have said ‘kickass’, for example, but the emotion of the hearer is unaffected by such details.)

I really wanted to find out who she was, but the few times I saw her again, she was deep in conversation, and her nametag was always flipped the wrong way. (If you ever read this, nice woman with long hair and bangs, leave me a comment and introduce yourself.) Maybe I’ll see her again — Orycon is a pretty cozy convention, and I hope to return next year. But if I don’t, I’ll chalk it up to fate: maybe it’s a good thing to have an anonymous reader in mind who loved your work and wants you to keep writing.

Enough blogging! The page calls. Some nice woman with long hair and bangs is waiting for more stories.

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