mokie: A child lays in a bed built into a bookshelf, reading (reading yay)
Happy 230th birthday to Jakob Grimm, an influential linguist better known for his tales of fantasy.

Hang on, why does that sound familiar? Oh, right, yesterday's birthday boy.

Attention aspiring fantasy writers: be born in early January.
mokie: Vintage photo of a woman with legs crossed reading a book (reading smut)
So I was discussing fiction with a friend... No, that's not quite right.

So last year I started watching Hemlock Grove, but got distracted and wandered off. When I saw an advertisement for the upcoming second season, I thought two things: "Better to catch up and keep up, then," and "Wait, what? 'Emmy-nominated'? Hemlock Grove was nominated for a fucking Emmy, but there's no love for Hannibal?"

Because I like Hemlock Grove, more or less. Contrary to appearances, it's not yet another True Bloody Vampire Twilight Diaries teen romance soap opera with fangs, but a collection of Hollywood's classic Silver Screen movie monsters translated to a modern setting, and that's a pretty nifty idea. But I love Hannibal, and most of the critics who've bothered to watch it call it the best show on TV right now - better than Game of Thrones, better than Mad Men, better even, some thought, than Breaking Bad. And yet it was more or less snubbed by the mainstream American awards shows, and even the piddly media awards; for instance, it shows up only in vague "Best Villain" and "Best Show" categories on TV Guide's online awards voting. Why is that?

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in not watching horror... No, that's not quite right.

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in bragging about not watching horror. And the little committees that pick award nominees and winners are loaded with those assholes. This is no surprise to 'genre' fans - we're pretty used to the world looking down its nose at us - but it is a surprise to see so many vampires and werewolves sprinkled around out in the open and accepted. They're not horror anymore, but romance, the new soap operas, and the voters are totes cool with them as long as they stay sexy and don't look like, y'know, monsters.

Even so, I suspect Hemlock Grove's nomination had more to do with patting Netflix on the head for making its own series than the series it made.

But anyway.

So I was discussing that with a friend, and we wandered off on a tangent about romance novels, including paranormal romances, historical romances, the old-fashioned gothic romances, and all that jazz. Eventually we circled around to poking the fanfiction concept of 'id fic' with a stick, because that is a clever, clever way to look at literature.

Id fic appeals to the squat little reptilian pleasure-seeking part of brain, your id, the little masturbating monkey mind, the part of your brain that embarrasses you at parties with inappropriate thoughts and grunts, "Uhn, sexy!" at shit you know just ain't right. As one fanfiction writer put it, "Because 'good' stories often have to temporize, to maintain reality and your suspension of disbelief and the dynamics of the canon. But idfic says fuck that, let's turn this shit up to ELEVEN and SEE WHERE IT GOES."

See? That's brilliant. Instead of blushing through flustered and defensive explanations of how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn has deeper meaning, or romance novels aren't really about the smut, or how pulp fantasy novels have deeper wish fulfillment blah blah blah, look at the freedom of just saying, "It's id fic" - acknowledging that the masturbating monkey mind loves its stories, too, and that this is totally okay.

But, at the same time, it also lets us see how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn, etc., can have deeper meaning, because where you've got id, you've got context for the tight-laced and prudish super-ego to stroll in: the masturbating monkey mind likes it dirty, and what the masturbating monkey mind finds dirty has a lot to say about the culture and society and baggage of the mind it squats in. For instance, Wuthering Heights is a big ol' floppy melodramatic mess of id, crouched in the corner fapping furiously and leering at onlookers, but it's also a classic that "challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality."

Would it be going too far to suggest there's also super-ego fic? Stories that consciously and purposefully poke at social constructs and cultural baggage, that get all up our noses about being a better person? Those stories certainly exist - they're the things we rarely read on our own, because they're preachy and boring, not at all as interesting as peering through a book-shaped keyhole with the masturbating monkey mind at things we know we'll later feel dirty for enjoying.

Maybe that's what I like so much about Hannibal - having both the monkey and the monk at the dinner table together, uncomfortably aroused.

Edited to add: Yes, I know, the id fic concept has been around for ages, but my circles don't overlap that way. Sometimes it takes a while for things to pop up on my radar. Also, when discussing some topics, particularly fandom or fan-adjacent topics, things work out best if I just assume that the other person has no idea what I'm talking about until/unless they say otherwise, and thus I need to explain from scratch without getting too slangful or complicated.
mokie: A doll with an open torso featuring a diorama (yay for girls)
May started with a terrible essay (broken down fabulously over at Captain Awkward and by Dr. Nerdlove), in which a man tried to shame his ex for refusing to maintain a relationship with him. Not the relationship, but any relationship. By his own account, she had moved on and found someone new, and she didn't want to hang out with him and rehash the drama of their now-defunct relationship over and over. She did not want to be in a relationship with him, and she did not want to be in that dysfunctional not-relationship with him, either, and so she called it quits - except he doesn't think she has the right to do that. He believes he has veto power over an ex-girlfriend's right to decide who she associates with, because he hasn't got closure (read: the change to debate-to-death her decision to end the relationship). His response to her cutting off contact was to ignore it, keep poking, keep popping up, even after being threatened with a restraining order.

And he painted her decision to cut contact with him as abusive. Yes, seriously. He suggested it was abusive of her to expect to decide for herself who she did or did not interact with. He also suggested that abusive men are abusive because they feel powerless, hint hint, ladies.

Y'know, in case you wondered why she threatened him with a restraining order.

Then, less than two weeks after that essay made the rounds, an asshole declared war on women, and a world that would give women to other men but not him. He killed his roommates, grabbed his guns, and set out for "the hottest sorority" on campus, because. Because girls never approached him, and would have rejected him had he ever bothered to approach them. Because girls pick jerks (who actually ask them out) instead of 'gentlemen' like him (who sit around waiting for ass to be handed to them, like Sleeping Booty, and never put themselves out there for outright rejection). Because when he attempted to assault some women months earlier (what a gentleman!), some nearby men had intervened and kicked his ass. Because he was a misogynistic shitstain driven to obtain riches and women, and frustrated with a life that did not magically hand him these things. Because he was an entitled, spoilt rotten adolescent piece of walking, talking crap who'd had everything handed to him, and his response to adulthood and the requirement that he grow up and work for things was magical thinking (use The Secret to win the lottery!) and an inevitable tantrum.

Because girls aren't psychic - but thank God for instinct and intuition.

And the apologists poured out. It wasn't misogyny because look, he killed more men! - despite the videos and the manifesto and forum posts in which he declared his hatred for women and that he was going to kill as many as possible, and the fact that he only failed because he was utterly incompetent even at being a super-villain. It wasn't misogyny, because look, he had Aspergers, and oh why did no one get him treatment! - despite the fact that autism isn't a mental illness, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, he was receiving help and his family did attempt to get him committed out of fear he was a threat to himself and others. It wasn't misogyny, because he was probably gay! - and what the fuck is in the water over at Fox News? Seriously now.

And worse, there were the creepy comments. "If even one girl had put out..." What? Pussy would have cured him? No. Or the NYPost's naming and shaming of a girl from grade school that didn't even remember the asshole, though her father did - specifically, he remembered him as a creepy little fuck.

May ended with women on Twitter sharing times they were harassed, intimidated or assaulted - and being harangued by men who were upset because this conversation about women being harassed, intimidated and assaulted was not taking place within the context of how it hurt men to be associated with this and discussed this way. They insisted that the conversation must begin with how feminists discuss men, and must include caveats that specifically let certain men (them) off the hook, because somehow, simply saying that a man raped you and the police didn't take it seriously is slandering all men, because this is really all about men's feelings, isn't it?

So let's start June off better, with Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds, in which a nerdy guy calls out the pop culture nerd narrative as insulting to and unhealthy for nerdy guys and women alike.
mokie: John William Waterhouse's Pandora peers into the box (disbelief)
If you ever needed a clear example of what's wrong with society:

A 20-year-old man in Oklahoma was arrested for rape after it was discovered he'd been engaged in sexual activity with a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old. He played Truth or Dare with the two girls and dared them to engage in sexual acts with him and with each other in his room at his parents' home. The reports don't say why the girls were there, but they do say that the 15-year-old "was successful in fending off one other sexual attack," and that the charges include forcible sodomy, so they're not just alleging statutory rape here.

The facts: an adult engaged in sexual activity with two minors.

Society: those wicked girls!

"He's still a kid himself!" says someone trying to justify an adult engaging in sexual activity with two minors.

"Why did they keep coming back?" says someone who assumes the girls were sneaking in to play games with an older guy, ignoring other possibilities - like that the girls were relatives spending the night, pressured into playing games with a creepy uncle that also lived in the house. (That's a scenario that also explains his parents' reaction: they immediately kicked him out of the house, and are on the record stating that these 'games' took place when they were asleep or not home. That doesn't sound like they were unaware of the girls' presence - or, possibly, their son's proclivities.)

"Those girls aren't so innocent," says someone who's never met anyone involved in this story, and who assumes that the female teens bear responsibility rather than the adult male.

I emphasize the gender because the gender is important - it's why the teens are being demonized, and why their rapist is being excused. He's just a poor boy, barely out of his teens, but they're teenage girls, and therefore brazen hussies.

It's bullshit, ladies and gents. The adult is always responsible. That's what being an adult is: being responsible. I don't care if the teens were willing participants - and remember, the charges specifically say they weren't. (No, being in a man's room is not the same as consenting, even if they were old enough to consent, which they weren't.) But even if the girls were up for it, it was still his responsibility as the adult to say NO and to not take advantage of the situation.
mokie: Red and Kitty Foreman are obviously exasperated (disappointed)
New rule: if your response to a survey asking Americans about their stance on LGBT-related issues from a religious perspective (including but not limited to questions about how much of a factor those issues played in leaving a religion) is a defensive statement about how it's 'unwise to generalize about why Millennials are leaving religion', then you no longer get to complain about people calling your generation 'self-absorbed'.
mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
An odd trend popped up and caught my eye over the last decade: failing businesses requesting donations to keep from going under. I mean donations literally: not an exchange of goods and services, but outright requests for money to pay off outstanding rent and utility bills. They were usually from bookshops under three years old, crossing my path because I am bookish and frequented bookish sites and forums where the requests appeared.

What the requests suggested to me, depending on the details:
- The owner did not have a viable business plan and knew diddly-squat about running a business.
- The owner confused their daydreams about what they'd do with 'the keys to the candy shop' with having a business plan.
- The owner confused being a business in the business of [whatever] with being a church in the service of [whatever].
- The owner confused being a business in a community with being a community center.
- The owner should have started a club instead, as it seemed they wanted a place to hang out with fellow [whatever] lovers rather than a business.
- The business was already beyond saving.

Bookshops aren't really the point here, but they do illustrate it well.

First, more than half of all new businesses fail by their fourth year, simply because new business owners are inexperienced. Successful business owners usually have a few failed businesses under their belt; their failures taught them the pitfalls of business, how to mess up and pick themselves up and eventually succeed. Bookish people who've long daydreamed of having their own bookshop look from a customer's point of view, seeing a lack of bookshops as a need for bookshops, but missing the obvious counterpoint: shops with decades of experience in successful operation were put out of business by Amazon and the chains, and those that survived did so because they had advantages others didn't (like a great walkable urban location) or because they made changes that brought in a wider range of people (like bric-a-brac hunters).

Second, these small business owners overestimated the importance of their interests to the local community, and their role within the community. To bookish folks, a refrigerator is just an appliance, a bath towel just a flop of cloth. They're just things. Books are different, sacred vessels to which we entrust ideas, containers for other worlds and lives. Opening a bookshop isn't just like having the keys to the candy shop - it's like being entrusted with your own church. A church of candy, even. That lends itself to unhealthy expectations, because to the rest of the community, a book is just a thing, and even dedicated bibliophiles are going to have to pay their own rent first.

That's why new and troubled bookshops take to their blogs and Facebook pages, asking for $15,000 in a month to cover their outstanding debts so they can stay in business. They do a little interview with the local paper about how they'll have to shut their doors if the community doesn't come through and show it values its bookshops, and keep Twitter abuzz with updates. They'll certainly get a few more customers, mostly looking for really good going-out-of-business sales, but I haven't seen a single bookshop yet saved by begging the community to keep their dreams afloat.

For some, as the deadline looms, the bitterness creeps in. If all the people offering supportive comments were regular customers... If they were real book lovers, they'd have been there all along, and the shop wouldn't be in trouble. They get huffy at what they see as invasive questions, because who do you think you are, asking them about their business plan and how you can be sure they wouldn't be asking for donations again in a few months? How dare you want to make sure your money wouldn't be wasted? They forget that they run a business, not a charity or a church or a fucking community rec center, and that nobody owes them a goddamn thing - certainly not to be rewarded with free money for their incompetence, no questions asked. "Show us you value our business" is the customer's line.

The community sees a business begging, and a business begging for donations is a business that's bad at businessing. Why throw good money after bad? That hardly gives them any confidence in the business owner's competence.

The community wants to see the business taking steps to fix its own problems, and telling them how they can help - not that it's dead in the water unless its customers come up with a load of cash. People will happily help someone raise money to start a business (and I will, because St. Louis needs Dr. Dan's Pancake Van). People will gladly patronize a business if they like it and it fulfills a need or want for them. People don't want to be blamed for a business they've never heard of going under, however, or shamed for not taking up the flag in someone's personal cause, be it books, raw dog food or organic produce.

To be clear: the point is not bookshops, failing bookshops, how many bookshops turn to donations/crowdfunding, that small businesses should not ask for help, that small businesses should not be given help, or that one should write off troubled businesses as, "Oh well, do-over." It's that the community loves to give businesses support, but asking for charity makes a business look non-viable.

All of which brings us to the inspiration for this ramble!

A local organic grocer's expansion fell through, and now the business is in debt and at risk. Though only five years old, they are pretty well established on the local food scene, and increasing their business steadily. On social media, they're sending a business message that suggests confidence and capability: we're responsible and well-run, not asking for donations but having a sale to raise funds to fix an identified issue. Not a hand-out, just a hand-up - that sort of thing.

It's perfect! It should appeal not just to the organic church and choir, but also to the community. Except, in local print media...
Horine says it would defy the Local Harvest ethos of building a stronger local-food community to close without first turning to that community for help.

"We've always stuck with it," he says. "We believe in what we're doing. It sounds cliché, but we feel like it's bigger than us. So we're going to give the community a chance to try to save it." (Ian Froeb, "Local Harvest Grocery and restaurants face imminent closure, seek help", St. Louis Post-Dispatch 27 January 2014)
Give the community a chance to... Gah!
The Scoop talked with Earnest about her fund raising plans. “What we built the [Local Harvest] model on was building a local food community,” Earnest said. “People will have the chance to say…whether it’s important that we continue to exist. Whether it’s worth it. Whether it’s right for them. Obviously we think so, but do they?” (Ligaya Figueras, "The Scoop: Local Harvest launches community fund raising campaign to avoid closure", Sauce Magazine 27 January 2014)
Whether it's worth.... Gah! 'Cause' wording undermines any sense of confidence and capability. By shifting all action to the consumer, it doesn't tell us how (or if) the business is trying to fix its problem, if there's a plan besides "beg for donations help", if the problem has even been identified or if this is just rescheduling a crisis. It's all just "Support my church of candy! Don't you love candy? Prove it!"

Besides, who says something like that when they're asking you for money? "I need $1000 to pay my rent and heating bill and buy food. You have the chance to say whether it's important to you that I don't freeze to death homeless and starving on the street." And why am I hearing Sarah McLachlan?

To the owners, local and organic is its own little church of candy. To the 'church and choir' customers, it's local, it's organic, but it's also asking for a lot of money, while using language that puts responsibility for its success or failure on the people it's borrowing from. To the community that might have been persuaded to help a local business out, it's a goddamn business, and they do not need to prove any goddamn thing to a goddamn business. The community does not have to prove its love, prove that it cares, prove that it values a certain kind of business. The business has to prove that it's not going to tank and leave people high and dry with worthless gift certificates. Because it's a business, not a cause.

SPACEBALLS: THE CLARIFICATION! (and update): Yes, this entry was edited to clarify the intent (I hope), eliminate some repetition, and address my lack of caffeination when it was written. But more importantly, on February 1st, LHC met their funding goal, and the villagers rejoiced!

Happy New Year!

Friday, 4 January 2013 08:55 am
mokie: Stonehenge with the sun shining through the stones (holiday renewal)
Three days late for a new year post. Well, so much for that resolution...

Let's get right to business, shall we?

NEW
YEARS
RULIN'S


1. WORK MORE AND BETTER. I've been very fortunate in my current line of work, but I need to buckle down and more actively seek more of it. This means overcoming my oddly specific fear of work-related scheduling conflicts, a result of having to fight at three different retail jobs to make them respect my 'unavailable' days.

2. WORK BY A SCHEDULE. A new soap or related product every week! This year, I will keep the shop stocked.

3. Here's where I break from the Guthrie list, because the man has eight different hygiene-related resolutions, which is a little worrisome. So instead, I'll take one from a very cool project manager I know: PUT ON A BRA AND GO OUTSIDE. Between working from home and working night owl hours, it's easy for me to forget to put on real clothes and go outside every so often. While the fresh air may be trying to kill me, I could probably use the vitamin D, and the socialization.

4. DRINK GOOD. With all due respect to Mr Guthrie, I want to expand my alcoholic horizons this year, from trying out more of the local beers to adding some of the better reviewed absinthes to my liquor cabinet.

5. READ LOTS OF GOOD BOOKS AND WRITE EVERY DAY. When scheduling gets crazy, one of the first things to fall by the roadside is my own writing. The next is recreational reading. I miss both, and so this year, instead of being something to fit around the schedule, they're going to be part of the schedule. That includes staying on top of the journals, and getting older entries properly tagged. All thirteen years of them.

And a corollary: read less tabloid fodder and media gossip, view fewer celebrity photos. This isn't a new resolution for me. I was never big on gossip rags, and working in retail during Britney Spears' Very Bad Year, seeing her mental illness played out over rows of magazines every day for entertainment, didn't raise my opinion of them. Unfortunately it's easier to get sucked into gossip online, where you're often looking at a row of links to news stories mixed with a row of links to stories that shouldn't be considered news at all. ("The Senate passed a bill requiring--wait a minute, Lindsay Lohan did what?")

It also weirds me out that our celebrities have WWF-style heroes, villains, grudges and sob stories that are wheeled out as a form of advertising every time they have a movie coming out. That can't be healthy for us as a culture.

But mostly, it's the idea that being a celebrity means someone gives up their right to common respect and privacy--that they don't have the right to sit in their own yard without cameras peering over hedges, that they can't walk their kid to school without hiring someone to first push the press out of the way, or that it's acceptable to put lives at risk chasing them through traffic in search of that perfect shot. And for what? For a picture to put in a magazine intentionally designed to make the rest of us feel old, fat, ugly and unhip so we'll buy products to fix what isn't broken. Why feed that beast? Why pay anyone to make myself and a handful of famous strangers miserable, when I generally feel better not knowing or caring who's seeing/breaking up with/stalking who?

6. DON'T GET LONESOME. I'm not just an introvert, I'm one of those introverts that makes other introverts uncomfortable. But I've been slack when it comes to maintaining my social ties lately, so this year I'm going to make an effort not to be such a hermit--from a family game night with the nephew, to taking a friend up on an offer to tutor me in local beers.

7. LEARN PEOPLE BETTER. I've seen some cooing over Guthrie's self-awareness, and even a project on Tumblr about interviewing people to learn them better. As a girl with roots in southern Missouri, though, I suspect Woody was using 'learn' in the rural sense--that this really means "Teach people more effectively." That's how I'm taking it, albeit in a personal direction.

Though I rant about random topics that rile me and get way too cozy with the TMI, I'm really a pretty private person. I don't open up often or easily about my personal life, feelings, beliefs, relationship status--anything, really.

In my hesitation to become that friend who won't shut up about their cause or their boyfriend or their faith, I've become instead something of a relatable blank slate. The end result is that I find myself fairly often with an angry ___ who is upset because suddenly my experience/feeling/opinion/belief doesn't mesh with what they've projected onto me, and I'm not an angry ___ too. (It's usually atheists. Don't know why.) I'm never whatever enough to fit the idea they've formed of me, so they want to push me to their position, or lecture me on how wrong I am to not be like them, or tell me what I really am/believe (and you would not believe how much that pisses me off). There I am, left with the awkward choice of smoothing things over and putting up with their crap for the sake of peace, or telling them to fuck off and dealing with the fall-out. I admit that I lean more toward the latter these days, because life's too short to cater to other people's personal issues. But anyway.

Essentially, I need to open up more, and get comfortable with expressing who I am and what I think (etc.) a little more, and not worry so much about becoming that creepy friend who nags you for wearing leather, or being targeted by that creepy friend if I reveal that I'm not also a Baptist/vegan/UFOologist.

For the record: I'm a relatively liberal blue-haired bisexual hammock-dwelling pulp-reading hippie-ish single neopagan who eats meat, listens to whatever damn music feels good at the time, and really only feels strongly about reproductive rights and single spaces after sentences. (Never double. It's a relic of the printing press and HTML ignores it anyway. Let it go.) There's probably more worth adding, but nothing comes to mind at the moment. If you're conservative, don't eat meat, don't dig hammocks, listen only to K-pop, etc., it makes me no nevermind.

8. STAY GLAD. I used to live within walking distance of one of the world's greatest gardens; now I'm a tedious bus ride from any of the city's fun activities. I used to live beside a well-planted park, in a picturesque neighborhood that I wandered with a camera in hand; I now live in a closely packed neighborhood with bland lawns, where I feel like an intrusive guest even without the camera. I used to have my own little garden, with plantings older than I was and a makeshift pond; now I have a tiny patch of weedy dirt that I share with a rotating cast of neighbors who always, always, take it over and ruin it.

I've let this vague, sulky, gloomy dissatisfaction rule my roost far too long. I need to zhenzhizhenzhify my outlook! To look up and find the beauty in the moment and where I'm at, to look out over the neighborhood not as an intruder but as an explorer, to take bootyloads of photos and share them, if only to remind myself that it's not where my body is, it's where my head is.

9. SAVE DOUGH. Enough said, right?

10. LOVE EVERYBODY. And I do, even when I don't.
mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (melancholy)
What can I say that hasn't already been said? News of the shooting was devastating. The national discussions it started on gun control, mental health access and the role of the media have been frustrating, but were overdue. The national discussions some people tried to start using the tragedy suggest that any mental health care reform needs to start with our politicians and celebrities. Please, won't someone think of Victoria Jackson?

On the same day that a man shot 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut, a man in China slashed at least 22 children with a knife, a man in Indiana was arrested after threatening to set his wife on fire and then shoot up a nearby elementary school, and a teen in Oklahoma was arrested after plotting to lure students and faculty into the school gym and open fire. In the week since, a man walked into an Alabama hospital and opened fire, a Maryland teen was put in psychiatric care after concerned students reported that he had detailed information on the school building and security, and a Utah elementary school student brought a gun to school and threatened his classmates, citing fear of being killed like the kids at Newtown.

Maybe the world is always this crazy, and we just spend so much of our time focused on our own little corners that it's usually easier to ignore.

Mental Health Reform
Yes, please.

Though speculation abounds about the attacker's mental health, his actions point to a larger societal problem, and if we can't see it objectively in our own backyards, we can observe it unfolding in China, where attacks on schools are on the rise. Some experts attribute these attacks to mental illness, while others talk about frustration with rapid social changes, unemployment and general disenfranchisement.

I don't think that's an either/or. Dismissing these attacks as mental illness fails to address seriously the debilitating stress that drives people to the point where exploding seems like a solution; talking about them only as frustrated men downplays the value of access to good mental health care in favor of talking up punishment and armed guards. We need a healthy middle ground, where a person doesn't need a diagnosis of mental illness to get serious help, and doesn't feel stigmatized for seeking out the help they need.

Gun Control
Social media has been rife with strife, hasn't it? In one corner, people waving photos of an armed Israeli teacher with her students as proof that we need guns in schools--nevermind that the photo is of a guard, not a teacher, and that under Israel's restrictive gun control policies, citizens wouldn't even have access to as much firepower as the attacker had that day. In the other corner, people pointing out that the 22 children involved in the Chinese knife attack will all survive, so eager to make the point that they gloss over the alarming larger reality that schools are increasingly seen as a viable target by the disgruntled.

To share my biases upfront: my grandfather was a hunter, my cousins still are, and I know people who work in dangerous vocations that have to be armed for their own protection, so I know that there is such a thing as a responsible gun owner. At the same time, I also believe there's no reason for your average everyday citizen to have an assault rifle in their home, and that the discussion about gun control in our country is muddled by an unhealthy combative mindset that has latched onto guns as symbols of power and agency.

Examples of that mindset? Start with politicians pushing to arm teachers, under the assumption that at least one teacher with a gun could easily take out a gunman and reduce the danger. In reality, all armed teachers would introduce to the situation is crossfire: statistics tell us that accuracy drops among trained police officers when shooting moves from target practice to real situations, and psychology tells us that humans are consciously unwilling and subconsciously sabotaged when firing on other humans. (Yes, that's a Cracked article. Their explanation is a more interesting read.)

This kind of thinking is dangerously related to the kind of thinking that says, "I'll get a gun and show them all that they messed with the wrong guy." This kind of thinking isn't the solution--it's the problem. It's the kind of thinking that got an unarmed teenager stalked and shot by an armed junior detective wannabe after the real police told him not to engage, and which had half the country arguing if the wannabe had the right to 'stand his ground' and fire on the unarmed kid that he was stalking through the kid's own neighborhood. It's the kind of thinking that led a grown man to fire into a minivan full of teenagers because their music was too loud.

Whether or not we manage to come to a consensus on the issue of accessibility to guns, we have to address the connection between anger and armament in our culture. We've gotten the idea that waving weapons around is a legitimate way to express our frustration, even to the point of bragging about it on cable news stations. Is it any wonder a segment of the population carries out that threat?

The Media, the Politicians, the Deities and the Wingnuts
By midweek, even the media was questioning its presence in Newtown, and the value of the story vs. the empathy of its actions.

Sadly, some of us have gotten so entrenched in the politics of empathy that we've started to lose hold of the real thing.

Politically and/or religiously-minded individuals tried to stick the tragedy to their favorite hobby-horses. On the right, Mike Huckabee blamed the 'removal' of God from schools (nevermind what that says about attacks in places of worship), Victoria Jackson tried to equate it with abortion, James Dobson blamed it (and everything else) on the gays, and Ted Nugent blamed 'political correctness and moral decline', if you're inclined to take a tongue-lashing about morality from a man who gained legal guardianship over a teenager so he could have sex with her. On the left, there were snark remarks about 'arming those evil union teachers' and a demand to talk gun control before the families even knew if their children were among the slain.

For me, none of that tops Charlotte Allen's error-ridden misogynistic New Review essay in which she blames the "feminized setting" of the school, stating that "women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers," lamenting that there were no men on staff to leap into action, that "even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys" might have taken the attacker out had they not been pushed to hide like scared little girls. It's a batshit revisionist view of events that ignores two brave women who rushed to try to stop him, insults the custodian who saved lives not by flinging a pail at an armed man but by running through the building warning teachers and students to take cover, and denigrates teachers who saved lives by concentrating on getting kids out of the line of fire rather than throwing themselves into it.

And, on the other side, those pointing out that the heroes of Newtown were all women (sorry, custodian!), and waxing philosophical about the differences between the genders, as if male teachers would not have given their lives for their students in the same situation.

But can we say that they're at least learning? Between Anderson Cooper's refusal to use the attacker's name on the air, and the media's greater focus on the victims rather than the gunman, the media seems to have figured out that they don't have to feed that morbid curiosity or give the attacker a posthumous platform. If this holds up, it's already a great step forward.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
First I flood you with dream entries, then my social ineptness, and now nitpickity book talk. I bet this isn't the exciting chronicle of chronic excitement you thought it would be.

For those who believe there's nothing as boring as hearing someone else's dreams, let me reassure you that I don't usually remember and record them this often, and this recent burst of dream entries probably won't last. For those uninterested in my social ineptness, you and my mother both. For those who don't care what I'm reading, take solace in the fact that I at least cut the spoilers. Unless you're reading by RSS, which I hear ignores cuts, in which case...oops?

Now, onto the nitpickity book talk!

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm twitchy about genres. There are genres for settings (westerns), genres for audience (young adult), genres about types of relationships (romance), genres that include unreal elements (fantasy), genres that include unreal elements that could be real maybe (science fiction), genres about types of relationships that include unreal elements (paranormal romance, though arguably chick lit would fit here too), genres within genres, genres overlapping genres, an entire wide swath of fiction dismissively dubbed 'genre'. It's chaos!

It irks me.

I look upon my shelves of science fiction/fantasy and sigh with relief at the convenient compromise that is 'speculative fiction'. I glance at the horror shelves and wince at the idea of a genre based not on the book, but on how the reader reacts to the book. I organize my nonfiction shelves by the Dewey Decimal System because it makes sense.

So I was happy to stumble on The King of Elfland's Second Cousin's entry "Ephemeral Horror and the Diffusion of Genre Markers" even if it wasn't about ephemeral horror, as I thought, but about horror as an ephemeral genre, which is something of an ephemeral horror. This will start making sense any minute now, I promise.

The following points made my inner M&M sorter very happy:

#1. "[W]e categorize stories based on the conventions they employ and the devices that show up within their texts. Spaceships, time travel, aliens? Let’s call it science fiction. Magic and knights? Let’s go with fantasy. [...] These devices, the objects and tropes of most genres, can easily be slapped on a cover to communicate the story’s category to booksellers and readers."

Sometimes, in my flailing about order and chaos and systems for big cohesive pictures, I lose sight of the tiny common sense trees--namely, that 'genre' is just a fancy French word for 'kind', and is not, never was, and never will be some high and mighty literary infrastructure. It's just a big mental box into which vaguely similar stories are tossed so that the stuff you like is near the other stuff you like, so you can find more stuff you like.

#2. "Horror lacks the constraints that more solidified genre conventions impose. We can write a horror story – like Shirley Jackson’s classic 'Flower Garden' – without a single element of the supernatural or the inexplicable. [...] This freedom means that – in order to be effective – horror must sneak past the reader’s natural defenses, must directly speak to the reader’s perceptions, values, and fears. This is the kind of deep-seated, emotional and perceptual communication that the literary fiction genre has traditionally claimed for itself. But where literary fiction uses such emotional and philosophical intimacy to explore comfortably distanced morality, horror uses a highly sensitized point-of-view to get as close to the nerve as possible, to map even the most painful experiences from the inside."

It's a fantastic parallel: like a good horror story, the horror genre is about wandering into the dark and unfamiliar room to check out that bump you just heard.

I've argued the merits of horror with haters before, and pointed out that like fancy pants literary fiction, good horror says something about the viewer and society (and not just "We watch movies with naked co-eds taking a hatchet to the face"). To play on our fears, horror has to be able to get into our heads and push the buttons it finds there.

#3. No quote here, because it's a bit too spread out, but the point is brilliant: there are (of course) horror tropes, except when we become too used to them, they stop being horror tropes.

When horror begins relying on tropes to define it, those tropes cease to be scary, and in a fundamental way, the works that feature them stop being horror. Once the tropes are no longer new and unsettling--once we know them by heart--we begin to redefine and re-imagine them. We turn vampires into moody romantic leads, disfigured undead serial killers into comedians, and the lonely werewolf from an alienated loner into a member of a highly organized underground society of walking AIDS metaphors.

It won't make me change how I organize my reviews, but it does have me rethinking the horror movies of my youth.
mokie: A stack of old letters, tied with twine (dear letter)
Dear World:

I have a terrible sense of humor that skews dark and moody at times--especially in dark and moody times like these. I crack jokes not because I'm a bad person, or an insincere person, or an unsympathetic person, or because I can't take serious things as seriously as they need to be taken. I crack jokes because I can't walk around all gothy with my naked lacerated soul exposed to the salty, lemon juice-covered whip o' fate. I'm not wired for that kind of emotional exposure.

One person's wailing and gnashing is no more or less moral than another person's stiff upper lip, but realize that neither is more or less moral, either, than still another person's daring to crack a joke at a funeral. People cope in different ways.

As if this weren't bad enough, I also tend to slip into thinky-thinky headspace instead of emotional space when emotions are running very high, because I need things to make sense, and in some ways I think my emotions better than I feel them. It's hard to explain, but again, no less legitimate than anyone else's reactions.

The relevance to you is that I may respond to long rants about the evils of evil things with something that starts, "Well, technically..." and goes downhill from there.

I'm not trying to pick a fight or piss you off. I'm usually good (I think) about realizing when a rant is a rant and not a dialogue or an opening to a discussion, and staying out of the way. But sometimes my radar on this slips up, and I try to debate when you're trying to stomp, and it gets all fucked up. It's not personal, and I welcome you to tell me you're in rant mode--I'll back off and we'll both be spared some hard feelings.

The one thing I will not do, World, is let you chastise me for how I feel during troubled times, criticize how I express those feelings, or dictate to me the proper way to 'be'. Try it and I'll show you some emotion, starting with rage and ending with my foot up your ass. (It's one of those German emotions we don't have a name for: schoedenrump, the mortification of finding your moral superiority suddenly lodged in your colon.)

In closing, World, I know we don't always operate the same way, but that's the beauty of this whole Earthling experience. Some of us put it into song, some of us put it into action, some of us put it into a pint of ice cream and a sad movie marathon, but at the end of the day, we're sharing it, and that's the important part. Except the ice cream. Get your own.

Yours truly,
the always socially inept mokie
mokie: A book with scissors in them, and text, "Grrr... bad book!" (reading boo)
"The Great God Pan," by Arthur Machen
Edition: Manybooks.net's plain text

Info
Originally published in 1890, this is reckoned by many to be not just one of the greatest works of weird fiction--that is, anything nowadays described as 'Lovecraftian'*--but one of the greatest horror stories ever written. It was also "widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content," according to the Wikipedia article on the story, which may contain spoilers. For the curious, I'd suggest The Kind of Face You Hate's review, which definitely contains spoilers.

Story
Dr. Raymond believes that man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality, but there is, unseen by most, an underworld--a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit: a dark side. And by ever so slightly nicking the brain of his foundling (and why not? Finders keepers!), he can enable her to see that dark side, commonly referred to as 'the great god Pan'. Hijinks ensue!

Progress
Not much, but maybe you'll understand why if I offer a quote.
I saw a paragraph the other day about Digby's theory, and Browne Faber's discoveries. Theories and discoveries! Where they are standing now, I stood fifteen years ago, and I need not tell you that I have not been standing still for the last fifteen years. It will be enough if I say that five years ago I made the discovery that I alluded to when I said that ten years ago I reached the goal.
...yeah.

When youngsters grouse about old horror movies, half the complaint comes down to them expecting our post-modern horror experience. The girl doesn't go down to investigate the creepy noise in the basement anymore because the audience believes they wouldn't, because they'd know better than to do something stupid like that. This isn't true, of course--people investigate spooky sounds all the time, because we know we're not in a horror movie. Yet they expect characters to act with meta knowledge: to know they're in a horror movie; to know everyone else has died a horrific death, even if it was at a completely different location the character has not yet visited; to know there's a crazed man in a mask running around killing people, even if they've not yet seen him. Audiences expect meta knowledge, genre savvy behavior and stupid jokes, and then wonder why scary movies aren't scary anymore.

But that's a whole different rant.

The other half of the complaint comes down to the trappings of the story: the way the characters talk, the way the actors act, even the structure of the story. My own nephew, zombie lover extraordinaire, refuses to watch Night of the Living Dead because it's in black-and-white. Sometimes these trappings are just too great an obstacle, and the viewer can't put themselves into the story.

I'm trying not to be that person here, but I have to admit, old-fashioned writing just isn't my cup of meat. I find it tedious to slog through and obnoxiously affected. And yet I have no problem with faux old-fashioned writing as a stylistic device. Go fig.

[Reading "The Great God Pan": And I thought I was wordy (12 Nov '12) / All hints, no happenings (25 Jan '13)]


* Some draw a distinction between 'weird fiction' and 'Lovecraftian horror' as subgenres. The reasons why are many and varied, but mostly serve to point out how 'genre' is an incredibly sloppy, slapdash and ineffectual organizational system.
mokie: A child lays in a bed built into a bookshelf, reading (reading)
Old, by this point, but still irks me every time it comes up: "The Hunger Games is just a rip-off of Battle Royale!"

Says people who (a) have read neither, (b) have not bothered to compare the stories beyond "teens fighting to the death!", and (c) are not familiar with the dystopian genre in which "fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses!" is a relatively common trope.

The statement implies that Battle Royale came up with this concept. As someone who spent her tween years in the science fiction/fantasy section of the library (and who knows the Greek myth that The Hunger Games author cites as an influence), that alone pisses me off to no end. More importantly, it ignores the plot and themes of Battle Royale, and its commentary on Japanese culture, all for the sake of reducing the story to 'teenage gladiators' so someone can snark and pretend they're so much more in-the-know, so much better, than the unwashed American masses reading the latest popular book.

It's snark that insults both stories, not just the intended target.

Then again, the snark has gotten Netflix to license the "Battle Royale" film adaptation and its sequel, so it's not all bad...
mokie: Sleepy hobbit Will Graham naps on a couch (tired)
While cruising links, I wandered past two stories.

The first is of a popular new novel that was originally published as fanfiction, and which has some writerly blogs/groups upset. They point out that the author only changed the names in her story, nothing more, and that she drummed up support for her novel within fandom. Pro-fanfic, they question the integrity of exploiting another author's work for profit, and exploiting the fan base at all.

The second was about a self-published romance author, treasurer for the Romance Writers of America (networking: it's what's for dinner), unmasked as a plagiarist. Upon being caught, she claimed she'd downloaded the original story to read but mistakenly saved it to her writing folder and uploaded it for sale by mistake--a story which didn't explain the changed title or character names. As more examples rolled in from her other works, she confessed that she was guilty, resigned her role, and tried to fade back into obscurity.

Somewhere in the tangled mass of comments and debate for these two stories, someone made the sad observation that there had been quite a few stories of self-published authors revealed as plagiarists in the past year. The usual slew of "I don't see how they think they can get away with it" responses came up, but a few pressed a different angle...

There are some people who really believe that changing just enough counts--that taking Steve in Wichita and making him Mike in Dubuque makes the story uniquely their own, even if most of the words are the same and in the same order as Steve's Wichita adventures. They really believe they can take a favorite scene, change it just a little--plug in their characters, reword a sentence or two--and it's theirs. They completely misunderstand what is meant by 'taking inspiration' from a beloved story.

They're not intentionally out to trick or defraud anyone, or claiming their work is a remix. They simply don't recognize what they're doing as plagiarism. In their minds, plagiarism is exact copying. If it's Dubuque, and the big showdown doesn't feature all the same elements, that's different enough to count as an homage, right? (No.)

I don't mean the unconscious copies, words or sounds or ideas that quietly take up residence in the back of our heads and pop up a year or ten later pretending to be original ideas, like the songwriters who play a riff and don't realize it comes from "The Wizard of Oz," or authors who write a line and fall in love with it, only to have it pointed out later that it's an obscure movie quote. I remember jabbering about pulling squid out of my nose, and not realizing until later that the image in my head was a medicated hybrid of a short story I'd been reading and someone's blog post; I can only imagine how much more embarrassing that kind of thing is when it's, say, a pop star being called out for ripping off a twenty-year-old Madonna song. Or how frustrating, given that Madonna twenty years ago was openly and intentionally ripping off her contemporaries. But I digress. And embarrass myself by citing the Gaga/Madonna thing. Moving on.

I'm also not slamming self-publishing or fanfiction. Quite the opposite: I think before self-publishing became so easy, these authors would have participated longer in fanfiction, participated in some competitions, and been poked (or seen someone else poked) for their lifting of a line. Or maybe they'd have taken a creative writing course or two, participated in a critique circle, and received a polite but pointed comment about their work being too 'derivative', and that they should look into the exact meaning of plagiarism. Maybe they would have just started a blog, lifted someone else's material, and been on the end of some flamey comments and emails.

The point is, there's been so much debate about the importance/unimportance of the traditional 'gatekeepers' in publishing, snark about the whole world being one's slushpile vs. defiant optimism about levelling playing fields, and so forth. But hand in hand with that, there's also the diminished importance of the small-scale writerly training grounds. Maybe it isn't so much that authors used to have to pay their dues to earn a traditional contract, but that these spaces allowed them to make mistakes semi-privately, whereas now Google sees all and remembers all.

Or, more likely, I'm overthinking this entirely because I've been so loaded with work these past few months that this is the first chance I've had to sit down and overthink a couple of silly articles.

Hi, journal! I've missed you!
mokie: Sleepy hobbit Will Graham naps on a couch (exhausted)
I opened my assorted friends lists today and realized that I haven't read in almost three months.

I've been swamped with work, and all that hardcore word-mining really strips my ability to put words together in anything longer than a sentence or two. I knew I'd fallen behind in posting. I hadn't realized I'd fallen so far behind in reading too, though.

And not just blogs. My sister lent me third book in the Dexter series before Christmas. It's sitting on my desk right now, mocking me with its unreadness. It's not a particularly dense or complex series, but making sense of sentences seems too much like work. I slide into the tub, open the book, and my eyelids droop in open rebellion; I took it to the doctor's office (just accompanying a relative) and nearly dozed off. The bookmark is at the midway point, but I'll be damned if I can remember anything past the first three pages.

Can one overdose on words? I think I might have.
mokie: A Japanese lantern in front of lush green bushes (thoughtful)
SeoulBrother explains:
To edit the word from our literature we actually decriminalize the climate and context in which it was used. We allow the romantic notion of The Good Ol’ Days to go unchecked. If we let that happen slavery gets reduced to young Anakin Skywalker pouting because he can’t get time off to compete in the Pod-races, bigotry becomes a rednecked, chew spittin’ caricature instead of the well dressed, even-toned bank manager denying a loan and racism becomes something that used to happen. “Nigger” keeps that in check. It’s like a birth certificate for both America’s slavery and apartheid—proof that it happened.
mokie: Clue's Ms White saying, "Flames on the sides of my face" (angry)
From Indie Won. Now What? [Broken Pencil]
Authenticity has become dominated by persona (or worse, personal brand), serving to disguise or deflect a person's motives. At this juncture, indie needs to provide a better window into its soul -- and like every useful window, it must be transparent. ... The problem, of course, is that authenticity is much sexier (and safer) than transparency. 'Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic,' explained indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in a 2004 article for MovieMaker magazine. 'Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.' Transparency has no place in this equation because it involves footnotes and citations and other unsexy tools of attribution. Ripping someone off, meanwhile, requires nothing but swagger.

David Shields, in his recent book Reality Hunger, is equally obsessed with artistic bona fides. He admits that he is 'desperate for authenticity and in love with artifice' and that 'we're clinging to anything that seems 'real' or organic or authentic. We want rougher sounds, rougher images, raw footage, uncensored by high technology and the powers that be.' Curiously enough Shields, like Jarmusch, endorses thievery, admitting that 'most of the passages in this book are taken from other sources.'

Meanwhile, in February of this year, it was revealed that Helene Hegemann, a 17-year-old German novelist, had also taken Jarmusch's advice and plagiarized (or borrowed, or remixed, or repurposed) a blogger named Airen in her book Axolotl Roadkill. 'There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,' Hegemann said in her defense, taking inspiration from Shields and nearly plagiarizing Jarmusch in the process.
The author goes on to point out the irony of carefully constructed and inauthentic authenticity, as part of the article's theme--that the indie hipsters need to embrace the inauthenticity of their authenticity to make it authentic instead of pretending it's authentic. Or something.

But I wish, oh how I wish, we had followed that tangent above: that hipsters and the indie movement have conflated authenticity, that which is genuine, "of undisputed origin or authorship," true and trustworthy and legitimate, with theft. The claim that there is no originality is a cover for an unwillingness to pursue originality in favor of rehashing the past with tongue in cheek, an excuse to sneer when you are caught stealing someone else's work--caught, because the plagiarist doesn't state upfront that she's ripped off a handful of bloggers and authors.

It's nothing to do with originality or authenticity, or the relative unsexiness of footnotes. The braggadocio of the embarrassed asshole caught in the act may be the hallmark of the hipster but it did not originate with him, and "Fuck you, I meant to do that anyway" is older than spit.

So, the author says, their authenticity now thoroughly inauthentic in that it can be bought and sold to market a car, indie has 'won'--a strange reversal of values, given that previous generations would have decried this as 'selling out' or having been co-opted by corporate interests, and a tragic undermining of the legitimacy of that movement/aesthetic. Except, that's right, their legitimacy isn't, their authenticity isn't, it's all been a snarky sham and if the suits are going to make a buck off of it (isn't marketing the ultimate example of inauthentic authenticity?), the hipsters might as well pose for the cameras.

And now that they've won, what's next? Transparency. Footnotes. Show your sources, show your work, because honesty and integrity are the new indie.

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.

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