On Tone

An argument... Mary Robinette Kowal has an excellent piece up on manners, manner, and tone policing.

The thing is… the reason that I can be “polite” and “reasonable” is because other people are expressing the anger for me. I have the privilege of being quiet only because other people are bearing the burden of our shared fury. Without the people willing to shout, the concerns would be dismissed. Look at the suffragette movement. Women had been talking about equality for hundreds of years before that, and it wasn’t until the early 1900s when women began breaking windows and chaining themselves to buildings in protest that the cause was taken seriously. Then the “reasonable” women were able to negotiate, because their sisters had borne the burden of shouting to create a space in which their words could be heard. (Mary Robinette Kowal)

It made me think. (Always a dangerous proposition, that.) I grew up with rageaholics, the sonic assault leading to or accompanied by physical abuse. I have the distaste for such displays one would expect, and I almost never use the word “anger” to describe what I’m feeling. Irritation, certainly. Vexation in some cases, pique in others. I have only been outright angry three times in my life so far, and each time my response has been to get very exceedingly quiet and start steadily moving to escape whatever situation has provoked the response. Sometimes I fall prey to hyperbole and use the word “furious,” when I’m only vexed.

Certainly I get frustrated–the kids know that when I skin my knuckles on Ikea furniture and snap, “Why can’t ANYTHING ever be EASY?” that it’s probably best to leave me alone with the offending article until I begin to feel ridiculous and start to laugh at myself. Willful stupidity and bad behaviour frustrates me as well. But anger, true anger, is reserved for other situations. Above all, I do not want to rage, because I associate rage with being the target.

There’s a certain strategic component, too. I prefer politeness and quiet requests as a matter of course. If I make the decision to escalate from there, it has far more impact if I’ve been mannerly beforehand, and I’m generally able to use much less energy/escalation to get what I need.

All that being said, I agree with Ms Kowal. I have the luxury of being icily quiet when I get truly angry; I have the luxury of using politeness as a base to start from. My own campaigns to right social ills are more of the listening-and-connective sort, since I inhabit a relatively privileged position. All the same, when one’s polite requests for an oppressive group or society to cease systematic brutality are brushed aside, naturally one’s patience will be eroded. I have the space to be quiet and polite and to be seen as fairly moderate because other people do not have that luxury and have been forced to yelling to make themselves heard. I should think, if I were in a different position, I’d yell too.

Motherhood has taught me that when you hear a scream of pain you need to ascertain what the hell’s going on very quickly, and take measures not just to relieve the immediate distress but also understand the deeper causes. I can distinguish fairly easily between a screaming tantrum (sports riots) and an explosion of justifiable anger when all other avenues for a group of people have been blocked (Ferguson and Baltimore protests). Adults throwing tantrums I have little patience for–my kids grew out of that shit years ago, and if you didn’t, now’s the time to start. Explosions of justifiable anger call for a different response.

I have a responsibility, as a reasonable (and reasonably privileged) human being, to look at deeper causes and understand them, so I can be at least a small part of the solution, not part of the whole stupid-ass problem in the first place. Saying, “Well, they shouldn’t YELL” is not helpful. Understanding why the yelling is taking place is.

Enough said.

Social Motherhood

Alice Glass, Crystal Castles This morning the Little Prince was telling me about a show he watched at school. Something that particularly interested him was the amount of sugar in foods, and how cereal companies (among others) lobbied to raise the “acceptable” percentage of sugar in certain foods. So over breakfast we talked about corporations, food deserts, and how we’re very lucky to be able to afford the hidden costs of eating well–the ability/income to shop in bulk, the petrol and time to drive to the grocer’s, the time/energy to prepare homemade food, which is largely a function of making enough money. Above all, I impressed upon him that we’re lucky–it is not at all usual for a single mother, especially one working freelance, to have the time and energy necessary for some of these things. I told him about how minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, and highly processed foods are “cheap” in food deserts, and how profits are squeezed from people who can least afford such squeezing.

He asked very cogent questions, and made a number of very astute observations about the whole thing. I’m not sure it’ll sink in very deeply, but at least the seed has been planted. He had questions about “obesity” and the term “epidemic” as well.

Motherhood: the constant scramble of trying to find a way to help a child understand things most adults don’t even understand, or have only the foggiest notions of, or just plain don’t want to think about. It requires more self-education than I could ever perform, even studying round the clock, but I try because I don’t want to give them inaccurate information. It also requires encouraging them to go look for themselves, to take the information I have and go further, dig deeper, and find out what they think. No doubt this makes them the type of student who will question teachers.

I honestly don’t see an alternative.

Which raises another specter: we have the funds, the time, the hardware (which isn’t free) to research, the leisure time to think about these things. It takes energy to look at this stuff, energy we can spare because of our relatively privileged socioeconomic position. I am frequently reminding the kids that had things been a little different, I would be working two or even three jobs, and I wouldn’t have the time or energy left over to do other things they enjoy, since all my resources would be directed at survival. Working damn hard is only part of the equation, and it doesn’t guarantee a living wage anymore. (If it ever did.) Luck, especially the luck of being born lower middle class and in a particular skin color, plays a huge part.

This is why the oligarchical refrain of “the poor/brown/whatever people are LAZY” bothers me so much. The entire deck is stacked against many people, they’re living in a society where racism and classism is endemic, they’re playing the video game of life on the most hardcore setting, and some motherfuckers have the temerity to call them “lazy” because the scramble for survival means they prioritize differently and are forced to make decisions the rich or the “right” skin color never have to even consider. Poverty and trauma don’t ennoble, they kill, they grind people down, and they steal so much from not just the poor but from everyone. Who can tell what art, what books, what science we’re missing out on because the people who could have created them are mired in poverty, institutional racism, bigotry?

And all the while, corporate welfare marches on, and billions are poured into new and inventive ways to kill and terrorise people instead of education.

It’s enough to make one sick, indeed. I try to make sense of it so I can explain things to the children without breaking down into a spluttering heap of indignant fury, but sometimes there’s no sense to be had, and I have to admit as much to them. “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand it either” are terrifying words to have to say when your child turns to you to make sense of things.

photo by: chriszak

Old Friend Fear

Skulls 8 - photo by Augusto De Luca I’m going through the graveyard of old stories, bits and pieces, snippets that didn’t make it into final books. It’s good to do that every once in a while, just to keep all the compost turned over and actively fermenting. I’ve been tormented by the thought that all ideas are stale, even though there’s no shortage of them. That nobody will ever buy another book from me again, that I’ve had my turn.

Really, it’s just that old friend, fear. I don’t believe in writer’s block, as regular readers well know. What I do believe is that the fear takes many forms, it’s insidious, and it hits right where one’s vulnerable. Nobody knows your insecurities like you do, after all.

The trick is not to bury the fear, or to think you have to be fearless. Fearlessness is most often sheer idiocy. It’s okay to be afraid.

Just write anyway. Use the fear as a spur to one’s stubbornness, one’s determination to keep going.

Despite fear, despite everything, just keep writing. My job isn’t to make the ideas better–that’s the Muse’s job, and she’ll do it as long as I keep my end of the bargain, which is to keep my discipline, put my ass in the chair, and write daily. I’ve committed myself to the words as a vocation, and there’s no taking that sort of thing back. There’s a certain relaxation in having no choice.

But yes, dear new and aspiring writers, even people with multiple books out self-torment with fear. It doesn’t get much easier, it just gets more familiar.

Now, I’d better get some revisions done, and work on that zombie apocalypse story…

First Calla

Joy.

Joy.

The first calla lily of the season! Somewhat fuzzy, but that’s user error, not my camera.

It makes me so happy. I love callas.

Yesterday was Take Your Child to Work Day. The kids thought they’d beg off school. Little did they know that I would assign them work–the Princess read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the Little Prince wrote a one-page report on the difference between sedimentary and igneous rocks, which I typed out for him. For lo, I am a cruel and unjust mother, and that hour and a half of work apiece really cut into their goofing-off time.

I jest. They both worked with good grace and cheerfulness, and it made them appreciate the time off even more. I got lucky when the dispensary was handing out kid temperaments, I guess.

Spring has turned cold, but not freezing, and the hostas are coming up. The astilbe have begun to break ground, too. All in all, I can’t wait to see the garden in a few years, when things have really had the chance to settle. I finally have a true home, instead of being a temporary guest for most of my life.

It feels good.

Joe and Norbert

Rollin It’s probably time to move Fred & George’s little house to a safer location, ever since the Great Mystery Hunt. (I’ll tell you guys about that when the weather improves.) They might even have to share it with a horseradish, which will no doubt lead to many hijinks. As it is, Emphysema Joe is hiding behind the new spring growth of lavender, and is happy to remain so. I had a long conversation with him the other day while I was planting radishes–he wanted to be caught up on all the latest gossip, being a little bit of a hermit. I think only George visits him, and they only talk about green things and video games. “HE’S A SQUIRREL,” Zombie Joe says, quietly, puffing to light his pipe to his satisfacction. “THERE’S NOT A LOT OF PHILOSOPHY THERE.”

“Not a lot of philosophy in me either, buddy.” I was too busy scraping out a row with almost-raw fingers. The earth is a little chilly in spring, and my fingernails were already full of dirt.

“YOU’RE PLANTING RADISHES.”

“And carrots. And fennel.” I yanked a few more weeds. They get going early in spring.

“THERE YOU GO.”

“There I what?”

“RADISHES ARE PHILOSOPHICAL.”

“How so?” I seeded the row very carefully. Radish seeds are tiny little motherfuckers.

“A FIERY VEGETABLE GROWN UNDERGROUND. DON’T TELL ME IT’S NOT.” He puffed on his pipe, quite pleased. It smells halfway between skunk and lavender when he really gets going in that corner.

“Uh, okay.”

“SO HOW’S MIRANDA DOING?” He sounded very casual. If I didn’t know the entire backyard was in love with her, I might almost suspect he was disinterested.

“Fine. Urging the crocuses to store up against next winter, and trying to coax some of that sorrel up. She says summer’s going to be interesting.”

That perked him up. “INTERESTING HOW?”

“Just interesting. You know how she is.”

“MUST BE A DRAG, BEING AN ORACLE.”

“Sometimes that gleam in her eye makes me suspect she likes it.”

“THAT’S PHILOSOPHICAL TOO. SEE? YOU’RE HALFWAY TO AN ORACLE YOURSELF.”

“I’m a writer, dear. That’s different.”

“I’LL TAKE YOUR WORD FOR IT. WANT A TOKE?”

“No thanks.”

Norbert piped up from his vantage point. “WHY CAN’T YOU SMOKE THAT STUFF WHEN THE BIRDS COME? THAT WOULD SCARE THEM AWAY.”

Emphysema Joe shrugged. “OR MAKE THEM REALLY, REALLY HUNGRY. YOU WANT THAT?”

“Don’t fight, you two.” I patted some fine soil down. “At least, not where I can hear you.”

“HE’S RIGHT,” Norbert sniffed. “YOU’RE A PHILOSOPHER. A PRAGMATIST, TO BE PRECISE.”

“Must come with motherhood.” I rolled my eyes and began scraping a row for carrot seeds, too. Between the two of them, it’s a wonder I get any work done at all.

The favs are coming up nicely, and Miranda’s whispering to the crocuses seems to have paid off. I wish she’d talk to the dogwood and find out what’s ailing it, but she’s less interested in things that are taller than she is. Maybe I’ll ask her next time. Of course, I’ll probably walk out there and get waylaid by something else…

PS: *whispers* You can buy the Rose & Thunder ebook directly from the site now.

The Gap

Magnets

These are tiny, super-strong magnets, Buckyballs, the type one is cautioned not to swallow. The ex, who somewhat fancied himself Fuller’s unrecognized heir, bought them. Now that the kids are in their teens and understand what they can do inside one’s body, they’re relatively safe; they mostly live on the fridge. The Little Prince in particular loves them; he associates them with the good parts of having his father around.

So much (personal, family) history in this one photo. Especially in the gap.

Spring, Obscene

happy The trees are beginning to leaf out. Spring! I’m going about humming Tom Lehrer. (As one does.) There are two more garden boxes set up. They won’t be used right away, soil prep for the clay and dry shade is just beginning. Leafy greens will go in one box, the others will hold what I affectionately call a witch’s garden–rue, mugwort, things of that sort. (We must wear our rue with a difference, always.) Not until next year though–this year is for cover crops. Oats and field peas, planted then allowed to die down in winter to provide mulch. I may even put some massive daikons in–they’re good at breaking up clay. Since grass won’t grow in that upper part of the yard, I’m forced to other measures. (Like I ever need an EXCUSE to grow mugwort, but still…)

I’ve calmed somewhat after yesterday’s irritation. I can laugh at the hapless idiocy now, instead of being vexed at the insult to my intelligence or my books. There is one more small thing I wanted to say.

It seems absolutely insane to me that people can use a few “bad” words to level the charge of “obscenity” in an attempt to censor a work of literature, or any other art. It seems rather a misuse of the word.

You want to know what’s obscene? Extraordinary rendition. Children starving to death. The rate of incarceration in America. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. The current Republican party’s platform, policies, and behavior. Guantanamo Bay. Drones. Security theater in our airports that doesn’t make us safer, only accustoms us to ever-increasing violations of privacy. Dogfights, cockfights. MRAs harassing, doxxing, and threatening women. A child’s body left on the pavement for four and a half hours. War.

Those are obscene. Not books. Not art. At best, art can only faithfully mirror our own twisted selves.

*sigh* Now I’m disgusted all over again. Time to go back to revising. I may even throw in a few extra fucks, shits, goddammits, and cuntwhistles for good measure. Maybe even a dicklicking motherfucking shitsucking douchenozzle or two.

Over and out.

photo by: huntz

Underworld Shipyard

03.Pomegranate.SW.WDC.3nov05 Into the dark underbelly of revisions we go. Buckle your belts and loosen your blades in your scabbards, you never know when a passive construction will leap out at you, when a that will show up, where a plot hole will suddenly open at your feet, yawning wide. Quick reflexes and endurance are necessary, as well as ruthlessness.

You must know when to kill a darling and when to let it live, when the rules are served and when it’s best to break them. Tightening, smoothing, weaving stray strands back in, making sure it all hangs correctly, twitching the underlying structure so it all jolts properly into place. Burnishing the hidden hinges, stepping back as far as you can to see how the light plays on the surface, if a pebble upstream will change the course of the riptide.

And, finally, we’ll reach the point where we don’t look back, because you’ll spend forever tinkering if you’re allowed to. The point where you’ve made it as good and tight and seaworthy a Lookfar as you can, and you have to let it go. It will sail to the editor, copyeditor, proofer for the final caulkings, maybe taking on water and maybe not, and you can turn your attention back to the thirsty shipyard where the others lay under construction, ready to sail out from the dark harbour inside you. A writer is where the sea touches the dry country of the dead, forgotten, voiceless.

No wonder we drink.

Once more into the labyrinth, following the string of a story; once more we sing of the wine-dark sea, the harp, and the rocks. Revision. A beautiful, dangerous word.

A beautiful, dangerous, necessary work.

photo by:

Supportive Like Wonderbra

Carriger_Prudence-HC I’m over at the Orbit blog today, interviewing Gail Carrier for her new release, Prudence. It’s my first interview ever–asking the questions, not answering them–and Ms Carriger was very gracious. I hope you like it!

I’m happy to report that the Certain Situation with That Certain Publisher has been…resolved…now. Thank you all for the messages of support. It was an extremely unpleasant set of circumstances, but it’s behind me now.

Also in the “good news” category: I got a surprise visit yesterday from my girl C, who is DONE WITH CHEMO and CANCER-FREE. *throws confetti* It was amazing to see her on the mend, hair reappearing, and her old wicked sense of humor still intact. (I may have misted up a little.) Best of all, the kids both have sniffles but she didn’t have to avoid us, because her blood counts are recovering. When you have kids and pets, immune-compromised friends can have a rough time just dropping by.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to her medical costs, and thank you for all the supportive messages for C, too. You guys are wonderful, as uplifting as sports brassieres but not nearly as pinch or rash-inducing. I have a lot to be grateful for.

Not least on the gratitude list is the fact that I’m going to finish Cal & Trinity, if not today then tomorrow. I can feel the book boiling under my skin, and the lunge for the end has begun. It will be nice to get the zero for that shoved into a mental drawer so I can revise Blood Call with a clear conscience.

Thank you, dear Readers. You’re a wonderful bunch.

Off I go to stumble for a finish line somewhere, anywhere…

Bird

bird

This poor little fellow showed up in the yard the other day. Colorful, but very dead. It didn’t seem as though one of the neighborhood cats had been at it, and the location right under the garage window made me think she’d mistaken said window for a piece of clear sky. I carried her out of the backyard so the dogs didn’t get interested. If I interred every dead bird I found in the yard I’d quickly run out of room in the Pet Sematary the rose garden is becoming.

My altruism only extends so far. *sigh*

But she was a beautiful bird, and her compatriots are greeting the dawn as I write this, with a fullthroat serenade.