Morning Irritation

I was reading this piece in Current Affairs about Jordan Peterson (who sounds like a right git, really) and sheer irritation managed to roll me out of bed. Not so much at Peterson–I was married to a man whose verbosity others mistook for a higher grade of genius than the one he possessed for multiple years, and was mostly amused by the experience.1

What irritated me was this assertion:

Another part of it, though, is that academics have been cloistered and unhelpful, and the left has failed to offer people a coherent political alternative. (Nathan Robinson, Current Affairs)

Academics have not been cloistered and unhelpful, they’ve been systematically robbed of a reasonable living and saddled with make-work instead of being paid decently to teach. The “left” does have a coherent political alternative, it’s called don’t be a dick, and its simplicity is only part of the reason why plenty of asshats nitpick with it or shut their eyes and scream “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” Plenty of people want to be dicks, plenty of corporations want academics so busy trying to pay rent and feed themselves that they can’t fulfill their actual function, and pretending otherwise on either count makes you part of the problem.

Bloviating proto-fascists like Peterson are chump-change a dozen; they come in and out of fashion like the tide. I’m not even mad about it anymore, I just roll my eyes when yet another misogynist, racist, verbose jackass starts gathering converts who really just want an excuse to piñata-pin their insecurities on someone else and pick up a stick. I am irritated with the assertion that “the left” doesn’t have a coherent alternative. We do, it’s just that “don’t be a dick, for God’s sake” isn’t something the vast majority of selfish “conservatives” want to hear.

TL;DR: Peterson is yet another asshat on the self-help gravy train, and “don’t be a dick” is actually a coherent political platform.

Mail Call

Man Reading his Mail
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Reader mail has picked up again, and so has my energy level. So I’m thinking about doing a weekly “from the mailbag” post. Or biweekly, depending on the volume of actual reasonable mail to hatemail.

Some days, the proportions are a bit bent.

Anyway! Let’s grab a few from the mailbag and take a look, shall we? First up is Reader E.P.:

I’m reading the Dante Valentine omnibus for the sixth time, I am simply drawn back to read it again and again, and I was wondering about Japhrimel’s feelings throughout the books. You do give us a brief insight into his feelings especially when he kneels before Dante and speaks to her of his failure. In numerous points in the books Dante notices his attention on her and I can’t help but wish to know more of what and how he is feeling, such as when he waits for Dante while she rides the slicboard or when he watches her spar with Jace. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love these books and will continue to enjoy them over and over, and I know the story is from Dante’s point of view, but more from Japh would be amazing, maybe his side of the story about his fall and how he deals with the infuriating Dante even though he loves her?

Sometimes I think about writing Japh’s POV. The problems with it are numerous–for one thing, he thinks in demon, not in English or even Dante’s Merican, so the translation is a bit…difficult. There’s also the fact that I dislike him so intensely. The key to Japh, for me, was my writing partner’s throwaway comment about demons destroying what they love. And to Japh, his love is intimately bound up in the idea of controlling the environment and everything around Dante in order to “protect” her. He’s not human, he wasn’t ever human, and his priorities, morals, and ethics are not human either. So…I don’t have any plans yet, though there are the books dealing with Gabe’s daughter (who is a Magi) and also the short story featuring Danny, Selene, Nikolai, and Japh all working together that have been bubbling in my head for a while…

Next up is Reader D.W.:

I’m currently reading your second Roadtrip Z book. I’m a little confused as to where Cotton Crossing is located. I thought it was maybe in Florida, but there is way too much snow and ice for that area. It would really help me enjoy the book more if I wasn’t constantly trying to figure out where they are. I’ve tried looking online for the answer, but couldn’t find it. Thanks!

About all I can say is that Cotton Crossing is not on any map, though Lee tells me it’s somewhere in Missouri.

It’s been a month for people asking me about the Valentine series, I guess. Next comes this, from Reader S.F.:

Hello, thank you for writing the Dante Valentine series. It was very enjoyable. I was wondering, however, do you think you will you ever write about Lucas Villalobos? Your afterward said that Dante and Japhrimel’s story is over, but I am curious about the Deathless and would love to read more about him.

Lucas is…difficult. (He’s always been difficult.) He doesn’t talk about where he comes from, and can disappear for long periods of time if you press. I can say that if you read Coming Home in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, you’ll find out some of what happens to Lucas after the events of the Valentine series, and that it involves Gabe and Eddie’s daughter.

If you’ve got a question, you can use the form on my Contact page. I cannot answer even a quarter of the missives I receive, but you never know–if I start doing mail calls biweekly or weekly, you just may see your question here.

Now it’s time to go for a run. Over and out.

Cloaked

Lock, Rain Drop, After Rain, Drops
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Miss B is beside herself, since I’m in running clothes and she suspects, hopes, dares to believe I’ll be taking her with me. I will, but not until my coffee settles. It’s a goddamn Monday, and I need caffeine.

There’s a thing going around on Twitter–“describe yourself the way a male author would.” I’ll bypass the explanation of how we got there–it’s here if you want it–and also bypass a description of the most hilarious responses.

My own description? “Invisible.”

As soon as I typed it, I began thinking. Yeah, I’m over 40, and I’m carrying weight despite the running. I am by and large invisible to men now, except for when they want to cut in line and I hiss you know better like a venomous creature with exhausted patience. I’ve survived longer than I ever thought possible, which is part of why I have no plans for retirement.1 Food is a friend that does not judge, and I ate in self-defense for a long, long time. I hated–and still hate–predatory stares, men throwing things out their car windows at me whenever I lost a few pounds, the interruptions while reading or even just minding my own damn business on public transit, the need to be constantly alert because some asshole will assume I exist just to listen to his patter.

I am no longer a frightened child hoping my abuser won’t slither into my bedroom at night, no longer a teenager desperate for any affection at all, no longer a young woman struggling to keep her head above water. I’m past the sell-by date put on female beauty, and each line on my face is a lesson I’ve worked for. Now, instead of eating to pad myself against voracious male gazes, I’m actually losing that protective cushion. There’s a freedom to being a bitchy older broad, a release from the hunter’s gaze, that means I no longer need to keep a weapon within arm’s reach.

Of course, I still do. Relaxation is one thing, foolishness is quite another.

My cloak of invisibility is purely and simply age. Experience. Patriarchy’s toxic insistence that I only have value when I’m attractive to men, too young to fight back, and not possessed of the life experience to know better is exploded daily by the fact that I give zero fucks anymore and I am finally largely free of the roving eyes and catcalls.

I know I’m not safer, of course. I represent a bigger threat to patriarchy than ever, and my lack of perceived attractiveness won’t save me if a male decides he has to reinforce his fragile sense of self-worth with violence against any available female body. The danger isn’t gone, it’s just shifted.

Still…it’s good to heave a sigh of relief and know there’s a smaller chance of being accosted at the grocer’s, a smaller chance of beverage cans flying from car windows while I’m running, a smaller chance of some random guy thinking I want to date him because I’ve been polite, a smaller chance of stalkers fixating on me.

It’s nice to feel free, and I suspect the freedom will only intensify as I age further into invisibility. At the same time, there’s a ramp-up of my privilege–older white women may be invisible when it comes to catcalling, but we can shield others, deploying that cloak of unfuckability and perceived respectability (there’s a song chorus in that phrase, I can sense it) to cover those who protest to provide them with some safety as well as deploy said respectability as a megaphone, boosting those who have a hard time being heard.

If there’s a gift in my survival, it lies there. And also in the liberating feeling of being invisible enough to live my life largely unaccosted.

I can’t wait to get started on that.

Walking Away

I’ve walked away from a lot of things in my life. Toxic lovers. “Friends” who weren’t. Bad publishing deals–you get the idea. I used to think never walking away, never giving up, was a point of pride. But then I got older, and I figured out that saving your energy for the things and people that deserve it is a more honorable way to live. You can’t be effective if you’re spending yourself on the black holes of sick systems.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because of the whole Cambridge Analytica/Facebook thing. I’ve known for some time that Facebook is toxic, has bad business practices, and is run by a bro who calls his users “dumb fucks.”

I haven’t checked my Facebook messages for years, because they were always stuffed full of dick pics and strangers assuming they were entitled to my time and attention because some aspects of my author-life are public. (The two overlapped a lot, actually.) I never “liked” things there because of anxiety–the idea that I might upset/hurt someone by not pressing the button for their posts was overwhelming, and that’s turned out to be lucky, since it robbed Facebook of a great deal of information about me. Keeping my fan page from degenerating into a circus took more time than I liked, and it’s grown progressively worse. The fact that I can’t even be sure any of the fans who have signed up for updates will see them was only icing on that shit cake.

So. I’ve deleted my official fan page and deactivated my personal Facebook account. I was going to just straight-up delete the latter, but someone made the excellent point that I don’t want (yet another) impersonator causing trouble on a social media platform, so…yeah. I guess that’s where I’m at, and when the inevitable crash comes and FB becomes Myspace, I can quietly delete it at that point. I had a few moments of Fear Of Missing Out, but really…every time I dealt with FB I disliked it, and I don’t feel safe.

In short, it was time to walk away.

Twitter is a garbage fire, but it doesn’t have the access to my personal info Facebook was so intent on getting and using. Plus, I can just crosspost from my Mastodon instance if I don’t want to log in and see the burning. There’s also my Living Room, which is a much better platform for a fan page.

What I wasn’t prepared for when I hit the “delete” and “deactivate” buttons, though, was…the feeling of liberation. There was a flood of relief that damn near knocked me onto my heels. I wasn’t aware the FB juggernaut was irritating me so much, and the measure of the toxicity is the depth of the release.

That’s today’s news. Whether or not it’ll lead to increased productivity, who can tell? I need to get into Atlanta Bound and cut out a bunch of girlfriend to make way for some roller derby. Ginny, Lee, & the gang are about to have a Very Bad Day.

Over and out.

On Wish Fulfillment, and “Art”

Someone made a snotty comment about art and entertainment being mutually exclusive (yes, this was on Twitter, how did you know?) and it irritated me enough to pop off a thread in response. It also got me thinking about wish fulfillment.

Inevitably, whenever someone starts making the case for entertainment being art too, goddamn if someone doesn’t trot out the Schlock Argument. The Schlock Argument is “this very popular thing is also critically panned and will not Stand the Test of Time, therefore your argument about entertainment being worthwhile is invalid.”1

Glossed over by the Schlock Argument are two very important things: who are the “critics” and how much time are we talking about standing the test of? In literature, critics have historically and overwhelmingly been old white men, and coincidentally (or not) it’s those same old, privileged white men who get to decide what gets kept and taught, held up as example and poured into malleable young minds. I’m sure you, my discerning reader, can see the problems inherent in that.

Which brings us to Twilight, and Fifty Shades.

No, I’m not joking.

I have often called the Twilight series “Mormon Housewife Wish Fulfillment”, with varying degrees of insolence, amusement, and sometimes even a touch of disgust. I can’t count the number of times in a private setting I was privy or party to a hashing out of the problems with characterization, narrative structure, plot, believability, or anything else involving Sparkly Vampires. The massive popularity of very weak tea indeed filled plenty of other writers with head-scratching bemusement or fury. “This is just so bad,” they would say to me. “Why, dear God, why?” And I agreed. Twilight is, by any standard, a hot mess lacking any real characterization or craft, and full of questionable things. (Renesmee, anyone?)

It is also art.

Twilight provoked a massive emotional and financial response. The latter has little bearing on this, except to underscore the intensity of the former. Twilight was genuinely, absolutely bonkers–but it was true. It provoked that emotional response because it was the absolute, unfiltered wish fulfillment of a human being in a particular time and place. I wish Livejournal hadn’t gone over to the Russians, because way back when the Sparkly Vampire Fandom was at full throttle, I read a marvelous piece by a former Mormon detailing how Latter-Day Saints theology and peculiarities filled the books to the brim. I remember exactly where I was sitting while reading that piece, because it burst upon me like blinding sunshine. I would love to link it here and give proper credit, because it was a dilly.

Bella as a character is a fabulous nonentity, so vague and dim the reader can project the reader’s own self onto her with little trouble at all, and therein lies an attraction, a powerful (and somewhat guilty, for me) pleasure. We all feel clumsy and at sea, and we all dream of finding out we’re special–not just everyday human special, but freesia-scented special. Stephenie Meyer either got her ego out of the way or sank so deeply into it as to become unself-conscious to the point of enlightenment; the result was a pure, grade-A, unfiltered wish fulfillment fantasy that was so specific to her time and place it became universal.

A paradox of art, that. Everyone alive has wanted to be freesia-scented special. Everyone wants a soulmate, if only to be completely understood. Everyone likes the idea of being protected by supernally beautiful creatures, everyone wants excitement and danger that isn’t really danger because you know you’ll be saved anyway.2 Twilight launched a billion fanfics and a massively profitable phenomenon because it went all-in, and readers could sense and responded to that commitment.3 It reminds me of the craze around Gothic novels, especially the ones wildly popular in their day and all but forgotten now because they were largely written for (and often by) women. Repressed sexuality and wish fulfillment is a powerful combination, and speaking truly about either is magnetic.

I’m sure you can guess why I mention Fifty Shades, as well. Yes, the fanfic (and the eventual book) is problematic as fuck. Issues of consent, authenticity, suppression of women, the poison of patriarchy run through both Fifty Shades and Twilight, which Fifty Shades was written mostly in response too. But both hit it big, because both evoked a huge emotional response–both are fantasies of wish fulfillment, of endless love, of submission becoming a power without the drawbacks normally accompanying real power.

Wish fulfillment isn’t just for women, either. Just look at Tom Clancy novels, or any movie starring Tom Cruise.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but, Lili, come on. Art? You’re calling them art?”

Yes. They were true, people responded to them, they are art. The false dichotomy between “art” and “entertainment” exists only to oppress; it’s a fucking classist fairytale. The idea that art has to be Serious, Disturbing, Approved by Professors, or Have Survived The Test of Time Plus Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms is pure bullshit. Art must be true, and the audience will respond to that truth. Whether or not art “survives the test of time” depends on cultural narratives of importance and who’s funding the fucking universities, not on any worth inherent in the art or artist themselves. Which sucks ass–how many beautiful, amazing things have been lost because nobody thought an artist a real human being because of their dangly bits, skin color, or socioeconomic position? The answer, always, is “too many.”

Yes, Twilight and Fifty Shades are badly written. The craft of either is bloody abysmal. They’re messy, farfetched, and often incoherent. But they are true. The artists behind them went right to the wall with gusto, refusing to water down the fantasy, the wish-fulfillment. Both of them were incredibly lucky to hit during a historical era where they could reach wide dissemination and reap financial returns. Both of them were fortuitous in their timing, and in tapping a few deep cultural veins.

None of the luck means they are not art.

Art is made for humans, by humans. It is to evoke an emotional response. I have often told my writing students the flavor of the response doesn’t matter–hate, love, laughter, weeping. It’s the response itself you’re going for, and the only way to get it is by telling the truth, in whatever fashion you can and refusing to look away. Don’t ask, is it art? Ask instead, is it true?

And if it’s not, revise until it is. You may hit it big, you may not, but either way, you’re a fucking artist. End of story, period, amen.

***

Nutrition

Two of my favorite things: a book that I must read with a dictionary handy, and spicy noodles.

Hating school is one thing, but learning is quite another.

Liberation Adorable

So after a lot of back-and-forthing, and desperate attempts to write a dead book even though it made me physically ill…I no longer have to write the dead book. I don’t even have to attempt it. Instead, I can work on something that doesn’t make me stress-vomit each morning.

Needless to say, this is a welcome development, and when I got off the phone with my agent yesterday after making sure this was the case, I almost collapsed. My knees haven’t been that rubbery since I heard from my lawyer that the divorce was final. Pure relief and liberation tends to knock me right over, whereas pain just makes me more stubborn. (This, I’m sure, surprises none of my regular readers.)

As a result, this morning I feel liberated. Like the prison doors have opened and I’m free. The relief is intense enough to make me a little silly. Along with more snow dumping last night and both dogs deciding to be EXTRA adorable today. They’re always super adorable, but some days Miss B puts her paws on my chest and sneezes, and Odd keeps bringing me toys in order to bribe me to get out the door for walkies, and the adorbs is turned up to eleven. Especially when Miss B rests her chin on my knee and deploys the Big Doggy Eyes of “Yes, drink your coffee, I’ll just wait here. Patiently. See how patient I am? I am REALLY patient. Just waiting for you, Mum.”

Like that.

I’m excited to get to work today, which I haven’t been for a while. I’m flat-out gleeful to go into a book that won’t make me retch with stress.

But first, yes, finishing the coffee. And walkies. Before liberation, walk dog and drink coffee.

After liberation…walk dog and drink coffee.