( For one thing, "first draft" with me does not mean "unrevised". )
( For one thing, "first draft" with me does not mean "unrevised". )
As an exercise, to try to ease my brain up out of its months-long stress-induced no-writing slump, I sat down and copied out the first sentence (or two; the first lines of If The Mountain Comes really don't work if you only take the first sentence) of all the short stories I've had published in various markets, and then grouped them by whether I (personally) thought they were engaging or not.
( Read more... )
In any case, it's something I don't think I'd really sat down to examine in any depth before, so now I can say I've done that. And hopefully have a better sense of how this particular mechanic works in the stories I write in the future.
But. All of this takes energy, and motivation, and unemployment seems designed to sap both. So I've developed a framework to help move me through.
( Gods made to order, psychological and aspirational trickery, and the point of this post. )
And, for my own reference, an actual list of charities:
( We here in Vault City LOVE making lists. )
Trauma is a surgical disease. It is cured with bright lights and cold steel.
I can't remember where, when, or how I first came across a series of posts on Making Light called Trauma and You, but I am forever glad I did.
Trauma and You, despite its CYA-ish disclaimer (
I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.) does a pretty good job of walking you through a trauma scene – what you're going to see, what's going on behind the scenes (or under the skin), and what you should be doing about it. It provides mnemonics, statistics, and instructions, and if you're the kind of person who likes doing terrible things to your characters and having them patch themselves or each other up, it's a really great reference on how they should be going about that "patching up" thing.
But I think half the reason I keep coming back to it is that, even though some of the medical conditions described are enough to make your skin crawl (there was a meta-blog post elsewhere on the site, wherein one of the posters summed up the author's usual contributions as
Long, bloodcurdlingly detailed advice from James D. Macdonald about what to do in event of some dire emergency (heart stops, house floods, leg falls off, children attacked by whale, etc.) Posters stunned into silence. Long, contemplative pause as commenters look thoughtfully at own houses, children, legs, etc. Timid, Piglet-like question. Terrifyingly learned and hope-destroying reply.), the post is often just fun, in a snappy, sardonic, and... occasionally hope-destroying way. Because you get advice like the ever-quotable
[...]make sure the scene is safe. There is something over there that munches people. You are a people. Don’t get munched yourself. If you do get munched what you’ve accomplished is this: you’ve incremented the patient count by one and simultaneously you’ve decreased the responder count by one. On a scale from good to bad this is bad.Or the sheer pragmatism of
When you’re dealing with trauma, your life is pretty easy. You have 1) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next five minutes, 2) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next hour, 3) Things that’ll kill your patient today, and 4) Things that you don’t really care about.
Trauma and You is broken up into five informative posts, with a couple of Final Exams at the end:
- The Basics.
So, what’s trauma? It’s the physical world impinging on your tender body. Not to be confused with biology happening (in the form of bugs and germs), or chemicals (poisons, overdoses) happening, or your body breaking down and wearing out and going mysteriously wrong. No, this is more the Force of Gravity sort of stuff.
Now it’s time to have our little chat about shock. Shock is what kills people. Shock, dear friends, is what will eventually kill you, personally. The only question will be how you got into shock to start with.
- Sticks and Stones.
You can have a lot of fun memorizing bone names. (For example, the mnemonic for the bones in the wrist is “Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle” for Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetium, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate, Hamate. (You can have even more fun memorizing the names and functions of the twelve cranial nerves, but that’s for another post.)
- The Squishy Bits.
When crush injuries were first identified (in the trenches of WWI and the London Blitz of WWII) they ran around 90% fatal. Nowadays with fast and efficient EMS they’re down to 50% fatal.
The amount of smoke inhaled is the number one predictor of mortality in burn injuries, way ahead of the age of the patient or the surface area of the burn. Continue to be suspicious with someone who has escaped from a fire. Sometimes the symptoms of smoke inhalation don’t appear for hours or days.
While I usually have to consult additional resources for various fictional traumas – like this shockingly relevant article on gunshot wounds to the chest, one of my major pieces of research for Misfire – and while I have no illusions that I get everything right when I do write about trauma, the Trauma and You series is almost always my first click, and I know there's a level of verisimilitude in my writing that wouldn't be there without it. Highly recommended.
Also highly recommended: a strong stomach when it comes to various traumatic medical things. Like amputation. And degloving.
Seriously, though, I could have gone my entire life without learning about degloving.
(Crossposted to my fandom journal.)
( Little to do with reading. )
I have a feeling it's in the "deadline" part.
When I was taking classes at the University of Iowa, one of my major complaints was that their fiction writing courses were non-graduated. There was no beginning, intermediate, advanced path to take – everyone, including the people just looking for three easy credits and with no passion for writing, got tossed into the same courses, and with the added complication that a lot of them thought "science fiction and fantasy" meant "you can't say anything about it because it's all just made up and doesn't have to make sense" meant that, with the exception of classes run by a couple excellent people, I didn't often get a lot out of the critiquing parts of the workshops. But they were still invaluable to me.
Because sometimes, all you need is the magical combination of time to write, the expectation that you'll write, and a commitment to persons outside of yourself that you'll produce something, even if it isn't a lofty piece of literature which will stand the test of ages.
Which is why Clarion West is such an amazing place, to be honest. Well, one of the reasons. I can't ignore the chance to learn from six amazing teachers with six different strengths and styles, or the amazing families you can form there, but what makes it a truly mind-altering experience is the fact that for six weeks, your entire life can be writing. You can saturate yourself with your fiction. Set aside work, cares, feeding the cats (or the kids), making yourself dinner, all the niggling cares of the so-called real world. All that's expected of you is fiction. The world is built around your fiction. And for your fiction, you are welcomed, supported, honored.
There's a reason so many of us join the Write-a-thon every year, hoping to grab back some vestige of what the workshop experience is like.
Anyway, now that I've tricked my brain into admitting that it hasn't burnt out forever and ever and that it can still string words together into a somewhat coherent narrative and that all the rest is just whining, I'm going to see where I get by the end of this week. This Friday, I have the first meeting of my new job; immediately thereafter, I'm going to be helping to launch a company. It'll be an exciting and busy time, and pretty much the opposite of the workshop in terms of the precedence my immediate world accords my writing.
But, you know, it's okay. As ever, we'll see how it goes.
There aren't any really good Write-a-thon-quotable passages from the 2500 words of yesterday, so I'll give you a snatch of one of the next projects I'm going to be working on: the post-apocalyptic pseudo-moleman-infested extremely unromantic love story Rust City.
"Do people do that?"
"Look to sex for comfort?" Ferro asked. "It's a thing people do, yeah."
[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that makes it all but impossible for authors not to produce. And producing is half the battle.]
First, that I just re-ran-into the Adrienne Rich quote which reads, "To know we are not alone, that our identity is not random but has a history and a meaning shared with others—that our existence has its own special kind of beauty—this is the great force of art to people moving against alienation."
And second, that I'm about to start a new job at the beginning of July, and that I am, even now, searching for a new apartment and preparing to turn my life upside-down again.
Second explanation first: my big barrier to completing my Write-a-thon goals in years past was that the WAT always corresponded with the end of the fiscal year at the University where I worked, and I happened to work in a financial department. Apparently the theme of my life getting really busy as soon as the WAT rears its formidable head is not going away with the passing of the job.
And the first explanation second: well, if there's a pie-in-the-sky idealistic goal, not just for my Write-a-thon writing but also for my writing in general, it's to wedge a few more ideas into the ever-evolving discussion that is fiction. Gender is one I keep coming back to; so are cultural estrangement, signification, relationships, power, the inability to communicate, the majesty of the known and unknown, and the existence of questions which have neither easy nor satisfying answers. I spend a lot of time circling around those high, idealistic goals, though how well I achieve them is another question entirely.
(And here I'm reminded of another quote, Michael Cunningham's: "You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire. But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."
As I've said on my Write-a-thon page, I don't know what I'll write, or how much I'll write. But you can expect to see some of the above themes cropping up alongside the other, more magpie-minded projects.
Anyway, I hope the writing (and writing about writing) will be entertaining to those of you reading, and I hope you'll consider sponsoring me or any one of the many, many other fine writers in the Write-a-thon this year. There's a wealth of talent banding together to support a new crop of talent which, in turn, is being taught by a roster of extraordinary talent, and I, for one, am excited to get started.
Throughout September, I let it sit and didn't even open the file, and I threw all my effort into writing the sequel while a bunch of incredibly wonderful beta readers went through my story and gave me feedback covering a wide range of topics – conventions expected by the target audience, questions left unanswered, plot snarls, places where the prose or plot was unclear, places where they were hooked or lost, strengths and weaknesses.
Now, I've compiled all those responses into a document – a sort of menu of things to fix – and I've been ticking off each issue, one by one. Except that now I'm stalling.
It's strange. I remember this sort of hand-wringing and avoidance (because a part of this is that I know once I'm done with revisions, I'll have to send out the novel to agents, and whatever I've done or failed to do will have to stand on its own merits, and that's scary, yo) – I remember it from when I started submitting short stories. Now, approaching my 80th short story submission (I just got a response – a rejection – on my 78th submission of all time), I'm used to that process, and while there's still a flutter of anticipation every time I send a short story out or get a response back, for the most part, it's routine.
But shopping out a novel is a completely different beast.
Sort of. From what I've researched of the process, there are a lot of similarities, and even some of the differences (synopses, partials) just seem like short-form submissions' big sibling. There's a bit more weight to the process, which is understandable given the heft of the work you're submitting.
But there are palpable differences. For one thing, generally a relationship with an agent is a long-term one; a relationship with an editor can evolve to the point where they'll drop you a line once in a while and ask if you've got anything new, but the expectation is that every story is a new deal. For another, an agent takes a lot of the responsibility off your back, and that means trusting them with something precious to you, if you value your writing at all. They take stewardship of your work in a very real way. Even before you internalize the prevailing wisdom that a bad first book can torpedo you as a novelist, there's a lot at stake.
The writing style I use means a lot of revision and rework during the process of writing. After that, I did a first-pass revision. Then I got crits on it and I'm doing a second revision now. Once those edits are in place, I'm going to do a final readthrough to make sure I haven't introduced new problems or errors. When I send this out it's going to be polished, and even after that, I'm fairly sure my (eventual, hopeful) agent and/or editor will come back with yet more crits. Everything is going to be done to give my book the best chance it can have. I'm just dragging my feet because even the steps to move forward are scary.
Still. This is about how I felt when I started submitting short stories too, and that turned out all right. I'll just keep telling myself that, then taking a deep breath, and addressing the next challenge on the list.
Though my definition of an ordeal is broader than the one at the article linked. A quick sketch of my definition would be: an ordeal is something that frightens or challenges you in a real, meaningful way, which you go through anyway.
This comes up in a variety of ways in my conversations: as a fiction kink, as a sacred qualia. One of the character archetypes that stays with me the most is someone who drags another person through something which the other person wouldn't have attempted or possibly made it through on their own, and that person is the better for traversing it. It resonates with me.
And there are other things that stay with me, too – like how one of the people I love told me, before I was off to do something that terrified me, I promise you, you can survive this.
But before I could even consider setting myself up as an ordeal master or an ordeal guide, I looked at myself and realized that I had better know the experience inside and out. And to do that, I've been putting myself through ordeals – and they're often little, quotidian things, unimpressive things, but they're still things that frighten me. It can be as simple as dealing with my dislike of phones and confrontation to call a place to dispute a charge or cancel an account, or as common as setting up a dental appointment and dealing with the discomfort and pain, or as nonthreatening but god, I don't want to do this right now as cleaning a room in the house. (Even writing this is an ordeal, in a way – not so much the writing but the posting and leaving for people to see.) I have boatloads of small anxieties, ranging from talking to strangers to driving on my own, and one by one, I'm working through them. And I'll keep working through them until I've mastered them and am no longer afraid or averse.
There have been a couple of times recently when I've made myself proud, too. Frex: I went to Seattle to visit my brother, in early September, and one day he had to work and I was left pretty much on my own. I can't describe how much I wanted to just stay in the house and do nothing, not have to interact with an unfamiliar city or with being on my own, but I made myself get out. I walked through unfamiliar neighborhoods to a bank to get cash for the day, and then walked to the water taxi and took it downtown. I had lunch on my own. I went on a harbor tour of Elliot Bay. And when that was over and I'd gone back to the West Seattle water taxi terminal, I took off my shoes and dipped my bare feet in the waters washing in from the Pacific.
Or there was the time this weekend when I drove myself out of the city and up to the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, and participated in a wilderness survival camping experience. I shouldered a heavy pack and kept pace with the group, all of whom were, I suspect, more in shape than I was. I helped start a fire without matches, and made my own shelter out of debris and a tarp. I slept in the cold and woke up sore and tired and helped tear down the camp and bring water up from the reservoir and douse the fire, and I shouldered my pack and kept pace out of there.
And to a lot of people, those would be little things. Not even a challenge. But years of being sick and dealing with low blood pressure and syncope have taught me not to trust my body, and a lifetime of mis-interpreting people, relationships and society (because human interactions are so often just alien to me) have taught me not to trust my ability to deal with others, and so many other things have taught me not to trust so many other aspects of myself that challenging one thing and defeating that one thing is a victory I hold close. Any scrap of confidence I can knap from the world is a trophy.
And there are some fears I've mastered – submitting short stories to market was one. (I still remember how terrified I was the first time.) There are fears I'm working on but slowly overcoming, like driving and talking to fiction editors. And there are fears that still kick my ass, like dealing with dysphoria and gender and society, or striking up conversations with people I don't know well, or managing savings and feeling capable of getting back on my feet in the event that I should lose my job.
But I'm going to face them. With work, I'm going to conquer them. Because I value strength and resilience, and I intend like hell to follow this path where it leads me.
And I think, you know, this is really sort of a screwed up system this society's built, isn't it, that I have all this guilt and stress over missing a day of work due to circumstances beyond my control? I'm eating healthy. I'm getting about an hour of exercise, if not more, just about every day. I'm sleeping enough. It's not as though I'm getting sick over some sort of negligence on my part, and the two previous days this week where I was too sick to go in, I worked from home and met all my goals and deadlines. Illness is a natural part of being alive, and should not be something to feel guilt over.
And really, a lot of these fundamental assumptions of How Things Go are kind of screwed-up. I've been reading through The 4-Hour Workweek recently, and kinda going "Hm, I wish, I wish" at it, but the central message is something of a paradigm shift: the entire professional life is built around putting off the things that are valuable to you until you've lost the best (most healthy, most free, most able, for the most part) years of your life. And as an added twist, the thing that's to take up most of our waking hours, the thing by which society expects us to define ourselves ("What do you do?" "I'm a web application developer." I am is a powerful term) is the mechanism by which we make money. Making money doing something we find meaningful is considered an advanced skill – and something you're lucky to have.
...I've been reading a lot about earthships, too (in that same I wish, I wish) vein), and one of the things Earthship Man Michael Renolds says is that economies should exist to take care of people; people shouldn't live to take care of economies. (One of the tenets of the earthship philosophy is that people shouldn't be reliant on an economy for the basics of their survival.) It's a compelling idea.
I find that, more and more, I want to be engaged in something meaningful. I'm lucky to have my job, and I'm learning from it – not just about the technical skills, but also about things like project management, documentation and reference structure, interacting with people and communicating clearly, setting measurable goals and motivating myself through them – but there's only a very small service component (I'm helping to support the University, and education is one of my big starry-eyed idealistic values), and there's no spiritual component to it, at all. I feel like if I didn't have the dry, pragmatic concerns – cost of living, cost of paying debt, especially my mountain of student loan debt – I wouldn't be at this job at all.
I don't know what I would be doing. I have dreams, certainly – teaching (teaching something), writing, building Earthships, building communities – but they're all dreams at this stage. For some, I don't know what my criteria for success are. For others, I don't know the criteria to begin.
I want to do something more with my life than what I'm doing. I want to know how to start.
So far, I've tried it with Spark Plugs, Banana Slugs, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Chuck Palahniuk, Infantry, Carnarvon (Western Australia), and Fatal Hilarity. It all works. Usually inside of twenty-thirty clicks. After doing this long enough, you begin to see certain patterns and get a feel for when you're getting close to the Philosophy goal. For example, once you hit Natural Science or Social Science, you know there's no escape.
I think it has everything to do with the format of defining everything in more-general terms. So you can start with something that seems entirely unrelated to anything philosophical like Vilii, a "type of yoghurt (a mesophilic fermented milk) that originated in the Nordic countries," with a "ropey, gelatinous consistency and a sour taste resulting from lactic acid," but Viili is a kind of yoghurt, which sends you on through dairy product » food » plant » living (and here you start thinking, uh-oh, we're on the track for philosophy) » objects » physics (and here, the physics link is marked as already visited; you end up at physics in a lot of the paths) » natural science (remember how I said there was no escape?) » science » knowledge » facts » information, sequence, mathematics (admittedly, once you get onto the "information" leg, it does circle around a little), quantity, property, modern philosophy (uh-oh), and finally, philosophy.
There's already a significant amount of talk on the phenomenon on the Philosophy "Talk" page. People have found articles that put you into an infinite loop (as of this writing "understatement" was the first qualifying link in the Ernest Hemmingway article, and the first qualifying link in the understatement article was "Ernest Hemmingway"), but it seems to hold true for the majority of articles people have tested.
So, there's your random minor mindblow for the day.
I'm also, as of the 26th of December, engaged.
I'll understand if you have some questions.
( In the light of all that, what's /left/ for marriage to signify? )
[ETA] Also there's the matter where I love L very much, but, uh, that was supposed to go without saying?
[ETA 2: Son Of ETA] Cepheid variables, I am bad at this.
In an effort to help people understand privilege, its forms and complexities, I'm going to use myself as a case study. I'm going to examine a lot of the ways privilege affects my life, positively and negatively. So, while I will be pointing out ways in which I'm disadvantaged, I'm also going to try to own up to a lot of my own privilege, because it's really not a simple thing. You can be privileged in one way and disprivileged in another.
This isn't meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. It's meant to provide a few glimpses into things people might not otherwise think about, especially with regards to the difference between who and what you are and what privilege you are accorded. It's beginning to unpack the invisible knapsack, but it's not finishing it.
It's a starting point, which will hopefully get people thinking.
So let's start.
Privilege I have
( Read more... )
Privilege I sometimes have
( Read more... )
Privilege I don't have
( Read more... )
Privilege is not universally desirable. One of the things that seems to tag along with male privilege is the privilege to be intimidating. While this is useful in warding off some types of harassment, it can be very unsettling when invoked accidentally. When I used to walk home alone while my city was having its big, well-reported problem with people being sexually assaulted walking around after dark, I'd occasionally find myself walking down the same stretch of road, presenting as male, to all appearances following a solitary female pedestrian. As someone who doesn't want to come across as threatening to innocents, this was not a comfortable space to be in.
Privilege is not universally bad. In a lot of cases, the effects of privilege aren't things people should feel guilty for experiencing. The problem arises when they're privileges and not rights - the privilege to escape harassment, for example, is a privilege because it's a right which is denied to people like women, transgendered persons, poor persons. etc. The privilege to be taken seriously by doctors is a right which is often denied to fat people and people of color.
Passing is a way of accessing privilege. If I pass for male, I access aspects of male privilege. If someone passes for white, they access aspects of white privilege. This can happen involuntarily as well as voluntarily, and someone can be passed as well as passing. One example of this is a person of color who's granted "honorary whiteness" by their friends - their friends will stop noticing that they're a person of color, even to the point where they'll have a moment of "Huh, they are" when it's brought up. Another example is a person with a mixed ethnic background who appears white enough that people assume they are white.
Privilege is multifaceted. Even at its most simplistic, we can split it into two parts which have to be evaluated separately: the personal, what one experiences, and the social, what one is accorded. This is how someone with severe gender dysphoria who nonetheless passes for their assigned gender can both experience and lose cisgender privilege; feeling comfortable with one's own body and expected social roles is a cisgender privilege which they have lost, while the ability to exist and function in society without being harassed on the basis of their gender is one they maintain.
1) Solutions are pretty meaningless without problems, and
2) Writing things down helps me order and deal with things,
I might as well write this up.
A brief overview
Here's a snapshot of my life at the moment: I'm working 40 hours a week in my full-time job, an additional four hours (plus a few hours baking and possibly an hour in transit, setup, teardown, transit) at the Farmer's Market (Saturday mornings), and trying to rekindle an active life in the UU Church on Sundays. Combined, this is my major time commitment over the week, as well as meaning that there isn't a single day during the week when I can sleep in, unless I consider 9:00 on Sundays to be sleeping in. I'm working the Clarion West Write-a-thon, which, in my case, has me writing one complete short story or novel chapter, or revising one short story, every week. I'm in a two-bedroom house which is now housing three people, two cats, a dog, and some gerbils. I'm trying to untangle several years' worth of tangled-up finances, which keep getting compounded by red tape (Iowa Student Loan, I'm looking at you) and odd errors (such as the person at Paul's who accidentally charged me the last four digits of my debit card rather than the cost of goods, and then had to have it refunded through my bank). I'm preparing for a move, and a possible side gig as a freelancer.
Those are all big, overarching things, which aren't the same as specific issues, which is significant. But they're situational stressors, which are also significant. More on that later.
Wallowing and solving
I haven't talked much about the crap what goes on in my life, because I'm making a concerted effort to be productive about it, and I recognized a trap that I used to get caught in. Basically, there's a trick I noticed some time ago: if someone has a problem, and they talk a lot about that problem, but they reject all approaches toward solving that problem, odds are they're not invested in having that problem solved. Which is understandable. Attempting to solve a problem takes effort, and there's no guarantee that it'll work, and effort and failure are both daunting things. Someone may earnestly want a problem to be solved, but be unwilling to take any action to solve it. They'll find problems with all the proposed solutions, dismiss ideas with "I can't" or some variation without seeming to consider how they could, or put in token effort and then, when that fails, dismiss the entire thing as a wash. So I catch myself having mental conversations like this:
Me (whiny): I wish I had more money. I have all this debt to pay off.
Me (sensible): Well, let's look at ways of handling this. You could prioritize your spending and increase your payments.
Me (whiny): I've done that, but it'll still take a long time to pay.
Me (sensible): Then let's look at how you could make more money. Could you get a raise, or find extra work?
Me (whiny): I don't have time for another job, and I haven't been here for long enough to negotiate a raise, especially since I think we're under a pay freeze.
Me (sensible): Have you looked into the specifics of the pay freeze or salary increases? And if you don't have time for another job, how about freelancing? Or looking to prioritize your time a bit more?
Me (whiny): I can't prioritize my time any more! There are only so many hours in the day!
Me (sensible): And how many of those hours do you spend doing not much? How many hours do you spend doing things like surfing the internet or playing video games? Are you accepting those as a higher priority than making more money and solving this problem?
Me (whiny): I have to do those things to recharge my batteries. I don't have the emotional energy to start freelancing.
Me (sensible): Have you looked into ways of increasing your mood and building up emotional energy in better ways? There's great research on the mood-lifting effects of regular exercise, and often you don't feel that great when you're surfing the web or playing video games; you might be using those as a crutch rather than a genuine way to feel better and solve your problems.
Me (whiny, in summary): Look, solving this problem is hard and I don't want to try to! I just want to complain!
...and that gets me nowhere. So when I catch myself with this thought process:
1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to write a blog post about my problem!
I try to short-circuit it and turn it into this:
1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to sit down and find a way to solve this problem.
And when I do that, the funny thing is that I'll occasionally find a way to solve the problem, and then I'll solve it, and once I solve it, I don't really need to blog about it any more. As a result, I suppose the entire process has been pretty opaque to people who aren't me.
But there are things I haven't solved yet...
Which I've been shutting up about because I'm still in the "Don't complain, SOLVE" stage. It's interesting – writing things down, breaking things apart and examining the issues, is actually a really big part of how I problem-solve. It's just that when I do it publicly, I always have to be wary of taking sympathy and validation instead of solutions. Because the problem is, a lot of the time when someone complains and people come by and say "Oh, that's horrible! That is such a big problem!", they go away with this empty, palliative feeling. There, see? I have sympathy. People know what a terrible thing I'm enduring, and they agree that it's a serious thing, and they think I'm totally cool for enduring it. And they walk away with a temporary high and the same exact problem.
But I figure there's a middle ground to be had. So! If you folk will promise to keep me on track, I'll try to open up this process for you. And maybe we can all learn a few things from each other.
Case study coming very soon.
*Subject line referencing The Willpower Engine, a blog dissecting specific mechanisms of motivation, willpower, behavior, emotional repair, habit-forming, etc. I've found it a fantastic resource.
And because they fill a need, or just because they comprise a present and recurrent part of the consumer's life, they converse with the consumer's worldview. People get inspired by a football play or moved by an anecdote in Reader's Digest, and those are real effects on real people. If you're good at matching a need to an audience, you can use those vehicles to make real changes.
You can use movies to liberalize attitues toward homosexuality. You can use photo galleries (link NSFW) to alter standards for physical attractiveness. You can use video games to educate children as to how to avoid landmines. You can use moments in softball games to teach lesson abut grace. This is true despite the fact that you'll have no difficulty finding people who will dismiss, out of hand, how seriously film or art or video games or sports should or can be taken.
Intended audiences derive meaning from what's produced to entertain them. By accident or design.
Which is why I balk when people dismiss the impact things like fiction – even fanfiction – can have, or when people say that no one should care what messages are put in movies, because they're just movies, after all. The implication is that things like racism or sexism or ableism or whathaveyou doesn't matter if it's shown in these things, because they matter so terribly little. Because of course the constant omission of the voices of people of color in literature doesn't contribute to the creation of a single story, and the fact that Edward is a vampire and thus clearly fictional means that a generation of young women readers won't grow up to romanticize stalking and other sorts of potentially dangerous behaviour.
Statements like "It's just fandom." "It's just TV." "It's just for fun." assume that people segment their experiences in such a way that those experiences don't ever cross over, ever inform each other. They assume that we gain and learn nothing from those things. And they assume that those things occur in a vacuum, sealed off from the rest of our experiences of the world, whether we're the consumers or the creators.
Human endeavor comes out of human experience and feeds back into human experience, whether or not it's supposed (or assumed) to. In many ways it's completely involuntary, as familiar scents trigger memories or, as Chimamanda Adichie recounted, our opinions of others fill themselves in on a paucity of facts. It's why watching our media, our art and our entertainment, can be such a valuable diagnostic tool as to the lives and opinions of the people – and why working to improve that can feed back and improve society as a whole.
Let's say that you were scoping out colleges to apply to. Could be for an undergraduate degree, could be for a writing workshop, a Masters program, a PhD program, a few one-off classes in a summer session, whatever. You're shopping around, you're thinking of campus visits, you're calling up admissions offices and asking for pamphlets. It's a good time. Here's the exercise.
I want you to take out a piece of paper, or boot up a copy of TextEdit or NotePad, of just toss some thoughts around in the back of your mind, and answer this: what are the things you look at in deciding where to go?
How about things like cost? Availability of scholarships and student aid is a big thing, availability of student jobs. In-state vs. out-of-state tuition is a deciding factor for a lot of people, I know.
Location? Will it be close enough to visit family? Will it be close enough that they'll expect you home every weekend?
The programs, obviously, should be a major factor. What's the learning environment like? Do they have an engaged faculty in the stuff you want to learn? A complete department, or a few professors teaching classes on it here and there? How does one school's program stack up against the others'?
Hmm. The campus itself should be a concern. Is it walkable? Bikeable? Does it feel like you're going to be living in a bustling downtown, or a manicured garden?
And the city. Are the local politics conservative or liberal? Is it a metropolis or a hamlet? Is there an arts scene? Shopping? Public transportation?
All of the above sounds fairly reasonable, right?
What else do you think about?
Take some time.
How's this: when you're looking through schools and programs, do you stop to think, If I go down here, am I going to be in danger because of the color of my skin? Do you wonder if you'll have to worry about getting profiled or pulled over if you drive somewhere? Do you think, if I get into something and the cops are called, are they going to be biased against me?
Do you wonder if you're going to have to fight a constant battle against people's preconceptions of you – your intelligence, your citizenship, your economic status, your language skills?
Do you wonder if you'll be othered or tokenized, if your race will become a big issue because diversity on campus is low, or if you'll face an expectation to associate with people of your own race or be considered a race traitor? Do you worry that you'll become someone's "black friend" or "Latino friend" or "Asian friend" or any other "attribute friend"?
Do you wonder what percentage of your time is going to be spent educating others about your race, your racial history, or the nation of your perceived origin? Do you wonder which of your actions will be taken as reflecting your race as a whole? Do you wonder if people will expect certain things from you, culturally, interest-wise, background-wise, because of your race?
Do you worry that you'll be forced to mis-represent your race – say, as "black" when you are in fact biracial – when filling out official forms, because no accurate category exists for you?
Do you wonder if exchange programs have provisions for your safety, if you were to go out of the country? If, say, you wanted to study in Moscow, where race crimes sextupled in early 2008, would the program have people who would know how best to protect you? Or would you be allowed to go?
Are these concerns for you?
If these thoughts haven't crossed your mind when looking at those programs, if you've never had (at the bare minimum) a list of options in your life cut apart by these concerns, then you experience a kind of privilege I have never had. And if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, that I'm being overcautious in worrying about these things, let me tell you a few stories.
My father got into a minor car accident once, and when the police arrived on the scene, they determined that he was at fault. This was either a rear-ending or a sideswiping of his car, mind you. He decided to contest the matter and took it to court; on walking in, his first day, he discovered that the court had assigned him a Spanish translator, despite the fact that he didn't speak Spanish (our surname is recognizable as a Yoruba – that is, Nigerian – name, and resembles a Spanish/Latino surname not at all), and despite the fact that he was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska.
Once, when I was riding in a friend's car, she was pulled over for something like a broken taillight. At one point she got out of the car to talk to the officer who had pulled her over, and when she got back in, she told me that the officer had asked her if I spoke English. This happened in Iowa City, which is for the most part a very friendly, liberal town. Bear in mind that when this happened, I was studying at the University – an institution of about 30,000 students in a town of about 67,000 altogether. Bear also in mind that I was born and raised in Nebraska, and English is in fact the only language I fluently speak.
I had a good friend in high school, a fellow member of the Speech & Debate team, who mentioned one day after 9/11 that he'd been accosted in a store by a man who had told him, "We don't want your kind here." He was an Indian Hindu, which didn't seem to matter; he'd been othered because he was nonwhite, lumped into a group he had no relation to, and harassed. In his case it was only verbal, but that's not always true.
Racism is not over, folks. It's become a bit quieter, but it's still virulent. The three stories above all happened to me and people I personally knew, in Lincoln and Iowa City, which are known for being friendly places. That's not even scratching the surface of places where does get loud, where it does get violent, where it's systematized, where it's routine.
Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as white privilege. And male privilege, and cisgender privilege, and able-bodied privilege, and heterosexual privilege, and educational privilege, and economic privilege, and national privilege, and thin privilege, and a hell of a lot of other kinds. And if you never have to think about them, that probably means you have them. And you can say that you never have to think about them. But don't you dare try to tell me they don't exist.
I'm angry because insurance companies consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition (and thus ground for exclusion from coverage), I'm angry because privilege is invisible and people have to lie with bigotry from people they like and love.
I'm angry because a popular show I didn't particularly care about sucks balls when it comes to racial issues and a popular show I actually enjoy is unconsciously knee-deep in racial and gender issues.
I'm angry because calling a good female athlete "secretly a man" or a transsexual or a hermaphrodite is perfectly acceptable and grounds for humiliating them or ruining their careers.
I'm angry because we live in a broken society, and the people with the most power and perhaps the most responsibilty to change that society don't see any need to change it.
But most of all, I'm angry because I don't feel able to transmute that anger into something productive, something reformative. I need to teach myself how to write again, without worrying overmuch about the end product before I get to the end. I need to learn how to harness rage in a way which retains its power and gives it direction.
I need to learn how to sing for our lives.
This is a very nice statement of commonalities and how all people should be able to respect and acknowledge the experiences of all other people, I'm sure.
But I disagree.
Prejudice, advantage, discrimination – these things are like any other aspect of human interaction (fraternity, estrangement, cohabitation, love) in that no one's experiences define the experiences of others. There are similarities, certainly, but just as certainly, there are differences.
Perhaps the best way to show this is through examples. I've written up some, though bear in mind that the sets of privilege and disadvantage I'm using here are limited to a few illustrative sets – isn't meant to be an exhaustive examination of all ways in which people experience different sorts of privilege. It's only a very brief look at the way in which different parts of society treats different people differently.
If a homosexual cisgendered person walks into a public restroom, they will not have to worry about being asked to prove that they belong to the sex that bathroom is reserved for. The same cannot be said of trans persons.
If a straight person of color finds a friend/lover/sweetheart he wishes to marry, he will not be told that such a marriage is an abomination against God or that it will tear apart the society he is a part of; he will not be legally denied the right to marry that person. The same cannot be said for same-sex couples.
If a white transperson is pulled over by police in America or is in a car pulled over by police, he will not have the police officer question whether or not he can speak English. The same cannot be said for people of color.
If a cisgendered homosexual goes to get a driver's license or passport, he or she will not have to put up a legal battle to have basic demographic information such as his or her sex reflected accurately on the document. This cannot be said of transpeople.
And two more, phrased in a different way:
The gay man from an economically secure family who serves in the military and must conceal, every day and night, his sexual identity has no inherent insight into the struggles of the straight woman who lies awake at night, stressed and desperate under the knowledge that she has no idea how to secure food for herself and her children the next day.
The caucasian woman who must endure a workplace in which her co-workers look at her as a sexual object is not experiencing the same thing as the man of Middle-Eastern descent who fears being profiled and questioned any time he has to take a commercial flight.
Disadvantage is not homogenous. Discrimination is not uniform. There is no "one size fits all" experience of discrimination or disadvantage. Circumstance is so immensely important that even two people who exhibit similar sets of privilege and disadvantage may not experience discrimination in the same way – the experiences of two people of color, or two women, or two transgendered people, or two anyone cannot be considered interchangeable. A woman who is physically molested and a woman who has been constantly passed over for promotions due to her sex have not experienced the same forms of discrimination and prejudice, even when both experiences can be termed sexism.
This is not meant to devalue anyone's experiences. In, I think, the vast majority of cases, a struggle to find out who's suffered "more" in a discussion of privilege and disadvantage only sideswipes the real issue. Rather I think that in a discussion of privilege and disadvantage, parties should listen when someone says that they have experienced a certain thing in a certain way. People should listen and accord respect to what a person is trying to express, and to the distinction they felt was important enough to raise. People should never try to define another's experiences by what they themselves have experienced; nor should they assume that being a victim of one sort of prejudice makes anyone an authority on another.
Gay issues are not trans issues are not sex issues are not race issues; homophobia is not transphobia is not sexism is not racism. They have some common roots, expressions, and effects, but like apples and oranges – both fruits, of course – they are not the same.
And then it usually explodes.
I want to write out exactly what I see as going on in that situation, to the extent that I know it, to tell people why they're getting that "No." – and this is a lesson I had to learn after looking at posts by people who refused, and thinking Well, that's unreasonable, isn't it?, and really sitting down to try to understand why that refusal was happening. Why someone who was a victim of ignorance would refuse to educate others.
Yes, it's counter-intuitive. But it's not unreasonable. Here's, to the best of my current understanding, why:
Educating others is an arduous and often thankless job, especially when you're educating someone who may be skeptical of your point of view, especially when it's topic which affects you deeply, personally, and emotionally. If you ask someone to put in the time and energy to educate you, whether or not (but especially if) you've given any indication that you might not agree with what they're trying to explain, whether or not (but especially if) it's a topic which is significant and personal to them they are not obligated to educate you.
On an issue like race, or sexuality, or gender, reams and reams of information have already been written. A little digging, at a decent library or on the internet, will give you a wealth of information on the topic – usually written by those who do sincerely want to educate others. By preferring not to sit down and discuss issues, people are not denying others access to that information. They're saying that they personally can't, won't, or don't want to teach it.
No, oppressed and marginalized people are not morally obligated to educate their oppressors or the mainstream. In fact, the constant need to defend oneself or one's lifestyles is a symptom of oppression and marginalization.
I personally don't find it offensive when people ask me to educate them. I may not always have the time, energy, or inclination to do so, and I may scoff at the notion that I am capable of speaking or qualified to speak as though I represented my entire demographic, but I generally assume (unless they indicate hostility or skepticism) that they're asking in good faith. This doesn't mean that I will always step up to educate them – as said before, it takes a lot of time and energy, especially emotional energy. And while I'd try to turn away people I didn't want to educate myself kindly, hopefully with a few edifying links or directions on where to turn, were I in an emotional state, I can't guarantee how that would come out. It might come out in a very hostile way – and if it ever does, I apologize.
The hostility. Not the refusal to educate. Because while I think that basic civility is a right of people in dialogue, having someone personally educate you is not. It is a privilege – yes, I said the P-word – and should never be demanded of anyone.
But, I hear someone say, people need to be educated, and if the marginalized and oppressed don't do it, who will? Excellent question.
The problem here is that people think the marginalized and oppressed can be tokenized down into the particular marginalized or oppressed person they happen to be talking to. People do educate on this. People write, people manage campaigns. People take social and civic action. Yes, people both from and outside of the marginalized and oppressed groups take it upon themselves to educate others and to work for equality and justice.
This doesn't mean that they, or other members of their community, have to work on the schedule of anyone who asks, or for anyone who asks, or because anyone asked. In the same way that you can't just grab an unemployed person off the streets and say "You, write a letter to your congressman about the economy – well, come on, hurry up; it's your responsibility!", in the same way you can't tell a victim of police brutality or even racial profiling "You, here's a pen and paper, write a letter to the editor of the local paper because the public has to know!", you should be aware that people have their own lives to live and their own concerns and their own apprehensions and hangups about stepping into that role and are not obligated to perform any civic duty to fulfill your sense of moral propriety.
And even asking that question reveals another one: why should it rest on the backs of the marginalized and oppressed? Pragmatically, yes, it usually does, but if you're asking the question, that indicates that you both come from a position of privilege and recognize that there's a problem that needs solving. Kudos to you, and that's a genuine kudos; you're ahead of a lot of people. The next step is to educate yourself.
You can do it. It's not even that difficult. It's the information age.
Educating yourself is likely to give you a much more solid grounding in the state of things, anyway, unless the person you're talking to is heavily involved in social action or has a degree in the subject you're asking about. People are great for personal touches and idiosyncratic experiences, but if you're coming in as someone who knows nothing and wants to learn, you might want more than personal touches and idiosyncratic experiences anyway.
I'd like to say here that I personally don't think there's anything inherently offensive about asking someone else for their opinions or for the basics, so long as you respect them and their right, if they choose so, not to tell you. I have to amend a caveat, though: in saying this I am very much not interested in being used as anyone's marginalized friend in an argument such as "oh, well, magistrate says se doesn't see anything offensive about it." Do not tokenize me. My opinions are what I think, not what every person in my situation thinks or should be expected to think. If you ask someone and they're offended by it, apologize and don't ask any more. If they rip you apart for asking and apologizing, maybe that's not someone you want to talk to about this subject. It happens.
Disclosure. I am a member of marginalized groups. I'm biracial, asexual, non-cisgendered. I am also a member of privileged groups. I'm college-educated, American, able-bodied. Most people are combinations of privileged and non-privileged – this discussion, as with most discussions of privilege, applies to people acting on both sides, and should be considered in this light.