Been out of the game for a couple of weeks, finishing a book and defending a dissertation proposal and wrapping up a course. Back now. Have stuff.
- Why you dislike singular ‘they’.” I am so fucking sick of people complaining about how it’s grammatically incorrect, or it’s too clumsy, or they just can’t be bothered. Sack up, motherfuckers. Also my sister has some knowledge to hit you with:
I wrote a linguistics final on this: plenty of fluent adult speakers naturally produce “they” as an indeterminate gender pronoun to avoid using the clunkier construction “his or her.” not only is it transphobic bullshit to say third person plurals are grammatically unacceptable, it’s linguistically incorrect.
- “Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation.” On Time’s awful awful awful Millennial cover story.
Basically, it’s not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it’s that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older. It’s like doing a study of toddlers and declaring those born since 2010 are Generation Sociopath: Kids These Days Will Pull Your Hair, Pee On Walls, Throw Full Bowls of Cereal Without Even Thinking of the Consequences.
- “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform.” It’s things like the recent discourse around MOOCs that make me seriously wonder whether I’ve made a huge mistake going into academia and whether maybe I should just toss in the towel and leave the country once I have my PhD rather than watch this institution that I love shit all over itself and die.
Since educating fewer students would therefore cost money, in effect—and it would also cost money to fully staff the necessary courses—there is no solution to the problem that does not require spending more money on chairs, classrooms, and teachers to teach them. MOOCs enter the picture, then, as a kind of fantasy solution to this unsolvable problem: instead of addressing the problem by either admitting fewer students or adding more courses, we will define the problem differently: chairless classrooms! Everyone is happy.
- “Star Trek Into the Endless War On Terror.” This piece is fabulous.
Khan is blowing up Starfleet because they used him and manipulated him to built a war machine capable of defending against people like Khan. Self-justifying, perpetual war machines are what we have come to expect from governments. Even if you are defending the war, you have to justify this “new kind of war” by describing and identifying an enemy that demands a war of ambiguous lines and endless horizons. Talk about policing, intelligence, boots on the ground, or peace-keeping missions but don’t question the need for constant intervention. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek might not be the Star Trek you want, but it is definitely the Star Trek America deserves.
- “The Ethics of Extreme Porn: Is Some Sex Wrong Even Among Consenting Adults?” Really good response to a recent blog dialogue that questions whether sexual ethics based entirely around consent are a universal good (spoiler alert: kinda, yeah.)
My generation doesn’t treat consent as a lodestar merely because consent permits pleasurable sexual activity that more traditional sexual codes would prohibit. The ethos of consent is regarded as a lodestar because its embrace is widely seen as an incredible improvement over much of human history; and because instances when the culture of consent is rejected are superlatively horrific. The average 30-something San Franciscan has had multiple friends confide to them about being raped, and multiple friends confide about participating in consensual BDSM. Only the former routinely plays out as extreme trauma that devastates the teller for decades.
- I’m interviewed in the current Outer Alliance podcast, along with an all-star lineup of folks, about the acronym QUILTBAG and the idea of “metrosexual” and current SF awards. It’s fun.
- Finally, a thing by me: “Distant droning murmurs” – a reflection on the issues raised for me by Murmuration, a June festival of drone culture.
Need is by definition a loss of power. And in as much as a drone is a cultural node, it’s a node of political and social power, equally capable of surveillance and lethality, technically exact but inscrutable. A shifting, endlessly accommodating idea isn’t especially trustworthy. But maybe we want to trust. Above all, we want everything to be recognizable. We want to be able to understand.
What I think may be most terrifying about drones – at least to me – is the prospect that they might ultimately be beyond understanding. But we’ll see what Murmuration can do.
Rihanna and M83 have made a beautiful baby.
Posted in Linkdump
Tagged academia, drones, grammar, mashups, millennials, MOOCs, murmuration, outer alliance, sexual ethics, star trek, transphobia
For a variety of reasons mostly having to do with dissertation work, the Sunday Linkdump is on hold, though I anticipate being back to it by next Sunday. I’ve recently completed the final draft of my dissertation proposal (I defend on the 14th) and I gave myself the weekend off on account of the brain needing a recharge.
But today I’m back on the writing horse, so of course I’m putting off doing any actual work on anything with a blog post.
I’ve talked a lot about my writing philosophy, and even some about how my personal stages of novel-writing work, but I’m not sure that I’ve really outlined the details of my particular process. So, to that end, here’s how I usually do what I do.
I’ve been publishing SF for almost half a decade now, but I still feel like I’m only just figuring out what the hell I’m doing. Therefore, it always makes me slightly uneasy to put myself in a position where I’m giving anyone else advice about writing and how to do it – both the mechanics and the practical elements – and even more uneasy when I’m talking about definitions of anything. and I’m sort of intrinsically uneasy with categories anyway. Given all of that, please let me go into this with the caveat that this is just my understanding of a thing, and it shouldn’t supersede anyone else’s understanding of a thing that may differ from my own.
All that said, I think “how do you know you’re a writer” is a very interesting question to consider.
I’m not sure when I first started thinking of myself as a writer, but I know that I was long before I started getting stories published in places. What changed is that I started to be more comfortable calling myself a writer, and doing so in mixed company. What I wrote for a long time before original fiction was fanfiction, and I think most of us know and would agree that fanfiction is still verboten in many circles, and a thing to be looked down upon. And I don’t think that’s entirely fair.
I do think it’s fair to call fanfiction a different kind of writing from original fiction in a number of fundamental ways. Those differences are subtle and not necessarily clear across the board – as with any system of categorization I think we need to leave room for a lot of boundary-shifting and liminal space – but I do think they’re there.
Different is not worse than.
So what does a writer write? I’m pretty much with John Scalzi on this one:
A writer…chooses written words, and chooses them not just for mechanical and practical reasons, but for (or also for) esthetic and artistic purposes. Writers want to write, rather than have to write. In presenting an idea, the medium they intend for it to be in is the written word.
Intent is what matters here, to my mind. Not publishing – necessarily – and not whether you’re writing with characters you made up. I think insisting anything else is categorical gatekeeping, and I’m not really a fan of that practice because it makes our collective world smaller and narrower, and therefore less fun. It also makes it more hierarchical. Hierarchy is generally bad.
So besides intent, what – in my estimation – makes someone a writer? Here are a few things:
I’d like to welcome my co-writer Lisa back to the blog again today. Her last post on what’s involved in co-writing something as hefty as an entire book was awesome, and this is awesome as well. Enjoy.
Writing SciFi is fun for a lot of reasons, the world building, the aliens, doing research on orbits and nebulae on Wiki at 4am, but one of my favorite parts of writing L&O was the characters we spun out. I’m astonished by the awesome feedback we’ve gotten. It seems like a lot of people really enjoyed our cast, which, not gonna lie, makes me want to preen.
The last time Sunny asked me to guest blog, I talked about what it was like writing with a co-author. In the initial stages of L&O’s development we each wrote predominantly from one character’s POV (I started with Lock, Sunny with Adam), and over time we became more fluid and switched back and forth, and added a number of other POV characters to the mix. Because of our history with RPing, the characters were the most important part of story development. The plot and the world building were only interesting if we had fleshed out, three-dimensional individuals to live through it.
So, I still feel odd doling out advice about writing, given that I am at this moment sitting hung over on my couch in my grad student apartment, but! I guess everyone starts somewhere. Here we go:
The Orbital Antares rocket at the Wallops Flight Facility in VA. We were there for the launch yesterday, which was unfortunately scrubbed.
So things sure happened this week, didn’t they?
- Whitney Erin Boesel seriously questions whether images of tragedy belong on something like Vine.
One might argue that this self-repeating aspect makes Vine a powerful tool for reporting, but just because Vine can be used this way doesn’t mean it should be used this way. And Vine definitely shouldn’t be used this way without careful reflection about what it means to put six violent seconds on infinite (and infinitely circulative) self-repeat.
- And I expand on her points with a bit of a meditation on the nature of trauma.
Vine is only the latest, purest iteration of something familiar. Our experience of eventfulness is now the clip, perhaps more even than the still image. A few moments of something, repeated over and over, widely shared and everywhere you go. It’s a feeling of tiny saturation. You may not even notice it as it’s happening. But here’s the thing about the momentary clip, about event-as-seconds: It isn’t memory. Memory involves the incorporation and understanding of a past but also the mediation of a present and the imagination of the future. Memory is what we move through in order to get somewhere else.
A vine has no past, no future. A vine is a moment without a memory.
- Gawker asks “Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?”
The back-to-back focus on innocent people of non-European ancestry could imply that the Post is systematically hostile to nonwhite people, and that the paper’s editors are so wedded to the notion that all Muslims are terrorists that they literally do not care which Muslim or “Muslim-looking” person they happen to be targeting on any particular day. We are not saying that Col Allan, motivated by bigotry, is intentionally trying to use the Post to stir up hostility against Muslims. We do not know that Col Allan is a racist. The evidence may suggest that he is a racist, but we are not saying that Col Allan is a racist.
- “Let’s be honest about Kermit Gosnell’s abortion ‘house of horrors’.” Why the whole “cover-up” thing is sort of maybe bullshit.
Troy Newman, a pro-life leader and the president of Operation Rescue, is among the loudest voices sounding the Gosnell alarm. He’s also talking about how Gosnell is a gift from God to the pro-life movement. What Gosnell is accused of doing in his clinic is horrifying and illegal, which is why he’s on trial. His illegal acts are no more an indictment of safe, legal abortion than one child-molesting doctor is an indictment of all pediatricians. But pro-lifers like Newman are glad Gosnell exists, because they can use him to tar all abortion providers. These are the folks who want abortion to be dangerous, gruesome and unregulated. Of course they’re thrilled that they finally found a real villain.
- “Gitmo Is Killing Me.” Read this. If you read nothing else linked here read this.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone…There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
- “One Narrative Fits All.” Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is kind of problematic you guys.
Just as ads of yore leveraged the attitudes that made women feel bad about their looks in order to sell products, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty leverages the response to those attitudes in order to sell products. It allows for exactly one way that women can feel about our looks—bad—and creates a template for women’s relationship with their looks that’s just as rigid as the beauty standard it’s challenging.
- “Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement.” Okay, but what’s really remarkable about this is that an economics PhD student is going out with a sociology PhD student.
Herndon was stunned. As a graduate student, he’d just found serious problems in a famous economic study — the academic equivalent of a D-league basketball player dunking on LeBron James. “They say seeing is believing, but I almost didn’t believe my eyes,” he says. “I had to ask my girlfriend — who’s a Ph.D. student in sociology — to double-check it. And she said, ‘I don’t think you’re seeing things, Thomas.’”
- “Living the Dream.” Writing for a living is hard. It’s hard even after you get to the point where you can do it at all.
There’s an inspirational quote that gets passed around, usually misattributed to Confucius:
“Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
I’ve got a job I love, and I’m gonna come out and say this quote isn’t just wrong, it’s so fundamentally opposed to the state of “rightness” that if you put it together with a true quote, you’d create an explosion powerful enough to rip open spacetime and devour Kalamazoo.
I love being a writer, but if you try to tell me it’s not work, I’ll send goblins to eat your feet.
New Daft Punk makes everything okay.
Posted in Linkdump
Tagged abortion, beauty, body acceptance, boston, daft punk, economics, guantanamo bay, racism, trauma, vine, writing
Some of you may – or may not – be aware that Line and Orbit used to be quite a lot longer. Specifically, it was almost an entire book’s length longer. A great deal was cut, some of which we loved, and it seems a shame to think those bits might never see the light of day in any form.
So something that I and my co-author will be doing in the next month or so is pulling out some of the scenes that were cut from the final edit of Line and Orbit, dusting them off a bit, and posting them here for your reading pleasure.
The scene below is actually a huge chunk of what was chapter three, before chapter three became the segment that introduces us to Lochlan and Ixchel. It should be understood to take place directly after the scene in which Ixchel reads Lochlan’s future. It’s significant in that it’s actually the scene that was originally supposed to introduce readers to Kae and Leila, whereas in the final cut Kae and Leila are introduced only after Adam arrives on Ashwina.
It also features Lochlan being his cocky, promiscuous self. And Kae’s full, glorious name.
For those concerned: There are no major spoilers for the plot itself. If you haven’t read or haven’t finished reading, do not fear. Enjoy.
There is a lot this week.
- I wrote a thing for The Sociological Cinema on teaching with SF and the myths that underpin social inequality.
Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.
- “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters.” What it’s like to be a woman saying things and writing books. There is some potentially triggering stuff in here about rape (non-explicit) and general misogyny. I have no particular triggers and I found it upsetting.
I consider throwing in the towel. The lack of respectful coverage, the slut-shaming and name-calling, all the girly book covers and not-my-titles despite high literary aspirations, has worn me down, made me question everything: my abilities, my future, my life. This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it. A few months later, after delivering a lecture on the media-invented “mommy wars” at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, a song pops up on my iPhone as I’m walking back to my hotel room: Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” “When you ain’t got nothing,” Dylan sings, “you got nothing to lose.”
Yes, I think. Yes.
- “‘You’ve Lost Weight! You Look Great!’ Isn’t a Compliment.” I have felt this forever but haven’t articulated it to myself anywhere near this well, and oh my god yes yes yes
When we think of it in that way, it’s not such a great compliment. It’s a set-up for self-consciousness and negative self-judgment of our past selves. When remarking on weight loss is offered as a compliment, the speaker clearly thinks that there’s been a noticeable and notable improvement in how the person looks. Without the normative standard of “thinner is better,” the comment would have no value as a compliment at all.
- “Why I Will Still #uninstallmendeley.” If you use academic citation software, if you care about the state of academic publishing, if you care about justice and righteousness, read.
If Mendeley wants to hitch their horse to the Monsanto of academic publishing they can be my guest. The service will probably be amazing. But remember that the money they gave you –all the new resources you have at your disposal– were purchased with tuition money and charitable donations that should have gone to higher education. Instead, it went to Elsevier (and Thompson Reuter, and Springer and…) so that they could find new and inventive ways of hiding research so that they could continue to charge exorbitant prices.
- “Autofill Mythologies.” Fantastic piece on information and imagination and our experiences of difficult urban spaces.
Lewis Lapham once argued that the imagined city, the one of our collective making, is realer than what we’re fed by maps and demographics, buildings and structures. The ideas, the symbols, ultimately carry more for us than the realities of its dwellers—the people in the neighborhoods that you see when you’re walking down the street.
- “Needing a Bigger N+1.” This is a wonderfully biting response to a terrible essay on why critical sociology is useless and how there’s too much of it. That piece is actually not worth reading if you don’t want to; the response summarizes its major points pretty well.
Insofar as you want to make an institutional critique of sociology… well, I pay an extraordinary (for me) fee to a disciplinary association tasked with intervening in public debates and government policy. We have strong disciplinary traditions and mythologies of activism, including Hull House and the Feminist Wire. We give a fecking ASA award. I’m not saying our house is 100% in order, but if I have to shift into your all/nothing, everyone/no one idiom, I’m going to say we’re all clear.
- “When Facebook Stopped Being Fun.” Facebook users are growing up. This does not entirely bode well for Facebook.
Facebook is like a nightmarishly intense, never-ending school reunion where all of the people you don’t really want to talk to get to expose their lives in self-congratulatory detail. Resentment for that is remarkably difficult to dispel.
- “The writer’s neuroses.” All of this is so incredibly painfully true.
What if my life work, these novels that I have tried to make as clear and articulate and passion-filled and honest and intelligent and entertaining and genre-resistant and accessible as I can manage, aren’t judged to be among the best? Well, as I will find out the news in a hotel room on my own I will probably end up crying on the edge of a bed while shoving salted cashews into my mouth and wishing I’d never ever written a vampire novel.
- “Academia’s indentured servants.” Basically the system to which I have given ten years of my life and a great deal of my mental health is completely broken. I knew that because I’m IN IT, but still.
To work outside of academia, even temporarily, signals you are not “serious” or “dedicated” to scholarship. It does not matter if you are simply too poor to stay: in academia, perseverance is redefined as the ability to suffer silently or to survive on family wealth. As a result, scholars adjunct in order to retain an institutional affiliation, while the institution offers them no respect in return.
- “The entrepreneurial activism of Tim LaHaye’s theologized politics.” hey everyone Tim LaHaye is a very bad person
Consider this: from 1995 through 2007, Tim LaHaye co-authored a series of runaway best-sellers steeped in John Birch Society ideology. During those years he sold more than 60 million copies of books that served as propaganda for a particular political agenda. The tea party movement sprang up in 2009, espousing the exact neo-Bircher ideology and agenda promoted in LaHaye’s novels. Is that just a remarkable coincidence?
But there is The National.