Monthly Archives: February 2014

Write angry for the daughters of Hope

Okay, motherfucker, I’m enough. You know what? I’m enough. I’m the baddest bitch around, there’s razorwire in my blood, I can clap my hands and summon an army of ravenous corpses from the cracks in the pavement, I can throw my tennis shoes over the telephone wires and turn them into a murder of hungry crows. I can spread my hands and break the world open, release one hundred thousand-eyed seraphs to see your soul to ruins. I have a wolf’s bite; I have a pack at my heels. My mothers were harpies and furies, my sisters were the Morrigan, my daughter will be fucking Kali. My grandmothers burned but saw me to birth in centuries of ash, and it doesn’t matter that I always run away and it doesn’t matter that I’m trying to drive a devil’s bargain with a grunting, sweating fifth grader, and it doesn’t matter that you made me cry all those times before, because you think I’m not enough? You piece of shit? I can roll up my sleeves and tear off my skin and make you fucking *cease to exist.*

That could have happened. It could have.

I’m telling you this so you know.

 Not too long ago, I wrote about something I’m determined to do more of this year, namely: I’m going to write about what hurts. I talked about how hard this is for me, about how I feel like it takes courage that not everyone has, but how it’s necessary for good work, or at least I think it is. And included this quote from Anne Lamott:

[Y]ou can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.

I was focusing on pain and grief, but I think we do need to give equal space to anger, anger in writing, the rage that comes out of the pain that we go through. I’ve been thinking especially about the rage of marginalized voices, the voices of women and queer people and people of color and people with disabilities and all intersections of all marginalized identities. In my experience, our stories are often sorrowful and full of pain, but they can also be so angry, and I feel like being angry in that position is much less socially acceptable.

I think a lot of us are taught that writing can be about pain, but writing can’t or shouldn’t be vengeance – which isn’t actually that separate from justice. We’re taught not to write angry. We’re taught that lashing out is unseemly, heavy-handed, blunt, and just plain rude.

And that’s all just bullshit designed to make us shut up and sit down and behave.

So I’m trying to get comfortable with writing angry. Because I think we need to. It’s like squeezing poison out of a wound, but it’s more than that: it’s squeezing poison onto the system that poisoned you and burning some of it away. Maybe only a little bit of it, but it’s something. It’s resistance. Acknowledging anger and the legitimacy of anger is liberation.

The passage at the top of the page is from a short story called “Singing With All My Skin and Bone”, which will be appearing in Nightmare at some point this year. I wrote it angry, profoundly angry. The majority of it is hugely autobiographical, and I had to dig down into some buried rage to get it out. It took me years to really be okay with being angry about a lot of the things that happened to me when I was a kid. My most recent story, “So Sharp That Blood Must Flow” – in Lightspeed – is angry (Lois Tilton over at Locus called it “cruel”, which made me so happy). It was written in response to a lot of what was happening in the SF&F community in the last year; I was angry and had nothing really to do with it, but I found a thematic frame for it and spun my Little Mermaid some bloody revenge.

She’s singing as she begins to cut off his legs with the blade. It is very sharp. The witch gave it magic. He can’t scream, of course, as his blood pools on the deck and drips through the slats, but she can feel his cries echoing in her own throat and she turns them into music. To this music, she thinks, she’d dance on knives.

She’d dance and she’d laugh, her teeth glistening like rubies in her mouth.

Anger can be beautiful. Anger can be graceful. Augustine of Hippo said that Hope has two beautiful daughters, Anger and Courage: “Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Anger is necessary. Anger is righteous. Anger is change. We need to find anger and make our stories out of it. But if Anger and Courage are sisters, then they also need each other – we need courage to be angry, and we need anger to be courageous.

So do it. Get with the daughters of Hope. Write angry. Make it words, put it out there into the world, and let it shine.

Thoughts on cons and things I have learned about how to do them

This weekend I went to MystiCon in Roanoke, Virginia to be on some panels and do a reading and hang out with Michael M. Jones, an editor/writer friend of mine from way back whom I have actually never met before. I wasn’t sure what to expect, my con experience being pretty limited, but I had a fantastic time. I was on some awesome panels, I made new friends, I did some promo that didn’t make me feel incredibly dirty… All in all, it was about the most I could ever hope a con would be.

I also realized something about myself – not exactly a revelation, because it’s more like a hypothesis that I’m testing and confirming every time I do a con: While I tend to be incredibly introverted and subject to sensory overload, I am also capable of performing – and enjoying – intense periods of extroversion.

(This is one reason why I get very impatient with the construction of introversion/extroversion as binary personality types with no overlap. While everyone has different capabilities, comfort zones, and skillsets, people are just not that simple and modes of social interaction are highly situational.)

It wasn’t always this way for me. My first con, about three years ago, was Wiscon, and while it was a great experience, I also spent a lot of it feeling lost and awkward. I was not confident and I was not in my element. Capclave the following fall was the same. That’s usually no longer true: in cons in general I tend to feel confident, and I adore being on panels. I think this is attributable in large part to two things – my teaching experience, which has helped me develop the ability to get up in front of a large group of people and talk for an hour about anything I’m interested in, and the trajectory of my writing career – but there’s also something else going on, and I think a lot of it is just that I’m working out how to do cons. So here, in case these tips will work for anyone else feeling uncertain, is what I think has worked for me.

Note: These will clearly not apply to everyone, especially people who experience greater difficulty in social situations or who feel unsafe in those same situations for any number of reasons. Again, this is just what’s worked for me. Use or ignore in whatever way works best for who you are as a person and what context you find yourself in.

  • Where possible, practical, and safe, make YES your default answer. Someone asks you to volunteer? Do it. Someone asks you to go to dinner with their group and you have no other plans? Do it. Someone asks you to be involved with the con in some other way? If you can, do it. Getting directly involved with things is such a great way to meet interesting people and feel more comfortable in the actual space of the con. Doing things makes one feel more confident in themselves.
  • Be willing to talk to anyone, provided they are not making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. At any con, there are people who, for whatever reason, you might not interact with in the normal course of your everyday life. Maybe you feel like you don’t have much in common with them. Maybe you’re not sure what you would talk about. Nevertheless: if someone seems interested in talking to you and they aren’t in any way a creeper, diving into a conversation with an open mind can open so many social doors. You might make a friend you never would have otherwise. You might make a cool professional connection. You might just learn something new. Yes, a lot of the time this might end up being at least a little awkward, but:
  • Be okay with awkward. I think the majority of people at cons are sort of awkward. Cons themselves are often weird, awkward spaces. I think a lot of us are socialized into a terror of awkward, but awkward is okay. Awkward can even be a cool thing to bond over. When we’re all aware that we’re awkward, we all take ourselves a little less seriously, and that can be a great way to bust past social barriers. Don’t sweat it. Be awkward. And be forgiving of others who also are.
  • Have a Con Buddy. I can’t stress this enough. If you know someone at the con pretty well or you’re going with someone, or your roommate seems cool, establish a thing where, when in doubt, you can latch onto each other for various kinds of support. It can help so much. I think this is actually a safety thing as well as a comfort thing; you ideally want to have someone who can help watch your back and be with you if something gets difficult.
  • Assume that you’re an interesting person and people want to talk to you. I know – believe me, I know – that this can be so hard. I struggle with massive amounts of self-doubt and inferiority and I always have. My impression is that many of us do. I often go into a situation stricken with the certainty that no one in their right mind would want to interact with me. But it’s not true. You’re cool. You’re interesting. Your presence might just be a gift to someone. Don’t be a jerk, don’t be creepy, and gracefully go away if someone is giving you Go Away Signals, but don’t sell yourself short before anything even happens. Don’t listen to the abusive voices in your head. Part of loving yourself is resisting the idea that no one will like you. We should all try to be kinder to ourselves in general, and this is part of that.

So those are my Con Lessons. I’m still learning them, but as I familiarize myself with them more and more, I’m having a better and better time at cons. If you see me at one, come say hi. You might just be doing me a favor.

“We can talk about the subjugation of women later, honey. Where’s my dinner?”

I linked to this in my last post, but I feel like I need to highlight it particularly because it remains one of the best essays on privilege that I’ve ever read: “The Distress of the Privileged”.

I think it’s worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at the world from George Parker’s point of view: He’s a good 1950s TV father. He never set out to be the bad guy. He never meant to stifle his wife’s humanity or enforce a dull conformity on his kids. Nobody ever asked him whether the world should be black-and-white; it just was.

George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.

It seems so unfair. He doesn’t want anybody to be unhappy. He just wants dinner.

But even as we accept the reality of George’s privileged-white-male distress, we need to hold on to the understanding that the less privileged citizens of Pleasantville are distressed in an entirely different way. (Margaret Atwood is supposed to have summed up the gender power-differential like this: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”)

George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

Guys. Guys. Guys. Stop.

iWKad22

Guys. Please listen to me.

Yes, I have made merciless fun of you over the last week or so. I’ve done this because a) you deserve it, and b) it’s a time-honored tool of speaking truth to power. But now I’m delivering an honest, genuine plea, and I’m doing it with your best interests in mind:

Stop.

Just stop talking. You are not doing yourselves any favors. For months now, every time this comes up, you reveal yourselves more and more clearly to be a bunch of inflexible, nasty, Tea Party-esque ranters, stricken with terror at the prospect of their own impending irrelevance. That’s not a good look for anyone, and it’s especially not a good look for you. We’re getting to know all your names. We’re getting to be familiar with who you are. You’re developing a reputation, and it’s not a good one. Maybe you were respected once in the community; maybe in the minds of many you still are. But over and over I’ve seen the disappointment of many who did respect you and who are honestly distressed by the fact that they can no longer do so.

You’re hurting people. You’re hurting yourselves. Please just stop.

I understand that it’s no fun when people call you names on the internet. I understand the impulse to hit back, and to hit back hard. But threatening a libel suit makes you look ignorant and full of a very unpleasant combination of shit and hot air, and it’s just making people think less of you than they already did. Maybe you don’t care about that, but owing to your general reaction to this, I’d say that you do.

I understand your distress, actually. I understand that it’s worrying and even frightening to have to face the fact that a world that you feel like you had a hand in building is changing beyond your capacity to control it. I understand that it’s a glimpse of your own mortality, the terrifying truth that you’ll be gone someday, maybe soon, and this will all go on without you. But that’s life. That’s how it works. So many of us feel like these are changes for the better, and I feel like you really owe it to yourselves and the people who will come after you to answer this question: What are your real motivations here? Are you genuinely trying to protect something for the good of everyone? Or are you a privileged group of people desperately trying to defend their own privilege?

Again, I understand that the loss of privilege is upsetting. I understand that it can even feel genuinely unfair. But it happens. It should happen. You don’t get to keep control of this forever. You need to be willing to step aside and let the rest of us change things if we want to.

And right now you’re not doing that very gracefully.

We don’t want to think less of you, is the thing. You might perceive that there’s an element of glee in how people are reacting to this, but I promise you, if anyone feels that way they’re probably in the very small minority. Hardly anyone wants to see people they once admired fail, and do so in such a public fashion, and then fail even harder when people point out their failure.

I’m begging you, take John Scalzi’s advice. Step away from the internet for a while and really think about what you’re doing. Do so without adrenaline and defensiveness involved. Try to put yourself in the place of the people you feel like you’re having to fight against. Try to really understand where we’re coming from. And ask yourselves that question I posed above. What’s really going on here? What’s really behind this? Is it genuinely a bunch of mean nasty feminazis who are trying to take away your God-given right to talk about boobs?

Or is it something else?

So please, again: Stop. Just stop. Put down the shovel and stop digging, before you get down so far that you’ll really and truly never, ever, ever get yourself out.

If nothing else, think about how people are going to remember you. Think about that very, very hard. You still have some control over that. Maybe more than you think.

Mysticon schedule!

So the Mysticon programming has been finalized (only mostly, I hope, for reasons that will shortly become clear) and here’s what I’ll be doing (boy, I do seem to like bullet pointsMystiCon lately, huh) (also parentheses):

  • Fri 5:00 PM – Ballroom D | Losing Humanity to Artificial Intelligence: Society is so wound up in automation and electronic processing that mankind may just be pressing buttons to do everything to function in daily life. Is it becoming too much of a convenience that we will eventually evolve into permanent couch potatoes? | Keith R.A. DeCandido, Tom Kratman, Sunny Moraine, Peter Prellwitz (M), Randy Richards (I’m the only lady-type person on this panel as far as I can tell. Interesting).
  • Fri  7:00 PM – Rm 533 | Koffee Klatch: Reading with Michael M. Jones and Sunny Moraine (I’m not showing up in the description for some reason but trust me, I will be there inflicting fiction on people).
  • Fri 11:00 PM – Boardroom 1 | Erotic Fiction or Cheap Trashy Porn?: With the popularity of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Sylvia Day’s Bared To You, more erotic fiction seems to be flying off the shelves. Why has erotica become so viral in every day households? Panelists will discuss the recent trend of writing versus examples of traditional, well received, quality erotic literature. | Alexandra Christian (M), Michael M. Jones, Nicole Kurtz, Sunny Moraine (lol viral).
  • I’m marked as being on a propulsion systems panel on Saturday at 6, but – much like cake – it is a lie.
  • Sat 10:00 PM – Boardroom 1 | 2013 in Video Gaming: 2013 was an amazing year for gaming entertainment, releasing two titles that especially caught non‐gamer attention in the media (The Last of Us and The Walking Dead). Both titles are being called real endeavors into interactive storytelling. The Last of Us is even based on a Pulitzer‐winning book. Our panelists will discuss their favorite new games of the year. | Mark Dennis, jonny Lupsha (M), Sunny Moraine, Dom Murphy.
  • Sun 11:00 AM – Sun 11:00 AM – Main Programming | Challenges of Diversity in Speculative Fiction: How can we bring more diversity in speculative fiction? Afrofuturism is leading the charge in science fiction and fantasy literature. What else needs to be done? | John Jennings, Bill Campbell, Nicole Kurtz (M), Sunny Moraine, Travis Surber.

So that all looks awesome. If you’ll be in Roanoke February 21-23, come say hi.

Here is the long-promised good news post

Let’s have some happy things.

  • Line and Orbit is finally out in print. I have waited a very long time for this day, that was actually last week but I had a lot going on. It can still be purchased at a very nice discount here and at a slightly less nice discount but a discount nevertheless here.
  • RT Magazine has a very cool interview with me and my co-author up on their site, wherein we talk about writing the book and space travel and other cool stuff.
  • Winners of both giveaways have been notified and copies either have been mailed or will be mailed very soon. I threw in some temporary tattoos. RAINBOW temporary tattoos. Because who wouldn’t want those. People who hate JOY, that’s who.
  • The current issue of Lightspeed, which includes a thing by me, is available for purchase here. My story, which is a MISANDRIST retelling of The Little Mermaid, will go live tomorrow.

Aren’t those happy things? Yes, they are. Now I have to go prep for class. Yay.

POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: A helpful guide to whether or not it’s happening to you

Hello, friend! If you are often stricken with uncertainty regarding whether your constitutional First Amendment right to free speech is being infringed upon, you’re not alone! Many people appear to be confused by the question, and to be sure, it is a complicated one! Here is the actual text of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This text might seem simple, but don’t be misled! There is often no real way to be sure whether you personally are being subjected to the evil that is political censorship. However, here are some questions to ask yourself that might serve to point you in the right direction.

If you want to say something controversial and/or offensive, is it possible that you will be:

  1. Arrested?
  2. Imprisoned?
  3. Tortured by governmental authorities, either state-level or federal?
  4. Killed by same?

If you want to write something controversial and/or offensive, is it possible that your writing will be:

  1. Confiscated and/or destroyed by state authorities?
  2. Edited by same without your permission?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations! Your right to free speech under the constitution is being infringed upon. You should make a Thing out of it, because it’s a very bad thing. However, there are numerous other ways in which your First Amendment rights might be infringed upon! So be sure to actually read the fucking constitution so you have some idea of what you’re talking about before you open your enormous gaping stupid-hole of a mouth.

Or just look at Wikipedia for God’s sake. You utter jackass.