Tag Archives: feminism

On #Wiscon and trauma and recognizing it as such

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You don’t want to be judged? You won’t be. You don’t think you’re strong enough? You are. You’re afraid. Don’t be. You have all the weapons you need.

Now fight.

– Sucker Punch

Anyone who follows me on the Twitters or the Facebooks or here will know that I spent this past weekend in Madison for WisCon, which is sort of My Con, because it’s almost more like an intersectional revival meeting than anything else, and it makes me have a lot of emotions. Or rather, it gives me a space in which I can feel those emotions safely.

That usually means that Wiscon, while it’s an incredibly positive, energizing, communal experience, is also often draining, and I come out of it mulling over some difficult, painful things. That was especially true this year, in significant part because it coincided with the Santa Barbara shootings, which reminded so many of us – as if we needed reminding – that we live in a culture that is not only hostile to us but lethally dangerous. Where we are not safe in any meaningful sense of the word.

(I should note that although I identify as genderqueer, I consider being raised as a girl an important part of the development of my identity, and in most important contexts the rest of society would consider me a woman. So I’m putting myself in that category for practical purposes. Anyway, GNC people are in that kind of marginalized Other space in any case to varying degrees for various reasons.)

So this was all going on, and emotions – again, many of them not negative ones – were running high, at least in me. And right at the apex of it – sitting in a panel on mental health, ironically enough – I had a very upsetting exchange via email with a member of my family about the shootings, which left me feeling deeply, deeply hurt.

And also something else. It took me a few minutes to really grasp what was happening. I was shaking hard, my palms were sweating, my heart and thoughts were both racing, and my breath was shallow. In other words, I was having a classic fight-or-flight response.

And I was like Oh my God. I’m being triggered.

I have a difficult past with this family member, and a very fraught relationship which we are only now – and very slowly – beginning to try to repair. The peace is fragile, and it doesn’t take much for it to slide back down into ugliness. In fairness, this is not one-sided; they were not the only one who participated in emotional abuse during the period when things were at their worst. I know they have experienced and do experience their share of pain, and that pain is real and legitimate.

But for me, that moment was a revelation. It wasn’t even really about the email and the nastiness that was in it. I was having a physiological reaction to past trauma. It was a reaction that I had experienced many, many times before, and for whatever reason I had not recognized what was happening to me.

This made me realize two additional things: 1) It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t control it, which in the past I had believed; and 2) I could ask for help.

So I did. I texted a friend and she took me out for ice cream. And then later I Floomped (dance party) in a furious manner and went to a Jem vid party and I had a great time and by the next morning I had mostly recovered.

But again, this was a revelation, about my right to my emotions and my pain and my right to take care of myself, and to reach out to others for assistance in doing that. I didn’t have to wrestle with it alone, I didn’t have to blame myself for not being able to just calm down or let it go. It was okay to not be okay, and that actually made it possible to be okay in a way I’ve never experienced before.

So that happened. It meant that I had to miss NK Jemisin’s amazing GoH speech, which saddened me a great deal, but then later, sitting in a noisy, uncomfortable airport terminal waiting for a late flight home that had been delayed over an hour, I read the speech, and what others have very properly characterized as a call to arms also felt to me like an embrace. You’re all right. And someday you’ll heal. But in the meantime you have the right to defend yourself, and you have the obligation to come to the defense of others.

I wrote an email to my family about it, and in some respects it was a direct response to the member of my family who triggered me. It was the only kind of response I felt able to make, short of no response at all. But silence is painful, and it didn’t feel like it would protect me from anything. I have no idea if they read it. I sincerely doubt that they did. But to me, that didn’t really matter. What mattered was speaking out. So among other things, I said this:

I decided a while ago to make 2014 the year I started doing what Anne Lamott says we have to do as writers and as humans, and dig down into the truly ugly stuff hiding in my psyche, the stuff we’re told – especially if we’re gendered female – that we’re supposed to keep hidden. I’ve decided that I have to do that because that stuff is true, because it’s real, and because the best writing is the writing that tells the truth. I’ve written a few stories that go a long way toward doing that; they’ve been purchased by editors and you’ll see them soon. But something else I’m dealing with, as I consider what it means to write about pain, is that I’m entrenched in both a genre of fiction and a culture that contains many people who are clearly and unambiguously hostile to me and people like me, doing the work that I’m doing.

And how difficult it is to turn and face that and demand recognition of that hostility.

Because without that recognition, there can be no healing, and there can never be reconciliation. Broken bonds won’t be repaired. People will remain strangers to each other.

Me and people like me have been told, repeatedly, to chill out. To get over it. To stop reading too much into things. To sit down. To shut up. To stop making people uncomfortable. That we’re overreacting. That we’re hysterical. That we’re crazy. That we’re looking for things to get upset about. That if we laugh it off everything will be okay.

It’s not okay. And I’m not crazy. And I won’t shut up.

All of us suffering, all of us walking wounded, we have a right to ourselves and our safety. We have a right to be protected and to protect others. We have a right to self-care, and we have a right to ask for help in caring for ourselves. It can be so difficult to recognize and accept that right, because I think often we have a harder time seeing ourselves clearly than seeing others, but also because we’re just straight up taught that we don’t have a right to any of that. We exist in a context that denies our right to be good to ourselves in that way.

We need to claim it. It’s vital that we do that. Without that, we won’t heal.

And we also have a right to fight back. Nora speaks true.

Arm yourselves. Go to panels at Wiscon and claim the knowledge and language that will be your weapons. Go to sources of additional knowledge for fresh ammunition — histories and analyses of the genre by people who see beyond the status quo, our genre elders, new sources of knowledge like “revisionist” scholarship instead of the bullshit we all learned in school. Find support groups of like-minded souls; these are your comrades-in-arms, and you will need their strength. Don’t try to do this alone. When you’re injured, seek help; I’ve got a great list of CBT therapists, for any of you in the New York area. Exercise to stay strong, if you can; defend what health you have, if you can’t. And from here on, wherever you see bigotry in the genre? Attack it. Don’t wait for it to come directly at you; attack it even if it’s hitting another group. If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you? Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don’t be “fair and balanced.” Tell them they’re unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight.

And maybe one day, when the fighting’s done, then we can heal. On that day, all of us will dream freely, at last.

On writing (cisgender male) gay romance and Strong Female Characters

image by Jason Chan

image by Jason Chan

I just got the novel edits for Labyrinthian (my tropey gay retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur IN SPAAAAACE), which is a tad overwhelming – there is much work to be done, though most of it is cosmetic – but also exciting, because I love this book and I’m looking forward to getting it in tip-top shape for its release this coming January. My editor is a lovely person and graciously takes the time to make sure I know what she really likes – which always feels good – and she mentioned that she appreciated how many of the women in Labyrinthian are in positions of power and protection. That was very conscious on my part, because I try very hard to make my stuff rich in terms of diversity and positive representation, but it reminded me of a dilemma I ran into more than once while I was writing the book itself. It’s an interesting one, and it’s one I’ve had to deal with before. I suppose a lot of people who write this kind of gay romance have done so.

My two protagonists/kissy-face participants, Taur and Theseus, are cisgender men. The story is – at least in significant part – the story of their relationship, so they’re both very much the center of the book, and they are the only POV characters. Which means that Labyrinthian, simply by virtue of what it’s about, is going to be very male-focused. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time, but looking at the structure of my book and the characters in it, I realized that – given how much I care about making my SF diverse and also feminist – I needed to make sure they weren’t the only ones getting significant screen-time, and that they weren’t the only characters with depth.

So I made a lot of my other characters women. Most of my other major secondary characters are women. Phae, Theseus’s ex, is a queer woman of color. And yes, these women are physically strong, self-reliant, smart, competent, sexually independent. Yet all of those things have been used by writers to argue for their work being feminist, leading to the trope of the Strong Female Character.

And the problem with the Strong Female Character is that she’s a cardboard cut-out. She’s there to do a thing, not be a person with all the strengths and weaknessness and complexities that a person has. She might be able to beat you up, but odds are she won’t hold your interest. And in her way, she’s just as sexist a construct as the fainting flower who exists purely to be rescued by the dudely hero. She’s still there to be a Female Character, not a character who’s female.

What makes a strong character? It’s not physical strength. It’s not even necessarily attractive attributes. Consider, oh, 90% of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire – most of them are at least sort of terrible people who have done many terrible things, and they lie and cheat and stab each other in the back, and some of them are outright cowards, but a lot of them are interesting. They’re strong characters because – at their best – they feel real.

An actual strong female character is real. I’ve seen it reframed as “strong character, female” and I like that a lot.

So I was putting the women in Labyrinthian in important, powerful positions, because I wanted them front and center as much as possible. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I had to make Phae interesting, and I had to do it on her own terms. And I had to pack as much character development for her as I could into a story where she’s not the focus. I had to do the same for the others who show up, some of whom aren’t there for long. I had to at least try. I owed it to them, and I owed it to myself.

I’m not sure if I was entirely successful – I think I did all right, but I’ve learned that readers are very often better judges of that than authors are – but I hope I did. I love the women in Labyrinthian just as much as I love Taur and Theseus, and I hope that love comes through. I hope you enjoy them, even the ones you only meet briefly. I know they’re looking forward to meeting you.

Sunday Linkdump: All the cars upturned talk like the trains

Heisenberg

Be aware: There is a lot. Without further ado:

  • This week in awesome: An artist is making a map of Manhattan using only handwritten directions from strangers. It’s about as great as you’d expect.
  • “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever”. No, this is not an Onion headline.

    Where is the Gawker for women? The ESPN for women? The Awl for women? The Slate for women? The Onion for women? Perhaps when Google finally launches a search engine for women, we will be capable of locating the websites targeted at us, so that advertisers may sell us things. For now, we will read Bustle.

  • Breaking Bad as Hamlet. I don’t totally buy it, but it’s an amazing comparison.
  • “Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane: Ladies, Comics Aren’t For You”. And here’s where I would register my outraged shock if I had any. Shock, I mean.

    Comics aren’t for women. And if women do like comics, they shouldn’t, because testosterone, and that’s not the right platform for them. But for those women who do read comics, it doesn’t matter how they’re portrayed. Because women don’t read them, you see, so it’s not necessary to write characters that will appeal to them. So if you’re a woman, and you’re reading comics, first of all, why are you reading them? Second of all, don’t expect anything that appeals to you.

  • Related: Do villains really need to commit “taboo” acts for us to get that they’re villains?

    A cowardly bully, who snivels and whines when any hurt at all comes their way, isn’t just a villain that people hate. He or she is a villain that people despise. It goes back to what people mean when they say a “bad guy.” Someone being “bad” isn’t just about actions, it’s also about character in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And when the focus is on “bad character” rather than atrocity, it’s possible demonstrate that a villain is despicable without showing any crime at all.

  • Also related: Warren Ellis on why we do need violent stories.

    We learn about things by looking at them and then talking about them, together. You may have heard of this process. It’s sometimes involved in things like science. It’s also the system of fiction: writing things in order to get a better look at them. Fiction is how we both study and de-fang our monsters. To lock violent fiction away, or to close our eyes to it, is to give our monsters and our fears undeserved power and richer hunting grounds.

  • Also also related: Why it may be a good thing that video games “devalue life”, and why it might open up some opportunities to rethink the meaning of death.

    This fixation on interactivity obscures the fact that games are also a computational medium, based on models and protocols, codes and commands, simulations and rules. By assigning literal, numerical values to life and death, games are necessarily going to “cheapen” them to some extent – but, as we’ll see, this cheapening can render the form peculiarly suited to exploring what life is worth in the era of biopower and computerized risk assessment, drones and cloning, artificial intelligence and data mining.

  • N.K. Jemisin: “There is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo.”

    Put simply, SFWA must now take action against bigots in order to prove itself worthy of being called a professional organization. SFWA’s leadership is going to have to choose which members it wants to lose: the minority of scared, angry people whose sense of self-worth is rooted in their ability to harm others without consequence… or everyone else.

  • Orson Scott Card: Now officially disconnected from reality in every meaningful way. Also howlingly racist, in case anyone wasn’t sure about that.

    “Where will he get his ‘national police’? The NaPo will be recruited from ‘young out-of-work urban men’ and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

    In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.”

  • (TW: wow racism) Amazing series of photos: “A Day in the Life of the Ku Klux Klan, Uncensored”. The only real issue is that it’s sort of implicitly presented as if any of the images are a surprise or are skewering common perceptions of the KKK, when in fact they are all exactly what I would expect.
  • “Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism”.

    These days, before we talk about misogyny, women are increasingly being asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings. Don’t say, “Men oppress women” – that’s sexism, as bad as any sexism women ever have to handle, possibly worse. Instead, say, “Some men oppress women.” Whatever you do, don’t generalise. That’s something men do. Not all men – just somemen.

  • “Thoughts on the Trending Hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”.

    Recently I had lunch with a good friend, and he asked how I felt about getting my major in Women and Gender Studies since he heard that it’s basically learning about white women, which I’m inclined to agree with. The primary feminist group on my campus simply ignored my critiques that women of color were not being truly represented by them. Instead, I was simply told, “Oh well, we believe in equality for all.” I can even think of a few times when I was on Facebook and saw white women post articles about women of color, ignore my comments regarding my own experiences as a Latina, and carry on talking to other white feminists discussing something that they have no real clue about.

  • Bayou Corne, Louisiana is disappearing into a sinkhole 24 acres wide and about 750 feet deep. There are reasons why this is happening.

    Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of. In addition to creating a massive sinkhole, it has unearthed an uncomfortable truth: Modern mining and drilling techniques are disturbing the geological order in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. Humans have been extracting natural resources from the earth since the dawn of mankind, but never before at the rate and magnitude of today’s petrochemical industry. And the side effects are becoming clear.

  • Finally, from me: a post on the systems of cultural capital built up around print books and the spaces they occupy, placed in the context of a world that features increasing numbers of ebooks.

    Of course the spaces themselves in which one goes to experience books are laden with differing degrees of cultural capital. Independent bookstores tend to be more prestigious than chains. Independent bookstores with lots of antique shelving that’s high enough to need those cool rolling ladders tend to be more prestigious than a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. You stand in these spaces, a hardcover first edition in your hands, surrounded by whispers and wood and that fantastic old book smell, and you can think Aha, I am a Cultured person in a Cultured space and I am Experiencing Books.

Hope the bridges all burn your life away.

Sunday linkdump: Everything I love is on the table

image by Rob Wanenchak

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.

Sunday linkdump

No preamble. Let’s do this.

  • “Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers.” A Thing happened with Locus on April Fool’s Day. Jim Hines has a good summary, as well as a good argument for why it’s really not a small deal when this kind of shit happens.

    The backlash against the Locus article isn’t about someone taking cheap shots at Muslims and women. It’s about yet another person taking those shots, lining up to bully those who are already a popular target for abuse. And it’s about everyone else who stands around, encouraging and enabling that bullying.

  • “Barbie, Burquas, April Fool’s Jokes, Writer’s Advice: Small Failures Hurt Us In Big Ways.” Carrie Cuinn’s take and a related take on some additional ways in which the SF&F community is utterly failing, gender-wise.

    You know what I have seen? Comments from people telling me that I am overreacting, humorless, a radical feminist, and that I shouldn’t choose to be offended. I got an email telling me that while the SFWA author was probably wrong to say what he did, he’s not a bad guy and didn’t mean it in a bad way.

    This is the community I’m supposed to feel safe in. This is where I’m supposed to feel at home.

    Tell me how I do that if nothing is going to change.

  • And I just basically call the guy an asshole for about 800 words.

    Making jabs at marginalized people from a position of power and privilege is not “edgy”, “dangerous”, or brave. It is the status fucking quo. You’re the Man. I know you don’t want to be, but you are. You don’t live in a world where you are likely to be emotionally and physically abused, where you are likely to be disenfranchised, where you are likely to be raped, where you are likely to be fucking killed. You unbelievable asshole.

  • Roger Ebert Hails Human Existence As ‘A Triumph’.
  • “Project Bendypants: Practicing Yoga While Fat.” This was heartbreaking and also really uplifting to read.

    Of all the sports and athletics I have participated in as a fat person, yoga has sadly been one of the most judgmental and the least emotionally safe. This is particularly painful given the principles of compassion and reflection that yoga is built around. I’m not entirely sure what to do with this.

  • Surprising no one, there is a major wage gap in the game industry and it falls along gendered lines.
  • Jenny Davis offers a defense of the “red sea”.

    Though a profile picture change is a small and quiet act, it was amplified through collective action and the interplay between personal and public media. I have argued before that memes are the myths of augmented society. In this way, small personal acts, connected to a larger movement, shared interpersonally and reported internationally, become part of the story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves.

  • I wrote a thing on Pinterest and gender.

    The experience of first beginning to use the site was bizarre. It was unlike anything else I had experienced in a social media site; it was like putting on a digital dress. I could feel my gender shifting. And it was strangely liberating, as if I was – once again – in a space that was affording me the opportunity to play with an aspect of my gender that other digital spaces had not.

  • Catherynne M. Valente – “Fade to White”. Not new, per se, but I assigned this to my students this past week when we covered gender and cultural representation, and it is every bit as amazing as I remember. It’s been nominated in both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novelette.

    Finally the dress. The team at Spotless Corp. encouraged foundational garments to emphasize the bust and waist-to-hip ratio. Sylvie wedged herself into a full length merry widow with built-in padded bra and rear. It crushed her, smoothed her, flattened her. Her waist disappeared. She pulled the dress over her bound-in body. Her mother would have to button her up; twenty-seven tiny, satin colored buttons ran up her back like a new spine. Its neckline plunged; its skirt flounced, showing calf and a suggestion of knee. It was miles of icy white lace, it could hardly be anything else, but the sash gleamed red. Red, red, red. All the world is red and I am red forever, Sylvie thought. She was inside the dress, inside the other girl.

    The other girl was very striking.

    Sylvie was fifteen years old, and by suppertime she would be engaged.

Play us off, Glitch Mob.

Easter/Sunday/GoT Day linkdump

Lemko Easter eggs. We recently discovered that my husband is Lemko in ancestry.

Lemko Easter eggs. We recently discovered that my husband is Lemko in ancestry.

Along the lines of others I’ve enjoyed, I’ve started doing a weekly Sunday link roundup over at my Dreamwidth/Livejournal, and it seems appropriate to post it here as well.

So let’s get to it.

  • “Caught in the Middle – Hard Publishing News”. YA Author Stephanie Burgis on why the spat between Simon & Schuster and B&N is potentially costing her a whole fuck of a lot. And is gross. Like seriously gross.

    When I walk into a bookstore, as a reader, I rarely notice the books that aren’t stocked there. Maybe, if I’m looking for one book in particular, I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see it, but I won’t really think anything of that. I’ll just think, oh, well, this particular store didn’t stock it.

    Continue reading