Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Three Interesting Things

With the holidays blogging is light, so let's do a quick three interesting things.
1. This interview with Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in "Hamilton" has some amazing discussion of performance, and the job of live theater that I think are applicable to many other things, as well, as just being very interesting by itself.
3.And I am fascinated by this lamp that looks like a book.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Internet Makes Me Happy

There's a lot of talk out there, in this day of social media about how the internet keeps us in touch with people we normally would have let fall by the wayside. And I understand that the changing boundaries of things, make these discussions important, but I think what gets less attention is that these same things allow you to keep relationship fires burning where marriages, kids, jobs, and other adult life crazy might just have made it not harder to keep up, but feel more like, well, I haven't talked to them in months, I can't call now.  Of course, good friends will always be thrilled to hear from you, but it's easy to let the angst around that build up until in some part of your brain it seems less risky to do nothing and risk losing touch completely than to reach out and risk being that friend who thinks you are still friends. (The brain can be a twisty place sometimes.)
So, in the last few months I have had the chance to travel up to hang out with a friend from long ago summer camp to celebrate a round birthday, to reconnect with an old roommate and her friends who live just far away enough in Maryland these days that we have to plan to hang out or it doesn't happen, visit with a friend who's life has taken her to the other side of the country, and I have some more reconnecting and gathering plans on the calendar for 2016.  I also hung out with knitting and book club friends that I see more regularly but all of whom I met through means internet.  So, the internet has helped fill and keep full my life with wonderful people and I am very grateful. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This piece about a TV show's reflection on loving someone with depression was wonderful.
2. This piece on the #Ham4Ham shows that the "Hamilton" cast has been putting on is amazing, in part because I wonder if this will be a thing we see other shows do, or if it ends up being a uniquely "Hamilton" thing.  Either way, I know the chance to scroll through the videos the people at these mini-shows have done have brought me a ton of entertainment. 
3. No matter how pervasive a pop culture item is, there's alwaye someone who has not seen/read/heard that one.  Sometimes it still feel like you have.  Here is one person's guess at what "Star Wars" is like.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joy - A Movie Trailer Pondering

I used to read about all the new movies coming out, so that by the time trailers started rolling around (well, mostly, there's alway that one that's like coming to you in about four more seasons) they were additive information.  But with peak TV and books keeping me so well occupied, I have become less vigilant one the movie front. I still know what's out, but I have less prior knowledge.  And with "Joy" this has become an interesting experiment.  I have seen a trailer in the theatres, I have seen multiple versions on TV, and I could not tell you what it's about.  I mean, it's clearly about a woman, who I assume is named Joy, and she apparently does a thing that seems to make both her and the people around her very happy.  And...that's all I got.  In one version she says something about her business, and in another someone says she's never run a business, so I'm guessing she runs a business?  But it strikes me as a very interesting way to try to draw me to this movie.  Now perhaps, with the amazing cast and award winning director, they are assuming that's mostly what I need to know and all other info is superfluous.  And you could certainly argue that this is an improvement over movie trailers that appear to run through the whole plot.  But given that this movie is true story, the vagueness are a little strange. We could argue that everyone knows who Joy is, but my completely informal sampling of my friends does not indicate that to be so.  And certainly, there are some movies that follow a template of sorts.  Sports movies, and new business movies tend to have a scrappy person no one thought could do it, go off, fail a bit, and then do it. So maybe this is all I need.  But it does make me wonder if they are intentionally obscuring something.

Note: I did see a TV interview with the cast, where the reporter mentioned that the movie was about Joy Mangano, who they referred to as a home shopping mogul. The cast itself talked more about process, although certainly they may have edited out parts where they discussed the movie's subject.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. An update on the Dear Author/Ellora's Cave lawsuit with a note that the money, and the revised original post make me quite certain that almost no one "won" this.
2. There was a dustup over WNDB's use of Hannukah to fundraise, and here's a good storify of the issues that were raised.
3. I am fascinated by this cake that through the magic of science turns into a multi-layer cake.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Some Days Call For Cats

Some days just call for a listicle of cats fighting the patriarchy.  If that's where you are, here you go.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Three Things About Gun Violence

I find myself unable to be silly today, so apologies if you came here today to escape the coverage. I made a rule for myself a while back that when the world irritated me I would attempt action of some sort.  Obviously the scale of wrote another article slamming things that female people like to mass shooting is very different. 
1. Spend money.  Buy books about things. Give money to organizations that are working towards things.
2. Make my thoughts known.  Having a non-voting congressperson changes this somewhat, but I have thoughts I want the politicians who represent me to know.  I recognize that they won't always do exactly as I wish, at both the local and national level, but I sure as heck don't want them unaware of my thoughts on issues of importance to me.  Even if this just means the intern who opens the mail (or email) makes another tally on the spreadsheet, I want it counted.
3. Place blame correctly.  It is not race, religion, or mental illness that causes people to murder others.  It is safe and easy to believe that only people with warped brains would murder people. Or people who look or worship a certain way.  But let's face it, plenty of people of any race, religion, and/or who are suffering from mental illness murdered no one today. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Belated World Aids Day Reflection

It was World AIDS Day yesterday, and that seems like a good time to talk a little about AIDS and HIV. Recently a certain celebrity revealed they are HIV positive.  Not because they wished to share this with the world.  No, instead because they had been blackmailed.  Which sucks.  People in the US have their health information protected by HIPAA. Yes, many places have stipulations that if your health could directly impact another persons (through such things as sexual or bodily fluid contact) you have to disclose it to them, but yeah, last time I checked I had not slept with a celebrity, or engaged in any behavior that meant I needed this information.  So that sucks. 
There are many people working so that there are no new people contracting HIV.  This is an absolutely worthy and achievable goal. Whatever you may think about any celebrity's personal life choices, HIV and AIDS are not punishments.  The disease is not specially able to seek out people of a certain stripe and the only reaction on hearing that someone has contracted an illness, even a treatable if incurable one like HIV is sadness.  No one deserves to be sick.  No one has earned illness.  No one. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. I adored this discussion with Phillippa Soo and Lea Salonga about the growing number of Asians on broadway.
2. If you've been wondering about presidential turkey pardons, this piece will help.
3. Hawaii has been experiencing unprecedented levels of homelessnies, this piece looked at one camp.

Monday, November 23, 2015

7 Things: Faith in YA

1. I wrote way back when about how I found myself to be a UU, so no need to rehash that. I recognize that the US as a whole is becoming less religious and that would include current teenagers.  (Of course for anyone writing historical or fantasy, the numbers would be different.)  However, it is now noticeable if a YA character makes even a passing mention to attending some sort of place of worship, that a little like fesity red-heads, it seems out of sync with the reality of life for many teens.
2. I am not saying we need more conversion or inspirational stories.  (We may. I...don't know.) But certainly there could be more teens in fiction who identify as a part of something. 
3. In the years that I have been working with the high schoolers and now middle schoolers, the number of teens regularly attending our congregation has doubled.  Now that is clearly due to all sorts of factors, and not a representative or scientific sampling of teens.  I will also tell you I have spoken to teens who get their parents to drop them off even when the parents don't attend.  Who create their own teen gatherings, because their congregation doesn't offer them.  Who say that the teens they meet at multi-state or multi-congregational events are the only teens they know who get them. 
4. I'm not saying that every book needs to include a YA of some faith.  But off the top of my head, I can think of a few Christian, and a handful of Jewish, and that's it. Miranda Kenneally's Stealing Parker was the first YA I can think of that talked about the fact that different churches in the same town might have different approaches to the same issue. 
5. Some people have been very hurt by religious institutions.  I don't want to gloss over that.  But some people have found great comfort in them.  Or not.  Some people find formal religion not for them.  All of these experiences are valid and should be represented.
6. And atheism to.  Atheism isn't the same as being unchurched or none.  It can also be a destination for folks who have spent time thinking carefully about the world. And these things, whether a YA character has made the same choice as the people who are raising them or not, could be powerful motivators without being preachy. 
7. Religion is not necessarily in the same category of some of the other glaring omissions in the YA landscape.  But again, if the idea is to represent the breadth of experiences out there, leaving religion out more often than not seems problematic. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This post is part of Gay YA's transgender awareness week series - and is quite touching about the honor and the burden of representation.
2. I might be mildly (super addicted) to this silly game, so I appreciated the interview with the creators about making the English version.
3. And this amazing woman has destroyed all our excuses as she manages to complete part of her psychology exam, while in labor, from her hospital bed.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris and Beirut and All of Us

Certainly some people are determined to cause a lot of harm.  It is clearly their intention to make people feel that things that we wish to do are unsafe.  I saw a number of comparisons to September 11th, but really, in many ways this reminded me of the MD snipers. Certainly it took a longer period of time for them to be stopped, but they were targeting places people shopped, places people went to get gas, places people went to school.  In other words they were going after things you often need to do.  And yes, people needed to live and work in the Trade Center, and the Pentagon, and whatever other building they had been hoping to hit.  But we go to cafes, to concerts, to sports games to relax and unwind.  People working to make those places unsafe hits particularly hard.  And yes, the folks who have mentioned that Beirut, Ankara, and large parts of Egypt and Syria have been dealing with this on a larger scale are entirely correct. 
But Mr. Roger's Look for the helpers advice remains true. Taxi drivers in Paris offered free rides home. Hashtags opened up offering people places to seek shelter in Paris, or find a place to stay if they were stuck in the US or Canada unable to fly home as a result of the borders being shut. People shared lovely images of Paris. And this wonderful bookstore, with their wall quote about strangers, offered themselves up as a refuge during the attacks as well, reaffirming my belief that bookstores are where you find some of the best people.
So, I will try to remember that for every person who thought blowing themselves and others up was a message, there were so many more, who reached out to others, who sang songs as they evacuated the stadium, who looked for ways to help. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This is truly a horrifying ad, because, as the article so clearly points out, not just someone, but a lot of someone's thought that was funny. And it's for a department store tht isn't known for "edgy" marketing.  And the apology is pretty tepid in the "now that we have feedback we see that people might feel this is problematic" kind of way.  (TW for sexual assault.)
2. They've been looking at how cats clean themselves, to see if there are applications to machinery and have determined, that cats, are in fact huge, like ping pong table sized.
3. And one man has come up with a simple, transportable, way to remove cataracts, allowing him to help people across the world see again.

Monday, November 09, 2015

7 Things: The NaNo Edition

1. I am once again participating in NaNoWriMo.  Every story has a different process.  (Unless it doesn't.  That's fine too.)
2. The one I'm writing this year intentionally doesn't have a straightforward start to end chronology.  My intention was to write it as it should be read.  I have realized that this is basically a flimsy excuse to write out of order. 
3. The corollary to that, is lots of people recommend writing the scenes that are calling to you and worrying about putting it back in order later.  Other people say, go in order and leave that scene that calls to you as the carrot to keep moving forward.  I had tried writing bits ahead before and by the time I would get to where they should go, they didn't fit anymore, I had changed too much.  So, I had tried sticking to chronology.  So, try things, styles, tricks on for size.
4. Right now, the flip flop chronology is working for me.  This story may end up taking forever to put back together.  We will see. But right now the words are wording so we continue on. 
5. A lot of this is about getting to know your habits, your styles.  I was talking to a friend who took a day job course and said a surprising number of adult people in this course had identified flaws in their working style and had done nothing to try to address them. Whether it's experimenting with times of day, devices, writing tricks, if things are working, keep on.  If things are not working, try something else.
6. One writer at the kickoff party said she had tried NaNo before with limited success, and had never done any of the social or writing events. So this year, she was trying going to events. I told her write ins work well for me, because once I packed up my stuff and lugged it over, I was going him with more words than I left with. Whereas at home it was easier to stick on the TV and get distracted.
7. One of the best pieces of advice remains the reality that when you feel block, or like you just don't wanna, there are two possibilities.  Your brain actually knows it needs to work something and you should take a break, take a walk, think about it (or not think about it).  Or, your brain is scared.  And that you only solve by writing through.  The trick is learning which one it is when it shows up.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. Kayle Whaley had an important reminder about how disability needs to be included in discussions about diverse representation.
2. A 3000 year old tree is experiencing a sex change.
3. I have my issues, with "The Flash", (and, um, you may have heard I am fervently hoping they take advantage of all the musical talent and do a musical episode).  But the incredible warmth of Joe West is one of the reasons I stick around, and so I appreciated this article talking about how "The Flash" represents one of the best black families on TV right now.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Open Letter to Niya Kenny

Dear Ms. Kenny,
I don't know if you knew that you were risking arrest when you pulled out your device in class to be ready to film the intervention of a school resource officer into a class discipline issue. But nonetheless I want to applaud your concern for your fellow student, your willingness to step in and stand up for her.  I'm sorry that you even had to think like that.  I'm sorry that the officers who are theoretically there to provide safety for students and teachers have in some cases created an environment such that you knew as soon as you heard which officer was coming in, that your fellow classmate was at risk, not of getting in trouble, which she already was, but of injury.  I'm sorry that you were right.  I hope this leads to change in the way discipline is approached in your school.  It probably won't come swiftly enough to benefit you, but I have faith that you have already learned some important things about becoming a good citizen. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just a Phase

This one time, the youth group volunteered with an event they volunteer with every year.  (It's not really important which event.)  The number of volunteers to tasks was out of balance, in that when I arrived, they were awaiting a fresh batch of stuff to get started again but it was clear as more volunteers, but not as much stuff arrived that even when it did, there was going to be a balance issue.  I had suggested to one of the teens from our group perhaps they could help with one task, and she said that people had not been very open to their assistance, and so she was feeling particularly seventeen that day. 
Now, I have worked with this teen for a while, so I did know that this was not an excuse but a genuine response to that thing that happens when you know you have suggestions or input that could be useful if people would only listen.  (Sadly, this does not end when one's age no longer ends in teen.  But it does get better.) But it speaks to an interesting thing about our views of teens.  Absolutely, in our society, teens are in a particular phase where they explore all sorts of things, they are given more responsibility (um, well, sometimes) and yet are still treated as children.  It's a weird, awesome, scary, fascinating time.
But, the reality is, that, hopefully, a lot of this experimentation stuff continues on.  The list of things I have started (or re-started) doing since I was a teen include knitting, weaving (since abandoned), blogging, social networking, and pet owning. No one told me these things I was trying out were just a phase because of my age.  It's possible people were thinking that, and just didn't tell me.  No one also told me when I gave up weaving or car owning that, pfft, they knew I hadn't been committed.  (I have had some people worry about my lack of car-ness, they all seem relieved to know I have owned, but chose to give it up.  And have car-sharing membership.  But that's probably a whole other post.)
I told one person who said her choice to go vegan was being touted as just a phase to tell people, "So what?"  Because, seriously, even if it is/was just a phase, she wasn't demanding people cook special things for her, she was simply choosing not to eat certain things, and taking steps to make sure she got a balanced diet.  So, if after a time she came to the conclusion that this was not her her, so what.  When a co-worker decides to go on [insert name of current trendy diet here], people usually applaud.  And look, if people's concerns had been for this teen's health or this teen's food preparer's sanity, then that's one thing, but they were discounting her because of her age.  And that's ridiculous. 
Phases, one hopes, continue to happen throughout life.  And while sure, I could think of more things I tried in my youth, discounting people's commitment to such solely based on the age they start, is unneccessarily belittling.  So let's stop that.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. Author Katherine Locke (who BTW has a DC area set ballet series, I'm just saying) has a post about how the internet can be the safe space for some young people.
2. A look at the discussion around coconut products and the use of animals in retrieval.
3. Intriguing brownie chocolate chip cookie combo alert. (h/t HuffPo Hawaii)

Monday, October 19, 2015

7 Things About YA

So, it happened again.  Another day another person declaring that reading YA as an adult is limiting.  And while, part of me wants to not even bother to address the layers of ignorance embedded in such a statement, let's try this again. 
1. YA is not a genre, it's an age category.  (You could also argue it's a marketing thing, since many books get sold as adult in one country market, and YA or teen in another.)  This seems like a nitpicky note.  But it's not, because YA includes under it's umbrella contemporary, fantasy, magical realism, literary, and a zillion other genres and subgenres.  Contemporary books share among them a similar time/reality setting.  YA books share a similarity in age of main characters (and target audience, although you rarely see a book about an adult tagged as YA, you will see books that focus on teens show up on the adult shelves). 
2. Reading level is a consideration in books marketed to kids.  However, it's a huge disservice to assume that things that are targeted for earlier readers cannot address important things. 
3. Corollary to that is that this assumes all adults read at an adult reading level in the language that they are reading.
4. And the other corollary to that is that YA is often not considered to be a different reading level of most adult books.  While Lexile measures are only one measure, let's look here where they note that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a higher Lexile measure than Grapes of Wrath. The Wimpy Kid series is considered middle grade.  Steinbeck is considered adult. 
5. It has often been argued that a mono-book diet of any kind is unhealthy.  And I can see some scenarios where that would be true.  Certainly things like the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and Book Riot's Read Harder challenge have encouraged readers to think outside some of their automatic reading habits.  And I think that's a great idea.  But, this is where we get back to point one, YA isn't a single genre, it is a huge umbrella that encompasses many things.  (You could, for example, hit almost all of the Book Riot Read Harder things reading YA.)  So, that's not really a mono-book diet unless you are only reading contemporary YA that takes place at boarding schools. Or something. 
6. Again, I feel like this is the kind of thing people who have read one of a thing, or maybe, gasp, two, say.  Because then they can say I totally have read some and they were fine but really, how could you read only that? 
7. The other thing I think we forget about adults is that in most cases reading is entertainment.  Sure, you can (and maybe should) seek entertainment that surprises, excites, and expands you. But, I don't like horror.  It does nothing for me.  I understand that there are all kinds of really great horror movies and books out there.  I am going to be giving them a pass because that is not my jam.  Given the wide, wide range of things out there, I am not lacking for entertainment.  But I don't think people who like and enjoy horror are missing out or should re-evaluate their choices.  I'm quite happy that there are people out there who enjoy and appreciate that.  I don't have to take a moral stance on their ability to appreciate something that doesn't work for me. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This article takes on the stereotype that Asian immigrants are just naturally hardworking and looks at the policies that shifted the kind of Asians we find coming to North America
2. I really adore everything about this article looking at some Brasilian girls busting stereotypes playing soccer and stay for the report of the video chat with one the reporter's own soccer players.
3. I confess the Hip Hop Awards are not typically on my radar, unless they bring in some of the cast members from "Hamilton" to do a BET Cypher.  (Link leads to video that requires flash.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Let's Talk Diversity Again

So, again, an author, this time an award winning picture books and YA novelist, said something silly about diversity.  So, first, a recap here, because I am going to paraphrase what was said, but, if you follow the link, not by much.  (Also, the book that inspired said silly author's ire was Myles E. Johnston's Large Fears which sounds great. Let's all go get that.)
So, hearing about this book getting praise for, among other things, representing a queer black boy for the young reader set, this author said, well, pfft (okay, I added the pfft) marginalized young people don't need more books, all the books are for everyone.  And when folks pointed out that having mirrors, ie, characters that look like you in some way, is really meaningful to people, especially to children, this author said pfft.  (Okay, I added the pfft.) This author said books don't need to be mirrors, there are news reports for people to find mirrors, books are just there to "teach you about the world". 
And then later, when many, many people let this author know that they disagreed with this point, she said that her next book was about a black boy in love with an adult native American woman. (It is unclear to me if this was to prove that she didn't only write white people or to prove she could come up with a premise that distilled into 140 characters sounded wildly problematic. 
But, so, let's unpack what this author was saying. 
Books are for everyone.  Yes, that's true.  I...don't think anyone was disagreeing with that. I have read books about white people, black people, brown people, Asians, Africans, Americans, Europeans, and people from places and countries that don't exist (yet).  I have read about upper class, lower class, and middle class people.  I have read about slaves and slaveholders.  I have read about heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, cisgender, transgender, and genderfluid characters.  I have read about humans, rabbits, robots, elves, werewolves, and vampires.  I am some of those things.  I am not a lot of those things.  So, if the point was that good stories speak to everyone, sure.  But given the context of the statement, it's hard not to wonder if the subtext was, I shouldn't have to think about reflecting the world when I write, because that's too much pressure.  So, if I choose to leave out segments of the populations in my books, who cares, good books are for everyone. 
Now, it's maybe a tiny bit possible that the thing she meant to say was we shouldn't be like, yay, book about a queer black boy.  We should like books for being good.  (That isn't really at all what she said, but it's possible that maybe she meant that.  Deep down.) And I agree with that.  I agree that we shouldn't treat diverse books like vegetables.  You don't like books because they are diverse.  You like books because they tell a story you want or need to hear.  Now of course, if the story you needed or wanted to hear was about a queer black boy, well, the easiest way for you to find such a thing would be if people were able to point you to such a thing.  And look, the Library of Congress has been tagging books with various labels (gay, suicide, homeless, etc) for some time.  I get emails from book sellers that say since you liked that one book about teen bullying and depression, here's some more.  If you haven't been waiting on a book about a queer black boy, that's fine.  There are people who are.  Snarking on that gets a little like stalking the line for the midnight movie just to tell them the movie is probably stupid. 
And well, this idea that since you have written and are again writing about underrepresented characters, this means what?  Totally ignoring the problems of the premise, is the point that since you have written outside yourself that you couldn't possibly be racist?  Are you saying you have black character friends?  Or, are you saying that since you are writing characters of color, we're done and no one else needs to or is allowed to? 
Look, here's the deal.  It seems super ridiculously obvious, but I have not heard of one single author being told their story about middle class white people can't get published this year because we already had one of those.  If you don't want to write in a manner that reflects the diversity of the world, no one is making you.  And if you do, or are already doing it, then, I'm not sure why you would care if someone else does. 
Do I wish we lived in a world where writing a queer black boy wasn't unusual?  Hell yeah.  Just like I wish we didn't live in a world were people of certain sexualities weren't expected to announce it in some fashion. But that's not where we are yet.  Yes, as writers we should write the stories that speak to us.  But that means all of us. 
There are some wonderful other posts about this: 

Kaye M has an open letter to the author.

And Camryn Garrett offered a post about signs authors may be suffering from white privilege.

Celidhann over at Bibliodaze broke out some numbers about representation.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. A teen wrote a powerful essay on how we shame teens for living with technology differently.
2. This analysis comparing Disney sidekicks to rappers, is, well, not to be missed.
3. This interview with Ariana DeBose (whos is maybe in "Hamilton", no you're obsessed) and her girlfriend Jill Johnson is really just adorable.  That's all.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Guide to Fictional Amnesia

With another show on TV this year featuring a character with amnesia, I thought I would offer my subject matter expertise, garnered from extensive reading and watching of fictional characters experiencing amnesia.
1. Fictional characters with amnesia, often retain basic motor function memory, so can remember how to tie shoes and open doors, but not who they are or what's going on in their lives.
2. This means no matter how often you ask: What's your name?  What's your favorite food?  And so on.  They. Will. Not. Remember. 
3. In real life, most people, especially post head injury, only lose a few days or weeks preceding the injury.  There are rare cases of folks losing their entire identity or suppressing their identity due to a psychological fear.  As is often the case, these rarer scenarios are way overrepresented in fiction. 
4. If you are the fictional amnesiac, it is super helpful, if each time you do trigger a memory, you have an audible and/or physical reaction to such so that the characters around you know to immediately ask what's going on. 
5.  Also, as a fictional amnesiac, your memories will likely come in tiny yet misleading clips, that will only create a useful picture a few chapters or episodes down the line.  (This is a corrollary to the all ghosts and prophesies speak in code.)
6. Also, spoiler, you are usually in love with someone you don't remember.  They are usually not the person your amnesiac self is finding some, um, tingly feelings for. 
7. The good news is you are almost always a good person, or the amnesia teaches you to be a better person. And the people around you will be really thrilled.  (You know, after that one misleading clue causes you to briefly lose everyone.) However, if you are the central character of a show, you may be getting those memories slowly, with bigger revelations timed for sweeps. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. One police department decided to try a different tack with local drug users.
2. With a warning that this links to social media if you are somewhere such things are blocked, but one guy attempted an interesting approach to the problem of having a car that required proof of sobriety to start that involved a raccoon. (Okay fine, it's not true.  But it's funny to imagine. I'm glad no raccoons have been harmed.)
3. And a teenager built a stroller that worked for wheelchair users.  He hopes to apply for a patent.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Banned Books Week

I talk about this every year, so some of you will be familiar with my stance.  It's fine to not read a book.  It's fine to feel a book is not or not yet appropriate for your child.  Where I get sniffy is when you decide no one who relies on that library should be able to read that book.  I've read problematic books.  I've even read problematic books this year.  I certainly share my concerns with people.  But here's the thing, other people might find something in that book.  And that's fine too.  Goodness knows, I adore some stuff that is problematic.  Stuff that I even can fully see the problems.  And yet, I still love. 
I heard an author at the Baltimore Book Festival talking about how they wished people had to read every book they wanted removed first, so they couldn't just tag everything that had a witch or they had heard might contain sex.  And yes.  Now, looking at this year's list, I can see at least some of the featured books were read far enough to find the offensive word or act.  I confess the expressed concern about Hop on Pop encouraging violence seemed unusual to me.  And scrolling through that list, some of those books might contain legitimately harmful depictions or stereotypes, and that's something that libraries and schools can certainly consider.  I did find the idea that students can now google references and discover the true depths of Brave New World fascinating since it implies that they previously thought the English teacher was just letting that all go over the students heads.  (My English teacher certainly would have asked us about those.)
Read.  Read widely.  If you find something inappropriate or problematic, talk to people about it, including your librarian.  But please consider, that it might be providing something to others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

7 Things: The Hamiltunes Edition

I pre-ordered the "Hamilton" soundtrack.  I had maybe checked the release date a few times.  I had joked about taking the day off so I could just listen intently and sing along, and think in lyrics for a day.  And then, I swear, totally accidentally, took the day off so I could take my cat to the vet for her annual checkup.  And then...(and then!) NPR released it in early listening form last Monday. So...extra chair dancing steps from my fitness tracker. So here we are. 
1. I had remembered how much of the show is about love.  Love of country, love of ladies, love of men, love of truth, love of power, love for children, love for parents, love of doing what's best not just for you but for others (well, sometimes).
2. I had somehow forgotten how much of it is about writing.  Obviously.  Duh.  But between "Non-Stop" and "The Reynolds Papers" and the references to the Federalist papers to the more overt points made about writing in "Hurricane".
3. And there is a ton of talk about legacy, and who gets to tell the story, in fact there is a song titled "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story".
4. There are a few things I noted are not in the soundtrack.  Now this is the radio play version, so there's some language that is truncated, but also some things that occur in quick dialogue between songs, or that are not crucial to the song that are not there.  (One Miranda was explicitly asked about on twitter and he said they were saving some things to punch you with the live performance. The text has since been posted for the curious.)
5. On the second pass through I started to notice things that reminded me more explicitly of "Bring It On".  I may do a larger piece about this, but some of it is things that show up everywhere, who do you love, what do you stand for, and so on.  The siren bit though, I remembered that from "Bring it On", it has a very different effect here. 
6. These performances, they are stunning.  Stunning live, stunning on tape.  And the orchestrations.  It's just.  Wow.  I got to "Satisfied" and was just, um, blown away, and then I hit "Wait For It".
7. Also, again, this is a story about a man. And his friends and foes.  But there are ladies all over the place.  And Eliza gets the last song.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Baltimore Book Fest

I spent Saturday at the Baltimore Book Fest and well, I should have taken notes because I got hit with a sinus infection Sunday and I feel it has emptied out my brains a bit.  It was a busy weekend in Baltimore, I rode up on the train with some friends who were hitting the Baltimore Comic-Con.  I arrived before the book fest kicked off which gave me a chance to chat with some of the folks at the Maryland Romance Writers (MRW) tent.  They kicked things off with a panel on New Adult books that talked a lot of the differences between adult, new adult, and young adult voices and stories. Quite a few of the authors talked about how new adult men are likely to be a little less experienced, a little more vulnerable, because, just like the young females, they come to a relationship with a little less baggage. 
The next panel was on tropes and they talked about how using tropes can be a useful skeleton to help you build a character and/or plot, and that it can also help you find readers who like such things.  (Like me.  With amnesia.)
Then I hopped over to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America tent to stalk, ahem, I mean listen to the YA writers and bloggers there.  They talked about the freedom that writing YA offered, that it really let you put a dash of this, a pinch of that, and just go.  Adult readers tend to be more worried about how you broke the rules on something.  They also mentioned the tight pacing on YA really gets you to the plot fast, there is no five pages discussing the layout of the space hatch.  A librarian in the crowd asked about diverse YA fantasy selections and the panel gave some great resources for lists (including We Need Diverse Books and Disability in Kidlit) and a quick discussion that sadly sometimes the covers (whitewashed or fontified) make it hard to spot them as you flip through School Library Journal or Publisher's Weekly. 
Then I hopped back to MRW for their YA discussion.  They also talked about YA, particularly with a smoochie bent.  I confess I snuck out a little early because Bryan Voltaggio was cooking meatloaf over at the aquarium tent.  And then I went down to the Literary Salon tent to listen to Greg Proops talk about his book.  He talked a lot about the things that most people don't know these days, whether because mainstream news is so slanted, because we don't curate the things we read on the internet, or because our history classes leave out so much. 
I went back to MRW for the suspense panel.  They discussed making use of the ticking clocking suspense, that you aren't so much going to have a suspense where the bomb will go off in six months or so, and how sometimes that creates challenges for making a believable romance because these people are really not in a position to go on a date night. 
Then at the Pratt Free Library Children's Stage the members of two Youth Poetry teams performed and I have to tell you, if you have a chance to see these kids, they are amazing.  They were touching, funny, heartbreaking, and weird, sometimes all in one piece.  (If I had been better prepared for the awesome, I would have tried to get video.  Find them on the You Tubes.)
And then I grabbed dinner and sat in on part of MRW's final panel, wherein the steamier authors proved some of their dedication for inspiration by spotted a leather jacketed dude, prompting an audience member to go grab him and bring him back for a quick chat. (Names redacted to protect teh guilty, although I think they have outed themselves on other parts of the net.)
Then it was time to head home.  I really am lucky to live so close to such fun. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. Two different yet similar posts about Viola Davis' historic Emmy win.  Stacia Davis talks about remembering to celebrate and Camryn Garrett spoke about the anger of it taking 67 years.  
2. Those of you who follow me on the Twitters might have seen my obsession with the early listen of the "Hamilton" soundtrack, so, here's a quick interview with Phillipa Soo who plays Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.
3. The Bloggess, as she is often know, has a new book coming out shortly and as part of that asked for people to share things that had broken them and things that made them happy, and then compiled them in a video.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Diversity is Everythwere

This will be a little more round up like for a Monday, because there were Emmys, and, while it's hard to tell how much was the rule changes and how much was the normal cycle where a few of the same things that always win get changed over to new things that four years from now we will groan about.  (None of this is to take away from any of the nominees or winners.  Awards are a system.  Nothing wrong with making it through the system repeatedly.)  But there were some historic awards for women as well as some very knowing comments from the host, and look, there are some firsts that are almost embarrassing that we are only hitting at 2015, but yay, it has happened.  More work to be done, but yay, yay, yay!  (And honestly, quite a few of those actress categories, including Drama, I would have been thrilled for quite a few of those nominees.  It's wonderful to see a category filled with things that I love like that.)
And it is bisexuality awareness week and the nice folks over at Gay YA are doing posts for that. 
And Book Riot is doing their version of a #blackoutday over here

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This article noted that along with rising tuition, room and board costs for college have gone up significantly.
2. Edie Harris wrote some tips about being a writer with a day job that are great advice for anyone with a day (or likely night) job.
3. I was fascinated when this discussion about bra fastening emerged on social media, mostly because I confess, I had assumed (perhaps in a flexible, ableist manner) that back clasping was the traditional method.  Yes, I have been known to front clasp and twist if a fastening has gotten a bit mangled in the wash and requires extra finagling, but generally I back clasp. But it it fascinates me the "divide" that erupted over the methodology.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Let's Talk Generations

One of the great things about getting older is that the news cycle starts picking on other generations. I ran across this article written with enough judgey pants on to keep us all pretty warm.  So, the gist is that a twenty-something was travelling in Nepal. She texted a friend that she had arrived and was going to stay with a guy she met through a website where you can find folks willing to rent out their couch to you.  She was killed.  It turns out by the man who lent her his couch. 
So, here's the thing. Yes, some people are more willing to trust various, for lack of a better term, alternative travel arrangements.  I would however argue, that stories of backpackers relying on the kindness of strangers pre-date the internet. It's very sad that she died. I resent that implication that she died because of a generational trust in the internet.  Let's face it every journey on public transit, every ebay transaction, every time you walk into a restaurant you've never been to, there's an element of risk. Yes, staying on a stranger's couch carries a larger amount of risk, then some choices, but to imply that the only reason this woman is dead is because of this, well, it's straight up victim blaming. I feel certain that not everyone who stays on a stranger's couch ends up dead.  I feel certain that people who kill people do not have to rely on the internet to bring them victims. (This article indicates he killed her for her money and phone.)
The purpose of these generational markers should be to take a look at the strengths each group has, instead to pick one to constantly blame for their naivete and selfishness, until we name the next one and shift our aim.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. Teenagers are too rational when making decisions (um, if you remove social pressure).
2. The folks at the Yarn Mission are doing a blanket square project to support black liberation.
3. One student took a year to sail her way to college

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

All the Authors

In addition to the National Book Fest there were also two panels of YA authors at Politics and Prose this week so I have a lot of things to catch up on.

First up Jennifer E. Smith not only came to Politics and Prose but had also agreed to meet up with my book club before her talk. I missed most of that due to the day job, but I hear they had a great time chatting with her. I had just finished Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between which was fun.  At the Politics and Prose chat she spoke about how sometimes her editorial background makes it that she is unable to utilize text speak or IM speak because it just hurts her too much. (I do hear now that character limits are less of a thing, text speak is somewhat less prominent with current teens, although certainly looking around the internet indicates that's not true for all).  Smith's inspiration for Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between was the very strong memory of the night before you left for college and how it felt wonderful and scary and full of such importance as you stand on the precipice of this huge change. She also wondered what would it be like if, in addition to all of that, you were in the middle of a serious relationship with someone where the two of you were headed in literal opposite directions. Smith also talked a little bit about the MFA she had done at St Andrews. (!!!) 

On Friday there was a multi-author panel with Daniel José Older, Libba Bray, and Jon Skovron. I was part way through Older's Shadowshaper (which I have since finished and it is wonderful) and still need to catch up on the next installment in the Diviners series, as well as Skovron's latest. Older talked about how so much of fantasy and urban fantasy author takes place in a very light clean city or in the falling down projects and there just wasn't enough in between. Working as an EMT and also having grown up Brooklyn he certainly saw lots and lots of in between in the city. Also that so much of fantasy involves a character spending 75% of the book being surprised to discover that there is magic or are demons. Worldwide more cultures believe in ghosts believe in supernatural creatures than don't and if you wrote a fantasy that involves a character from one of those cultures you could save yourself chapters of this surprise. I will also say that part of my interest in Shadowshaper stemmed from a comment I saw about it's take on anthropology and the idea that the people who do the studying often treat their subjects as less than. Libba Bray talked about how sometimes she has trouble finding the source of what sparked an idea for a book since she thinks of her writing brain as a giant sticky ball rolling along and picking up stray factoids that then turn into a story. Bray said the Chinese Exclusion Act was a fascinating example of a shift in our country since it was the first policy that specifically immigration policy that specifically addressed a particular race and therefore led to things that we still see the echoes of today. Skovron talked about how being raised Catholic the Bible is full of references to angels and demons that he certainly read as literal as a child. He also talked about how in the first book Man-made Boy it was a road trip across the US that in this book he wanted to expand out to the world and take a closer look at that.

On Saturday with the National Book Fest we arrived a little late and only caught the tail end of Kwame Alexander. Again I will say this man attracts all the teachers. He read a quick poem and also talked about keeping his inner child alive.

After Alexander came the wonderful Ellen Oh who had a slideshow presentation to help discuss what spawned the We Need Diverse Books movement and also how she is starting to see that the problem is not just getting the books there, getting the authors there, and supporting all of that but that once the books are available that gatekeepers steer children away from books that don't look like them.

There was a presentation for The Book That Shaped Me where multiple children who had written essays about books of importance to them were awarded including some special prize winners who had written about Steve Jobs, Homesick, Rules,and Harry Potter. (The Harry Potter winner had an adorable Harry Potter bow in her hair.) Let me tell you these kids were all poised and amazing and wow.

Jenny Han was up next and she talked about how changes in her family with her sister getting married led her to think about the kinds of changes that teenagers experience which inspired To All the Boys since the main character is dealing with becoming the new oldest after her oldest sister goes off to college (which by the way is to St Andrews, I'm just saying). She also said the book's success proved that any character could be the every girl since the main character with an Asian American.

We then snuck out to grab some lunch but made it back to see Sabaa Tahir who had slides and a copy of her book trailer to talk about An Ember in the Ashes.  Tahir said her reporting experience led her to look at a story from two opposing sides. Also her brother is involved in the current movie production and so she expects that the adaptation will be good since she can tell on him to mom.

Not too long after that I donned the red shirt (they were really red) and did my volunteer bit. It did mean I was cross scheduled against romance which was sad but I was happy to help the wonderful festival and I hear the romance room was well packed. I was handing out programs which meant I had a lot of people asking me where things were including Metro. I also had a lot of people who showed up with no idea what this was other than it was a thing and what should they go see or do none of them had very little children in tow and arrived somewhat after most of the children's programming had to completed. Normally I would argue that it was a bit of a failure to research but given the Library of Congress is website was down much of the preceding week I could understand why people might have found pre-planning a bit of a challenge. It was a great festival I hope next year they have even more romance author in addition to all the wonderful speakers that they've been getting.

Edited for clarity.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Refugee crisis in Europe

If you hang in YA centric spaces on Twitter, you may have seen Patrick Ness, heartbroken over the latest news of the goings on in Europe decided to start a little fundraiser for Save the Children: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=PatrickNess
Save the Children happens to be near and dear to my heart, particularly the UK branch of it, although I have nothing against the US or worldwide bits of it.  In college, since I was without work visa, I could not work for pay while in Scotland, but I could volunteer.  So, I volunteered briefly with a local youth group (this seems very appropos now, I really had no idea I kept picking similar things to do with my spare time) and then also at a charity shop.  St. Andrews, for whatever reason had a large number of charity shops, and I was assigned through the student charity group to Save the Children the first year.  And after that, I was known the the lovely woman who organized all the volunteers so after I got my class schedule, I would go straight to Betty, and she would put me on a shift.  The shifts were short (two hours I think) and we would either sort donations in the back, or run the register in the front.  It was a pretty easy job, and yet, the sales of the donations and some Save the Children branded items went to a good cause, and also, hey cheaply priced clothes and such too.  (I actually ended up getting my student gown there, after someone donated their pristine one.) 
So, Save the Children is a charity that is meaningful to me, partly for silly personal reasons, and yet they do great things.  Certainly plenty of charities and other organizations and governments are chipping in to try to assist with this.  This article from the Independent has a number of suggestions. The governmental ones are Euro-focused, but this is a many pronged problem and there are lots of ways help is needed.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. A Twitter discussion broke out last week about the potential harm of pop culture characters that represent certain stereotypes, particularly if you live somewhere where these are your primary examples.  This NPR Code Switch piece looks at how pop culture representations of marginalized people can both help and hurt. 
2. Publisher Lee and Low have suggested a baseline diversity survey of publishing so that there is clear data as to the current state of the publishing industry.  Several publishers have signed on, there is an accompanying Change.org petition to encourage others to follow suit.
3. This office has a cat library.  You can check out a cat to hang with for the day.  I swear I suggested this idea years ago, but they have made it happen!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Burden of Fiction, Survivors and Revolutionaries

Every so often you will hear someone say something to the extent of, ugh, in every dystopian it always turns out that the lead character is possessed of whatever magical combination of luck, skill, secret power, and/or timing that leads to them being the perfect person to overthrow the system.  Why can't we read a story about someone else?
Well, the short version is that fiction is about people who do things.  I could write a story about Princess Leia's best friend who just you know, lived her life on Alderaan until one day her planet blew up and um, yeah, that is not a story. Now, there are exceptions to everything.  And if I ever write a dystopian it probably would be about someone on the fringe.  Partly because a lot of the time, I'm really fascinated with what happens after.  What do the people who went to high school with Peeta and Katniss do now that their whole world has been upended?  But again, it would need more to be a story. 
We've all heard the saying about history is written by the victors, and in light of this Nazi romance book people have been having discussions in various places about what it would take for someone to say, oh a great hero would be a high up SS officer who fell in love with a cute blond Jewish woman.  So, tossing to the side the issues of power imbalance and consent (which are large) but the point was made (and my tumblr only works on one of my devices these days so I apologize that I can not correctly link back) that a lot of people experience the Holocaust through fiction (and yes, this also applies to other genocides and atrocities) and so it is easy to thing about the strong, wonderful, lucky people who made it through and forget that those people were the minority. And that that might be the insidious thing that lets you think, well, a fresh take would be to look at this conflict from the other side. 
I say this as someone who loves reading romances, and enjoys World War II fiction a lot, but not every story lends itself to romance.  And yes, I realize I have once again compared, "Star Wars", dystopian, and WWII fiction. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

What is the Point: The Project Runway Edition

One of the things I really like about "Project Runway" is that a lot of the changes they have made are very much about creating better outcomes.  In the weird way of clothing designers, most of us on the street only know people huge enough to be all over our TVs, so a lot of designers who go on to work under another designer, or specifically in wedding wear, or just to open their own storefront in the town of their choice drop off the radar of the average viewer, leading to the impression that these people disappear.  Now sure, there are also plenty of past contestants who are not designing these days, or are more well known for being on TV as a judge.  But that's probably true of any profession.  Pick 100 people, see how many of them are still doing that same thing 10 years later. 
Included in these changes, is the opportunity for judges to examine the garments up close.  This seemed like a great development.  There are times when the viewers at home can even see that certain garments have wobbly seams or other various issues.  Letting the judges see how something looks up close, is helpful.  There have been times when they could see that a designer had used the wrong fabric, or that on closer look something looked less interesting than it had stomping down the runway.  (Kudos to the model on that one.)
So this week, there was an outfit that was dramatic, but even I could see it was a great idea executed less well.  And sure, it's early days yet.  And interesting has always trumped practical or even wearable on "Project Runway".  So, fine, it was top three.  Fine.  But I expected, given that even before the up close scan, they asked Blake if the necklace was covering something up and he revealed that he had bled on the neckline due to a scissors mishap (scissors are a big issue this season) and so he had chopped off the neckline but not had time to sew it.  Now, if that had been the only construction issue, sure.  But the seams, even on my TV were terrible.  And there were two other outfits that were great and well executed.  So, I'm not sure what up close inspection does, if they still say, well these other two are better made, but enh, this one looked great on the runway.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. A runner paused to pump her arms at her expected third place finish and ended up with fourth, leading to a round up of some other instances of premature celebration.
2. I am now sad that my high school didn't have a cat student.
3. I keep re-titling this article about salad being overrated - in my head it is called "Lettuce is Evil" or perhaps "Ditch the Leaves".  YMMV.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Belated Internet Validation

I had once said to someone that if I could convince a certain parental unit to go on a thing called a podcast, and then agree to actually abide by said stranger's result, I would try.  But neither of those things are true.  But, even if I could have somehow subtly directed the family to a podcast* well, yeah.  Once upon a time there was the game "Taboo".  (Yes, I know it still exists.  It gets less play these days in my family.  It may become clear why soon.)  We played it a lot.  My brother is quite a bit younger, so we sometimes allowed assists if he encountered a word that he was less familiar with.  I once brought my best friend to visit and we had, unsurprisingly, spent the whole long drive talking about all manner of things and we were ridiculously in sync with the extra eight hours of together time and able to offer clues like "Carrie had one" (answer: sunburn).  I can no longer remember what the answer was for which my not-quite-double-digits-at-the-time brother offered "Guys like it a lot" (I think it was beer, but there was an excellent pause as much of his team clearly thought words they weren't sure they should say in front of a young child). 
So, I was in charge of the buzzer for a round in which the answer for the other team was "Gotham City".  I buzzed when the clue giver said "city" arguing that it was part of the answer.  The clue giver argued that it was not on the list of restricted terms.  I argued that the answer was never listed as a restricted term, but surely you couldn't give out the answer or part of it as a clue.  Suffice it to say the discussion did not go well, and resulted in a cancellation of the game for the evening.  (The rules do back me up on this, which as you likely know, hardly matters after a certain level of team spirit deterioration.)
Well the Judge John Hodgman complainant has a similar pen/pencil debate and in their case the clue giver argued that since pen and pencil had different etymological origins, it should not count, which is at least a different argument.  In their case the clue giver went so fair as to contact the game manufacturer who, interestingly sided with them.  (Possibly due to an excess of customer service orientation.) Judge Hodgman agreed that pen and pencil are similar enough that no, one cannot be used in the clue for the other.  So, the internet agrees with me. 

*Remember my family disagrees with books, they are not anti-fact, but they are anti-conceding arguments, and those who want to suggest I fit in, can stuff it. What? I'm kidding.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Three Interesting Things

Given that the St. Louis area police have been making use of tear gas again, reportedly without even the dispersal warning the judge agreed they are required to provide, I'm going to point to the  7 Things about tear gas.
1. One teen tried self-directed learning for a year.  (I realize that many home schoolers and unschoolers do this all the time.  I still think the things he found were interesting.)
2. One scientist gave an amazing answer to the question of how one can avoid having a disabled child.  (Short version, you cannot.  But the long version is well worth a read.)
3. And this piece on the Ashley Madison hack looks into why those of us who make use of the internet, even for non-salacious reasons, should be concerned.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Musicals, musicals, and musicals

I saw three musicals in the last two weeks.  Two were touring productions, and one was an original (although they just announced it's going to make it's way off Broadway.) One of them, I did the thing i usually do with musicals, which is that I listened extensively to the cast album, I had read about the story connecting the songs and really the only thing I didn't do, was give it all a re-listen before the show, because I didn't want to be too attached to the original cast's interpretation. That was "Book of Mormon".  It was fun.  The audience seemed to be really ready for it, and some of the laughter seemed very surprised given how, relatively long this show has been around.  I had been a bit spoiled about the Spooky Mormon Hell, so I sadly did not find it quite as amazing as I think I would have without prior knowledge (still good, just pretty much what I expected). 
I saw "Once" which I knew a little about because, well, I exist in the world, but I had not seen the movie, had heard some of the songs, but had not listened to the cast album, and really just went in to see what it was.  It was interesting.  I am unable to compare it to the movie.  They had clearly done things with the staging to make it very portable and to minimize set change.  Instead of an orchestra, the whole cast just played while on stage.  Some of the songs they went for more of an Irish pub feel (for understandable reasons) and some felt a bit more Broadway, although, since the characters are all musicians, while they are speaking to each other through song, generally, the songs occur where one character has intentionally said, hey, I'm going to play you this thing, rather than the more musical-esque, I will speak to or about you, in song, because I can.  So, some of the choreography seemed a little jarring, because it was a little more unexpected given the setup.  But it was fun, and impressive, given all the orchestra is on stage, it would seem the likelihood of tempo issues would be higher, and well, I didn't spot any. 
"Dear Evan Hansen" turned out to be the perfect ender of my two months with more musicals.  (I'm a little sad that five whole musicals is a lot. I must work on this.)  Interestingly, as I read through the cast and crew, someone who had worked in or on every other musical I had seen this year  - including "Hamilton" and "Fun Home" was part of "Dear Evan Hansen".  At the Kreeger theatre at Arena, the orchestra pit is actually hanging over the edge of the stage.  I don't know if they will keep that layout when they move, but it was interesting.  They also made use of screens since much of the plot revolves around how social media expands and supports our human need to connect to tragedy.  I always have trouble summarizing such musicals in a way that doesn't sound depressing and weird (I think singing and dancing will help you dive into a lot of sad and/or weird topics you may not want to see a straight play about).  But essentially, high schooler Evan Hansen has been advised to write letters to himself about how his day is going.  When one is found on the body of a fellow student who commits suicide, the parents assume that it is a suicide note addressed to Evan who they didn't even realize was so close to their son.  Feeling that telling the truth would hurt them, Evan goes along with this, and then, well, things get a little out of control. The performances were great, we were close enough to see them spit.  And I'm thrilled that they are moving and have hopes that this will do well enough to create a cast album so that I can listen to it over and over. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Early Project Runway Thoughts

So, the first two episodes of "Project Runway" have aired, and we are still at the point where I barely remember these contestants names but a few things seem to be clear.
1. Tim Gunn is concerned.  Normally Tim Gunn starts off the season convinced that this batch of contestants might be the most talented they have ever seen. Now, sure.  I am aware that Tim Gunn is paid to hang out there, he doesn't show up out of the kindness of his heart (although I have the firmest belief that Tim Gunn's heart is kind). And there is no reason not to start each season with great optimism.  But, he seemed extra worried in the first challenge that too many of them were just not pushing hard.
2. I am concerned.  The reasons for this are many.  But let's start with a number of the contestants all showing particular excitement that they were THERE, on "Project Runway", with Edmond saying he had auditioned every year (but clarifying that he got closer every time, which does not seem possible when you consider that this is season 14, and I don't think there are 14 stages of the audition process, but that's hardly the biggest problem.)  Maybe, I thought to myself, these people are going to be ready for things.  But then we discovered 3 of them showed up without a scissors to their name. Now, two of them were international and one did mention a luggage overage issue. I still would have kept my scissors and tossed a pair of shoes, but airport desk decisions are not always made in the best of circumstances. I also understand thinking that scissors might be provided given they provide sewing machines, but given every sewer I've known is very protective of their scissors, I am still surprised.
3. I realize the producers encourage statements of disbelief, but a number of them have already exclaimed that these challenges are fast, they hate working fast, they hating working with others, they don't like working near other people, they are not here to make friends, and they don't like working with non-fabric.  This seems like the wrong attitude for being on this show.  I realize this show presents a special spotlight, but, that's only if you survive long enough for people to remember you, and honestly, I think lotto tickets are probably slightly better odds, and you could get a job that paid you for thirty days while you bought your tickets. 
4. There are a high number of problematic comments being made, right now about Swapnil.  Sandya, on the prior season was also Indian, and certainly she was not universally loved, but the comments the audience saw were about her sense of style, which befuddled the designers because she was doing well with the judges, doing things that the other contestants were not fans of. Swapnil, and yes, he was one of the scissor-less, has already gotten on camera comments from Merline about how since he's Indian he could do something with pattern, he could do something Bollywood, and that he was hard for one of the other contestants to understand because Blake doesn't speak "Indian".  Swapnil was speaking English, accented English sure, but not even accented heavily enough that they were adding captions, the way they already had with two other contestants.  (Full disclosure, I usually watch with captions on, not because I can't understand the contestants, but because that way if a truck starts backing up outside, I can still tell what is going on. But I can still spot when they add captions for viewers who haven't turned the captions on.) Now, this is a classic example of micro-agressions.  Saying someone is good with pattern is a compliment, right?  Except when you are saying they must be good with it because of their country of origin, and not because they are wearing pattern (he was wearing black) or have actually made something that you can see that demonstrates pattern deftness.  Saying someone can do a Bolllywood number because they are Indian, is just as ridiculous as assuming any random American contestant could contribute a square dance. And, look, these contestants (although it will only get worse) are operating on little sleep, in an unfamiliar situation.  People say stupid things.  If you meant to say, sorry, I'm not used to your accent yet, so I don't quite know what you said, and instead said, "I don't speak Indian" it's, well, it's not okay, but it's a thing that could be recovered from with an apology.  And, assuming the editors do not have it in for Blake, the idea, that his way to talk about it in his mannequin chat was to say, "Oh, I just don't have a filter...but I'm adorable"  (slightly paraphrased there), um no.  Unless the part in between was "I don't have a filter, so sometimes I say terribly ignorant things, but thank goodness I'm adorable so when I apologize to people they tend to forgive me". 
So, there are two possibilities here.  Either, for the first time "Project Runway" has a larger number of contestants unprepared to experience and or work with people from differing backgrounds. Or, this is all leading up to something that we, the viewer at home, need to know about.  And that makes me worried.  For Swapnil, who seems to be the target of most of this (even though he is not the only foreign contestant, accented contestant, or contestant of color).  And also for us.  Certainly, if this leads to opportunities for viewers at home to further examine micro-aggressions, then great.  But I worry, that much like the problem "Big Brother" has experienced, the show is not set up to address such behavior, so they have been keeping it off camera until now.  If so, I'm not convinced they are now better able to address it.  Nor do I think Swapnil should need to be the guy to educate his fellow contestants or the viewers at home why this behavior is unacceptable.  I recognize that existing at any intersection of marginalization requires one to develop a thicker skin for it.  I realize that reality show contestants sign up to deal with all manner or ridiculous behavior from their fellow contestants.  But man, this is shaping up to be a memorable season for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. I found this piece on the NFL's current efforts to address domestic violence interesting.
2. Local swimmer Katie Ledecky just set a few more world records.  She's 18. 
3. Laura Vivanco has a post about why the use of the term "dark romance" is problematic at best.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


The anniversary of Michael Brown's death was Sunday and people on various social media were sharing memories, reminders, and some making use of the #FergusonTaughtMe.  While I've talked about it a bit here, and certainly my Twitter followers aware, Ferguson taught me that my country was okay with gassing protesters.  That the militarization of local police forces had not kept pace with training.  That rather than working with police officers to teach them to end things peacefully, police training was putting an emphasis on ending things, on protecting police officer's lives at the expense of citizens.  That the slanted view of certain mainstream media sources was both untenable for me, and rapidly outpaced by social media. 
Ferguson woke me up.  The challenge of reaching a certain level of, ahem, maturity is finding that there are things that make you unhappy, but not always as outraged.  There are things I cannot believe we still haven't fixed, and things I wasn't sure I'd live long enough to see fixed. I learned I had previously untapped stores of outrage, of sadness, and of not-in-my-freaking-country-ness.  As with many of the things we've been talking about here on the blog of late, this is a giant cultural, systemic problem that will not untangle easily.  But that doesn't at all mean we don't try.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Responses That Mean Well

I truly believe that the board of RWA meant well with this statement about various people's concerns about one of the RITA nominated books this year. But, I read this and thought, ugh.  Because, yes, writing rules to say that certain content cannot be included in nominated books is unwieldly and problematic.  But, as it's worded, it kind of sounds like they are saying any change in the rules would lead to censorship.  I think what they meant was adding rules to attempt to restrict content would be problematic, but come on guys, we're writers, if anyone understands the subtleties of wording, it should be us.  And yes, I'm sure a number of people, including some of the legal persuasion had their hands on this statement, but ugh. 
I have also heard rumblings that the Nazi romance wasn't the only nominee that garnered complaints.  I understand why the Board would choose not to name names, but let me spitball for a moment.  This year three gay romances were nominated, and the erotic romance category has been controversial for some.
Ultimately I agree that the contest should remain peer-reviewed. I agree that the responsibility therefore rests with the peers.  But we're going to open a forum so people can talk about concerns is, let's face it, the very least that could be done.  I want people to know about the RITAs and Golden Hearts because they elevate some of the best examples of romantic fiction. Not because of this.  And yes scandals pass.  Things fade.  And I realize, given that my own post essentially said this is something we need to fix at the community level, it's a little silly for me to be this let down by this response.  But I am. 
So, I'm going to link to a few more posts on this.  (For what it's worth, Newsweek did get a statement from the author who stated that the book comes from her great love of Jewish people, but given that article also quoted unironically an author who has been attempting to game another set of awards so that people with books with characters of color or gay content wouldn't get awarded, well, you'll understand why I'm not linking to that mess.)
Also India Valentin put together a post on reading up for anyone who wishes to learn more about the history of anti-Semitism.
Dahlia Adler has been putting together a resources for writers writing outside their perspective.
Here's what I wish the statement had said.  I suspect there are some corporate/legal reasons it couldn't.  The first paragraph is fine.  I realize some of this is rearrangement, but again, writers, order matters.  So, in my fantasy version it would say:  The RITA is a peer-reviewed award that currently receives 2000 entries each year. The Board believes the process should continue. Adding rules or language to prevent entries or nominations based on content that could be deemed controversial is not something the Board supports, since it could also be used to censor content. 
However, we think that this has started an important discussion, and opened up an opportunity for better community education and as part of that we will open an online forum to assist and support that discussion. 
Now, I am obviously putting words in the Board's (figurative) mouth here, but I think that says the same thing at the core, and yet those changes, to me at least, change it from well, we can't change anything because censorship is bad, into we are choosing not to change the overall process and yet we hope that ultimately we can help create a better community of writers. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

Thank you, Jon Stewart

Lo, many years ago, a roommate invited me to watch "The Daily Show". It had a host named Craig Kilborn and it was amusing.  He made sure I watched it again when the new host took over, a guy named Jon Stewart.  It was a bit of a slow burn.  I watched it again a few more times after I had moved. My roommate (different one) was convinced he looked like a guy we knew.  I went through a period where I realized that my current commute was going to require my leaving the house at 7 am which led to me having to give up all TV after 10:30pm.  (Yes, I had a VCR.  But, there was a lot to catch up on, some things just got eliminated.) Another move and I began watching again.  And that time it stuck.  (The DVR revolution was also a great help.)  And I found I was more aware.  And then I found I liked it better than a lot of the news sources I was relying on.  This forced me to seek out other news sources.  For a while there was some faux-outrage that maybe, the kids these days, only got their news from *gasp* a comedy channel and were missing out on real news.  And while I understand that Stewart ultimately considers the show a comedy show, the core of it has become a very specific comedy about real news, about the way our government works and doesn't work, and it is only funny if you understand why it's funny. 
So, I appreciate the years of coverage, the years of shining a light on things.  I still remember the first "The Daily Show" after September 11th, I also remember the gospel choir.  It spawned "The Colbert Report" which featured the Better Know a District segment that brought more attention to DC's representational status than many things ever have.  It spawned "The Nightly Show" which has found a really good balance of story and panel, and "Last Week Tonight" which I have seen great clips of.  (I am a premium channel holdout at the moment.)  Ultimately, the show has survived great change before and I expect it will again.  Regardless, the stamp Jon Stewart has left, on the way we view news coverage, on the faces of late night TV, is quite amazing.  So, thank you. 

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Notes on a Rita Nominated Title

I first heard about this while I was on the bus on the way back from New York, where the bus wifi was iffy and my ability to research was somewhat limited.  I want to state up front that I understand why people are upset.  I absolutely support their continuing to express their concerns.  I have been thinking on this trying to decide not so much much how much it concerns me, but how I think this should be addressed. 
So, some background.  Sarah Wendell shared her letter to the RWA board of directors about an inspirational romance title that was reviewed as part of her site's annual challenge to get all the nominated books read. It is, at the very least concerning that a book where the power imbalance is tilted was nominated.  I had a discussion recently with some folks about an entirely different book in which the main character's love interest is her slave and would I have even begun to accept the story if the genders had been reversed.  (I felt no.)
While I have read some inspirationals, I tend to enjoy less the ones that suggest there is only one acceptable set of beliefs (rather than accepting have a belief system may be useful) and ultimately this means I am not the target audience for many inspirationals.  And I think that may be the problem. 
Not all of it, of course.  As folks on Twitter and elsewhere, and even Sarah in her letter suggested this book was written, it was edited, it was published, and only then was it nominated.  This is a systemic problem.  But, I'm a member of RWA, and while I don't expect to love equally every Rita nominee, I would like to not have to explain how a concentration camp detainee, detained for being Jewish, found her happy ending falling in love with her prison guard and by possibly converting to Christianity ended up nominated.
So, let me start with some disclaimers. I haven't read the book.  It has been nominated for other awards so I assume it's well written. Apparently the Esther story, which has particular meaning to Jewish folk, is also very popular with the inspirational folks.
The first round of Rita judging is done by PAN members, aka published members of RWA, of which I am not currently one.  (I say this not to absolve myself of anything, but to say my suggestions for what can be done to hopefully prevent this occurring again, at least from an RWA nominations perspective, are coming from a do as I say perspective, since I can't yet do.) The inspirational category description is found here: "Novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system) are an integral part of the plot."  So the story does not have to involve conversion, just spiritual beliefs as a core part of the story.
Rita judges are asked to answer two questions: 1. Does the entry contain a central love story? 2. Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?
Those two questions are designed for simplicity in the judging, but certainly, I would be hard pressed to consider how I would find the end of such a romance satisfying.
Now, I can't find a link to this that's not behind the membership wall, but my recollection is that you cannot judge a category you are entered in, and you can opt out of two more. My suspicion is that a lot of people use one of their opt outs for inspirational.  This would mean, that the people remaining to judge inspirational are likely people who really like inspirational but don't have an eligible book that year.  If so, and yes, I'm guessing here, the inspirational category might not be exposed to as wide a range of first round judges as your average contemporary or paranormal entry.  I certainly don't want to see good books dinged because the wrong people read them, but on the other hand, I don't want books getting nominated that have many of us giving it the side-eye because how is that a thing?  And I know this sounds like I'm tossing it back to make it a community problem. But, I think the fact that this didn't even get noticed until the Rita Reader review challenge, shows how much we're not paying attention.  We've got to work to do better at that.  Edited to add this link to Jen Rothschild's post about this.

Three Interesting Things

1. Apparently your office is cold because of the patriarchy.  (Or because the standards set haven't been changed in decades.  Or because many office buildings have limited thermostats per floor.  But mostly the patriarchy.)
2. I had the chance to get a sneak peek at these, but Tom Bihn made jerseys for a local robotics team.  The robots that is.
3. If you are in LA or SLC, you could be a kitten cuddler.  That's an actual position.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Fancy Dress on the Side of the Road

Once upon a time I was a Bridesmaid. (Technically twice, but you know, not the point here.)  The bridal party was large.  As seems to be the nature in these larger events, there was a day of hair doing, and photo taking at the bride's parent's house before we all loaded into the two limos (remember, large party) for the journey to the church. Limo 1 contained the bride, the maid and matron of honor, and some other assorted bridal party members.  I was in limo 2 with the remainder of the bridal party.  We followed Limo 1 to the end of the road, to the intersection to make the turn onto the main road when the limo drive said, "Oh no." 
He fiddled with some things, he restarted the limo and we made the turn onto the main road and the limo died.  He called in, the company promised to send another car, but expected it to take at least 30 minutes.  We all pulled out cell phones.  One person alerted Limo 1.  We obviously didn't want the car carrying the bride to turn around, even if there would have been space to pile us all in there.  However, we also knew the wedding was taking place in the last slot, if you will, of the day for that church and then they had another event after, so they weren't going to hold the service for too long.   (The bridesmaids had all parked their cars by the reception site earlier that morning, so while we could have absolutely walked back to the bride's parents' house, none of our cars were there.) Fortunately a car passed by with some other wedding guests. Followed by another.  (And another problem was trying to figure out who might be on their way, but not already at the church, might know the area well enough to locate us quickly rather than getting another guest lost while searching for us.) Another two cars of guests spotted what were clearly bridesmaids on the side of the road and the rest of us managed to squish in and get a ride.  So in the end we were all there.  Probably a smidge later than the church administrator would have wished and we pretty much strode right into position to process into the church and in the end, all was well.  Fortunately the bride was pretty zen about this being a thing that was out of her control instead of getting outwardly stressed out and it became the funny story, especially as the priest referenced it in his homily, noting that there are things you cannot control.
But all of this is to say I had a pang when I saw this story about the broken down taxis leading some bridesmaids to try some hitchhiking. It worked out in their case too, when a stranger gave them a ride, and then the bride wanted to take the chance to properly thank her and so had reached out to social media. She found her helpful driver and now they both have great stories to tell.