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.