Monday, April 30, 2018

"Two Trains Running" at Arena Stage

Friday night I saw August Wilson's "Two Trains Running" at Arena Stage.  It is part of Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle, it premiered in the 1990's but takes place in 1969.  It looks at seven characters and takes place entirely in a diner in what had been a thriving black neighborhood, and now the city is buying up land for urban renewal.  The characters are the diner and building owner, Memphis, his apparently sole staff member Risa, retired house painter Holloway, thriving funeral parlor owner West, Hambone, and recently released from penitentiary but full of big plans Sterling.  
I can be hard to know how to contextualize a play written in the 1990's and set in the 1960's.  It felt (and looked) of it's time.  The language and concerns seemed of the 1960's.  The characters are interesting and each unique as they try to figure out what's next.  Holloway is mostly retired from house painting and seems to be in the diner all day.  (And kudos' to the costume designer, his shoes all had paint splatters, as did some of his pants.)  Memphis is pleased with himself for owning his building, even if clientele in the diner has sadly declined, because if the city is going to pay him, then all good.  West is doing well with the funeral business, but also wants to buy Memphis' building.  He promises he'll pay more than the city.  Hambone speaks mostly in the repetitive phrase, "I want my ham," based on a long running disagreement with a local business owner who had promised him a ham for a good paint job and then never gave him the ham. Wolf runs numbers, using the diner as one spot people know to come find him to place their bets. Sterling has big plans, seemingly shifting a little each day.  But Holloway is getting a different story from Sterling's former employers.  Rissa works hard and well, she speaks little.  She has scarred legs, possibly done as an attempt to scare off a portion of suitors.  Having recently watched the live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" I was a little reminded of Mary Magdalene, in that her purpose is mostly to support others.  Here quite a few of them men express interest - current or past - in Risa's form.  Risa is constantly bringing people coffee, pie, and other food.  Or cleaning up after them.  And certainly, as a server in the diner, that is her job.  But we don't really get the same sense of what Risa wants out of life. Risa is wonderfully kind to Hambone, and very patient with everyone else, even West who constantly asks her for sugar he doesn't use.  
The production was staged in the round and worked well.  In the scene transitions one or occasionally two characters were spotlit while they performed some repetitive motion, to give the audience something to look at as the stage hands reset things, and other characters shifted into new positions.  The ones where the character did something percussive to the beat of the transition music to my eye worked better than some of the more ethereal dance move looking ones.  But that is a matter of taste.  
Overall it was a great performance.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

7 Posts: Crazy Ex Girlfriend - The office mates

This year we dug a little deeper into some of the office mates that were not Paula, Nathan, or Darryl.  It's hard to succinctly describe the amazingness of Tim singing a song of the grief he experiences learning his wife has never orgasmed with him, or Maya's weird millennial quips that still are on point, such as her note to Paula about seeking more female mentors but needing to be on the side of consent.  Nathan tries to take advantage of Rebecca (via her mom) quitting by hiring a new lawyer who is great at lawyering but turns out to be unable to handle the barrage of emotional support the various co-workers at the firm need. 
And returning to our more well-known office mates, some of the separation of Paula and Rebecca has been great.  Paula learned that her family has to work around her, and her co-workers all think she's the office bitch.  She brings in Sunil to get someone who is on her side, and finds he sides with the others. He tells her she is so used to giving out office criticism, she's not prepared to deal with and appreciate good work, only able to seek the flaws.  

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. This interview with the founder of Duende District a flourishing pop-up bookstore is great, and I say that not just because her awesome lyrical description of the two DC's. 
2. The Vanity Fair piece on the discussion around some of the quotes used from prominent black women in a book about hate, looks at how misattribution and taking a tiny piece of what someone said, devoid the larger context can in fact support the bad structure we should be dismantling. 
3. And Mary Kathryn Nagle spoke about the next play she is working on.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Universal Fancon, the Con That Isn't

So, I had tickets to Universal FanCon for this upcoming weekend.  I was excited to see an intentionally inclusive con show up in my general vicinity, I had been thrilled at the guest list and the delightful accessibility of the schedule.  (Seriously folks, I love a good user friendly schedule in ways that are a little unbecoming.) And while I was checking in on Twitter at the WRW retreat (no I am not addicted to Twitter) I saw a post about postponement.  Now, tracking back, many things have been deleted or updated such that it is a bit hard.  But there had been a kickstarter to get the con going, and apparently a note had gone out to the backers (which I was not one) after one of the hotels had notified congoers that the con was not happening next week.  That was Friday.  It took until Saturday for me, a non-backer, but paid pass holder, to get a passive note that said as I was aware the con had been postponed and they were working on next steps.  
Now, I am going to point you to this post, which details some threads I did see on Twitter (some of which are now deleted) and some I did not.  It is abundantly clear mistakes were made, cancelling a con you've been selling tickets to with only a week's notice barring some catastrophic event is clearly only going to be a result of mismanagement.  
Sidenote: There is a pop-up con, Wicomicon and some other events now happening this weekend in Baltimore.  Many folks had non-refundable travel plans, and/or merchandise already en route to Baltimore so kudos to the folks who have worked to provide that.  Also, for other local peeps, my friends have gone to Blerdcon and enjoyed it, it's in July.  
I want to talk about crappy communication.  I heard about Universal FanCon on Twitter, so perhaps learning about it's demise on Twitter is apropos.  I don't know how others heard about it, but the assumption that I had heard already about a cancellation they had done nothing to communicate to me previously was maddening.  They had no way of knowing I had heard it was "postponed".  Also, to me postponed means we have this alternate date in mind and as soon as the contracts are signed we'll give it to you.  What is clear, from the deletions and the now updated and expanded message on the FanCon site, they planned something they didn't know how to support.  So, basically, this isn't a date problem, this is a bad plan problem, and they don't have any way to hold the same thing on a different date, they can't hold the thing they promised. They just can't.  
I get that this happens.  Sometimes the people with the big dreams are the people who keep assuming someone else is tallying costs.  I can't even imagine what the costs are needed to support such a thing, but I also know, there was a way to know sooner than last Friday that there was a problem.  There was a way to communicate to people better, and more effectively than sending a passive aggressive email on Saturday that says, we guess you heard, we'll work on better communication, that was then followed by radio silence.  The updated message on the website now promises further information by April 25th.  That is a ridiculous amount of silence.  I know their email must be overwhelmed.  But you must be kidding me.  They haven't even addressed some of the most basic questions. 
The lessons to be learned here are about communicating better and I don't think the excuse that the hotel forced them to reveal too soon is sufficient.  I get that people have family and other jobs, I get that tough messages suck to give out, but to be this many days and to mostly have only a nebulous something will happen and maybe we'll give your money back this many days later is absolutely unacceptable.  
I am lucky, I am just out tickets since I am close enough that I can train up, and I tend to be loosey goosey with pre-booking train tickets.  I also paid by credit card, so I have some options as far as recouping my costs.  I'm a little bummed that I decided not to attend AwesomeCon this year, since I was trying to not do all the things, but I'm going to still have a great weekend.  

Monday, April 23, 2018

WRW Retreat

I went to the Washington Romance Writers Retreat - In the Company of Writers - this weekend. I had a wonderful time. Sonali Dev gave a great speech Friday night about how being a chatty child taught her the power of being a storyteller. There was a No Stupid Questions panel about networks and resources for writers. Lani Diane Rich talked about story structure. There was a wonderful YA panel with Mary Strand, Jen Malone, Katy Upperman, and Pintip Dunn. 
I did some volunteering in the afternoon and also participated with the critique workshop. It is possible I won an award for my service running the critique matchup list. Okay, fine, I did. And I appreciate it. 
We did American Author and Katharine Ashe gave a speech about owning her dream to be a romance writer. There was Romance Jeopardy which was heated and terribly unfair. 
Katharine Ashe also talked about habits writers fall into and how to bust them. And Tim Bentler-Jungr returned to wrest final introduction duties back from Mary Strand and Lori Ann Bailey talked about how all her failed dreams led her to romance writing. 
It was a great weekend and as is often the case I didn't get to talk to everyone as much as I wanted but that is kind of the best problem to have. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

7 Posts: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - An actual diagnosis

Trigger warnings for mentions of suicide and other mental illness.  Spoiler warnings for season  3 of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend". 

"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" has been taking a hard look at some of the behavior that gets lauded as kooky in some romantic comedy and what it might mean to be a person who actually does these things.  Season 2 ended with Josh leaving Rebecca at the altar and Rebecca promising revenge and season 3 starts with us learning that Rebecca's initial plans for revenge are, well, they are not great.  After sleeping with Nathan, kidnapping Josh's mom, and then sleeping with Greg's dad after an accidental butt dial, Rebecca realizes she might possibly have ruined everything and goes home to her mom.  In case you couldn't remember where some of Rebecca's bad coping behaviors come from, Rebecca discovers her mom has been drugging her.  Rebecca ultimately overdoses on the medication in an attempt to commit suicide. In the hospital, afterwords, they are able to diagnose her with borderline personality disorder. 
Once Rebecca accepts the diagnosis, she goes all in on being the bestest patient.  I think the show does a really fabulous job of straddling the line between being humorous and yet serious, and I think this season has really tested that.  Rachel's borderline personality disorder is shown as serious, and yet, they also show how some of the tendencies and behaviors are the things that got her through law school and made her successful.  The idea of your strengths also being your weaknesses is often explored in superhero stuff and only played for laughs, haha, that neatfreak, in other shows.  
And, incredibly realistically, Rebecca's diagnosis doesn't solve her problems.  It just gives them context.  

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has both resources and a hotline with English, Spanish, and hard of hearing options. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1.  I am hopeful that the DC Metropolitan Police Department's new training program with the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be helpful. As with other groups working on plans to teach employees about race, it won't solve everything, but it is a helpful step.  Hopefully the police chief is attending a course also. 
2. My most pervasive harassment experience (and I am super lucky) involved a concert where I, among other things, had my butt pinched so repeatedly I was bruised the next day.  Music festivals create an experience that is easy for predators to capitalize on, and have you ever tried finding an employee for help in a crowd of dancing bodies?  It's not easy.  So Teen Vogue's report on what it's like at Coachella saddened but did not surprise me.  Link includes info for RAINN, if you need assistance or more info on sexual assault. 
3. Cark Kassel passed away this week.  This memoriam from the team at NPR is warm and wonderful and contains the most delightful closing photograph, 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

RIP Harry Anderson

I feel like I often reference shows that aired on reruns in the early evening. But amusingly, as someone who hates binging shows, I will watch a rerun of a beloved or even just be liked show over and over, and I think that's in part a function of how I learned to watch TV. The streaming generation will approach it differently. 
So I have seen every episode of "Night Court" multiple times. I remember all the bailiffs. I loved it. Loved it to pieces. When the pilot episode got posted up for streaming I watched afraid. So many things don't stand the test of time. But this did. I laughed. I remembered what I loved and hated about all the characters. And so I am sorry to hear of the passing of Harry Anderson. He brought me so much joy. I wish his family and friends the best. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Root of the Problem

Most have heard about the two men arrested for calmly sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia.  Calling the police on people sitting in your establishment - an establishment that has tables, chairs, and wi-fi, aka an establishment you have clearly designed to encourage folks to linger in is incorrect.  
I also think the policies that we've put into place where police are required to respond to all calls, so that nothing slips through the cracks, and that police officers seem encouraged to use discretion only when it turns out there are white people causing problems, is wrong.  
I do not think this is a problem that is created by the policies of any given coffee shop.  I think this is a huge societal problem, it is the same thing that leads store security to more closely examine shoppers of color, it is the same thing that leads to folks of color being harassed or arrested for lingering near an ATM, it is the same thing that leads to policies like stop and frisk.  So, yes, I think this is a problem.  Yes, I hope Starbucks issues better guidelines to store managers about handling customers.  And yes, I think we need to stop calling the police every time anyone does anything that seems inconvenient. 
One of the things that this study from last year found looking at things like stop-and-frisk is that the "out of place" mentality, ie, I assumed that those black people lingering by the ATM were planning to rob the bank, not trying to use the ATM, or otherwise exhibiting customer behavior because I assume black people don't bank in this neighborhood.  Or I assume these people are planning to cause trouble and not waiting to meet a friend in this coffee shop because they are black.  This doesn't ever happen in reverse.  You don't have situations where white people are the minority and they get arrested or hassled for lingering by the ATM or sitting in a coffee shop too long, even though we all know there are parts of cities where white people are less common.  So, this idea of the out of place policing, it only ever gets used against black and brown citizens.  It has no basis in fact or statistics, it does nothing to make anyone safer, and at that point you have to conclude, it's just another excuse to support white supremacy. So, yes, think hard before you call the police. The white supremacy involved in these policies is a feature and not a bug. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Let's Go Steal a Podcast

I had the pleasure of appearing on  Let's Go Steal a Podcast, a "Leverage" podcast, to discuss "The Stork Job" aka an episode about Parker!  (Fine the rest of the gang is there too.)  It was a lot of fun to revisit this episode of this great show. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1. An author travelling to the US was sent back.  Certainly authors and public figures are not the only ones I wish were treated better when trying to come and share with Americans, but it is still concerning that our system is this inconsistent.  
2. Also in writing related news, it appears some of the common MFA program rules for writing are based in anti-communism efforts spearheaded by the CIA.  
3. DC has been working to curb new HIV infection rates with a prophylactic drug program known as Prep

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

We Weren't Really Arguing About Data Anyway

One of the things that frustrates me anytime some guy writes a company memo about how women are biologically inferior for some tasks, some new author shows up to explain that men or boys don't read because too many of the books out there have girl cooties, or to ask if black romance authors even exist and write great things at rates similar to their non-black counterparts, is that then we spend a lot of time going for the data.  
Like, actually, back when we thought coding was boring secretarial work, the field was almost entirely women.  So, actually, women and girls read more by a lot, but books about boys and men are still over-represented when it comes to awards.  And maybe, just like we kept arguing that girls and women can read about boys and men, maybe the reverse should be just as true.  And yeah, there are black romance authors and yes they write books worthy of awards.  
We aren't really talking about data.  The dude who wrote that corporate memo, I swear to you has no data to back this up.  And when you listen to TV show making folks say, well, now some networks really want you to try to cast diversely and it's super hard because their just aren't good non-white actors, that's BS too.  I'm sure there are crappy non-white actors.  But I've seen plenty of crappy or mediocre white actors get roles and no one blames the depth of the casting pool on that.  So, again, these are pretend arguments.  I don't want to say don't show up with data.  Because there is someone who didn't know that coding used to be predominately female.  There is someone who didn't know that girls, especially black girls, read more, if we really want to talk about representation.  There are people who maybe didn't know some romance was written by black people.  But remember it isn't really about facts.  
The patriarchy and white supremacy are big strong systems that have only survived this long by convincing people there must be some biological differences that also affect the brain.  There must be some reason.  The fact that the first tool in their bag is bigotry isn't really a surprised.  We are all surrounded by this.  It takes work to unpack it.  Because let's face it, there's no way that this is the first sexist thing that memo dude did.  The women he worked with were, I'm guessing, only shocked by the overtness of the memo.  They already knew he thought they were inferior.  Just like John McEnroe can look at everything Serena Williams has done and still, be certain, that he played better, harder, and faster than she did.  The data does not support this on any level.  But that wasn't a discussion about data.  That was really about McEnroe and his feelings.  Even good old NPR did a piece on the lack of black writers winning RITAs and interviewed...a non-black writer to talk about it.  
And that gets me to the final part of this.  If you want to play the mountain molehill game and pretend that memo dude just wrote down some thoughts.  That every male author who swears they are saving some portion of books for the poor boys who can't find books about boys to read. That every guy who swears it's ridiculous for him to be fired if he maybe accidentally grabbed someone's ass at a professional event one time.  It's never one time.  It isn't.  (We could also argue that making your co-workers feel unsafe one time is enough, but that is a whole other discussion.)  You get to a place where you feel cool saying and doing these things because lots of time when you do, others nod.  They smile.  And you may miss that half of them were gritting their teeth, or sucking it up, because the landscape is littered with people who reported these things to the powers that be and watched nothing happen.  Or were retaliated against.   You get to a place where you feel like you've addressed the diversity problem because you talked to an author of color, even though they weren't of the group you supposedly wanted to talk about the discrimination of.  Close enough.  That's not a data problem.  It's a basic societal problem. 

Friday, April 06, 2018

Three Interesting Things

1.  This discussion of how Orientalism is still pretty mainstream in US entertainment is correct. 
2. Teach Me Tonight posted a link to some of the conversations about the RITA awards and race
3. I snapped up Dread Nation this week (and folks, I do not like zombie books) so enjoyed this interview with author Justina Ireland

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Big problems in My Home Chapter

So, I am going to talk about a thing that happened. I am going to offer a lot of disclaimers and be vague about some things not to protect myself. But because this is one example of a bigger thing that RWA needs to work on and that chapters need to work on. 
Earlier this year there was a chapter meeting with a guest speaker. I did not attend. Several of my friends in the chapter did. 
I heard about it very quickly.   
The speaker had been disorganized and rambly. That happens not infrequently with writers asked to speak alone for long periods. Not everyone is the best judge of how many hours they can fill. It was a single speaker scheduled for the whole day. Some people left after lunch which happens a lot, people have busy schedules. 
In the afternoon session was where things got problematic. The speaker made a comment about how political correctness made humor hard and then followed it up with another statement that began, "I'm not a racist, but...". 
I know that in the room people were uncomfortable. I know that some people were there for there very first meeting. And several talked amongst themselves after the meeting. Some of the newbies reached out to the membership chair and were encouraged to reach out to the board and some discussion occurred on the chapter loop after. 
The ultimate decision of the board was to add a disclaimer that speakers so not represent the views of the chapter and to set up a specific complaint email so it's easy for folks to see where to complain. 
Several things were clear to me as a result of this: 
I totally believe that what this speaker said was a problem. 
Not everyone in the room or on the chapter's board did. 
The response of the board was insufficient at best. 
We lost members as a result and we deserved to. 
I also think we as a group can and should be better and I decided, for the time being, to remain a member to push for change. 
Volunteer run organizations all have resource issues and that does mean not everyone is equipped or ready to handle problems. That doesn't excuse bad responses, and the fact that I think everyone involved meant well doesn't change the fact that no one should pay our chapter money so they can go to meeting that causes harm. 
A lot of the work we need to do will need to happen behind the scenes and I'm well aware that it will take time and I also have thought about where my personal line is that I will walk with my money rather than stay and push. I do have one. But I also have more positive experiences on the scale and cannot as I said expect anyone to give our chapter the benefit of the doubt when we haven't earned it. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

7 Reasons You Might Not Have Noticed

The RWA board released the following statement Friday. There were (and continue to be) a variety of reactions.  It's not a fix.  But acknowledging the problem is the first step.  Some authors asked about other authors of color, Native, etc.  We're not going to fix all of this quickly, but steps are being taken and that's good.  As long as we don't stay stuck in the information gathering phase, then good.  
And some of the reactions were, sigh.  So, here's seven reasons you might not have noticed that there has never been a black author winning a RITA (that wasn't a lifetime achievement) or wondered openly on the internet if there even are black romance authors.  Or readers
1. You're white.  Some of you just recoiled.  They don't have to be.  They just might not have noticed.  I know. There are six more reasons.  But if you joined an organization it's just normal to look around either before or after you joined and look for people who look like you.  Yes that look like you can take many forms:  gender expression, class expression, age, ability, and so on.  But if you didn't notice if there were black people in the organization, if your first response was maybe there aren't black authors, I'm going to assume you are white.  
2.  You are new to North America.  That may seem a big jump, but between We Need Diverse Books and #WeNeedDiverseRomance and #OscarsSoWhite there has been a ton of discussion about how media in North America does not honor and award creators of color at a similar rate to white ones.  Now publishing is, in my humble opinion, doing a tiny bit better with Asian Americans, than Hollywood is, but that's a discussion that's been going on. The Ripped Bodice has been collecting numbers on authors for two years.  And those numbers are pretty similar to the kids books numbers that get published every year too. RWA acknowledging the issue and taking steps to gather better data is joining into a larger discussion already in progress.  
3. You're new to RWA.  Like so new.  So new you don't remember when Brenda Jackson was the first black RITA award winner, or when Beverly Jenkins was the second.  Both for lifetime achievement.  
4. You don't read.  I mean, look, some people are visually impaired and not everything works great with assistive devices, but RWA has posted studies on romance readers.  If you are still playing the there aren't any black romance readers game, then you must not read.  In fact there were questions on the survey results, since several authors felt it likely undercounted readers of color.   
5. All your friends are white.  Maybe there isn't a local chapter where you are.  Or there is but your chapter is very white.  Somehow you've managed to exist in RWA without noticing folks that aren't white.  Or are black.  
6. All your readers are white.  This isn't a fault thing. You can't help who your readers are. But if all your readers are white, when the most read folks often aren't, well, that might mean your marketing is bad.  Also, since I was just at a huge reader event, I will tell you this also means you haven't been to a multi-author event, like say even the RWA Literacy signing.  
7.  You don't like money.  I don't want to conflate readers and authors.  Black authors don't only write black characters, and black readers don't only read black characters.  But part of the larger discussion is that it's a vicious circle.  If RWA honors great romance books and yet seems to ignore those by black authors, then readers have to wonder how useful the awards are.  It will likely never be perfect, there are whole years you couldn't pay me to see any of the Oscar nominated movies, but it's ridiculous to pretend this isn't something we should work on.  But if you still think, today, that there aren't black readers looking for romance, then you are willfully ignoring a segment of the reading population.  You can do that.  There are plenty of authors who do.  But RWA is seeking to serve more authors than that.  For which I am grateful.