Serious

This is not the week to post light-hearted pop cultural things, I’m thinking. At least not for me.

As a generic white chick, I believe that everything I could say has been said elsewhere, so I will briefly state my official position: neo-Nazis are bad, “disaffected young men/women” who just kinda sorta happen to hang out with neo-Nazis are not really worth distinguishing from same (like, being merely a cheerleader for white supremacy instead of the QB does not actually get you points) and also are pathetic in a way where I actually don’t feel at all sorry for them, calling for genocide/slavery/etc is not “free speech,” and Indiana Jones had the right idea about a lot of things. (Though other peoples’ artifacts should probably remain where they are, and also snakes are pretty neat, really.)

Furthermore, most of the statues people are freaking out defending went up considerably after the Civil War as a stupid passive-aggressive statement against civil rights.  And a lot of them, as per this post a friend linked me to, are both cheaply made and goddamn terrifying (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/08/hollow), like, not even in a societal implications way (although there’s that) but in the sense that they’ve bought a summer home in the Uncanny Valley.

So yeah. Later, once I’ve thought it out, I may post something about the times when “loyalty” is not a virtue; still later, there will likely be vacation observations, including Notes on Watching Columbo With My Parents, Further Customs of My People Such As The Hierarchy of Gin, and maybe my ranking of paranormal dude types. For the moment, this is my post.

Also, the Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/) has been doing wonderful work, and could use a donation.

If you would like a distraction, though, and God knows I’ve needed one from time to time, my latest recommendation is We Rate Dogs, or Googling “snakes in hats”. They’re snakes! In hats!

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Rites of My People

Been a while! I’m hoping to get back to a regular schedule now, though. (Also, if you have any subjects you’d like me to write about, please let me know via email or comments–I draw a blank, some weeks.) And as I’m going on vacation this weekend, and a friend said I should, I’m going to describe the Dance of WASP Non-Obligation: one I learned mostly from my dad’s people (and my mom, so either this also extends to Boston Irish Catholics  or Mom acclimated really well over the years) but which was also familiar to a friend from an older generation in the actual Midwest.

See, those of my ancestry on one side of the family, perhaps in internal psychological compensation for hundreds of years of actually invading people’s land and taking their stuff on a national basis, have established the following guidelines:

1) Being a Bother *might* be the worst possible thing you can do, rivaled only by Making a Scene. You know how serial killers’ neighbors go on TV and say that Mr. Human Pancreas Casserole “kept to himself” and “never bothered anyone”? That’s kind of the ideal, except for the cannibalism–in part because that kind of thing, as the song says, is almost sure to cause a scene.
2) You, as a host, are obligated to offer refreshments.
3) You, as a guest, must assume that any offer made is only out of obligation, and actually fulfilling it would involve a level of effort, on the host’s part, somewhere between “raising a barn” and “donating a kidney.”
4) You, as a host, must assume that your guests are assuming this, and secretly are yearning in their very soul after whatever you’re offering.

This leads to the following exchange, where A is the host and B is the guest.

A: “Would you like a cup of tea?”

B: “Oh, no thank you. I’m good.”
A: “Are you sure? I was going to make one for myself…”
B: “…well, if you’re making one anyhow…”

Accepting the first offer is too close to asking, and One Never Asks For Refreshments. (One may, in desperate circumstances, ask for money or blood, but never refreshments. One of my first memories is asking one of Dad’s colleagues for gumdrops out of a bowl on her desk, and Mom reading me a mild version of the riot act, because You Wait To Be Offered.*)

The basic principle here is that, well, if a beverage is going to manifest in your general location, you can drink it. You just can’t, you know, take steps to actualize said manifestation.

This is almost entirely mandatory, every time, with the following exceptions:

1) A may pre-empt the first exchange, as follows: “I was going to make myself a cup of tea. Would you care for any?” or “While I’m up, can I get you a beer?”

2) If A and B are immediate family, the task is pretty simple, and A is already getting up. “Mom, while you’re in the kitchen, can you bring me back an orange?”

3) If the invitation to A’s house was specifically for refreshments, and then it goes into Double Secret Overtime Probation Coffee Rules, to wit:

You can’t be the first one to suggest a specific beverage. (In this day and age, if your host offers a choice of wines, you *can* opt for water, but that’s it.) You definitely can’t ask if your host *has* a specific beverage: They Are Not Running a Restaurant. If your host offers a list of choices, you can theoretically pick one nobody’s chosen yet, but in practice everyone feels weird about being the first person to ask for tea or decaf when everyone else is having coffee, so someone in the household usually needs to go for that in order to break the ice.

Questions

Q. How the hell long does it take to get a drink?

A. I have known the procurement of a cup of tea to last a good ten minutes before anyone puts the kettle on.

Q. How does this intersect with that meme about sexual consent and tea?

A. Either it demonstrates the failure of any given metaphor to account for the rich and varied tapestry of human existence, while still functioning well at making its point, or it demonstrates why Casanova was not a WASP from the Pittsburgh suburbs. Probably both.

Q. What about cocktails?

A. Oh Jesus that’s an entire book. Suffice it to say that a) one drinks what’s poured, b) mostly the host will have the shaker prepared a good fifteen minutes before anyone shows up, and c) no, you don’t get options, you drink what the season dictates you drink, lest people start drinking gin and tonics in November, which is the sort of thing that leads directly to anarchy and communism.

*This is pretty much true of any situation involving pleasure or convenience. There was a giant post about “ask” versus “guess” culture a while back, vis-a-vis someone wanting to stay with a friend while vacationing in New York, and I found both options culturally *horrifying*: if you *have* to go to New York, like for a job interview, that’s one thing, but if you’re just vacationing, the only option is to go ahead and book a hotel room, then tell your friend that you’ll be there from X to Y if they want to get lunch sometime, then go through a version of the Dance involving “Are you sure I won’t be a bother?” and “No, we’d love to have you!” If your friend has already issued a “you’re totally welcome to crash any time you’re up here” generic-invite, that’s one thing, though you still have to add “but I can totally get a hotel room if that doesn’t work for you” and so forth when you do ask.

One Does Not Drop Hints.

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The Fance-Pantsiest Words Available

Let’s be real. A long weekend is upon us here in the US, so my brain is elsewhere, and I’m guessing at least half my audience won’t be at work tomorrow–or, alternatively, their bosses won’t.

Thus, a bit of nostalgia: Strong Bad discusses romantic writing. Here.

I’m not saying I use any of the techniques described, but…I’m not saying I don’t.

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Forgiveness and Dr. Strange

There’s a pun somewhere there, but the whole thing lends itself to puns, which seems to be a thing that happens when you create characters in the seventies.

Anyhow, I saw Doctor Strange this past weekend, as one of the MCU movies that pops up on Netflix from time to time. (There’s also Civil War, which I should really watch but will make me yell at the screen and fume about failed analogies, so I keep putting it off even though I know it’s good.) I really liked it; I don’t see the point of making Benedict Cumberbatch do an American accent when you could have tweaked the character’s background on basically the sub-atomic level (seriously, nothing about the dude changes if he starts off an arrogant doctor in London rather than NYC) and pleased a whole section of the fanbase more; but I’m a fan of the more trippily mystic elements of comic universes in general, and the movie didn’t let me down.

(I do disagree with the casting of the Ancient One, but I feel like other people have talked about that more and better already.)

As usual, I like when people are generally adults, and don’t flail around all Personal Issues when the world needs saving (TONY STARK) (HAL FUCKING JORDAN). Strange kept his flailing to a minimum, kept it fairly relevant–hey, if the AO is actually drawing power from the eldritch abomination you’re fighting, that’s a legit concern–and got his shit together once he figured out that the danger was real. I liked that.

One of the things I give the movie particular points for was where Strange ended up regarding his ex: that they had a civil working relationship, they love each other in their own ways, but clearly (hopefully, since one can never count on screenwriters) aren’t getting back together. He was an asshole, and while he sincerely regrets it, apologizes, and isn’t an asshole now, she’s moved on. Appropriately for the movie’s theme, you can’t repair some things, and good intentions aren’t enough to reverse time.

And I love it.

I often say that I don’t believe in forgiveness, at least not for anything severe or for a long-term pattern of behavior. (Everyone flakes from time to time; everyone snaps at people when it’s been a long day; but if you harm someone, especially maliciously but not even necessarily that, or are a dick repeatedly and persistently, that’s different.) And that’s mostly true, but not entirely.

If you’ve been an asshole–say, if you’ve acted like your talent meant you didn’t have to care about people and then been horrible to someone who was trying to help you–you don’t have to stay an asshole, but that means…you don’t stay an asshole. You go off, you get whatever help you need (without expecting unpaid emotional labor from family and friends), and you essentially make yourself a different person, someone who wouldn’t do those things. Then you apologize (sincerely and without trying to justify yourself), you make what amends are possible given the situation, you consistently and for a long period of time demonstrate that you’ve changed…and you accept the consequences of what you did.

And sometimes, those consequences are that the relationships you had are no longer possible. That’s not wrong. Forgiveness isn’t obligatory. Bad memories are hard to forget, and it’s not really possible to make yourself love someone again–especially if the reason you stopped loving them in the first place is self-preservation. Nobody should have to make nice with people who hurt them, much less re-enter a romantic relationship with them.

Sometimes, the price of becoming a better person is that you have to go and be a better person somewhere else, with different people.

That’s not wrong.

One of the romance genres I have the hardest time reading is exes getting back together. There are scenarios that can make it work, but they basically all come down to either external intervention being the cause of the breakup (“sorry I have to go fight the French oh hey now you think I’m dead”) or the original relationship being a teen thing, and both of them meeting again when they’re adults (and *not* having carried a major torch for each other ever since, because…adults, FFS). Generally, if things don’t work out between two people, they’re not going to work out on the second try.

Even if you can manipulate time, you don’t get do-overs.

Well done, screenwriters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sample

I can’t think of anything to write about this week. LARPs will do that. 🙂 Meanwhile, here’s a sample chapter from the novel I’m writing, in which my heroine is on the road with a mysterious teenager and an elven warrior. In 1989.

  • * *
  • The van banged into our rear bumper, rocking us sideways and forward. I caught myself on the back of the seat and bit my lip: screaming won’t help, screaming won’t help, screaming. Won’t. help.  

     

    Would anything?

     

    I twisted around to look at the van. It was a decent double of the one they’d dragged me and Rose into back in Boston: fair-sized, with no markings. A guy in a suit rode shotgun, though thank God not literally that I could see. The driver was a girl younger than me, with long pale purple hair and a fan of mauve shadow over each eye, visible even through two layers of glass and a bit of distance. Even if I didn’t know Rose’s real identity, I would have recognized her. I watch TV occasionally.

     

    “Sparcyl,” I said.

     

    “Ohno,” said Rose. It all came out one word, under her breath.

     

    “Guessing she’s gonna do more than play the guitar,” I said, my voice all high and brittle. We whipped around another turn. My seatbelt bit into my side, and I was sure I’d have bruises for days, but that was so not the main concern.

     

    “They all can.” She sounded hopeless. I didn’t blame her.

     

    There were no other cars on the road, and no houses to either side of us. The water in the quarry was black and motionless. Maybe it wasn’t hundreds of feet down, just fifty or sixty, but that would be more than enough, and the quarry walls looked steep. This was where you got maniacs in hockey masks, or you came to throw stuff off the Talahatchee Bridge. Nobody would help us.

     

    Sathinal was a set of narrowed blue eyes, a pair of white-knuckled hands on the wheel, and a neck with the muscles corded in strain. I knew he was flooring it, or as much as he could manage under the circumstances, but the van had the inside lane. They could ride along the shoulder at ninety without killing themselves. We weren’t nearly so lucky.

     

    Wham again, this time on the side, and our tires skidded as Sathinal yanked the wheel to the right and the car away from the railing. The landscape outside my window spun: water, fence, half-paved road. We shot forward. I clung to the door handle to try and hold myself still. Mostly I broke three nails and felt like I was pulling my shoulders out of their sockets.

     

    Inside my head, I stopped cursing only to pray or shriek. Rose was praying aloud, though I didn’t think it was one she’d learned from Sunrise, just a whispered nopleasenopleasenopleaseno that rose and fell in the rhythm of sobs.

     

    I wanted to reassure her. I wanted to reassure myself. Neither one was happening.

     

    Then, as the road straightened out, the van caught up with us. In a moment it had pulled ahead. I gasped when I saw it suddenly veer left – not pulling in front of us like a normal car, but splaying itself across the road and braking, hard.

     

    SHIT.” I did scream then, as Sathinal slammed on our brakes. The tires squealed again, the brakes themselves screeched, and I waited to find out what death by car crash would feel like. I’d heard cars didn’t blow up as much as they did in movies. I didn’t know if that was true if you t-boned a van, or what side the gas tank was on, and I would have started crying if I’d had time.

     

    Then we stopped. My head slammed back into the seat, I saw stars and almost lost the word Sathinal was saying.

     

    Sword.

     

    Right. Okay. Yeah. I fumbled for the bag and handed it to him before my vision was entirely clear. We didn’t have a lot of time.

 

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Non-Recommendation: Anne with an E

Due in part to Project Gutenberg and a lot of boring temp jobs, I’m more than passingly familiar with the Anne of Green Gables series. It’s fun, and I feel like it holds up well as an adult, or at least that you can derive amusement out of it from different angles. (Like, the secondary protagonist in Anne’s House of Dreams has *all* the angsty backstory. Seriously. It’s like she was created in a Victorian chicklit version of the Traveler system.) (For those less geeky and old than me.)

Netflix announced a series based on the book, and I liked that idea; I’d seen the original miniseries and liked it, but wasn’t super attached. (A child of the Disney era, I’m pretty chill about remakes as a rule.) Make it a gritty exploration of the orphan-workhouse-bizarro-Victorian life? Sure, why not? I’m decent at viewing the original as separate from the film version.

So I watched three episodes. The storyline wasn’t bad (one character was *way* more about The Feels than she should have been at that point in the narrative, and I do not love how people who turn historical fiction into cinema think we’re all incapable of understanding emotional nuance; like, I can get that people are feeling things even if they don’t go up to eleven when expressing them, KIERA KNIGHTLY PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) and the costumes and setting were great.

And then…the dialogue in Episode 3.

“Feminism” in 18whatever I can fanwank–it got used in France in 1857, Canada has a big French population, sure, I’ll roll with it.

And then a Victorian schoolboy says “Hey, buddy, how’s it going?” to another, and I cringed. Because: no. Slang changes. Dialects change. Pre-teens in the nineteenth century shouldn’t sound like the fratboys of my undergrad days. THAT IS NOT HOW LANGUAGE WORKS.

I thought, okay, maybe it’s a fluke, everyone makes a mistake…so I rolled with it, until fifteen minutes later, when the word “homeschooling” got used like we were watching the Real Housewives of fucking Marin County.

Annnd no.

People: I don’t demand complete historical accuracy. I’m fine with costuming and hair erring on the “looks good” rather than “exactly as it was, complete with stupid fashions” end. If you’re working with Middle English or Vikings or other sources from times when we don’t know how people actually spoke and/or it was super alien, you get more latitude–and I’m not inclined to care that much about ten or twenty years’ difference either way.*

But when you have recorded dialogue that a modern audience could easily understand, and you choose instead to use words from a clear hundred years in the future, either a) you’re lazy as hell, or b) you think your audience is stupid. I’m not fond of either quality in a scriptwriter.

*Though the editorial department at Sourcebooks is great about letting me know when my vocabulary is jarringly out-of-time, and their resource does seem to hit within the ten-or-twenty year mark, even for medieval stuff. They have Skills, those people.

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Hulu Shows Without Romance

…though with plenty of sex. Just, much of it isn’t the kind you want to watch, or at least I really hope so.

I’ve been enjoying Harlots (…yeah, there’s no good way to write that) and, while I don’t know if “enjoying” is the right word for watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 2017, I’ve found it very well-done and compelling. I didn’t set out to make this the Spring of TV Shows About Women Defined By Sexuality In a World Somehow Even More Sexist Than Ours, nor do I think Hulu did, but it does seem to be a theme. Also bright colors, tiresome religious fanatics, and men being ninety-three percent useless.

This is where we’re going today. Spoilers for everything through Episode 4 of Handmaid’s Tale (and the book) and everything through Episode 7 of Harlots.

Like I said, these are both stories focused on women, specifically women who aren’t “respectable,” in situations where men, particularly white men, have way more power. And they also set up scenarios that I’ve seen used for romance in both published fiction and fanfic: the virgin about-to-be-prostitute who needs a protector and the jaded nobleman who’s been burned by women; the servant and the master of the house who starts encouraging her societally-forbidden interests; the woman who wants to get away and the man who’s in a position to maybe help her but can’t let his superiors find out. I’ve read a fair number of variants on these dynamics and, don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed them.

But both these shows do a good job of showing the other ways it should–and usually *would*–go, and it’s not romantic at all.

One of Lucy’s would-be “keepers” in Harlots is cute and urbane–he also gets all weird with a knife and a pomegranate, enjoys her discomfort, and oh, right, actually belongs to a club of serial killers. (I was going to say the Hellfire Club with extra murder, but it turns out that the actual HC was also way less rapey and admitted women as equals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellfire_Club_) so well done, 1700s hedonists; also they probably had very little to do with Jean Grey’s confusing love life, which is another point in their favor.)

The other guy, also physically attractive and kind of puppy-dog earnest when we meet him, spends his wife’s money so recklessly that her tenants suffer (thanks, 1700s), is ludicrously and disgustingly petty to his servants, and…is also a rapist, with the extra-creepy motivation of getting back at his mistress for not taking him seriously/maybe flirting with another guy by sleeping with her younger sister. And I find him more resonant than Guy 1, because Charming But Actually Murderous is a thing, but Guy 2 is really what the men who make a public show out of “being hurt before” or “tired of women’s games” or whatever tend to be like: petty, pouting, and deeply resentful of any suggestion that they might not get and deserve whatever they want or that the people they’re paying to act nice might not actually love them.

Similarly, the Commander in Handmaid’s Tale, as other people (especially on Previously.TV, the Tor.com reread, and the AV Club) have noted, is really invested in the idea that the woman who has to have sex with him should also have to enjoy his company. Both Atwood in the book and the writers of the series do a great job at using the trappings of romance — the secret meetings, the witty banter, the small acts of kindness — in a way that makes it clear just how awful they all are in that situation. In a very different scenario, this could maybe be a genuine attempt to connect by someone whose choices are also limited (although even then, given the grotesque power imbalance, there could be no meaningful consent), but it’s very clear that the Commander is one of the people who set up this whole horrible world. He made the restrictions, which makes it an absurd pantomime of generosity when he grants Offred small exceptions to them. Like the asshole in every customers_suck story who complains when the waitress doesn’t smile enough, he has to be aware on some level that she’s not choosing to be there, and yet he wants the appearance of joy, or of genuine desire.

Similarly, I like that the guy who thwarts June and Moira’s escape starts out being nice and helpful. He’s not barking orders or insulting June like Coffee Shop Douche in flashbacks. He offers a hand, he’s understanding…and then he makes sure she goes back to the hellhole she escaped from. It was a good touch. They’re frequently nice and helpful, right up until they have a reason not to be.

There are men with good intentions in these shows, but they’re not in a position to do much with them. In Harlots, William and Daniel mostly serve as the voices of conscience for Martha and Charlotte, respectively. (William going after Harriet’s kids may be the exception. I’ll report back after I see how that turns out.) Neither are rich, or powerful, and for the time and place, both face racial animus, William more so. Two constables seem to want to do the right thing most of the time, but end up covering their own asses more than doing any good. Charles and Emily seem to hate each other most of the time, and he spends much of the first season as an enforcer for his creepy mom, even if he does treat her nicely when Quigley’s not looking. Nick, in The Handmaid’s Tale, “wishes” he’d just driven off with June rather than hand her over to the state torture squad, but…he didn’t, and if he’d tried, they’d likely both have ended up dead or worse. Luke seemed to be a good guy, but he’s also either dead or in Canada, and either way he’s not a lot of help.

One of the AV Club’s comments about Harlots, which I agree with, is that it’s good there’s no white male savior figure in the picture, and I feel the same about The Handmaid’s Tale. The whole “power corrupts” deal seems to hold true in both universes, and associating with power…well, sometimes it helps you. Sometimes, occasionally literally, it just gets you fucked.

 

 

 

 

 

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