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I have a blocky black smartphone, which I resent because I don't have any interest in doing smartphone things, and all of the functions of the phone seem optimized for someone who likes smartphones. (A reasonable starting point for a designer of smartphones, but nevertheless.) I do like that it's a utilitarian black rectangular prism that seems to hope I won't look at it much and won't notice it if I do. In that way, this phone and I are sympatico, and I feel a certain amount of affection for its hardware even as I'm annoyed by the software (a summary of my entire life as concerns technology).

Anyway, I have this smartphone because Ciro insisted WhatsApp would be critical to my social life, because it's how everybody here communicates. Whether that's true remains to be seen, because I don't know much of anybody here. However, I have embraced WhatsApp as a means of talking to my best friend Valancy, because it is a very effective means of being silly across large distances for zero money, and we are now looking at an 8 hour time difference (but maybe an effective four hour difference, because I am a night owl and she is a lark. As much as I prefer it when we are geographically convenient, I think our body clocks only synch up if we're on opposite sides of a continent.) Last night I sent not only texts, but voice messages, selfies, and some emoticons. In other words, I have done it up in as full a manner as can be smarphoned.

It ocurred to me this morning (middle of the night for her) that, particularly given the black blockiness of the phone, I could start leaving long philosophical voice memos as though this were a pre-internet dictaphone with small magnetic tapes that had to be mailed. In other words, I could become the Agent Cooper to her unseen Diane. The appeal is obvious, but the flaw in such a plan is I'm pretty sure she hasn't seen Twin Peaks and wouldn't particularly like it. (Maybe she has/would? She likes mysteries. And I think liked Mulholland Drive ok. I'm horrible at guessing what people don't like.)

Still: dictaphone. The appeal of using my most contemporary techology as a way to replicate the function of an obsolete technology doesn't need further explanation.

On the subject of time travel, I have made a friend, if it's not too soon to say that about someone you've known for less than a week, who is Italian and lives in the next town over but speaks good English and is excited to have someone to speak English to. I hope I am a little appealing in some other ways, but I'll take it. I can say with fairly good confidence that she's the sort of person I'd like even were it not for the convenience of being able to make myself understood; she's a cheerful and guilelessly nosy family doctor with whom I could happily chat over tea for the next few decades. She reminds me of so many of the people I like it's not worth listing them.

In any case, although she's definitely very happy to live in the town where she lives, where she also grew up and went to school, to the extent that it's astounding to her that I might choose to move someplace on a whim, she did spend two years living in Connecticut when she was a teenager and is wistful for some of the opportunities in America. The America she describes is extremely meritocratic, and if you are smart and work hard, you will be given many chances to succeed; whereas here in Italy, there is still a lot of old-boy network stuff (she didn't know to call it that, that's me) and there are more qualified people than there are positions. I tried to explain (without slamming on the U.S., because I am loyal about not talking smack on the U.S. while overseas) that in fact those are also problems in the U.S., but she won't hear of it. She thinks I have not been in Italy enough to know how totally different the scale is.

Maybe that's true, but I have an alternate theory, which is that she's wistful for 1999 and 2000, when it did seem like the future was thoroughly and permanently bright, before the dotcom crash and the mortgage bust and the banking collapse and the major economic contraction, before endless war and American torture facilities and the resulting anarchy and massive refugee crisis and paramilitarization of U.S. police forces and rise of xenophobia and the Tea Party. I'm wistful for that America too. Perhaps I shall record a musing on the subject using my dictaphone.
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We get proper internet on the 21st, I think; until then, we're using Ciro's cell phone as a router, which means I have no internet until I am near his cell phone. In other words, all the quiet times on my own when I'd normally do antisocial (prosocial, but not toward people in the room with me) correspondence are the same times I don't have internet.
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It seems to me that the front-loading washing machine is (has always been) broken, because after it finishes a load of laundry, it then refills with water, drains the water, refills with water, drains the water, indefinitely until we turn off the power. For the time being, we set an alarm so that we are in the room when the wash cycle completes, and can cut the power immediately after the final centrifuge but before the water refills, then wait the two minutes it takes for the door to unlock after it's lost power. It is possible that we have misunderstood how to use the washing machine, which is nothing like our American washing machine, although we have both read the manual, with the occasional help of Google Translate, and it seems unlikely we are using the washing machine improperly. We will ask our landlord.

It seems to me that our apartment door is (has always been) broken, because we can lock it from the outside but not from the inside, and if one of us is inside and the other one locks it from the outside, the one inside can't unlock it. It is possible we have misunderstood how to use the door lock, which is nothing like our American door lock. It is a door lock that throws no fewer than 5 deadbolts and which has an interior keyhole instead of a thumb turn. It seems unlikely that anyone would intentionally build a door which couldn't be locked or unlocked from the inside and then put an interior keyhole in it decoratively. We will ask our landlord.

I'm beginning to be resigned to the idea that I'll have to make my own stationery. I have ascertained that stationery is sold at tobacconists', and this has been confirmed by several paper store owners, booksellers, gift store propriters, and at least one paper crafts artist. Paper for writing letters to send in the mail: only at tobacconists'. However, I have only found any at one tobacconist's, and it was in an unlit corner behind a lottery machine, covered in dust. And the clerk would not sell me a set of it; she instead opened it and sold it to me by the sheet, one sheet plus one envelope for one euro, and seemed kind of upset by the idea that I might want to send a letter that's more than a page long.

In general when I have asked about stationery there has been a tone of either disgust or else delight at my exotic whimsy. I can only compare to being a Japanese person in America trying to find someone who sells horsemeat. Pescara is pretty damn literate - bookstores everywhere, notebooks and diaries for sale everywhere, newspapers that run essays by Umberto Eco, people who finger-type novel-length WhatsApp messages - so I'm currently working from the ethnographic theory (based on no research) that non-local mail service was extremely unreliable until very recently (and perhaps even now), which stopped epistolary culture from developing.

It is also possible that I have repeatedly, repeatedly misunderstood and been misunderstood, or am accidentally sending out some kind of underworld signal (where this specific category of papergoods function similarly to colored bandanas). I don't think my landlord would be able to help and frankly don't want to risk asking given that this seems to be fraught emotional territory.

Was in the middle-grade-reader section of a bookstore (approximately my Italian comprehension level, although with a dictionary to hand) and found two pretty great illustrated guides to the Italian constitution and also an overview of the mafia. That was pretty much the civics section. I haven't bought any of the books but obviously want them. Currently reading The Goldfinch, and was pleased to note the author hails from Greenwood, Mississippi, land of my forefathers (specifically the father of my father; also his father) and therefore has almost certainly visited Cottonlandia, the only thing to do when you are a child visiting Greenwood, Mississippi. (Just visited their website, which says "Since our museum is about so much more than cotton, [it really isn't] our Board of Directors made the decision to change our name from 'Cottonlandia Museum' to 'The Museum of the Mississippi Delta'!" Cottonlandia forever I will never forget.)
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Tons of stuff to set up, which is a combination of easy and fun and time consuming. It's the same moving stuff that would exist anywhere, plus the added level of complication that I'm in a culture where things are definitely not open 24 hours and I speak the language badly and I don't know many of the brand names. It's been weirdly hard to find mid-range stationery, and since I know I've found mid-range Italian stationery while outside of Italy, I suspect that either I'm looking in the wrong kind of store or that because these are small shops with limited space and it's back-to-school time, none of the stationery is on display right now because instead that space is being used for backpacks and binders.

Another example is that it took me until today to find the kind of chocolate bar I wanted, because I didn't know whether they were sold at cafes or tobacconists or vending machines or pharmacies or what. I found some at the supermarket, which required finding a supermarket rather than a fruit market, meat market, etc. There has to be another source for chocolate bars. Not that I'm not happy with the supermarket, but I'm mystified. I have however found a really good hot chocolate cafe that's right around the corner from me, FYI if you come visit.

The composition book I brought over to be my notebook was stolen (along with a bunch of other stuff; I'll write about it sometime) so I had to jump to a backup; specifically, I went from someone carrying around a generic composition book and The Martian to somebody carrying a Moleskine and short stories by Roberto Bolano, which obviously signals a different set of values, like the value of being pretentious and insufferable. (Never mind that I am someone who had in my suitcase a Moleskine and Bolano book. Private selves and public selves are not the same.) However, I discovered today that Moleskine is an Italian brand and the reason it's everywhere here is not the same as the reason it's everywhere in the States. Here it kind of is the generic composition book. So I feel a bit better about that.

Also I stole from Ciro and have already finished reading Americanah, which I liked very much even though its main character is a writer (as are the main characters of everything Bolano) and writers writing about writers, with the presumption that the readers are also writers or aspiring writers, is something I generally try to avoid. No helping it at the moment, I suppose.
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Have been in Pescara three days. Have keys to the apartment and have been in and out of the (beautiful) apartment, but we're still in the (overly expensive but makes good breakfast pastries) hotel until we have electricity sometime next week.

Being in Italy long term is less strange for me than occupying a beach town. I'm living in shade and sunscreen but have freckled considerably, hair has lightened, skin is darker. My optimal climate, speaking in terms of genetics and not temperament, is the south of England - dim, damp, and temperate - so I'm firmly in Elizabeth Barrett Browning territory, assuming she needed lots of bug spray.

It's not much like New Mexico, but they have hot peppers as well as pine nut ice cream, so I pretend it's exactly like New Mexico to annoy Ciro. The sea is kiddie wading pool depth to at least 300m out, which puts me in the unique-for-me situation of needing a swimsuit that doesn't have to stand up to any swimming - consequently a mismatched push-up bikini with minimal coverage, because that's what's for sale. Cup sizes here, if you're curious, are numbers instead of letters - C is 3, D is 4, etc.

Went ahead and cut off the back of my hair so it's short all around - easier to manage when I'm in and out of the water. I'm fixated on the idea that I now look too much like Shailene Woodley, even though my face doesn't look like Shailene Woodley and my hair doesn't look like Shailene Woodley's hair.
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Completed my annual routine whereby I try to see some shooting stars but fail to, in the process of which I am eaten by mosquitoes despite bathing in DEET.
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Preparing, preparing for the long trip. Mostly tedious. Lots of wading through phone trees to cancel recurring subscriptions or request paper copies of records.

For luggage reasons and because it was probably past time, I've bought a dedicated camera bag. I feel slightly awkward about it because the only bag with the right configuration to accommodate the number of camera bodies and lenses I use has Canon branding all over it, and I'm a Nikon girl. I'm trying to think of it like a false flag operation, the way people who street-park nice bicycles will sometimes spraypaint them to look rusty and not worth stealing. Here I am with this scuffed up used bag with a mismatched strap, labeled with the name of an entry-level small-format DSLR.

I'm trying to think of it like that mainly because although I have a NASA patch that I think would look great in the place where the logo is, I also think securely affixing it would mess with the bag's water resistance. Anyway, it's pristine inside and should make my life easier.


Aug. 7th, 2015 02:55 pm
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Pimple on my chin in the same place I always get a pimple on my chin. It's like that one pore freaks out every six months or so and decides, to hell with it, I'm going my own way. But it doesn't really have the bravery to stick it out and become a new limb and so it quickly retreats, and tries to blend back in with the rest of my face like nothing happened. Then a few months later, it thinks, this time I'm really going for it.
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Chopped off the bottom third of my hair a few days ago, essentially out of boredom. It's unlikely I'll keep it this length for long; right now I look like a grown-out undercut redhead Amelie.

I suspect it is simultaneously too harsh and too whimsical, but am not convinced enough to change it yet.
rinue: (inception train)
Ciro leaves Sunday evening to handle Italian paperwork in Italy (my departure date still to be determined), so errands, social obligations. Very little time to work on the longshot TV pitch due Aug 3, although it's fun to write - nice to be collaborating with someone, and drafting an overview of a television series feels pleasantly like pulling together notes for an RPG campaign. Feel very definite that the dizziness and tension headaches are a stress response, although (slash because) they've been better today; the Italy move is finally in the "short horizon" stage, which I find much easier to deal with than "medium horizon."

I've noticed that planning for any large coordinated undertaking has three stages. The first one, long range, is nice because it's when you can think about the ideals and what might be possible. Medium horizon happens when it's obvious you won't get everything done in time, but you're not sure how much you can squeeze in, so nothing's cancelled yet. Just lots and lots of work on all fronts, hopelessly. Short horizon is when it's finally obvious what isn't going to fit and you can write all that stuff off as "nice dream, no way."

Skyped with Scarlett and Brian and marveled over their furry blue-eared chickens and coconut-sized avocados. Oh Hawaii you volcanic wonder.


Jul. 21st, 2015 02:13 pm
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As the saying goes, some of my best friends are men. Some of my best friends, men and women, are aweome. There’s a lot of overlap between being awesome and being my friend.

Something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that when my women friends look at how much work they’re doing at work, or around the house, or with children, they compare themselves to everyone both inside and outside that environment. There are drawbacks. For instance, that’s one of the ways women talk themselves out of asking for raises, is to notice how somebody somewhere does more than them for even less. (Whether they’d be given those raises if they asked is a different topic.) A lot of women make themselves crazy with parenting and housekeeping because if somebody’s doing it better anywhere, why aren’t you doing it that better way also? It has been demonstrated as possible, and therefore should be strived for.

In contrast, when my guy friends look at how much they’re contributing, they compare themselves only to other men in similar circumstances. Like: here’s the guy who is most similar to me, and I’m doing slightly more than him. Therefore, let’s chat about how he’s a loser and how I’m super great and should be widely applauded for being super great. I mean, I make mistakes like anybody, but not like that guy. If everybody’s agreed he’s ok and gets to stick around, then you must really want me to stick around, because I’m doing so much extra stuff.

That approach has advantages, obviously. It’s fairly close to my approach (I’m a woman) except for one thing: that “only to other men” part. I keep seeing guy friends totaly screw up their relationships (or schooling, or get fired) because they’re comparing themselves to “the average guy in this situation” and have this mental blind spot to 50% of the world, some of whom may live with them and be kicking in twice the work for less compensation.

It’s weird. It’s not something every guy does (holy crap do I know and admire some male overachievers), but it’s common even among dudes who classify themselves as feminist and have taken women’s studies courses. It’s that thing where I hear “everyman” and think “every,” but seemingly the men think there’s more emphasis on the "man," and what women do is a mystery that can’t be comprehended. Like, men do a single load of laundry like this. Women do 30 loads of laundry but was it even them? Were there small singing birds? There’s not enough data because of women’s vast uterine darkness, which makes them naturally sweet-tempered and willing to labor, like plow animals with nesting instincts. As cuckoo as cowbirds, parasitic and unappreciative of the more-than-his-man-share man.


Jul. 19th, 2015 09:41 am
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I have done my good deed for the day by helping a childhood friend comprehend that when her husband asks for an espresso maker "like all the Italians have," this is probably an acheivable and reasonable request for a small stovetop object and not a lunatic attempt to get an expensive machine that will take up half the counter. (Although sure some Italians have those too.) Possibly this has helped head off an unpleasant argument, but what's more important to me is the increased chance that now someone will get to have espresso.

Haven't been writing because I'm busy working full time plus badgering any number of government entities for official paperwork I need to send to Italy plus figuring out travel and packing plans, plus trying to pull together a pitch that packages a TV concept by sabbotabby for a (long shot) development deal in Germany. Plus all the usual random social communication and household running stuff. It's a lot to deal with, even though it doesn't seem like that much more than I usually deal with.

Unfortunately, my health has been awful since Monday. I can't tell whether it's an acute stress response or something unrelated. The symptoms are the kinds of things that could be anything, like mild dizziness and burping, without any of the things that would help you figure out if it's anything. No fever (middle ear infection), no connection to when or what I've eaten (blood sugar), no memory or spacial reasoning loss (various organic brain problems), no connection to whether I'm sitting or standing (blood pressure), and so on and so on. My conclusions so far are that my vascular system is acting weird and it's probably but not definitely cortisol. I have some alternate theories (sudden onset extreme hayfever?) I still need to rule out with all this free time I don't have to experiment on myself, and then it's off to the doctor to get someone to poke a light in my ear and order some blood tests even though I just had some.
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I always say, and mostly believe, that I'm not very good at anecdotes. However, there's a piece by/about me up at The Billfold right now, and it's pretty charming and mostly accurate. The "mostly" concerns wedding presents: tenacious people did find sneaky unsanctioned ways to give me stuff, [personal profile] valancy_jane especially. Val is oddly determined to shower me with appealing physical goods and with literal money, which I can't really complain about but basically means she has first dibs on my editorial services forever. It's like selling your soul to the devil if the devil really wanted you to be a nice person and obsessed over whether you were warm enough, not in a hellfire way but with scarves or soup.
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As you might imagine, since I am a humanist with an economics background, I find reading most punditry about the Greek austerity vote aftermath excruciating. Krugman's ok. Zizek pretty much nailed it. But most of the pieces haven't been about Greece, and politics, and humanity, but about the markets, the markets, the markets. Not the people with investiments in the markets, but the actual feelings that numbers might have. This is absurd. I don't really need to rehash what Zizek said about it.

Yet the specific agony I have is itself inhuman and concerns numbers. Perhaps you have yourself run into journalists or columnists noting that bond markets haven't panicked, which suggests they've already priced in the possibility of a Greek default.

Can you spot it? Have you guessed what makes me crazy in that last sentence?

Of course they've already priced in the possibility of a Greek default. That's why Greek bonds return high interest rates. Those interest rates literally price in the possibility of a Greek default. That's how they work. That is the function of interest rates that exceed inflation. An interest rate is you saying, "yes, I will loan you this money, but I'm not really sure you'll pay me back, so you have to sweeten the pot until I'm willing to gamble on you." It's as tautological as saying casinos may have considered the odds of a given number coming up on a roulette board and adjusted their payouts accordingly.

All of these people who muscularly assert that markets will find the right most efficient outcome don't seem to understand very well how they do that.

garden plot

Jul. 5th, 2015 05:51 pm
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The thing that makes me feel bittersweet about the impending move to Italy (exact date still to be determined; Ciro's heading over in a few weeks to do groundwork) is leaving my garden. The few people I've mentioned this to have (1) assumed I must have some transferrence here and actually be using it as a proxy for anxiety about the move, and (2) reassured me that I can start a garden in Italy. From this I know that they are not gardeners. Maybe I need to start saying "the family farm" to make it make it emotionally comprehensible to non-gardeners.

Plants are a little bit like pets and a little bit like a very long-term craft project you can't move. It takes years to put a garden together, even if you have infinite money to spend up front. You have to figure out your soil and where the sun falls every day of the year. You have to get a sense, in that exact plot, whether a given type of flower blooms in June or April, or not at all because for inexplicable reasons that plant and this yard don't get along. You spend years building up the soil, gradually adding compost and shoring up beds. You put things in the ground that don't appear until the next year, that maybe you can't harvest for another two years. You figure out what's going to re-seed and where it will probably migrate.

I have been living in Winchester for 5 years, and only this year did I manage to put in a container garden that grew in without dead spots on the first try and without overbuying, built around berry bushes I finally overwintered successfully, with sweet peas I started from seeds I collected two years ago in preparation. I planted the one type of tomato plant I know from experience thrives instead of neglecting to produce any tomatoes, and I put it in a planter I let fill with clover for the last year to fix nitrogen in the soil before I tried to plant a tomato there, and I moved that planter to a spot that would get the right balance of sun based on the shade of the maple tree once its leaves came in.

This is not something I can instantly replicate in another country, and perhaps not at all. It is likely we won't have a garden plot. It is likely we won't be in one place for more than a year, at least for the first couple years. I may be able to plant some things, and I'll certainly have some windowsill herbs, but a garden? Nah. Nor can I come back to this one; it won't wait for me. The plants I don't plant won't bloom.

However, if I do get the chance for a garden, there are some things I'd be excited to grow. Okra doesn't grow here, or figs, or cape gooseberry - not enough sun. Abruzzo's soil is right for the crocus that saffron comes from; it's known for its saffron. And hot peppers.

St. Dodo

Jun. 28th, 2015 11:41 pm
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Yesterday, I needed an Italian name starting with U to complete an acrostic and theorized "Urso" might be one, or "Ulle"; today I looked and yes they are. But more importantly so is Ursomaro, which my heart tells me means either "war bear" or "sea of bears." I did not manage to sort out which one, but did discover it traces back at least as far as a Belgian abbot in the 700s who was appointed by Pippin II and became a saint - St. Ursomaro of Lobbes, who trained St. Dodo.

I could have made all that up, but I did not. That is my main accomplishment this week, discovering St. Dodo. I also wrangled with a customer service department over a lost shipment; saw Stephanie and Ben for dinner, neither of whom I'd seen in a year, an possibly pointed them to books they'll like; loaded and unloaded the dishwasher several times; drew a skeleton; sent out story subs; sent in my passport renewal; and got the go-ahead to write an article. Yet could I ever achieve the heights of St. Dodo, the Venerable Dodo, let alone the Syrian Orthodox saint Mor Dodo, about whom there is mor information?


Jun. 28th, 2015 05:13 pm
rinue: (Star)
Yale researchers have a theory that conflicting emotional expressions are a sign of mental health and reslience - that it's a self-correcting mechanism to protect you from extreme emotional states. In that context, crying at a wedding makes sense, as does laughing at tragedy. It seems crazy to the people around you, but it's the CNS equivalent of smacking on a tourniquet.

My reaction to the Supreme Court's "gay marriage is marriage" ruling has mostly been "well, of course." But also extreme, fierce sadness, as though I've been living in occupied territory as an invisible background noise in every moment; finally liberation has come and it's safe to collapse. It feels strange to join in the celebration and say "we did it," because although I'm bisexual I have for the most part not borne much discrimination that couldn't be as equally traced to being a woman or being an artist or being an outsider or being young; my oppression has been almost entirely the need to smother my own empathy for friends and strangers who had to struggle for no reason. Nor is it my triumph in the sense of something I caused; I can flatter myself I've moved the needle for a few people as part of a larger shift in public opinion, but this is like saying I contribute to the composition of Earth's atmosphere. I do, but not with statistical significance.

I suspect "hooray, fireworks!" would be a better reaction, but I feel awful. I feel so angry. I feel so angry on behalf of my friends, and also for myself, now that I don't have to make peace and forgive. Which of course is still what has to be done. I think I am not very good at parties.
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Thursday July 10

8:00 PM The Games We Play. Erik Amundsen, Yoon Lee, Alex Shvartsman, Romie Stott (leader), Gregory Wilson.
Video games and tabletop games are an influential part of our imaginative lives. Are there times when you're reading a book and feel the game mechanics too clearly beneath the prose? Or do you enjoy imagining what a character's stats might look like? We'll look at tie-in books (like R.A. Salvatore's Chronicles of Drizzt and David Gaider's Dragon Age prequels), book-based games (like The Black Cauldron, Lord of the Rings, and the Mists of Avalon–influenced Conquests of Camelot), and the pleasure of reading gaming sourcebooks.

Your comments on this item: "I proposed this one. I've invented and run a number of tabletop-type rpgs and some of my friends are video game designers who also write fiction. I'm nerdy enough to have read some videogame tie-in works (and quite a bit of fanfiction) and boardgames appear in a lot of my work. Plus as someone with an econ degree, game theory is never that far from my mind. I have to be careful when I design magic systems or write horror that I don't quantify it too much and make it overterrestrial." (I got scooped by The Guardian, who like me recognize the awesomeness of Joshua Newman's Shock.)

9:00 PM If Magic Has Always Been Real. Karen Burnham, Lila Garrott (leader), Max Gladstone, Romie Stott, Walt Williams.
Regarding the challenges of "the world we know, but with magic!", Monique Poirier wrote, "If magic has always been real, why did colonialism and genocide roll the way it did?... It couldn't possibly be the world we know without all the painful, fucked up history. And what good is magic if it can’t have altered that?" Naomi Novik's Temeraire books address this by keeping many elements of history familiar but dramatically changing others. In Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, paranormal entities have always been there, but they hid from ordinary humans for safety and therefore lacked the ability to influence the course of history. How do other authors of historical fantasy and urban fantasy balance the inherently world-changing nature of magic with the desire to layer it on top of the world we have?

Your comments on this item: "For the last 10 years, I've intermittently worked on an alternate-history fantasy novel set during WWII. It's the hardest thing I've ever written because with almost every sentence I struggle with the question of how a world that works SO DIFFERENTLY could have come to a point in history that is so similar to ours. But I also have to set that aside and say "because this is the story I'm telling, and this is the reality I want to examine, with fantasy elements to allow me to work allegorically.""

Friday July 11

6:00 PM Solarpunk and Eco-Futurism. Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca, Jeff Hecht, Rob Killheffer, Romie Stott (leader).
In August 2014, Miss Olivia Louise wrote a Tumblr post proposing the creation of a new subgenre: solarpunk. Solarpunk, sometimes called eco-futurism, would be set in a semi-utopian future visually influenced by Art Nouveau and Hayao Miyazaki, and built according to principles of new urbanism and environmental sustainability—an "earthy" handmade version of futuretech, in opposition to the slick, white, spacebound surfaces of 1980s futurism. Solarpunk blogs have since proliferated, as Tumblr users like SunAndSilicon create and aggregate concept art and brainstorm solarpunk's technological and societal shifts, enthusiastically building a shared-world fandom with no single owner or defining central text. For some, building solarpunk is an escapist fantasy. Meanwhile, in San Francisco there have been meatspace conventions to develop some kind of manifesto, with the hope of eventually moving realworld society in a solarpunk direction. What, if any, are the precursors to this kind of grassroots genre creation? Is it an inevitable outgrowth of fan-funded niche publishing through crowdfunding? Is solarpunk's locavore pro-tech optimism in the face of climate change a distinctly Millenial backlash to Gen-X dystopias? And can the inevitable contradictions of a crowdsourced utopia survive the rigors of critical reading?

Your comments on this item: "I proposed this one."

7:00 PM Modern Gods. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Natalie Luhrs, Romie Stott, Ian Randal Strock.
Corporations, multinationals, and governments (or seats of office) can be like modern gods: they exist solely because people believe in them and build up rituals to affirm and perpetuate that belief. Non-governmental entities often have political power, and they can theoretically live forever if they can find ways to remain relevant. They fight with other "gods" and may be broken into multiple demi-gods, a place from which they rise again or simply fade away. How do portrayals of gods reflect our interactions with the godlike legal and corporate entities of the modern world? When works such as Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, Max Gladstone's Craft sequence, and Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin series explicitly address corporations, systems of government, and economic systems in fantastical settings, how do those stories resemble or diverge from folklore and fantasy about more literal gods?

Your comments on this item: "One that leaps to mind immediately is "the spectacle" (proposed by Guy Debord in a 1967 treatise), which subverts and commodifies rebellions to return people to passivity. Derrida and other French theorists also wrote about this, and it absolutely reads like SF but is philosophy."

Saturday July 12

2:00 PM The Definition of Reality. Anil Menon, Kit Reed, Kenneth Schneyer, Sarah Smith, Romie Stott (leader).
Many forms of entertainment conflate fiction and nonfiction. It's well documented that so-called reality TV is highly staged, directed, and manipulated to highlight conflict and manufacture happy (or tragic) endings. A number of memoirs have been revealed to be fiction. Some still want to believe professional wrestling is real. Fiction provides plenty of conflict, coherent narrative arcs, and satisfying endings, so why do we also demand those things from our nonfiction? Does believing something is "real" make it more entertaining? Or is this an expression of our dissatisfaction with the loose ends, bewildering occurrences, and interrupted stories of our own lives?

Your comments on this item: "There's an entire film festival devoted to work that blurs the lines between documentary and fiction; when done artfully, it sometimes happens because you can't (or can't legally) see the real thing, or have to make a choice about which of a few competing eyewitness accounts to believe so that you can move forward in the story. There's also increasing attention to the prose style called "Creative Nonfiction," which uses fiction techniques to tell heightened autobiography. I think also of Joyce Carol Oates' "Dark Water," which is fiction that doesn't really stand on its own but absolutely relies on your knowledge of the Chappaquiddick incident. Meanwhile, there's a tendency for audiences to obsessively believe that fiction is "based on" something in the author's real life, and to use an author's fiction to psychoanalyze the author. Although I want my reference nonfiction (newspapers, textbooks, trial transcripts) to be unimpeachably nonfiction, I think there's a lot of blurriness that's inevitable when you try to condense reality into some kind of orderly narrative, and it makes for a lot of guessing about what's "real.""

A 38th

Jun. 27th, 2015 06:54 pm
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
It seems like at least one in every ten lifestyle pieces I read is about New York City - rent in NYC, relationships in NYC, dogs in NYC, gardening in NYC - and today I had the charitable thought "hey, NYC is really populous. Maybe it's not weird that it's still the place every single writer is expected to write about, even though it's really too pricey a place for writers and you can hang out with publishers on the internet." So I did a search, and it looks like NYC's population is 8.4 million. So many people!

But the U.S. population is 318.9 million, so still no.

On the subject of writing, two poems by me are up at Punchnel's, "Counter Rant" and "People Yelling In German."


Jun. 26th, 2015 04:18 pm
rinue: (Default)
I've been seeing a therapist every week or two since mid May to get my stress response under control. I've mentioned before, maybe a lot, that my day job as a captioner is intensely stressful. The task itself - live to air highly abstract no-error multitasking with no concession to physical limitations - is stressful in a way that's only comparable to air traffic controllers, although in my case a plane won't crash. It also requires emotional suppression I can't compare to anything else; it's literally my job to keep an even, pleasant done while repeating whatever I hear, no matter how highly charged it is. Today, I've already captioned parts of two funerals. My last workday, I spent 4 hours on MLB Network, starting minutes after everyone there got the news their coworker Darryl Hamilton had been murdered.

Essentially, it got to the point where even when off work I was no longer able to calm down or relax or respond to things in a normal emotional way, like I had one sensitivity knob stuck at maximum and the other one jammed all the way down. If something minor happened that I didn't expect, I still got a full adrenaline surge, where all my blood moved to protect internal organs and my focus got laser so I could take care of the threat immediately. Even when it wasn't a threat or particularly urgent. Meanwhile it's been difficult for me to be emotionally present or even mentally present, because (1) feelings cause errors and (2) something absolutely gutwrenching is about to happen, so you should be ready for that. On top of which, I'm socially isolated and low on sleep, so it's been difficult to tell whether my appraisal of any given situation is reasonable or totally bizarre.

Basically, what's been established in therapy is that I'm a reasonably sane person who definitely needs to quit my job, but in the meantime and at least shortly afterward need to figure out how to re-groove my nervous system so it doesn't flood as easily. The main strategy for which seems to be meditation of literally any kind, just reminding my brain that it can be receptive instead of active. To my surprise, although it makes sense in retrospect, the best "meditation" for me has been practicing Italian, where I'm not only deliberately turning off my analytical mind and letting thoughts in the "wrong" language (English) float off the surface and not interrupt me. I have called this child mind, and apparently that was accurate. On days when I do it for even five minutes, I feel much better than days when I don't. It makes more of a difference than whether I exercise or get sunglight or enough sleep.

However the most interesting thing about therapy is how much it reminds me of piano lessons. You practice on your own all week, then show up and say "this is the work I did and how I'm interpreting this piece," and the piano teacher says "I agree with you about what you're doing well and what you aren't doing as well. Practice some more." Occasionally a small adjustment. The similarity makes sense. The metacognitive element is similar. The cost per hour is similar. But I haven't heard anybody make this comparison before; it's fairly different from the way psychologists are represented in our culture.
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