My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Should You Choose to Comment....

Image description: Major battle with the caption "Meanwhile
in the comment section."

A post in two "parts."  The first its inspiration and explanation:

Last night I got home, sat down to write, and experienced a familiar feeling that I often get at the end of vacations that have gone on just a little too long. I was homesick. I wanted to go home.

I was home.  

I love my new place so fucking hard and it's going to be spectacular once I'm in there (just yesterday I discovered two stores I love and the Lafayette reservoir–which is just a gorgeous place to hang out with some trees or jog or walk–are all within walking distance), but this move is dragging out and I was literally JUST getting settled when I started to move 2.0. This feeling of being DEEPLY in a state of transition has been going on for almost three months now (and has been building since I was asked to leave earlier this year). I didn't realize how much it was affecting me not to feel the ground beneath my feet.

So today I'm going to put in Herculean effort to be mostly done with this move by the end of this weekend. If all goes well, I'll be writing to you from Lafayette by Monday morning. I'm going to post something I already spent this morning working on anyway. It's from my Facebook page. I woke to discover some pretty nasty comments about an article I posted last night, and I realized it was probably time to remind everyone that they weren't going to get away with saying anything they wanted in the comments. I've made some edits to have it fit here.

I don't get a lot of comments here that aren't nominations for one of our reader polls, but I do get a lot on the social media where I cross post my articles--particularly Facebook. The only admin tool I've ever had to use on Blogger was to turn off anonymous commenting for a couple of weeks after Creepy Guy. But my basic rubric isn't going to change from medium to medium, so if one day we start getting robust activity in the comments, it'll be nice to have a comment policy written that I can cut and paste.

I don't like banning people.

But every time I post an article that deigns to intersect with how writing and writers affect social issues or about how language reflects societal prejudice, a few people end being shown the door.

It's not that they disagree. The comments all over this blog are filled with disagreement–it's definitely no echo chamber. The problem is they either decide to react in the most dismissive and derisive way possible ("This is SJW crap!") in which case this page is not for them, and I don't want to have to deal with them post after post, or they outright lose their composure and abusively attack other members or me for taking the time and energy to try to explain an issue or share their personal perspective on a topic. If what essentially amounts to free tutoring is going to be shat on because you wanted to "win" an argument and have the last word, Writing About Writing is not for you.

There is a one-on-one echo that exists within this reaction that I am pretty sensitive to: abusers gas lighting their victims. Instead of taking a moment to consider why someone is upset, that they are accurately able to assess their own mental state, that they can be trusted to relay when they are feeling hurt, or that their life experience may be something worth listening to, often they are told they are being hysterical or ridiculous and dismissed outright. Their feelings and even their actual experiences are invalidated. We see this in a relationship and it raises our hackles (hopefully), but when a group in social power (like men) do it to a group they have social power over (like women or gender variant folks) on a massive scale, it is considered perfectly normal behavior. And it can even cause the people who are constantly being dismissed and derided to question their own perceptions of reality.

(I think abuse and oppression have a number of shocking parallels, but maybe a post for another time.)

Let me be blunt about this. Y'all are writers. You ought to know better than anyone that words carry tremendous power...possibly even to invoke harm. No body ever silently went to war or committed genocide without words first fueling them. No one ever articulated a justification for racism or sexism that caused people actual PHYSICAL HARM without using words to do so.

And if you sit on your couch every November 5th watching a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask bloviate between the fight scenes that, "Words offer the means to meaning," and then starts a revolution because the "truth and perspectives" of his words are bulletproof, and then you imagine yourself leading said glorious revolution with your own martial arts skill and throwing stilettos, yet you then roll your eyes at those Social Justice Warriors being all "oversensitive" to  some slur you intended only to insult one person, you are DROWNING in the irony of social power dynamics and their double standards.

I'm not going to sit here and have a conversation every single time I bring up an issue of social equality with folks who's main conceit seems to be: "writers should be able to write whatever they want." You already CAN write whatever you want, and if you're in a situation where you can't (politically or socially), it's certainly not upholding the status quo that you can't do. And writers often do write whatever they want no matter how harmful or objectionable. Rarely are their careers even impacted, and if they stay off the pages that criticize them, they don't even have to have their feelings hurt. So if you're going to react with hyperbole and loss of composure to anyone asking you to consider how and what you write....on a blog about writing, Writing About Writing is not for you.

Also, I'd rather have a smaller following where folks who aren't well represented in the wider world feel comfortable speaking up than a large following where the Status Quo Warriors speak over and run roughshod over anyone who has the temerity to suggest that maybe arts and humanities affect social perceptions and that once in a while we should think about that. The whole damned world will let the people in power decide what is ridiculous to care about (spoiler: it's anything that challenges their behavior in any way). If you want me to be vapid about the impact of writing and stick to grammar lessons that sneeringly judge people without the education to use the proper your/you're and craft essays, Writing About Writing is not for you.
Maybe arts and humanities affect social perceptions...
This is primarily a blog about writing, but because it is me writing (most of) it, I will constantly post things ABOUT writing that I find compelling, interesting, and worthy of a writer's conscientious introspection. This includes craft and process and insights from my life, but it also includes pointing out how much of the writing that exists (even wildly popular writing) often reinforces harmful status quos like racism, sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, and more–things are engrained in many of our narrative tropes.

If we can't at least consider and think about these things, we're just telling the same stories again, not new ones.

If you want a typical writing blog with some linguistic prescriptivism that makes fun of legitimate English dialects (often in a vaguely racist and definitely classist way), drops the same dozen articles (and their knock offs) over and over on how to publish your novel/find an agent/write a query letter, and never really asks you to think hard thoughts about how powerful writing is in creating the stories shape our culture, there are just SO many pages to choose from. But that's not what I'm doing here.

And I want those who normally run screaming from the comments sections on most of the internet to feel comfortable participating in my comments. I want that more than I want hostile dismissiveness of one more voice reinforcing the status quo that actively silences such voices.

In case that was too gentle, let me be absolutely clear about this: If your reply is nothing more than "This is PC bullshit!" or "This is crap. You're the real sexist!" or "Shut the fuck up with this pandering crap!" (or any of the thousands of variations on this theme I've heard over the years) or if you use bigoted slurs or double down on your "right" to be sexist, misogynistic, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, or fatphobic after you've been asked to stop, I will use my admin tools to show you the door.

You don't have to agree with me. You DO have to play nice in my playground.

If you don't want to think about it, skip the post for that day. If you want to disagree, you can do so without being abusive. If you can't do either of those things, Writing About Writing is not for you.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Best Modern Science Fiction (Semifinal 1)

Image Description: The Martian
by Andy Weir
What is the best modern science fiction book or series?    

Our Aug/Sept poll is live. With twenty-two nominations, we will have to do two semifinal polls to narrow down which modern sci-fi will end up on our final poll. And let me tell you I don't envy you having to choose between some of these titles. This is like a restaurant where everything is your favorite.

Remember you may use any criteria you wish for "best" from most fun to most compelling to best written.

The semifinal polls will go pretty quickly. I'll put this one up until late next week and the following one a similar amount of time. Then we'll run the finals to the end of September.

Round two will include:

Snow Crash - Stephenson
Ready Player One - Cline
Never Let Me Go- Ishiguro
Consider Phlebas - Banks
This Alien Shore -Friedman
Old Man's War - John Scalzi
Commonwealth Saga -Hamilton
Honor Harrington Series - Webber
The MaddAddam Trilogy -Atwood
Use Of Weapons - Banks
Ancillary Series - Leckie

Everyone will get five votes (5). The top five names of each poll will go on to the final round. Before you simply vote for your favorite five, consider that, as there is no ranking of those votes; each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite–or pair of favorites–it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side, at the bottom of the side menus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Absolutely Last Chance to Nominate

Since I don't have a guest post that's slated to go up tomorrow and I'm doing about 4 hours today worth of running between old place, new place, and cat sitting places today, I figured I would nudge everyone to take this absolutely last chance to nominate for Best Modern Science Fiction* (novel or series).

I will compile results and set up a semifinal round tomorrow.

*Please go to the original post to vote. It's easier on me and that is likely the only way you will get "seconds."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Return of Leela Bruce

Image description: martial arts clip art
"And so the ink cartridges should be filled with actual honey," I said into the phone. "And it should drip out of the front of the pen. Like....all the time. Even if no one's writing with it."

I paused while I listened to the voice on the other end. "Yes, that's correct. Messy is okay." Another pause. "Yeah, no I want them to be real gold. Golden pens of dripping honey. Yep. That's what I want. It's sort of an in joke. We're really big on in jokes here at Writing About Writing."

"Attention," I heard over the P.A. system. "Attention. This is Cedrick. Effective immediately all doors in the Writing About Writing compound will be spelled with one O. I have exactly one fan in the entire world, and we will pay homage. If you have to go from one room to another, you will be using the Dor."

I took a deep breath. Apparently that conversation we'd had didn't stick as well as I'd hoped.

"Excuse me," Cedrick went on over the P.A. "Leela he's not expecting you, you can't just go–"

That's when my office dor got kicked off its hinges by a well placed spinning side kick. Leela Bruce sauntered in.

"Can you hold for JUST a second?" I asked, putting the call on hold.  "Hi Leela," I said. "Something wrong with the dorknob?"

"I wanted to make an entrance," she said. She flashed some teeth, but I wouldn't have really called it a smile.

"Technically just walking through the dor would be making an entrance." I pointed out.

"A notable entrance," she corrected.

"Yeah, about that," I said. "From a purely statistical standpoint, literally no one ever has actually waited for Cedrick to show them through the dor, so that would be the MOST noteworthy–"

Leela slammed her hands down on my desk. It split down the middle into two half desks. Both pieces fell inward resting in my lap. The laptop, phone, and desk lamp that were on the desk slid down the incline into the newly formed ravine.

"Are you going to hurt me?" I asked, trying not to reveal that having a jagged desk cutting into my femoral nerve already had.

"Why? Are you scared?" she asked.

"No," I lied. "I'm just trying to plan my day."

"Did you just quote a 90's Duchovny movie at me to try and look cool?" Leela asked. She pulled the half desks apart so that they each fell to one side, sending the laptop and desk lamp flying, and left me sitting exposed with some balsa wood powder, mechanical pencils, and the phone in my lap. I wished very much that I hadn't chosen this day to do some work at my desk while I sent my pants to the cleaners.

"How did you know that?" I asked. "Like three people saw that movie."

"You forget where I come from," she said tapping her forefinger on the top of my head at the word come. "Anyway, I came to tell you that you've done well with the sausage fest. Good work getting women guest bloggers. I'll start writing posts for you again."

"That's good," I said. "Because I was about to tell you that the free ride was coming to an end and it is time to earn your keep."

"No you weren't," she said.

"Maybe not, but I really was going to switch out the Buy One Get One Free sandwich coupons to Arby's that I've been paying you with for Free Coffee with $10 Purchase from Taco Bell. Who spends ten dollars at Taco Bell? Honestly? And then when you came to me demanding answers, I would passive aggressively mention that you hadn't written an article in like two years."

Leela rolled her eyes and walked out of my office.

"When can we expect this article?" I called after her.

"When I'm done writing it," she yelled back.

"What's it going to be about?" I yelled louder.

"Dunno!" she shouted as she left the outer office and started down the hall.

"Will you talk to Guy Goodman about also writing a post?" I shouted.

"NOOOOOOPE!" Leela yelled.

"Okay," I said, sitting back in my chair. "Glad we had this chat."

My phone was still in my lap.  I clicked the intercom button. "Uh...Cedrick."

From the outer office where I could see him (because we no longer had a dor), Cedrick turned and looked at me.

"Can we," I said into the intercom, but then realized I could just talk to him across the twenty feet. "Can we get someone in to fix this dor?"

Cedrick nodded, and spun two tentacles into a thumbs up position.

I clicked to line two.  "You still there? Oh great! Hey listen, along with this pen, I'm going to need a desk...."

This post has been edited by Cedrick the Octorian.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Move 2.0–Working Through the Bumps (Personal Update)

The current room unpacked. A bit cozy.
Image description: Bedroom with a cat on the bed.
So here's the news I was sitting on.

I'm moving again.

Again again. Like for the second time. As in, I just finished unpacking the last of the HBO series DVD's and even before the full shock and lamentation of the lack of a Carnivale season 3 had even reached stage three (bargaining), I was putting it right back in a box to move again.

So there I was in Hayward, resigned to foreseeable future of writing at least my break away debut novel from this tiny little room where I could touch my bed from my writing desk and my bookshelves had another tier of books hidden behind the ones facing outward, when I got the news from a friend of the goldilocks room.

No wait. That's not the right vibe.

The Goldilocks Room™ 

Yes. Much better.

It's a bit more expensive–right at the edge of what I budgeted for (though not "scary" since I took care of the Covered California stuff)–but everything else is fan-fucking-tastic. My commute from Hayward to Oakland where I watch The Contrarian was pretty much 35 minutes from door to door right now unless the roads are apocalypse movie empty. However from Lafayette, other than one particularly harried part of the day, it would only be fifteen minutes. My commute to where I teach will be cut from 70+ minutes to 15-20. It's in walking distance of a BART station and downtown Lafayette. Perhaps the best part for a room destined to be both fully functional groupie threesome babe lair and writing office is the room itself. I'm not exactly sure how the precise dimensions break down, but it's about half again as big as my current room by the math and feels about twice as big when I'm standing in it. And something about volume vs. surface area means I'm getting about eight feet more wall. Plus my roommate is super cool.

So while I am annoyed to literally have to turn around and move again, the opportunity had to be taken. And it's going to be ten kinds of awesome once move 2.0 is completed.

But Chris. How will you ever turn this post into some kind of folksy writing wisdom?

Well, I'm going to stop strumming my banjo for a moment, take this piece of wheat hay out of my mouth and tell the good folks reading that there's an important variation on the theme I've been talking about a lot lately. My life being the landfill inferno it is (that's a step up from dumpster fire, if you were wondering) I've been blowing a lot of smoke about how when the going gets tough, it's good to keep on writing. Your discipline will thank you. Your craft level not atrophying will thank you. And your emotional processing of your personal shitshow will probably thank you.

But sometimes the thing you're writing through isn't a tragic disaster. In fact, sometimes it's harder to keep writing when your life is about to transition in a definitively good direction. Particularly if that transition is going to be good for your writing. If you're about to get a break at work and go down to 30 hours, you might want to wait for that before you start writing. Or if you're about to move into a place with your very own writing office, you might be tempted to just wait until that happens. And in my case, I'll be getting out of a situation where I'm spending 20 hours a week commuting and cutting that down by over 75%, the urge is definitely there to just get myself moved and THEN worry about the writing.

Most of the reasons not to do this are the same whether you're waiting around for great stuff to kick in or bad stuff to kick out. Writing is a skill, and like any skill it will atrophy with disuse. Sitting down to write is a habit, and like any habit you can break it by not doing it. Creativity. Output. Vocabulary. Even smoothness of your sentences will suffer if you put writing aside for a while while you wait for life to either be great or stop being shitty.

But the main reason is that it's a never ending chain. How many times in your life have you not been looking forward to something good or hoping for something bad to be done. How many times have you truly not been in some sort of transition. That's just life. And if you spend the whole time telling yourself you're going to write when this next one thing comes along (and then the next and then the next) you'll turn around and realize life happened while you were waiting for the perfect circumstances in which to live it.