Nothing Hurts?

"Nothing hurst a good soul and the kind heart more than to live amongst people who can't understand it." -Ali Ibn Abi TaibI had the good luck this weekend of catching up with a number of old friends. The kinds of friends who are happy to chit-chat about interesting, meaningful things–even if it’s been months (or years?!) since last you spoke. And it struck me today that one of the reasons I tend to feel like I’m just a visitor in the various places we’ve lived might be because the majority of people around me are pursuing goals wildly divergent from mine, or have beliefs and values only tangentially related to mine. More often than not, I feel like a stranger, an alien even, living in a cage in the midst of the zoo of humanity.

That sense was heightened by our movie night selection this week: “Birdman“. We’d had the BluRay in our to-watch pile for more than two years. I hadn’t realized until tonight just how long the list of awards was that it had won–including 2015’s Oscar for best picture. The movie earned every single one of them. It was in some sense as shockingly out of place in the Hollywood system as what I described of myself earlier. The movie was also nothing like anything I’d expected when we pushed play. It pokes at the lines between madness and sanity, artistry and banality, age and youth, and so many other so-called dichotomies and leaves you feeling like whatever your particular brand of suffering is, there are so many others sharing their unique pain with the world that none of us is truly as alone as we might feel.

It was, in short, the kind of movie that opens up conversation and closeness and introspection. Where I’d seen “Michael Keaton” and “dark comedy” and thought this might be in the “Beetlejuice” direction, I got a think piece that reminded me to reach out to my friends.

Tonight, then, I saw that Pentatonix had released a version of John Lennon’s Imagine. Their rendition strangely summarized my mindset:

As you might imagine, working (the day job) and talking once again derailed any effort at creativity. At some point I’m going to have to force myself into action, whether I feel ready or rested or not. In the meantime, we are at least walking quite a bit. My phone says I averaged 6,640 steps daily this week, and today I managed over 5 miles between the two long walks with the dogs and walking in circles through the house while I was talking on the phone.

I’m down to the final month of this round of ROW80, and so far I’ve been almost the epitome of anti-productive. My day job has gotten more intense, and somehow this year the summer cycle of social activities has been more distracting than normal. While I hope this week is more productive, I’m reminded of the adage that “hope is not a strategy,” and will be pushing myself harder to find and maintain the focus that has allowed me to finish drafting my stories. In the meantime, I encourage you to see how the others in my group are faring. I’ll be back next week to report on my progress.

What I Want

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a stroke of wonderful luck.Last week, the now ex-Googler was on my mind. This week kicked off with discussions about what actually qualifies people to become software engineers (hint: ability to code is the lowest barrier to entry); that men have since at least the time of Hippocrates used “science” to justify male superiority; that “race science” is based on equally spurious claims; and that women in Silicon Valley are just starting to find mutual support.

And then there was yesterday in Charlottesville. Which followed on the heels of a kerfluffle in Great Britain regarding a cartoon on the BBC, which was portraying historical accuracy when it included a racially diverse cast for a story set in Roman times. It’s worth raising the spectre of American Exceptionalism, and shooting it down one more time for posterity. There is no nation that hasn’t committed atrocities–now or in the long-distant past–and anyone claiming they’re advocating for a “return to a better time” is misremembering the freight that comes with that past.

I’m frustrated by the world I find myself living in. That I keep getting slapped in the face by news that is offensive to my nature and my aspirations. So this evening I revisited some of my favorite scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Remember the “Measure of a Man” episode? It’s worth going back to YouTube to hear Picard argue about Data’s sentience–and Commander Maddox’s persistent insistence on the science of sentience. In fact, his three criteria–intelligence, self-awareness, consciousness–have a booby trap in them. Intelligence? What kind of intelligence? Does this mean that people of low IQ are not sentient? This is, I suspect, why science deems “mere animals” below the threshold of sentience. I keep seeing articles that compare dogs’ cognitive ability to those of toddlers. Why would scientists do that unless to prove their bias toward keeping a certain barrier to entry to the elite club of sentient beings?

And that loops me back to all the variations in the news of who belongs to which club. Am I linked to the one with the most power? Least power? Most self-righteousness? How about being linked to the one with the ability to keep an open mind and actually debate ideas and solutions? In all the chest-thumping we’re seeing right now, we’re being distracted from dealing with the real problems that are driving the pain and anger and fear pushing people to act in horrifying ways.

Which loops me back to this week’s image. And why I was thinking about Star Trek. I write speculative fiction to put myself into worlds that might be familiar in some respects, but that allow me to explore new ways of seeing underlying tensions. Play with the idea that there could be solutions to the problems we face. So as terrible as the world is, I have the privilege of being able to reflect on it. To try to pull lessons from what I see. I have the imagination to stretch sentience into other beings and explore the philosophical consequences Captain Louvois (from that ST:TNG episode I referenced above) was hesitent to give credence to. What I want? To have the time and emotional energy to spend more time doing that. Our current news cycle is giving me more fodder than I really wanted and is exacting an emotional tax that makes it difficult.

I finally opened my WIP to return to my editing task yesterday. And retreated to read Mercedes Lackey’s Beauty and the Werewolf. I’m doing wonderfully well on my Goodreads reading challenge. Horribly on my writing goals. Walking goals are coming back down to earth; my phone says this week I averaged 4,949 steps per day. And hubs and I were distracted by visitors, errands, and obligations so skipped what I would consider a date night–even though we made dinner together most nights, and were walking together for many of those steps.

I hope that delaying my editing process is a stroke of wonderful luck, though the thread of frustration that connects that delay to everything I’ve written about should indicate how I really feel about it. This week will require a trip to Maryland and next week hubs has a trip out of state, so I don’t anticipate any kind of normalcy returning any time soon. Nonetheless, I will persist. As will my ROW80 cohorts.

Overcoming

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." -Helen KellerA number of decades ago I told my grandma about having written a report about Helen Keller‘s life, and she told me she’d gotten to attend a special church symposium at which Ms. Keller had been the guest of honor. My grandma had been particularly impressed that she’d only had to hand spell the first two letters of her name (G, L) before Ms. Keller had correctly guessed her whole name. I was impressed my grandma had met such a famous, impressive person, and spoken to her, however briefly.

Today, I’m impressed by different things: That Keller helped found the ACLU, that her example was enough to push governments to open schools to educate the deaf and blind, that she was relentless in her drive. And she was an optimist, as highlighted by this week’s quote. It’s a useful reminder to me these days. I went back to the dentist this week for the final version of the crown first placed over a month ago as a temporary, and discovered my dentist wants me back to put in two fillings and another crown, on top of the two implants that loom in my near future. And I had one of those conversations that hammered home the finality of being childless.

Both of those things have dented my own relentlessness and optimism.

But if Helen Keller could overcome deafblindness at a time when such disabilities were seen as being unfit for public consumption, maybe there’s purpose and meaning for me, too. There’s certainly purpose and meaning for other writers with other kinds of disabilities. One of my fellow KKP authors, Joyce Chng, posted in support of the Kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction / Uncanny Magazine. I suppose, technically, I’ve been disabled by asthma since my first hospitalization for it in 1992. In fact, my current dentist was the one who helpfully pointed out the bone loss he can see in both my jaws–more than likely from having been on a steroid inhaler for at least 15 years.

I suppose, according to reporting at Motherboard, I could even consider my gender a disability, at least according to one of the senior engineers at Google. Or according to clothing designers who seem to delight in creating fashions that are impractical at best and stifling at worst. One of the highlights of my week was a tweetstorm by a dude pointing out to some guy dismissing a woman’s joy at finding clothes with pockets just how sexist fashion is. (Also, I’ll be shopping at Poche Posh and Betabrand as soon as I can afford to buy anything other than dental services.)

For our date night, hubs and I got to hang out with dear friends and attend the Roger Waters concert. It is amazing that lyrics written for Pink Floyd in the mid-70s are as relevant today as then, and it’s sad we seem to have even more “Pigs” now than ever.

As for my walking goals, my phone says I averaged 7,081 steps per day this week. That’s my best average so far this year. At least I’m making progress in some small way. I haven’t even looked at my MS in over a week, and I’m wondering when I’ll even have the time, given that we won two more contracts this week that will join my portfolio at my day job. I’m starting to write position descriptions now because these wins mean my employer is growing. It’s an exciting problem to have, but means one of my new goals will have to be sorting out work-life balance issues sooner than later. Luckily, Sun Basket continues to nourish us well, so at least we’re eating at home regularly, enjoying time with our Huskies in the process.

I’ll be back again next week reporting on my progress, or lack thereof, but in the meantime, check out the other ROW80ers.

Loneliness or Freedom

"You come home, make some tea, sit down in your armchair, and all around there's silence. Everyone decides for themselves whether that's loneliness or freedom."This week was as hectic and wonderful as anticipated–it’s just always funny that for as much as we love our visitors, there’s something soothing about being alone again, when we can resume our customary habits and rhythms. Take a breath in silence. Even our dogs seem to be introverts; after several days of dealing with additional people in the house, Santino decided he’d had enough of being misinterpreted and peed on the rug at the top of the stairs last night. And the girls both had loose stools for a day or two.

A day of normalcy, though, and all is right in their world again. In the light of this week’s quote… it really is funny how habits of quietude play heavily into our personal sense of freedom, while for others the amount of time we spend alone would be oppressive.

Despite all the visitors, my phone says I still averaged 5,595 steps per day this week. That count is only slightly down from last week, and it seems to be newly reliable that our average step count should fall between 5 – 6,000. I’m not unhappy with that, but will see about pushing it out farther over time. The bonus for taking our walks at night: We get to track satellites and other objects we wouldn’t normally see during the day. Tonight we both witnessed a decent meteor as we were just a few houses away from home. Too often one or the other of us misses them because they are evanescent, so this one felt special. Then I discovered we’re in the midst of the Perseid shower for this year. If we’re lucky, and the scientists have predicted correctly, this year’s show should be brighter than usual, and should peak the nights of August 12-13.

The other thing we managed this week: seeing Valerian in 3D at the theater. We’re particular Luc Besson fans (loved 5th Element and Lucy), and later in the week watched The Family as an interesting genre counterpoint by the same director. What’s so hopeful and lovely about his films is the reliable under-story about the importance of love and honor and connection with one another. In Valerian, this was layered with standard space opera themes along the lines of what we get in Star Trek–that inter-racial, inter-galactic relationships lift everyone to a higher level. The nice twist was that it was a human who was at the core of the rot that drives the plot. And yet, I had to agree with Carrie Vaughn’s assessment that the pair leading the caper were too callow to be believable as the best team to solve such a priority problem. Still, I’m sure we’ll be buying the BluRay when it comes out because the world-building and visual effects in the film were unbelievable. Special kudos for whoever came up with the concept of visiting a different dimension, and what that would look like for occupants of our dimension. That scenario has long fascinated me and seeing it in film was a heckuva lot of fun.

On the editing front: nothing. This week may be better, but we are also looking forward to seeing the Roger Waters concert, so we’re not fully back in our home comfort zone, either.

As always, though, I’ll be back next week to report on my progress, and will encourage you to visit the other ROW80ers to see how they’re doing with their goals.

 

The Germans Are Coming

"Es is schoen, jemanden zu kennen, mit dem man vor lauter Spass, den Ernst des Lebens vergessen kann." {It's nice to know somebody with whom one can share so much fun, one can forget the seriousness of life.}I’m excited: One of the friends I’ve known the longest, and who honestly feels like my big sister, arrives for a short visit tomorrow. In the normal course of things, there have been times when getting the chance to see her has stretched out longer than a decade–mainly because she’s German, and the Atlantic is a mighty barrier when money is tight. So I’m stealing from her Facebook timeline for my blog post this week, because the sentiment is perfect. (For those of you who don’t speak German: It’s lovely to know someone with whom one can have so much fun, one can forget the seriousness of life.)

For those who may not know, I spent a significant portion of my growing-up years in Germany. Since my parents are both Americans, this makes me a “third-culture kid“. Explaining “where I’m from” is a pain because I really don’t have a hometown, and even though my brother says I still have rose-colored glasses about Berlin (which is nothing like when we lived there, on the Eastern side, from 1980-84), it still holds a piece of my heart. Even though most of my friends from that time have dispersed, and I’ve lived in the US for longer than any other country by now. So when I read about cultural hybridization this week, it struck a deep chord. Even more so when I read one of that author’s sources, the transcript of Lionel Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Especially in conjunction with an article I’d read earlier in the week interviewing an autistic author.

This constellation of thoughts helped gel for me what spooks me about sensitivity readers. Or the notion that a fiction author, who is, by definition, MAKING THINGS UP, should skirt certain populations out of a misguided notion that their experience is so foreign to the author, the author has no hope of properly representing the challenges a character from that population might face. My concern now boils down to: How is any one physical characteristic so deterministic that the person can be automatically identified via that avenue? It smacks of the worst kind of discrimination that something like age, health, skin color, or any other random physical trait could be so other that a modicum of empathy can’t help an author construct a full being with motivations and internal logic that serve the story the author wishes to share. Or that people assume any one of those characteristics could be shorthand for any aspect of true character–emotional life, desires, dreams, or any of the internal tapestry that is unique to every human.

As Shriver notes, “We do not all do it well. So it’s more than possible that we write from the perspective of a one-legged lesbian from Afghanistan and fall flat on our arses. We don’t get the dialogue right, and for insertions of expressions in Pashto we depend on Google Translate.” I embrace her challenge to always “fail better,” but I also think that at its core, writing is about putting yourself so far into someone else’s experience that the logic of your being speaks on a deeper level than merely checking certain demographic boxes. Humanity’s experience comes in every shade and age, and we could all do with a bit more hybridization and empathy.

On the other side of my reading this week, I learned about the myth of drug expiration dates, and was even more deeply frustrated by the current healthcare system in America. I also dug into what studies have found about actually reaching 10,000 steps in a day. My phone says my daily step average this week was 5,704. Up slightly from last week, and certainly nowhere near as sedentary as we had been–though it’s been a challenge given the regular occurance of humidity levels in the 90 percent range.

Between that and all the cooking we’re doing at home via our Sun Basket subscription, we’re both feeling quite a bit healthier. We even had a stay-at-home date night to watch Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. It was gripping and well-done in thoroughly unexpected ways. As if someone had decided on a remake of Groundhog Day in an alien invasion setting. But then there was the echo of Arrival with the way the story played with time. I was surprised at how meaty that intersection made the story, and am still considering the implications of it. It may even be worthy of viewing more than once.

😀

All of that by way of saying… I still haven’t found my pace with my editing tasks. I keep poking at my MS. And I have ideas. But I haven’t gotten enough of a head of steam built up to just do what I need to do. With house guests this week, I’m going to guess this week won’t help me further that process either.

Sometimes I wish there were a magic bullet with just that infusion of energy to push us into the creative zone. Since I’m fresh out, though, I’ll refer you to my ROW80 buddies, and return again next week with my status report.

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