Friday, August 26, 2011


Well, readers, the week did seem to get away from me, so the blog post I have in mind is barely even started. But in the interest of Friday Fun (and because I promised myself that I would post weekly) I'm giving you the video below:

It's a little like Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room: or the Vibrator Play". Except with the possiblity of fewer story problems. (As in, it actually may have one).

Have a great weekend and stay out of the path of Irene!

Friday, August 19, 2011


DISCLAIMER: These are certainly not the only reason, and I am certainly aware that this is not news to anyone. It’s just something I’m thinking about.

Firstly, I love an underdog

Romance and SF/F literature are some of the most widely read and widely criticized kind of books around.

And I love sticking up for them (both of them actually, but I read more SF/F, so that’s what I’m talking about today.)

If you only knew how often I have seen perfectly good grown-up SF/F books put in the Young Adult Section. And I’m not talking about books that *might* be seen both ways, like Terry Pratchett. I mean “Anansi Boys”.

 Because of course Grown Ups couldn’t possibly be interested in that. Smart adults don’t read Heinlein. Or Scalzi. Or anything with elves or broadswords. No, no. Intelligent adults read … well, Intelligent Adult Books. Which, in my experience consist largely of People Having Problems, Getting Divorced and Being Sad, and sitting at the Thanksgiving Table Not Telling Their Dad How They REALLY Feel. For 300+ pages these people do this. They wear blue jeans and drive cars and talk on cell phones and look for parking. These are all things I can see every day looking out the window of the bus. Not what I want to see when I’m reading.

I need not Not Be Here when I read. I want to NOT see my own fat ass handed back to me in a mirror. I want to see something else, something Other. This is how I connect to the world.

This is why Genre Matters. It matters because

 Another reason why I love it – and this one is personal – is that I’m not supposed to. Not as someone with an MFA in Fiction Writing and Literature.  Not someone who was brought up as a writer in the Culture of Workshop. I remember, with great shame, how twenty years ago I was really nice about the guy who brought in a chapter of his epic fantasy novel to workshop. I know of several Creative Writing Professors who say in their syllabus that they will accept “No genre fiction of any kind” to their workshop. This is powerful hoodoo to overcome. So the under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight aspect of SF/F novels lasted longer than it should have.

So my love for it is tinged in the relief I feel at being able to let it loose, after holding my breath about it for so long. It is the love of the long-term convent girl for clove cigarettes and rock and roll. This may account for my occasional bouts of Evangelicism. I’m sure Gentle Reader will forgive.

But what matters, especially about SF/F, is this: I truly believe that a story set in a built world can say more about our own world than a Realistic Story.

 There’s this thing I always remembered from a Film Studies Class about black and white movies. You see, in a color movie, you see someone having a drink at the bar and your mind registers: Scotch. Vodka. You see the color. You identify the drink, whether consciously or not. The drink the character is holding becomes a specific drink (Gin and tonic, whiskey sour, Appletini), all of which have specific connotations (especially the Appletini). But when characters in a black and white movie have a drink at the bar, because it can never get specific, it remains forever a kind of “Ideal Cocktail” with all those Platonic Connotations, instead of the specific ones.

Stay with me.

If I read a contemporary novel that addresses, say the problems of intimacy and commitment between men and women, it’s very…specific. We see them have problems, and we those problems resolved, or left unresolved depending on what kind of novel we’re reading. On the other hand, we have Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Series, and the Plight of the Confessors. In this world, Confessors – women charged with keeping law and justice, who can at will, and with physical touch, turn you into their slave – are doomed never to marry, as their sexual encounters cause the men in question to be “Confessed” or turned into a mindless slave. I can’t remember when I’ve seen a more pointed example of problems of intimacy and connection between genders. I’ll quote my (long suffering) Husband on this one. “Yup! That’s it. That’s what we’re really afraid of. That one night in the sack with the right girl? We lose fucking minds.”

This matters.

This only happens in Fantasy, in built worlds. Okay, maybe not only in Fantasy, but it sure is efficient. And elegant.   And it is genre fiction, the fantasy and the horror and the worlds beyond the all-too-often dreadful one that I inhabit every day that calls to the Monster in me.

Jonathan Franzen does not call to the outsider in me. (Yes the suburbs are a nightmare. Sorry your life is a disappointment.  Can you please grow some wings or pick up a battleaxe or turn into a flying monkey or something so I can identify with you?)

Maybe it’s that these alterna-world fiction call to the outsider in all of us. I know it calls to the monster in me.

It can be seen as a kind of weakness, like I’m too scared to look things in the eye. (But anyone who thinks that should read China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. Look into the eye of that dystopia, asshole and then tell me who’s weak?)  But I think it’s different. I don’t just want to escape. I want to transcend. And I think, at its best, this is what good fiction – Fantasy or Not – can do for us. There is a moment, I believe, where escapism becomes transcendence.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All the things.

What did I do today?

ALL OF THE THINGS!!!! (Thanks to Allie Bosh and her AWESOME BLOG of awesomeness for the picture. See the link. See her blog. Allie Bosh Wins the Internet)


And now I am so *tired*. And I just looked at my stupid planner. And tomorrow? You guessed it.
 All of the things. All over again.
But I can do it. Because I am awesome.

Regular human-type blog post coming on Friday.

Know why?


Friday, August 12, 2011

On Appetite

On Fat and Appetite

I was at my local public library branch of a Thursday evening, which is part of my general routine. The (long suffering) Husband goes out to DnD, and we walk out together and I go to the library. I was making my way toward the folklore section and encountered a patron from my own library. For the purposes of this blog post, I feel that she should remain anonymous, so the only identifying characteristics I will give her are the ones most important to this story. She is, frankly, one of my favorite patrons. She is old enough to be my mother. She is very intelligent, a wide reader, and one of the most elegant women I’ve ever met.
And this is what she said to me. (I paraphrase) “Now that we find ourselves outside your library, we meet as friends not just patron and library clerk. So let me ask you something….why don’t you think about losing some weight?”

I feel that I must interject at this point. I am, what is known as “A Big Girl”. I have always been a Big Girl. I’m not ready for my own special on Discovery Health or anything, but it is very rare for me that I am not the Fattest Girl in the Room.

She continued, “It’s just that you’re so intelligent…so well-read ….”

I interrupted her. “Thank you so much, Patron X. I appreciate the concern. I know it is kindly meant.”

And it was. Really, it was. This woman was definitely not trying to make me feel small. (Funny, that. Being told I am Too Big actually made me feel Small.)
But she went on. To tell me about the dieticians at the hospital, and things you could do to lose weight. I repeated my line. “Thank you so much, Patron X. I know it’s kindly meant.”

And still she did not stop. Finally, without meaning to, tears sprang to my eyes and I held up my hand. “Thank you, Patron X. But people have been talking to me about this since I was eleven years old –“

And I didn’t have to finish. She backed off. Immediately. And probably went away concerned that she had upset me.

She did.

But it was kindly meant. It is always, always kindly meant.

But you see it is exactly what is meant that concerns me. Maybe she meant that since I am so intelligent and well-read, that it is somehow distasteful that I not also be beautiful. Perhaps as such an elegant woman herself, she in fact found it illogical or perhaps even immoral that I am not beautiful.

I am not, as it happens, beautiful. But neither was Scarlet O’Hara, according to Margaret Mitchell. (Vivien Leigh is another story.)  But, much like Scarlet, I do have sometimes at my command a force of charisma that can make you think that I am. But still, I felt somehow offensive to her, something broken, something to be fixed with a couple hours on the treadmill and some low-fat salad dressing.

And when I told her I’d been talking about this since I was eleven years old, I was telling the truth. Some of my earliest memories are of adults in my life (well-meaning, kindly adults) talking to me with concern about my weight. Every bite of food that went into my mouth was scrutinized, every packet of sugar in my tea, every drop of salad dressing. “Do you really need that?” was the constant refrain.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about all the weight gained and lost, about all the grapefruits consumed and the years spent swimming in shame.

And then several years ago I made a very serious decision. I would no longer have such a strained relationship with my food. I would just eat it. And I could continue to love it if I wanted to.

I’m not talking about eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream watching reruns of House. That’s actually the opposite of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Appetite.

I’m talking about loving real food. Sauces enriched with egg yolk, biscuits hand made with real butter, pasta with olive oil and cheese. Crisp brown roast chicken, with little potatoes cooked in the rendered off fat in the pan. Fish crusted with nuts and seared smoky in the pan. Homemade macaroni and cheese. I put half and half in my coffee. I enjoy a little chocolate or a little pastry almost every day.

Is it because I hate myself? Because I had a troubled childhood? Or because it fills some kind of a void inside me?

No. It is because I have appetite. Not just have an appetite for food. I have an appetite for paintings and performances. For the fur on a cat’s belly. The shape of a dog’s snoot. For books and movies and bright colored frocks and gloves and hats on a regular day. I have an appetite for sex and conversation and color and languages. For Stephen Sondheim and Shakespeare and old black and white movies where everyone smokes. I have an appetite for success and meaningful work and making things grow.

I will not be ashamed of my appetite. In any form it may take.

I think there are many people with weight problems that stem from psychological problems. Many people use food as a crutch, as an addiction, as a way to fill a void. But I reject the widely held idea that every overweight person is somehow damaged, and if they could get over their trauma, they would be able to stick to their diet. Sorry. I mean, their “lifestyle change”.  This lifestyle is one without any of the great things I mentioned above. Or if they are not completely absent, they are so changed (fat-free cheese, biscuits made of whole wheat flour and yogurt, etc) they are unrecognizable. Or else they are so rarified, because they are “bad” they become fetishized. I reject this. I reject this completely.

I refuse to reject my own appetite.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I had ever truly inhabited a thin body. If I had a memory of being gamine and rangy, a memory of being truly beautiful, then maybe I would feel like there was something lost to be found regained. But that is not my story. In many ways, I am grateful.

I have, what I like to call, a kind of reverse body-dysmorphic disorder. These poor women (usually women, anyway) with eating disorders,  look at their frail 70 pound bodies in the mirror and see only a fat person. I, however, walk around in the world…well, like I’m cute. Like I’m normal. Like I may not be really beautiful, but that’s not really that important.
Until, that is, someone approaches me with a suggestion on how I might be happier, if only I would lose some weight. However kindly meant it was, I only hear one thing.  “You are not enough. Make you like me. How dare you be that way? What is wrong with you?”
And I did feel small, but for only a little while. When I remembered my appetite.