desk lunch – 2015-04-30

Brought to you this week by #BaltimoreUprising.
[tweet https://twitter.com/rappingranny/status/590525043807014914]

Historical romance is often (though not always) shorthand for a romance set in England, with the Regency era being the most popular setting. In these books, the duke/earl/viscount hero is usually white (with bronzed or golden skin—because the British Isles are known for their great tanning weather and tawny-skinned inhabitants). The heroines are usually fair—like, really fair—with milky, lily-white skin mentioned often enough to cause concern about their health.

So, you read romance novels or you sometimes think of reading historical romance novels, but the optics of said novels don’t hold much appeal for you: everyone is white; they’re probably rich and if not rich then privileged and literate enough to pass for rich; they claw at each other for titles; and the plot follows the attempts of an emotionally repressed people trying to process an insult hissed at them during a slow dance with a lot of pressing of hands. So, that doesn’t sound like Your Thing. Consider The Toast‘s roundtable featuring black authors of historical romance as they discuss the flawed optics of historical romance and how they’re working to change that. I’ve already preordered out their upcoming anthology of historical romance novellas, The Brightest Day.

Narrative can be oppressive. We fall straight from the womb onto a plotline: the world ushers us to see ourselves as protagonists and map out a lifelong plan…. I’ve always treated the imperative of a trajectory with anxious reverence; this is how an identity is made. But I feared the ambiguity of the process, the impossibility of knowing what narrative would be “correct.”

I think this is the first entry I’ve read in Jezebel’s Fake Friends series, but wow. Wow. This essay on the Frances/Sophie friendship in Frances Ha hits the movie’s points better than the movie did. Ultimately, I’m not sure how much I appreciate Frances Ha on its own terms. While I love Rachel Vorona Cote’s look at friendship/identification in this piece, I don’t know how to feel about the conclusion: that the best a Mature Adult Friendship can offer—should offer, if they want to remain Mature Adult Friends—is a lingering glance across the room.

There are some big debates still underway, not least of all what one might caricature as the battle between Dante and Gladiator, or the question of what makes a cultural artefact worth studying; those classicists who work on SF are usually of the opinion that both ‘high art’ and popular culture are equally worthy of examination. However, this division hints at the second possible reason behind the rise of theory in classical reception generally: in order to defend looking at things like film or SF, it helps to have a really intimidating theoretical justification to back you up.

Hey! It’s an overview of the recent scholarship surrounding recent interpretations of classical influences into science fiction! It’s a general overview with a good, recent reading list of sources, if this sort of thing appeals to your interests (how could it not!!!)

And if you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates on Baltimore, here’s an excerpt and a link:
[tweet https://twitter.com/bimadew/status/592993857861603329]

If The Velociraptor From Jurassic Park Were Your Girlfriend

clever girlIf the velociraptor from Jurassic Park were your girlfriend, you would have the weirdest meet-cute.

You’re a handler on Muldoon’s staff. Handlers are classified as Essential Personnel so when the evacuation call comes, you stay. Your team splits up to put out fires around the island, but you’re the only one who returns to the visitors’ center. You see two raptors swarming with a T-Rex not far behind, so you hide. You enter the building and give yourself an hour in one of the ground floor utility closets while the animal battle in the lobby handles itself. The screeching of the raptors stops; the building is silent. You tell yourself that, thanks to the sheer size of animals you’re dealing with, their movements are easier to track than what you’re used to handling.

You almost believe that, but then you see her.

Read the rest at The Toast.

desk lunch – 2015-04-23

Brought to you this week by the ENDLESS RAIN on the East Coast. I learned that printer paper crumpled into wet leather boots will soak up the damp caused by sloshing through three or four literal rivers to catch a trolley. As I write this, the rain’s taking a break, probably until I have to step outside again.

We either have to make spaces for ourselves – often unsustainable and without funding – or push past one another to get into positions of opportunity. And even our victories face outward. The acknowledgment serves to prove that we matter to people in power, even if we know that these are our stolen resources handed back to us. I’m not ignorant of the ways oppression sets us against our own, but how do we work against the impulse to covet and tear each other down?
The problem with letting capitalism dissolve the social contract between worker and employer, though, is that social relationships more generally suffer as well. In a precarious environment, where you can only rely on yourself, independence becomes the only virtue.. this means treating personal relationships with the same logic that employers treat workers—i.e., abandoning them when they are no longer useful.

Surprise! The two essays above are about the ways to measure how money changes you. Thinking back on tons of old stories, so many of them are about money, but money portrayed as this hilarious, overblown, written-from-privilege caricature; an awful character, like an Agamemnon, Judas, Wickham, Karenin, any dude in a Henry James novel, wanders onto the scene and flaunts their obsession with money, how their greed for material wealth transforms them into soul-sucking voids that pull at the Good Decent People around them. Greed (a deadly sin, guys) pulls and pulls until the GDP (OH! I AM CLEVER!) find the strength to overcome that pull and, I don’t know, die and retreat to the great agrarian commune in the sky. Money Equaled Greed, and I accepted that narrative because money made my life possible and I didn’t understand the cost of obtaining it, being all of like, 20 years old and comfortably middle class. Now I’m a self-sufficient adult who quantifies every transaction, commercial and personal, because I’ve learned no other way to exist! Remember: there’s no one in your life who wouldn’t fight you to the death in a cage match for $10,000. A Happy Thursday to us all!


“It’s not for you to relate to!” Write that in the sky. And it’s true – often, as writers of color, to portray our stories in all their vibrant authenticity, all their difficult truth means we’re not writing for editors and agents, we’re writing past them. We’re writing for us, for each other.
Setting as crisis — the street and its many offerings of knowledge and myth, the politics hidden in daily happenstance – is really a question of context. This is what we sci-fi/fantasy people call worldbuilding, but every genre has work to do in constructing layers of universe around a narrative.

I’m the idiot who wasn’t following Daniel José Older on twitter until this week. In these two pieces, he takes two different angles on the same issue: how do you portray the world? For writers, it’s worldbuilding- not the naming of places and sketching of maps, but how to make the world you live in (and by extension, worlds of your invention) authentic places. These authentic places are shaped by history, circumstance, every instance of force that constitutes the fabric of reality itself. Are you good enough at reading the world to understand the texture of where you live?

All of that applies to publishing. The industry of publishing is itself the disseminating of stories: this is an industry we made to get stories out further, faster than anyone could have dreamed centuries ago. Older’s BuzzFeed essay draws up the most basic ethics of publishing: get different stories out there. We’re too smart with too many resources and too long of a reach to keep publishing and buying the same ten novels every year. We need stories from everyone and everywhere, and if there isn’t 1:1 cultural correlation between writer and reader? That’s the point. See someone and understand them on their own terms. Do you really think teens extorting their community for money to watch their kids was a universal experience? I still loved it.


The study also found that these women experienced “similar themes to ‘traditional’ intimate relationships, such as emotional growth and identity development fostered by friendship, jealousy, break-ups, and shifts and changes in the relationship.”

There isn’t enough writing about nonconventional relationships. There isn’t enough straightforward discussion about all the ways that people fit together. Here’s a start.


Once per calendar year, I have to watch Will Smith’s video for Wild Wild West. This year, the original video was taken off youtube- the original seven-minute masterpiece featuring Salma Hayek, Will Smith in longjohns, a giant flaming W (for THE WEST, as you know), cameos by STEVIE WONDER and ALFONSO RIBEIRO (3:00 mark), and a thorough rapped synopsis of the Will Smith/Kevin Kline steampunk western I’m too afraid to rewatch for the first time since 1999. Instead, I found the live awards show performance above. It opens with Will Smith in a violet three-piece suit riding a horse into an auditorium. Then it gets… weirdly forced, almost hollow, as if Kenneth Branagh (WHO PLAYED THE VILLAIN IN THIS FILM) found the magic mirror that made Wild Wild West possible and destroyed the dream world where they all existed. TL;DR – THE MUSIC VIDEO IS TREMENDOUS.

desk lunch – 2015-04-16

This week brought to you by a random trip to the Rosenbach Museum and Library and their extraordinary rare book collection. There’s a lot to love about their current Oscar Wilde exhibit, like a notebook draft of Salome that includes Wilde stopping a scene short to sketch the staging for a particular moment. The exhibit also has a lot of Philadelphia-specific content, like reviews and satire from women who hated Wilde’s lectures on Aestheticism and published their mocking hearts out. (Also on display: Rafal Olbinski’s poster for Salome, which is just about the only poster we will ever need for Salome.)


How My Employer Put the “FML” in FMLA (and followup)
Here’s a two-parter on an employee who followed corporate policy when she saved up her sick leave to use as maternity leave and then had her employer deny it! And then they gaslit her by secretly revising their policies while she was on maternity leave! My personal hell exists on earth and it’s a situation where a paper trail can’t save me.

I know other people are critiquing this already, but this bothers me on a basic level because eight of those 16 items are not calorically significant. Nutritionally speaking, this is a vitamin bonanza. But people who live on SNAP benefits don’t just have to get nutrients, they have to get actual calories, because they tend to have very physical lives, doing service labor and taking care of children and not necessarily being able to afford a car and so forth.

Bless Gwyneth for trying the celebrity SNAP challenge, but this is the only piece that articulates why her initial offering seemed so absurd: it’s not enough calories to live. Rather, it’s enough calories to fuel a goop life, which doesn’t involve manual labor, hours on one’s feet, hours on public transportation, all endured before getting home and putting your house in order. I can’t do that on 1000 calories and the touch of one lime per day of the week. It’s enough calories when your business means staying stick-thin and glowing with the light of seven limes, but that’s not my business. (Girl. Seriously. Seven limes. Please why?) EDIT: Because limes a very affordable way to flavor food and they’re really cheap in Southern California! Thanks, internet!

People liked my plays. They told me so. To my face. Often. Some people did (and maybe even still do) love my plays. But very few people wanted to produce the plays I wrote. Very, very few. I’d do readings and workshops and it always felt like the play was a draft away, or some specific rewrite away. But that draft never seemed to happen, or the rewrite never seemed to do the trick. The perfect play just receded into the distance, always around another corner.

Save this for when that mood strikes- the one where you must wallow at the edge of an existential crisis and wonder whether anything you love actually matters. It’s a pragmatic answer to this hilarious word problem: If you continue to produce work at a rate of EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT and shoot it into a black hole that provides only a hint of return or validation, how long before you attempt the impossible and swing yourself out of its orbit with the last remnants of what defines you as anything at all? (Note: of course you [probably] can’t survive the event horizon of a black hole, but recently some astronomers noticed that A Thing skittered around the edge of one and wasn’t consumed by it? Whatever it is?? Can you be THAT THING?)

The brands try to talk like the teens. The brands fail.
Teens only care about the immediate culture. They are not stuck in dead-time nostalgia. They have never heard of Missy Elliot. They do not care. That is OK. Teens plow their carts over the bones of the dead.

#CoolTeenz know what matters and what matters is nothing.

In conclusion:
[tweet 585431493675241472]

desk lunch – 2015-04-09

Brought to you during a binge-watch of Madam Secretary. If The Good Wife was CBS’s first arrow into my Smaug armor, this show is Bard’s arrow. I will fall into the lake at Esgaroth, clawing helplessly at the dream of Téa Leoni and Tim Daly’s sweaters and blazers collection.

The obvious thing that has happened is that the technology has become more central in the students’ experience…. These classroom technologies become more conspicuous as things that separate the students from the class and what I suspect they understand as the “real” me.

It still shocks and humbles me to see how deeply we feel our connection with technology. We’re long past taking the Office Space printer to a field with baseball bats. When a site or drive crashes at the worst possible time, when something blows up on Twitter without us, when we just can’t parse the tech in front of us, it hits us where we breathe. I appreciate the piece above, written by a grad student teaching his composition classes online, on the difficulties that his students encounter as they learn solely through an online presence. A simplified workflow doesn’t offer a substitute for vision, intention, and communication. It’s something I should have etched into the back of my hand so I don’t forget.

The temptation I’ve wrestled with is to simply dismiss this silly thing, New Yorker or no, as the sad ravings of a man trying to escape his guilt-ridden Protestant Puritan heritage and justify his consumerist lifestyle. But I can’t. It’s not about defending Audubon’s honor against this weird ad hominem assault—or not primarily that, anyway. It’s about defending an idea against the false dichotomy Franzen tries to advance in his essay.

No, you didn’t ask and no, I’m not over the Audubon Society’s beef with Jonathan Franzen over ethics in avian journalism. I read this from a fainting couch with my phone in one hand and smelling salts in the other. I hope, for Franzen’s sake, someone will bind this scathing takedown from the Audubon Society in a life-sized illustrated folio, with birds of America shrieking throughout AND ANOTHER THING.

The character of Cromwell as drawn by Mantel fascinates me because he does nothing without a purpose, and yet it’s not clear what drives him. He accumulates wealth, but gives much of it away, so greed  isn’t his motive. He cultivates safe spaces for Protestant religious practice but retains a lifelong loyalty to a Catholic cardinal. He rises in court and in authority, but doesn’t get drunk on power; his inner monologue reveals a man who never believes he is completely safe.

Wolf Hall finally arrived on PBS this past Sunday. Here Sara covers a lot of what I appreciated about Mantel’s books and the miniseries. Mostly, I love Wolf Hall because it’s so weird compared to every other version we’ve seen of the story of Henry VIII. Sex exists in whispers and contracts; everyone hustles for a spot in the room with Henry, the room where everything happens but no one can reveal the cost and effort it took to get there. Wolf Hall captures this temporality so often absent from historical fiction: no one knows they’re in a story, no one knows there will be one accepted version of how their lives shook out. Cromwell’s story is about the story, the steps taken to unfold and shape a life. Who cares about how it ends when everyone dies anyway?

NASA’s Dawn Mission twitter account linked to their video animating the planned trajectory of the craft around Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. It came up again after more than a month without an update about those bright spots on Ceres’s surface, and the animation shows that Dawn still hasn’t made it into the close approach phase of its journey yet. I just want to note for the record that we (as a species!!) regularly shoot robots into space and MAKE THEM OUR EYES. There’s a robot on a comet, there are robots on and around Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto, and a robot has left our star system for interstellar space. PEOPLE WALKED ON OUR MOON’S FACE.

Look: just because Bronotsaurus can rejoin the land of valid dinosaur taxonomy does not mean that Pluto gets to be a planet again. Have scientists re-evaluated fossil records and revised their 25-year-old conclusions? Yes! Has Pluto gained the mass necessary to meet the IAU’s standards for planet status? No! Did the IAU cave a little and designate objects in Pluto’s neighborhood PLUTOIDS to appease people? Yeah, like seven years ago. When it comes to science, these developments are a feature, not a bug.

desk lunch – 2015-04-03

I used to “take lunch” by literally taking my lunch into an empty conference room with my kindle for 30 glorious minutes a day. NO LONGER. MY DESK IS MY HOME NOW. Here’s what I’ve been reading since last Thursday. Future installments on Thursdays. This Friday’s special.


They’re not raunchy “bodice rippers,” a dismissive term that more properly refers to the historical romances of the 1970s, which were never Harlequin specialties, anyway. They’re not “pornography for women,” either—Harlequins were long quite prim, holding the line against premarital sex until the 1980s, and to this day, the company’s offerings are often mild in comparison to the gloriously filthy stuff that’s readily available on Amazon. To dismiss them as “trash” is lazy and intellectually incurious.

I spent several lunches and commutes home imagining #Harlequin as a Harlequin heroine, standing on a mountain or in some tall grass, her hair windswept as she outsold traditional publishing with frightening determination. If she meets your eyes, an Elle Woods What, like it’s hard? slips past her lips and you realize how little conviction for anything you hold in your bones.

Furthermore, is it fair to say that “technology” writ large has truncated our discourse or diminished textual engagement, when more platforms are enabling more people to say more things on a scale never previously imagined? It makes you wonder if maybe the whole character limit thing is a red herring. Maybe Twitter is unsavory because its users are too wayward, irreverent, and defiant of the “rules.” After all, what kind of despicable person omits the first two letters from the word you?

I like this piece’s take on the changing language of literature, which isn’t changing nearly quickly enough. It’s humbling to step back and realize that writing in the 21st century requires literacy and fluency in a dozen kinds of discourse and you either get that and run with it or you don’t and I mock you relentlessly behind your back. (Also recommended from sevenscribesthis cultural-environmental history from fivefifths.)

Furthermore, the overall demographic of LGBTQs doesn’t jive with the demographics of the areas where we allegedly live. LGBTQs are more likely to be of color, but the neighborhoods cited as gayborhoods are overwhelmingly white. Queer women and trans people are more likely to be poor, but the neighborhoods cited as gayborhoods are overwhelmingly rich.

This raises more questions than it answers and that’s good. There’s no one answer as to what part of the country is More Queer Friendly than any other; there’s so many permutations of so many answers that there’s not even one question. 

Chill takes and never gives. Chill is pathologically unfeeling but not even interesting enough to kill anyone. Chill is a garbage virtue that will destroy the species.

A sip of vitriol for the road.


lmm

Precious cinnamon bun, don’t let the world change you.