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It’s all about the black swans- Kate Paulk


It’s all about the black swans- Kate Paulk


Fifteen or so years ago I was certain I was going to grow into crazy cat ladyness as the eccentric maiden aunt (for modern versions of maiden) with the household full of cats and – I hoped – a career as a writer.


Today The Husband and I are about six weeks shy of our twelfth wedding anniversary (there goes the maiden aunt thing – can’t exactly do that while married), with three cats (but not, sadly, for long, since the twenty year old fluffy kitteh has cancer), more work than either of us can manage, and something that resembles a trickle of income rather than a writing career.


It’s progress. The Husband is a bonus I never thought I’d get, and I’m on a completely different continent than the one I thought I’d be living on, but that’s a benefit that came along with The Husband. Most of my friends have happened since I moved over here, too, mainly because the writing side of things has brought that into play.


The point being that you never know. No matter what things look like circumstances can change with what, in retrospect, looks like blinding speed. A hundred years or so ago everything seemed to be meandering along more or less as normal with tension rising in all directions but always managing to get defused before it could blow up, then some twit goes and murders some other twit who just happens to be the Hapsburg heir, and the next thing you know the whole of Europe is trying to beat the shit out of each other, and most of the rest of the world gets dragged in one way or another.


Or twenty-five years or so ago and the Cold War is burbling along in the normal fashion with maybe some hints that Gorbachev might actually mean this whole glasnost and perestroika thing, and then suddenly the Berlin Wall is gone and the whole Eastern bloc gets a serious outbreak of freedom.


Things change. It’s the nature of things with a crapload of momentum behind them the change very slowly if at all, but a spanner in the works at the right time and place can totally derail that train of events in ways that are often as terrifying as they are exhilarating (and if you think the fall of the Berlin Wall wasn’t terrifying, you weren’t listening to the British or the French who seemed sometimes to be convinced that the moment Germany unified Hitler would reappear in a flash of hellfire and brimstone and start the next world war. They didn’t. They just quietly and efficiently took over the European economy with the consent of the rest of Europe and the eager assistance of the French government, all in the name of unity or something. Time will tell if that little experiment works out, but my suspicion is ultimately, no. The long and uneasy mostly-peace since the end of World War 2 (and yes, by comparison, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., etc were basically pissing contests. Not chew up a generation of young men and spit out their bones meat grinders) might have created a generation or two who think that you can solve anything if you just talk about it long enough and mean it enough, but it hasn’t made humans any less tribal. When it comes down to it, we’re always going to want to favor our kind over that funny lot over there who don’t speak right and whose mother dresses them funny).


Er. Anyway. The point in that little ramble is – oh, wait, there’s multiple points. Let’s see… Something you think is completely stable can change overnight. All it would take is a lucky (unlucky?) meteor strike and all the political dynasties in a country are out of business (kind of like an Australian ad I remember fondly. About a breakfast cereal if I recall, with claims about the cereal being everything you could dream of, and showed a kid daydreaming about the Sweet Meteor of Death making a flaming landing on his school. Try getting that shown on American TV). Drop it on DC at the right time, and the question of whether we get to choose between Billy-boy’s sloppy seconds and the Establishment’s least likely to piss off the media at the next election is suddenly not an issue any more. And if I could drop meteors where I wanted, that would be so tempting.


Alas, I’m an evil genius, not a mad scientist. There is a distinction. And evil geniuses need mad scientists to aim their Sweet Meteors of Death properly (DC would not be the only temptation). Besides, I wouldn’t want my mad scientist to miss and land the thing on the wrong town. Let’s face it, New York is so close the karmic attraction would probably pull the thing there: it would be like trying to drop a giant monster anywhere in Japan that wasn’t Tokyo (I’m reliably informed by the Internets that the reason Tokyo has such an issue with giant monsters is a quirk of city planning. Apparently the city lights spell out “good eats here” in giant monster lingo. More proof you need to do your research, or possibly of the power of advertising). Anyway, Tokyo attracts giant monsters. New York attracts everything else. (Little known trivia: the towers were actually part of a top secret meteor repulsion plan. The antennae on top were supposed to focus giant lasers running up the elevator shafts to completely destroy any meteors or alien invaders. They weren’t intended to deal with giant monsters because they head for Tokyo).


Er. I’m an evil narcoleptic genius who’s just a little short on sleep. Let me try to haul this back to something resembling a point.


Things change. Fast. You don’t know what will hit next or what kind of mess it will make of your plans. So build in flexibility, be ready for anything, and figure out if you need to thank it or shoot it when it happens.


Oh, and the black swans? That’s the stuff that you can’t predict because it’s fundamentally unpredictable. Supposedly rare, but in Australia black swans are the norm – and yeah, unpredictable stuff that’s supposedly rare happens a lot more often than you’d think.

Upon Reflection

*For those curious about the Meet The Character Blog Tour, to which I was challenged by Jagi Lamplighter, they are up at Amanda’s Post, Jody Lynn Nye Doug Dandrige and Dave Freer.  My own post is here:Meet His Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater.

Because of today’s post, I feel required to say: I don’t know if any of these people agree with me politically, and I couldn’t care less.  (Actually I do know. Most of them don’t agree with me.  And I’m cool with that.)

For those who are looking for Kate’s post — she forgot and I forgot to remind her.  I’ll try to get one from her for tomorrow.*

Upon Reflection

I’ve been following #Gamergate with some interest. I’m not a gamer. I’m really an incredibly stodgy person – no seriously – who only reads for entertainment. Okay, reads, does carpentry and crochet and disturbs elephants and goes look at dino bones, and—

Right, but when it comes to the triad of entertainment of the modern age, the video forms leave me blah (my dad used to introduce this characteristic to people as though it were a handicap, which in the modern age it probably is: this is my daughter, and she doesn’t like television.) And games… well, the last one I got captured by that cost me a full year was tetris back in pre-history.

I’ve tried others, mind you, but they fall into two categories “failed to capture my interest” and “this is too much like work.” In the later category fall the planet and civilization building games and the array of sims. If I’m going to be creating civilizations, I d*mn well want to be paid.

The same goes for RPG games, btw. I once – for about two hours – “gamed” to get out of a tight plotting spot, but the problem there is more that I’d have to assemble a gamer’s group (I only ever had the one friend who did a demo game with me) and then I’d have to block out time. Last time I had a steady group for anything it was a writers’ group and politics done nuked that deep and hard.

Which actually brings us to the post.

In the triad of entertainment I indulge in video narration only while working out (and during summer I prefer walking outside) and for the rest I read. I’ve said over and over again that it was pretty pathetic that someone like me who ONLY reads for amusement (and enlightenment and learning, but that falls under “fun” too) spent so much time having trouble finding anything to read on the shelves of bookstores.

That’s okay. That’s past now. I have three books cued on the kindle to read right now.

BUT I want to emphasize one thing. When I wasn’t finding stuff to read, I wasn’t rejecting stuff on the basis of the author’s politics. I was rejecting it on the basis of being boring.

Now, often the boring bordered on politics. If the villain/murderer in every mystery is going to be the white/well off/guy who approves of commerce, I already lost significant enjoyment in that book. If every alien species we encounter is an ecological saint and the humans are always evil, then you already lost me. Because I’ve read that story fifty times before. If every love affair will end indeterminately because well, yes, that’s the approved ending, you already lost me.

I don’t read to be lectured at or to have my opinions confirmed. If my colleagues who agree with some of my opinions wrote books over and over again to make only one or two points I approve of, I’d also stop reading them.

In fact, I don’t understand the mind of the people who only read people who agree with them IN EVERY MINUTE DETAIL.

This brings us to #Gamergate and this post: #GamerGate–the free ride is over

I don’t know the author. It’s possible if I asked my sons, who are partly immersed in the gaming world, or some of my friends who are fully immersed (it turns out my peculiarity is still a handicap) they’d know exactly who this man is.

However I read his post and I discovered he’s my brother at heart. Particularly this:

For the past half decade, those cliques focused on “social justice” have been insulting, smearing and misrepresenting individuals or groups they decided represent “the other”. Because they received little or no push-back, they wrongly believed they represented the majority opinion on a given issue.

As someone who’s maintained a blog for 15 years, I’ve written a lot of words. Some of those words have made these guys angry and thus, at some point, they decided I was some sort of crazy right-winger.  I’m only a “crazy right-winger” if objecting to one group coercing another group is “right wing”. I don’t like telling people what to do and I don’t like being told what to do.

And this:

Remember, the abuse I received had nothing to do with the quality of the book. If books based on a video game were regularly pilloried we’d have a never ending stream of Reddits.

No, the reason I was targeted is because SJWs, the people who now represent the bulk of the “anti-#GamerGate” crowd, are perfectly comfortable with harassment and abuse as long as it’s the right people doing the harassment and abuse: Themselves.

Now, this man asks the one, most important question – why do SJWs class everyone who disagrees with them about ANYTHING as “right wing” and “the enemy”?

It gets to the absurd point of having a group of largely white females running around accusing people who are both darker and of far less privileged background than they are (Larry and I come to mind, for instance) of being privileged and lecturing them about suffering and discrimination and, oh, yeah, respecting the other.


Like TinyLittleFrogs, I have tons of things in which I probably agree with the SJWs. Not his ecological stuff, because that’s just crazy talk. (Yes, my tongue is planted so firmly in cheek, it’s almost poking through.) However, tons of my opinions agree with theirs – only not to the extreme they’d take them:

  • I think race is only a data-point about a person. Important if you’re discussing matters of oh, tanning (my poor child went to a baseball game with a family of blonds and discovered they had this thing “sun block.” He was six, and apparently had never noticed daddy used it. It blew his mind.) Or particular genetic diseases. Or to an extent metabolism.

This does not mean I think there are no genetic differences between the races. I’d have to be insane to think that. I live with a biologist and one of my best friends is a biology professor. HOWEVER those differences are in terms of statistical distribution. What I mean is “on the whole, if you are black, you will probably be a little taller than white people.”

In the case of “black” (African-American is crazy cakes, particularly when used for EUROPEAN people of dark skin. No, it’s not precise and no, no one is black – though a couple of my friends come close – but then no one is white either. Or yellow. Or red) this is a little more difficult, because there are more differences between different parts of Africa/tribes are bigger than between black and white people.

For instance, people whose ancestors were mostly hunter gatherers tend to ADHD. But in Africa, some people have been farmers for longer than in Europe.

Where I oppose the insanity: People aren’t widgets. As I said above, some people from Africa are more different from other people from Africa than from a northern European villager. And even in more uniform groups there is enough admixture and the statistical distribution is just a statistical distribution. It allows you to say “People of x race are more likely to—“ but nothing about an individual of that race. Because individuals are different.

As I said, race is a data point. In most cases an irrelevant one.


  • Another place I agree with them is that men and women should have the exact same rights and the exact same opportunities.

Where I disagree is the idea that gender is a social construct. This was a bit of insanity propagated by a literal mad woman in the seventies, and everyone has piled on, despite some tragic experiments with sex-changing babies and its not working as planned.

Sweden is now attempting this bizarre experiment of raising genderless children.

This is insane because any biologist will tell you men’s brains and women’s brains are different. No, seriously, they are. The hormonal baths in pregnancy change the brain. Also some hormones influence the brain. For instance estrogen gives women better memories.

On average. Comparing most women to most men. Now, this has nothing to do with liking pink or (for other cultures) wearing a burka. That IS cultural. But some things aren’t. You’ll find for instance that most men have better spatial reasoning than most women; most men are stronger than most women; most men are more physically aggressive than most women.

While this doesn’t describe any particular individual, it does describe the group and it accounts for things like young boys liking to play with noisy, moving toys like cars.

Also most women tend to be better at multitasking than most men.

These things have applications for some careers. The fact women aren’t equally represented everywhere is not evidence of sexism. It’s evidence of the nefarious work of hormones before you were even born.

Is there sexism? Sure. There is sexism both ways. In the US it TENDS to be more of women against men. In the rest of the world it goes the other way around.

But again, it’s a statistical distribution.

The thing I disagree with the most is this determination to treat sexes (and orientations) as though the individuals who had them were widgets. “You need this in perfect statistical distribution or you’re wrong.” It doesn’t account for individuals.

  • I even agree with them on gay marriage.

No, I don’t believe that every gay relationship is loving and perfect. I also don’t believe that of heterosexual relationships. At any rate I believe in the culture-changing power of a commitment taken in front of everyone who matters to you.

Relationships are never easy, and if we hadn’t been married, and if my parents hadn’t spent a ton of money on the wedding, I might have walked out that first year (about a dozen times) and missed on the glorious 28 years since.

Where I disagree with the SJWs is the giving gay relationships primacy over heterosexual ones. I have enough gay friends I can tell you that it’s not more stable or less power-oriented or any of that. No, not even between two females.

The other part I disagree with is forcing people to approve of gay unions, including forcing people to bake a cake (seriously guys, do you want people who don’t like you to make FOOD for you?) or otherwise cater to gay weddings when they disapprove. No, refusing to serve ANY customer is not “hate.” Hate is dropping walls on people or hanging them from cranes. Commerce is a voluntary exchange. If these people don’t want to work with gay couples, fine, there are others who do and who should get the gay couples’ money.

In the same way, I don’t approve of gay couples forcing churches to marry them/host the ceremony on their facilities. To be perfectly clear, I’d disapprove in the same way of a Jewish couple forcing an imam to marry them, or a mosque to host their wedding. I’d disapprove of Baptists insisting on being married by a Catholic priest. I’d disapprove of a re-marrying couple or those within the degrees of consanguinity Catholics have an issue with forcing Catholics to marry them. I’d disapprove of Catholics demanding a wedding in a Lutheran church.

Religions are allowed to exclude for all sorts of reasons based on their doctrine. They mostly exclude those who don’t follow their faith. “But it’s discriminatory” is not a good reason to force people to violate their conscience. AND running around demanding that everyone vocally approve of you makes it annoying for people like me who support gay marriage, and for normal, sane gay people who spend half the time hiding for fear people think they’re like the crazies.


Note that I agree with them on the main points. I just disagree with them about… MAKING SURE PEOPLE DO EXACTLY WHAT THE SJWs WANT THEM TO.


It’s not even that I don’t realize/understand that if we don’t force people to act in a certain way there are going to be injustices. Of course there are. But if you force people to act in a certain way, there’s going to be injustices to, just different injustices. So outside of laws against things like, oh, killing the defenseless, laws should be deployed very carefully. And harassment, whining and throwing fits at various industries, even more carefully. (Mostly because sooner or later people get tired, like the gamers seem to be. But also because overall it hurts the INDUSTRY when outsiders see these prosecutions of people over minor differences.)

Take for instance how we more or less ran men off teaching for fear of sexual abuse, and are now seeing women sexually abusing kids.

I think the fundamental difference between the SJWs and the people they disapprove of is this: SJWs believe the world could be perfect, if only they got to dictate what happens.

The rest of us know the world and humans are imperfect, and there will always be injustices. We try to combat injustice in our sphere, and among people we know, but don’t fight for “broad classes” out there because the outcome is messier, and (individuals being individuals) there’s a greater risk of unintended consequences.

The only other big difference is that the SJWs like power. They really, really, really like power.

While the rest of us think the best way to achieve the fairest world possible is to allow for individual agency and for people to forge their own path.

It is an irreconcilable difference, but it’s not the one they think it is. And it doesn’t make either side evil. It just gives us an unbridgeable philosophical rift.

That said, I’ve read books of people they approved of, and enjoyed them. I count both Phil Dick (or is he now excommunicated for having had a penis?) and Ursula LeGuin as favorite authors for some of their works.

You see, I only require that a writer be interesting, or challenging or fun. I don’t require they agree with me exactly. WHY would I? I don’t really care what a writer believes, provided the book isn’t boring, and provided that the book is not JUST preaching stuff at me. The occasional bit that betrays a view of the world I don’t agree with? Guys, I’ve always known people are different from me. I don’t require they be the same.


Demanding to read nothing but an echo of your own beliefs is a good way to lose touch with reality and go around calling “evil” to everyone who is not your exact reflection.

It’s a good way to lose touch with the world and a reality where individuals persist in being individual.

It might make you feel good for a while, but it’s like drugs. In the end, it will drive you insane.

The Meet The Character Blog

The poor unfortunates I roped in with this: Meet His Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater.

Are now posting.  This is Amanda’s Post.

Doug Dandrige and Dave Freer and Jody Lynn Nye will be posting later at the links.

And my blog is a little late, because Kate and I both forgot it was her turn. So, I’m writing as fast as I can.

Of Despair, Hope, and Climbing Paths

It’s not a secret to anyone that I’m of a depressive turn of mind. This does not mean I’m depressed – at least not right now – but that when faced with a stress, my mind tends to head down towards depression. When faced with a question of guilt, I tend to blame myself.

Now I hear you clucking and saying something about medicines for that. Of course there are.

But here is something our overly therapeutic age misses: guilt and fear of being terrible have a purpose.

I’m not going to link the book, because I think it would bring on us the mother of all trollings, but those of you who are on Sarah’s Diner on Facebook know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

There is a man who wrote a book that he claims he’s been writing both since 75 and for twenty years. (We didn’t ask what year it is in his world, so it’s our fault.) He painted the cover himself, and the drawing isn’t bad for a 12 year old or so.

Anyway, he thinks the book is the best thing since sliced bread. You see, it’s not about one of them troubled teenagers. It’s about a good girl who does everything right. He thinks this puts it on a par with several greats of literature (though how he got there, since the greats of literature all write characters with flaws and the ones he mentioned surely didn’t write about good girls, is beyond me.) His book is so much better than all that trash featuring vampires and werewolves, because those are unimaginative. His is the first time that story got told. And it should be assigned to every high school student.

If you’re already seeing the several threads of delusion there, it gets worse. Though a lot of the comments made about his grammar do not in fact make any sense (and enlightened for me why so many people think that all indie books are full of grammar errors. It’s because they learned grammar on Mars or something) some are spot on. He certainly has typos. But beyond all that, his stuff is stilted and weird, impossible to follow and there’s no narrative line to attach to.

And then he put his magnum opus out. And waited for praise, accolades the Novel [sic] prize and the Oscar [?] to just roll in.

What he got instead was a whole bunch of people pointing and laughing. And he can’t understand it, because after all, his book is the most original, most uplifting, most everything EVAH. So these people must be jealous of his brilliance.

Some of the Huns had great fun baiting him in the comments, but here’s the thing: I could grin at their comments (and his behavior is horrible enough to make one want to hit him) but I also felt that little cringe one feels when one sees a bit of oneself in a crazy person.

Because I started out like that. Oh, not under the impression what I was writing was so original or that everyone who writes vampires and werewolves is “unimaginative.” I’d read way too much for that. (Which I think Mr. Original hasn’t.)

But I started out writing things that had no discernible plot, characters only I could love, and hamfisted prose. [Okay, the last one was not so much “started out” as “last week”.]

I got rejected.

And then because I don’t have a healthy self-esteem (or much self-esteem at all, really, though the audience is helping me) I bought a bunch of books on how to do it, and I started analyzing it.

So, I couldn’t just self publish them, and yeah, that’s a difference. BUT I suspect if I had self-published and no one bought, and I’d got awful comments (except given what I was writing at the time it would probably sell on kink. Aliens. No I’m not telling.) the process would have been the same.

Because my idea of myself is not diamond-hardened and fire proof, I’d have gone “Oh.” And I’d have considered the idea that maybe my stuff really did suck and I only didn’t see it because it was mine. And then I’d have got the books/followed the same road.

So, to an extent, this depressive turn of mind, and this self doubt serve a purpose. The reason I run so hard is that me is following me, and I know the b*tch. If she catches up to me with all her doubts and insecurities, I’m going down for the count.

But sometimes she does catch me. And that’s an issue too.

My books take an average of two weeks to actually write – active writing time. In between there is a needed silence of two weeks to a month. The “battery recharging/ideation” time.

So how come I average two books a year (and some years I write six?) Well that’s the silences that aren’t necessary.

This is going to sound completely crazy considering I make a living at this, but I go through entire months of being convinced everything I ever write is drek. And then I can’t write at all. Extracting words from my mind becomes sort of like passing a novel out through a narrow crack in a wall, in papers the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

I could do without those silences. I could do without the fears so bottomless that I will accept any suggestion/criticism, no matter how ridiculous. I’ve learned over the years to do nothing to past works when I’m in this mood, and certainly not to read reviews/comments. Because if I read them at that time and then go and change my work, I will kill it. At best, I make it into soup without direction as I try to be all things to all people. At worst… You don’t want to know.

Now imagine someone with this turn of mind and the years of apprenticeship required to write something halfway decent. (I think I achieved that last week!)

Don’t nobody call no ambulance (yes, the grammar is intentional. Yes, I know. Nails on chalkboard) because it’s been years since this happened – but sometimes I felt I was spiraling down, with each level of shame/guilt worse, and constant memories of every humiliating/stupid mistake I’d made, to the point where often the only thing keeping me from committing suicide was knowing I had kids, and a duty to them.

It occurs to me that most of you are more of my stamp than of Mr. Greatest Thing Ever Written and You’re All Envious Hacks. And also that even for those who aren’t writers, these are tough times.

Not only are many of us struggling to make ends meet in Summer of (no) Recovery Six, but technological change is doing to the texture of our everyday life what hormones do to a pre-teen boy just before the jump.

You know the change is needed and largely beneficial, but we’re not a teen boy, and we don’t know where it leads. Everything is changing, and we’re caught in the middle of it. Unlike our “elites” we aren’t trying to take the world back (way back. Into feudalism) to where we feel more comfortable. But we do get scared and confused and wonder if what we’re doing is really for the best, like a beginner writer caught between two ways of writing and not sure which one is best (since it’s not just what he likes.)

In both cases: be good to yourself. Do the best you can. Few things in life are permanent. If what you are trying proves wrong, try something else.

And yeah, most of us have been tightening and tightening and tightening and cutting out all entertainment. And no, it’s not by choice.

But here is a suggestion: let that belt out a little bit. Shop advisedly. Buy bang for the buck. Amazon Prime furnishes us with a never-end of free movies and tv series, for instance. They’re a little old, but hey, we don’t have cable (expensive) so they’re new to us. And I’ve just joined Kindle Unlimited Lending Library. Now I know they pay a little less to writers, unless the story is 2.99 or under but here’s the thing: with it I read more than I could otherwise. So I don’t feel too bad for my fellow writers. $2 or so is better than what I would pay them otherwise (nothing, pretty much) and it allows me to read back up to the levels I like.

We also got a zoo membership and a membership to a couple of museums. These are expensive, relatively, but they give us a chance to run away every time things get to be too much. Weirdly, my family (each working three jobs or so) hits that wall at the same time. Most weekends we’ll all be working, catching up on things, maybe stopping for a movie in the evening (though not often.) And then one Sunday, usually dark and dreary with snow on the ground, we all go “this just isn’t working. I’m not getting anything done. Let’s go to—” And at that time it’s good to think “sure” and not “Do we have the money.” (Besides, when you have four people, one entry to a museum for all of us is half a year’s entry.)

That usually keeps the worst of depression away, while you’re working and don’t see an end in sight, and aren’t sure you are any good or will ever get anywhere.

When it doesn’t…

We humans are tormented/followed by the idea that our life must have a purpose. What I mean is, even the most irreligious of humans feels that he must be here for some reason.

Last week I posted the free book by James Owen, which I really do think is a wonderful pick me up if you’re trolling the depths. A couple of hours later, I had a thank you in my email. One of you – not a commenter, but a reader here – thanked me, because he’d been spiraling down the pit of hopelessness and trying not to think of doing away with himself. The book came just at the right time, and it stopped the spiral.

And suddenly I thought “Wow. What if my entire life, everything I’ve done, everything I am, was just for that purpose? To give a man a rope as he was slipping down the slope?”

Then I remembered an Agatha Christie story (in her bio) which I now don’t remember if it was a family thing or something that was told to her (I know she used it in a short story, later on) of someone who goes out to a cliff intending to throw himself down. Only there’s a woman there, sitting and looking out at the sea. And he can’t kill himself in front of someone. So he doesn’t. He goes back to life and it gets better.

I don’t remember how she explained it, but the thing is that the woman was also there, contemplating ending it all, and then (she somehow finds out what happened) she realizes if she’d killed herself before he arrived, he’d have been lost.

What I’m trying to say is even if your purpose in life is to just sit there at the right time and the right place (or if you don’t believe in purpose, your usefulness) there is something only you can do. It might be what you intend to do or it might be an entire accident (Instapundit, asked how he became instapundit “Like most things in my life, it happened by accident.”) But just by being here, you can become a lifesaver, and the life you save might change the world for the better.

In the same way, just by trying the best you can – at writing or life or whatever – you can sometimes become extraordinary. Perhaps most times. Yes, there is survivor bias in stories of “I tried, and I succeeded” but perhaps the arrow goes the other way. Perhaps if you really try, and are willing to admit you’re not perfect and to see clearly, you mostly succeed.

It’s just most people don’t. Because either absolute self confidence or its lack (yes, even that) are in a way far more comfortable.

But if you neither leap into the abyss, nor stand there frozen at its edge, telling yourself there is no abyss, if you learn the paths down and up the cliff, and if you lend a hand to those on the same road… perhaps, just perhaps that black cliff can become an enchanted cove where many find solace and life.

It’s worth a try.

Unringing The Bell — A Blast From the Past Post from 6/2011

*It’s amazing how much of this still applies. I made comments throughout in square brackets for how it’s different/same in Anno Domino 2014.  An email conversation with a writer I admire brought this to mind.  It’s amazing to me how many people are still in 1999 or maybe in 2010.*

Those of you who haven’t read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Writing Like It’s 1999, do so.

For those of you who read my blog this might seem like I’m harping on a theme, or like I’m getting repetitive.  Well I’d think so too, truly.  Except…  Except…whenever I’m at a con, someone – usually someone much less published than I am – comes back with a variant of “I’m going to keep my eyes shut tight and in the morning, this will all go away.”

Disruptive change is very scary and most people would rather pretend it will all go away, and we’ll be back to the familiar landscape and the familiar certainties.  Even if those are horrible.  Freed lions will often pace as though in the confines of the cage.  Those few of us who are awake and exploring every possibility, looking in every corner, searching for the way things will be are a small minority.

At cons, I still run into authors who look down on self-published authors.   I still run into authors who parrot the line about how much the publisher is investing in them: when it is patently obvious they’re lost in mid-list hell; I still run into authors who say “if you want to make a living at this, you have to publish with the big six.” [It's all just the same now.]

I had the dubious privilege of hearing a mid-press published author telling a self-published author whom I happen to know makes more in a month on one book than the mid-press published author has made for any two or three of his books that “most of what’s self published is crap and no one would buy it.  The future is finding a publisher and convincing them to accept you.  In two years, all this e-book stuff will be gone.” [I hear fewer publishers say that these days. Now they're more likely to howl about Amazon.]

It was breathtakingly bizarre.  Kind of like, in a fantasy novel, standing next to the hidden prince and watching the false king parade down the street looking down on everyone.  Like Saturnalia, with the fools reigning.

And then I catch myself – occasionally – thinking the old thoughts, too: “Well, what does he/she know.  He/she is small press published.”  Or perhaps thinking that some of my fledgelings will of course, eventually, follow the route I have.  And then I stop.  Because there are few things I know, but I do have some certainties. [I'm glad to report these thoughts are QUITE gone.  In fact I feel guilty if I advise someone to go traditional.]

These are the things I know:

Even if e-books all went away tomorrow, it wouldn’t go back to the way it was
Not the way it was in the early nineties, or even the way it was in the late nineties when I came in.  No way, no how, never.  Because there’s this thing called Amazon.  The publishers no longer control what’s on the shelves and what gets seen.  And even if Amazon died tomorrow, there would be other e-tailers.  Trying to control shelf space is not a winning strategy.  That bell has rung.

E-books aren’t going away
You can’t put the e-book genii back in the bottle.  I’m reading on kindle.  My kids are reading more on kindle than on paper.  So is my husband.  So are most of my friends. Barring some planet killing type of event, this is not going to go away.  No, the economic crisis won’t kill it.  Kindle books published by indies are cheaper.  The tighter life gets, the more likely we’ll buy those instead of the agency-modeled-to-death.

The hierarchies of prestige are gone
Because the big six no longer control access to shelf space (except in Barnes and Noble, and it no longer has the influence it once had) the safe hierarchy of self-published, small press, medium press, big press is gone.  We used to assume someone who self-published hadn’t even been able to get a small press to accept him/her.  We approached their work expecting it to be awful.  It often was.  That certainty is done.  A savvy author with time on his hands can decide he has a better chance going it alone.  Be careful how you talk to other authors.  That person with a single indie book out might have a larger readership than you could dream of.

Most authors have had a taste of freedom
I’m one of them.  Look, I’ve done next to nothing Indie.  A Touch of Night and a few short stories through Naked Reader Press. Interesting results but inconclusive.  However, just knowing I can write whatever and if it doesn’t sell I can put it up on Amazon and it will sell a minimum of x – plus be in print forever – has given me massive freedom.  I no longer feel like I’m blindfolded in the cattle car of a train over whose destination I have no control.  Even if indie proves to be less than half of my income, the ability to put out there what I think should be out there is slowly molding me into a different person: a much less fretful and worried one.  It’s likely to lengthen my life.  It will certainly make me easier to live with.  I don’t know how it’s taking other authors, but I don’t think it’s that bad. [From my experience with Witchfinder, it can make me a living.  Writing for two masters, though is ... argh.  But it will get done.]

We’re scared, but we’re not stupid
I know, I know, Dean says we’re stupid.  And he’s right in a way, but we’re a very specialized kind of stupid.  Also, he’s not seeing the pressures on my generation – those who came in after 2000 when the publishing houses looked at things ONLY through agents, and the publishing houses’ decisions could make or break your career, regardless of how good your book was.  We had to learn to shut up, no matter how stupid we felt what was happening was.  Not anymore.  And we’re losing the habit of silence – slowly.  The chances of a mass exodus back to publishers on the old terms because we don’t want to do everything ourselves is about … oh, look, do you see that flying pig?  Yeah.  Some of us will go back, of course – most of us who have made our name and can dictate terms, or the really small ones who couldn’t make it on their own.

And I’m not saying publishers are going away
Of course they’re not.  Though a few of the houses will vanish and almost certainly a few of the imprints will vanish.  What I’m saying is that the majority of the writers are NOT going to go back on the old terms.  You want us back, you’re going to have to do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves or hire someone to do for us.  I’m thinking this is the true “demise of the midlist” and not in the fake way you tried to do it before, where you simply announced the midlist was gone and kept changing midlisters’ names and paying them as beginners and not allowing them to build a following.  No.  I think the “midlister” the “shelf filler” the “person we print but don’t do anything else for” is gone.  You’ll have to treat every author as if he/she matters.  You have to make it better for them than they can do by throwing it up on Amazon.  I’m thinking good covers, publicity, limited contracts.

Make it worth my while
Or at least, don’t use aversion therapy on me.  You can’t keep me in the dark and feed me on shit anymore.  If the book is not selling, sure, I need to know, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s not a good book, when I know you did nothing to market it, not even get it on shelves.  And don’t, then, treat me as if it’s all my fault.  Because if you make things unpleasant enough and treat me like a serf, I’m going to think “well, I don’t need to work for you anymore” and I’m going to go Indie.

Give me a public
I’m thinking more publishers should look at Baen books, instead of turning up their noses.  Baen commands loyalty among its writers and gets dedicated readers who look for the brand.  Some of this is (good) marketing gimmicks: buttons saying “I read baened books”, book bags given out at cons, a slide show where upcoming releases are announced, a forum where fans can meet and geek out on their favs.  Part of it, though, the most important thing, is what none of the rest in sf/f or mystery has (I don’t know enough of Romance): a brand.  A unified taste.  For the big houses with multiple editors, this is difficult, of course.  But you can no longer be all things to all people.  Baen chose and does plot.  It does plot really well – whether it’s in sf/f or any of the variations.  “Things happen in Baen Books” would be a great tag line.  Mind you, if it’s one of my books (or Dave Freer’s, too, or a half dozen others) the books also have characters and feelings – but the “things happen” and “adventure” aspect MUST be there for it to be a Baen book.  When I started being published by Baen I immediately “slotted” into a pre-made public.  This, as a newby, gave me something to put my back against, as I grow the rest.  So, what can the big houses do.  I don’t know.  I don’t know under what constraints they operate.  BUT if I owned one, I’d give each editor an “imprint” and then give them the resources to publicize that imprint.  “Okay, Jane likes craft mysteries.  She can specialize in that.  We’ll call it Golden Brush books, and…”  Have them appeal to a segment of public, but appeal to them very powerfully.  It’s better to command 50k loyal readers and grow them slowly than to have most of your books bomb, except for a mega ultra blockbuster a year – which these days might not materialize.  (No power to push, remember?)  And meanwhile tell the editors that the house does… oh, pick one.  Beautiful, doomed adolescents.  Or perhaps more generally “character” or “angst” or “Beautiful language.” and unify that across your “imprints” which will maximize the chance of people reading the brand, not just the imprint.

Will there be a new equilibrium?  Of course there will.  And I think it’s about two years out, too.  But will things be the way they were?

E-books.  E-tailing.  Soon, the book printing machines in every bookstore.  Writers who’ve taken the bit between their teeth.  Will all that vanish?

No way.  You can’t put humpty dumpty together again.  And you can’t unring a bell.  So publishers and writers both will have to stay alert and change to survive.

UPDATE:  Ask not for whom that bell won’t unring…  I think what you’re hearing today, loud and clear, are funeral bells.  Or perhaps the woosh of the meteor falling to Earth.  The dinosaurs will never be the same:

The Free Range Oyster LIVES

*And sent me the Saturday book post.  There will be another post — might be BPP — as soon as I find the caffeine IV. – SAH*

Hail and well met, Huns and Hoydens. My sincerest thanks for the sympathies and prayers offered for us in the last couple of weeks. The Oyster Wife and I are still easing back into normal life both online and in meatspace, but you’ve gone long enough without a promo post, so here we are. The backlog has provided a nice selection this week, mostly new releases. Go buy fun books, kick back, and enjoy your weekend. As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Proud and Grateful Member of the Hunnish Horde

P.S. For those who can make it, this coming week is the Constitution Week Conference at Utah Valley University. The Huns seem like an excellent audience for such an event, and I’d meant to mention it weeks ago. Free admission, and since this years focus is free speech, they have Eugene Volokh, Jonathan Turley, and Richard Epstein coming to speak, among others. Not sure which sessions I’ll be attending – bills don’t pay themselves – but I’ll definitely be there. Now, back to the books!

John Van Stry

The God Game

Portals of Infinity: Book Two

Will’s life has definitely changed since that day he went hiking in the woods. Learning about the portals opened his eyes to the wider reality. Being setup to become a God’s Champion was an even more startling event.

Now it’s time to pay for his ‘recruitment’. While Gods on a single world maneuver for power, the older Gods from the infinite spheres play a larger and more complicated game. The Goddess Aryanna has a quest she needs completed, and five Champions are needed to do it. Leaving Will to wonder, what could a Goddess possibly need?

Also available from these fine booksellers:

Jenna Vincent

Impossible Odds

Impossible Odds contains a pair of stories involving everyday people, making difficult choices in uncertain times and coming out ahead, despite the odds.

James & Anita C. Young

Across Four Realms

A Short Story Omnibus

Across Four Realms is a collection of short stories that introduces the reader to four disparate universes, with the sole constant that chaos knows no boundaries…and pain is a companion to all.

In “Ride of the Late Rain”, Commander Leslie Hawkins is the master of the destroyer Shigure, the oldest vessel in the Confederation Fleet. Equipped with a powerful, new device, the “Late Rain” is chosen for a special, dangerous project. With a young crew and modifications that make her vessel not what she seems, Commander Leslie Hawkins presses into unknown space to examine structures detected by a Confederation Fleet survey vessel…and discovers that Mankind is not alone.

“Pandora’s Memories” takes place in a very different World War II than the history books remember. Adolf Hitler is dead. Queen Elizabeth II reigns on the Commonwealth throne while a usurper sympathetic to the Nazis inhabits Buckingham Palace. Having turned aside the Soviet Union’s initial assault into the Greater Reich, the Wehrmacht is now stymied at the gates of Moscow. With the Red Air Force bloodied, the Kremlin under steady blows from the Luftwaffe, and Joseph Stalin comatose, the desperate Soviet Triumvirate turns to the United States in a plea for aid against the mutual Nazi foe. Indifferently equipped, the young men of the American Air Expeditionary Force (AAEF) are thrown into action in order to keep the Soviet Union in the war.

The people of Newton’s Village thought they’d witnessed the worst in humanity on the night the president announced the imminent impact of the asteroid Scythe. Four weeks later, after Scythefall killed almost a third of the nation, they are about to find out just how wrong they were. “After the Scythe” is the story of everyday people’s sacrifice and resolve in a struggle against desperation, violence and lawlessness.

“Fenrir Reborn”: Sindri Modulf has been tested many times throughout his life. No test has been greater than the one confronting him now: To bring back a once-in-a-millennium Seer from the precipice of grief-induced madness. Unwilling to let Empaths and Telepaths rip apart his friend’s mind to retrieve the visions within, Sindri does something he has never done before: bare his soul.

David Burkhead

Survival Test


A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down. The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.

Cedar Sanderson

Memories of the Abyss

Free until the 16th

Violet is trapped in the prison of her own mind. Her body is dwelling in the insane asylum, but when her friend Walter is killed, she must make a decision to avenge his death, or stay safely locked in her own broken soul. He’d drawn her out of her shell, and she finds she still has honor left… But will anyone believe the crazy woman?

Danny Lasko

The Children of Hamelin

Everyone knows the Pied Piper led them away. But no one knows what happened to them.

Horatio Gaph is on his way to celebrity and success, as the most promising talent ever to play the nation’s new national past time, The Escape: the one bright spot in this dystopian existence.

At least until he learns he is not only a descendant of the famed Children of Hamelin but is called to bring them home. Led by clues from the writings of L. Frank Baum, the Brothers Grimm, JM Barrie, and Lewis Carroll, Horatio and his friends discover truths that will dramatically change the nature of this world’s existence.

But there are powerful forces that would see him fail. Unless Horatio can find the way home, the truths about these once-thought fairytales—and the unrealized potential of this world—will forever be lost.

Life In Insane Color

You know the old saw about the man with one eye in the land of the blind and being king.

They were wrong.  The man with one eye in the land of the blind is shouted down and accused of making up this “vision” thing.

Which is why many of us feel a little — ah — Odd about the world we live in.  Look, Zero edge thinks we live in a stupid country.  It’s a fair cop, but misguided.  After perusing things like this:

1. If you can get arrested for hunting or fishing without a license, but not for being in the country illegally, you live in a country run by idiots.

2. If you have to get your parents’ permission to go on a field trip or take an aspirin in school, but not to get an abortion, you live in a country run by idiots.

3. If you have to show identification to board an airplane, cash a check, buy liquor or check out a library book, but not to vote on who runs the government, you live in a country run by idiots.

You could be excused for thinking so, but in fact it’s far, far worse than that.  The truth is that we live in a world run by CRAZY people.

And yes, Zero edge has a little of bit of the infection itself. I used to think they were completely inane.  Now I think they’re insane about half the time.  The other half they’re… telling the truth about the bind we’re in, which is binding indeed. (Their comments are the nuttiest collection of conspiracy theorists, so read them only if you’re short on nuts in your diet.)

The half that they’re insane about is the bit where they kind of sorta of believe in the whole Marxist class warfare.  Not that the crony-capitalist top of the pile isn’t revolting, but just because a pile of slugs is revolting, it doesn’t mean it’s causing the problems in the world. Not even close to all the problems in the world.

Fortunately we live int he US where speech is free — at least if you can buy political speech insurance.

If you’re about on the verge of tears, calm down.  There is a reason — if not a method — for all this madness.

I was talking to my friend Bill Reader yesterday and I posited that in fact what we’re seeing is the convulsions on the way to ah — and here I’ll drive the commenters at zero edge insane — a new world order.

And before all you sane (?) people edge towards the exits, I’m not going to start raving about the trilateral commission and chemtrails.  I’m simply going to note that the industrial revolution lead to a world of larger and larger political units.  (And in the states, to the consolidation of Federal power.)

I’m not going to start an argument with anyone — again — over what is needed for large scale manufacturing and the changes likely to come or not. Though I’m going to guess the changes in a hundred years are likely to surprise all of us.  Mostly because we won’t be different human species, but never mind that.

But I’m going to point out that even as the industrial revolution happened farming stayed the principal occupation of everyone for a long, long time.  We’re now at the beginning of another revolution, kind of where we were 300 years ago.  Large scale manufacturing is ceding primacy to for lack of a better word “individual industry.”

This is going to create a lot of bump and grind, and not in a good way. For one countries are different places along that road.  For another, those wedded to a Marxist narrative hate the new direction like poison, which is how we get the actual idiot in the guardian who said that self-publishing was retrogade. But in the end, we should end up somewhere with smaller units of government and perhaps at least in some of them a bit more freedom. BTW my friend Bill brought up the “copycat effect of history.” And I told him I expect Catalonia and the Basques and perhaps at the end of it even the North of Portugal joining in.  We’ve tried the massive units that give no representation to the individual and attract all the power hungry sharks.  Let’s go the other way now. So while they’re not on the same page, I found this article from zero edge interesting.

They don’t know if they’re coming or going.  No wonder they obsess about stuff like this. Because, yeah, this whole “we need more upper class females everywhere, from gaming to writing” is the most important thing ever.  Gynocracy forever.

Because reality be d*mned, people are widgets and should be treated as such. Looking at tech, they’re in for a lot more trouble than we are.

Be of good cheer.  We’re not likely to see the end of this transition period, which means we’re stuck living in interesting times.  BUT at least we see with eyes unclouded by Marx. And we know at the end of this we win they lose.

And there are surprising signs of sanity.  Though of course, for my money, you’d dump the politicians straight into the shark infested waters and skip the “survival” part.

And that’s Friday.  On personal news, I realized — and this sounds entirely stupid a thing not to have realized before — that the problem this, oh, year and a half, is that my imagination had shut down.  I was running on craft, fumes and cannibalizing some of my own old ideas. This worked for shorts but not for novels.

I realized it because the imagination is back and things are flowing.  Why?

I don’t know.  Could be a number of factors ranging from the likely (fixed vacuum which has been off for 3 years, and breathing is WAY better.  Also, hormonal stuff seems to be settling down.) To the nuts and unlikely but maybe possible (I’ve been taking vitamin b-12.  I have no idea why that would help, but hey, it’s not cocaine, so, on the off chance, I’ll keep taking it.) I will not do chapters this weekend, as I THINK I really can finish Through Fire.  (Please, no crazy stuff, for one weekend?)

But there will be other posts here, so stay tuned.

And now I’m going to clean cat boxes because culture, history and politics is all a distraction.  The highest purpose of human is to cater to cat.



Tonight I’m Mewed Up To my Heaviness

It was a clear and bright morning

It was a clear and bright morning

It was a crystal clear morning in the Rocky Mountains.  The air was still warm enough, but had that crisp feel that foretells coming snow storms.  I was thirty seven years old.  The boys were ten and six.  I walked them to school through the bright, cool morning.  Dan had left for the week the day before (he had a traveling job.  I called them the Marines of Programming.  When someone had an insoluble problem, they were called in to solve it.  That week he was in DC.) I was late according to my own schedule (not the publisher’s) on Any Man So Daring.  I walked the kids to school, waited till the little one went in.  I was re-reading Pol Anderson’s Operation Chaos in a beat up paperback I carried in the pocket of my jeans.  So I waited till the younger one went in, reading my book. Then I walked back home enjoying the morning — that beautiful September morning, with only a touch of future frost.

I’d got on the net — our TV reception was awful — and read yahoo news (I think.  I hadn’t found instapundit, yet) and read that  a plane had struck the tower.  I thought it was a small plane and a stupid accident.  I felt vaguely sorry, but…

I stopped in the kitchen to make coffee.  And the phone rang.  This wasn’t alarming.  My friend Rebecca Lickiss was also a stay at home mom/writer, and in those days when the internet was still dial up, we often called each other in the morning to discuss a plot point, or tell the other about this cool idea we’d had.

But when I answered the phone, Becky was crying.  She said “Turn on the TV!”  I said “I can’t get anything on the TV.  What is it?”  And she said “A plane has struck the towers.”  I said “Oh, that?” She said “TURN ON THE TV.”

So I did and watched through the fuzzy reception.

And we entered the wrong leg of the trousers of time.

First let me say, it could have been worse.  How?  Oh, it could have been worse in many ways, but the most notably worse for the country would have been if this had been domestic terrorism.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t remember those days.  In the aftermath of the 2000 election, the “progressives” who had been counting on Gore as a sure thing were so… unhinged (I thought) that I thought at first it had been a left-plot, some sort of attack.  I was almost relieved when I heard it was an Arab hit.

I’ve told the story before.  I didn’t know if Dan was dead or alive for hours, because this was a new job and I didn’t know where he was (nowhere near the pentagon, but in DC, it turned out.) My friend Charles came over because he worked in what passes for a tall building around here, and they sent him home.

Was I scared?  I was scared.  Not of the terrorists, though.  This week’s trifecta discusses that.  My reaction to the terrorists was defiance.  I tried to paint a banner.  It didn’t work.  It was supposed to say:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave. 

But I had to paint it on plastic (it was all I had on hand) and it wasn’t really legible.  I got my twin towers t-shirt acquired in our second honeymoon the year before, and wore it.

But I was scared.  Not of the terrorists.

Listening to Osama talk about how we were filled with fear just made me want to punch him in his dumb face.

But those among us who were scared and would rather do anything rather than admit they were scared.  Those, always too inclined to hate their own countrymen and to think themselves superior to all of humanity by the force of their disdain — them I was afraid of.

And I was right.  Just like when they were afraid of communism and therefore would justify anything communists did to the point of acting as a fifth column in our midst, they became apologists for the enemy, blamers of their brethren.  They’ve spent the last thirteen years bleating that it’s all our fault, because that’s an easier pill to swallow than the idea they were wrong.

I was wrong back then too, btw.  On that beautiful September day, I was an internationalist Libertarian, well-nigh an anarchist.  When the towers fell my wishful thinking fell with them, my blind certainty that other people were just as much in love with peace as we were, and that they wouldn’t attack us for no reason (or simply because our very existence puts the lie to their cherished beliefs.)

Am I better for it?  Ah!

I’m more grown up for it.  I think my understanding of the world is better.  It’s also darker.

My youth fell to the ground on that September day.  My utopian folly jumped with those poor people with no other way out of the towers. My ridiculous — but pleasant — assurance that I knew what was best for everyone else is gone.

And I’ve watched my country turn on itself.  I watched the dreadful fruit of the Soviet union propaganda and of the counterculture of the sixties blossom into where we are now: our allies betrayed, the blood of our compatriots wasted, threatened on all sides.

I’ve watched 9/11/12 be swept under the rug like someone who is slapped while he’s tied down and can’t respond.

Am I afraid?


No, I am not afraid.  I am sad.

I feel like we fell down the wrong leg of the pants of time and I’d give everything I have and something besides to go back to that crisp September morning, to come home, to make coffee, go up to my office and pound out five thousand words on Any Man So Daring, to wait for Dan’s call that night, and talk about the cats and the kids’ homework.  To never get that phone call that says “turn on the TV” because there would have been nothing special happening.  I’d give everything I have to unring that bell.

In that other world — in the other leg of the pants of time — none of those  people died.  The towers stand as they did when I first flew into New York as a newly arrived immigrant.  And I’m probably still a political idiot, but a political idiot who laughs more often and who has some really delightful illusions.

We can’t get there.  Even if parallel worlds exist, that is not our world.  Here in the present, I’m older and sadder and I feel betrayed by the administration and those who enable it.

Here in the real world there’s a lot of work to do.  Those of our own who turned on us after 9/11 might or might not wake up.  And those who took the opportunity of the crisis to plunge a dagger in our back in the name of their own utopian dreams won’t stop.

The best we can do is work against the forces of destruction.  Build up.  Build around.  Build through.  Be ready when they collapse.


Here, in this pantleg of time, we have a heck of a job ahead of us.

But not tonight.  Tonight I say a prayer for all those Americans who are gone — in the towers and in the battlefields.

On the twelfth we resume the fight.  On the day after tomorrow we resume working, with clear eyes towards the best world that can be obtained from where we are.  Not the shiny world of my fantasies, but perhaps a better one that works for real humans.

But tonight?  Tonight and tomorrow I cry for the lost.

And for just a moment — the briefest of moments — I imagine I can reach back and be in that world, in that unclouded September morning, with the towers gleaming bright in the sunlight and all our troubles so far away and yet with the frost already in the air.

On 9/12 I will resume work towards the world I want to leave my children.

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Modeling Clay

When I was in college, one of my best friends made a middle-class salary from part time modeling. I tried out for it, but I was turned down, because I was a little short. Mind you, this was Portugal in the eighties, and I was five seven and a size seven, which means in every group of women I was usually the tallest by a head. Except when I was with this particular friend, who was half Italian (from the German border) and who was six feet tall and blond.

The person that they wanted on the runway, selling clothes to Portuguese women had in fact nothing to do with Portuguese women.

In fact, considering that some of the models modeling men’s clothes are women, (and very oddly vice-versa) I’d guess that most of the models on runways today have nothing to do with men.

Of course being rejected for the job, immediately made me feel worthless and ugly and totally destroyed my life.  Also, another thing that destroyed my life, and the reason I’m living in a cardboard box under a bridge is the fact that I looked at that runway and saw no one that looked like me.

So I knew I’d never amount to anything, right?

Which brings us to models of another kind. Role models.

I’m not going to look for it, but last week an article from the Telegraph caught my eye. It was about how Britain now has some sort of minister/secretary/whatever for science. And she’s a woman. This will immediately (implied, to great rejoicing) increase the numbers of women/girls/female creatures in all branches of science.

I don’t know what to say. Except maybe W(inning) T(he) F(uture) people?

What is this obsession with role models and with someone you can identify with in all walks of life and in literature too?

And no, btw, I don’t think that having a woman in charge of science something or other will result in hordes of people of vaginitude storming the halls of science. Seriously – how would that work?

Kid, playing with dolls on carpet. Looks up. Sees adult woman giving boring speech. Sees that she’s minister/secretary for science something or other. Puts doll down. “Mom, you must give me a test tube set, for I now know that because bureaucrats do science stuff, and one of them is a woman, I too can do bureaucratic science stuff! Forget the test tube, buy me a rubber stamp.”

We’re assaulted with this type of strange magical thinking at all levels.

Girls need role models.  Minorities need role models.  People don’t read because there’s no one like them in the books. If I look around an organization and everyone there is blond and tall, they’re putting me down, because I’m not, and now I know I’ll never be successful.

Because totally what counts is if people match me on the outside.  Well, it is what is important if I want to borrow their clothes a lot.  For other things… not so much?

In school they used to tell us we needed more women teachers so girls would have role models. Now, of course, no one says anything about the dearth of male teachers.

In the same way, we’ve been told ad nauseum that we needed more women heroes in books, so that girls could aspire to being heroic. No one is saying anything about the complete dearth of male anything in books these days. Instead they say “boys don’t read.”

So, let’s talk about reading and role models in books.

When I was little I was very aware of male and female stories. Male stories (often swiped from my brother) were about adventures and exploration, about killing the bad guys or at least hurting them very badly. They were fun. Female stories were about friends and feelings and oh, my heavens, clothes. I could enjoy those too, in a certain frame of mind. Not all of them. I never got the thing with the bullfighters and mourning them forever.

However, I really liked, oh, Tom Sawyer (a boy book); The Prince and the Pauper (an in between book); Tarzan (boy books); The Countess of Segur (Girl books, and btw, dealing with surprisingly modern themes for fairytales, including spouse abuse); The Adventures of Captain Morgan (boy books); The Little Princess (Girl book.)

That last one, btw, could have been a boy book too, but my brother hated it with a burning passion. I think it was because it’s your classical Cinderella story and there’s a lot about how she was mistreated and then rescued from it all because she was deserving. I loved it for the adventure and the stealth involved in bringing the happy ending about.

What I’m trying to say is this – in my head at a very young age, I classified books as “boy” or “girl,” but it rarely had anything to do with the sex of the protagonist. What it had to do with was with the feel of the book and the virtues it relied on.

I don’t remember once – not once – thinking I needed a role model in a book, or thinking (even) that there must be someone like me in the book for me to enjoy it. Heck, Captain Morgan hated a lot of things, but he hated Portuguese most of all. He set fire to their ships and put them to the sword. Reading the books (mind you, by then I was 12) I thought “okay, it makes a certain sense since he’s a dedicated anti-slaver and at that time Portuguese ran slave ships. Also, you know, nations have disagreements. He was English and hated the Portuguese. These were imaginary Portuguese. No real Portuguese were harmed in the making of this book, and I certainly hadn’t been harmed.

The Three Musketeers (a boy book) held forth that Frenchmen were the pinnacle of civilization. Well, they would. They were French. It didn’t make me like them any the less.

But, you’ll say, what about the virtues girls are supposed to learn from books? Should these be masculine virtues?

I think that learning to be good to those who are weaker; kind to those in need; self-restrained; logical; protective which are the virtues those books embodied don’t hurt women. What about the more female-like books? Well, they taught the same virtues, except that you did all of that while in snazzy clothes, something I don’t exactly object to either.

The only difference I see is that women in real life tend to be “no holds barred” fighters, while books for men tend to teach restraint, more than books for women do

Restraint is usually the better road.

I don’t understand the idea that in books; in positions of power; in professions you need to see someone like you to make sure you can go there. Perhaps this is odd in me? Even if there were no woman writers, I’d still want to be a writer. The relative dearth (not complete, but relative) of women writers in her class didn’t hurt Jane Austen after all.

And I’ve loved books where the voice character was a very heterosexual male. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress comes to mind.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, books exist for one reason: to make it possible for me to experience a narration/life/point of view from behind someone else’s eyes instead of my own.

Story? Nah. I can watch story on a screen. But watching story is not the same as living it, as feeling sweat drip, as having that itch behind your knee just as you’re going into battle. Only books can let you live it.

Which is why the obsession with “having one of me” in a book (and its mirror image of having to be a certain race/sex/orientation to write about that) is maddening. If I wanted to stay locked behind my eyes, dude, I wouldn’t read books.

Are there really people so narcissistic that they just want to read about themselves, forever?

Or are they looking for reinforcement and idealization. “Look, that’s me on the stage, and I’m six feet tall and blond.”

Perhaps that’s why the modeling industry in Portugal, in the eighties, loved my friend. Or perhaps it was because she made the clothes look good.

And perhaps there are really people who love seeing themselves reflected mirror-like on the books they read. Or perhaps – perhaps – this is all nonsense and people just like characters that engage them and carry them along, no matter what they look like/are like.

And perhaps the obsession with making sure there’s someone for the reader (particularly women, for which I think we should feel insulted. Do they think we lack imagination?) to identify with by mirroring what we think these readers are is a peculiar insanity of the elites.

Like the idea that having a woman science “minister” will immediately make little girls forget everything and want to be scientists.

Because if all the push in schools, in the media, in stories, can’t make them do it – yeah, sure – the bureaucrat with a science title will surely bring about utopia.


Interrupting This Blog For an Announcement

SMDotDthumbI just realized that I don’t have a bunch of you cartoon critters on my flist or that I can’t figure out how to tag you.  SO….

I first watched this as a presentation.  I have since given it to at least four creative friends who were going through a rough patch.

It’s free.  Go.  Download.  Trust me on this.  Go and download.