The Privilege Of Not Caring

So, recently I’ve been getting really tired of the word “privilege” mostly because it’s being twisted to mean things it never meant.

I’d even be more or less okay with the idea that “white privilege” is not having to define yourself according to a race/ethnicity stereotypes.  It’s a stupid idea, but it’s at least understandable how people got there.

They got there through a total lack of empathy, is how they got there.  They assume that the pressures put on them to fit the pictures in people’s heads only exist because they tan an interesting color, have female parts or whatever.

This is a stunning lack of empathy because in fact, the pictures in people’s heads are there because they’re human and the subject they are examining must fall into a pattern of heuristics that allows them to make a quick decision.

In other words, particularly when evaluating other humans, everyone has prejudices.

I’ve told before the story of how my husband and I went car shopping and took along our best friends, both taller, blue eyed, and one of them blond. Inevitably, at whichever dealership we landed in (this was a lazy Saturday pursuit. You know what I mean) the salesman gravitated towards our friends who a) weren’t shopping for a car. b) were far less financially solvent than we were.

Racism? Oh, heck no, heuristics. Dan might or might not be as white as advertised, but outwardly he’s all white (nickname Count Dracula due to his inability to tan.) (Well, maybe the eyes give some clue to other genetic origins as in Portugal everyone assumes he’s from Macau and some level of cross breed. Meh.) And I can pass provided I haven’t been outside in a couple of weeks and don’t open my mouth. So, racism was highly unlikely. But we’re both short, overweight, dark haired, and were dressed almost terminally relaxed. Our friends fit the “double income” couple look better than we did, so salesmen gravitated to them.

Privilege? No. We got the chance to poke around at cars while our friends distracted pushy salespeople. BUT prejudice? You bet. Even though the two couples were superficially “white” you bet the sales people had an image of what “affluent” or relatively affluent (it was used dealerships) looked like, and it wasn’t Dan or I.

Flip it around. Imagine you were born tall, blond, blue eyed. Are people not going to judge you as you go anywhere? Ah! I’ve noted a tendency to assume such people are wealthy patricians (I blame the media, since if this was ever true in America it was in the nineteenth century at the latest.) And that comes with a degree of hostility from everyone who isn’t, a degree of expectations from people who truly are racists, etc. All of which can be really annoying if your blond hair and blue eyes came via Scots-Irish from Appalachia, right?

Oh, and let’s go to another branch of “white privilege.” I confess to a minor perversion, other than my liking mathematicians. Dan isn’t perfect because he doesn’t have a Southern US accent. I go weak at the knees when a Southern male starts talking. It’s the world’s sexiest accent.

However I’ve realized long ago that a white southern male opens his mouth and most people place him in “dumb hick.” This happens even when he has multiple graduate degrees. Some white privilege, right?

So people who think that “White privilege” is never having to conform to a stereotype or never being judged are totally lacking in empathy and imagination.

They are also rather strange, since all you need to acquire the privilege of not thinking how you should be based on your color/gender is DECIDE you’re not going to think about it. I’m here to tell you it works. I’m aware a lot of people will judge me based on stupid stereotypes (really stupid. An old boss for instance thought Portugal was a city in Mexico. Marshall’s kindergarten teacher thought I and Dan (???!!!!) were first generation Russian immigrants. A couple of people have thought we were immigrants from Israel) but I don’t let that control me. I’m me. Yeah, some people will act stupid around me. Some people act stupid around everyone. And there, with that decision I free myself. You know, most people don’t even make a mention of the horrible accent. I’m sure they notice it, and heaven knows what they think about it. But they don’t mention it.

The ones who mention it prove the “importance” I should give their opinions by agglutinating Dan or the kids to wherever they think the accent is from. I.e. they HEAR my U.S. born and bred sons and husband speaking with the same accent I have. The latest one asked Robert if HIS accent was from Poland. (Rolls eyes.)

What in heck should you care for such peoples’ opinions? What say do they have in your life?

Then there are the charming SJWs (no, it’s not an insult. They called themselves Social Justice Warriors. They don’t get to escape the name when it turns out everyone knows how stupid it is) in my field who call me a race and gender traitor. Children are confused like that. How can you be a traitor to an allegiance that doesn’t exist and which you never swore fealty to.

Doesn’t exist, you say? But race! Gender! Well, they SAY gender is a social construct and as for race, I know enough history (if they don’t) to know it’s a cultural construct. In the nineteenth century they talked of “the Portuguese race” and the “British race.” I understand that under the microscope, absent some kind of marker like sickle cell, you can’t tell anyone’s skin color. You can, interestingly enough, at the cellular level, tell the sex of the cells. But the SJWs tell us it’s a social construct, and they are honorable women and girly men.

Actually what is a social construct are the archetypes they push into those things: females and other races as archetypal oppressed races. As a Samoan e-friend put it, her people weren’t oppressed by whites. They didn’t care what whites were doing. The Portuguese might have been oppressed by the whiter parts of Europe, kind of sort of. I mean, at various times English Literature referred to them as a vile race, the French did whatever the French were doing, and the Germans tried to organize the study of Portuguese literature (among other things.) But in the end, the Portuguese were too busy fighting their eternal enemies, the Portuguese, and occasionally distracted enough to fight the Spaniards, to care overmuch about more remote European countries.  They were rather busy not being eaten by Spain, as every other country in the Peninsula was.  (Well, technically not being eaten by Castile, but…)

Here do I get oppressed by non-Latin people? Meh. I’d like to see the idiot with enough gumption to try to oppress me. Sometimes they stereotype me and are rude to me, but I ignore them and that works.

So who am I betraying by not conforming to the baneful Marxist stereotype of who I should be? Oh, right, the SJWs. That’s okay, I’m fine betraying them. Or at least fighting them. Hard to betray what you never belonged to. And, you know, most of them, even those with exotic names and claiming exotic identities (rolls eyes) are pasty-assed white people with real privilege as defined by having money and having attended the best universities and hanging out with all the “right” people and having the “right” (left) opinions. If they knew the meaning of the word privilege, they’d see it all over themselves.

But there are more egregious definitions of privilege. You see “check your privilege” is a tool of would-be elite whites to keep competition and challengers in check, while riding to glory by defining themselves as champions of the downtrodden. (It’s an old game, in place at least since the French revolution, but it’s the only one they have. Remember they lack both empathy and imagination. And since they have more or less overtaken the press, no one on the street realizes how old and tired this “clever” gambit is.)

However, when that hits academia, it becomes something even more poisonous.

Recently I heard someone talk about a difficult (as in very poor, with two working, Asian immigrant parents barely scrabbling to get by) childhood and say that as they always had books and were pushed to succeed they had “tons of white privilege.”

This person was a graduate of an ivy league school. So, of course, he had internalized the definitions of “white privilege” as meaning “doing that which brings success.”

This is sort of a self-defeating thing. If you want to have a voice in politics, you avoid “white privilege” which means if you want to have a voice in politics, you must not display those traits which logically lead to success in the culture. (You see how this is a tool of the white overclass to avoid competition from anyone else.)

This poisonous, totally unwarranted view of privilege serves only one purpose: to keep everyone else floundering and mute while these not-very-competent, credentialed, correctly-connected, politics-as-a-social good, lacking in empathy, totally devoid of imagination, largely white would-be-aristos lord it over us.

Sigh. Hey, guys, privy-lege means “private law.” You know, private law which allows your not-very-competent asses to hold on to positions you’re not qualified for just because you make the right noises. Private law which means your politicians don’t get even rebuked for incompetence and malice that would crucify any one else. Private law means you can enrich yourself while playing at caring for the downtrodden. Private law means you can be an old woman with no accomplishments to your name except marrying the “right” man and then claim to speak for women and youth. Private law means you can play life on the easiest setting, while rebuking everyone with your melanin content (or more) for doing the same, whether you know what they’ve overcome or not.

Privilege means arrogating to yourself the right to judge others, not on behavior, not on their choices, not on their competence or their intelligence, but simply on whether they disagree with you. And to scream “off with their heads” if they don’t.

Privilege means the right to tell people what they should think or feel, and telling people whom they should blame for their plight, even if the people themselves disagree.

Privilege means voting yourself accolades, awards, encomiums, and then relying on your buddies in the press to make you smell like a rose, despite the garbage you roll around in.

Privilege means destroying people and gutting the culture for the privilege (ah!) of standing on top the smoking pyre, being king of the dunghill.

Privilege means being aristos unaware the masses are in pain and – like Antoinette never said – telling them to eat cake.

It’s short lived, though, this sort of privilege, because it destroys that which it feeds upon. And it’s even more short lived in a time when technological change undermines you.  For instance, I don’t think the press can shield these aristos much longer. It might last the bastions of the left until the present generation (older than I) retires. Those younger than I, though, banking on it are playing a mug’s game.  (Or are simply stupid and as we’ve said, lack both empathy and imagination.)

Long before they inherit, the inheritance will be ashes in the wind.

And the rest of us, the ones who understand the cold equations of economics and culture, of knowledge and power? We’ll be here.

Ça Ira.

Promo Post and Musings

The promo is by Free Range Oyster, the resident ambulatory mollusc.  The musings are mine.  And since this is my blog and I muse if I want to: musings first.

My main musing is on the subject of work. Yesterday on Facebook someone told me I do two daily blogs and all the rest.  This is, of course, not true.  I barely do this blog daily, if I can con one or two of you into doing guest posts a week.  (Actually I’ve found the ideal number of weekly posts is three.  After that it starts eating into the fiction brain.  Yes, I could cut down to posting on designated days, or I can let some of my friends talk too.  I like the second better.  Now that younger son is taking (only) a couple/three summer classes — needed when you’re taking two and three half degrees in six years — he has also promised me a weekly post.  After all, he’s a Hoyt and this is According to Hoyt.  Of course you guys will accuse me of making him up, because of the three guys, he’s the one who sounds most like me.  Okay, without the occasional naughty snark.  He’s an embryonic engineer.  Someone left the naughty out of him.)

However, this musing is on the subject of work, backbreaking work and joy.

I’m not going to say writing isn’t work, or hasn’t been work more times than I can say.  For instance, as I’m editing a collection to put up (usually editing it at night, when I’m almost asleep, but never mind.  Oh, yeah, remind me I need to make an eyeglass appointment on Monday, because right now I can see clearly up to the tip of my nose, and the rest is an educated guess.  Which gets tiring when editing. It’s not all absent mindedness, I was waiting for the hormones to settle after surgery.  When you’re astigmatic, hormonal confusion affects your eyesight) and one of the stories I put in which I remembered as being pretty decent is Oh, My Lord.  As in, you can feel me pushing every word into place with a crow bar.  Which is exactly what it felt like at the time.  It felt like I was locked in a walled-in, silent room and could only pass words out, one at a time, through a crack only big enough to admit a fortune-cookie sized paper.

More importantly, I couldn’t “feel” the worlds I was writing (okay, okay, see them and hear them, at least mentally.  Before you call the men in white coats, I suggest you remember that if they cure me you get no more books.  Yeah, that’s right, put down that phone.) This meant that every development in plotting, every new character had to be thought out carefully.

This is, btw, why the serialized novels came to a halt, because otherwise I’d have had to spend the whole week working on a chapter (I suddenly feel empathy for those of my colleagues who write very slowly) and I have other work.  Yes, they will resume, just let me figure out the mash I made of those plots.  My goal right now is to finish them at the end of Summer, and bring them out around September.

It’s been like that, but increasingly worse for the last three years, or if you want to get technical, it’s been like that for 20 years slowly worsening, until it reached critical mass 8 years or so ago (the Nebulas in Arizona) and since then it’s been a race to shut down my brain and it’s weird that it no longer is.  I talked to friends back then and they diagnosed burnout. It seemed right.  I read books on burnout, but the prescriptions were either impossible or didn’t help.

Well, it wasn’t burnout, though it behaved like it.  It was the multiple complications of a relatively simple but messy internal problem.  So.

So, what now?  Where do I — and more importantly for you guys — my writing go from here.  D*mned if I know.

Let’s take it as written that when I broke in 15 years ago the effects of the cr*p going on in my organs were minor.  I was writing four novels a year (one sold.  Eh.  I was learning) reading six books a week and writing a short story every weekend.  Then again I was also thirty and change, not fifty two.

Let’s take it as written too that I am not fully up to strength yet.  H*ll the doctor hasn’t given me the all-clear yet.  Appointment on Wednesday.  Keep your fingers crossed, because I think she’ll have a nervous breakdown if I’m not healed.  She was halfway there last time.

Also, brain-curious (he’s been reading articles on brain science since he was 10.  What the heck would you call him?) #1 son-san tells me that the brain recovers from the bottom up.  I mean, whatever my body was doing (beyond trying to die) shut my brain down from the top down, meaning that story (not, thank heavens for a Baen anthology) that offended me was written with the brain stem, which sounds about right. It is recovering from the bottom up, which means my dinkum thinkum (eh) feels perfectly normal now, and all back, but I doubt it is.  (OTOH I can read books I haven’t read before without forgetting what I read ten minutes ago.  On the third hand, I’m only reading two a week.  Oh, and if you were waiting for me to mail you something and it’s late (derp) that’s not the brain, it’s my notorious aversion to the post office, which usually has a three hour line.  I swear to you next time I take the clip board and edit in line. Or take the eee and write.  For maximum spookiness, I should take the recorder and dictate a chapter.)

So, right now, on the hopper and of concern to you: I’m editing a collection of the short stories published since 07, a couple of them published in very limited venues.  It will be near 90k words of collection, and I’ll be putting out [pardon the Freudian slip.  Only if the doctor gives me the all clear.  CORRECTION:] putting it out at the end of the week.  I’m going to put it up for 2.99 introductory price for a week, shall we say starting memorial day weekend, so people have a chance to buy something to read during their time off.  It will be called Here There Be Dragons.

Also nearing completion (it was sort of written, only a dog’s breakfast, because I wasn’t functioning) is the Yaish (shut up, totally a designation) novel coming between Witchfinder and Rogue Magic.  It’s getting fixed up between breakfast and whatever time we haul *ss to go to the other house and paint.  (Family are not early risers, and I’m usually up at six.)  It changed names, because The Haunted Air never fit, and it’s now Witch’s Daughter for the kid that Michael Ainsling, youngest son of the *sort of* late Duke of Darkwater falls for.  Kid is a manner of speaking, as she’s 16 and he’s 17, but you know…  He shows his family’s propensity to fall for the most innapropriate woman  person critter available.

In the afternoon, after painting the other house and before I deal with dinner, I’m trying to finish Darkship Revenge.  Which would be way easier if Bowl of Red weren’t trying to come out at the same time.  I’ve informed Bowl of Red it’s not under contract and it can wait.  It’s not listening.

Thing is, and this is the weird part, this is not a weird brag about how hard I work.  Because, listen to this, work is not supposed to be this much fun.  So “hard worker” is relative.  This is why I took so much time/effort to make sure the boys really want to do what they say they want to do.  It is important to do the sort of work where you’re having fun, to the point you go “A trip to the amusement park?  But I was writing!”

Mind you, I still love trips to the zoo and the natural history museum with my kids (and Dan) but those tend to turn into plotting trips anyway.

So, those are the good news.  At least I hope they’re good, though I’m starting to have a sneaky suspicion I’m going to be very hard for my guys to live with.

Maybe.  They’re not all there, either.

Oh, yeah, and before I give the floor to the mollusc (1500 words, really?  I’m just blathering!) Ill Met By Moonlight, the first novel I sold, which came out Oct. 2001, (yeah, I have ALL the luck!  Not.  Well, more than the poor people who died, so…) is up for sale at 2.99 till Monday some time.  (Will get changed Monday morning, but it takes a little while to take effect.)  So if you, your friend or your distant cousin needs an e-copy this is a good time.

Next up on sale is either No Will But His or Death of a Musketeer, and I take votes.

Remember the book promo Friday Saturday is the books you send us to promote, and not personal endorsements.  Download the sample and read it and if it interests you buy the book!  Oh, and send oyster your upcoming masterpieces.  Void or limited where prohibited by law.  No coupon, no excuse.  You’re responsible for all the taxes including mine (what?  No?  Sigh.  The IRS done looted our bank account again this year and I was hoping.)

Have a fun Saturday.  I have stuff to write.

And now, without further ado, Here’s Oyster or at least Oyster’s promo post! Put your hands together for the hun that’s got none, and give him a warm ATH welcome, butter optional.

Amanda S. Green

Sword of Arelion

Sword of the Gods Book 1

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

John Van Stry

Of Temples and Trials

Portals of Infinity: Book Three

With the first of what he suspects will be many favors completed, William finds himself busy with important tasks back at his home on Saladin. Queen Rachel has several jobs she needs him to do, and Feliogustus has similar tasks in mind for him as well. All in all, it seems easy enough to Will, it’s not like he’ll be fighting in any wars, or traveling across the infinite on a strange quest after all.

But things aren’t always as easy as they might seem, and both politics, as well as the other gods, aren’t going to ignore Will, or the tasks he’s been set to complete. And is if dealing with that isn’t problem enough, when the time comes to do some serious diplomacy between Hiland and a neighboring Kingdom, a deadly problem comes from a most unexpected quarter, forcing Will to take immediate action to payback both his, and his God’s foes.

James L. Cambias

Corsair: A Science Fiction Novel

In the early 2020s, two young, genius computer hackers, Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz, meet at MIT, where Schwartz is sneaking into classes, and have a brief affair. David is amoral and out for himself, and soon disappears. Elizabeth dreams of technology and space travel and takes a military job after graduating. Nearly ten years later, David is setting himself to become a billionaire by working in the shadows under a multiplicity of names for international thieves, and Elizabeth works in intelligence preventing international space piracy. With robotic mining in space becoming a lucrative part of Earth’s economy, shipments from space are dropped down the gravity well into the oceans. David and Elizabeth fight for dominance of the computer systems controlling ore drop placement in international waters. If David can nudge a shipment 500 miles off its target, his employers can get there first and claim it legally in the open sea. Each one intuits that the other is their real competition but can’t prove it. And when Elizabeth loses a major shipment, she leaves government employ to work for a private space company to find a better way to protect shipments. But international piracy has very high stakes and some very evil players. And both Elizabeth and David end up in a world of trouble.

The Great Talent Hunt — A Blast From The Past Post 4/2011

*Yes, I’m rolling on a theme.  Indulge me. – SAH*

 So I won’t be misunderstood let me make clear at the outset that yes, I believe individuals are born with different capacities for different things. Let alone the capacities one sees in oneself which might or might not be observed objectively, it’s impossible to watch a kid growing up and not to know some things come more easily to people than others.

Take words, for instance. I rarely, if ever, struggle for words. Oh, on some days when I’m ill or insufficiently caffeinated, I’m capable of saying a sentence the wrong way around, but just a glance at it will show me my error. I find it almost alien to imagine fighting for each word as you write, having to work at translating thoughts/images/feelings into words. And yet, people I have reason to trust, like my husband, who has nothing to gain by lying, tell me that this is possible – that it is in fact a condition of vast swaths of humanity.

So, we’ll establish that people are wired differently, whether due to genetics, epigenetics or environment at a very early age.

That’s fine.

What this means is that you have a “gift” you get for free. So far as it applies to fiction writing I’ve identified the following gifts: a gift for language (arguably the least useful except in limited and specialized circumstances); a gift for characters; a gift for plotting; a gift for theme.

Usually a person will get one of these almost at an instinctive level. Sometimes, they’ll get two or more. It could be argued I got two: language (though I made things difficult for myself there by being a non-native speaker, which added some years to my journey) and characters. Is this enough to publish salable (let alone good) fiction. I wish.

Take my friend, Dave Freer, who tells me started with only plot. Was this enough to produce salable fiction? Well, he sold earlier than I, but that was influenced by so many factors that it might or might not mean anything.

Writing draws on all the talents above, plus some other, unspecified. To make it, in addition to all that, you need keen business acumen, an ability to spot trends, a thick skin that allows you to persevere in face of rejection, enough mental health to be able to withstand one of the most uncertain careers you can embark on, and enough insanity to want to do it. Talent, as such, is not there anywhere.

And yet, over and over again, newbies showing me their work ask “do I have talent?” Or “have I got it?” with the it being the mysterious force that allows creation.

Part of this is the myth of talent and genius our society has spun. We read about DaVinci and Einstein and Mozart with a sort of mystical awe. There is genius, we think. There is talent. And we imagine these people plunging into their field of endeavor effortlessly and fully formed.

Do I need to tell you it’s not true? I doubt DaVinci walked up to a canvas and effortlessly drew a Madonna. In fact, we know he didn’t – we have bits we believe were done by him as an apprentice and – whatever Dan Brown thinks (rolls eyes) – most of his notebooks were taken up with practice sketches and notes to himself on this and that. We know Mozart’s story as well and though I’m not as familiar with Einstein I would wager that though he might have been a mediocre student, he probably explored math and physics extensively on his own to the limits of availability. (I’m “gifted” with a child of the same stamp, and trust me, sometimes I’m amazed at how hard he works on his own time, provided it’s something that interests him. Which often has nothing to do with what the school thinks he should be studying.)

Even the language we use on this is wrong. We talk of “gifted” children and of having a “gift” for this or that. Other than at an almost elemental level (it could for instance be argued I have a gift for language. This is not true as I have to work harder than most at learning foreign languages. I did have an easier time of English than almost anything else, but I still worked very hard the first year. Much harder than my classmates. BUT I am a verbal learner, which means once I conquered the language, words come easy.) This is not true. Scratch a “gifted” child and you almost always find a kid who is working twice as hard as the others. The fact that this work is often “play” for the kid doesn’t change that. The gift the child has might be something completely different – i.e. what he got for free is probably something more elementary – like the capacity to concentrate earlier and more intensely than other children, or the capacity to visualize his adult ambitions and use them as a driver to his motivation.

Add to that that writing is an uncertain and odd career. When you start, you often know nothing of how the field operates or how one gets even one toe in. (Okay, that’s getting easier with the internet.) By the time you figure out how difficult it is you’re often fully committed… And your friends, relatives and strangers on the street think you SHOULD BE committed. They don’t hesitate to tell you so, either. (If you write science fiction and fantasy you add another layer of weirdness, as a lot of people can’t understand why you’re writing about spaceships or fairies. “But this stuff doesn’t exist!”) You find yourself coming home from a day job, or stealing time away from familial duties to work relentlessly at an avocation that might or might not ever bring you even the barest level of recognition (defined as a couple hundred people reading it and liking it) let alone monetary reward.

Of course people setting out on this uncertain sea – the pen is a harsh mistress. Eh! – will want to know they’re destined to do this, that there is a reason they’re so oddly afflicted, that there is a chance they’ll make it.

I understand all this, but unfortunately I can’t tell anyone they’ll make it. There are so many factors going into making a success of your writing endeavors, that unless I know you personally and have seen you in action throughout the years, I do not know how far and how fast you’ll go. I’ve been known to be wrong, too. Some people I dismissed as “pot boilers” who would stick at a certain level the rest of their lives, suddenly shot way up. Other people who to my eyes had it all together have spent the last twenty years working at one or two books and never selling.

I don’t know your religious or metaphysical beliefs, nor are they any of my business. However, for the purpose of writing, it helps if you start off believing there is no destiny.

If you want to write, if it truly is what you want, you’re no more guaranteed success than if you want to make shoes or to make and sell neat medieval toggery at cons. (You probably have less chance of succeeding at writing, in fact, since what I’ve found is that it takes an inhuman amount of work, concentration and planning.) Would you think it was your destiny to make shoes? Or to sell neat stuff at cons? No. Of course not. (And yet it might be, as much as to write books.)

So, start from there. There is no destiny. I don’t care what your momma told you, you don’t have to do this. If you can, walk away now and save yourself.

Those of you who remain, now, examine your assets. What’s the part of writing that’s easiest and most pleasurable? The part that people tell you “wow, I really like” – right, that’s your gift. Stop fussing with it, and start learning the other parts of a story. Read a few books you really like and try to separate all the elements that go into it. Be warned that if your gift is “language” people will routinely over estimate you.

They’ll tell you things like “you’re such a great writer” – but they won’t finish the story, because there is no story beneath the great words. You have to be alert to that sort of thing. Absent an ambition to write poetry; the sort of recherche short-shorts that get published in college magazines; or plotless and acclaimed novels no one ever reads, language is well nigh useless. It helps you write faster, I think, but you also have to stay on top of it. If I give my language full rein, I can easily smother the story-telling under a blanket of prose. People who stop to admire my vocabulary will get popped out of the story as easily as if I’d made a crude grammatical mistake.

Suppose you examined your “gifts” and realize you don’t have any. Can you still be a writer? Of course you can. Again, other writers get one or two elements for free and those might frankly be an hindrance, as they then think everything else should come that easily.

If you still want to set out on this uncertain route, with no guarantee of success ever, then start learning. Your best textbooks are the successful novels out there. No, they won’t contaminate your style (don’t make me come out there and hit you with a dead fish.) If only it were that easy to acquire the style of the masters. They will simply point out a “route” for you to follow. In the same way “how to” books can be useful. I found a very few truly useful, Dwight Swain foremost among them.

The caveat here is you must find the books that are useful to YOU. Even from Swain, my husband found the character book useful, while I could never finish it because it annoyed me and interfered with my character creation, which I do at an instinctive level. Conversely, even though most new agey writing books (just bought one by accident) drive me to screaming fits, at a particularly dispirited and low time in my life when I thought I’d never get published, one of these books that regarded writing as a “practice” like praying or meditating, allowed me to write again.

The reason this is important, is that some people feel an almost pathological need to write – I’m one of those – and if they’re not doing it, they get very unhappy. I’ve known people – not me, thank heavens – who get suicidal during prolonged writing withdrawal.

If you’re one of those, and if you feel a need to write, even though you know you might never get published, even if you don’t have a single of those gifts for “free”, work on acquiring them. If you’re going to be writing, you might as well make it salable and give enjoyment to others.

But don’t worry about talent. Chasing “talent” is an endless snipe hunt that has ruined more potentially great writers than anything else.

Start by assuming you don’t have any talent. Now, do you have courage, determination, a thick skin and just a touch of divine madness?

Work it, baby, work it.

On Gifts and Returns

So, Tuesday I mentioned in passing that I think Talent is a myth, and of course I got the usual answers “no, I met someone very talented at x or y.”

Which brings us to this post and why I hate the “classification” that schools do in “gifted.” And this is not just because in schools gifted normally means “does what I tell her to do, no matter how stupid, promptly and without complaint.” I mean, that is part of the problem. I had the hardest time convincing them that the sons were underperforming because they were bored, not because they weren’t capable. (There is something profoundly insulting to teachers who think that whatever they assign the first grader, even if it’s putting round pegs in round holes, is the most fascinating thing that kid can learn to do. Ditto for third grade teachers who only have picture books in their classroom and who think your child isn’t reading them because he is “learning disabled” not because he reads Roman history in his spare time at home. [Granted in middle school aimed books, because I, personally, preferred not to be responsible for his learning the less savory stuff Romans did. I kept that stuff in the locked bookcase. Yes, of course he read them too, though I only found out his bookcase opening trick years later.] And right now you’re going: see, your kid was “gifted.” Hold on to that thought.)

I hate the classification of “gifted” even when accurate because of the meaning behind it. This is something you were given, something you were born with. You’ll always be gifted, even if you choose to be a total dumb*ss, and they treat it like it’s important and relevant and makes you soooo special. (And for those ready to say this is envy: I was in those classes too. Mostly because normal class teachers wanted me out of their purview ASAP due to a nasty tendency to argue every point into the ground. [And it was nasty. Had I had to teach myself, I’d have hit the little pest in the head with a heavy dictionary first day.])

I don’t object to stratifying classes by ability. In fact, I think the places and times that did it made life easier for both the child and the teacher, provided they have some means of deciding who goes into the pool that isn’t based on “She dresses so nicely and does everything I tell her.”

In my time and place, because it was illegal, (revolution abolished such things) they did it only for extreme cases and in self defense. So in my second year in high school (which starts in seventh grade) I found myself in a form that collected every single best student of their forms the year before, save for those who went into our rival form. (And you know, these many years after, I remember we were N and locked in mortal combat with form M. Grades are posted publically, and it was a horrible humiliation if they had more As than we did.)

Certainly extreme ability should be stratified out, as should extreme disability. There are things that no amount of integration are going to equalize and you can’t teach “genius” and morons at the same time with the same material. If you try you get the mess our schools are today. That said, and see as before, I don’t trust the schools ability to decide who are genius and who are morons. (Younger son is certified genius [certifiable too] and I had to fight more than once to keep him from remedial h*ll, because he had a speech impediment, an odd sense of humor and was bored spitless.)

And now you’re saying “But Sarah, you just admitted there are geniuses.” Drat. Will you wait. All shall be explained.

So, anyway, I hate the word “gifted” to apply to those who are smarter than the average bear, because it implies they were handed this “packet” of genius, and there’s nothing else they need to do to succeed and do well in life. In fact, one teacher, explaining why the school spent so little time and money on the smart kids told me “your kids are gifted, they’re going to do well in life no matter what.”

Oh, boy. I know several high IQ people. Genuine high IQ – say, top 2% of the population – and though many of them have multiple degrees, the “average” job is retail clerk somewhere. The others are in perfectly average jobs. The ones who are in exceptional high-authority/high-pay jobs are probably the same proportion as from normal-smart people.

Intelligence doesn’t equal focus, doesn’t equal aim, doesn’t equal understanding of the world as is, and it almost correlates inversely to the ability to get along with people.

And this is why I hate the term “gifted” and the whole idea of genius.

The idea of genius runs through western civilization, and we’re soaked with it, to the point we don’t think very clearly when the words “genius” or “prodigy” come up.

We think “genius” and we think Leonardo DaVinci. We think polyvalent and able to do everything well. And most of us don’t know enough about his biography to know that it too was pretty much like that of the geniuses I know. He succeeded despite a string of unfinished works and dropped commitments, as a wild hare hit him and he went off to do something else.

His achievements while impressive, are a fraction of what you’d expect from his “genius.” And even with his genius, he was apprenticed and learned his trade.

What I despise about the myth of genius and the myth of talent is the lack of acknowledgement these people are born with the tools to learn (some things) optimally. They are not born with all the tools they need to complete their task. Genius is usually focused and saltational (as to specific abilities, not meaning that geniuses focus well. Trust me, I don’t mean that.) By which I mean that you’ll be a genius in one area: say your verbal processing. And by saltational I mean that often, for whatever reason, even in the area of their greatest ability the geniuses start below normal level (another reason it’s hard for schools to identify) and focus on it until they excel to prodigious amount. It’s just that the process of getting there is weird. It’s like a car who does zero to 60 in 2 minutes, but spends the first minute and a half idling then gets to 60 in half a minute, and then gets to 600 in the next half minute. (I.e., saltational = it jumps.)

Now for some relatively simple tasks, say running you might have the ability and have acquired the skill while doing normal every day things, so the first time you try to run a marathon, you present as a “natural.” This is mostly true for physical skills but not always. Younger son has always been able to do calculations in his head. Well, since he deigned talk to us. I think it’s the visualization talent, plus a natural knack for numbers.

But take a more complex “talent” one of those we associate genius with. “A genius for business”, or “a genius for art” or “a genius for music” or writing…

I’ll focus on writing, because I know the most about that, but I’ll say in passing that I think the myth of genius has destroyed modern art. If you’re a genius your untutored scrawls are gold seems to be the idea. And thus it all becomes about interpretation and spin and, in the end, makes art into a game of “the critic goes naked.”

In writing, where I know the road because I walked it at least twice, barefoot, in snow, both ways, talent might actually stand in your way of making a career out of this. The best natural writers I know, whose first works were perfect and clear and detailed are neither of them professionals.

I tell beginning writers that we each get a talent for free. This is not necessarily true. I’ve met some people wanting to be writers who really don’t seem to have a talent. But maybe it is because their words are so bad I never get to their exquisite plotting. (I’m not being snarky. Some of the best plotters I’ve read make me cringe over their word choices, so it’s possible.)

I got lucky and got two. One was a gift of words. Still have it, though I try to reign it in, because otherwise I send people to the dictionary and that tends to break the spell of the story. The other was a gift for characters. With rare exceptions, my characters show up fully formed, with their own history and their own voices. (This is good and bad. Some of the people I get stuck with! And you should see the ones I outright turn away.)

This is good, right? Well, it’s helping me, particularly in terms of saving time when the writing is going. And now, I’m experienced enough I know how to match the other elements of the story (sort of) to those two.

But when I started out, those gifts could have counted as hinderances. Because I had a word-gift, words were all I saw, and I tended to obsess about them and never finish anything, or else beat the life out of it by polishing every minor word. And once I got over that (if you like my work, bless Dean Wesley Smith, who told me my words were fine, stop obsessing on them and that was an order) my character definition was so much better than my ability to plot which was “early workman” that people tended to tell me my plotting was horrible. It wasn’t, it was normal for beginner pro, (though I had clue zero about foreshadowing until Dave Freer applied a Gibbs Slap) but in comparison with fully formed, actuated characters it looked shoddy and all patches.

In fact, to the extent that my “gifts” did anything, and while I appreciate them now, when they allow me to coast a little, they hindered my becoming a professional, because I had no clue how to acquire the skills I lacked. I mean, I’d never worked to get the ones I had.

(Well, I’d never worked on them consciously. And here, we must get to environment. Yes, there was capacity there, but my dad’s fascination with words and poems, even in another language didn’t hurt, nor did my tendency to read everything that stood still long enough. As for characters, I was as most of us here are somewhat clumsy with people, which is deadly in a village where at any time there are a hundred feuds running through and a wrong word to the wrong person will destroy your reputation or your family’s business. So I had to learn to “read” people and because it was difficult, I devoted a lot of time to it. Also, let’s not forget the inestimable contribution of mom’s and grandma’s favorite hobby: gossip. And not just gossip but gossip with family history. They or their cronies would start on “Bob never can keep a job.” And then go down the list of reasons his grandfather had also been a ne’er do well. Most of these women were sharp (and bored) so while eating breakfast I was likely to overhear three masterful character sketches.)

Which bring us back again to “gifted.” In some old traditions, including medieval court etiquette, if you got a gift, you had to give something back of equal or greater value.

If you have a “gifted” child, treat them that tradition. So they got something for free, yay. But now they have to put in equal work on everything they intend to do, to supplement what they got for free. They have to give back equal or greater value in talent, in concentration and in effort.

The myth of the ‘fully formed’ genius is just that, a myth.

Being “gifted” means your challenges are different, not that there are no challenges.

So, if you were born with gifts, give equal value back.

Show Me on the Trilogy-David Pascoe

Show Me on the Trilogy-David Pascoe
I love Star Wars (unlike Her BbES Highnessness, who I’m more or less convinced just doesn’t like the competition). It was likely the most formative milieu of my early youth, and remains an easy place to rest my thoughts. My father had, at some point in the misty, murky passages of pre-time, acquired an LP of the Empire soundtrack, and before we had a VHS player, I used to listen to it for hours while trying desperately to get my Legos into the right configuration for an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter. (Couldn’t happen; they didn’t have all the nifty pieces they’ve since created. Back in MY day, we had to put our Legos together barefoot, backwards, both ways, in the snow AND the dark. It was a rough period in my life. Now, of course, I just can’t afford all the sets I deserve. /sigh)

My father introduced me to that long time ago, in that galaxy far, far away at a formative point in my childhood, and I immediately incorporated the mythos into what went on in my head. Space wizards and heart-of-gold smugglers, inhuman (literally) bounty hunters and brooding over it all, the Big Man in his black mask. His first scene, where the stormtroopers breach the door onto the Tantive IV, and he steps through after they’ve slaughtered the rebel scum? Used to make me jump. Every time.

Since then, I’ve learned about Joseph Campbell, and developed a fair sense of story and how to go about putting a universe together for others’ enjoyment, and I’m morally certain that Lucas screwed up a few things. Now, admittedly, many of those only become glaringly, painfully obvious once the two prequels were released in theaters (I’ve heard there was something that came between the original trilogy, and the two others, but I have it on good authority that it’s a poorly done fanfic of a film, and that an otherwise excellent cast did the best they could with what they were given. Which halfway applies to the prequels, as well. It’s knotty). The joke became, “show me on the trilogy where George hurt you,” and it was painful to watch a lot of it. Of course, half of that pain was the Big Bad Guy being a whiny adolescent. Something to look forward to in about a decade and change, when Wee Dave goes to the Dark Side.

But there are some kinda messed up stuff about the Star Wars universe. The Good Guys use the Force to cloud men’s minds “influence the weak minded,” in the words of one prominent Jedi master. They are an unelected elite, super-powered by reason of an accident of birth, and given the authority to judge their fellow sentients. In one scene, the oligarchy at the top of the Jedi Order actually discuss (and then attempt to implement) what amounts to a military coup. And we’re told these are the good guys.

On the other hand, the Bad Guys are, well, pretty bad. Working to topple a corrupt and oppressive government that is so weak as to fall prey to the guilds and unions of the hyper-wealthy. The government of a polity so loosely aligned that its internal politics are dominated by a few major players; whose elite work toward their own ends, rather than what will benefit those who owe them allegiance. (Wait a sec, that sounds like American politics…) And it’s not like these Darths are exactly working toward reformation, except in the sense that galactic society will be reformed according to their will.

Murder, intrigue, subversion, all are legitimate tactics in pursuit of their goals. We even get to see an innocent and carefree (*cough* for a slave *cough*) young boy grow into a whining and petulent adolescent twisted into one of the most recognizable of villains in pop culture through the machinations of a single, powerful Bad Guy. A bad guy who thinks nothing of throwing whole systems into chaos. He manipulates millions to fuel his rise to power. Wars are fought, entire species enslaved, all to put one man on a throne. And eliminate those pesky Jedi, of course.

And there’s messed up, and then there’s messed up. How does the economy of the Old Republic work, actually? There are a few things known about specific corporate entities. Han Solo wields a BlasTech pistol. Crime lords have enormous power, albeit on the outskirts of otherwise “civilized” space. Free traders seem rampant, and the space pirates who prey on them. What about governance? There is, presumably (it’s mentioned a couple of times) an extensive bureaucracy, but the audience never actually sees much of its influence. Obi-wan Kenobi never has to show up to traffic court to explain that midnight chase through the air-lanes of Coruscant. Did he even have a valid driver’s license?

And what about the Empire? Is it a command economy, as seems reasonable from the autocratic and militaristic nature of that particular beast? We have no idea, as such details are missing from the films, and the canon lore is in a constant state of flux (thanks, Disney). How does the Rebel Alliance function, logistically speaking. They seem to have sufficient resources to wage war on a galactic hyper-power. Do they control whole systems? Is there some kind of shadow economy funneling them money through donations to popular charities? Save the Aquatic Gundark, perhaps? Keep Dantooine Green?

Speaking of rebel scum, how are they freedom fighters, instead of terrorists? Dialogue from Episode IV suggests they regularly engage in espionage against military targets. What about the Luke Skywalker guy? Celebrated Hero, or mass murderer? How many lives must have been snuffed out when he destroyed the Peace Star?

There’s a lot to learn from the series of five films, and assorted additional source material. Or at least a lot of speculation possible, which, to be fair, is the more likely. Especially for a writer. Especially for a writer of space opera. I’ll be digging through George’s magnum opus in the coming weeks, and I look forward to your thoughts.

Of Trust and Processes

So apparently this antibiotic I took was so strong as to ALMOST be an anti-Sarah, which means as I stopped taking it, I came down with an epic head cold. I finally got tired of it yesterday and spent most of the day curled up with books or sleeping, and then went to bed at nine, which means I slept almost 12 hours, on top of all I’d slept during the day.

I keep forgetting that this works to cure colds. My aunt (mom’s younger sister) used to think Port Wine cured colds, because you drank as much as you could stand, then woke a day later without a cold. But I find for me it works just fine without the Port Wine in the equation. I’m still a little snuffly, but there isn’t that feeling I’m trying to think through cork.

And this morning I thought I never remember this works, because logically, in my head, it shouldn’t work. Yes, yes, power down and give your body a chance to fight the nasties, but it’s an infection, and sleep – by itself – shouldn’t cure it.

There are things like this that you think shouldn’t work, but do. And because you don’t really believe they will work, you tend to forget it. Or you never believe it.

Take for instance when I first took the Oregon Writers’ workshop and Kris and Dean told me to “trust the process” – that is to believe that just doing a thing over and over again makes you better at it. It’s not sense. And we probably all know people who have been “trying” for years to be writers, or musicians or basketball players and still suck at it.

But then if you look at it closely, all of these people “trying” aren’t trying very hard. Even for me, it took 13 years to publication, because I’d get discouraged and wander off to do something else (mostly bake carrot cake. Don’t judge me.) I kept coming back to it, and pushing, but then I’d go off for months and lose all the progress I’d made. And most people who try for years and never succeed usually have that pattern, or have some issue that makes it impossible for them to succeed in that field. For instance, it would be insane if younger son decided to become a musician and he couldn’t succeed without specialized classes, because he has sensory issues. So just trying and trying, when you can’t “hear” what you’re aiming for wouldn’t work. It would be crazy if I tried to be a basketball player. No amount of game could overcome the fact I’d be much shorter than everyone else who plays basketball.

For writers a peculiar temptation I’ve mentioned before is to become so immersed in your world and your characters you spend your whole time dreaming it, instead of writing it. And writing it is a painful process, since you have to introduce to your readers these people you know so well, and to mention details you think are obvious because you’ve lived with them so long. So the dream is super-seductive and will actually prevent you from writing.

So, yeah, you can spend years ideating your world and never write, but that’s not the process you should trust. You should trust the simple, dumb process of putting words down, and trying to write the best you can. Yeah, you’ll make a lot of the same dumb mistakes (and it will hurt you because you can see them) but eventually something breaks and you hit another level. This is of course, assuming you continue to read and study the masters of your craft. (Or listen to, or look at, or whatever your craft involves.)

My older son was talking to me, while painting walls, about the distinctive quality of Heinlein’s juveniles. His main characters, son said (and is right) are not particularly gifted. They’re not the chosen ones. Instead, they find themselves in a situation, or want to learn something, and very often have to work harder than anyone else. Think of Rico and his mathematical boneheadedness. Or Torby learning to scan for raiders before they come out of whatever they called warp drive (it’s been a year or two and my memory drops details.)

But they work hard and then they succeed.

This is very different from just about every other YA. Even Harry Potter. While he’s not the fastest or the smartest, he’s the “chosen one” and he’s a naturally good quiddich player. (Think how likely that would be.)

Even in Diana Wynne Jones, the kids are usually fated to be something or other, endowed with abilities to be something or other, and the book is a process of discovery.

Of course, those YA are drawing on a much older tradition, the tradition of folk tales and fairytales, in which you were born special or you weren’t.

But that tradition tied in to a society in which you were born special, or you weren’t.

Heinlein was writing for a (at least envisioned) society in which you were born equal, and those willing to strive harder (whether or not they had the gifts naturally) to do what they wanted to do came out on top.

Which btw, sounds like Heinlein felt about it sort of like I do. “Talent” is a myth. Some of us have a component of what we want to do for free. In my case, heaven help me, it’s words, which in the quiver of writing arrows is the least important. The rest I had to learn, by writing and writing, and writing, and trusting the process. But no one is born with the full panoply of talents to become an extraordinary writer. Even good beginners grow if they continue in the art. And this makes sense, of course, because why would someone be born with all that’s needed for a profession that didn’t exist when our ancestors were adapting to new conditions?

But there is a pernicious idea – weirdly amid those who don’t believe in anything more than the physical – that humans are “born” to do this or that. It was after all part of the package used to sell us a freshman senator from Illinois. He was “born” to this. He just naturally had “more game” than everyone.

We’re learning slowly and painfully he was born with the ability to impress people for a limited time, and in things requiring a not very deep analysis. Which is an ability people can be born with – like facility in the use of language – but the rest of the job takes time and effort, and might be too much for on-the-job training.

Getting away from politics, this is why we both have a poisonous fascination with degrees from the “right” institutions and those institutions continuously water down their curriculum. Because really, they don’t believe they have to TEACH anything, just credential what’s already there.

Which brings us again, like water circling the drain to the d*mn idea of the noble savage. It’s a long, long idea in our society, though it used to be believed because G-d endowed “innocents” with special insight.

So, for instance, when the babe at the mother’s breast, spoke for the first time to proclaim the true king (I must use that in a story!) it was G-d speaking through him. But we dethroned G-d and kept the innocent.

This is why any victim-of-the-week has “unique rights” to criticize western civilization and “speak truth to power.” (Mostly speak truth to people who want to prevent those with the real power – i.e. the government – from giving the “victim” whatever the “victim” wants.)

This includes people who arrived in the US yesterday from some h*ll hole, but who supposedly can see everything wrong with the US, because they’re endowed with the special sight of the noble savage. (As someone who went through acculturation, it will take them years even to see what’s really there, and not what they learned to see in their homeland.)

If we want sanity, if we want a meritocratic society, if we want to save representative government, it is time to get away from this very romantic idea that people are born to do this or that. Sure, they can have a set of characteristics that makes the learning easier, but in the end, they have to trust the process and work through it.

So if you really want to do something, don’t fool yourself that it will take no work, and don’t excuse yourself that you’ll never succeed because you weren’t born with it.

I’ve seen people fail for both those reasons. And succeed despite all sorts of handicaps if they keep working at it.

So, work hard, trust the process and never, ever, ever trust the man on the white horse, i.e. the man who was just “born” to take power and do a difficult job without learning process.

That way lies kingship and slavery.

Where Did All The Common Sense Go? – Amanda Green

*And I’d apologize for posting it late, but I caught a head cold my son — good sharing boy that he is — brought home from his job, so I slept till about five minutes ago.*

Where did all the common sense go? -Amanda Green

 

I’d apologize for being late with the post this morning but, frankly, I’m just glad to have gotten something to Sarah. After several years of lower rainfall totals resulting in watering restrictions, etc., Mother Nature has decided to correct the problem. That is the good news. The bad news is she has decided to do it in a very short period of time. The ground is saturated. The lakes are filling up. And my house has now flooded in three rooms for three days in a row. Fortunately, I have the routine down pat by now. Carpets are pulled back, padding is removed and set to dry and fans are going. But so are the allergies and, for the first time in years, my asthma. So, if this post makes little sense, put it down to Mother Nature.

Anyway, common sense. It seems there is a distinct lack of it these days. North Texas has seen more than one example of it over the last few days. Between folks driving into high water areas and then requiring rescue to families standing in the open with cellphone cameras rolling as tornados bear down on their location, you have to wonder what they were thinking. It is going to take a long time to forget the teenager who, along with his friend, got caught in high water, that was rising, and who had to wait an hour for the National Guard to send in a Blackhawk helicopter to rescue them. Instead of calling and talking to family and friends, the teen got on Twitter and worried about how his prized pickup was now trash.

Sorry, bud, but as water is rising around me, moving so swiftly the local emergency responders can’t get to me, the last thing I’m going to worry about is getting on Twitter.

Then there was the principal at a Georgia who went off on a very ill-advised tirade in the middle of graduation. Apparently she did not like the way members of the audience were acting during one of the student speeches. So she got up and chastised everyone. Not the best way to mark one of the most important days in a student’s life. But it got worse. After calling one of the “offending” parties a goober, and after a few other remarks, members of the audience, as well as some of the students, started walking out. That’s when she made what will probably be a career ending statement when she noted “Look who’s walking out. All the black people.” Yes, it was a statement of fact but so ill-advised in this day and climate that it will haunt her professionally for the rest of her career.

But those are minor, believe it or not. You look at the looting that took place in the aftermath of the Baltimore riots. A CVS pharmacy that had been hard fought to get it brought into the neighborhood was firebombed. None of the rioters thought about the service that pharmacy gave to the neighborhood or how many elderly and disabled members of the community it served. But I guaran-damn-tee you that when the dust settles and CVS decides not to rebuild, those same folks who supported the riots will whine and decry the company for not coming back.

Oh, and let’s not forget the condemnation for the mother who saw her son amongst rioters and went down to get him. Initially lauded for taking a stand and pulling her17 year old son out of there, she has since been condemned because – gasp – she hit him in the process. I normally cringe when I see anyone taking a blow to the face. I hate to see a parent slap a kid. (Not that I don’t believe in a well-placed hand to the rear.) But in that situation, I probably would have done the same thing. For one thing, trying to reason with him in the middle of a riot wouldn’t have worked for a number of reasons. For another, he was being a dumb ass.

It did not take long for the cries of outrage to sound. Just a day or two after the event, I started seeing comments from a certain sector claiming that her actions were why there was so much child abuse and bad behavior in the black community. How dare she strike her son!

Sorry, but they are wrong. Here was a mother proving to her son that she cared about him by pulling him out of a situation that could very quickly have resulted in him being arrested – or killed. Would those condemning her have been as proactive in dealing with their own kids were they in her position? I doubt it.

Fast-forward to Garland, Texas and the events that unfolded there as a result of the “Draw Mohammed” exhibit. First of all, anyone thinking it is a good idea to come to any sort of gathering in Texas with the idea of causing trouble ought to think again. A lot of folks down here legally carry concealed. It is also legal to carry rifles, etc., in the open. Most of our cops aren’t Barney Fife. And we aren’t completely without common sense. It was clear the school district and the local police department knew there could be trouble and were prepared for it. The fact there are two dead wanna-be terrorists proves it.

But what really gets me has been the response by some quarters to what happened. There is a movement in Garland to make sure an exhibit that might offend someone at some point in time is never held there again. That is an understandable kneejerk reaction to what happened. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. I also applaud the district for not immediately caving.

However, the condemnation of Pamela Geller, who heads the organization that sponsored the event, shows a complete lack of foresight, understanding and common sense. Worse, it shows a double-standard the socially enlightened are trying to force on everyone. Why? Because we mustn’t do anything that might upset someone, no matter whether they are justified in their reactions or not.

To which I have only one thing to say: Bull!

If we aren’t allowed to draw comics featuring Mohammed, where do we draw the line? If those cartoons aren’t to be allowed, then why do we allow people to stomp on our flag and burn it? That is offensive to me and a large number of other men and women who live in this country. But I don’t see any of these social justice enforcers looking out for my feelings. Why?

That answer is very simple. The social justice enforcers are cowards. They know that we aren’t going to rise up and take action because they burn the flag or spit on our soldiers as they return home. That is their right to freedom of speech. How many times have we heard that and agreed? But on the other side of the equation, as we saw in Garland, there are those who will take offense and take direct action. So, instead of dealing with the problem – them – it is easier to simply limit even further our First Amendment rights.

It was Geller’s fault for provoking the action of the two men. She is a bad woman. She must be punished.

No, she was offering a forum for folks to exercise their right to free speech. Did she know there would be some who would be offended? Of course she did. But being offended does not take something out of the protected umbrella of the First Amendment, unless it is pornography. The event did not rise to the level of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. But, to the social justice enforcers, it is easier to blame someone who will not fight back than it is to actually take a stance against those who will. This fails big time on the common sense meter because all they are doing is further empowering those who would gladly, happily take away their freedom of speech, freedom to associate and, to be honest, their freedom and their lives.

It is time to grow up, grow a pair and quit being enablers.

The Mother Thing

So, yesterday we managed to have sun, hail and snow all in the space of a few hours.  More importantly, the bad weather caught me and older son at the other house, where we were painting the attic, and brought our work to a standstill.  Painting white on white even if the older white is all scuffed and dirty — hence the painting — is near impossible in a gloomy, drowned looking half light.

We waited around for half an hour or so, then waited some more till the weather abated enough to drive back.

And then I had to do at least partial cleaning here (more needs to be done.  Things are… well… things.  We’ve spent so much time at the other house, this one is in danger of choking on cat hair and household dust.)

What this all means is that I’m still sipping a cup of too-hot-coffee in the sleeping house and trying to extrude some post from a jumble of thoughts and emotions, before I have more coffee and put some serious work into Darkship Revenge which, in its present state, is a kludge.

So you’ll forgive me if I take on Mother’s day.

I always assumed I’d be a mother some day, even though I never thought anyone would be crazy enough to marry me.  (Yes, he’s still asleep.  Eh.  He masks the nuttiness well.)  After all for a woman being single was not a bar to being a mother.  And besides, I could do it all, hear me roar and all that.

Ah! I’m glad I didn’t try it that way.  With all hands on deck, motherhood was at times — when I was ill, for instance — more than I could handle.  In fact, the early childhood of number 2 son is a blur, as I was recovering from near-fatal pneumonia.  We had a friend live with us and pitch in, but also Dan took on a lot more of it than normal.  Heck, all through Marshall’s elementary school, he kept track of school parties, baked when needed, that sort of thing.  (Fortunately he had a traveling job and spent some time on the bench.)  Or as he puts it “I was a kindergarten mom.”

He also took over all the time when Robert was tiny and I was recovering from pre-eclampsia.  I think Robert was three months old the first time I changed his diaper.

Motherhood for me wasn’t an easy badge, anyway.  It was a matter of infertility treatments and several misscarriages.  And yet, when I held our oldest in my arms, the first thought that came to me was “I’m responsible for him for at least 18 years.”  And it was terrifying.

By the time motherhood came, I’d assumed it would never happen.  I’d have books.  Surely you can be a complete adult without having children.

I know people who are complete adults without having children.  I don’t know if it would have worked for me.  It was that responsibility I couldn’t evade, and the certainty that I was part of a chain stretching back to forever that made me grow up.

I looked at my kids and knew that, if everything went well, they’d be here long after I was gone.  I tasted my own mortality.  Which spurred me, of all things, to take writing seriously.

Regrets?  I have a few.  (Ducks flung carp.  Which of you has the carp cannon?)  Things like, if I had to do it again neither of them would see the inside of a school till at least 10th grade. (It’s easier to apply to university if you do the last two years in a regular school.)

But then… but then… if we had homeschooled all that time, would we have known about the dual college/high school program in which younger son was so happy?  Who knows.  A lot of his classmates came from that background, but there are no warranties.

And if we’d homeschooled would our household become even more wrapped up in itself than it already is?  If that were true, the kids might never figure out how to move out (We’re still not sure they will!)

And if we’d homeschooled, would I have written at all?  And does writing even matter compared to children?

I can’t answer.  It reminds me of that scene in Lords and Ladies where the Chancellor is fantasizing about what would have happened if he’d married Granny and she says “What about when our house burned down and we died with all our children?” because just taking an alternate path doesn’t mean no strife.

As is, I look across twenty three years, to holding Robert in my arms (while he gave me a suspicious look.  That boy was born fifty three) and being terrified I’d forget to feed him/change him/let him catch the black plague/whatever, and think it didn’t go badly at all.

Yes, they ate up a lot of my time, but writing still happened in between.  Yes, there were troubles and worries, and I suspect the worry will continue.

But there are those moments of inexpressible joy, too: building wooden railroads with younger son, all up and down stairs, and running toy wooden trains on collision courses; watching older son place second in a state singing competition, against children who’d been in voice lessons since birth, when he just sings all the time, around the house; watching younger son play Petruchio to a packed house and do it perfectly; late night coffee with older son in a diner, watching the rain paint the windows; countless walks with both of them, and the talks; watching them work hard and succeed at their chosen paths.

All of these are moments when I had to back off and realize they might have been completely dependent on me, once, but what they are is not all what I or their father put in.  They are their own, imbued with a divine spark, with will and interests and abilities of their own.

And that is a wonder to behold.  And the best reward of all for all the years of care, and diapers and feeding.

They are more than the sum of their parts, and I’ve been privileged to watch them grow up.

So here’s to Robert and Marshall as they are in their early twenties, the best mother’s day gifts any mother could have.

 

The Boogey Woogy Book Promo Thingy

Good day, Huns and Hoydens. We’ve made it to another weekend, which is a worthy reason to celebrate. I’ve nothing erudite, insightful, or amusing to say, so go enjoy your day, preferably with good friends and a good book. Here are a few options to get you started. Salut!

As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Minion herder, eschewer of obfuscation, buys red pixels by the petabyte

Ken Prescott

Not By Sight

Dennis Sandoval is a “Ghostrunner,” an elite United States Air Force covert operator with a shadowy past. In the waning days of the Cold War, Sandoval must jump into East Germany and rescue an American missionary before a crucial East-West summit. But the mission spirals out of control; both the CIA and East German State Security are after the missionary. Cut off from his chain of command and hunted by Willi Metzger, a fanatical East German State Security officer with his own agenda, Sandoval must call on all of his skill and risk everything in order to survive and succeed.

Cedar Sanderson

Sugar Skull

Sally, whose full name was Alessandra Padilla Rivera, and who had been raised by a grandmama on stories of El Cucuy, the chupacabra, and the jaguar god who hunts in the night, knows how hard good jobs are to find, and keep. She has a mother to support, and a new job to prove herself at. A couple of problems, though… She is working in a morgue where strange things are happening. The only person she can talk to is her boss, her mother just turns the television volume up, and her friends are grossed out by her job. But Sally is convinced her boss isn’t fully human…

Alma Boykin

Fledermaus Murphy: Tales from Riverville

When Fledermaus Murphy comes to town, the only thing certain is Murphy’s Law.

Welcome to Riverville, where a giant bat works at the coffee shop, the school district battles inappropriate mascots, an author hunts for his mews, and landscapers work at night. Nothing is quite as it seems when Fleder Murphy is around.

A short story set.

*Sarah talking. The usual disclaimer applies that these are books sent in for promo, not recommendations as such, since we haven’t read them. Knowing two of the authors, I think they must be good, but read the sample pages, as usual.
Meanwhile I’m doing a “Summer Reads” program through Goldport. Not that you’d think it’s Summer approaching, what with the thunderstorm that kept me up half the night. (Guys, next time I decide to go offending weather gods, tell me it’s a bad idea.)
This week I have Witchfinder on sale for 2.99

and next week it’s another one –likely either Ill Met By Moonlight (the first of my novels ever published) or No Will But His. If you have a preference, let me know. There will also soon be new novels (sorry, but Rogue Magic Editing is squeezed into 2 hours at night, if I don’t crash first (and right now I’m prone to suddenly feelings like the stuffing was removed from me) and this is messier than Witchfinder, which is something I thought I’d never say. It’s also more difficult since I’m trying to make it individual voices, first person, and you know… it’s a craft thing and I need my thinking hat on. AND I might still fall on my face! There will also be other stuff, once Darkship Revenge is delivered.

There might or might not be another post later.  I have a ton of stuff I need to do at the other house, so I don’t know when I’ll get back home.  I also Madame Athena in my head.  I wish I could paint walls and write at the same time.  Yes, I know technically I could but the Dragon it doesn’t work so well for me — not Dragon’s fault.  I freeze and go um oh um. — and the transcribing people are too rich for my blood while we’re paying mortgage AND rent.  This too shall pass.  Better days will come.  For now, all I can say is there might or might not be another post later.  It’s Schrodinger Post!*

Of Feet and Knees

Fear and courage and fear as a weapon to enforce comformity and obedience are part of the themes of Darkship Revenge [I knew it was a bad idea to have two R words in a row, ah well] whose tagline could be “it’s best to live on your feet.”

I normally have trouble telling you what the “point” of a book is even after I finish it until it rests for a while and I can think, and in fact I just realized the synopsis I sent in for Through Fire was at best incoherent, so I’ll need to redo it and also add a paragraph to the payoff page, because what I have there could be interpreted as what I mean. Or it could not. I’d rather clarify it. Not a moral, precisely, but tying the threads together. (The funny thing being that in conversation with Kate I told her exactly what the point of that book was, but it still wasn’t on that last page.)

This made me think of what Brad Torgersen (rightly) says “this field is soaked with fear.” Yesterday, I read a post, possibly linked from insty, talking about why fear works so well on the middle class who has career aspirations (we’ll talk more about that later) and who can’t afford to be seen with the wrong people, supporting the wrong ideas, talking to the wrong side of the fence.

As I’ve watched person after person “distance” themselves from Pamela Geller, a disgraceful and bizarre idea, because, let’s make this very clear: she had a contest for people to draw Mohammed in vile ways [This is what I’d heard. That is was the “most offensive” that would win. Apparently I was wrong — quelle surprise — it was just to DRAW Mohammed. Only offensive to devout Muslims of certain sects.]; two people tried to shoot her and everyone in there.

Let’s repeat that in case you don’t get it: lines on paper, which no one who potentially could be offended by it needed to see were responded to with an attempt at killing her.

If you don’t think that’s bizarre, substitute the contest to draw Mohammed with a contest to draw Christ in the most vile way possible [we already have that. It’s called the NEA-ed.] Imagine that two armed people showed up to shoot you for it. How many people who did the ritual “Geller made the poor Muslims do it” all over the media, including Fox News, would do the same? One? None?

Of course, Christians don’t do that. At most they would show up at pray at you. And THAT would be considered hateful and closed minded, and people would talk about being intimidated going into the art show [Every time another show comes up with a way to insult Christians this script plays out.] And then the police would show up to keep them separated, just like outside Planned Parenthood, the people who pray the rosary at you have to keep a certain distance or be arrested, because, well, they make people feel bad and it’s hate speech.

I have yet to hear a talking head say “Well, if people don’t want to be prayed at, they shouldn’t have abortions in a fixed place, in public. I mean, it’s like a trap for Catholics.” Or “if people don’t want those fundies to show up and shout Bible verses at them, they shouldn’t have [yet another] a play showing the Messiah of Christianity having gay sex.” Or… No, you don’t hear it, and for students of religion who wonder about things like the Crusades which, they keep telling us, have no Biblical support, it might be a good idea – as the good professor says – to think about the incentives you’re providing.

But people who are distancing themselves from Gellar in a hurry aren’t acting like they’re afraid of death: afraid of being blown up or shot or stabbed as so many people who spoke up against the religion of “peace” have been. No. They’re afraid of losing public face. Their “distancing from Geller” is not because they’re afraid the Jihadis will show up at their door, or stab then during their morning bicycling, no. They’re afraid their friends and neighbors will think they’re anti-Islamic which has been declared by those who command the heights of the culture to be bad. More so, they’re afraid their BOSSES will think they’re anti-Islamic or “hateful” (since the left is now determined to tell us “hate speech” which is ALWAYS defined by those in power over the culture “isn’t protected.” [Which is a lie. The protection of speech is ONLY needed for speech others hate. Otherwise, no need. No one has ever been told they can’t say they love mom and apple pie.]) and their career/employment/chances at recognition in their specialty will be over.

It’s easier to cow most humans (social animals) with social ostracism than with death threats. There’s something heroic in standing up against a death threat while merely standing up against losing your job because of a whisper campaign calling you a poopy head looks slightly silly. Worse, because it’s a whisper campaign you’re never absolutely sure it’s not all in your head.

This was brought to a head by the comments yesterday about my blast from the past. I said that (as I remember, I locked that post on LJ and d*mn if I remember the password eight years later) there had been a mass fit throwing (what we now call a twitter storm) and hints that I’d never work in this town again. When someone asked for them as proof that they’d threatened careers before, I tried to remember if there was anything specific enough from either editors or writers who were better known than I (which at the time was practically everyone, including Bob who mans the seven eleven and hand sells his novels from under the counter to late night junkies.)

I don’t know precisely anymore, but I doubt there was much more than “You’re not who I thought you were.” And “I thought you were on our side” and such things from people with career ending ability. Look, they don’t usually go around saying that in public.

But think about those two sentences in the context of being said by someone who can deny you employment, should you ever need it. Did they threaten your career? Well, no, but should you not fall into line, the ability to end it is there nonetheless.

Look, part of the problem with this is that the US is no longer a meritocracy. I don’t know when it happened here, because I wasn’t here, but I remember when my brother graduated college and was applying to his first job. It took him years to find an engineering job, partly because the job market for computer people sucked in Portugal at the time. So he applied to a lot of things, including American companies.

The first step in this was a test. Partly it was a competency test, partly a personality test. A lot of this was boogaboo. I remember after one test Alvarim called home to verify when he’d been weaned, just to know if he’d had it right in the test. Boogaboo. Nonsense. “Magic.” And full disclosure in 1981 I took one of these tests for employment in the largest newspaper in the city at the time, and I never got called back for an interview. I suspect it was the “world affairs” portion as I’d been in the states for a year and they had a different “narrative” than in Portugal. Or it could have been that there were 200 of us taking the test for two positions and I had a high school diploma with one or two Journalism AP classes. Frankly, I was shocked that on my resume I was called to take the TEST.

Anyway, the tests weren’t perfect, but it was within the rights of a company to administer the tests, and I understand (can’t swear. As I said, I wasn’t here) that it was once widely used here. In practicality this meant the graduate from Harvard and the guy who taught himself computers in his basement were co-equals. The highest test won.

I still had a test for my last “real” – translator – job, because when you need someone with seven languages, you’re not going to get them all in normal ways and some will be self-inflicted, so you need to test them. How they get away with it, I don’t know.

I know that the other tests, particularly given by large corporations, were ‘debunked’ as being (usually) ‘racist’ and such, and therefore discriminatory. I don’t know if they’re illegal, or if they simply aren’t “done.”

I do know that more and more as I’ve been here, your employment is likely to depend on whom you know and who can recommend you for a position. That means a whisper campaign can as effectively shut you out of making a living as it could do to a writer back in the days of five houses who all talked to each other and no other route to reach readers.

And that’s why the reaction to Sad Puppies and to Pam Geller. Because people must be seen not to be “bad”. They must appease the people who can destroy them, before the whisper campaign starts.

One of things that has amused me, but not really, through the Sad Puppies thing was watching people who’ve known me for years suddenly think I was “right wing” in the way the SJWs say I am – i.e. that I subscribe to theories of race or gender supremacy, or that I think women shouldn’t work (which would be mighty funny, considering I can’t remember an ancestress who didn’t have her own business, going as far back as I can go) or that I’m an homophobe, or whatever.

Whisper campaigns are scary effective, because they can get in behind your rational thought. If someone told you to your face that I was a white supremacist and you’d met me and (particularly) my kids, you’d probably pee yourself laughing. BUT if the same info came to you whispered, as “Well, you know, her opinions on race are just nuts” or worse “of course, I disagree with her thing on race” – incredibly effective because it leaves you to make up in your own head how bad my opinions must be for someone to say just that.

And this is why luminaries are publicly denouncing SP and Pam Geller and anyone else who steps out of line. Because behind their brain they know we’re pretty despicable, even if – particularly if – no one ever told them anything concrete about our despicableness.

So, have there been career threats? Not open, and nothing any of us could point to. Until recently. Recently – because we’re freed by the fact we can always go indie and have a truly closed pen name [and btw, to me the clear admission that they were manipulating things in secret came when my agent told me we couldn’t have a pen name that was secret from the publishers. And also when someone – a midlister – did have a secret pen name (I believe the book is The Seamstress but I don’t remember the author name. And the title could be wrong, though the sense is right) and got pushed to bestseller, and the publishers were furious about her having a secret pen name. Which doesn’t make any sense, unless they have a lot of control. But even having been in the field for years, I greeted that with relief. Because it confirmed what I suspected.]

The problem with whisper campaigns is that you can’t defend yourself, you can’t argue, and you can’t kill them once they start.

So when a whisper campaign starts against someone, the best way is to fall in line and denounce the person loudly and ritually. Which is why Brad is right, and my field (and a lot of society) is drenched, dripping and stinking with fear.

OTOH having been on the other side of this let me tell you, if enough of us refuse to live on our knees, then living on our feet becomes possible. Of course, for the first few this means metaphorically dying (or having your career and character – which is far less glamorous) on your feet.

Is it worth it? I think so. I sleep better at night, and trust me, this is very important. And I can see myself in the mirror without flinching. Also, I’m not jumping at shadows. (“You’re not the person I thought you were” might be completely inoffensive, even said by a publisher, but when you’re afraid they’ll kill your career, it becomes a threat, even if they didn’t mean it that way. So you’re jumping at shadows [and I don’t remember if there were more concrete threats, but to me those were clear enough. Then again I was drenched with fear.])

To me it is worth it. Would I have done it, if Indie weren’t a possibility? I doubt it. I’d probably have walked away from the field altogether.

But what this means is that in your very own field it is important to be on the lookout for opportunities for freedom, for the ability to work, to practice, to establish a career regardless of what people think of you. And then you can be free and stop the ritual denunciations and the crazycakes agreeing with insane people (“lady” is an insult! Totally.)

I know for a lot of you this isn’t possible yet. But I know, also, a lot of those drenched with fear in my own field are ignoring the wide open door. They’ve bought into narratives of less quality (and there’s a rant on that later.) So, don’t shy from the open door, look for it. Create it if you can.

Always look for a chance to live on your feet, or to quote Heinlein, to be a live lion.

Ça ira. Potentia vobiscum.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.