Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Volunteering

My husband, who was in the Navy, has told me that Navy stands for "never again volunteer yourself."

I've been in the habit of not volunteering myself in the first place, let alone going for a second try. But, in a couple weeks, I'll be giving not one, but two presentations at a work conference. Of course, one of them will be with a partner so that's a good thing, but the other one I will be flying solo.

And I volunteered for this of my own free will.

What was I thinking again?

It seemed, at the time, that it would be prestigious for me to give a presentation, yes, but there was more to it than that. I don't need a pat on the head as validation for my knowledge in my field. But I do have a passion for that knowledge, and I want to share it.

That's why I volunteered, really. Because I know that I know this subject very well, and I want to help other people who are going to need to know this subject. Out of the several proposed sessions on this subject, mine was one that was selected - and I can't entirely claim that it was the catchy title that made that happen. I also demonstrated in my proposal that I know this subject matter and treat it seriously.

I remember that one of the other proposals didn't even give the correct name for the process around which the presentation would center. Words can be slippery things, and so when one is speaking technically, one must be precise. A file is not a record is not an id.

And when I present my session, I hope to bring my enthusiasm and my knowledge to the room, spill it out on the attendees and then go weep in relief at being done.

And only then will I decide if I never want to volunteer again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Right Hand, Left Hand

My dad sent me a youtube link recently with a simple message, which I cribbed for the title of this blog entry: Right hand, left hand

I wasn't sure what to think of the email. Usually, we're more formal in our correspondence. Salutations, closings, inquiries into health and work...

I clicked on the link. It's a short video, subtitled in a language I don't know. The sound is difficult to hear, as if the microphones were not picking up the words of Thich Nat Hahn properly. Even though I was listening on headphones, I found myself leaning forward.

A summary of the sentiment that he expressed was that if the right hand harms the left hand, the left hand does not seek vengeance. If the right hand soothes the left hand, the right hand does not seek payment. They are the same body.

With this simple expression bouncing around in my head, I've come again to a conclusion that it seems I must learn again and again. Being my best does not mean conforming to external standards of beauty. Being my best does not mean berating or criticizing myself for supposed or real failings. I have to face the fact that if another person treated me the way I treated myself, I would avoid them like the plague.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
I've had a tendency to get lost in the eternal loop of being sorry. Sorry for doing this, sorry for being that, sorry for saying sorry so damn much.

I tentatively reach out into the world. Sometimes I feel smacked down, and sometimes nothing seems to happen. I have to remember that I am the only one who can make me feel anything. I am the one putting myself down before I have a chance to speak. I am the one pre-judging my thoughts to be unworthy of expression. I am the one - wait, no, the editors are the ones rejecting my stories - but I'm the one who's not writing more of them, trying again and failing better.

What does it matter to the world what I choose to call myself, positive or negative? What does it matter to the nameless mass of "they" whether I conform to societal roles that I may or may not be imagining?

In reading about oppression in my Women Writers class this semester, I am struck again and again by the theme of infighting among the oppressed. For example, abolitionists didn't wish to include feminist issues; white feminists didn't want to include women of color. The energies of the oppressed are trained on others who are themselves oppressed and not on bettering life for everyone.

If my heart and mind are divided against themselves, then I will have no energy for anything else. No energy to reach my goals, if every time I make progress, all I can see are the things I perceive as being "wrong" or "bad" or simply "not good enough."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nominee Thoughts: The Wheel of Time

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.



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The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was an epic journey to read. I actually finished it a while ago, but I'm not sure what to write about it. I'm not sure how to approach the series as a whole, especially since it's been months since I read the first one at this point.

I remember being a bit put off by the characters at first. I read a comment on io9 once about a trio of books that I personally enjoyed, the Crystal Singer books by Anne McCaffrey. The comment complained that those books were "female adolescent wish fulfillment." I'm not entirely sure why that is such a bad thing, when so many books with male protagonists are simply "male adolescent wish fulfillment," but the commenter seemed to be scornful of those books. And in the beginning of The Wheel of Time, so much time was spent on those teenage boys as the center of the world. The girls were there to be foils, to aid and to guide, but they could never be the Dragon.

And yet, the girls came along. They gained agency and became involved in their own interesting and necessary stories. Rand became more and more of an asshole, and it seemed to me that the women around him were all that stopped him from prematurely falling prey to the rage that threatened to consume him. Even if his emergence from that shadow was entirely on his own (possibly aided by his father, up for debate).

I enjoyed reading the books. I am glad that I didn't read them when I was younger, because I really hate waiting for books. When I have to wait a year for the next book only to find that the loose end upon which I have been hanging is not only not resolved, but is hardly mentioned, I get a little batty. Much better to wait for a series and catch up. And I think that there would have been books that I would have been very eager to read, had I started back when Scott Foster told me to in 2000.

The ending made sense to me, even if I didn't like the particular ends of some characters. There weren't completely unreasonable kills or saves. The loose ends that would have had me counting the days until the release of the next book were tied up sufficiently without implying an end to the lives of the characters that survived.

It seemed as if I had read some parts of them before, and I'm not sure if that's because I had or because they were similar to other things that I've read. I'm pretty sure I once had a sampler book of one of these books, but I also remember never wanting to read it. There may have been some desperate time that I opened it, but maybe not. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Taking Action

I regularly read a blog devoted to author and publishing type news stories called The Passive Voice. I find much of the news interesting, and there are also quotes from well-known authors that can be inspiring. I did not expect to find an article that mentioned a town close to where I grew up, but on January 25th, there it was: Glen Ellyn Public Library creates new collection for emerging authors.

I grew up just a couple towns away from Glen Ellyn in Winfield, IL. The Metra train I took to high school had a stop in Glen Ellyn. If I had gone to a local public high school, I would have played against their teams (in academic bowl and math team, of course, not actual sports). I'm willing to bet that I borrowed their library books in my youth through an interlibrary loan via the Winfield Public Library, which never seemed to have enough books for me.

Unfortunately, one of the guidelines for Glen Ellyn's emerging authors collection, which is a pathway for self-published authors and small press authors to get into the library, is that the author must be a resident of the Chicago area or the book must be about the area. I live in Idaho now. And that could have been that.

But it wasn't. I decided that it couldn't hurt to email an inquiry and see if they might be open to my book since I grew up there and most of my family still lives in the area.

Turns out, not only did it not hurt me to inquire, they decided to allow me to submit my book for consideration. Now, that doesn't mean that it is going to get in, but it's a chance. I'm sending them Hike with Me: Stump Lake today. I'll be checking their online catalog on a regular basis for my name. It's exciting to think that I could get my book in a library. And it feels good to take a chance.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Nominee Thoughts: The Golem and the Jinni

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.



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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker was a quiet read. Each time I picked it up, I was surprised to be as far along in the book I was. It would have been, perhaps, a different experience to read it electronically, when I would have had less of a sense of the pages passing.

I read it in fits and starts, around other responsibilities, but I never really wanted to put it down. I enjoyed the way that each of the main characters, the Golem and the Jinni, were introduced. Their individual stories were told, unconnected, only coming together gradually. The sections of the Jinni's memory that he did not possess were, at first, jarring to read, but the whole of the narrative came together nicely at the end.

I was invested enough in the story to be a bit put out that there was no attempt at a cure for Sophia, other than her traveling to warmer climes. The story is able to touch on the themes of becoming human through the human-formed, non-human Golem and Jinni. That journey is not finished at the end of the novel, but its continuation is implied.

It seems odd that a novel with such outlandish characters strikes me as so very quiet a novel. Quiet is the word, because it is not flashy or splashy. The Jinni's powers, constrained because of his physical form and the desire for concealment, are displayed and used subtly. The Golem is constrained by moral concerns from using her power in obvious ways as well. Even the villain's powers are generally subtle, swaying the minds of others and causing internal effects more than anything loud. Wecker brings the fantastic to a close and human level, speaking at a volume that encourages one to lean closer, lest one misses a single word. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Fan Is a Fan Is a Fan

Oh, Canada... I thought you were a country where liking hockey didn't have a gender. Women and men hockey fans screaming for (or at, in the case of Toronto) their teams in harmony.

And then you go and do something like this: "Puck bunny watchers are about to skate into overtime. Or at the very least convince their significant others to get into the game one night per week. W Network confirmed on Monday afternoon that its latest reality offering, Hockey Wives, is lighting up the screens come March[.]"

What does that even mean? What in the heck is a "puck bunny watcher" and why do I feel it is horribly insulting? Where has my fantasy of hockey fandom equality gone?

I mean, it seems to me that a puck bunny watcher would be someone who watches puck bunnies... which are supposed to be female hockey fans who only watch so they can stare at sexy men... who are completely covered in armor and padding?

Oh, Canada... you mean you added "puck bunny" to the dictionary? And it means, "a young female hockey fan, esp. one motivated more by a desire to watch, meet, or become esp. sexually involved with the players than by an interest in the sport itself."

Well, heaven forbid that any fan should want to meet the players of the sport they're watching! What kind of REAL fan wants to actually meet players instead of sit in front of a computer tallying up advanced statistics and never actually watching the game for the pure joy of competition and athleticism on display? How dare young female fans desire to watch their favorite players? How dare young women get crushes on handsome professional athletes, as if they have nothing better to do?

Is this show supposed to be a primer for the puck bunny - here's how to get a hockey husband? Or are the lives of women who happen to be married to professional athletes so interesting that the so-called puck bunnies would get their spouses to watch this show?

Come on, Canada. If a woman wants to watch hockey, she will probably be watching hockey, whether you call her a puck bunny or not. If she doesn't, no reality "wives" show is going to turn anyone into a hockey fan.

Can't we just all be fans, screaming for our teams, proudly wearing (or disgustedly tossing, in the case of Toronto) our jerseys and hoping that this could be the night we get to lose our hats?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Digital Project

This semester I'm taking a class towards my literature requirement, Women Writers. Until I was asked, in class, why I was taking the class, I hadn't articulated it to myself. All I knew was that if I had to take a literature class, I wanted to take one that focused on the writing of women.

But once I was there, on the spot, I gave an answer that I hadn't realized was there all along. My bachelor's degree from St. John's College included very few women writers. I understand that the Western canon excludes many writings, for the sake of tradition and in order to keep the program to four years. The Santa Fe campus offers a graduate institute in Eastern Classics in an effort to redress a piece of that gap. But the fact remained that as an undergraduate, I read very few women in my first two years of study, and not many in the second two.

I take classes towards a degree in English, writing emphasis, for several reasons. One is that I want to become a better writer. Another is that I have a tuition discount as an employee. And, as I discovered, another reason is to redress the gaps that an education focusing on the canonical works of Western civilization produce.

Despite a focus on the classics, I had never heard of Aspasia of Miletus, a female rhetorician who allegedly taught Socrates and Pericles, because I had never been required to read Menexenus. Although I read several of Plutarch's Lives, I didn't even have the volume that included the entry on Aspasia.

I'm looking forward to finding out what other rhetoric I might have missed.

This class will be conducted seminar-style, which is familiar territory for me, only in this class, unlike at St. John's, there are 24 women (including the instructor) and 2 men. The final paper and presentation can be either traditional, which is to say a research paper, or digital, which is more open form. One of the requirements for my junior year of high school English class was a research paper. My teacher offered us the option to do a non-traditional paper, and I took her up on the it. It was a mistake on my part, as I had no idea how to fulfill the requirements in a non-traditional way. This experience made me leery of a non-traditional option.

But, one of the digital options was a blog. And I do like blogging. So I'm going to start a blog for the class and write about the writers that we read. I'll include write-ups of other articles that I think are important, such as Kameron Hurley's "We Have Always Fought" and Annalee Newitz' speculations on whether this tiny slice of human history we live in where women have rights is merely an aberration that will soon pass.

Since part of either project is a prospectus that must be approved, I can get feedback on the project well before it is due. And if my instructor advises me that the blog won't be appropriate to fulfill her requirements, it will at least provide a resource for me when I write the traditional paper.