“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx
Wiseassery aside, it’s long been accepted that a dog is indeed humanity’s best friend.The reasons for that are many and symbiotic.However, after many months of serious study on the question, I will posit to you that a dog is not the WRITER’S best friend.
Look, I love my dog.You all know I love my dog.But she does not understand that she is not the center of my world ALL the time, the way I am (mostly) hers.She especially does not understand the appeal of the small box on my desk (or lap) that neither sounds nor smells particularly interesting.And so, she will sprawl at my feet and sigh soulfully, or wag her tail piteously, or – if neither of those attempts work – will bring me a toy (repeatedly) and drop it on my feet.And if none of that works, she will reach up and – gently – take my wrist in her mouth, as though to say, “mother, please stop typing and PLAY with me, please.”
Rinse and repeat, repeatedly.
It’s not her fault.She can’t read, after all.She has no idea what I’m doing, or that it’s being done to continue to afford her (obscenely expensive) food and dental treats and vet visits, etc etc.She doesn’t understand that when I’m snarling at the page, or swearing at the balky plot, I’m…well, mostly having a good time.Or maybe she does understand, and is offended she’s not included.
I should get up and play with her.Or take her for a walk.Or rub her belly.
And all those things are good things, and remind me to take a break and stretch.But only occasionally, dog.Momma’s got a deadline to hit. Curl up where it’s warm and take a nap, please. Convince me to stay put, as though my moving from this seat would be Worst Thing Ever.
… so yeah, when inside of a book, a writer’s best friend is a CAT.
Hope all USAians reading this had a lovely Thanksgiving!
I am inclined to think that an annual holiday that encourages everyone to be grateful for the good things in their lives is a good idea.
I know there are far too many people who don’t have much of anything to be thankful for, and I am not suggesting that they should be encouraged to be grateful by, much less to, the people who are profiting from their misery.
But in general, taking a little time to realize that there are positive things happening in your life can make it easier to deal with the crap.
It might be better if we held this celebration in the US at a time that didn’t conflict with the buy everything surge that passes for the Christmas holidays. It was more than a little disconcerting to open my email this morning and see almost nothing but solicitations to buy things.
I am personally offended by the entire concept of Black Friday. That we can’t have celebrations about something other than buying shit is a sad commentary on what kind of world we’ve made.
And we should certainly dispense with the myth tying Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims and the indigenous people who helped them survive. I mean, I’m sure they did give some thanks in company with each other, but the history that came afterwards destroyed all that.
A better back story would be Abraham Lincoln’s proclamations of a Thanksgiving during the Civil War, which encouraged people to be grateful for defeating those who were trying to destroy our democracy so that they could maintain both slavery and power in the hands of the wealthy. Continue reading “Feeling (Sort of) Thankful”…
This weekend our lovely, ridiculous Elder Statesdog, Emily Apocalypta Robins, died. She’d been declining over the past year, but in the last week the progression had gone from a gentle slope to a sharp dive. She died in our arms, surrounded by love, and with assistance from a very gentle, thoughtful, kind vet who came to our home, listened to our Emily stories, explained the process, and shared a little of his own life-with-dogs experience. Afterward, while my husband and my daughter alternated between laughter and tears (you cannot discuss Emily without laughter coming in to it) I scurried around doing things, because that’s one of the ways I process and deal with strong emotions. The other way is… well, what I’m doing now. Writing.
Emily came to us from the SPCA when she was 3 months old–she had been rescued from a girl on a street corner in Bayview who was trying to sell her to get money for a prom dress (and apparently had not been patient with the puppy in the box, which was what drew attention to her). From that inauspicious beginning came the dog who was perfect for our family. She lived with us for 15 years, saw my kids grow up and go out into the world, and on the way, Emily generated many many stories. Continue reading “Writing. Process.”…
About a dozen years back, after I had moved to Texas to keep an eye on my aging father, I signed up for a writers workshop. I had to write a couple of stories for it and travel to get there, so I expected it to give me the kind of energy boost I needed to work on my own stuff around parent care and my day job.
It turned out to be the wrong workshop for that. In the end, it may have done more harm than good. But that’s the chance you take with workshops.
I’ve let go of most of my bad feelings about it, but there was one thing that got said in the workshop that I completely rejected at the time and feel even more strongly about today. I hope that the person who said it has changed the way they think about it, but having heard several other writers in the same general age range make similar comments, it is possible that they are still stuck in this rut.
The thing they said was, “The first question we ask about a baby is ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’”
This was in criticism of a story I wrote in which I named a character Jade and didn’t indicate gender immediately. The instructor said firmly that the gender of the character should be established immediately.
Now it happens that in the story as then written, Jade was male and that became clear. That is, I wasn’t even writing a story in which a character was non-binary or their gender unknown. I just had two people meet and, given the differences in their backgrounds, their genders weren’t immediately obvious to each other.
I bristled at the idea that one must always label the gender of a character. Once I heard that, I decided that the instructor in question had nothing to teach me and gave up listening to them.
(BTW, I am using they/them/their pronouns because the gender of the instructor is not relevant and not important to my experience. I suspect the person in question might resent that, but that’s their problem.)
Transgender and gender diverse youth have become more visible than ever. How does transgender history inform us about where society is at in the United States?
Jules Gill-Peterson: A lot of the rhetoric around [trans] kids frames them as totally new – most people are getting to know that there are trans youth for the first time. The visibility that we’re dealing with today is pretty unprecedented. But that doesn’t mean [transgender] people themselves haven’t existed before.
One of the challenges that anyone who’s trans faces is coming to an understanding of yourself in a culture that fundamentally doesn’t recognize that you exist. One of the most remarkable things about trans youth is that they’re able to stand up in this world that we’ve created, that gives them no reason to know who they are, and say, “Hey, actually, I know something about myself that none of the adults in my life know.”
I think history can be a really powerful grounding force to give young people a sense of lineage. It’s not like you look back in time and you see yourself reflected, by any means. But I think it can be profoundly reassuring, in a moment of not just political backlash but the general isolation that trans people face in a cis-normative society, to be able to [see] that you’re not the first person to ever go through this. [I think] that is just kind of a powerful message and one that I certainly subscribe to as an adult too, but I can imagine it’s especially important for young people.
What does “cis” mean and where does it come from?
Jules Gill-Peterson: This is actually a term from chemistry. It’s a prefix that you can put in front of words. So is the word “trans.” Trans as a prefix means across – it’s the spatial metaphor moving across something. Cis means on the same side of. At some point on the internet, people started using that word; they were looking for a word to distinguish between people who are trans and people who are not. Cisgendered came to mean that your gender identity matches what was assigned at birth. That being said, it’s not a totally kind of innocent or uncomplicated term. I’m not sure how helpful it is to think of cisgender as something that people need to own up to, for example, in a pronoun circle (when people introduce themselves by name and by the pronouns they prefer).
I think often the pressure for people to [identify] as cis doesn’t make any sense, either. It’s like, well, what makes you cisgender? Did you really go through that long process of deciding if your gender matched what’s on your birth certificate, like trans people have to deal with? I tend to use the word cis in my work to describe large historical structures that created that very obligation in the first place.
Kacie Kidd: To build off that, we as a people have a tendency to put people in boxes. And I’m sure that many of us have had the experience of not neatly fitting into a box that society ascribed to us. And I think that’s something that we all can connect to, and relate to, and understand that our job of putting people in boxes is not helpful, right? And there is no binary for most things, if not all things, and I think our realization of that helps to understand the broader [situation].
What are binders and gender-affirming procedures, and is there a right age for them?
Kacie Kidd: A binder is a garment that constricts chest tissue and has a variety of uses; elite athletes often use similar kinds of products. But [binders] can help make someone feel more in line with who they are and can help them kind of navigate the world. But the answer to your question is no, there isn’t a perfect age. But these are long, thoughtful conversations and considerations.
Jules Gill-Peterson: As a historian of medicine, one of the really interesting stories that I pulled in my book, Histories of the Transgender Child, for example, is that gender affirming medicine originated long before it was seen as gender affirming. The medical techniques used now came out of studying trans and intersex people and under really horrific, barbaric, torturous conditions. But the goal of that research was actually not to help intersex and trans people – it was to force them to appear more “normal,” but actually developed means to medically intervene into human sex and gender.
One of the interesting truths here is that there really isn’t that much of a meaningful difference. The only difference between trans medicine and non-trans medicine is who gets stigmatized for it. Who has to go get a psychiatric letter of evaluation, who has trouble getting insurance compensation? [For example,] who uses the most hormones in this country? Cisgender women and cisgender men. They just don’t have to ask for it as much. Other kinds of surgeries that are exactly the same as gender affirming surgeries are called cosmetic surgeries.
I worry about my trans daughter having regrets in the future, when going back won’t be an option.
Jules Gill-Peterson: I understand the anxiety, but I want to make the case that [regret] is a red herring that’s been planted in our mind. I think the concept of regret is often tied to this idea of “de-transitioning,” the idea that you can transition and then un-transition, which is not a very good way of thinking about it. When people do choose to de-transition, especially trans women, it is due to overwhelming social pressure discrimination and loss of social support people.
People de-transition when they lose their jobs, when their partners abandon them, when their families won’t speak to them, when they’re in dire financial straits, when they’re experiencing street harassment and criminalization, and when they don’t have the material resources they need to live. Those are the most concerning regrets.
Our children’s genders aren’t something that belong to us, right? And so our job is to support them in life and try to avoid those regrets, or to avoid the regret of going through puberty you didn’t want to go through, or having to, you know, spend years pretending to be someone you [are not]. I think those are things we should feel regretful for in society.
The Conversation U.S. on Oct. 21, 2021, hosted contributors Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Kacie Kidd, medical director of the pediatric Gender and Sexual Development Clinic at West Virginia University Medicine Children’s Hospital, in a webinar titled “Transgender and gender-diverse teens more visible than ever: Who they are, what they need and how to talk about sensitive issues.”
This article first appeared in The Conversation and is reprinted under Creative Commons license.
Every time I am invited to a Christmas party, I have to decide whether I should go. If it’s a friend asking me to share their celebration of their Christmas, I accept with joy. If it’s a public or professional event that’s called a “Christmas Party”, one of the implications is that if I don’t accept Christmas as a part of my life, then I am not really acceptable as I am, with my own views and culture, in that environment.
Not that the organisers articulate it in this way. Recently, when I asked a professional group what they meant by “Christmas” they explained that it was secular. While this was perfectly acceptable for them, they demonstrated that a secularised version of a religious celebration was seen as acceptable for all shapes of religion and belief because they explained to me (and they know I’m Jewish) that it was secular for me, too. This tells those of us without Christian backgrounds that there is a certain way we should live our lives.
How the lead-up to Christmas is depicted in Australia is related to this. There is an “Advent” book box being advertised right now. It takes the word “Advent” (which refers to a very particular coming birthday) and one can open one wrapped book a day from 1 December until Christmas Day. I’m told it is, also, not religious. But there are never any book boxes for the festivals of other religions. Instead, we are all asked to accept the redefined religious words for Christianity.
Whether these explanations work for me, for you, for someone else, depends on our background.
For me, it creates a disjuncture between the home and the outside world. The values in my home are Jewish, and my parents taught me that I should not celebrate others’ festivals for myself. Why? It’s an acceptance that their religion takes precedence over my own. In their homes, that’s a sign of respect. In my home, why don’t my own traditions and belief take precedence? In public events and shared places, explaining that a thing is secular not only sets the Christian festival as something that is shared by everyone (when it, frankly, is not) but it also rubs it in that my views do not matter.
The fact that someone explaining Christmas to me as secular shows how they set their own atheism in a cultural context. It also demonstrates that they’re not listening to people who have different contexts.
Cultural respect and religious respect involve understanding how the person we’re talking to sees the subject we’re talking about. This entails accepting multiple interpretations of an event. Do you leave someone out of a group because they can’t eat peanuts? Or do you make sure that there is shared food everyone can eat?
This is my annual rant on the subject. Shorter than usual because it’s 1 am here and bed beckons.
I shall skip the Christmas party, because I’m not convinced the person organising knows much about Christianity. Also, I won’t buy the books. Instead, on the day of the party, I shall tell anyone who wants to hear my two favourite miracles for St Nicolas (the children and the bones, for anyone who has had to suffer my tale-telling) for the party is on his holy day and he’s the bloke who became Santa Claus. I need to practise what I preach, in other words. If you who want to hear about the pickled children and how they are Santa’s backstory, please ask.
On the book-front, I’m doing my own thing. I will send book parcels on behalf of anyone who wants to give presents to friends and family in Australia. This is actually not my response to the religion issue. It’s my response to books being a bit difficult to buy and to international mail being a lost cause. If you know anyone wants to give presents to anyone in Australia over the next few weeks, check here: https://gillianpolack.com/sale-until-18-december-or-until-the-books-run-out/
I have nothing against presents (I adore presents), after all. My objection is to people who insist that my own background doesn’t matter a jot.
A few years back, when Becky Chambers was a guest of honor at FOGcon, I checked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet out from the library and promptly got hooked. We ended up with a complete set of the Wayfarers books.
So despite the teetering piles of unread books cluttering every flat surface in our place, I got a copy of her new novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which is the first in a new series of Monk and Robot stories.
The dedication page reads:
For anybody who could use a break.
And while I knew I needed a break, I don’t think I realized just how important that was until I read this book.
Specifically, I have been in Montreal at the World Fantasy Convention. It was lovely. Not like any other WFC I have been to but there are plenty of reasons for that. For one thing, it’s in a Francophone area of the country, and my French is wobbly at best (fortunately, everyone I encountered spoke English, but I like to at least make the attempt). For another, the convention was a hybrid in-person/virtual format. WFC is usually a smallish convention–membership is generally capped at 1,000, but I don’t think on-site attendance for this con was more than 300. So it was… intimate. In a responsibly socially-distanced sort of way.
And soooooo safe. You cannot enter Canada without proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test. I was also selected for random testing at the Toronto airport (and it turned out the tech who entered my information writes SF, and was deeply envious about my destination and sent me a sample of his work). Continue reading “I Have Been Somewhere Else”…
The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.
— David Graeber
This is important. This is why I’ve been reading economics. I’m trying to understand the difference between our assumptions of how things work and what the actual constraints are. There are some limits on how we can make the world, but they’re rooted in the basic laws of physics and biology — neither of which we completely understand.
From my study, I’ve begun to understand that most of the rules of economics that are currently in use are built on faulty assumptions. If we toss out those assumptions and build on ideas that are much closer to actual reality, we can, as Graeber said, make a different and better world.
Living things die. Even if we discover more and better ways to extend life, living things will still die. I don’t think we’re going to get around that one. I’m not even sure we should, despite the fact that I would still like to live forever because I want to know what happens next.
But there are environments that are good for living things, ones that are bad, and some that are toxic. To apply Graeber’s thinking here: we have allowed systems that put people in bad and toxic environments for the financial benefit of a few. We do not have to do that. If all living things die, we can’t prevent that, but we can prevent them from dying prematurely of illnesses brought on by toxic environments.
A recent study points out that four million people die prematurely every year because of air pollution brought on by making things for the consumption-oriented wealthy countries.
Many of those people are elderly and have health conditions aggravated by particle pollution, but that doesn’t mean their lives weren’t valuable. Also, while the study doesn’t mention it, I suspect many of the health conditions were caused by the air pollution in the first place.
We can build a world in which healthy lives for all is more important than profit and the assumption that those with money can do whatever they want. That, of course, means a potent environmental protection program. Continue reading “Making Things Different”…
It’s always amazing and heartening how much inspiration we can draw from the next generation, whether they are our own children or someone else’s. In my personal life, my younger daughter dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the world of social media, into getting my first stupidphone, and later into video chatting (during her years of medical school on the other side of the country). Now these technologies are part of my everyday and work life. They’ve saved my sanity during the pandemic.
I think it’s good to keep learning new things, to use our minds and bodies in different ways. One of the challenges of these new computer-based technologies is that they require us to use different methods of thought. The transition, for example, from keyboard-based word processing programs (like WordStar for DOS, the one I first used) to graphics-based (Windows) programs entailed a different logic and hand coordination. And both of them are a far cry from the typewriter I used to write my first published stories.
My very first stories (actually, my first umpteen attempts at novels) were written by hand in composition books or on scratch paper. I remember reading an interview with the British mystery writer Dick Francis, in which he described writing in ink in composition books (and that it had never occurred to him that a story, once written, could be revised!) so the method is definitely a time-honored one. Once I learned to type (in high school, on those really heavy manual typewriters) that became my preferred method, although when my children were small, I always carried a spiral-bound notebook on which to work on the Story of the Day in odd moments. Retyping a revision was a major chore, since I had to do it myself. I became expert in the application of white correction fluid. At least carbon copies were no longer necessary, but I had to take my finished manuscript to a copy shop because in those days no one owned a home copier.
I am of several minds about whether the ease of making changes as I go, being able to print out a manuscript at any stage, and so forth, have really changed how I write. I love the saying that the most important word processor is your brain. Perhaps I splat over the page, as it were, more spontaneously when I use a computer just because it’s so easy to tidy up my prose later.
That can be a good thing as I follow whatever wacky idea pops into my mind. Some of them are truly best expunged but others are quite juicy. In some ways I am more focused now than in 30 or 40 years ago; I know much more about how to put a story together, even if it isn’t one I’ve outlined.
Having multiple writing media available to me is a great thing. I often go back and forth when I’m stuck, especially between dictating and typing or typing and longhand. Dictation using voice recognition software is especially great for dialog or speeches (can you see me acting out the parts of the various characters?) Just as we don’t all write in the same way, I don’t write in the same way all the time. Sometimes words flow and then I want the medium that allows me to best keep up with them. But other times I’m stuck (or sulky, or distracted, or tired) and switching can help get things rolling again.
In the end, though, the only version that matters is the one in the hands of the reader.