Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From the Past

More like from October 2014--senior year at FSU, fall semester.

I stumbled into an old email exchange from back when I was applying for my last required creative writing workshop. There were two classes I applied to. The one I ended up taking included in its syllabus the disclaimer that writing genre fiction wasn't the same as writing literary fiction and if we chose to attempt the former, we were subjecting ourselves to harsher grading for we had to manage great literary fiction-style accomplishments while also "adhering to the constrains" of genre fiction.

(I never figured out what the hell that meant but at least my grade didn't suffer).

And then the other class, where the application processed asked we include an email talking about ourselves and our influences. I told the professor I was "a speculative fiction and character-oriented writer," who'd been greatly influenced by the likes of Mary Shelley, Octavia Butler, and Isaac Asimov.

I was careful not to include authors I thought would make the professor eye-roll (like megapopular superstars J.K. Rowling or Stephen King--though I did include other popular authors) and instead focused on sci-fi and fantasy writers who are arguably renowned for really shaping their genres. The writing sample was a short story featuring an android and there was only one author on my list who wasn't under the speculative fiction umbrella. So of course, I got this from the professor:

Rebeca,  
You're welcome to take my class, but I must warn you that we are going to be working on character-driven literary fiction. I don't care where you set your work--on Mars, in the future, in the past--but we'll be working on subtext and character.

😑

So yeah. That reminded me why any interest in obtaining an MFA tanked after FSU, despite all I did learn from professors 😒. Not worth it.

That said, as I've mentioned before, grad. school seems to be a real possibility as of late. I'm going for that MLS degree.

Hypothetically (???). I'm still hashing everything out but it's more of a plan than I had two/three years ago 😛

(Yes, I did just discover the emoji tool on Blogger. Why do you ask?)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Red

When I think about Courtney Summers's All the Rage, two points spring to mind:

1) It's as visceral and unforgiving and brutal as everyone said it'd be--and for good reason; it handles the subject matters of rape, bullying, and victim blaming as unflinchingly as they need to be handled.

2) Romy Grey and her red lipstick and red nails.

The book kept coming back to point two, so I kept coming back to it with it. It was this little detail that formed her personality and a little narrative device that inherently had so many layers to it. The obvious is the use of her surname in contrast to a bold color like red, and what it means for her to not only return to it, but to find strength in it. The other is how we so often frame red in terms of themes--the color of anger, red lips the stereotypical color of a two-dimensional femme fatale, the color used to brand a "sinner" in The Scarlet Letter, the color of blood, the color most often associated with love,  the color of sacrifice and courage, etc, etc.

The fact that it's make-up and nail polish which feel like armor to Romy adds more dimensions to it--the lines of femininity and masculinity meshed and blurred.

I like color in books. I like it in movies too. My college professors and a good deal of fellow readers might find them a little gimmicky, but I have an affinity for them. Maybe because a great deal of superheroes have color associations.

Anyways--it was mostly because of Romy that I finally gave red nail polish a try.

I hated nail polish when I was little. I hated the smell of it and thought it looked tacky and ugly 100% of the time. It didn't matter if my eleven-year-old friends were applying it on each other or whether someone got it professionally done, fake or painted nails always looked repulsive to me. My mom conned me into getting my nails painted for my 8th grade formal, and I hated that salon more than I hated the dentist.

I don't know what eventually turned me into it. I think it was seeing the colors on Ren's hands. It made them a little more vibrant. While writing a particular rough chapter of one of my books, I told Ren I was thinking of painting my nails in an effort to encourage me to write. I thought, if I have something pretty to look at, I'll be more inclined to keep typing.

(Typing is my favorite part of writing. Love for my characters goes in second place).

She ended up agreeing. She said she found she was more productive with her hands when her nails were painted.

Of course I started with black polish, roughly $2.00 a bottle. My mom was horrified when she saw the end result. I'd fucked it up so badly--my hands were shaky and I didn't know how many layers to apply or how thick the consistency was supposed to be when you drew it out of the bottle. The color bled over the edges and tainted my fingers. I tried to use this cheap bottle of perfume I'd bought at CVS a year ago to rub out some of the stains (since I didn't have rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover)  but it barely helped. My mom ran to Walmart (despite my protest) and bought me top coat, q-tips, and nail polish remover. She told me if I was gonna wear black nail polish of all things, I might as well make it presentable.

I'm still not very good at it and it takes me an eternity. But I managed to come to red finally, and even if it now really bleeds over to my fingers, I like it. My hands don't look like my hands. They look like Romy's.

By pure chance, twenty minutes after I painted my nails red, thinking of Romy the whole time, I watched The Handmaid's Tale.

(Red, the color of the handmaids).

I've never read the book, though I have read other works by the great Margaret Atwood. I do think she's a great writer but I find it a little annoying that she so often rejected the label of science fiction for her work (although it's not quite as aggravating as the way Harlan Ellison and Terry Goodkins rejected sci-fi/fantasy). I can almost understand her, in the sense that I can imagine maybe she'd feel the need to make the distinction if she worried her work would be easily dismissed by critics, which they'd be far more prone to do when the writer is not only a woman but writing about deeply feminist issues.

I find it even more annoying that the lead actress behind the Hulu adaptation was a complete chicken shit about the label of "feminism." To a point where I feared any overt feminist themes would be seriously diluted because of it. It ended up taking my excitement for the adaption down a notch and I didn't jump to watch it the day it premiered.

Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case for these first three episodes.

 I was hesitant to give it a try without reading the book first, but over at the subreddit AskWomen, shortly after the premiere date someone asked what we all thought about the show. Most people said, "it hurts because it feels real."

Shorty after seeing it, I was talking with someone who said they could not stomach the series. They asked me, a little appalled, why I'd want to sit through something so horrible. And to be fair, people weren't lying: it did hurt. I held out as much as I could then ended up crying at the birthing scene of the second episode.

There's many reasons why I want to keep watching--I think it's well-made, the acting is good, the writing is great, I'm intrigued to see where the characters go and what happens to them, how they'll choose to act, what'll happen to this regime, etc. But I ended up saying, "because I think it's important."

I'm not of the opinion that a story can be saved by a good message. Execution matters more than anything else. But I will be drawn to a story if I get the sense it'll explore themes and ideas I find intriguing. If it does it well, then I've found something truly worthwhile.

When I was talking to this person, they brought up that it's just as valid for them not to want to watch The Handmaid's Tale so not to be subjected to such an overwhelming horrifying portrayal of rape as it is fair for someone not to want to watch Game of Thrones due to the violence.

And in theory I agreed--but then I remembered that this person does like Game of Thrones and has seen every available episode. And Game of Thrones has done something worse with the subject of rape. It's thrown it in there for cheap shock and cheap characterization, it's sometimes ignored or lessen the severity, a few times it's even fetishized an aspect or framing of it. (Which is arguably an issue with all of the writing as the series went on--death and violence are included so often and are so poorly set-up that they no longer carry an impact).

So how could one justify watching the subject be so thoroughly mishandled in Game of Thrones while being put-off by how visceral it's portrayed in Handmaid's Tale? (Which manages to be horrific without any nudity or physical violence).

And they said it's simply because it's not a focus-point of Game of Thrones. It's easier to stomach. It doesn't hurt.

It hurts when it's in The Handmaid's Tale. It hurts in All the Rage. Pretending it shouldn't is such a disservice to the people who have survived it.

But that's just a little too unpleasant for some of us, I guess.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Coming to You Live From Chapter 18

I hate this chapter.

But only because I want it to be so perfect that it becomes my favorite piece of anything I've ever written.

Unrealistic expectations of my work that are shattered as soon as I try to actually craft something amazing are not an uncommon component of my writing process. But this chapter tends to hurt in a very acute way. I can see how far I'm trying to reach and how little I'm accomplishing.

A lot has changed from the first draft of this chapter. I know that partially because I have the first draft printed and propped up in front of me and also because I've spent the last half of the year rewriting the whole thing. The essential beats are still there and the characters are still roughly the same. But I tried to add more depth (and probably fattened up the story--don't ask me about a word count cuz I'm too scared to combine the chapters and find out) and more details. Now I'm in the same place I was roughly three years ago--struggling with the one scene that's supposed to deeply affect the main character and change the course of the story. It feels like the point of a book where a reader could easily go, "soon as that chapter hit, the book lost me."

I wish it got easier with more revisions. Or that I found enough of a reason to believe I've stirred this in the right direction.

But I won't know until I get the book to someone else. Someone with an impartial view who'll read it and tell me, "this does/doesn't work."

And that's gonna suck, but it'll probably be freeing. I've been sensitive to criticism before, but I'm starting to think I'd rather take that than wallow in the confusion brought about by self-doubt.

So let's see if I can get this chapter done today. I'm running on Coke Zero and shrimp tempura sushi and Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile album. That's gotta help.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tolerance

Now Playing: Avia - Solara

It feels like I've always known about Marilyn Monroe.

When I was little, I saw Pulp Fiction (or part of it, anyways, as I was too young to have been allowed to watch the whole thing) and thinking back on it, that must have been my first real introduction not just to Marilyn Monroe the persona, but the name as well. 

I only really took an interest when I saw a picture of her in TV tropes--brunette, plain clothes, working at a factory. It was also one of her names--Norma Jean Baker--that caught my attention. It was my first real glimpse of her as a person. 

Afterwards I watched a few of her movies, starting with the Seven Year Itch, and it became a habit of mine to pipe up when she was mentioned, to see how she was portrayed, sometimes admired, but often turned into a pretty, two-dimensional cartoon easy to dismiss and mock. Reading about her life in the foster system and her struggles and early death invoked a lot of sympathy for me. I was never under any delusion that a Hollywood star who was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world would necessarily lead a perfect life--but knowing an overarching story versus actually finding out the little details that solidify those facts are two completely different things.

Throughout these last few weeks at the library, we've been withdrawing books from the system. As I was prepping one up to the shipped away, I read a bit of the cover flap description and discovered it was a crime fiction novel where Marilyn Monroe hires a private investigator for something, passes away shortly after, and then the PI unearths the "real" reason for her death. And that said PI also knows all her secrets with the mob and her affair with JFK, etc, etc.

I get that it's fiction and I get that Marilyn Monroe is a cultural icon that's used by everyone and anyone, but I found it oddly disrespectful to use her name and image and tragedy as popcorn-read plot points. I might not have cared if there'd been another name in her place. Like if there was a female character in the book who was inspired by the conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn Monroe, but nope. It was just Marilyn Monroe.

I remember commenting it to a co-worker. And she said,

"Oh but I believe she was murdered. Yeah, she was murdered."

The eventual conversation that followed reveal to me that my coworker:
  • Believes all the drug-overdoses of famous people (in Hollywood) are actually murders. Including, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, and Michael Jackson. 
    • She said Hollywood, but yes, she mostly listed singers.
    • And that Whitney Houston was apparently murdered by her record producer in hopes of making more money from her death.
  • Believes Bill Cosby is not guilty of any rapes and all the women who accused him were paid to do so in an effort to discredit him, ruin his career, and keep him from purchasing some big news channel (???)
  • Believes Paul Walker was also murdered.
    • I said it's ridiculous to pretend there'd be widespread cover-ups of so many murders, especially because you could stretch the truth and say anyone who's died in Hollywood was murdered. I said something like, "What about Anton Yelchin? He died in a freak accident just because his car rolled down a hill and crushed him." And she said, "How do you know the car wasn't tampered with?" 
      • She didn't even know who the actor was. She had nothing to go on--not about his life, the circumstances of his death, nothing. But her mind immediately jumped to "murdered!"
    • I'm honestly glad I didn't think to bring up Robin Williams, less I hear her say, "how do you know someone didn't hang him and stage it as a suicide?"
  • Believes Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. were both killed by police officers in cover-up operations because the two artists were exposing police corruption in their songs.
  • Believes Dave Chapelle doesn't do as much work anymore because he's in hiding, as the Illuminati is trying to recruit him.
  • Believes the government controls the media.
    • When I questioned that, if the government controls news outlets, why did Trump ban CNN from the White House and constantly sprouts about "fake news", she never answered my question.
  • Does not follow the media, believes PI and police investigations are told to lie, autopsy reports are fabricated, and reporters are misguided or also told/paid off to lie.

She kept doing that condescending thing where she told me one day I'll grow up and realize the truth about the world and how I can't believe everything I read or trust the system. I should have been condescending back and told her one day she'll grow up and realize conspiracy theories are constructed in a thinly-veiled attempt to believe not only is there overarching control over every aspect of our lives, but only a selected few think themselves as too intelligent to be victims of "the system" despite the fact that they only come across as delusional.

Instead I asked her that if she doesn't follow news reports, or believes in the authenticity of court case records, police reports, or autopsy results, then where is she getting her information from and why is that somehow more reliable?

But she never answered that question either. She just kept skirting around it and tapping my shoulder whenever she needed to condescend to me some more.

I might have wanted to keep arguing, but not only was I deeply uncomfortable with the fact that I was partaking in an argument in the first place, I'm also still a coworker to this person and there seems to be a lot of weird drama and gossip and general hush-hush hostility in the workplace that I didn't feel compelled to add to.

Later that day I was talking to another coworker (Coworker2) who's been having some health issues, and while some are looking to be getting better, other aspects are still in the unknown, possibly heading towards danger, though Coworker2 is trying to remain hopeful.

Afterwards Coworker2 told Coworker1 (conspiracy theory person) about her health issues. Coworker1 immediately started telling her about something they'd learn in church about how illnesses, especially those that seem to come from nowhere, are born of how we interact with God, and that our faith in him and prayer in him is the only thing that can ensure a "curse" or "demon" in the form of that illness can be expelled from the body/family line. 

Coworker1 had told me about this few days ago and said one of her family members had been diagnosed with cancer and after Coworker1 "revealed" to her that it was due to bad faith and the "cancer" was just a demon manifested as an illness, her family member got better. Now all the cancer cells are gone.

So Coworker1 is giving the same spiel to Coworker2 and the conversation goes something like:

C2: But that's not me. My relationship to God is strong. 
C1: [More illness is a curse/demon babble].
C2: Well you're not gonna convince me--
C1: It's not about convincing. It's about revelation. When we talk about God and your connection to Him, it's not about convincing you of anything, it's about revealing the truth.

I tried to ignore it, but it was bothering me. I'd thought it ridiculous when she'd talked about it before, but now it felt actively hostile, blaming the health problems of our coworker on her apparent lack of faith.

The sad thing is, I quite liked Coworker1. She's very gossipy and is always talking smack about the people we work with, but as I've managed to steer her away from those comments, she's been pretty good to me. Bought me some food once and pushes me to eat because I only get a 15 min. break in five hours. (One of the head librarians does this too. Very sweet of her). Training me and encouraging me to move up. Ensuring I learn how to do things that I may not even need to learn until I'm maybe three or so positions higher up the work chain. Reminding me of policy regulations, adjustments to the system, tips, tricks.

But I can't pretend this hasn't changed my view of her.

I go back to all those conversations I had with my mother growing up, and how deeply uncomfortable she felt around religious people and the many times she witnessed it escalate. Around 13 or so, when I realized I was an atheist and that I didn't need to go through some existential crisis to reach that conclusion, I would sometimes argue with my mother in an attempt to get her (and me) to be more receptive of people of faith. My father seemed to be in that in-between, having had a number of negative experiences with religious people, but also having seen more than a few be saved from bad lives of crime or hopelessness through their faith.

But just the fact that arguing about something as stupid as conspiracy theories can awaken that level of ignorance puts me in a defensive position against this coworker. This is how she argues, this is how she thinks. And it makes me understand where my mother's apprehension comes from and how it was developed.

Because one day, I'm not going to be quite when Coworker1 talks about God and faith, either because she'll ask me a question or because I'll find a reason to say, "I don't believe in that."

And that's when I'm going to have to hear the condescension and the anger and I won't be surprised but I'll still be disappointed/annoyed/sad.

Hopefully it won't escalate because, you know, it's not only a professional environment, we're also in government--we shouldn't even be discussing religion in the first place. Which I will have to remind her when the time comes.

But if I manage to argue back, the things that are going to hurt me is knowing that not only is this person not going to be able to accept that I think differently, and not only is she going to be personally offended and disproportionately hostile, but also

a) She'll ignore the fact that I've been tolerant of her and am only asking for her tolerance in return
b) Nothing I say will ever change or influence even a tiny part of her mindset.

And I really, really want to remain tolerant and accepting of other faiths. I want to remain non-confrontational. But one day, I'm going to hear, once again, "I can't wait for you to grow up and realize you were wrong. You'll embrace God then."

And in the past I've been diplomatic and evasive when someone's said that to me. I've added all these cushion-words to my sentences to try and minimize the impact of my disagreement. All these, well I guess I don't agree but I understand why you think differently.  

Maybe finally I'll just say, as neutrally and bored as possible, "I can't wait for you to grow up and realize there is no God."

I know there's people that can say that kind of sentence left and right and not care for a solid second who it offends or how people react to it--but as I've said, I'm not confrontational. It would take a lot out of me to tell someone, to their face, that I think their belief structure is bullshit. 

Here, in the comfortable safe-space of my present-self, I'm giving my future-self permission to stop giving a fuck at that point. If they want to be stubborn, I can be stubborn too. If they want to try and make me angry, I can make them angry too. If they want to feel victimized, that's okay. I can't really protect their feelings or their opinion of me at that point.

I just hope I don't come out of this on the offensive when it comes to religion. It's hard enough trying to resist to be visibly defensive. 

It seems to be getting harder with time. 
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.