Archive for June, 2012

I’ve fought the dreams and the half-ideas that nestle in the back half of my brain just out of reach. They’re like the last sock in the dryer, skittering backward everytime I almost touch them. They’re the things I either need or want to write about but can’t or won’t write about. That usually means they’re the things that most need writing, just like that sock is the last clean one in the house and you can’t go out and about without it.

People talk about writer’s block because it’s a well-known phrase that gives a misname to a concept that doesn’t really want to be better known than by its camouflage. Writer’s block is really the part of you that is three years old and doesn’t want to take off all your clothes to get in the bathtub. It’s the part of you that is five years old and doesn’t want to wear a dress and a bow in your hair to church. The part of you that is a woman dying to take off her bra. Writer’s block is the thing that doesn’t want to be exposed, to be cleansed, to be appropriate. It is the part that wants to damn convention but is stuck with suitable nipples. Writer’s Block is knowing how you are supposed to behave. Writer’s block is not wanting to do the hard thing to get to the better result.

And that’s why I’ve not written. Everything I want to write I know better than to write. I know that it will damn me as an outcast–cast even farther out than I am.

For awhile at the start of my illness I viewed myself like the woman in the room with the yellow wallpaper, locked away inside a prison made by someone else and decorated to look like home. Then I started to feel like more of an anchorite–a person voluntarily secluded in a spiritual place to ponder the nature of God. Now I’m moving more into feeling like the twisted old woman who lives in a cave outside the village. The one everyone sneaks off to for bone dust and cramp tea. The question is really who put me here and why do I stay? And do I really stay? Anchorites don’t have email, you know. The Cramp Tea Woman didn’t call people on her cellphone.

There are all these people upset about the gay cookie. Nabisco put out an ad for Gay Pride Day that showed an Oreo with layers of coloured filling stacked to look like the rainbow. Beneath the cookie in bold print was the word “Pride”. Under the cookie in small print was my favourite part, though. The part that said “Made with creme colors that do not exist.”

Doesn’t that say it all? That there are these ideas we have about what would be great and nice and fine, but ultimately…those creme colors do not exist. That person who should be, the nice girl with the bath and the hair ribbons and the well-fitting bra is a construct. A made thing for other people, not a real thing. A version of truth that really doesn’t exist. A rainbow layer of creme for a posed picture that you can’t actually find in the real world.

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After falling in love with The Curse of Chalion I decided to take Christy Nicholson up on her recommendation that I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkisigian Saga. It’s not all on e-book, and I was pretty sure I was out of luck. Then I discovered the library had it on audiobook.

The library has MP3 files. I have an iphone. What could be simpler? In a sane world I would download the MP3 files to my phone, listen to them and then delete them when I was finished. But this isn’t a sane world.

Here are the Library’s regrettable steps:
1. Install a piece of Adobe middleware called Overdrive on my computer.
2. Install a piece of Adobe middleware called Overdrive on my iphone.
3. Download the books to the computer.
4. Transfer them to the iphone.

There’s no way to return them early, and so if you finish it your checkout limit is still hampered by the data files.

All this to experience a book. Of course it goes without saying that since the software is from Adobe it’s full of funky glitches that meant I spent almost ninety minutes yesterday on downloading, installing, rebooting and resyncing over and over again…all to no avail. Still no Miles Vorkisigian. Just miles of travel down the road of frustration.

I love libraries. I love everything about them save for a slight distaste for the times when parents use the childrens’ section as a free day care center for their unruly young. Libraries are a gift unparalleled, a staggering trove of experience and knowledge. But man, do they have a ways to go toward finding a way to make electronic lending more accessible. I don’t think this is entirely their fault, of course. Publishers need to eat, too, and so we all are stuck doing these awkward things until someone can find a way to streamline Digital Rights Management with user experience.

The sooner the better. This is one instance where a publisher is losing quite a bit of cash. If I had liked those first two books, odds are I would have bought the audiobooks and ebooks (when available) for the subsequent entries in the series. A conservative estimate would put the cost of that at $240. It’s a long series. Since I couldn’t experience the stories, however, now they can rest assured that I’m not reading their product. Or paying for it.

Speaking of “paying for it”, while I was waiting for one of the iterations of download/restart to cycle through I took a survey about the library’s ebook program. One of the questions was “What do you like about the library’s ebook program?”. Several options were given, one of which was “it’s free”.

Come now. Free? It really chaps me when the library talks about being free. Because I campaigned for the property tax increase 18 years ago when they were revamping the system. I know just how expensive the library is. I continue to support it with donations of time, money and books–although the books are fewer now that I’m locked into Kindle. Libraries aren’t free. Libraries are pre-paid. Maybe if we made a bigger deal about just how much of an investment into a society the library system is, people would take it more seriously. Free or prepaid, it’s still one of the best deals in the universe.

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Yesterday what I thought was a largely innocuous statement on Facebook about my beta-reading process turned into yet another battleground in the civil war currently destroying the morale of authors and writers everywhere.

We are generally a touchy bunch who prefer to be left alone under all but the most delightful of circumstances, and this Internet thing has a way of engaging us in a world that we’d rather be away from. But the temptation to interact directly with other people by means of written word is too tantalising to resist. It spins us in a web and we’re lost. And then we’re stuck talking to people, which is a dicey proposition sometimes.

Now that the conversation is turning to how we conduct our business and how our work sees the light of day it’s gotten ugly. I’d link to a few of the discussions but I honestly don’t want to. There are so many and they go on forever. If you want to take a carriage out to Manassas all you have to do is Google “Traditional Self Publishing Versus” and you’ll get all the taste of gunpowder residue you can stand.

I said yesterday I’m a bipublishual and I stand by that. I see the merits in sending your book to a publisher for printing, marketing and distribution. It’s nice to think that your time can be devoted to writing the book, which is where your strongest talents lay/lie. (See. I need to have an editor.) But on other days where I have better health and a body of knowledge I amassed working in marketing, desktop publishing, graphic design and copywriting I think “I have the tools I need to get a book out there myself.” The idea of becoming my own industry has an undeniable appeal as well.

It honestly depends on the day, the book, the mood. What I like today I will disdain tomorrow. But I know next week we’ll go courting again. Because the money for self-publishing is, book for book, a better deal. You take home 70% of the royalties on a book you publish yourself. That’s 55-60% more than you’ll see from a book published at a traditional house. Then again, that “extra” profit gets eaten up really fast in the expenses of hiring a cover-art designer and an editor. It is further eroded by spending your limited time pimping your book across the internet. Now that more and more authors are doing it, the din is getting louder and it’s getting even harder to get people to take an interest in the work you’ve published through a traditional house, let alone the stuff you self-published. The stigma around self-published works is still there, too. You’ve got to wade through a briar wall of beliefs that prejudice people. Self-publishing is still seen by many people as Second Best. While that’s changed a lot in the last 18 months–it’s now fairly easy to find a book in the Indiepub world that’s as good or better than things coming out of the Traditional houses–it’s going to take a longer while and a larger number of quality Indie works to really force market acceptance.

And you know, all we really want to do is write. I don’t want to fight about it. I really don’t. But I also don’t like the idea of trash talking one side over the other. I want to love everybody. After all, that’s what being Bipublishual is all about.

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I can’t write anything. So I’m taking this time that i’m supposed to be writing and just typing some things out of my brain that are troubling me.

I rarely if ever end my blog posts with questions; it’s a pet peeve of mine to feel like not only did I read your work but now I have to take an exam about it. Anyway, I have too many pet peeves so whatever. I have a whole peeve zoo. A Peeve Kingdom. A Peeve Sanctuary.

So acknowledging my hypocrisy I’m just writing nothing but a bunch of existential questions. You can answer or not. We libertarians role that way.

1. Speaking of Libertarians, why does everyone think Ron Paul is Teh Crazy yet seem to have no problems with Mitt Romney and his belief that angels gave golden scriptures and magic hats to some conman in upstate New York as a way to start off a new religion where all men are gods and their wives are their Heaven Insurance Pets? Sounds like the crazy is going around if you ask me.

2. Also, why do people think Ron Paul is a Libertarian?

3. Why is Benedict Cumberbatch a sex symbol? I mean, I’d use him on a poster for the Library to get people to read more, because he’s intriguing and charismatic. But sexy? When I think sexy I think someone who doesn’t look quite so much like Lord Voldemort.

4. Why do I have a mini-meltdown whenever I don’t have something to read that matches my mood just exactly?

5. Why does the Ice Cream Man have to be so vaguely threatening? When I was a child with no money he just seemed like an unattainable dream. Now I feel like a conspirator if I go out to buy a bomb pop. “Here. Add this to your Child Abuduction Fund.”

6. I think my backyard is haunted by a man in a duster. Specifically, I think my backyard is haunted by Withnail. Is that weird? I keep seeing Withnail out of the corner of my eye when I’m at my desk working. Like he’s trying to get in the backdoor. Of the house.

7. Huh. I’m just now realising that Withnail looks like Cumberbatch. Maybe it’s a theme. Weird skinny British spooky men. Why did I not notice this until now?

8. The writers knew before this season of Eureka that they were being cancelled. So why are they wasting their precious last few hours on dreck? Honestly, why?

9. Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Rudy Huxtable…what happened?

10. When will the world shut up about bacon?? I mean, honestly. It’s an okay food. But everyone is acting like bacon is the Great In-Joke. It’s not THAT fabulous. In fact, it’s rather disgusting when you think about it. I’m so just going to go around saying “I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.”

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You can’t read books for very long without someone saying “have you read anything by Connie Willis?” If you read Sci Fi and Fantasy it’s a good bet that someone is going to recommend her work very strongly, with that whole “you HAVE to read Connie Willis” desperate pleading people do when they’ve got a favourite book or author they want to share.

She’s won more awards than that kid you went to high school with who always went to the podium 50 times on presentation day. Her bio says she’s won more Nebula awards than any other living author. People love her.

Sadly, after 10 years of flirting with her stuff I have decided I’m not one of those people. Really, very much not.

You see the title on this post? Is that stray apostrophe, stranded sadly between the E and the S making you want to peel the film off your eyeballs? That feeling, that right there, that’s what I get when I read Connie Willis.

Her schtick is that she ostensibly writes about Time Travel, and I’m convinced that’s what leads people to consider her a Sci Fi author and give her all those fancy prizes. But I’ll tell you a secret. What she actually writes is really amazingly detailed anthropological fiction. By sending an observer from the 2050s to a dramatic time in the past, she is able to talk about day-to-day life in that era as someone from our era would experience it. And those stories are actually really good, if you are into the People Are A Zoo style of story-telling, as I am.

What isn’t good is the gorram time travel nonsense. And that is why I am here writing a Readero Furiouso blog entry three days after stepping out of The Doomsday Book and returning the Oxford Time Travel series to the library with only skim marks from my angry eyeballs.

Since her real story is about how a person from the now would deal with the problems of the then, she has to contrive a system of time travel where the rules are never clearly stated. It just works and there are rules to how it works which are known to the idiots who run the system. But we never know them. We just see endless pages upon pages of Poor Kivrin Stuck In The Past and the idiots who run the time travel department at Oxford not able to make a long distance call.

Yes. That’s right. In this marvelous future where the common cold is vanquished, fossil fuels are supplanted by cleaner energy sources (also never explained) and there is a system of time travel in place which is so common that it is bureaucratised…in this world there ARE NO CELL PHONES. A full twenty percent of The Doomsday Book is one man trying to place phone calls to various people he needs to rescue Poor Kivrin Stuck In The Past. Really. “The line was still engaged.”

I promise you the line was engaged far more than I was.

I generally have issues with time travel as a story-telling device because when used poorly it allows an author to be lazy about plotting and character development. There are a few writers who use it well, but most of the time it is like a cheese souffle in that it is best left to the people who know how to work within the delicate framework it requires.

What I would really love to read is a Connie Willis book about the past without all the nonsense about idiot time travelers. Because these people who are chosen to go back to World War II or the Black Plague or Victorian England suffer from a deficit of common sense that is painful to behold.

Sort of like that apostrophe up there.

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If you’ve read a few of the things I’ve written you’ll know that I proudly consider myself a feminist. If you’ve read a few more you’ll realise that my version of feminism sometimes differs from those who take louder, more central positions in the “battle” for “equality.”

Lately I’ve been watching some of the arguments going on in the Christian Church about women’s roles and women’s places and I’ve been repeatedly struck by the fact that a lot of the energy we should be using to focus outward is getting spent in fighting with each other over who gets to be The Pastor. In some ways it’s like watching little kids fight over who gets to hold the new kittens. In the passion of their argument the kittens get injured by the grabbing and squeezing and dropping and yelling. Or they wander mewling away to be lost in the brush or taken away by a bird. The fight goes on long enough that pretty soon the kittens are no longer the point–the argument is the treasure, the Rightness is the goal.

I was raised in a denomination that did not approve of women in the pulpit. When God called me to ministry I was confused…very. How was I to minister if I wasn’t able to become a minister? That was the question in the mind of an angry sixteen year old. Or maybe I was 17 or 18 or 19. It was a long road. For awhile I just got angrier and angrier. Who was The Church to stand in my way? God called me! God is bigger than The Church, right? Right?

Well, now I’m 42. Somewhere back there I learned to quit paying attention (for the most part) to what other people were doing and to just stick to my own knitting. Keep my eyes on my own paper–that’s the other cliche I rely upon. And it occurs to me that I HAVE been able to have quite a vibrant ministry by showing up where God tells me to show up. I can be where I’m supposed to be. I’m not the star of someone’s pulpit to be sure. I’m not the singing and dancing leader of a Sunday School department or the revered teacher of a Sunday School class. But I’m not here to be a star or a song and dance man or revered person. I’m here to carry the message, to bring the comfort.

I can’t speak to anyone else’s call. I know that for me some of the desire to be a minister was the desire to be The Minister. “Look at all the people looking back at me!” I don’t say that every woman’s call is like that; I don’t know what any other woman’s call experience is. And I certainly don’t think that women are any more or less capable than men. But I do think all of the fighting I’ve seen about the topic in recent weeks has NOT served the purpose of reaching people at all. It’s merely served to “throw stones at the Stained Glass Ceiling” as one blogger pithily put it. As though that were a good thing.

It isn’t. We play too cavalierly with the costly gift of Christ’s blood.

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Monday was a day for us to play tourist in our hometown. A visit to Hatch Show Print morphed into the obligatory 2nd Avenue/Lower Broad tourist crawl. Personally I think every Nashvillian should make this round every three years or so. Granted, that’s probably how long it takes your average Nashvillian to save up for parking down there. I kid you not when I say that our parking was more expensive than my lunch at Big River Brewing. Any way you slice it that’s ridiculous. How those businesses expect to stay open with that kind of exorbitant cover charge I do not know. I suspect they hope their hardest to hustle from the hotels.

All that, however, is largely beside the point I truly wish to make. That point being that there is now, at the top of 2nd Avenue, cattycorner from Hooters and a block down from whatever municipal building that is at the dead ending of 2nd, is a candy store.

This is not just any candy store. Unlike other Nashville “Candy Store”s this doesn’t have slabs of fudge in a glass case. Instead, they have all the candy you grew up with…wax bottles filled with syrup, the old braided caramel Marathon candy bars, giant Pixie Stix and all the fantastic imports from Great Britain, including my beloved Crunchie Bars.

heaven in a foil wrap

If that weren’t enough, there are also sodas. For the folks like me who are geeked about brewing but have to avoid alcohol for medical reasons (and, well, I generally hate the taste), a passion for sodas is a natural fit. We soda freaks are as bad as those vintnersnobs and microbrew mavens, analysing the flavour profiles of the great sodas of the world. Most of which are for sale at the mythical 2nd Avenue Candy Haven. Brews with pure cane sugar, natural fruit juices and root extracts line the shelves and chill in coolers along the back wall.

People. They sell MOXIE. Actual MOXIE.

This store is a treasure. I’m hoping against hope that it gets discovered and loved by other locals and it stays open forever. Because this, quite frankly, is the Platonic Ideal of candy stores. And it deserves all the love we can give it.

The only affiliation I have with them is being in love with the very essence of the place. I don’t own it. I’ve not gotten free candy or soda for writing this. This is just me, a girl standing in front of the internet and telling it how much Rocket Fizz Candy and Soda completes me.

You can go to their web page and like them on Facebook and all that jazz. But you should also shop there.

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If I were to try to explain what the Pink Floyd album The Wall meant to me, I would come off as a touch more insane than my baseline. I found it late, but I found it at a crucial time in my life and it propelled me through a lot of times when I would have frozen, deer-in-headlights style, without it. The combination of harsh poetry and Celtic foundational melodies (it’s there…just listen closely. Especially “Comfortably Numb”, “Thin Ice”, “Mother”) is soothing to my soul in a very measurable way.

So when Tim heard Roger Waters was coming to town with his “Wall Reimagined” tour, we bought tickets that very day.

None of us gave any thought to the fact that section 301 at the Bridgestone arena was very far off the ground. And none of us certainly thought that acrophobia would be a big deal.

I sat down in the seat and felt like I was sitting on the edge of a ledge. The show was due to start in ten minutes. I leaned over and told Tim I hadn’t been so terrified since Tower of Terror. That was a ninety-second ride, this was a ninety-plus minute show. I closed my eyes and told myself it would be okay.

Then the preshow music came on: Imagine by John Lennon segued into People Get Ready and I was wondering how many more Death songs were coming to remind me just how terrifying my circumstances were. “What’s next,” I thought, “Amazing Grace on Bagpipes?” Tim and I kept saying I’d be okay once the houselights went down. And the houselights went down. Spots chased one another over the crowd, and pyrotechnics synced with the music made the entire stadium vibrate. As soon as the guitars crashed at the end of the intro to Thin Ice (and my husband’s arm about got torn out of its socket by the grabs of his terrified wife) he looked at me and said “we have to go NOW.”

The walk to the First Aid station—about 200 feet–gave me an idea of how far gone I was. Arena personnel, vendors of cellphones and sellers of beer all looked at me goggle-eyed and asked my husband if I was okay. He still claims that he deserves a prize for not saying “WHAT DO YOU FREAKING THINK??? LOOK AT HER!!”

We made it to the first aid station and I crumbled into a trembling I couldn’t stop. I started into a keening wail like a woman who had just seen her whole family executed before her. None of it could I control. I just…broke. And at the height of it all we heard Roger Waters leaking past the concrete walls–“fat and psychopathic wives”. That was me. Fat. Psychopathic. Ruining my husband’s good time.

I was going to go wait in the bar where we’d had several blogger meetups.

The arena management found us two seats on the floor. I ended up seeing most of the show. But it’ll always be one of the most embarrassing events of my life.

Mother did it need to be so high?

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I got home from Indiana to find a very familiar sounding fracas rising on the web. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal received an attorney-generated nastygram for daring to complain about his work being posted without permission on Funnyjunk.com. He called Funnyjunk.com a bunch of thieves. They had their lawyer demand $20,000 from him for calling them a bunch of thieves.

You see, according to Funnyjunk.com and their attorney, they aren’t thieves. They are merely businesspeople who host a website and collect the ad revenue from that website. The content–the “funny junk” as it were–is all uploaded by third parties. Hundreds of thousands of people see a funny picture, say “that’s pretty funny” to themselves and then upload those photos onto Funnyjunk.com

Or Tumblr

Or Pinterest

Or a thousand other “reblog” sites with business models similar to those three.

As a person who generates content for others’ amusement, entertainment, edification and disdain I bristle at all of this. I’m not a great artist and I long ago tired of monkeying around in Photoshop, so I just stick to the words. But I have had the displeasure of finding my words on someone else’s aggregator site. The things I wrote were cached along with the writings of other Nashville bloggers on a website that made money off that work. I was an unpaid content generator until I complained. (Their initial response to my complaint was “but you should be happy for the publicity!”)

This past weekend I was at a party and I was getting a glass of soda for myself. The ice in the bag had melted just enough to all stick together once someone put it back in the freezer. I had to spend a good five minutes hacking away with the handle of a butcher knife to free up enough for my glass. Just as I finished I set the glass down to put the knife away and somebody else came along, grabbed the cup and filled it with their soda. That reminds me very much of what is going on with all of these Content Dispersal sites. One person puts in all the work and another reaps the enjoyment from it.

Call it what you want, but in my book it’s all stealing. Making money off of someone else’s labour and creativity is a basic form of exploitation which has been around for pretty much the entire history of mankind. I’m honestly both befuddled and frustrated because I see it happening and have no idea what to do to stop it. The only things I seem to be able to do personally are to stop using Pinterest, never use Tumblr and never repost photos or images to Facebook that have been created by another person. Because this is a plague and if I can’t kill all the rats I can at least wear a flea collar.

Next time you see something clever on FB or Pinterest and think about reposting it, take a few seconds to think about who made it and whether or not they’re going to even get credit for the thing being passed around.

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Okay. I take that all back. The whole thing about how I can’t write right now. Because I can write. At least I can write one of these things that is really just me having a fit on the keyboard. It isn’t artful or particularly insightful but it does harken back to the early days of this blog when I maintained this space as a forum for my vents.

Over at Mike Duran’s there was a conversation yesterday that I missed (using the term loosely) out on. Apparently the discussion was supposedly about the inherent Wrongness of “progressive Christianity” but devolved pretty quickly into discussions about whether or not Jesus was Gay and whether or not being gay is “just as bad as” having sex with animals.

It was like going to a VBS craft class where everyone made their own little straw men. “Tomorrow, kids, we’ll set them on fire!!”

People love to argue. They want to argue. And the greatest thing about the internet seems to be the fun of arguing with people who are not actually there to argue back for themselves. So we get these blog posts that are compilations of mischaracterisations and misunderstandings of another person’s position. After all, why show up for a real conversation with the people you’re deconstructing when it’s easier to just tear them apart at a choir meeting?

I left active politics because of this. You know, I still love Jesus. I still claim the Gospel of salvation and transformation. But I’m so very tired of this “following Jesus” being turned into “joining a club where you have to hold opinions X, Y, and Z to be a member in good standing.” None of this stuff looks like Jesus. All of it misuses Jesus’ name and sacrifice to create new and improved ingroups and outgroups. Ironically, though, Jesus and the apostles were the ORIGINAL outgroup. He was a firebrand who taught outside the conventions of the temple. His followers weren’t the learned, erudite intellectuals of the day. They were fishermen. Men who were strong and rugged and knew what it was to risk your life daily to get food to the table.

I want my faith experience to be more like that. More fishing, less sepulchure whitewashing.

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