Fair Warning: This post falls into the “what I had for breakfast” category for some people. If you don’t want to read me rambling about things I like about our new home, things I’m getting used to about our new home town, how the move motivated us to take care of overdue tasks, and related topics, you’ll want to skip this. I’ll get back to the craft of writing, my love of all things sf/f, and various culture war issues soon.
So, in case you haven’t been following: we had to move from the place in Ballard that I had lived in since 1996 (and that Michael had shared with me since 1998) this year. On the one hand, it wasn’t our decision to move; on the other, the process by which the new owners of our old building went about it, we had many months notice to prepare and plan. On the gripping hand, we had to also fit in my husband’s surgery and recovery time, plus my work was even crazier with long hours than usual.
And now, after 32 years, I am no longer a resident of Seattle… Read More…
I save images and memes and such as possible illustrations to blog posts, but only use a fraction of them. We have a busy weekend including attending a barbecue with friends, so no time to do much writing or commenting on anything that’s happened since I put together this week’s roundup of links, so, here are some of my recently collected images/memes/what-have-you:
Oh, and here’s a link I wish I’d had for yesterday’s post: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEATRIX POTTER: AN ODE.
We tell the story that we have to tell and we tell it the best that we can. The whole point of storytelling is to tell the story to someone, right?
So the audience isn’t superfluous to the process. A writer who thinks that the audience doesn’t matter—or even worse, a writer who holds their audience in contempt—is not doing the best in any way. Of course you don’t contort the story to cater to the wishes of every reader, but respecting the reader is not the same thing as catering to them.
I most often think of this topic when I find yet another example of queer-baiting. But queer-braiting is hardly the only way that storytellers show contempt for at least part of their audience, and I’ve been seeing a lot of examples lately in television (though it also happens in book series).
I understand that with a television series (or web series or movies or plays) you don’t have a single storyteller. It’s a collaborative process where the writer, the actors, the director(s), the designers, the show-runners, et al work together. But it is still storytelling. And just because it’s a collaboration doesn’t mean that no one is to blame when the reader is cheated, mocked, or otherwise abused. And when decisions are being made out of cynicism, that is what you’re doing to at least some of your readers.
You disrespect the reader when you mislead rather than misdirect. You disrespect the reader when you play on their feelings by raising hopes you intend to dash. Not every story has a happy ending, but you can tell a tragedy while still playing fair with the reader.
The usual counter argument is that the storyteller is simply putting the reader in suspense. ”We’re supposed to keep the reader’s attention, after all!“
The word people are missing there is ”keep,“ not just to the big reveal. The stories I love are tales I come back to again and again. Not because they always ended the way I wanted them to, but because they made me care, and the ending—even in the tragedies—rang true.
Yes, we focus on keeping the reader turning the pages until the end, but as artists we should want our stories to settle into the reader’s heart and make themselves at home. Stories don’t do that when the storyteller intentionally kicks some readers in the teeth then points and laughs at those readers.
If you can’t be moved as a writer to treat all your readers with respect out of artistic integrity, think of this: A reader who decides, midway through a story that it isn’t for them puts down the book and finds something else to read. They may never pick up another book by that author again, or they may simply wait to get recommendations from others before taking the plunge. But a reader who gets the feeling that the writer is cynically baiting them or otherwise comes to the end feeling mocked, used, and/or abused, is someone who will emphatically warn other readers away from your work for the rest of their lives.
So tell your story. Tell the story you want to tell. Tell it the best way you know how, but tell it truthfully. Build suspense honestly. Payoff the misdirections with integrity. Make the reader go, “I should have seen that coming! Wow!” or “What a great plot twist!”
Don’t treat reader as an enemy, and they won’t become one.
Anyone who has ever dealt with an internet troll has seen this tactic.
Unfortunately, anyone who is paying attention to Seattle politics right now are witnessing a particularly loathsome use of the tactic. I’ve written before about the allegations that Mayor Murray hired teen-age prostitutes and/or sexually abused teens in his care 30-some years ago in Oregon. The allegations came to light because of a suspiciously timed lawsuit filed on behalf of an anonymous man, and the lawyer pressing the case behaved strangely—filing motions with the court that weren’t legitimate filings but rather press releases citing strange gossipy items about the mayor (leading the judge to both warn and fine the lawyer). The mayor decided not to seek re-election. When, not long after the filing deadline to run for mayor and one day before the first sworn answers to question were to be given by the plaintiff/accuser, the lawsuit was suddenly withdrawn, a lot of us thought that maybe there wasn’t anything to the allegations.
And since time immemorial, people have accused all queer people of being pedophiles or other kinds of sexual predators, so it was easy to see this as just another example of that prejudice, right?
Murray maintained that when the accusations came to light about 33 years ago and were investigated by both the police and other agencies, he had been cleared—investigators, he said, had all agreed that the accusations from the teens were unfounded. We knew the country prosecutor had declined to file charges. Oregon’s child protective services said that the case had been closed and that most of the files related to the case had been destroyed some years ago. Given how anti-gay the police and prosecutors in that part of Oregon were known to be in the 80s, it seemed that there must not have been any evidence to sustain the charges.
Well, now we know that’s not quite true.
Some of the records that were thought to be destroyed have been found. And after getting permission from the person who was the teen-age accuser at the time, redacted versions of the files have been released. Murray had been a foster parent at the time of some of these accusations, and one of the people who alleged he had sexually abused him was a foster teen in his care. The agency investigated and concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe abuse had occurred. Murray’s certification to be a foster parent was therefore revoked, with the agency officially finding that he should never be allowed to be a foster parent again.
The mayor’s response to this revelation has been to claim he had no idea of the finding and then argue that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the child, therefore the accusations shouldn’t be believed. There have been a series of statements from his lawyers in which the goalposts have been moved a few times while trying to draw a distinction between the criminal law standard of guilt of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the standards adhered to by agencies like child protective services.
It is technically true that the standard for conviction in a criminal case is higher than the standard used by child protective services. But statistically it is absolutely not true that those sorts of agencies believe the kids all of the time, or even most of the time. The vast majority of the time when such accusations are investigated, the agencies determine that the allegations are probably unfounded. Unfortunately, other statistics indicates that they reach this conclusion erroneously more times than not.
We also now know that at least one prosecutor was convinced that Murray was guilty. She withdrew charges related to the foster child not because there was insufficient evidence, but because the troubled teen ran away from the group home he’d been moved to, and was literally unavailable to testify.
The teens were all kids who Murray had encountered because they were already troubled. They were in the system because of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They had drug issues. They were exactly the sorts of kids that people wouldn’t believe. We know now from numerous studies that they are exactly the sorts of victims certain types of abusers seek out, precisely because of that lack of credibility.
When the agency concluded the allegations of abuse by the foster teen were founded, they were required to notify Murray that his certification was being revoked and offer him a chance to appeal the finding. Murray didn’t appeal. He instead left Oregon and returned to his home town, Seattle. Given the timing of his departure, I’m having a very hard time believing that he never received the notice and the offer of an appeal. So I don’t believe him when he says he never knew about the finding.
And that throws a shadow of doubt over the rest of his denials.
Each time the allegations were brought up to him over the years, his first reaction was immediately attack the credibility of each teen involved. Then it was to attack the credibility and question the motives of any lawyers or investigators who were looking into the allegations. And now, by asserting that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the accuser, he’s attacking the credibility of the agency.
And what makes it loathsome, is that each day he remains in the office of Mayor and gets away with attacking the credibility of the accusers, investigators, and agency charged with protecting kids has a chilling effect on other abuse victims out there. It sends a clear message that if they come forward, they will not be believed. If anyone believes them, those people will be discredited.
Whether Murray committed the abuse or not, the chilling effect helps abusers and hurts abuse victims.
So much time has passed and the waters have been so muddied that these allegations from 30-some years ago probably couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court (which we’ll never know because of the statute of limitations). But “charges dropped because the witness went missing” is not the definition of exonerated. And “reasonable cause to believe the abuse had occurred” sure as heck isn’t the definition of unfounded. It doesn’t have to reach the criminal law definition of Guilty for reasonable people to conclude Not Innocent.
It has been argued that the city council can’t impeach the mayor because the charter only allows them to do that if he commits a willful violation of duty, which in general meant violation of his duties as mayor while serving in office. But the charter also says the mayor may be removed over an offence involving “moral turpitude.” Turpitude, according to my dictionaries, is “an evil way of behaving.” Whether he committed the abuse or not, I certainly think his behaviors of lying about knowing that the charges had been found as probably true and attacking the standard of proof that a child protective agency should use could be described as evil, don’t you?
Which anyone who knows anything about security knows is the most insecure way to treat passwords.
My boss called everyone in our department together and said, “Do not write down your passwords! If we get audited, I will tell them that of course we comply with the policy and of course each of you showed me where your passwords are hidden, but darn, I seem to have forgotten.” Which is what every other manager in our division told their direct reports (And I suspect a whole lot of managers in all of the divisions).
I understand how a policy like that comes into being. Someone who was the only person with admin privileges on some important system in one of the other division was out sick or on vacation or maybe even had died and there was a great deal of trouble that wound up costing a lot of money (either just from all the time spent by a lot of people trying to fix the problem and/or other people not being able to do certain tasks for a while). The solution to that is not to make every single bit of proprietary information available to anyone who can sneak into an office and snoop for a while. The solution is to make sure every system always has multiple people with admin rights. As long as you have someone with admin rights who can reset other account passwords or give other people rights to access files or whatever that are only accessible ordinarily to the one employee who is unavailable, you can solve any of the other problems.
Trying to avoid repeating a mistake is a natural (and not unreasonable) reaction when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, in some circumstances involving certain sorts of people a very simple “solution” that is worse than the original problem is adopted.
I’ve been worrying about this a little bit because as part of the move we’ve been trying to make some changes in our behavior to avoid problems we kept having at the old place. Some are fairly east: don’t let dishes pile up in the sink; it’s all right to run the dishwasher when it isn’t completely full. Others are a little more difficult to stick to: take out the trash or recycle as soon as we notice it’s full.
Those are examples of things we kept meaning to change before. There were issues with the outside garbage and recycle bins at the old place that provided an excuse to put off dealing with the trash at certain parts of the week, but the real issue was procrastination and habit. Habits are reinforced by all sorts of things, for example, getting used to seeing dishes piled in that sink. So maybe the change in visual cues will help us develop a new habit.
Some of the new ways of doing things are because of issues we didn’t realize were happening until we packed up. We discovered all sorts of unexpected things lurking in the back of closets, or the back parts of shelves we couldn’t see easily, or behind furniture that was seldom moved.
But I also recognize that slavishly adhering to rules without regard to unintended consequences can create worse problems. So I’ve been trying to think of this as merely establishing new norms: not strict rules, just expectations.
And maybe that’s the secret: don’t be inflexible!
And yet it it can bother us a lot.
Some works of art (movies, books, TV series) are racist or sexist or misogynist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, but still have some redeeming qualities. We’ve all liked something which had some problematic stuff in it. The original Dune novel is homophobic (the more evil a character was, the more gay they were, no good character is even bi-curious), for instance, but I still really enjoyed the novel when I read it as a teen (and the first few sequels). I still like the book, but now that I’ve become aware enough to recognize the homophobia, there is a caveat when I recommend it.
I wrote a lot of fan fiction in my late teens and early twenties and some of it utilized the same problematic trope as Dune: the few bisexual and gay characters I wrote back then tended to be at least a bit on the wicked side. This was true for a while even after I started coming out to myself as queer. So while I can’t excuse the inherent homophobia in a lot of stories written in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s, I understand that it doesn’t always come from an actively malicious place. I’ve also written before about how shocked I was when, after someone pointed out a certain amount of sexism in a story I’d written, that when I looked at a lot of my other works with that in mind, there was casual sexism all over the place. So just because someone is able to enjoy a piece of art because of a small amount of problematic content that doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the prejudice.
While I’m willing to let other people like whatever they want, I’m not required to approve of their choices or withhold judgment. If someone only likes things that are extremely anti-semetic, for instance, it’s perfectly okay to infer from that predilection that the person is more than okay with anti-semetism. Furthermore, if:
- the only works a person likes pushes a misogynist, homophobic, racist agenda;
- and/or if they actively try to exclude works that give marginalized people a place at the table;
- and/or if they actively harass fans who recommend works that center marginalized people;
- and/or if they campaign against writers or artists because of their race, ethnic background, sexual identity, et cetera;
- and/or if they say that portraying queers or people of color and so forth in a positive manner represents an existential threat to civilization…
…they have clearly shown that, like Bradbury’s classmates, they are not friends, and are actually enemies. Not just enemies of queers and other marginalized people, but in my not-so-humble opinion, enemies of science fiction/fantasy itself. I firmly believe and will always insist that sf/f is ultimately about hope. Even the most dystopian sci fi and gruesome horror hinges on a glimmer of hope. I am not being a hypocrite or intolerant if I decide to stop spending time with enemies (which includes exposing myself to their opinions). I am simply following Bradbury’s example: I’m taking my dinosaurs and leaving the room.
That’s enough about that, for now.
Voting on the Hugo Awards ends soon, and I’ve been fiddling with my ballot off and on for a while. Because of the move, I didn’t get around to downloading the Hugo Packet until later than usual. And because the unpacking is still going on and June at work was all about lots of very long hours, I’ve been having trouble reading all the stuff that made the ballot which I hadn’t already read.
Anyway, the status of my ballot as of Wednesday night is behind the link…
It’s a really complex web of guilt trips that we’re programmed with. And while most of those guilt trips are about necessities, not all of them are. We also have been taught to feel guilt over a lot of useless stuff. Specifically: anything that has ever been a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I love gifts. I love finding gifts for people I love. I love giving them. I love when someone gives something to me. Most people do. But we’ve all gotten those gifts that leave us scratching our heads. Why did this person think I would love this strange, ugly thing whose only purpose is to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and isn’t like anything else I own at all?
The truth is, we know that we’ve made similar mistakes in gifting to other people. We found something we thought was cool, or thought they would like, but it’s really not. So when we get gifts like that ourselves, we smile and say “thank you.” And we are grateful that they thought of us and went to the trouble and expense of getting this thing for us, even if we have no clue what we’re going to do with it.
But no matter how useless or inappropriate the gift is, we packrats have a very hard time getting rid of it. Years later it will still be on a shelf or in a closet somewhere, next to a bunch of other things I never use. Even if I’ve decided that it’s time for a purge and I’m specifically going through a part of the house looking for things to take to the thrift store, I’ll pick up the thing I never use that was a gift and immediately hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my head: “You can’t get rid of that! So-and-so gave it to you, and what sort of ungrateful person would get rid of a heartfelt gift?” Getting rid of the gift would be the same thing as saying I don’t love that person as much as I think I do. Getting rid of the gift would mean I don’t appreciate how lucky I am that people think of me fondly enough to get a gift. Getting rid of the gift means that I’m a very bad person.
All of that runs through my head at the thought of getting rid of any gift. Even a silly old knick knack that I don’t merely don’t like, but actually think is repulsive. Even gifts given by people who are no longer a part of my life.
When my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and various aunts and uncles were inducing all this guilt, they weren’t meaning to turn me into a borderline hoarder—they were trying to teach me not to be ungrateful. They wanted me to treasure friends and value friendship and be thankful for the love that came into my life. Just as they had been taught. The fact that they were all packrats because of it didn’t even cross their minds.
Every single weird little kickknack and odd odject d’art that was crammed into the homes of each of my great-grandparents had a story. If I pointed at something and asked about it they would tell a story about the dear friend or long-deceased relative or whoever that had given them the thing. The story they told didn’t always involve the gift itself. But it was about the person and how wonderful or funny or dear they had been. Each dusty item was a memorial to someone they cared about.
And it isn’t just gifts that do that. My late husband, Ray, was even more into plushies than I am. Some of the plush tigers and bunnies and such he owned for a very long time before we met. Many of them had spent years in storage while he was living in a series of rented rooms in other people’s houses. But some went with him to each of those rooms. Some were later kept near his favorite chair in the apartments he and I shared.
The problem is that Ray was a heavy smoker—like his mom and sister and brothers who liked to visit a lot. And many of those plushies became badly nicotine stained. I’ve spent years periodically taking the stained ones out and trying various cleaning solutions on them. Some cleaned up easily, but other have just resisted.
But every time I thought it was time to throw in the towel and admit they couldn’t be cleaned, I would immediate think, “But Ray adored it! What kind of heartless widower would throw away something your husband loved!?” So they would go back into the closet or the back of a shelf until the next time I tried to clean them.
The process happened again during the move. For the first time in a long while I had all of the stained ones in a single place and I went through trying to clean all of them yet again. As before, they resist the commercial soap and various homemade concoctions I’ve put together from recipes on the web and so forth. They just won’t come clean. And since they are so badly stained, they shouldn’t be donated to a thrift store. When I mentioned this to Michael, he very delicately suggested it was time to “retire” them. I probably should have made a Bladerunner joke, but instead I just said, “I know. I just may have to hold a funeral for them.”
When Grandma died, we found literally hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, easter bunnies, and assorted other plushies, each packed in plastic bags and crammed impossibly densely into a couple of closets. A lot of them had little notes attached in Grandma’s handwritting with some person’s name and a date. The vast majority of the names were people none of the family recognized. Grandma did lots of volunteer work at church, and over the years she helped and came to know a dizzying array of people who were there for a while and moved on with their life when they got through whatever calamity had brought them to the charity program. And Grandma seemed to remember them all.
For a few years after her death, everytime I saw either my mother or my aunt, they would try to foist some of those plushies off on me. “It belonged to your grandmother!” they would protest if I suggested donating it to a thrift store. It didn’t matter that many of them looked like they had come from a thrift store before Grandma got them. It didn’t matter that they had been hidden away somewhere in some cases for many decades. It didn’t matter that none of us had any knowledge of their existence before Grandma’s death; not one of us had a fond memory of Grandma telling the story of how this one was given to her. To my mom and my aunt, suggestions that we didn’t want them amounted to saying we didn’t want to remember Grandma, or something.
I don’t want to be that person. I recognize that hanging onto these things that I don’t and can’t enjoy simply because they were his is as irrational as my Mom being upset when I suggested a hunk of junk that had clearly once been a dime store window display that one of Grandma’s charity cases had picked up as salvage somewhere and given to her wasn’t a family heirloom.
There’s a difference between hanging on to something that you love or reminds you of someone you love (and that you have room for and you can enjoy and/or it serves a purpose), and hanging on because you feel guilt toward someone who is not going to be harmed in any way if you don’t keep it.
But I’m still probably going to hold a little funeral for the plushies…