If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that the most recent Friday Five was an almost unreadable mess. The reason is kind of a funny (infuriating) story.
I logged out of my work computer on Friday evening sometime around 6pm, as I often do, then switched to my Macbook Pro to start working on the usual Friday Five post. As usual I started by going through my list of bookmarked news stories for a bit to get an idea of which ones I definitely wanted to include.
I took a break to sort laundry and discuss dinner plans with my husband. Then I took the laundry down to the laundry room and got it started, came back up, assembled a burrito from the massive pile of burrito fixin’s my husband had made for our lunch and scarfed it down. Then I swapped the laundry from the washers to the dryers, and sat back down to actually type up the Friday Five in HTML in a text editor.
Around 9pm Pacific Time, while I was in the middle of working on the Friday Five Wordpess.com killed the Classic Editor (in the background; I didn’t find out until I was finished typing and went to set up metatags and such), which is what I was used to using… And even though the new Block Editor has a Block that is called "Classic" if you put HTML in there, it publishes it the way that last Friday’s post turned out.
Between working on the post, dinner, and dealing with the laundry, by the time I was ready to publish the post, it was my usual bedtime, and the editor I was using disappeared. I don’t want to explain all the hoops I had to go through to salvage my HTML code which suddenly just vanished, and then try to get the web site to let me publish it. I just reached a point where I said, "Screw it! The HTML publishes fine of Dreamwidth, but you can click on the links at WordPress and they work; it just looks horrible." And I went to bed.
Here’s the thing: I’m old. I’ve been publishing stuff to the web since the 1990s, but I really started in the late 1980s writing help files for a small software company in SGML, which is an ancestor of both HTML and XML. So I type HTML tags really fast. It’s all muscle memory. I don’t think "less-than sign space a space href equals sign quotation mark" to type the beginning of a hyperlink referenece, I just think "link" and my fingers type out
<a href=" almost faster than I can say the word "link" out loud.
In part that’s because I learned to type on old manual typewriters before the advent of electric typewriters or personal computers, so I type at about 105 words per minute on modern keyboards. It’s just a thing.
The new WordPress editor does offer a Markdown block element, and if I type Markdown in to that, it works fine. The problem on Friday was that I already had the entire post ready to go in HTML, and retyping the whole thing in Markdown would have taken more time. There ought to be an option with any Web publishing tool to publish HTML. But stupidity, apparently, reigns.
Some folks will ask why I haven’t been typing the Friday Five posts in Markdown before this, because "everyone uses Markdown now" and the whole point of Markdown is that it is fewer keystrokes than HTML and the raw text is even easier for a human who doesn’t know anything about coding or the Web to parse. I know! A few years ago I was pulled aside at work to help with a side project one of the vice presidents was working on, and they wanted to do the help in Markdown. I reviewed John Gruber’s web page of the syntax, opened up my favorite plain text editor, and I wrote help in Markdown. Because the help was fairly simple there wasn’t much of a learning curve. And while, yeah, Markdown is a lot fewer keystrokes, that one project wasn’t enough to get Markdown into muscle memory. I have to think about the Markdown syntax, as simple as it is, to write this blog post.
I know HTML well enough that I don’t have to think to type it. And yes, that means that right now I still can type
<a href=" as fast or nearly as fast as I can think, "Uh, let’s see, the link text goes in the square brackets while the link goes in ordinary parenthesis, I think?"
It won’t be long before I’m not pausing to remember what to type for the less often used things, but it’s a new habit I need to learn. And like most humans I am lazy. I’d rather keep using the thing I already know than to get as good at the new thing as I already am with the old thing.
So this is that part where you imagine me as Grandpa Simpson shouting at a cloud.
But writing this post has been good practice for the next Friday Five.
More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
His reviews give a nice overview of what each of the fan writers produce, with helpful links to stuff the many places you can find their work. Even if you aren’t a Hugo voter, but you love sci fi/fantasy, you should check these six writers out. They are all wonderful.
Just as I’m finding it very difficult to rank the six fan writer nominees, I’m having a nearly equally hard time in the Novel category. I may have to write about that some more later.
But for now, if you’re a voter, go vote! If you’re a fan, go check out those fan writers!
So other people have been posting about the Hugo ballot since it came out. This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but I found all of these posts interesting and informative.
Cora Buhlert shares her views on the Retro Hugo nominees: Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards and the 2020 finalists: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/04/10/some-thoughts-on-the-hugo-award-finalists-part-ii-the-2020-hugo-awards/.
Nerds of a Feather have a bit to say: Adri and Joe Talk About Books: The Hugo Awards.
Paul Fraser and SF Magazines has some thoughts: 1945 Retro Hugo Award and 2020 Hugo Award Finalists.
And let’s not forget J.J.’s excellent round-up of where you can find most of the nominees or excerpts thereof, online: Where To Find The 2020 Hugo Award Finalists For Free Online.
I had several answers—all of them true:
- It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
- In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
- I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
- One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
- Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?
However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:
“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.
“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.
“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”
And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.
So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”
I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
In case you aren’t familiar, Alex Jones is a radio host who also puts out his show on various Youtube channels and the like (or he did until this week) where he traffics in conspiracy theories and extreme rightwing fearmongering, while convincing people to buy his crappy dietary supplements and apocalypse survival gear. He spent years denouncing the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook, claiming that the murdered children never existed and that the parents were actors perpetuating an anti-gun hoax. His rants inspired his ravening fans to so harass some of the parents to the point of having to move several times over the years to escape the harassment, death threats, and vandalism.
Some of those parents have finally got a lawsuit going against Jones, and I am among the many people who hope they take him for every penny.
But the Sandy Hook parents aren’t his only victims. And people have been complaining to the various service providers who host his programs for years to take some action. Which they finally have.
Anyway, now that Jones’ podcasts and such have been removed from the Apple podcast library, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, everyone on the right is in a tizzy that this is the first step in a coming progrom against all conservative people. And because I retweeted a few of the best responses to this nonsense I saw, I suddenly had a bunch of them trying to convince me that this was a clear example of censorship whose slippery slope would lead to the oppressing of queer people such as myself.
There are several problems with these arguments. The first is that, despite what all these folks claim, Jones is not being targeted because he is Republican. He is not being targeted for who he is. He has been banned for things he has said and done. Specifically, the hate speech and the incitement to harass and worse. The justification of removing his content is clear, egregious, and repeated violation of long-standing policies forbidding hate speech and the like. Example: Facebook bans InfoWars and Alex Jones after calls for drag queens to be burned alive There’s no slippery slope from there to banning large swaths of people.
Second, this is, in some ways, like closing the barn door after the horse has run away. These platforms should have banned him years ago. He was allowed to spew his hate and lies and harass and cause the harassment of innocent people for years, all while profiting from the hate and lies. This is severely delayed justice, at best. He isn’t being censored, he is instead facing consequences for immoral, unethical, and in some cases illegal things he has done many, many times for many, many years.
Third, queer people are already punished by several of these services. YouTube is particularly notorious about disallowing ad revenue for videos that advocate for queer rights and so forth. They label any mention of queerness at all as sensitive “adult” material, even when it is just a trans person giving people make-up tips. I’ll believe these rightwing a-holes are concerned about oppression when I see them protesting YouTube’s treatment of queer people now.
Fourth, this isn’t censorship, it’s consequences. And the consequences aren’t coming from the government. Jones isn’t being carried off to a concentration camp by armed officers. There are people in this country being hauled away by armed officers of the government where they are being locked up for who they are, rather than anything they have done. And it isn’t rightwing people like Jones that it is happening to. So it is particularly infuriating that they’re making this argument now.
There are things happening in this country that could be described by Niemöller’s poem, but those actions are being undertaken by the Trump administration, all the while being cheered on by people like Alex Jones. Jones isn’t a victim, he’s one of the culprits.
Camp NaNoWriMo is underway, sponsored by the same people who do National Novel Writing Month. Camp happens in April and July each year with far more nebulously defined goals that NaNoWriMo’s big word count target. For camp, you set your own goals. Often people use camp to edit something already written, or to write something shorter than a novel, or to get out of a rut of non-productivity. Because of the camp metaphor, participants are encouraged to join a cabin, which is really just a small on-line chat. You can let yourself be randomly assigned to a cabin, or you can set up a private cabin and invite your friends, or you can join someone else’s private cabin.
I like having the expectation that I’ll publish my word-count (or number of words revised, or what ever) regularly and having at least a few people to kibbitz and commiserate with. My attempts at Camp have had a varying degree of success.
Anyway, part of my Camp NaNoWriMo project for this month is to implement some of the new things and changes that I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been revising my goals. I wrote earlier about why I hadn’t posted a list of goals for the year, nor posted monthly updates. The summary is that I’ve been writing private checklists each month, and so far each of those checklists has included at least one item about better defining my long terms goals. The list of long term goals is shaping up, though there are some details I haven’t quite finalized.
I am still using the model of attempting to replace a bad habit with a better habit. I’m also trying to redirect where I’m expending my energy and attention. I’ve been cutting back a bit on my Twitter activity, for instance. Another more obvious change is that I’ve replaced the labor-intensive Friday Links weekly post with a much easier to assemble Friday Five post.
When I start posting monthly updates on my goals, the posts are likely to be put up on Patreon, rather than here. I’m still figuring out how much and where other things I post a lot (such as my Writing Advice posts or my Why I Love SF/F posts) should be posted/cross-posted and how to manage that without it eating up more time than I’m freeing elsewhere.
I hope to finish a longish NorWesCon Convention report to post here this week. There is at least one movie review and one book review about half finished that should go up soon, too.
So that’s what is happening here. If you’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re interested in joining my Cabin, leave a comment here, or send me a message on twitter, or send me an email with the Contact Me page here—or if you already have another way to ping me use that.
Let’s get writing!
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with aspiring writers. This happened especially a lot when I was the publisher of a small zine and attending sf/f conventions where I appeared on writing and publishing panels and usually had a table selling copies of the zine. A significant fraction of these random aspiring writers would talk about stories that they were working on but couldn’t quite figure out how to finish. And once I got into the details with them, it would eventually emerge that they hadn’t actually written any of the story. It was an idea they had and which they had talked about at length with friends. In many cases they would talk about the files they had full of descriptions of characters and an outline of the history of the world, but when pressed, they would admit that they hadn’t actually written a single word of the story itself.
Planning and thinking and even doodling about a story, gathering research and writing up background information are important tasks which are often necessary to the writing process, but none of that is the actual story. So I would tell these writers a few of rules:
- Stop talking about the story to other people, because that just makes the storytelling part of your brain think you’ve already written the tale. Sit down and start writing it.
- You don’t have to do world building before you start writing. Recently I saw a lot of people online passing around an excerpt from on old interview with one of Tolkein’s kids where the kid asserts that dad didn’t start writing the story itself down until the children started catching him in contradictions. I don’t know if the anecdote is true, but you can tell a lot of story before you have to stop and start making notes about the world building.
- Just sit down and put one word after the other. Don’t worry about whether you’ve started the story at the correct place. Don’t worry about the perfect opening line. You can figure that out later. Don’t get hung up (in the first draft) worrying about if people will understand the story or will like the story. Just start writing. The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. Worry about everything else after you have finished the first draft.
- Don’t stop and go back and re-write scenes again and again. Force yourself to leave things in the story until you reach an ending. Yes, you may scrap a ton of what you wrote later, but don’t fall into the trap of rewriting one scene for eternity.
- Write. A writer writes. Do it!
If you are writing a story, you’re writing. If you’re doing something else, you aren’t writing. Obviously, sometimes you have to take a break, or do some plotting, or jot down background information, or update a timeline, and so forth in order to know what to write next, none of that is actually writing. So if you’re spending more time on that than actually writing the tale, you need to stop, sit down at your favorite word processor or writing notebook, and start writing.
The blog post that angered me this weekend asserted that if you haven’t been published you aren’t a writer. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to gatekeeping, but even discounting that, I have problems with that distinction. I understand that the author was trying to address the issue of people who are merely daydreaming about writing. And I agree that we do a disservice to aspiring writers if we enable their mistaken notions that writing is easy or that it’s a sort of magic process of ideas coming to us from the ether.
But getting published is a very arbitrary and classist hurdle. And particularly in this age of self-publishing, it’s not a terribly useful distinction.
Are you writing? Not background notes, but an actual story with dialogue and a narrative moving forward? Then you are a writer. Maybe you’re still in the early stages of learning your craft. Maybe what you wrote this morning was completely awful. Maybe you’re still afraid to show it to other people. Maybe you showed it to someone and they didn’t like it.
That’s not important.
Are you writing? Are you doing the work of putting one word after the other striving to get to the end of the tale?
If you are writing a story, even if you don’t know what you’re doing yet, you’re a writer.
Go! Write! Finish that story!
One of the things that I have enjoyed since moving my blogging to FontFolly.Net hosted on WordPress five years ago has been seeing all the information about traffic to my site at a glance. Such as the Referrers–a section of the dashboard that shows you when someone followed a link on another site to my blog, or used a search engine. That information is available over on my author site (SansFigLeaf.Com), but I have to work harder to get the logs and parse them. WordPress does the work for me.
I used to really enjoy about once a month looking at the list of Search terms that people use to get to the site. As more and more people use private or anonymous browsing options, that list doesn’t change much, with more and more searches lumped into the category of Unknown Search Terms. Not that I don’t begrudge anybody some privacy, but it was amusing to speculate as to why someone had typed “bland relish tray” or “ceramic figurine queen jubilee” into a search engine, and whether whatever post of mine it was that they clicked on was at least entertaining to them.
On the other hand, the person who once typed “collecting dictionaries” so far as I know never left a comment or asked any question about the topic. Which is kind of sad, because if they typed that search term in, I hope it was because they or someone they cared about collected dictionaries, just like I do, and it’s always fun to meet someone who shares your interests.
Search terms aren’t the only thing of interest. Another part of the dashboard lists all of my old blog posts that someone has clicked on today. Certain old blog posts come up again and again. When it is one of my series of posts about why I love science fiction and fantasy (which are usually a review of a book or series of books or a particular author or a movie or sci fi TV series), I understand, and hope that the person enjoyed the post. When it is a particular post I wrote some months back about some infamous closet cases: former anti-gay Congressman Aaron Schock and former Pinal, Arizona County Sheriff Paul Babeu, I know that most likely it means that there has been a new development in Schock’s criminal trial on federal corruption charges, because whenever a story about his case gets published on news sites, I get a few hits. This week, though, it seems the reason why is that there has been a new development in the federal corruption investigation against Babeu. So, it was interesting to learn that he may yet be brought to justice.
I am happy that the all-time most read post is one about writing, Time doesn’t work that way. Makes me think I should get some more of my draft posts about writing, storytelling, et cetera finished and uploaded.