A friend recently commented that a lot of my playlists re-use songs. He’s right, particularly since many of the lists I’ve been sharing lately are based on some of my writing lists2. That’s because I assign some songs to particular characters. Or I assign some songs to particular character combinations. For instance, I use the Matt Goss song, “Evil” if I’m working on a story or section of one of the fantasy novels when the characters of Madame Valentina and the Zombie Lord figure prominently; because the song’s lyrics sound like something that Madame Valentina would say to her former friend and comrade-in-arms about why they are no longer friends. Other songs represent something a bit more abstract and just wind up in lots of playlists.
I listened to music while writing long before having a program that could play pre-programmed lists. And I even had playlists, of a sort. I used to make myself mix tapes3 on cassette. Like the playlists now, they were often meant as sort of a soundtrack for a project I was working on at the time. Before I had that technology, I used to like to listen to certain albums on vinyl while I wrote4. But more often I listened to the radio, where I had no control on what music would come up.
I’ve had multiple friends comment that they can’t write at all while listening to music that has lyrics. They can only write to music if the music is only instrumental. They mention this because they are confused when the vast majority of my writing playlists are made up of songs (often dance, pop, or rock songs, but queercore, baroque pop6, and broadway style musicals7 figure heavily as well) that have lyrics. I attribute this ability to two things. First, the fact that back when I was 11 years old9 and such I listened to the radio while I wrote. But another factor is familiarity. I usually only put songs that I know relatively well into the playlists, which means I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power parsing the lyrics when I hear it.
But even when I put new songs that I have only just discovered into the playlist they quickly become familiar. Because—and this is something I only realized recently is different than the way these friends use writing playlists—I don’t just listen to the playlist while I’ve actually writing. I listen to the playlist to get me in the mood to write a story. By which I don’t mean I sit quietly listening to the playlist hoping that I’ll eventually feel like picking up the keyboard and getting to work. No, I listen to the playlist during the day at the office, or while riding the bus to work, or while walking home, and so on.
I mentioned above that some songs function as themes for some of my characters or certain relationships, but I also have some songs that are essentially theme songs for specific subplots, or story arcs, or even specific plot twists. It’s not that I sit down and think, “Okay, this moment here needs a song,” it’s more that I’ll hear a song and find that when I listen to it it makes me think about that bit of the story. So I add the song to one of my existing writing lists; or I take subsets of several existing writing lists plus this song that hasn’t been in one of the lists before, and put together a new one. Which is another reasons that some of my lists repeat songs in other lists.
I know that I’m not the only person who uses inspirational playlists this way. But clearly the idea of listening to a writing playlist other than when you’re writing isn’t an obvious one. And it is true that sometimes I find, while I’m actually writing, that I need to switch to something other than the new writing playlist I’ve been listening to recently. There are times when I’m focused more on the words than the story. But that doesn’t happen often.
I think that might be another difference. I’ve always had a little trouble understanding why some people get so hung up on what to write next. Particularly when they describe struggling to find exactly the right word, or that a particular sentence kept coming out awkward. Because writing isn’t about showing off your gigantic vocabulary. It’s storytelling. And you can tell any story, even a new and unique one that is yours and yours alone many ways. This is sort of an extension of an idea that Stanley Fish talks about in his excellent book, How to Write a Sentence. Fish argues that the basic tool of the trade of a writer is the sentence, not the word, because words don’t take on their exact meaning until they are put in the context of a sentence, right?
The important part of a story aren’t specific sequences of words or astonishing turns of phrase. The story is about the characters confronting a problem, how they react to it, how they grow (or fail to) as they endure the slings and arrows of the tale. It’s about how the reader feels about those things. It’s about how the reader is moved by the events, what those events mean to the characters, and the state of each character as they reach their final fates.
That’s why lyrics shouldn’t distract you. Because good songs speak to your emotions. And emotions and events are what you need to be focusing on while writing your story. The words are just how you get there. They aren’t the end, they’re the means.
Put on your headphones, queue up some music that makes your heart and soul want to dance. Then, start writing.
1. That’s right, I used iTunes for three years before I owned my first iPod.
2. I very very occasionally publish lists of the songs on my blog. I slightly more often zip up all the songs in a list and share the file with friends who express interest.
3. Other people made mix tapes to get to people they were romantically interested in or already dating as a way to express their feelings. I assembled tapes of songs for myself.
4. Once I had my own record player, I could put a stack of vinyl albums on the spindle, and it would play one side of each album one after the other. It only held three albums5, but it was a way to build a very primitive sort of playlist.
5. The big stereo in the living room could hold five or six albums in a queue!
6. For instance, Rufus Wainwright or John Grant.
7. Yes, I’m the kind of queer man who listens to musicals! So sue me!8
8. It almost goes without saying that I appeared in musicals in school, but the truly frightening thing is that I’ve written a musical!
9. I decided to become a writer when I was four or five years old, after Mom responded to my question about where books come from. I wrote my first “book” when I was six. I learned to type at age 10, and wrote a lot of short stories on my mom’s Easter Pink Smith-Corona Silent Super typewriter until, just before my twelfth birthday, my paternal grandmother gave me her 1952 Remington Let-R-Riter. I owned my own typewriter! And I went crazy with the writing.
But once I got them to listen, they all loved it, too.
I played that album a lot. But vinyl records lose fidelity over time because each time you play them the physical needle that has to run through the groove to vibrate because of the shape of the groove and translate those microvibrations into sound also wears the groove smooth, slowing destroying the sound. I played it enough that, a few years later when the second movie came out and I bought the soundtrack album for it, I could hear the difference in some of the repeated themes, and bought myself a fresh copy of the first album, played it once to make a cassette tape, and put it away. I also made a tape of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and stopped listening to the vinyl album. I listened to both cassettes often enough that eventually I had to get the albums out again to make fresh tapes.
And yes, eventually I ended up with a vinyl version of the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi. For many years after that, I would only occasionally play the vinyl albums, relying instead on the homemade cassette copies when I wanted to listen to them. I did this with a number of sci fi movie and TV series soundtracks through the 80s and early 90s: buy the vinyl album listen at least once while I made a cassette copy, then put the album carefully away and listened to the cassette as often as I liked. And I really enjoyed listening to the music for movies and other shows that I loved.
And then along came compact discs. I started buying new music on disc, and as I could afford it, if I found CD versions of favorite old albums, I would buy them. At some point in this period of time, I found a disc that was titled, “The Star Wars Trilogy” as recorded by the Utah Symphony Orchestra (the originals had all been done by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams) for a very reasonable price, and I bought it.
In 1997, 20 years after the original release of the first movie, a set of three 2-disc Special Edition sets of the soundtracks for all three of the original Star Wars movies were released, so I finally picked up the full soundtracks on CD. These sets had considerably more music than had been included in the old vinyl albums. They had also been remastered. Each of the discs was printed with holographic images of the Death Star and other ships from the universe. Each set came with a mini hardbound book with notes about the music. They were cool. I listened to them fairly frequently for a few years.
When I first acquired what they called at the time a Personal Digital Assistant (a Handspring Visor, to be specific), it came with a disc of software to help synchronize your calendar and contacts with your Windows computer. When I upgraded a couple years later, the new disc of software included a copy of Apple’s new music manager, iTunes (the Windows version), which you could use to put music on your PDA. At the time I often listened to music while working on computer by pulling discs out of a small shelf unit I kept in the computer room and stuck in a boombox we kept in there. The little shelf held only a subset of my library, as the rest of our discs were in a much bigger shelf unit in the living room next to the main stereo. So I grabbed some of the discs from the small shelf, stuck them in the CD drive on my Windows tower, and let them get imported into iTunes. That was the original core of my current iTunes library, from which I created my first playlists—imaginatively named “Writing,” “Writing Faust,” “Writing II,” “Layout An Issue,” and “Writing III.” And several tracks from the aforementioned knock-off Star Wars Trilogy disc were included, because that was the only Star Wars music disc I kept in the computer room at the time.
Many years later, I usually listen to music from my iPhone. I had thought that I had imported all of my music from disc into the iTunes library years ago, and most of the time I buy music as downloads, now. I have new playlists which include the Star Wars theme or the Imperial March. So I thought it was all good. I hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to the entire soundtracks of the original movies in years. I have continued to buy new soundtracks for movies I love. I tend to listen to them for a while, and then pick some favorite tracks that go into playlists.
Because of some articles I was reading about the upcoming films in the Star Wars franchise, I decided that I should re-listen to the original soundtrack, and was quite chagrined to discover that, even though I thought my entire iTunes library was currently synched to my phone, all that I had was the knock-off album. (And the wholly downloaded soundtracks from The Force Awakens and Rogue One.) I was even more chagrined when I got home and couldn’t find the original albums in my iTunes library on either computer.
So I went to the big shelf of CDs in the living room (which my husband was actually in the middle of packing), and snagged the three two-disc Star Wars soundtrack sets and carried them up to my older Mac Pro tower (because it still has an optical disc drive). I now finally have the albums on my iPhone. Sometime after we finish the move, I’ve going to have to go through playlists to replace the versions from the knock-off album with the authentic score. Because, that’s what I should be using!
Also, clearly, after we’re all unpacked at the new place, I need to go through the rest of the discs and see what other music which I thought was in my library is still sitting trapped in a physical disc which never gets used any more so I can import them to the computers. I mean, our stereo doesn’t even have a disc player!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!
Fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness,
Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,
And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!
We need a rainbow Christmas now!
And if you’d like something a big less sassy:
Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Xmas (Live 2000)
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
(I know the resolution on that isn’t great, but I love the live performance with the live boys’ choir. If you want to see a more glossy production with dancing Christmas trees, click here.)
So it was ridiculous that people where carrying around iPods! Or any other digital music player, for that matter! What if the digital format in question was abandoned or obsoleted? How would you play your music on another player when this one wore out? Did owning music even mean anything when it was just a file on your computer?
Now, to be fair, I had converted a small number of my music discs to digital to play on my computer1, so I didn’t have to walk across the room while I was in the middle of writing something to change music. That was all right, but it was an alternative. It would never replace my real music library.
Then my husband bought me a pretty pink iPod Nano for my birthday.
And I became quickly addicted as I realized I could convert dozens of big heavy discs to files on the tiny iPod… Read More…
I do playlists, as I’ve mentioned a few times before. I’ve been working for the last week on a new Fireworks list. Digging back in my iTunes library I see I’ve got eleven previous ones each dated with the year I made, except the first one, which is merely called “Gene’s Fireworks List.” A lot of songs get repeated year after year. But this year I was having trouble, because America isn’t being it’s best. We often fall short of our ideals, but with the blatant racism, sectarianism, homophobia, and worse coming from the nominee of one of the major parties (I mean, how many times now has Donald Trump shared posts from literal white supremacist and neo-nazi sites so far?), well, I just feel as if we’re further from the aspirations of liberty and justice for all than we have been in a while.
So I wound up making two lists. One is fairly traditional, this one is just called 2016 Fireworks:
- “Star Spangled Banner” – Keith Lockhart & the Boston Pops Orchestra
- “God Bless American” – Kate Smith
- “America” – Neil Diamond
- “You’re a Grand Old Flag” – James Cagney & the cast of Yankee Doodle Dandy
- “Liberty Bell March” – United States Marine Corps Band
- “We Shall Be Free” – Garth Brooks
- “National Emblem March” – Keith Lockhart & the Boston Pops Orchestra
- “The Washington Post March” – United States Marine Corps Band
- “Born in the U.S.A” – Bruce Springsteen
- “The Thomas Jefferson March” – United States Marine Corps Band
- “An American Trilogy” – Elvis Presley
- “The Stars and Stripes Forever” – United States Marine Corps Band
- “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
- “The Blue Danube Waltz” – United States Marine Corps Band
- “Star Spangled Banner” – Dolly Parton
Then this was is a little more… aspirational:
- “I Love the USA” – Weezer
- “Song of the Patriot” – Johnny Cash
- “This Land is Your Land” – Arlo Guthrie & Woody Guthrie
- “Someday We’ll All be Free” – Donny Hathaway
- “All-American Boy” – Steven Grand
- “God Bless American” – Kate Smith
- “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” – Bette Midler
- “Chimes of Freedom” – Bruce Springsteen
- “Oh, Freedom” – Harry Belafonte
- “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon & Garfunkel
- “The Battle of New Orleans” – Johnny Horton
- “Living In America” – James Brown
- “The Star Spangled Banner” – Whitney Houston & The Florida Orchestra
In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, President Obama’s remarks were met with criticism from many corners, as they do, but there was a particular comment that seemed to really upset a lot of straight people on social media. This bit really got some folks’ panties in a bunch:
The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment…
Some people had a real difficult time understanding why anyone would refer to a gay bar as a place of empowerment. It’s really hard for most straight people to understand just how isolated and alienated queer kids feel their entire lives. We take a lot of flack, particularly white male queer people, from people of color whenever we draw parallels between our struggle for acceptance and equality with the struggles that racial minorities face. There are more similarities than some people want to admit, but they are correct that there are differences. And one of those differences is that isolation.
A member of a racial or ethnic minority growing up in a racist society is never told that other people like him or her do not exist. At all. Usually a person of color is aware of the existence of other people of color if for no other reason than the rest of their family is also a member of that racial or ethnic minority. They may live in a neighborhood where other members of the minority are neighbors, classmates, and so on.
Not queer kids. Until very recently, queer kids were pretty much guaranteed to grow up being told and shown again and again that every human is straight. Little boys are teased about having a crush on any girl or woman other than a close relative that they get along with. Little girls get told they will be a mommy some day. Every book, movie, television show, family anecdote, et cetera shows us again and again that every boy grows up to have a girlfriend, eventually a wife, and will become a daddy. And they tell every girl that she will grow up to be some boy’s girlfriend, then some man’s wife, and eventually will have that man’s babies.
And anyone who doesn’t do those things? Well, there’s something wrong with them! Unattached characters of either gender appearing in stories and shows are usually treated as the comic relief or as tragically alone. Lonely spinsters that everyone feels sorry for or eccentric bachelors that no one takes seriously are the least horrible futures that society tells us await us if we don’t fall in love with a person of the opposite gender and settle down.
That’s the initial indoctrination. The first level of lying, if you will.
As we get older, we start noticing other fates for men and women who don’t fit into the coupled hetero ideal. They aren’t just taken seriously and pitied, it’s worse than that. Some of those oddballs may indeed have special friendships with another person of the same gender, but that always ends in death for at least one of them. If one survives, it is as a broken creature, forever haunted by guilt and despair because of it.
The lies that we are told is that queer people don’t exist, or at least they don’t exist naturally, and those few queer people that do come about however that happens, will live lives that are filled with loneliness, despair, pain, suffering, and death. But it is a pain, suffering and death that they deserve because they are monsters.
When you are told those lies again and again; when you are made to feel like a freak any time you behave or feel anything other than what is expected; when you are not allowed to see any examples of queer people who aren’t object lessons who deserve pain and suffering—you believe it. Your parents, your teachers, your church, your neighbors, your classmates, and your siblings have all told you the same thing again and again your entire life. It must be true! There must be something deeply wrong with you, and that wrongness means that you can never be happy, never be loved, never know joy, never be accepted.
And you’ve been made to feel miserable any time that any hint of your difference has manifested. You have probably developed crushes on members of your own gender, but realized that the other person didn’t feel the same way. Or if the affection was returned, you both lived in terror of what would happen if anyone found out. If anyone has found out, there were some sort of bad consequences. One or both of your were beaten. You were forbidden to see each other. One or both of you might have been sent away or simply kicked out of your home by your parents.
So, the first time that we walk into a gay bar is usually a revelation. There are other people like you there! More importantly, you find people like you there who seem to be happy. The first visit may be a short one because you’re nervous and not sure what to expect. Or it might be that the atmosphere or theme of the place is catering to a different subset of the community than you identify with. But when you find a place that you can feel comfortable in, you see that there are people there who are living lives other than lonely and tragic. There aren’t just sexual or romantic relationships, there are friendships. People share drinks and a laugh when their life is going well, they share drinks and hugs and commiserations in times of sorrow.
And while you may not be a person who particularly fits in at the bar scene, there is still a sense of community and belonging that you can find there. One that many queer people never experienced before that.
My first few experiences in gay bars didn’t go terribly well. The first place I went to was more of a leather bar and I felt as if I’d stepped into a foreign country. My bright colored nerdy t-shirt didn’t help me fit in, but more importantly, I didn’t understand any of the non-verbal signals that were going on all around me. My second gay bar was filled with loud music that I had never heard before, and everyone was dressed in far more fashionable clothes than I could pull off. I felt like a very ugly duckling surrounded by a sea fashion models and body builders.
For me, the bar that clicked was the old Timberline. It was a mix of lesbians and queer men—a lot of people wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans. Country music was played there, and twice a week there were classes in line-dancing and two-stepping. Same-sex couples danced arm in arm, circling around the dance floor to the kind of music that I had grown up with. It wasn’t every queer person’s dream, but to those of us who are came to Seattle from the south or from rural communities just about anywhere, there were enough cultural touchstones to our childhood to make being an openly queer man dancing with another man feel like a magic transformation where the impossible suddenly seemed within reach.
That’s another reason the shooting hurts so much. Even though I haven’t been inside a gay bar in something like 14 years, the images of wounded people being carried out of the club not by paramedics, but by other people who were clearly part of the bar crowd was worse than a punch in the gut. One of our places was no longer ours.
I’ve rambled enough about this. We grew up being told we were monsters who should either not exist or be invisible. We grew up believing we would never have friends who would accept us for who we really were. We grew up believing that not only would we never find love, but that we didn’t deserve any form of happiness at all. For many of us, a queer club was one of the first places that we learned that all of those things were lies.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced that:
And every year during May I start constructing a Pride playlist. It’ll be a mix of new songs and old. What they usually all have in common is that they are songs I like to dance to, and resonate in some way with the celebratory side of being out and proud but especially loud. Or, as Miss Coco Peru might said, a life lived out, proud, loud and just a little bit ridiculous.
Some years I feel like putting in songs that are a bit more dirty and flirty, while other years my include some ballads and either more serious or slightly darker in tone. I also throw in songs that are by artists I’ve been thinking about a lot this year. Which is at least part of the reason you’ll see both Prince and David Bowie make an appearance.
Not all of these songs will mean the same thing to you or even evoke the same feelings, of course. And you may see some familiar titles that make you ask, “How can he dance to that?” Don’t just look at the title, but try to find the exact remix by the same artist. You may find that the cover version of an old pop song you think you know has been transformed into something completely different in the particular track I’ve listed.
Anyway, this is my 2016 Pride Playlist:
- “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)” – Prince & The Revolution
- “Feelin’ Free” – Sirpaul
- “Spectrum (feat. Jo Lampert & Gyasi Ross)” – Ryan Amador
- “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie
- “Reach out for the Stars” – Yehonathan
- “Revolution (feat. Levi Kreis)” – Matthew David
- “What’s It Gonna Be?” – Shura
- “Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow
- “Get Your Sexy On” – Lovestarrs
- “I Wanna Boi” – PWR BTTM
- “The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On” – Pet Shop Boys
- “Just Stand Up!” – Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti, Ciara & Mariah Carey
- “How Deep Is Your Love” – Calvin Harris & Disciples
- “For You” – Quentin Elias
- “The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” – Panic! At the Disco
- “Desire” – Years & Years
- “We Don’t Have to Dance” – Andy Black
- “Feel So Good [Orignal Edit]” – Sean Ensign
- “Eddie Baez Donna Summer She Works Hard for the Money” – Eddie Baez Presents
- “Only Love Survives (Timothy Allan & Mark Loverush Remix)” – Ryan Dolan
- “You’re So Beautiful (White Party Version) [feat. Jussie Smollett]” – Empire Cast
- “Breathe Life” – Brian Kent
- “Try Everything” – Shakira
- “Halo (Gomi Club Remix)” – Beyoncé
- “You Are Unstoppable (7th Heaven Remix)” – Conchita Wurst
Whatever music you prefer, never forget: dance with joy, dance with abandon, dance without worrying what anyone thinks, because life is too short to waste time sitting still!
Gizmodo brings us this little story of pianist Tony Ann who has created a short piano piece that incorporates the music of several popular ringtone, transforming them into brief melodic themes that are woven together into a song. It’s pretty cool!
Famous Cellphone Ringtones Played On The Piano (Tony Ann Arrangement):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Yesterday a friend asked why I didn’t include anything about Oklahoma Lawmakers Passing a Bill Criminalizing Performing Abortion among the rest of the Friday Links. As I explained in the comments, their was so much ridiculous and outrage-inducing news out of Oklahoma this week (and a few other places), that on Thursday night while I was assembling the Friday Links post I reached a stage where I was seething. I was literally shaking so hard with rage that I could not sit still at the keyboard. I kept getting up and angrily pacing back and forth, muttering about how ludicrous it was. So I skipped over a chunk of the links I had bookmarked for the week and tried to move on to calming news.
Oklahoma was not one of the states I lived in as a child, but both my dad’s and Mom’s side of the family came from there, and I had a lot of relatives living there back in the day. My husband grew up in communities in Missouri and Oklahoma, and many of his closest relatives still live there. The upshot is that I have emotional ties to Oklahoma and keep hoping that it will become a better place than I recall it being. (While I was telling Michael about this update, he said, “There are reasons I always say that Oklahoma is a great place to be from!”) So here are a few other links that I could have included about Oklahoma yesterday:
Since then, there is some slightly better news. Midday Friday, the governor of Oklahoma vetoed bill that would criminalize abortion. And that’s nice. Unfortunately, she didn’t veto it because the law is blatantly unconstitutional. Nor did she veto it because the decision whether to have an abortion should be a matter of conscience for the woman involved. She vetoed it because the law failed to identify the definition of “medically necessary to save the life of the mother” which is the one exception in the law. It probably didn’t hurt that every expert agreed that the law would make it impossible for any OB/GYN to practice in Oklahoma, since any miscarriages or any tubal pregnancies that a patience experienced could be charged under the law. The governor explicitly said that she hopes a president will soon appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal at a federal level.
So it isn’t great news, just less awful than it originally appeared.
Speaking of good news: South Carolina Senate blocks Berkeley anti-transgender bathroom ban. This is the second time since this trans bathroom mania began that South Carolina legislators have killed one of these kinds of bills.
While we’re on the topic of improving news, some months back when the first trailer for the next Star Trek movie went up, it was pretty cringe worthy. It was blatantly obvious that whoever edited it was thinking, “Guardians of the Galaxy was a goofy comedy action movie that was a blockbuster, so how can we edit this to make it look like it is also a goofy comedy action movie?” The new trailer just dropped, and thankfully it looks much, much better:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I was voting in the Locus Awards (annual sci fi/fantasy award poll held by Locus Magazine, which is open to anyone who wants to vote), and was completing the survey portion at the end, when I got to the question, “Do you own a computer? If so, how many?” and I paused for only a moment. See, I personally own three right now: my 7-year-old Mac Pro tower (gigantic thing that was way more powerful than I needed when I bought it because I wanted to be happy with it for years), my Macbook Pro laptop (also known as Hello, Sweetie!), and a 6-year old Windows 7 ultrabook (aka Macbook Air knock-off) for those few old programs I have that I can’t find equivalents of for Mac. Those are my personal computers.
Then there is my iPad Air 2, which I use for several laptop functions, particularly at work, because it is better at them than the clunky old Dell laptops that my employer provided (though we are finally, finally starting to get upgrades this year!). It is clearly a computing device, and a lot more powerful than many computers I’ve owned in the past. And I’m always pointing out that iPhones and high-end smartphones in general are actually pocket computers that obviate a phone, not merely phones themselves…
And then there’s another way to look at it. I’m married, and we’re living in a community property state, so technically my computers also belong to Michael, but more importantly for this survey, his belong to me and… well, I have no clue how many he owns. I mean, he has his older Macbook Air that he carries back and forth to work, and then there is his much nicer Macbook Pro that he uses for more serious portable computing, and then there are, if I just peek at his desk, four PC towers and mini-towers, and I see at least one laptop, and counting how many things are plugged into his giant KVM switch (that allows all of his desk computers to share his monitors, keyboard, and mouse)…. well, if I’m counting those right, there is at least one more computer in that desk somewhere that I can’t see. Plus the Mac Mini in another room that we use as a media server, and I know there are at least two laptops in his pile of “machines I could make usable if someone we know has a complete computer failure and needs something now” pile…
You can see why I have no clue how many computers he owns. So I asked him, “Honey, how many computers do you own?” To which he frowned, looked at me a little bit sheepishly, and said, “I have no idea. Why?”
I decided since he can vote in the Locus Awards himself, that I could just answer 3 for me, and not worry about the rest. Particularly since I could see that a subsequent question asked whether we owned any of the following: smartphone, tablet, iPod, e-book reading device. So I could count some of my other computing devices there.
Thank goodness they didn’t ask how many of those!
I only own the one iPad, myself. But since I have never gotten around to re-selling my old iPhone when I upgraded to the new one, I technically have more than one of those. And then there are iPods other than my phone: one for the car, one that I use as a watch, one that plugs onto my alarm clock and helps wake me up each morning, and I think four spares for the car (because we’ve had more than one stolen from the car over the years). The spares are squirreled away on my desk, so it would take me a bit to find them.
And my husband is worse, because he has more than one iPad he uses regularly (one lives more or less permanently in his bicycle bag. It’s an older one that he salvaged form a junk bin at work where it had a shattered screen and a slightly bent body; he straightened the body, installed a new screen, and may have done some other repairs to it to make it fully functional again).
So I should clarify, for people that don’t know, that one of the reasons we are over-supplied in this technology department is because he works for a computer recycler/refurbisher, and he frequently acquires dead or damaged computers, iPods, et cetera, and cobbles together working devices by scavenging parts out of them. And, truth be told, he did that sort of thing before he started working at this place, he just has a slightly more ready supply of the damaged tech to choose from.
But none of that explains my headphone collection. Because I have a bunch of those. Way more than I could reasonably use. I mean, I can only use one pair at a time, right? Well, it’s just easier to have one pair of wireless headphones that I wear from riding the bus to work, walking home, and so forth, and a wired pair kept with my desktop computer. And a wired pair with a good boom microphone for my laptop… and then there were those gorgeous purple headphones I originally bought for the laptop, but their microphone has degraded a bit, and they’re no longer really good for conference calls to work on my work-from-home days, or skype calls with friends; so I had to get the newer pair mentioned previously, but the sound quality for listening is still awesome, and they’re gorgeous purple, so I can’t throw them out!
And there’s a pair of wired headphones that live in my personal backpack so I have a set of noise cancelling headphones at conventions and such in case I need them. And a backup set of wireless headphones (or four or five, if I’m honest and look in that place on the desk where I keep them) for those moments (which happen with every pair of wireless headphones eventually), when you turn them on and prepare for your commute and you hear that dreaded crackle in one side… or no sound at all from one side. And there’s at least one backup set of headphones in my office bag, in case the wireless ones die while I’m out and about. And another set of wired noise-cancelling headphones that stay at the office so I can deploy them when co-workers (such as certain meeting that happen regularly in the conference room nearest my desk) get too loud and distracting for me to work. And, of course, a backup pair in my “computer things we regularly take to conventions” bag…
See, my headphone addiction is much, much worse than my iPod problem!
And then there are word processing programs! When I counted recently, I had nine or ten on my iPhone, a similar number on my iPad (but they aren’t all the same, because a couple of them are iPad-only, and some that are on the iPhone aren’t on the iPad for one reason or another), and there are way, way, way more on my laptop… Because some of them are better for some kinds of writing than others, and most of them can read each others’ files, anyway, so why not?
And let’s not talk about how many are installed on the desktop computer that aren’t on the laptop, nor why my Windows machine that I almost never use because it’s a backup, really, but it has more than one…
…and there is at least one licensed copy of a word processor that I prefer on my husband’s Macbook Air that I purchased and put on there so I could use his laptop if mine wasn’t available.
At least not all of my addictions are entirely digital. Most of the dictionaries I own are the old-fashioned printed on paper type…
I was watching a recording of a football game Sunday night after a day spent with friends role-playing in 19th Century Scotland when I saw the first “Oh, no! Not Bowie” go by on twitter. So at least I didn’t hear the news of David Bowie’s death while I was laying half-asleep while the clock radio played news before I had to get up for work. Which is, unfortunately, how I heard about Alan Rickman. This hasn’t been a great week, obviously. But I saw one reaction this morning that helped:
Yes, let’s all be bold and creative and weird as hell.
It wouldn’t be correct to say the David Bowie was my hero, though in many important ways he was. He was also so much more. I wish that I had been bold enough during the height of his Glam Rock period to have been a Bowie fan. Make no mistake, I liked his work a lot. The first song I remember liking by Bowie was “Starman” which didn’t become much of a hit in the U.S. in 1972, but how could I not like it, since it seemed to have a sci fi theme?
Then I saw him on TV. Back the the 70s there were a lot of musical/comedy variety shows on prime time, and Bowie appeared on one of those. I don’t remember what song he sang. What I do remember was that he was dressed in something that flashed and glittered, and that his hair was in a style I had never seen on any human before, and he had face paint. When I try to visualize it, the colors keep changing, which means this was before we got out first color TV (which happened when I was 15 years old).
I was mesmerized. I had no idea a man could look like that, dress like that, and move like that while singing. I had seen men in movies and TV in weird costumes, and even in certain kinds of drag, but nothing like this. And then my dad growled, “Who is that cocksucking freak? What are you watching?”
Throughout my childhood, any time that my dad was really, really angry at me—angry enough that he’d grab something club-like to beat me with rather than just slap or punch me around—one of the things he called me was “cocksucker.” And for most of those years I had no idea what the word meant. From his tone of voice and actions while calling me that, I knew that it was a horrible, awful, vile thing—but that was it. By the time of this TV incident, I knew what the word meant, and I knew that literally it was true about me. But I also knew that my dad wasn’t the only person who thought it was the most awful thing a boy could be. I knew with absolute certainty that if any family member, or any of the people at church or school found out it was true about me, that my life would be over. Probably literally.
And Dad had just called this singer on TV (that I was finding so fascinating) a cocksucker. I knew, immediately, that I could never, ever let dad know that I thought David Bowie’s music was good—let alone admit to my fascination with how he looked! I don’t know exactly what I said in answer to Dad. I probably said the name of the variety show we were watching, and I know I said something about not liking the freaky guy at all, and hoped they got to someone else, soon.
A couple of years later, I saw a story in a magazine about a new movie coming soon, The Man Who Fell to Earth, based on a sci fi novel by the same name, starring David Bowie. I owned a paperback copy of the book, and had read it and enjoyed it. Immediately, seeing some photos of Bowie in makeup for the film as an alien who comes to Earth, I realized he was perfect for the role. I dug out the book and re-read it, imagining the alien looking and talking like Bowie. I went from simply liking the book to loving it.
The movie wasn’t a big hit, so never made it to the theatre in the small town where we lived. But I kept imagining it, based on the novel and those pictures, for years.
In the 80s, when I was in my twenties, Bowie’s music videos were among my favorites. And then the movie Labyrinth came out, and I and a bunch of my sci fi nerd friends went to see it in the theatre. I bought the soundtrack album. It was around the time, some months later, when I bought my own copy of Labyrinth on videotape when I realized that I could safely purchase regular Bowie albums. I hadn’t lived with or even near my dad since just before my 16th birthday, but that initial fear of being recognized as queer if I bought any Bowie music lingered. It didn’t help when Bowie described himself as gay in an interview in 1978 (something he later didn’t exactly renounce, but did say wasn’t accurate). Ironically, I owned lots of Queen and Elton John music in my teens, and it never occurred to me that anyone would infer anything about my sexuality from those.
Anyway, I picked of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and listened to it so often, I wore out the cassette tape. I started acquiring some of his other albums on disc, both the older ones and the albums from the 80s.
Eventually I also finally saw The Man Who Fell to Earth. Although by that time, I had been imagining how the movie went so vividly, that I thought I had managed to see it somehow. The actual film didn’t live up to my imagination in many ways. Except Bowie himself. He was magical and ethereal and totally believable as the alien trying to pass as a human.
And by the time I was buying Bowie and admitting I liked him, I was also in the process of coming out. Which is appropriate. Knowing Bowie existed—both the singer who gave me “The Width of a Circle,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” “Space Oddity,” and “Suffragette City” and the actor who played the Man Who Fell to Earth—kept alive the idea that maybe a freak like me could have a happy and full life during those dark closeted years. He was one of people who saved my life.
Alan Rickman didn’t come into my awareness until my late twenties, when I saw Die Hard for the first time in theatres. He was awesome, of course, as he was in every role I saw him in, afterward. So he didn’t have the same impact on my formative years as Bowie did. But his work touched my adult life in profound ways, as well.
I don’t like thinking of the world without either of them.