jump to navigation

Vaulting ambition March 3, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, childhood, memories.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

An alternative title for this post: Why Gymnastics Is Exactly Like An MFA Course (Sort of. Mostly).

Yes, this is another response to that article by (thankfully, former) MFA professor Ryan Boudinot. See also Foz Meadows, Laura Lam and Chuck Wendig for some further context. At first glance, I might seem an odd person to be adding my voice to the mix. I’ve never done an MFA (and don’t plan to), I’m not a writer of fiction and have no intention of ever being one in the future.

However, I was a gymnast for ten years.

You might be forgiven for wondering what the hell that has to do with Ryan Boudinot, creative writing courses or this whole kerfuffle, but allow me to explain. Gymnastics left me with a collection of bizarre anecdotes, excellent time-management skills, very good balance in certain contexts, and messed up feet and ankles. It also provided me with a clear example of something many people – including, it seems, Ryan Boudinot – fail to understand: nobody is born so talented at a skill that they cannot improve with practice and teaching. The myth that innate talent is enough to get someone awards, acclaim and success is profoundly damaging. It gets applied to creative pursuits all the time, but they are skills like any other, and if I extend it to gymnastics, the ridiculousness of the myth becomes apparent.

I started gymnastics when I was seven years old, encouraged by my mother, who had noticed that I seemed to spend every waking moment climbing trees, turning cartwheels and doing handstands against the walls of buildings. My initial classes were an hour a week, squeezed in on Saturday mornings after swimming lessons, and their aim was simply to get the children who attended moving, building up a collection of skills of increasing difficulty. By the time I was seventeen, I was training twelve hours a week, in three four-hour sessions which began with an hour of strength and conditioning, followed by three hours spent practicing the same skills again and again until they were consistently perfect, stringing the skills together into routines and repeating those routines until they could be performed with the illusion of effortlessness. The goal of all this was to perform those routines in annual regional and state-level competitions, and hopefully get good scores and win lots of medals.

I started with what might be considered the baseline requirements to get by as a gymnast: I was small, I was slim, I was able-bodied and physically fit. I was at a disadvantage in that I hadn’t started as a four-year-old, and because I was extremely inflexible. In other words, the potential was there.

But without lessons and training I wouldn’t have got anywhere: I would have been just another child turning cartwheels on the school playground. I got better because I practiced, and I got better because of teaching. Whether it was for one hour a week or twelve, my execution of various skills got better through repetition, and the difficulty of those skills increased over time because I was able to build on the basics I’d learnt to begin with and apply the same principles to more complex skills or combinations of skills. And I was able to improve because my coaches knew what to do to make me better.

I had multiple coaches over the years, but the best ones combined excellent communication (that is, they were able to convey with words what I needed to do with my body to make a routine look effortless) with a good feel for each of their coaching charges’ strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that we didn’t just work on the apparatus we liked or the skills that came easily to us, and creating routines for us that covered up areas of weaknesses and emphasised areas of strength. (For example, my lack of flexibility made certain common elements of floor routines really difficult and inelegant for me, so my coaches substituted them with moves which highlighted my upper-body strength.) And with coaching and practice, I got better every year: stronger, with the ability to do harder skills, and a more intuitive sense of what to do with my body if I wanted it to tumble, flip, twirl or leap in a specific direction. In my first ever competition I leapt up onto the beam, promptly fell off, climbed back on, only to lose my balance and fall off again. By the time I quit, I was learning how to do backflips on that same apparatus. I am profoundly grateful to the series of patient, perceptive coaches whose hard work helped to get me to that point.

I was never going to set the world on fire as a gymnast. I would never compete in the Olympics – the height of my ambition was a handful of apparatus medals at the annual regional competition. But I learnt a really useful lesson at a very early age: with practice and, crucially, proper training and support, I could start as an absolute beginner at something and show constant, steady improvement over a month, a year, or a decade. My point in all this is not to demonstrate that every able-bodied child who starts young enough is born with the talent to become an world champion gymnast. My point is that practice, repetition, and, above all, the support of teachers will lead to improvement in just about any skill. And writing is a skill like any other.

Nobody springs from the womb as a fully-formed, award-winning fiction writer. Writing is a skill that needs to be taught. It is improved by practice, and by working with teachers who can recognise areas of strength and weakness. Bestselling, award-winning novels don’t just fall out of a writer’s brain and onto the keyboard. They are honed and shaped by critique and training. Maybe that training takes the form of an MFA. Maybe it doesn’t – maybe a writing workshop, writers’ group or critique partner is more your style. And maybe you still won’t win awards or sell millions of copies of your novel, but your writing will be better. I’m tired of this almost mystical reverence for creative endeavours, whether music, fiction-writing or visual art. It’s a lazy justification for avoiding collaboration, training or criticism of your work. No, we do not start on equal footing when it comes to writing, even when you take away structural inequalities such as wealth, gender, race, disability and so on. As with any other skill, some people are going to find writing easier, some are going to find it more fun, and some might have a better sense of where the money and/or acclaim lies than others. But the fact remains that anyone who writes is going to get better through a combination of practice and the support of good teaching. I learnt that by doing gymnastics as a child and teenager. It’s a shame Ryan Boudinot didn’t get that same teaching.

Advertisements

Stop, collaborate and listen! Blogging goals for 2015 January 25, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in announcements, blogging, internet.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

One of my goals for this year is to post a lot more on this blog, and to do so with a bit more coherence in terms of content and aims. Last year was my year of speaking up. I made a conscious choice to talk more, to join conversations online, and to ignore the little voice saying, ‘but why would they want to speak to you?’ and just see what happened. The result was a whole bunch of new friends, some really interesting conversations, and the courage to raise my voice in situations where previously I would have kept quiet. So I want to build on this and approach blogging — and the entire online conversation about books, media, writing, reviewing and stories — with my intentions laid out clearly from the start.

These intentions can be summed up rather handily with the phrase ‘stop, collaborate and listen’ (with apologies to Vanilla Ice and good taste, I guess). It’s not as silly as it sounds.

Stop
This is probably going to be the hardest element of the three. The current culture of the internet communities in which I hang out is primarily one of passivity: passively reblogging and retweeting other people’s words without engaging or reflecting to any great degree. This is something that is very hard to unlearn. This is not to say that reblogging or retweeting are terrible things in and of themselves: it’s crucial to get other people’s words and perspectives out there, and there are many occasions in which spreading news and information quickly is of critical importance. But I sometimes worry that we’ve sacrificed context and reflection for ease of dissemination.

So when I’m talking about stopping, what I really mean is taking the time to stop, think, and evaluate the wider context in which particular tweets and posts appear. Can I guarantee that the information being spread is correct? Do I have the time to investigate the truth of any given post? Do I have the time to investigate the context in which it appears? Is the poster or source someone whose voice I want to amplify? If not, is there someone else saying the same thing who is more deserving of what little amplification I may provide? Are there multiple people saying the same or similar things, and would the information benefit from adding their voices to the mix? Would a post benefit from additional commentary by me, and do I have the time and ability to provide such commentary? These are all things I’m trying to stop and consider before hitting the reblog button or firing off those 140 characters.

Essentially what I’m saying here is that if I don’t have time to stop and investigate the wider context of something, I don’t have time to hit retweet, reblog or share.

Collaborate
One of the things I love the most about the internet is that it has opened my eyes to myriad, diverse perspectives. I can talk and listen to people from all over the world, people whose life experiences are different to my own, and who carry these experiences with them when telling their own stories or reacting to the stories of others. I am only one person, and no matter how much I listen to and empathise with people whose backgrounds and experiences are different to my own, I can only bring my own perspective to any given piece of media or any given situation. And I think our understanding is enriched and deepened by seeking out a broad range of people and listening to what they have to say.

It is with this in mind that I want to work harder at finding opportunities for collaboration in writing and reviewing. In some situations, co-reviewing might be the way to go, although it remains to be seen whether my blog (read on a good day by about fifty people) is an appropriate venue for such reviews. I also feel very strongly that I should be hosting guest reviews or interviews, but again, my limited reach might be unhelpful in this regard. However, I wanted to at least raise the possibility and say that yes, I am very interested in opportunities for co-reviewing and hosting guest bloggers, and please do get in touch if you want to participate.

There is one other form of collaboration which is a bit more passive, but certainly more achievable by me at the moment. I’m talking about linking to and sharing the words of others. I want to make regular link posts a feature of this blog (probably with a mirror at Dreamwidth). One of the features I admire most in my favourite review blogs is the provision of multiple links to other reviews of the same work so that readers can get a wide range of perspectives and thus a bigger picture of the conversation going on around any given text. That is definitely something I will be incorporating into this blog.

Listen
This is probably the most important goal of all, and it is ultimately all about context. I want to stop and think before sharing the words of others or adding my voice to the conversation, and I want to work with others so that the conversation is enriched by a multiplicity of perspectives, and this involves listening and investigating the wider context. This means finding a balance between the source and the words or actions themselves. I will continue to give more weight to praise and criticism by reviewers praising and criticising depictions of things they themselves have experienced. But I will give even more weight to the words of writers and reviewers who work hard to amplify marginalised voices, who act as mentors, who offer kindness and support, who take abuse and harassment seriously, no matter the target, and who welcome conversation, collaboration and the space for dissent and a diversity of opinion.

That’s why listening is so important. Whereas last year I was trying to find the confidence to speak, now I want to find the patience to listen. My impulse has always been to leap right in, as I feared missing out on important conversations if I didn’t react in real time. But the words will all still be there, and I will still have my spaces in which to respond to them. Listening will allow for a more thoughtful response.

Conclusion
I want to reiterate that these are goals and guidelines for me, and for me alone. If others find them helpful and want to make use of them, feel free, but I intend no prescription here. But I talk so much about judging people by how well their actions match their stated intentions that I thought laying my own intentions out here would give me a bit of accountability. We’ll see if I live up to these lofty intentions of my own at the end of 2015, at which point I will pause for reflection and, if necessary, adjust or rework my goals. For now, however, they seem like a good place to start.

Negative capability March 4, 2011

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, internet.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

Typically, it was the whole YA Mafia kerfuffle that tempted me out of my hermit hole. I’ve been kind of absent from most of my online haunts recently, and wondering if I would ever get back into blogging. And then this happened.  For the best summary of events thus far, you should probably check out this roundup on YA Highway. As you can imagine, I have Opinions about the stuff that’s bouncing around.

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first. I’m obviously a book blogger. I maintain this blog, a fanblog for Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas series, and a Livejournal. I’m also on Twitter and participate in the discussion on various authors’ and publishers’ blogs. I am also an ‘old media’ reviewer. I’ve written reviews for an Australian newspaper (mainly on YA literature) for the past nine years. Although there’s very little overlap between my online and newspaper work (and it’s not exactly a secret in either sphere that I’m reviewing in the other), my online reviews tend to be more about books I like, although I may write from time to time about a ‘phenomenon’ in literary trends with which I’m uneasy or displeased. My newspaper reviews range more widely in tone, since by definition, I have less control over what books I review there, and so I’m likely to come into contact with books I dislike.

My reviewing both online and for the paper has occasionally brought me into contact with authors. There are several with whom I have some sort of relationship (which mainly consists of discussing books and ideas either online or in real life). In both spheres, however, I’m small enough fry that, to be honest, nothing I say is going to have a huge amount of impact or be noticed by that many people.

I am a reader of The Sparkle Project, and I agree with its general point that there is an unsettling trend of misogyny, if not downright romanticising of domestic violence and abuse in some popular YA literature today.*

This is where I’m standing, then, and what follows is the perspective of a person ‘quietly observing standing in my space’, so to speak.

There is a bit of fail on both sides of this debate, but as far as I’m concerned, the biggest fail by far is the problems both sides seem to be having in understanding one another’s grievances. However, most of the failure in this regard is emanating from the authors’ and publishers’ corner, although I accept that Ceilidh_ann on the Sparkle Project was probably not strong enough in shutting down some rather nasty comments on her blog.

Ceilidh_ann herself puts it better than I can in relation to authors Just Not Getting It.

The Mafia thing wasn’t just about that; it was about watching authors tell reviewers and future authors to “be nice” or else they’d risk bad karma and people like Becca Fitzpatrick would take any opportunity to mock you about it and having her author friends congratulate her for supposedly taking the high road (the original entry has since been Flocked on LJ but is available to read on GoodReads.) It was about watching author friends give each other cover quotes when to me it felt like “doing your friends a favour” instead of judging the work based on its merits (hell, I can’t even review the book of an author who I’m friends with on LJ and twitter, it just feels too close for me.) It was about seeing authors brag about their good connections and how they helped them get publishing deals, as was the case with Aprilynne Pike and her friend Stephenie Meyer, who passed her book onto her agent Jodi Reamer. It was about hearing from other bloggers who has also been on the receiving end of bad author behaviour (said people do not want to be named so I hope you respect that, even if you don’t believe me). It was about watching bloggers be accused of something akin to censorship for discussing what they saw as extremely problematic, then twisting their words around to fit their argument better (The Book Smugglers’ review of “Sisters Red” being the prime example here, especially in the wake of the Bitch media mess). It was about watching author after author fawn over a mediocre writer with a documented history of fandom plagiarism solely because she sold well.

In other words, we, as book reviewers, are saying one thing, and authors are hearing another. And what we are saying, over and over again, is, ‘If you in the YA publishing world are not going to be negative about any other YA book (which is totally okay) then we are going to be negative if we think there are grounds for negativity‘. Earth-shattering, I know.

What on earth are book-reviewers for if not to inform the world at large – and potential readers in particular – of their opinions of a particular book? We are not here to provide blurbs so that authors can sell more books (although if we do so – and some of my quotes have been used as blurbs on authors’ books – well, yay for us). We are here to tell people what we thought of a particular book, and why. We are here to help people decide if a particular book is something they’ll enjoy, or something they should flee to the hills in order to avoid. Sometimes, unfortunately, this requires us to be critical. An experienced reviewer is able to be critical without being cruel, to be honest without being rude and to explain his or her problems with a book clearly in a way that makes it obvious that such problems may not be problems for every person.** And if authors ask us to ‘be nice’ (with just a hint of a threat), as Becca Fitzpatrick has done, it is preventing us from doing our job.

As a reviewer, I feel very strongly that if I’m not able to express my dislike of a book, I have failed in my duty to readers.*** I have seen what happens when reviewers fail to express an opinion. The reviews become bland, neutral plot summaries. On the surface, that may appear to be sensible, since it ostensibly allows readers to make up their own minds based on plot alone, but in fact it’s a bit intellectually dishonest. Book reviews need to set the book in a broader context of trends in the field, thematic concerns, why particular elements of the plot failed, how it compares to the author’s other work – and that’s only the bare minimum. Think of the plot of a book you read and dislike, and imagine reading just that bare outline. Would that inform you whether or not you’d enjoy the book? I think not.

Being a reviewer is a balancing act. Rather than affecting neutrality and pretending that your own tastes and preferences are non-existent, embrace them. Think about them, categorise them, work out your own quirky likes and dislikes. Let them shine through in your reviews while at the same time owning and acknowledging them, and recognising that other people’s tastes might be different. All of this needs to come across in a review. And this means that sometimes, you are going to have to be negative.

A bad review is not going to make or break an author’s career. Neither is a single good review going to make an author a success. With all due respect, the single greatest thing that will aid an author’s success is that author writing an absolutely fantastic book.

_____________________________
*’It was about never seeing authors or people in the YA industry discuss some of the anti-feminist attitudes prevailing in an increasingly popular trend, where a character is simply a sexy bad boy for holding a girl down on a bed against her will and saying he wants to kill her. I understand being professional, I really do, but I didn’t think then, and I still don’t, that professionalism included putting your fingers in your ears and ignoring the obvious.’

** I, like all readers, have various idiosyncratic preferences and turn-offs, and sometimes a book will trigger these. If I’m doing my job properly, I’m able to communicate that while such and such a thing doesn’t appeal to me personally, other readers may enjoy it.

*** This is sometimes heartbreaking, especially when it requires me to be critical of an author whose works I adored as a child. But I still do it.

Updated links May 17, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in internet.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

You may have noticed that I’ve added some new links to the blogroll and a new category of links. You can see them to the right of this post, but I thought I’d explain what they all are.

First up, Catie’s blog, which is a mixed bag of real-life updates, book reviews and quirky commentary. Then there’s Penny Red, a blog by writer and activist Laura Penny about feminism and UK politics, from a geeky perspective.

On the 90s nostalgia front, we’ve got Tales of a former walking highlighter, which focuses on the 90s in all their trashy, neon glory. The final new blog is Nef’s Enid Blyton blog, The Blytonly Obvious. She’s rereading all the Blyton books she read as a child, and snarkily blogging about the experience.

I, myself, am blogging at a couple of new places. The first is the blog for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show. There are five of us blogging about all things literary (I seem to have turned into the resident ‘books, meet the internet’ commentator, which pleases me immensely) and you should definitely check it out.

Secondly, it’s high time I mentioned the blog of my department at Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (no, it’s not a white supremacist group, but rather, as the blog explains, a group of people who ‘study the history, languages, literatures and material culture of medieval Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia’). I’ve blogged for this blog a couple of times.

Finally, I’ve got a Tumblr. It’s the first time that the ‘dolorosa’ username hasn’t been taken, and that is reason enough to check it out!

Link me up, link me in November 26, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, internet.
Tags: ,
2 comments

Many of the posts on Geata Póeg na Déanainn are inspired by debates, stories and essays I’ve read elsewhere online. As you probably know, I’m an avid reader of blogs; you can see most of my favourites listed in the blogroll to the right of this post. My favourite thing about the internet is the way it’s made it much easier for like-minded people to come together and discuss the things that fascinate them. The internet, for me, has become like several overlapping circles of cafe chairs where people who think about the things I think about can gather together, sip their virtual coffees and share their collective wisdom, anecdotes and enthusiasm.

I thought I’d walk you through my favourite corners of the internet. It will be ‘a day in the virtual life of Ronni’, as it were.

My first port of call on the internet is always Livejournal. I started off using Livejournal as a way to stay in contact with high school friends who lived in different towns during university, but I soon spread my wings into Livejournal’s numerous communities. I follow everything from Fantasy With Bite, a community devoted to discussion of left-field fantasy novels, to What Was That Book, where people can post half-remembered details of books in the hopes that other members of the community will recognise and name the forgotten book.

Several of the authors’ blogs I read are on Livejournal: Kate Elliott and Jo Walton have particularly fine blogs there, full of details about the writing process, the publishing world and the science fiction/fantasy community.

But my favourite place on Livejournal is probably Metafandom, which, as the name suggests, is a community devoted to gathering links to all the interesting meta posts that are setting the fandom agenda on any given day. I appreciate Metafandom in particular because it links to off-Livejournal blogs that LJers otherwise may not stumble upon.

I like Livejournal’s friends-page feature. It’s one of the most useful elements of the site, in that it gathers all the new posts in blogs one reads in the one place. I suspect that I would read even more blogs more avidly if they were also on Livejournal.

However, I do step outside my LJ comfort zone for quite a few outstanding blogs.

Abigail Nussbaum’s blog ‘Asking the Wrong Questions’ is one of the best review and commentary blogs out there. I might not agree with all of her opinions, but I greatly appreciate the detail that goes into every post, and the depth of knowledge from which she is writing. I’ve always tried to model Geata Póeg na Déanainn on Nussbaum’s blog, and I hope that sometimes I come close!

Hal Duncan’s blog, Notes From The Geek Show is another fantastic one. Duncan’s posts are witty and knowledgeable. They’re often very long, but are well worth reading.

John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in SF/F, publishing, or the places where writers meet online. Scalzi blogs on a wide range of topics, and can always be relied on (as can his commenters) to provide erudite entertainment.

After you’ve checked out Whatever, you’d do well to visit Boing Boing. If something is happening on the internet, it’s happening at Boing Boing. The site, a ‘directory of wonderful things’, is geek Mecca. Posts range from the quirky to the disturbing, from the nostalgic to the political. There’s a strong focus on reforming copyright law, which is the pet cause of all the Boing Boing bloggers.

I find it hard to explain why my two favourite authors’ blogs are those of Neil Gaiman and Justine Larbalestier. They couldn’t be more different. Larbalestier’s is much more the typical author blog, with a focus on the writing process and the broader concerns of young-adult and ‘genre’ literature. Gaiman’s is much more like a stream of consciousness, and posts tend to be on whatever the hell Gaiman wants. What they have in common is a genuineness and warmth, and a real sense of carrying out a conversation with their readers. I’m a reviewer, and I sometimes have real trouble navigating authors’ dysfunctional websites. If all were as wonderful as Gaiman’s and Larbalestier’s, the world would be a much better place.

The next two blogs focus on a particular interest of mine: feminism in pop culture. Tiger Beatdown is a fabulously intelligent look at that subject. The blogger, Sady Doyle, writes irregularly on a wide range of texts, looking at them in relation to feminism. I particularly enjoy her INTELLIGENT USE OF CAPSLOCK. The Hathor Legacy is also a blog focused on feminism in pop culture, but its concern is reviewing texts to see if they pass the Bechdel Test (that is, do they have two women who have a conversation about something other than a man). It’s been useful to me as a place to get recommendations for books, TV shows or films.

The final blog I will link to here is The Intern. It’s written by a woman who worked as an intern in a publishing house over the summer, and it’s a really good (if often depressing) look at the publishing world from the inside.

I could mention more places, but the blogs I’ve linked to above are my main ports of call (aside from friends’ blogs, which I also read at the same frequency, but aren’t really the subject of this post). They’re only a tiny fraction of the myriad fascinating conversations that are going on all over the internet, but they’re my fraction, and they’re quite enough to be going on with!

‘If I heed your words, that is all I that I shall ever have’ August 3, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, life, memories, quotes.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

I’ve been wanting to do a post of quotes for a while, and now seems the right time to do it. I’ve been keeping a little notebook of quotes for about 10 years now, adding to it whenever I read or hear a particularly well-phrased set of words, and I’m almost at the end of the book, so today seems a particularly appropriate era-ending date for committing the words to cyberspace. I’ll try to keep things vaguely chronological.

‘People who read are always a little bit like you. You can’t just tell them. You have to tell them why.’ – Catherine Jinks, Pagan’s Crusade.

‘Tell them stories.’ – Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass.

‘Many different lamentations came to pierce me like arrows
Whose shafts were barbed with pity.’ – Dante Alighieri, Inferno, XXIX, 43-44.

‘She held the spindle as she sat
Erinna with the thick-coiled mat
Of raven hair and deepest agate eyes
Gazing with a sad surprise
At surging visions of her destiny
To spin the byssus drearily
In insect-labour, while the throng
Of goods and men wrought deeds that poets wrought in song.’ – George Eliot, chapter-heading poem to Daniel Deronda, chapter 51.

‘A man who cannot draw strength from himself but only from litanies and anthems, is far more dangerous than one who after reading a handbook thinks he can drive a car or plane.’ – Lajos Zihaly, The Angry Angel.

The entirety of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories ‘The Witness’ and ‘Everything and Nothing’.

‘If I heed your words that is all
that I shall ever have.
If I have no sword
where then shall I seek peace?

A sword might win a Peace’s time from tumult;
no peace have the hungry,
and so the Peace is made from the work of gathered days
the many’s many choices.’ – Graydon Saunders and Jo Walton, ‘Theodwyn’s Rede’.

‘I have been a prize in a game
I have been a queen on a hill
From far and far they flocked to see me.

White I am, amongst the shadows,
My shoulder is noted for its fairness
The two best men in all the world have loved me.

My crown is of apple, bough and blossom.
They wear my favour but my arms are empty.
The boat drifts heedless down the dark stream.’ – Jo Walton, ‘The Three Great Queens of the Island of Tir Tanagiri’.

‘ “There is only one good reason for fighting – and that is, if the other man started it. You see, wars are a wickedness of a wicked people. They are so wicked that they must not be allowed. When you can be perfectly certain that the other man started them, then is the time when you might have a sort of duty to stop him.”

“But both sides always say that the other side started them.”

“Of course they do, and it is a good thing that it should be so. At least, it shows that both sides are conscious, inside themselves, that the wicked thing about a war is its beginning.” ‘ – T. H. White, The Witch In The Wood.

‘Begone from me, oh mortals who are pure of heart. Be gone from my thoughts, oh souls who dream great dreams. Be gone from me, all hymns of glory. I am the magnet for the damned. At least for a little while. And then my heart cries out, my heart will not be still, my heart will not give up, my heart will not give in – the blood that teaches life does not teach lies, and love becomes again my reprimand, my goad, my song.’ – Anne Rice, Blood Canticle.

‘Let the young sing songs of death. They are stupid. The finest thing under the sun and the moon is the human soul. I marvel at the small miracles of kindness that pass between humans, I marvel at the growth of conscience, at the persistence of reason in the face of all superstition and despair. I marvel at human endurance.’ – Anne Rice, Pandora.

‘No one can get in
Our world.
It has a wall twenty feet high
and adults
have only ten foot ladders.’ – Ross Falconer.

‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” — William Shakespeare, Macbeth (V, v, 17-28).

‘These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep.’ – William Shakespeare, The Tempest, (IV: i).

‘ “I think,” Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, “that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn’t do. All that I might’ve been and couldn’t be. All the choices I didn’t make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven’t been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.” ‘ – Ursula Le Guin, The Other Wind.

‘Novii, novissimi – newer, newest. “The new” … “The newer newest. The newly come, no Novian but one. The newer branch of the Novian stem. No Novian but another comes to ruin you. Save yourself from that, if you think you can.” ‘ – Sophia McDougall, Rome Burning.

‘ “Are you Asterion?” “You flatter me, child, if you think me that malevolent”’ – Sara Douglass, Hades’ Daughter.

‘I have made Asterion “like”. I am a witch indeed.’ – Sara Douglass, Darkwitch Rising.

‘He understood for the first time that the world is not dumb at all, but merely waiting for someone to speak to it in a language it understands. In the fairy’s song the earth recognised the names by which it called itself.’ – Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

‘Other countries have stories of kings who will return at times of great need. Only in England is it written in the constitution.’ – Ibid.

‘There are few things on earth that couldn’t be improved by adding vampires to them.’ – Scott Westerfeld.

‘The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise.’ – G. K. Chesterton, ‘Lepanto’.

‘Nine things about oracles
Let me try to be clear.
The first thing is that nobody wants to know,
and yet you can’t stop asking.
The second is you all want reassurance:
be better off with a fortune cookie.
The third is that I don’t owe you anything,
you’re not what it’s about.
I see the tiles, sideways, sometimes,
tessera, tesserae, the way the pattern
plays out in fifths, the beat falling
unchangedly, a glimpse, a resposte in sixte,
and what will be set, sept, set down in stone,
the colours always ambiguous
even in the moment the threads part,
the owls crying in the october meadow
gods and time and weight, wait,
that one instant of vision, the curtain falling, parting,
there is a whole ocean
crashing toward
that ninth wave.’ – Jo Walton, ‘Nine Things About Oracles’.

‘Rushing down every path; that is the great madness.’ – Buile Shuibne, translated by J. G. O’Keefe.

‘Without foray with a king,
I am alone in my home,
without glorious reavings,
without friends, without music…
Without a house right full,
without the converse of generous men,
without the title of a king,
without drink, without food.
Alas that I have been parted here
from my mighty, armed host…
Though I be as I am tonight,
there was a time
when my strength was not feeble
over a land that was not bad…
in my auspicious kingship
I was a good, great king.’ – Ibid.

‘My transgression has come against me
whatsoever way I flee;
’tis manifest to me from the pity shown me
that I am a sheep without a fold.’ – Ibid.

‘Sad this expedition;
would that I had not come!
Far from my home
is the country I have reached.’ – Ibid.

There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel Claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged claws: alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy, the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the winged sandals dart
Thine eyes grow full of tender care,
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.’ – W. B. Yeats, ‘The Two Trees’.

‘In America, it almost seems like family has become a code word for something that you can put a five-year-old in front of, go out for two hours, and come back secure in the knowledge that your child will not have been exposed to any ideas.’ – Neil Gaiman.

These are all literary (as opposed to quotes from cinema, TV or music) but I think that’s enough to be going on with for now.

The limits of my world are the limits of my language February 19, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in fangirl, reviews.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

(SPOILER WARNING FOR BUFFY, ANGEL AND FIREFLY)

Last week, I was rather exasperated with Joss Whedon’s latest show, Dollhouse. The absence of Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue worried me.

It’s the dialogue that sets Joss shows apart from their more mundane cousins. It’s Joss’s way with language that makes his shows the thing that other TV series can only aspire to be: shows with a heart.

I fall in love with Joss’s characters for their humanity, and it is through their words that this humanity shines through. Without memorable language, they’re nothing more than the mechanisms that drive a plot.

Almost as soon as I posted this, however, I realised I was fundamentally missing the point. This was because I had misinterpreted the central theme of the show. I had viewed the concept of the Dollhouse (where people with wiped personalities had new personalities implanted in order to fulfill the fantasies of wealthy clients) as a metaphor for the actor-director/writer relationship. But it’s not. It’s more ambitious, and chilling, than that. I got one half of the equation right: the Dolls (or Actives) stand in for actors. But it’s not about actors and writers/directors. It’s about actors and their viewers.

Joss has never been one to shy away from confrontational subject matter. And he’s always handled it incredibly responsibly. However, in the past, he has used various mechanisms to make things easier for us, mechanisms with which to soften the blunt and sometimes disturbing matters he explores. (Joss himself has recognised this. This was why, The Body, one of the most emotionally difficult Buffy episodes to watch, has no musical score. Joss felt that music would soften the blow of that episode’s subject matter.) His characters’ witty dialogue is another such crutch. Just as his characters use language as a weapon to fight the often ghastly situations in which they find themselves, we use their clever dialogue as a way to enjoy their suffering. This language is not distracting – we still know exactly what is going on – but it does help to stop the shows from being unremittingly grim. (We see this in its most perfect conception in ‘Once More With Feeling’, Season 6’s well-known musical episode. The silliness of the sight of Buffy dancing around, punctuating her song with demon-stakings, makes us forget, for a moment, that the words she is singing are heart-wrenchingly bleak.)

But in Dollhouse, Joss has done away with such props and crutches. He is not making things easy for us any more.

A thought struck me: much as he appreciates his passionate, rabid fans, Joss is uncomfortable with fandom. He is uneasy with exactly what it is that makes us appreciate his work, which is, for the most part, bleak. Although his shows are ultimately hopeful, they are packed with pain and suffering. By the time she is 22, Buffy has been fighting demons for eight years. She went to school on the mouth of Hell. Her boyfriend turned evil when she slept with him. She killed him. She died twice. Family members, friends and countless innocent bystanders were killed, by the forces of evil, or just by the sheer bad luck of ordinary life. Angel comes to realise that doing the right thing is not a grand quest for redemption (with a shiny reward at the end), but just a daily, unglamorous, ultimately futile struggle. In Firefly, Mal Reynolds sees the utter destruction of everything he believes in, and copes with this by becoming emotionally deadened.

And yet, pain, suffering and all, fans adore these characters’ stories. Joss is using the metaphor of the Dollhouse to explore his viewers’ voyeurism.

He’s always attempted to hold a mirror up to society, and this time he’s doing so without the flattering lighting. As Buffy would say, ‘everything here is hard, and bright, and violent’. He’s creating a story about the darker side of fandom, the unwelcome truths we’d rather not confront. What he’s trying to do is explore the unhealthy nexus between the fantasies of fans, and their conflation of actors with the people they play.

I’m reminded, at this point, of a panel interview of the cast of Heroes at a convention. They were answering questions from the fans. I noticed that almost every person who asked questions of Zachary Quinto addressed him as ‘Sylar’ (the name of his character on Heroes), and that this was making Quinto incredibly uncomfortable.

And that, in essence, is what Dollhouse is about: Whedon’s unease with Quinto’s unease at being equated with the character he played. The Dolls have no personality but that which they are given for the enjoyment (or purposes) of those who hire them. For the fans asking questions at that convention, Zachary Quinto had no personality but that of the psychopathic serial killer he plays, for their enjoyment, on Heroes.

Our reactions are so ambivalent because we are being confronted with an ugly truth about fandom we’d rather not face: if watching the exploitation of others gives our lives meaning, what kind of lives are these?

I won a blogging award! February 19, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging.
Tags: ,
add a comment

I’m extremely proud (and stunned) to say that I’ve been nominated for a Premio Dardos blogging award. I was given the award by the wonderful Sibylle, whose blog, In Training For A Heroine, is a fascinating look at books, films, TV shows and music that capture her rather singular attention. So thank you very much, Sibylle!

Premio Dardos Award

Premio Dardos Award

“Premio Dardos” means “prize darts” in Spanish.

The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

Rules

1. Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2. Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

Because I’m a bit of a rebel, not all of my designated awards will be going to sites which are primarily blogs.

Anyway, the first person I’m giving it to is Raphael, whose daily musings on life, the universe and everything else, find expression in his wondrous webcomic Noire. Thanks for always brightening my day!

Next up is Ceres Wunderkind (otherwise known as Peter), whose writing is an inspiration to me. His blog can be found here.

The third recipient is Confessions of a Bibliovore, which I stumbled upon while searching for reviews of Pagan’s Crusade. This blog is a truly excellent resource for anyone interested in children’s and YA literature.

Next up is author Kate Elliott’s blog, which is packed full of interesting information about all things SF, fantasy and writing in general. I especially enjoy the essays she writes for sites such as DeepGenre.

My final award goes to Jo Walton’s blog. Walton is an author, and her blog gives excellent insight into the writing process. I especially enjoy her poetry.

You! Out of my genre! January 10, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

This post was meant to be about Regurgitator, but when I woke up and saw that my LiveJournal friends’ page was filled with responses to a series of articles about YA books, I knew I wanted to give my 10 cents’ worth.

I spent a few hours digesting what the articles were saying, and will briefly summarise them here. (They are summarised in the order of the links I posted above.)

The first is a review and discussion in The New Yorker about Kathy Koja’s novel Headlong. I have not read the book, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the writers’ assessments, but I have read many YA novels in the course of my six years of YA book-reviewing (and, more importantly, my 16-odd years spent reading YA books). And what I would say to the authors of this review is ‘you are utterly, irredeemably, disrespectfully, inexcusably wrong’. The review not only damns all young-adult authors with its faint praise of Koja’s book, but also insults the intelligence of every teenager who has ever picked up a book and seen him or herself reflected back in its pages. The authors as one describe YA writing as ‘facile’ and ‘uncomplicated’, teenage girls as narcissistic and imply that YA writers have an easier time of it than ‘proper’ adult writers.

What is wrong with these people? If the best you can do in discussing YA writing is refer to The Catcher In The Rye and Twilight, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. If you think of YA literature as typically preachy, two-dimensional and unrealistic, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. If you are talking about emotionally and philosophically complex YA writing and you (as Americans) do not refer at least in passing to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which has been nominated for a Hugo Award, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, you are doing it so wrong you might as well not even do it at all.

All right, let me take a deep breath and move on.

The next article is from the New York Times, and looks at the way in which teenage girls supposedly read (they allow ‘a novel to carry them so effortlessly from one place to another that for a time they truly don’t care about anything else’), with a focus on the Twilight phenomenon. It’s a brief, sweet article, full of a yearning for the lost Eden of teenage self-absorption, and a recognition of the importance of books in the forming of identity. Something about it bugs me, though. It’s slightly patronising. Although the author is saying that this phase of reading is an essential step on the journey to adulthood, she’s saying it’s a phase. Something to grow out of. It’s as if there’s something shameful about reading something that’s badly-written, or seeking to be transported to another world, or hoping to find echoes of yourself among the words of others – as if to do so as an adult is childish, a sign of emotional immaturity.

I’m not even talking about the Twilight books here, because I have a whole range of problems with them that I may go into at some point. There’s just something profoundly unsettling about a journalist implying that teenage girls will read any old junk, as long as it appeals to their inherent narcissism.

The final article is from The Atlantic, and purports to be about ‘what girls want’. In actual fact, it’s an attempt to explain why what girls want is Edward Cullen. I’m still struggling to make up my mind about it. The writer certainly has a compelling argument for the appeal of everyone’s favourite sparkling vampire, one with which I’m inclined to agree – but that’s the problem. I find the argument disturbing.

Twilight is, in its essence, a story about teenage female sexuality, sans sex. (It is, as the author of the article writes, a ‘1000-page treatise on the art of foreplay’.) And yet Meyer’s extreme preachiness – her ‘true love waits’ abstinence-only views, her extreme pro-life didacticism – is not merely wrong, it is dangerous.

I remember reading an article about the appeal of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (and by extension Bluebeard, Jane Eyre and every other story where a mousy little girl loves a devouring ogre) and saying, ‘yes, and yes, and yes I agree’ to the following point:

It is the story of the ogre and the little girl, where she loves him because he may kill her, and he accepts her (and doesn’t kill her) because he loves her fear.  That’s why they can live happily ever after – as long as she doesn’t recognise the Gothic mansion of his appetite for what it is.  – Michael Wood, ‘At the Movies’, London Review of Books.

Nothing wrong with that assessment. It is entirely true. That is how some teenage girls (and some women) think about sex. It’s the abstinence and the anti-abortion (even if, as happens in the final Twilight book, carrying the baby will probably kill the mother) that disturb me. As I’ve said elsewhere, when a series is as popular as Meyer’s Twilight, there’s a serious cultural reason for its appeal. What worries me is what, in the common experiences of teenage girls, Twilight is talking to.

If you want a more honest, and less dangerous, depiction of female teenage sexuality, I would point you in three directions. The first is the entire Season 2 arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in particular the episode ‘Innocence’. The second is The Dead of the Night (the second in Australian young-adult writer John Marsden’s Tomorrow series). The third is The Amber Spyglass, the concluding book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. All of them are written by middle-aged men, and all of them treat female teenage sexuality with respect, dignity and responsibility.

There is some incredible stuff going on in YA literature, and there has been for some time. It’s fantastic that such institutions of the mainstream media are giving this genre the time of day. But until journalists stop filling their assessments of YA literature with qualifiers, equivocation and inaccurate and insulting representations of the genre, its writers and its readers, I’d prefer it to remain languishing in its current ghetto-like backwater. We – the young-adult writers, reviewers and readers young and old – know it’s fantastic. And we know why it is fantastic. And these New Yorker, New York Times and Atlantic journalists do not. Let’s hope that one day, they understand what they’re missing.

Something for the sraffies May 29, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in sraffies.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

So, for some weird reason, I found myself last night re-reading lots of my old reviews. I was searching for one on Peeps and The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld, but I ended up reading them all. It was like peering back through the pages of an old diary, laughing at the clunkiness of my old prose and, every so often, shocked, thinking, ‘I believed that?’ My review of Eragon is absolutely painful to read. I described the book as ‘richly imagined’? That pile of dross recycled from The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Earthsea Quartet? What was I thinking?

What I really wanted to post here, was, however, my article about literary internet fansites. I think it will be amusing for all the sraffies. I certainly laughed when I read it (and not only at the clunky writing). The illustrations show a very early image of the BttS homepage, with news stories by Merlyn (that’s how old this article is, sraffies) and Blighty (is that Will?).

So, for your reading pleasure and amusement, I present ‘It’s Booklovers Anonymous in cyberspace’.

One of the delicious thrills of joining a literary Internet chat room is the possibility that you may actually be talking to a friend. Hidden behind the many adopted noms de plume may be someone you know – a casual acquaintance or even someone you passed in the street that day. While in the library at uni a few weeks ago, I noticed something unexpected as I waited in line to check my email.

Another student, already on the computer, was browsing the forums of an unofficial literary Internet fan site with which I was perhaps too familiar. I did not know this girl – indeed, I know none of the other members of the fan site. All go by pseudonyms, preferring to cloak their almost fanatical love of books in obscurity. It is strange and slightly unsettling when the anonymity of the Internet is threatened in this way – when its artificial world comes too close to the real world.

This girl and I did not know each other, and yet we may have been sharing thoughts on our favourite books for months. A literary fan site provides anonymous possibilities similar to the pleasures of a masked ball.

While many have claimed that the wonder of the Internet is email – instant communication in real time – for those with a passion for particular authors or genres of literature, the unofficial fan site would have to run a close second. For booklovers who perhaps had scorned the Internet as yet another small-screen diversion from life’s real purpose, of reading more books, the development of literary fan sites has proved as much of a diversion as the Australian Idol website has been for those with a different kind of passion.

Literary fan sites – on authors from Sir Thomas Malory to George Orwell to the generic writers of The Saddle Club – are generally run by fans, places where groups of like-minded people can discuss their favourite books, trade gossip on book-related topics, and essentially indulge their obsession with a particular series of books. (argh! three ‘books’ in the one sentence. *winces*)

Indeed, one of the chief delights of literary websites lies in sharing the obsessive pedantry of the fan with like-minded souls around the world. While some of the sites are little more than chatrooms providing a front for selling merchandise, others include transcripts of interviews, heated discussion about the significance of particular events (on the fan site for His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the discussion about whether two characters slept together goes on for 36 pages and counting!) and speculation about where a particular series of books is heading. (hmm, only 36 pages? It must be close to 200 by now…)

Many fan sites, particularly those related to fantasy writing, are really clusters of sites. The main site for Isobel Carmody fans is obernewtyn.net, which has a sister site, Obernewtyn Theories. The main site has transcripts of interviews, fan fiction, fan art, news and gossip. The second site is an endless forum for discussion of the meaning of texts, plot development and cross-text references.

The Philip Pullman site, which is at bridgetothestars.net, includes a series of forums dedicated to not only the His Dark Materials trilogy itself but all other books by the author, as well as separate forums for discussing other books, movies, music and interests. As well as the inevitable fan fiction (stories using the original novels as a starting point), bridgetothstars.net also has a section where fans can publish their essays.

Fantasy sites seem to attract mainly young people, who enjoy writing themselves into the story. However, these fantasy sites are not simply filled with lost children escaping the real world. The existence of an essay section in bridgetothestars.net actually encourages readers to research and write essays about aspects of their favourite texts. (No, really?)

Children and teenagers are writing essays on topics as diverse as the scientific basis of the multi-universes of Pullman’s world, to his use of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, in in work, for the sheer love of it.

[…]
Just as the line between fantasy and reality can be thin on the Internet, so it it too for these avid fans. One of the more recent issues discussed on the Pullman site was the possibility of dedicating a park bench – which plays a significant role in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – in the Oxford Botanical Gardens to the chief characters in his books. Later, English fans returned to the site to report that the characters’ names had already been carved into the bench by more switched-on fans. They also reported that the bench had been formally dedicated to a couple of women already, and a search began to find out information about these women and the possible reasons behind this dedication.

The obernewtyn.net site hosts monthly “moonfairs”, complete with competitions and prizes, in an attempt to emulate similar moonfairs in the series. The moderators of the sites use a number of creative methods to contribute to the intellectual life and discussion of the site. For example, members of obernewtyn.net belong to “guilds”, similar to the guilds created by Carmody’s heroic characters; each guild member attracts points by contributing to the site.

On bridgetothestars.net members are rewarded for posting on the numerous forums by being moved up on the invented hierarchy of characters from Pullman’s trilogy. For example, a member who has posted 25 times or less is known as a “grazer” – a bovine-type character with no consciousness – whereas 25 to 50 posts puts the member in the category of the “mulefa” – a creature similar in appearance to the grazer but with the bonus of human-like consciousness. (hmm, someone didn’t understand the conventions of php-based forums, clearly. Someone also appeared to think that post-count related ranks were there to reward post-whorage. *shame*)

All of these things combine to create a friendly, if obsessive, atmosphere, full of like-minded people. As for collectors of memorabilia and the other groups of passionate oddballs, the sense of community, of shared experience, in literary Internet fan sites, is strong. They provide an outlet for such people to enjoy literature away from the academic world, and without its pressures.

With the freedom of anonymity, users are able to cultivate individuality and enhance any quirkiness they are able to express. While the rise of the Internet was seen as a threat to the future of the book, just as television was supposed to signal an end to reading, literary fan sites encourage an appreciation of literature and should be applauded.

Fantasy web sites, in particular, created for the most part by young people, have encouraged the close reading of texts and the self-expression dear to the heart of any English teacher. They are also lots of fun!

~ This originally appeared in the CT on Saturday, January 31, 2004.

I feel shame that I ever wrote this badly, but the comments about teh sraffies crack me up now. Anonymity? *falls over laughing* I also love that I hadn’t quite been bitten by the Internet bug yet – and still believed in a false dichotomy between the ‘online’ and ‘real’ worlds.