Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Music Muscle Memory

While randomly tooling through the TV channels while waiting for water to boil, I paused on VH1 Classics, on a show called Classic Albums.  They were talking about Queen.

I went back in time.

It would have been 1977 or possibly 1978.  My mom, stepdad and I had just moved to a newly built house in the wilds of Ocoee, Florida.  I am reasonably sure it was 1977 because I don't think I'd started junior high yet.  I sat on the floor of my new bedroom in front of my Micky Mouse record Player that looked exactly like this one, with my small, precious collection of "non-kid" albums -- ones I'd been carefully building up when I was spending weekends with my dad, who would buy me pretty much anything.

And on that record player, with its nubbly white plastic cover and the big white hand over the stylus, I would play Queen's A Night at the Opera.  I still have the LP, sitting in storage in a crate.  Inside, over the pictures of the band members, I recall I'd made little notes about which one I liked best -- at 12, I was quite fond of Roger Taylor, with John Deacon a close second, although now I rather admire Brian May.  I remember it being summer.  I remember the harvest gold carpet, the hum of my new ceiling fan just installed, my adamant refusal to get an actual stereo (which showed up for Christmas in a year or so and sounded much better), and listening to one particular song over and over again.

When Brian May started talking about the song on the VH1 show, and then played it, I found that I still remembered the words. I stood in my living room and sang along, recalling the harmonies I'd made up so many years ago.  I was just discovering science fiction about then, and the song appealed to me for that as well as the folk music influence, the harmonies, and just the sound itself, although I did not fully understand the lyrics until, really, today when May discussed them.  I could feel the sun through my west facing window, smell the newness of the house, feel the sharp corner of my wooden bedpost in my back where I would lean while listening. 

The show cut to a commercial in the middle of the song and I had to change the channel to stop the flood in my head -- the particular pains and pleasures of that summer, the sheer weight of years between that time and this, were just too much for me.  I rallied eventually, hunted up the song on YouTube -- the concert version was different enough not to hit as hard, and oh my but I love a 12-string. 

Brian May talked about his regrets that the song was never released as a single, because singles had more of a chance to affect someone's life.  No worries, sir.  It did.


What I Think Of People Who Don't Think

Grousing and bitching to ensue.

I recently ran across this article about a mother who, in response to the experiences of her other children, her own thoughts, the thoughts of her husband, and a reasonably well thought out philosophy, decided to keep the gender of her recently born child private.  Apparently this became a topic for news coverage with outcries of "GENDERLESS CHILD" - the first stupid thing I saw.  In the article she writes a well-reasoned, calm, and perfectly balanced response.

Where it got interesting was in the comments section where I witnessed just how little people actually read before reacting and also how little they think about what either they are reading or what they are saying.  What's more, I see the same stupidity being repeated in various news media.  It's plan irritating.

Let's go about this in small, logical steps, shall we?  I'll go slow, although I fully expect the 6 or 8 people who will read this are quite capable of the same simple thought process in which I am indulging.  At least three of them have already reached the same conclusions and could do a better job expressing them.

OK -- first, THIS CHILD IS NOT GENDERLESS.  "Genderless" means to be without gender, that is, without any discernible or detectable signs of being either male or female. While I imagine it might be in some measure possible, an actual case of it would be a medical issue (and no one's business, really) but nothing leads me to believe this is the case.  The child has a gender.

It is just not a publicly announced gender.  The family knows.  In time, the child will know.  After that, those whom the child and the family think should know will know, or the child will begin to present as one gender or another somewhere along the great continuum between the imaginary binary of "male" and "female".

Second -- WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE?  So, some small human being has not had his, her, hir or [pronoun of your choice] gender announced to the world at large, in the rather annoying traditional way.  This is important?  Why is it important?  What will happen if we, the public, do not know RIGHT NOW?

I have thoughts on that, and they relate to the mother's article.  Not revealing the child's gender does upset a tradition, and the many MANY institutions and behavior sets which are attached to and based on one's gender.  It denies people the option of NOT THINKING.  Gender is a code, a stereotype, a set of expectations at one time amorphous and rigid. We can tap into it and just follow a script without having to apply any critical thought.   Now, humans are constantly giving gender to items which have none -- bottles, pens, books, furniture, cars, etc. --  so you can see how this plays out.  Gender is part of our language, part of our social system.  We aren't always sure what it is, but we insist that everything conform to it.

Many people are upset about lacking the knowledge about this specific person because it denies them the ability and opportunity to shuttle that person into some rigid classification or other.  Pink or blue cloths.  Dolls or cars.  Long hair or short hair.  Music lessons or baseball camp.  Reading or mathematics.  Knowing a person's gender gives us a script so that we can talk without thinking.  I'm sure someone else could go into it far more deeply.  None of the screaming and accusing are actually about any damage or problems for the child -- they are screams and accusations of those being denied this particular power.  Their privilege has been removed.  They might have to *gasp* think before they say anything.  And they are reacting to that headline of "Genderless Child" as if the parents had taken up kitchen knives and deprived the child of physical gender identifying body parts.

None of which, of course, they are moved to do at this point.

Now, not much after I saw the article above (via facebook, as it happens) I saw this one come by on Twitter (yes, I'm back on Twitter and don't ask me why.  I suspect it's just a summer thing.)  Here we have an entire blog devoted to people who do not grasp the maxim "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt".  Of course, these particular bad examples are taking The Onion as actual news instead of the satire it is, but the lack of thought there is typical of the lack of thinking about almost any news story that goes around.

I've long been critical of what I see in the media, and I tend to pull apart the stories and headlines before I wade in with an opinion (at least, a public opinion).  I try to apply the critical thinking I learned in school (and, hell, from Mythbusters, for cryin' out loud).  But it does take effort.  I can't give in to my first emotional impulse.  I especially can't get too close to any tool of social media, internet communication, or anything else where I can embarrass myself until I've completed it.  So, ok, it takes some discipline, but one only has to make the mistake a few times to want to avoid the consequences from then on.  However, I now wonder if those consequences are still around.  Does the derision and scorn I feel for such open displays of idiocy -- shared, I know, by at least a small portion of people -- have no power?  I fear it does not.  What I think about it -- because I do think about it, at length and sometimes when I'd rather be sleeping -- has no merit.  I'm tilting at windmills.  However, I will not be unseated from my Rocinante of a blog quite yet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Still Singin'

I got a new camera! This sexy new digital also does video (my old one did, too, but I never figured it out. This one is much easier.) So, when my little church group sang on Sunday, The Husband hit the "record" button and..

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Glamour Pup

The Husband had this week off between semesters, and it was Spring Graduation over at the big ol' University, so we wanted to stay far far away from anywhere Grads and Parents and panicky people with cameras might be. So, yesterday, we loaded the poodle into the car and took off north-ish.

Well, first we had to drop him off for an embarrassing haircut.

WE did not request pompom feet. WE asked for a short all over action cut, with just a little fluff on the head, ears, and tail, and -- of course -- his cute little beard. But we got pompom feet. I do not like pompom feet.

In any case, we have pompom feet, so we drove to a park on a lake and spent the afternoon teaching Zeus to swim.

Zeus is not sure about the swimming thing. We took him out on Monday to a beach on the river, and he discovered he could not walk on water. Yesterday he learned some other things about water.
Like how The Husband can emerge from under the water all submarine like and scare an unsuspecting puppy right out of the water.

Puppies still can't walk on water, though. This fact is not enough to keep him from trying.

He's also a very glamorous puppy, even with an embarrassing haircut.

Review: The Annotated Sense and Sensibility

The Annotated Sense and SensibilityThe Annotated Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is always delightful to me to read (and re-read) Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility. This annotated version just added to and expanded on that delight. The extensive notes, illustrations, and maps explain much -- in language, in social behavior, in culture and in period of time -- that either no longer exists in the 21st century or has altered greatly over 200 years. Here, at last, I understand the ideas behind the "Cult of Sensibility". I know now the significance of the word "picturesque" so often invoked in the novel, and why it means much more in context and in that era than it means now -- which made many a bit of irony and comedy suddenly funny to me. Like the other edition in this series, it included a detailed chronology of the novel and an extensive bibliography of source material, making this a perfect edition for anyone taking a scholarly approach to Austen (or late 18th/early 19th century literature in general). As always, the format of text on the left side and notes on the right made for easy reading.

In short, this edition did exactly what good annotation does -- expand, illuminate, explain, and reveal. While I probably won't read this version exclusively when I reread the novel, I expect to revisit it periodically.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: The Annotated Persuasion

The Annotated PersuasionThe Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen

This is an excellent edition for the reader coming to Persuasion for the second time, especially one who wants a greater familiarity with the physical reality of the setting and some insight on a literary level into the writing.

I'm very fond of annotated versions of novels, especially novels written before the 20th century. Words change meaning and implication over time. Social mores change, styles of living change, even what it means to be rich and poor change. In the case of this, Jane Austen's last complete novel, someone who does not have a certain amount of familiarity with late 18th/early 19th century English society and culture will lose much of the nuance of the story -- the obstacles appear absurd and contrived, the situations dull, the various difficulties faced by the characters ridiculous without that knowledge. This annotated version gives all that information in a fairly unobtrusive but convenience way, by playing notes on each facing page of the text.

It includes maps of areas, references to Austen's letters as source material, interesting facts, definitions of words as used at the time, and much more detail, trivia, and observation by the editors which add to the novel without interfering with it. I enjoyed the Annotated Pride & Prejudice I read a few years ago, and I'm looking forward to starting the Annotated Sense & Sensibility by the same editors.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Review: The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of FantasyThe Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard S. Marcus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This lovely collection of interviews with 13 well known fantasy authors concentrates mostly on their children's/YA fiction, but it gives lovely little glimpses in the varied world of writers. I only read the interviews with the authors with whom I was familiar -- Lloyd Alexander, Diane Wynn Jones, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine L'Engle and Terry Pratchett -- and just glanced through the others. The interviews are not extensive or very personalized -- many of the questions are the same for each -- but that just made the comparisons more interesting.

What it really gave me was insight into the varied methods of writing. Some of these authors write daily, for set hours. Others write when moved. Some research, others consider their whole lives research for their writing. Some love to revise, some dread it, some have ambivalent feelings. Many faced difficulties getting published. All seem to love Tolkien. I enjoyed finding these little facts and knowing the authors that touched and formed me (Alexander's Time Cat stands in my memory as my first indication science fiction and fantasy existed).

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Review: Frankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction

Frankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science FictionFrankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction by Jane Donawerth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow. This book was...work. Work I enjoyed, work I took on by my own choice and work I was satisfied to do, but...work.

How does one review a book like this, full of things one didn't know diddly squat about until one read it? I can't speak to its accuracy, its depth, its breadth, or any other such qualities used to measure books that offer critique on other books. All I can tell you is my own experience with it.

Looking at the bones and growth of science fiction through a feminist theory lens is an interesting experience. Going through science fiction books and stories via the road of literary criticism renders even the familiar strange and even unknown territory. Donawerth caused me to add a lot of books to my reading list, both fiction and nonfiction. I've learned new words and phrases-- essentialism, hetero- and homodiegic, male narrative. I've discovered new forms of narrative I never realized I was reading. I have a lot of ways of looking at science fiction. I took a lot of notes.

Although structured in the "tell them what you will tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them" method I recall from 1990s college classes, and not occasionally diving deeply into academia-speak, I still found it very readable. Perhaps one of the most interesting features of this book were responses from some authors of works analyzed to Donawerth (chapters of the book were published elsewhere) in which these authors -- Anne McCaffrey and Emma Bull pop to mind most readily, but there was at least one other -- disagree or expand on Donawerth's assertions. This made the book more like a conversation. Donawerth was also very thorough in citing the texts from which she drew the ideas she applies to fiction, which added to the conversational tone.

I appreciate learning how to see literature in this particular way, because I am interested in how gender is handled in science fiction, both as stories and as writing.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rumination and Cud Chewing

I've kept some kind of journal or diary since I was roughly 12 or 13. I still have most of them in a chest upstairs -- except for the ones I kept on the computer, which are locked up in files of various shapes and sizes, or online, somewhere. For some years, this blog was my journal. It was amazing to write my thought and have other people, people I didn't even know, hear me and respond. It was affirming and enlightening and really cool.

Then the internet became the morass of interconnections and Google exposure that it is. I started thinking about what all those people I didn't know might think of what I thought. The blog slowed down, not because I wasn't thinking or had nothing to say, but because I had nothing to say that I felt comfortable with just any old person who happened by to hear. I saw over and over the unintended consequences that went with speaking one's mind in full out public. My venue changed and I wrote my thoughts in smaller, more protected areas, to a select group of people, but even that got tricky and had unintended consequences. I got careful. I went silent.

At some point in 2008 I started reading The Artist's Way. One of the techniques Julia Cameron, the author, recommends are Morning Pages -- basically, a daily diary or journal, three pages of hand writing, put the pen to the paper and don't pull it up again until done. I did this for a while, got scared at what came out, stopped. I went back to it last fall, trying to do it her way, but eventually doing it my way and going back to the original journaling I did as a kid. The three page format still lingers on stubbornly, but I'm breaking free of that particular dictum. Some days I don't write. Some days I write only a half page. Still, I write.

I hadn't realized all this until just this morning while randomly poking around at something else. I looked through the list of blogs on my feeds -- my old blog roll here is much neglected since not everyone uses a feed and even the blogs I have there I don't read regularly. I wondered why I don't read blogs like I once did, why I don't write in my own so much, why everything I start to write seems boring and trite and a waste of effort. Where once I would think "I can't wait to blog about this!", now the idea of telling everyone my latest adventure seems like an exercise in utter idiocy or egoism. Aside from a few dear people who stop by, no one really notices me and that, in and of itself, can take a certain toll. One puts a blog online for various reasons, but a big one -- one that can't be denied if your blog is public -- is to get some attention, to have acknowledgement from the world that you exist, that you have some weight and power, that you have worth. It's painful to be ignored and it is all to easy to ignore people these days. Our technology encourages us to live in little bubbles of our own, protected from intrusion by email, voice mail, iPod ear buds, personal video, cubicals, spots on the couch. We can sit in a room with a dozen other similarly hooked up people and be entirely alone -- and encouraged to be so.

So I'm ruminating about this and about why I have, as yet, not pulled the plug on this, my blog, my little corner of Internet real estate. Perhaps it is just because I've had it so very long. It's mine, more or less. It doesn't demand dusting or feeding. I don't have to pack it up when I move. It waits. I wonder what I want to do with it. Put out book reviews? Sure. Make observations on the world? Yeah, occasionally. Report on my life? OK, why not?

Many people have turned their blogs into businesses. I haven't done that. This started as a personal journal way back when I was clodging together and uploading individual pages. It's still like that. It's whatever I want it to be when I think about it, there the instant I want to access it. I still occasionally have little daydreams about it. I've also gotten a healthier perspective. I no longer derive any self worth from who reads it or what my stats are -- I can't remember the last time I checked my stats although I recall clearly a long period when I obsessed about them. I find that I no longer really mention the blog much. I don't have it listed in my Facebook account -- then again, I don't list much there because I resent even having to BE on Facebook, yet cultural pressure is such that I am on it.

But this isn't what it once was to me. My deeper, weirder thoughts don't show up here anymore. They go into a little notebook only I see. But, even there, the Rules of Blog I've internalized control what I say. Don't talk about other people, at least not beyond how what they do affects me directly. Don't mention names. Don't say anything embarrassing to yourself (how sad is that? I can't even tell MYSELF this stuff.) Careful talking about sex, about politics, about religion, about death, about children, about anything that might poke a troll to pour shit onto you for their own masturbatory pleasure. I find these rules emerging and I ponder them. I'm writing on paper with a pen, I remind myself. No one really is curious about the damn thing. I don't advertise it. Why can't I say what I want?

Yeah, there it is, the other side of freedom -- being responsible for what you say as soon as it becomes available to other ears, eyes, minds. And dealing with what other people think, dealing with what your thoughts expressed excites in them. Dealing with their defensiveness, their anger, their pain, their applause, their praise, their...whatever.

So, it sometimes is hard to come here and write like I could 10 years ago or 12 years ago (yes, it's been that long). But I hold onto this because...because I can.