for godsake just quit facebook already

Yo.

You don’t need it. You know it’s bad for you. And you categorically cannot claim you are immune to its harm. You won’t lose all your friends. You won’t timewarp back into the 90s. You will lose an echo chamber. You’ll lose a huge source of fomo. You’ll gain so much time back in your day. I’m speaking from experience here. I’m a millennial who quit years ago. You won’t die.

And, look. I was one of the first couple thousand FB users, because of when I came of age. I’ve watched social interactions sway whole-hog from interpersonal exchanges into FB-mediated ones. And I have relatives young enough that they have never experienced any relationship without that social media intermediary. I’ve seen the platform and its users evolve, like something in a petri dish on the bottom, most-dangerous level of CDC headquarters.

It’s not good. It makes young people nervous and fragile. The world’s already going to do that to you, so why give it a headstart? And for the older people — they just don’t have the information literacy training — they believe too much. They believe garbage. Every Thanksgiving I get to listen to some in-law tell me my mother wouldn’t have died of dementia if only she ate more sauerkraut, because of idiots taking as gospel some Facebook food nut’s rantings.

Maybe you think you’re the good, pure, nuance-savvy individual who can withstand the algorithms and ferret out important truths from the slew of likes, shares and comments. Well, you can’t. It’s a bit narcissistic of you to believe you can. There are tens of thousands of people working for FB. Your faith in your own ability to withstand it…it’s like trying to meditate a broken leg back into a whole one. It won’t work. You need medicine. And the applicable medicine here is space and absence. On an individual level.

Leave Facebook. Don’t look back. You want to do something good for the world today? Start here.

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what we mistake as sentimental

I don’t like deserts. I miss the color green. Joshua Tree felt like a morgue. The person who pushed for its creation said she went there, to the desert, after her husband and son died in the same accident. I can understand that burned emptiness being something you seek in such circumstances, but coming to deserts whole is excruciating for me. I can’t wait to leave.

“Big Bend is no place for cynics. There is too much at stake. A bedrock pragmatism refutes sentimentality through the beauty of the unexpected. What we mistake as sentimental is in fact a generosity, a willingness to stay open and acknowledge the miraculous.” — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land

But maybe I will go to Big Bend someday. Before it’s gone.

till all success be nobleness

While I remove my jaw from the floor here, let me take this opportunity to remind you that there will be ******SPOILERS BELOW****** for Outlander Season 4, Episode 1.

…which episode is called…America the Beautiful.

That ending. Wow.

Wowwww.

I would love, love love to know when the cinematic decisions that led to that ending were made. Was this the plan from the beginning? Was it suggested by Bear McCreary? (Surely not, as one assumes the non-inconsequential licensing fees to the Ray Charles estate cut into a score’s contract.) Was this decision made when the air date of the show was determined (two days before Election Day)? Was it made at any of the multitudinous points after the season being confirmed for renewal where the America of today was showcasing how very easily it is to exhume the atrocities of the past and keep enacting them? To never, in fact, have stopped?

Those scenes were filmed with sound. They were acted with sound. When was it decided to kill the sound entirely and replace it with Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful? Because that was goddamn powerful. That was brutal violence after a palpably too-comfortable view of race and expansionism in America, set as the backdrop to love all but announced to be settled-into and true and full of promise in a future both our characters know is filled, historically, with blood. And that brutal violence plays out on mute, underneath, well…that.

I recall from, I think, the first season, a moment where the music from the 40s leaked into the storyline back in Jamie’s Scotland, and reviewers raised eyebrows. Whatever the cinematic intent behind that decision — whether to remind us of the connection or of the disconnect between the two worlds — the effect here, in season four, with that song, is monumental. And this is coming from someone who is traditionally turned off by full-mute music gimmicks, particularly of the variety where brutality occurs: where there is tinny happy music playing from a car radio or a diner speaker as someone shoots the place up or beats someone to death inside. I am so, so tired of that brand of jauntily cruel dissonance.

However, here, it is a dissonance just as much political as it is jarring, which makes its contrivance serve a purpose other than just to shock. And that is why it remains so powerful to me, and gets none of the sneers that I reserve for Tarantino-type musical violence.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, right? Everything was set up too perfectly. We saw eagles, a white person’s self-righteous effort to stick up for a black man turn out to be unfounded (he was free, and didn’t appear to particularly appreciate her assumption that he was a slave), a tremendous amount of convivial group-feeling that gave birth to full-tavern heartfelt singalongs. Even the intro song — which changes season to season based on the content of the show — swelled with more voices than usual this time, carried there by the warm chords of various folksy stringed instruments. And we had already had the obligatory sex scene, peppered with many assertions of undying love. (Or, more specifically, that “nothing is lost” re: love and also the first law of thermodynamics, which exchange I did recall bittersweetly from the books, as I know it was something my mom would have found endearing, and Drums of Autumn was the last Outlander book I remember seeing her reading.) You don’t get a feel-good setup like that without sure assurance that things are about to go horribly, catastrophically wrong.

And of course, they did. The story called for it, so they did. But they went wrong to the musical accompaniment of a black man singing the praises of America, in a show that aired two days before the election in 2018, a year where black men among so many, many others are damnably aware that the violence playing out under this ballad never stopped.

When the piano started up, over that sleeping sprawl (I read Drums of Autumn three years ago so no, I did not recall the particulars of this scene), I experienced a moment of confusion. Had there been a piano at River Run? How had they drifted there all asleep? Was Jocasta welcoming them in advance? And then in a second or two as the notes continued and it became clear that no, the music was not from this time and not meant to be situated within the scene, I wracked my brain trying to remember what song it was. Keep in mind that I grew up near a military base; each grade got assigned a different patriotic song and each class had to be recorded singing it, so every morning began with a group of us singing one of five of the anthems over the PA system. America the Beautiful was one of the easier ones, given to second or third graders. Which I mention because I know that song mostly as a dolorous chant droned by eight-year-olds. I don’t know the Ray Charles version well enough to recognize its introductory notes (or any introductory notes, really — it was just us on the speakers; the music teacher was too busy instructing us to play accompaniment) and I didn’t see this coming.

So when it became clear that all this was happening under that song, I actually swore out loud. Because that was an extremely powerful and poignant choice. And as the scene continued I felt a twisting, writhing sense of guilty relief, because I didn’t want to hear the sounds of Claire pleading for her life, of bodies hitting wood, of snot gurgling in her nose as she tries to sob-scream a last line of defense against a man who can and will take what he wants from any part of her he sees fit to. I didn’t want to hear any of that, because it makes me sad and scared.

And yet so does America the Beautiful. Which is, bitingly, as it should be.

lost in the sage

wwwd

**SPOILERS for Whiskey When We’re Dry**

It was such a beautiful book for a while there, but…

Ehhhh.

While it didn’t get quite as bad as Icy Sparks — my benchmark for when an author’s storied defense of born-again Christianity goes so off the rails that the characters, the narrative, the entire chunk of time you devoted to the reading of the book becomes a waste — we teetered pretty close for a while in the last third of Whiskey When We’re Dry. There were still some beautiful parts but nothing like the first 2/3. Why?

1.) Some admittedly understandable hesitancy to portray things it would have been exploitative to portray. Yes, I agree, a man going deep into the particulars of a lesbian sex scene is probably going to look bad. Leave your fantasies on PornHub, please. But a bit more editing could have avoided the patently fretful fade-to-black that we got instead. Said fade was so frantic and vague that it wasn’t entirely clear that sex, or anything like it, had taken place at all, until pages and pages later. Even then it was left up to debate. Such decisions look like prudishness at best and a double-dealing attempt to have it both ways at worst: to please those who want there to have been sex by letting it fit within the narrative, and to avoid scandalizing bigots whose feathers would be ruffled by making the act deliberately nebulous. If you are going to write same-sex relationships in 2018 you better have the guts to stand behind the people you’re portraying, full stop. Otherwise you’re just using them to titillate people for your own personal gain, and that’s pretty low.

2.) Threads cut and dunked in wax to avoid fraying, rather than woven together properly at the end. Again this comes down to editing. There is a lot of problematic content at the end of the book that gets a vague pass. “Yeah charismatic manipulation under the banner of religion but whatever, yay, the magic of pregnancy!” Um, nope. Noah has done nothing to deserve the pass the book gives him — the pass Jess gives him — at the end. Bothering to learn to read words you lied to people about being able to read in the past does not character development make. Being a lame duck brother does not forgiveness earn. Jess, and we, have little faith left in the charismatic Noah by the end…so why throw the best character under the bus simply in order to enable her loser brother to persist in his charlatan shows? There’s no logical reason for this, except…

3.) …the Bury Your Gays trope. Yeah. I tried really hard not to be bothered by this. I made excuses for it, because I was so pleasantly surprised by the reciprocated same-sex feeling (especially after Greenie, whose presence and sorrow I appreciated, treated as it was and not ignored) and I loved reading about Annette and Jess together. But….but. They made out once, maybe twice (thanks to that bizarrely trenchant fade to black, who knows?), and then bam, Annette’s dead. Beautiful the writing around them may have been, but tropey it remains. Don’t just kill off your gays, people. Or your bis. Or your trans people or your nonbinary folks or your — come on. Everyone should know better by now. Did we really need to see the straight people ride off into the sunset with a baby? Did we? Because that’s what we got, and it sucked. “An aria for the modern age,” crows the flyleaf. Yeah, until the last third. The last third isn’t modern at all. It’s contrived, and was edited, it feels like, with a cleaver. Wielded by bears.

4.) The gross imbalance between the beauty of the insights given to Jess when she is alone, or young, or with her father, and the decisions she makes with no thought process, no reasoning shown to us, at the end of the book, is deeply frustrating. I don’t know if it comes down to there being too many characters on the page at once to devote time to all of them (what about Jane? what was up with her? we’ll never know. should we respect Constance, or was she always intended to be a mean girl who got co-opted into a moral play in the 11th hour to come across as more palatable? what about Pa? why did that reveal matter so much earlier and not at all later? the explanation thrown around is “welp she’s in love, everything changes,” but when that love gets snuffed out like a candle twenty pages into the relationship, it starts to feel pretty cheap…) or if perhaps there was once a much longer and more drawn-out ending that got slashed by the aforementioned knife-wielding bears, but it comes out totally off-kilter. It’s the opposite problem of David Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, whose first two thirds were awful and whose last third was brilliant. Here, I felt like I wanted to demand everyone I knew read this book, for the first two thirds, and now…now I hope no one takes me up on my offer.

It’s disappointing. Especially when you remember exchanges like this from earlier in the book:

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things that put me in awe

Ahhh this book. This book. I kept waiting — keep waiting; I’m not done — for him to do some bullshit thing, but he hasn’t yet. For him to make her into someone he figured we wanted to see. Who would sell. Clouding her judgment, her conviction, her sorrow, with libido or something. Like everyone does in YA for example. (I tried, I did, to ride that train, because I thought I should know the stories that shape people today, but I couldn’t stand these powerful meaningful characters whose meanings get yanked away one by one until they’re just The Girl Who Kisses That Guy. I realize this may seem hypocritical coming from an ardent supporter of smutty fanfic and romance in games, but all of those characters exist beyond their smut, outside of it. When you reduce us to just a thing you want to fuck — even when you try to make us beautiful, a dedication written to your wife or whoever you love, with the subtext that she inspired you, filled in the spaces of the character, whatever — the list of all the reasons your character is awesome is never topped by her arms hauling something no one thought she could lift, or her brain calculatedly rescuing everyone from some imminent disaster. It starts innocent like “her laugh” and turns into her laughing mouth on your body, or in your bed calling you. And that burns. No one dies hoping only to have been a sweet voice or a shapely ass. And so often when it’s het men writing these women sure, sure, they mention other parts of her but it’s what her body does to them that tops the list, always, in the way that they write about it. Even to a very pro-sex person this is deeply disappointing. A failure to ever reach beyond your animalistic selves. You do not deserve the ones you claim to love, when you love most the skin they come in.*)

And this book could’ve fucked it up like that so many times but so far it hasn’t and it’s beautiful. All the raw hurting insights that are usually reserved for Men Of Few Words are given to her. But she isn’t turned into one of those men, despite these insights. She still wants to put a hand on the hand of the lost and the losing, and remembers just in time, every time, to restrain herself and hold her stony peace. The facade of manly stoicism. And she still hungers desperately for a mother lost to her. That’s where I am, that’s where I had to stop just taking pictures of words on the page and write. Her and Mildred. Mildred herself. This book, this book.

The farther I get from my mom, not just her actual death but the long, long fading-away beforehand, the harder I find it to respect those cavalier about the maternal comforts in their lives. Even when I have a perfectly rational mind pointing out that not everyone had a good or even a good-intentioned mother, or should be anywhere near the one they have. I am better about hiding my disdain on this topic, and I flash to visible anger far less easily. But still. I recognize Jesse’s immediate pull toward older and wiser people who would advise her, full-heartedly, like looking in a mirror. That hungry want for a lack of worry. For the absolute surety that someone else had your back, even if only for a little while, in all the ways you could think of: physically, affectionately, morally. That…well, that imbalance, I guess. That allowed imbalance. It’s not a partnership, you can’t fracture or break it; it was given to you without your asking and often against your will. You can find safety and love elsewhere in life, and there’s good reason to value that which you earned more than that which was given to you without question, I know. But there are stories…ways you were known before you even know yourself…that are lost to you, when your mother is gone.

And Larison hasn’t buried that persistent ache, and the self-knowledge (knowledge of lack, of emptiness) it sort of is, behind sex or booze or novelty anything; hasn’t erased it from someone who should never forget. Because you cannot forget. I respect him so much for that.

And I really hope he doesn’t fuck it up.

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*Though I suppose this conviction could be seen as silly, since my reason for thinking it is that it’s cruel to place your highest value of a person in a quality doomed to fall away. That’s all well and good, but in my family for example, the quality of our brains, as we age under dementia’s ticking clock, is as ephemeral as the elasticity of our flesh. So there is really little gained in valuing my mind over my body, as both are slated for decay…

how to commission a jacket blurb that gets me to read your book

Done and done. I was leery of the handwritten in-store book rec because it was trying too hard to sound like a professional reviewer. Plus I didn’t want to read some man’s modern wet dream of a cowgirl. But a virtuoso cross-dressed killer of Manifest Destiny’s men? Signed, sealed, delivered.

Now please, please don’t be a Tarantino movie in book form. The Ellie in the dedication — please let her be a daughter, a niece, anyone you’d never cheapen by turning into a pin-up girl on the insides of your eyelids. In 2018 I’m allowed to be openly tired of that bullshit. Be better than that.

And write like it.

greetings from tamriel : murkmire

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Until I was ten I lived on a spit of land that jutted out where the bay met the sea. The saltiness of the water varied by the tide, and while our side of the inlet was built up, we looked out onto a wide marsh.

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Marshes are flat and smell bad. Marshes are not where epic stories take place. The tales that take place in there are few in number compared to those set upon vast plains, or the open ocean, or hung about by snowcapped mountain peaks. At most, marshes serve only to remind the characters, with their reek of dead fish and mosquitoes and the humidity that often accompanies them, how grim life is.

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Knowing this, I’ve never had my fingers crossed for a full Elder Scrolls: Black Marsh game. I don’t like marshes. The need to stay propped up on boardwalks to avoid sinking into the muck. Or to avoid being bitten by something. Or both.

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But the Murkmire addition to ESO is just…relaxing. There are tons of words. Long conversations, lots of voice over, extensive texts to read. It’s a lore-heavy zone and the quests are in that vein. But I wanted to just post some pictures because Murkmire is also a reminder that, even though I wanted my story to take place anywhere other than the marshy land I lived on — and even though I never really went back there, after I left — that landscape can still stick with you.

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There is a jungle component to Murkmire, of course, and even hilly, rocky areas. But it’s the wide flat marsh abutting the sea that I keep running around, trying to sneak up on scuttleblooms on my main character, having done it once successfully on an off-the-cuff alt.* It’s where I stand around waiting for the fireflies to come out. Where I crank up the speakers and listen to the waves, interspersed with frogs. Where I remember standing on a sandbar and catching 26 crabs in one day, with only a string, a hair scrunchie, and a cooler of frozen chicken for bait. I detested crabs (I still do), but no one was better at catching them than me, and standing on the very flat land where two huge bodies of water met, sowing the seeds for what would become the most searing sun headache of my life, I was immensely proud.

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*An Argonian. Of course. Because if there’s one thing I can be reliably counted upon to do with any expansion, it’s immediately roll a character who fits in there. Every time. Even though every NPC in the zone takes the time to remind you that you’re an outsider and don’t fit in and never will. Every time.