“striking lavender orbs”

Okay, hold up.

My DnD group encouraged me to familiarize myself with the lore of the Forgotten Realms, since we’re running our campaign in Faerun. I always saw the books on the shelves, growing up, but I confess I’d only read one of them — Dragons of Autumn Twilight — and that only as part of a calculated wooing initiative. But my character, as a multiclassing bard, ought to know, I was told, something about Drizzt Do’Urden. So I picked up the first of his backstory trilogy.

Only to encounter, from the self-proclaimed god of DnD lore, no less, terrible writing, laughably sexist fantasy norms, and this in a world where women who write consistently better fiction are derided as sex-crazed whore posting lewd fanfic on the internet, whereas auteurs like R.A. Salvatore get to pen gems like this:

lavenderorbs

Let’s review:

1.) “striking lavender orbs”

2.) Drow are evil because they’re dark (…) but also, hurr hurr, because their society is matriarchal and women who don’t like men or who fuck who they want are evil, duh. But of course they have to assert their matriarchal power with whips that end in snake heads because Penises Ueber Alles amiright?

3.) “striking lavender orbs”

4.) Obviously sexually free women are estrogen-crazed harlots capable of finding infants attractive (?!?!?!?!) or of forecasting the development of said attraction in the future. Because you know. Harlots.

5.) Striking. Lavender. Orbs.

There is a certain amount of sexism in my DnD group anyway, I know. Half of them are ex-military. I expect that from them, even if I’m disappointed by it. I pick my battles. And it’s true that my own childhood favorites wouldn’t hold up too well under a modern gaze, either — I’m looking at you, Wheel of Time, which I end up miserably defending more often than I like to note. But still.

Striking lavender orbs?!

 I care little for the desultory dismissal by most of the internet of women who are out there writing well. I know how most of the internet works. But it’s the desultory dismissal by men I know, supposedly progressive, who have daughters, who act like they are somehow paving the way, with their own behavior, to make the world a better place for said daughters when they come of age into it, that bug me. These same people hold male writers like this up as shimmering beacons of fantasy writing achievement, while simultaneously shitting on women writing more and better, for free.

That nettles me to no end.

You want to be some judgey douchebag on the internet, fine. Join the club. But don’t strut around pretending you care about women, about your precious daughters, when you promote dross like this as the best fantasy has to offer, and dismiss “those internet sexpots” as just that.

Because I mean. We are completely capable of smashing your orbs until they are well and truly lavender, my dudes. And most of you wouldn’t particularly enjoy the experience.

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the advantages of 15 year olds

I love that this has been included:

This is the sort of question characters are usually too wise to ask aloud, in Guy Gavriel Kay’s books. This isn’t a bad thing. Those young enough to think of it, in his books, are wise enough to keep the thought to themselves, and I appreciate that. Not all young people are blind to the pitfalls that honesty opens up beneath them. Nor do the very, very young ask such questions, in some gooey pastiche of innocence. Using kid characters as such shills for earnestness is hokey and a little self-righteous, and is thankfully beneath GGK.

But Ned, here, at 15, under duress, bothers to ask. Immediately regrets it, but bothers to ask. And I like that he was allowed to do so. He avoids both seeming like a stupid adult or like a poster-child of innocence — because he’s wedged in that miserable space between the two. Being a teenager is absolutely wretched. But it allows you, in fiction if not in life, to be ephemerally honest, with yourself and with others. And the ephemeral nature of that honesty only serves to heighten its power, and draw attention to its fragility.

to juan at the winter solstice

To Juan at the Winter Solstice

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether as learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
How many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.

–Robert Graves

wrong number try again

book

I’m really exceptionally skilled at accumulating those “do what you love / if you are passionate about X, do it!” speeches.* The problem is I am never passionate about X; just good about towing its line to the point where people for whom X is everything think it is for me, too.

And it’s never some soul-searching moment either, because I’m not on some grand quest to find something I care about: I already know what I love doing! I just don’t do it for money because it’s not lucrative, and it’s far easier to be Good Enough at other things that pay.  Until, of course, you get to the part  where people give you what are meant to be inspiring speeches about the field — speeches which are destined never to move me as much as the speaker intended because these fields I wander into are staging areas. And I meander from staging area to staging area, because I never care enough about the grand production to take up a central a role there. And also because writers as a group can sometimes be real dicks, and people in other fields are more pleasant to be around. Mostly.

All of which is to say I suppose I should do some typing this weekend.

swanson

 

*Chris, this wasn’t your speech. This was the speech that led to me hitting you up for your advice, which was sensible and helpful. Thanks!

**Also, this isn’t about the new job; it’s about how people assume I felt about the old job.

chapter 2 up

Chapter 2 is now up.

Somewhat relatedly, I got to see a friend a rarely do over the weekend and was thrown completely for a loop. Usually in a conversation I can arrange a list of answers that I’ve already honed in previous conversations* into set pieces: this is my work drama, this is how my mother is doing, this is how home ownership is coming along, etc. etc. And it’s true that I got to trot those out. But she also kept tripping me up by asking about things I’d forgotten I’d let it be known mattered to me. Had I read this author, had I heard about that book, and was I still writing?

I don’t anticipate these questions because in the past decade it has dawned on me that the price you pay for sharing such information amongst peers tends to be too high. As a result, when people forget that I do such things, I let it go. My in-laws remember my academic career, such as it was, rather than the awards I won for this or that story. My immediate friends remember the degree I just finished wading through, and the doors it would ideally have opened. (One day…) But I don’t usually field questions about my writing, and am so startled and sheepish and touched when asked that I stumble through the rest of the conversation, no set pieces to hand, trying madly to filter out what I do and don’t want to say about project A or B or C. But because this friend dated back the full decade, to when everyone, in either the arrogance or naiveté (probably both) of youth freely announced such pursuits without (too much) fear of repercussion, in the form of condescension or too-keen interest or otherwise, she knew. And, moreover, she remembered. And I was absurdly unprepared for it, and sat there mumbling to the cobbles about editing and deadlines and contests, all while blushing harder than my cherry tomatoes in their pots out back.

Which is ridiculous. I’m thirty years old. I have always done this thing. But to have that be remembered and respected, by someone I don’t see every day or even every  year — and to be asked, and to be met with delight when I replied in the surprised affirmative that yes, I still did such work — pleases me. So much more than I anticipated feeling on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

*How I used to chafe, as a kid, hearing my mother do this! I’d hear the same words come out of her mouth again and again, to stranger after stranger, and resent the prefabricated nature of it; how she had something ready for a whole host of situations and it just came to hand easily, rehearsed, perfected. It was years and years before I realized that such responses held off-stage and at the ready grease the many less-important daily interactions along, grind us past their necessary ordinariness, so that we can get to those that matter.