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.

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welp

Today is the last day to submit one’s intent to enter. I guess I’m doing IntroComp.

I know exactly what I’m doing and why. I just didn’t know there would be a space to get feedback on it.

(em)brace for impact

 

bars

I don’t usually bother to recruit Horsemaster Dennet before you leave Haven — nor do I hang around the stables there much — so I never overheard the flirtation that occurs over time between the no-name noble from Anderfells and the wry scout. It’s endearing. I mean in no way to devalue the non-sexualized camaraderie whose praises I sing so often, but I do think a willingness to see affection everywhere (because it is everywhere) is something of value here, one that quickly gets morphed in the sneering quips of detractors as being “all about the sex.” No. But you aren’t more heroic for locking your heart up and waiting until after a disaster to deal with it. In fact, you’re probably going to fuck up more. That applies as much to the legions of underlings as it does to the main stars of a tale. This is something fanfic and slashfic in particular gets right, albeit inadvertently. They do it for the hawtness, or for the feels, but seeking companionship in the face of dire odds is a recurring theme because it happens. Erasing this makes both for boring, one-dimensional characters (whole armies of them!) and for a hokey aura of cardboard heroism.

You can overdo it, of course. A leader has to lead, and can’t be boning all the time. But this fantasy that you can divide yourself into only needing data, communiques, tactical feedback and the occasional, too-short snatch of sleep…it’s silly at best, damaging at worst. Didn’t we spend most of the 90s deconstructing the idea of the chest-beating hulk without feelings? Whom do we serve by resurrecting that idea of a hollow hero, and giving those ideas narratives in which to move as though they were whole? If you really still need that construct pointed out as a fallacy, look at all these real-life scandals involving powerful people sleeping with those beneath or beside them in responsibility. You wind such people tight as springs, by what you ask of them, or what the world asks of them. Don’t delude yourself into thinking they can carry that alone and come out functioning on the other side.

I don’t like delving much into the whys of fandom because it’s either a ludicrous oddity, to those of an academical bent, or “teeheehee! teh sexxorz!” to others. But this is, I think, something we get right. Whether or not it is socially acceptable (or even, in real-world organizations, legal) for such intermingling to occur, it does. Providing innumerable little glimpses of it — like those two down by the stables in Haven — isn’t a fixation on bedsheets and what occurs between them. It’s acknowledging what people do. How they exist in the world. Part of that existence, for most of us, means hoping desperately that other people acknowledge our existence, too. Somehow. Someday before the end. And the end, in stories, frequently looms closer than usual.

a place to stand

From Sonnets from the Portuguese, and reprinted by The Atlantic here for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. Referencing, in Rosa Smith’s phrasing, “a kind of private afterlife” between the author and her then-newly-eloped-with husband:

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvëd point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented?  Think!  In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence.  Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovëd,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

punch lines with brass knuckles

So The Palace Job has these little news-bulletin narrative asides that are simultaneously playful and cutting, to the point where you almost, almost flinch at the vitriol of the satire. Then you cut away back to the friendly banter of a hodgepodge band of heroes in a fantasy adventure tale. Case in (spoilery) point:

“TODAY’S DISCUSSION: SECURITY,” intoned the dragon in the puppet show the next morning. “With today’s debacle, the Republic has lost an airship complete with wind-daemon, and three dangerous prisoners have escaped justice.”

“If I could just start,” the manticore butted in, knocking the dragon aside as the crowd laughed, “I think debacle is a very loaded term. We’ve got people assigned to their jobs, and they’re doing their jobs, and it’s very presumptuous to judge how they’re doing.”

“Well, any time you lose a ship,” suggested the griffon, “you have to wonder whether things are being done prop—”

“Silence!” steamed the dragon, driving the griffon back with alchemical flames, and the crowd applauded. “We’re here for a civilized discussion!”

“But I think that this event, when taken within the context of the earlier escape, points to an overall lack of performance by the Learned,” shouted the griffon from the edge of the stage, hiding from the flames.

“Wait, now, you can’t play politics with national security!” The manticore jumped onto the griffon, its stinger flashing, and the griffon howled and tried to buck it off. “And I’ll have you know that the leader of the task force, a justicar with a shady past and a reputation for playing loose with the rules, was appointed by the Skilled. They’re the ones who should be answering for this.”

“But that isn’t true!” cried the griffon. “Justicar Pyvic has an excellent reputation and—”

“Let’s not get off topic!” the dragon proclaimed, belching a puff of fire that stopped both of the other puppets in their tracks. It raised a claw toward the manticore, and the griffon took the opportunity to run to the other side of the stage. The crowd laughed derisively. “What do you have to say about Warden Orris’s resignation yesterday?”

“Totally unrelated,” the manticore said promptly, “and if you listen to what he has to say, you’ll know that.” The manticore yanked on a leash, and a goat puppet was reluctantly dragged onto the stage. The crowd hooted.

“…proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said the goat in the whiny whistling voice that signified a cheap recording crystal, “but now is… and now I intend to spend more time with my family. I know that others will continue this important work.” The goat broke off as the manticore’s jaws clamped down on it and tore off its head. The manticore then snatched up the body and shook it violently, throwing small candies out into the crowd.

“There you have it!” declared the manticore with a burp.

“But the timing,” protested the griffon, only to be knocked down by the manticore’s giant bat-wings.

“I honestly don’t know why we’re even having this discussion!” boomed the manticore. “This is the Skilled Party’s fault for putting this Pyvic fellow in charge, and if you want to play the partisan blame game, Warden Orris has already resigned. Why can’t you people let a good man retire in peace?”

“Strong words!” boomed the dragon. “We’ll keep you informed of any updates on this fast-breaking story!” It threw more candy out to the crowd while intoning the ritual words. “Remember, everyone, it’s your republic!”

I can’t do that. Maintain that balance. It’s exhausting even to try. It’s either grimdark or, at best, descriptive. I can do neutral or chipper description but that’s about it — funny is, typically, beyond me. Which is frustrating, because it’s not like I don’t appreciate a good laugh or work to surround myself with people capable of producing the same. But I can’t call those laughs up in others — and if I try, it’s a blackened humor that makes people’s faces fall even as they’re coughing up a snicker. I guess when you don’t stare stuff like dementia in the face all day you find it harder to laugh at. Your loss, people.

Only once was I on-target all the time. An old professor I helped out on a book thought I was the funniest damn thing on the planet. I had her humor pegged to a T, and I could always make her giggle helplessly. I miss her, most selfishly, for this reason. I’ve tried to figure out what worked so well. Like any professor, she was a bit cynical, but no more so than usual. And my jokes to her weren’t particularly dark, either, but they definitely poked fun at the departmental bullshit that weighed her down (and which she ultimately fled, more power to her). I think I was her only female friend, and I know I was the only woman who credited the crap she put up with from her male peers. Maybe that was it.

I wish I could play those sorts of notes in prose. I can make people thoughtful or sad, but I’m shit at making them laugh. Clearly everyone just needs to study the same things I did, obtain a position of slightly higher authority than me so I can always joke upward (joking down is mean), and I’d be entertainer of the year.

Clearly.