An impossible thing before breakfast.

I am elated to report that I’ve had a story picked up by Clarkesworld.  It will be out very shortly; I’ll post a link just as soon as it appears.

It’s been a long dry spell (SFWA-qualifying sale-wise, anyway) since DSF picked up “Substitution” back in July 2011, and I’d started to think that that was a fluke and I should quit while I was ahead.  Now I have no excuse and must, in the immortal words of my Clarion roommate Becky, “get out of my butt” and back to the business of writing more words.

I use an inelegant Word document to track my submissions — whatever works, right?  Sigh.  I have got to switch over to Excel… — and I’d had this particular story (working title: Feral House) listed on said document since December, when I started revising it in earnest.  I list the title of each story along with where I’ve sent it, always with the next place to send listed below that.  I do this so I can’t overthink rejections; I just autopilot and sub to the next magazine on that story’s list of potential markets.  The only magazine I had listed below Feral?  Clarkesworld.  It was my impossible post-Clarion dream.  Of course, then the story-title sat on my submission tracker month after month as I fought (hacking and slashing!  With s’words!) through a will-sapping number of revisions, all while collecting a tidy pile of rejections on the three other stories I had out on submission at the time.  The past year of blogposts will attest that this was not the happiest of times.

And then while sipping my morning coffee, still muzzy after a late night out with my grad school friends, I got the acceptance email for the long-suffering Feral House, and from my dreamiest of dream pubs.  And lo, my faltering faith was restored, and I spent the day in a state of euphoria.  Today I erased the next magazine below Clarkesworld and moved Feral to the “Acceptances” column.  Also there was this:

That would be one of my author-idols, Kij Johnson — whose short story collection is stunning and racking up stellar reviews, if you have not read it yet — saying that she remembered my story.  And Kessel weighed in too, farther downthread.  And yes, that’s Bolander, who’s been taking names since we left Clarion, and Bill Shunn, who’s been a wonderful local SF writer-friend, and Micah Dean Hicks, whose work I deeply admire, and…how is this even my life?  How is any of this even possible?

It’s been a strange and wondrous Halloween-time, that’s certain.  This weekend Brady and I are hosting a Heaven/Hell-themed party (I am NOT overthinking my costume this year, not after the flame-war debacle of 2011) and then my family arrives in town for a visit.  Also I’ve decided to use Nanowrimo as an excuse to jumpstart the rewrite on my dissertation.  No, I won’t get 50K words, but I’d be happy with 20K and the wind at my back.  So if it’s quiet around these parts, know that I’m off generating more words, since words are the bricks I use to build this dream-life.  Gah, I’m still so full up with happy I can’t even.

Happy Halloween, everyone.  Wishing much spooky happiness to you all.

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In search of an ars poetica.

I’m still puzzling through theories of genre in terms of what it is and what it can do.  This week’s provocations: Mieville as “fantastical materialist,” a riff at Montevidayo on current artistic production that (as in Pale King) finds in our contemporary moment “all the boredom of a dying sun,” and [h/t James Patrick Kelly] a rant by an independent critic who’s irritated with SF’s perpetuation of neoliberalism.  Oh, and I was reminded once again that I need to track down the Ultraist manifesto.
ETA: Also, New Inquiry takes on politics via meme.

Funny story:  This meta-meme brought to you by a literary critic/grad student I met at Clarionaut-friend Becky’s wedding reception, of all places.  His brother made it, he posted it to FB, and the image went viral.  Now it’s up at Daily Kos.  I’ve never been so few degrees of separation from Internet fame and glory.

Sealskin.

Theodora Goss wrote up a small epiphany about the selkie myth.  My Week 4 Clarion story was a selkie story gone terribly awry, one of the very worst things I wrote during those six weeks (okay, that was a four-way tie…).  Goss’s writeup nails down at least in part what I wanted that story to say and couldn’t quite manage.

Not technically a selkie, but adorable nonetheless.

 

Global climate change and trauma theory.

Had some fabulous conversations at the bar last night re: affect theory and trauma theory.  After Ruth Leys delineated the inconsistency at the heart of Caruth’s major claims in Unclaimed Experience, I’m increasingly skeptical of affect theory’s utility as an interpretive practice.  Affect theory is often brought to bear when analyzing texts that include historical injury or trauma in their plots.  These analyses often emphasize trauma’s transmissibility: Caruth, by Leys’ analysis anyway, makes the Holocaust into a kind of contagion paid forward through history, so that descendants of concentration-camp survivors can literally experience the trauma of a past they themselves never lived through.

Affect theory, when used as interpretive lens, too often winds up being 1) just a good (or bad) close reading with 2) an obfuscatory layer of neuroscience jargon slathered on top of it.

One of the lynchpin claims of trauma theory is that it maps the outline of a trauma that is at core unrepresentable: the shape of a continent on a map, but without topography (a simile which fails because we actually can map topography.  But let’s pretend we can’t). The question then becomes, how does outlining a problem of representation require invoking affect or trauma?  Why isn’t it just a problem of representation, full stop?  Pointing at the outline of the continent and saying, “lo, a continent” doesn’t tell us anything new about that land mass’s inaccessible topography.

This Post45 article argues that climate change is unrepresentable, and that this problem of representation threatens our survival as a species. By discussing a current problem of representation whose ramifications actually could affect (contaminate?) all (or many) humans currently alive on the planet today, Zimmerman appears to avoid many of the inconsistencies that dog trauma-theory-based interpretations.

Or am I wrong, and the strength of Zimmerman’s argument is still just a straight close reading of various global climate change arguments?  Somebody else stare at this and tell me if I’m seeing things.

How I learned to love the lolspeak.

Crotchety Clarionaut Worrad posted a rant about the Death of the English Language at the Hands of the Internet.  And then less crotchety, contemplative Clarionaut Stabback posted an oblique response-of-sorts that posed more questions than it answered.  My reaction to Worrad’s initial rant was equally crotchety; in light of Stabback’s measured response, I think I may have calmed down enough to weigh in.

Worrad claims that ‘netspeak is a problem because it’s imprecise.  Which, okay.  Yes, it is often imprecise.  But this ignores any potential positives — such as community-building and/or the creation of safe spaces within an otherwise hostile ‘net — that might derive from such shared linguistic markers.  Is history really moving so rapidly that “sounds like 2009” counts as a burn?  And who is he critiquing by firing off said burn?

The crux of the issue:  Is the homogenization of language occurring thanks to the Internet a good or a bad thing (or is this even happening)?

First off, I want data before I’ll accept the initial premise.  I’ll believe we’re all beginning to sound the same when multiple linguists prove it to me.  (They probably can.)

Secondly, this is how communities form; this is how they delineate boundaries and select insiders and outsiders.  Y’all know I am not a fan of unthinking tribalism, but with the exception of asocial recluses, humans are gonna group up, and that group formation will involve shared linguistic markers.

Personal anecdote as evidence ahoy!  I came late to the Internet party.  Did not participate in chatroom culture, was not much for social networking.  Then my boyfriend shot himself in the head and I decided to play World of Warcraft for two years.  No, I am not proud of this.  Did it get me through those two years?  Yes.

WOWchat is ‘netspeak distilled, with a healthy helping of rampant racism and misogyny (I have posted about this before).  I found it absolutely fascinating, if often repellent.  For one thing, it was a window onto the generation coming up behind me, their communication style uncensored, as opposed to the neutered compositions I received from my students.  WOW offered a tiny window onto their social selves.  [Aside: Yes, the US is obsessed with youth culture; I acknowledge that it’s easy to find what The Kids These Days are up to fascinating because the entire culture pressures you to obsess over just that, lest you court obsolescence.]

Of course, there is no faster way to kill a phenomenon of youth culture than to put it in the hands of thirty-year-olds.  I think Worrad will fish his wish, in that all the things he lists have reached such a saturation point they’re bound to flip over into uncoolness (if they haven’t already).  I will find this sad, rather than cause for celebration, because it will represent the death of my early adulthood.  I already feel nostalgia for the alot.

All this to say, I started using ‘netspeak out of necessity, in order to negotiate the social contours of WOW (Cat Valente is a former WOW player, too; I’m assuming Worrad’s criticism refers either to her, or to Requires).  Even after I’d quit WOW, I found the foibles of that mode of speech amusing enough to keep using them.  Not out of laziness, but because they’re community-building, shared language as a way of spotting fellow gamers and Internet-obsessives.  Blogs are a speed-form, too (just like IM and texting); if efficiency is of the essence, what’s wrong with relying on shorthand, so long as it doesn’t impede meaning?  And I’m not convinced ‘netspeak impedes meaning, at least not universally.  Bitch about “fail” all you want, but context will usually tell you which shading of “fail” is intended.

This brings me to gender politics.  Because half the people I see dropping these signifiers anymore are women, often speaking to audiences that are predominantly made up of other women.  Feminist blogs, women-dominated author and reviewer blogs and the like.  Women are expected to remain polite, even (especially?) in the toxic miasma of the Internet.  Half the time these supposedly language-destroying tics are used to denigrate or minimize one’s own achievements (“2K words due today; off to write all the things!”), to take the sting out of criticism (“this review gets the facts wrong in four places, lawl”), in any number of hyper-gendered ways.  Eh, this is a game anyone can play at home.  Go to nearly any woman-authored blog and look at how Internetspeak is being used, and tell me I’m wrong.  It’s not so much imprecise as it is anxiously social.  I want to read this as a form of resistance, at least in part.  Feminist gamers immersed in the linguistic tics of misogynist cesspits like RPG chat, instead use that linguistic mode to carve out Internet communities that are recognizably of Internet 2.0, but aren’t actively hostile to women.  That all-too-apparent ‘netspeak cower/duck/cover is a method of both avoiding the wrath of trolls while simultaneously stealing their turf.  These are just a few of the reasons why I occasionally use lolspeak.

Or maybe I’m just pathologically lazy.  Yeah, that’s probably it.

Given all this, I read Worrad’s rant and what I heard him saying, larded in to his critique of ‘netspeak’s imprecision, is that now that old people (anyone over 25…soooo incredibly ooooold) and women (girl cooties!) have gotten hold of what used to be dudely gamer-speak = Death of the English Language.

None of this answers the original question posed, though, which is about the homogenization of language.  I think Chris is right and the jury’s still out.  In this globalized world (one in which English is hegemonically dominant) it’s no surprise that language itself mimics the operations of globalization in its simplification, in its flattening out of shades of meaning.  But this seems like as much an opportunity as a problem.  How might writers critique the rise of ‘netspeak in all its complexity, or even influence its development?  Any way you answer this question, how is auto-denigrating existing phenomena the answer?

Pale King.

I’d been wanting to read David Foster Wallace’s last book for ages, and this past weekend I finally dove in. References to suicide were omnipresent, which was distracting given that they often appeared seemingly arbitrarily within similes and metaphors, unrelated to plot or character (although always related to theme, because killing oneself is a plausible antidote to boredom…).  Two sections stuck with me, both toward the back of the book where the writing got choppier and narrative threads started to come apart.  The first was a stand-alone short-story about a boy who tries to touch his lips to every inch of the surface of his skin.  The other was a long conversation between an affectless male accountant and a beautiful female accountant about the way beauty malforms social interactions and people.  I read both as mini-grotesques skewering self-love.

I’ve been struggling with character lately, as a result of an absolutely dead-on personal rejection from Strange Horizons noting that my stories lack tension.  Tension, to my mind, is most easily produced by putting distance between characters and their wants, a project about which I am deeply suspicious.  Literary devices that produce sympathetic characters are often facile (“just make X your POV character” counts as a method for producing sympathy, ferfuckssakes), and the number one trick is to give your characters “strong wants.”  Every writing advice book on the planet hammers this, and I got a heavy hit of it at both of the past two writing workshops I’ve attended.  Because it works.  It is a cheap trick, but it works.  Which to me says something horrible about the futility of human existence, since any enjoyment I take in reading about characters who want things and fight for their goals derives precisely from the fact that I feel utterly inert and lack any strong desires myself.  The ones I do have, I’m detached from, or are constrained in ways that make them difficult to fight for, especially in those recognizable ways that could power a plot.

Which is to say, the boy with the kissy-lips to me read as a send-up of this model of character sympathy I so dislike.  I was fascinated by this boy with his stupid, irrational desire to kiss all of his skin; the trick played out flawlessly, even when the want in question (the boy’s achievements, including kissing his lower back and upper chest, are meaningful only to him) is patently, uselessly inane.  This short piece, both in and out of context of the novel as a whole, comments on writing (especially memoir writing…there are many long digressions where DFW argues that Pale King is partly a memoir), which is itself an inane pursuit rooted in the close examination of oneself.

I wish I knew someone who’d read Pale King and might want to chat about it.  I have so many damn thoughts, and I want someone with whom to ping-pong.  I know serious critics have lost interest in Foster Wallace because of his suicide and resulting fame, and because he gets folded into the Eggers camp and its pursuit of an ethical sincerity/authenticity, but Pale King (to me at least) poked holes in the capacities of such a project.  It was more about the failures of the work of art (while being itself an incomplete, and therefor intrinsically “failed,” work) than about any radical potential for success.

Whyfore art thou blogging?

There are many specialized blogs out there: blogs about writing, or editing, or politics left and right, or literary theory, or philosophy, or the art of the book review.  I’ve known for a long time that I’m not doing this blogging thing right.  I hate flogging, for one thing, which is the usual raison d’être for maintaining an author blog.  The blog predates my first acceptances, too, so I use the term “author blog” loosely.  I’m ostensibly a nonfictionist (although I’ve been in crisis about that pigeonholing for a while now); I should be better at this, I suppose.  And I do like building weird little narratives of observed phenomena.  My favorite posts are those ones.

Plus it was absurd fun Worldcon- and Clarion-blogging, even though on both counts I felt the need to be HYPERBOLICALLY!  UPBEAT! in a way that is unduly uncritical and therefore less than honest.  I’m a coward, is all; I don’t particularly enjoy Internet flame wars, for all that I was one for Halloween last year.  It’s easier and less time-consuming to be just be kind in the first place.  Except that “kind” too often means “uncritical,” and I’m finding blogging less and less fulfilling the more I pull punches.

So what the hell is the point of this blog?  Well, it’s put me in contact with several writers I wouldn’t have e-met otherwise.  It’s kept me in touch with friends and former students, which is a lovely side perk.  But mostly I blog for my mom.

I know, we’re supposed to be beyond that.  It’s a cliché workshop gag, “this is an essay only your mom could read through to the end,” or “I’m assuming you showed this to your mom and no one else,” etc.  I used to show all my writing to my mom.  Her, and my best friend Rhin.  I don’t anymore, because I’m producing too much of it and they both have exciting lives of their own and don’t need a side job revising my effluvia. Am now at a place of “read it when it’s published or it probably wasn’t worth reading in the first place.”

My family was out of the country all of last year, and I’m living many states apart from them still, and this blog is a chance to narrativize the minutia of my life, those things that are too dull or silly to warrant a phone call, but that let me open a window onto my daily life, for those people I love but who live far away.  People whose daily lives I used to be a part of, but for whatever reasons am not any longer.  Especially my fam.

If I were better at self-promotion (if I gave a shit about promotion rather than viewing it as a necessary but wholly evil blight) I’d broaden my audience focus.  Navel-gazing does not make for fascinating blogging, I know.  These posts are not crafted shiny pennies; they’re uninterpreted neural scans fresh off the MRI machine.

But for those few people who read this, I’m grateful.  In a perfect world, all my far-flung friends on many continents would blog back, and I’d get non-FB updates on their lives, little narratives rather than 100-character Tweets and status updates.  Since I can’t remake the social media landscape to suit my aesthetic preferences, though (yes, I like tiny narratives over one-sentence blurps; sue me), I’ll just be here, quietly navel-gazing.  But if I know you, and we’ve needed to catch up for months, and oh it’s so hard to pull off Skype or a phone call, consider: I WILL BLOG STALK YOU UNTO ETERNITY I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING.  Half of you suckers have blogs that you no longer update.  Get on that shit.  I’ll probably even comment.

Oh, and: hi mom.

One of my very favorite xkcd’s.

For love of crit.

This weekend, all I have done is read and write criticism (well, okay, also a bit of revision on creative work.  But).  Post-Clarion and post-exams both involved fairly serious crises of confidence.  I wrote through them, and said crises now seem to be dissipating to manageable levels.  For a few months there all I could do was read.  Then I got my writing routine back.  Then I started subbing again.  The one thing that kept hanging out on the periphery, refusing to come in from the cold, was my critical work.  I kept opening my exam paper draft, knowing I should revise it toward publication, but I couldn’t see how.  Not a clue where to begin, what to change, or even how I’d managed to write the damn thing in the first place.

Then this weekend I binge read a ton of nonsite and Post45 and a whole pile of articles on postmodernism and magical realism and my brain remembered how much it loves this stuff.  Wrote out a revision plan and some new sentences this morning after hacking and slashing through my old draft.  It’s a mess.  How could I ever have thought it was coherent?  Ack!  But no matter.  Because I can see the damn thing now, and that means I can start wrangling it.  I’m sure that just like my creative work I’ll probably have to ruin it completely a few times before I figure out how to fix the various gaping logic holes I papered over in order to pass exams, but I’ve regained my enthusiasm enough that I can open the document without experiencing sinking dread.

Why my brain has terrible timing:  The two professors I worked with on said paper?  One is on leave next semester, and the other is preparing for maternity leave.  Now that I know my revision process a bit better, I generally need 3-6 months to be able to see a draft clearly (creative or critical), and then another 3-6 months to implement revisions.  So I should be done revising right about when they both become totally unavailable.  Sigh.

Also wrote up an abstract for submittal to a local conference, read through several friends’ manuscripts I’ve been meaning to get to, and subbed a few new things.   This week has also been the first in over a month when I haven’t felt crippled with near-constant sinus headaches. I acquired some wicked meds from the doctor on Monday, and they seem to be working.  It’s amazing how much more effective I am when not fighting through a wall of pain.  Should’ve done that weeks ago.

The rigid academic boundaries set up between criticism and creative work kept me from seeing this for far too long, but as often as I say that all I want is time to write creatively, it’s a lie.  I had this realization right before WorldCon: I love criticism just as much as my creative work, and I’m unhappy when one comes at the expense of the other.  I need a balance, which means setting aside some time each week for reading critical work alongside fiction/creative nonfic (this I’ve been doing anyway) and for critical draft generation alongside my creative writing time (which I haven’t been doing).  Everything I learned during exams I’ve allowed to atrophy.  No wonder I’ve been feeling so envious of my creative colleagues publishing on BigOther and HTMLgiant, and so lachrymose about my academic prospects in general.  Well, no more of that nonsense.  It’s terribly hard, and I keep falling down and disappointing myself (and others), and I’m awfully late to recognize the obvious, but ever so slowly I’m piecing together the life I want for my futureself.  Crit or bust.