Snark vs. Smarm

There is nothing quite as wonderful as an essay that pinpoints something you hadn’t quite been able to put a name to previously, something that has been deeply bothering you in ways you couldn’t articulate. In this case, it hasn’t just been bothering me; it’s been obstructing my airways. This article, “On Smarm,” was like an intellectual Heimlich maneuvre. It’s long, but very worth reading for anyone who’s ever felt paralyzed by the demand to say something “nice” or say nothing at all.

Faced with that choice, I go silent very quickly. And I’m not a mean person, friends. I’m not. But it’s so easy to step on toes that you don’t even know are there – toes where there shouldn’t be toes! Most people have invisible toes, in absurdly huge quantities! If I am charged with the burden of never hurting anyone’s feelings EVER, I can’t do it except by staying silent. Indeed, no one can. Everything hurts somebody. People are amazingly woundable.

Before I posted that bit of mockery yesterday, oh the anxiety I felt! I was riddled with it. I almost didn’t publish, and even then I had to put that disclaimer at the beginning. Nothing but silliness to see here, folks. God forbid I should assert an opinion about something.

My anxiety isn’t all bad. It led me to make sure I focused my mockery at an idea – an idea abundantly deserving to be mocked, I must add – rather than a person. There were lines that bordered on meanness; I blunted those, or omitted them entirely. I think the results were good.

But maybe I don’t have to fret so much. When did I become so gun-shy? Eh, I know when, and I don’t really want to talk about it. But here’s the point: it has always been my rigorous belief that if I write honestly, I have nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes my honest reaction is mockery, or criticism, or anger. I never wish to hurt anyone, and when I do, I will face it and deal with it. But I don’t have to be stymied by fear.

Tip o’ the hat to Alyssa Rosenberg for pointing me toward that essay. She also thinks Seraphina would make a good movie, so you know she’s a person discerning intellect and excellent tastes.


Dogs Are People, Too

So sayeth an interesting NYT article about MRI scans of dogs’ brains. Of course, I suspect anyone who loves dogs could have told you dogs have emotions. I witnessed a display of unbridled canine joy just yesterday morning, when my husband returned from a week in Japan. It’s hard to doubt it once you’ve seen our whippet bounding around, running in circles, and frantically snuggling up to him the moment he sits down.

What’s more interesting to me in this article is the argument that emotions comprise personhood. In our household, we do believe Una is a person, but we would claim it’s because she has a “personality”. Emotional reactions are part of her personality, but not all of it by any means. The article, however, implies that emotion should make the difference between our treating animals as “things” and our treating them as “people”.

But should it? Are emotions the most important measure of personhood? I don’t mean to imply that I have the answer. This is something I think about a lot, however, and play with in my writing. I’ve created a species of dragon who do not experience emotions in their natural form, but are subject to emotions in human form, and find them profoundly disconcerting.

Are dragons in dragon form not “people”? I think they are. Is having emotions somehow superior? Some of my characters believe that, but I don’t. On the flip side, dragons sometimes don’t consider humans “people” – they’re too irrational!

The challenge and the goal, I think, is to accord respect – and a recognition of personhood – to minds that are different than our own. Even just among humans, there’s a lot of variation. Recognizing animal personhood may not be feasible until we can genuinely value all the different flavours of our own.


The real St. Gobnait

The St. Gobnait in Seraphina was inspired by a real Irish saint, whose church and sacred spring we visited years ago. Today (Feb. 11) is her holy day in Baile Bhuirne (Ballyvourney). Here’s an article mentioning Gobnait and some other ancient holy wells in Ireland. The Diocese of Kerry page has fewer pictures but is more informative. The last several paragraphs are in Irish, and are (according to my husband, my resident translator) a description of how to do the devotional tour. I will just bring your attention to a bit of Irish I understood, however:

If you do drink water at the well you take responsibility for your own well being!….. tá creideamh agus creideamh ann!

That is to say: there’s belief, and there’s belief! The well, as I recall, is at the bottom of a hillside full of cows. It was pouring rain when we were there. We didn’t sample it ourselves.

Beannachtaí Lá Gobnatan daoibh!


Happy Birthday Robert Burns!

In honour of the great Scottish poet, we’re having haggis tonight. My husband, always keen to try new foods, located a source of haggis, I bought one, and this afternoon I shall steam it.

I’m trying to decide whether to post pictures, or whether that would just disgust everyone. It is in an actual sheep’s paunch, yes.

My favourite part so far is the cooking instructions. It’s made by a company out in Maple Ridge, and it says right on the label: “Roanes cannot be responsible for the misuse of haggis.” So of course, I can’t stop thinking of ways to misuse it.

In any case, a good excuse for a little party, and for reading some good poetry. Here’s “To a Mouse“, which incidentally is said to have inspired Jethro Tull’s song “One Brown Mouse“. I love them both.


Don’t ask how I got here

Because I’m sure I don’t know. I think I was looking for spinet videos, as one does. I ended up at this, however: Handel and Scarlatti in a harpsichord duel to the death.

I assume the cheeky fellow with the moustache is supposed to be Handel, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I’ve never seen a picture of either of these gents with a moustache. The wigs, though. One wonders why those ever went out of fashion.

All right, one doesn’t wonder very hard.


I’m off to Calgary

Goin’ to Alberta soon,
Gonna be a dental floss tycoon!

Ok, maybe not precisely that, but I will be attending Calgary WordFest, giving exciting talks on the 10th and 11th. If you’re in town, come see me!

If you’re nowhere near Calgary, never fear. I will leave you with interesting things to read and think about.

First, at Lady Business, an informative post on Gender Balance and YA Award Winners Since 2000. I notice they did not include the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, so I include the stats here (with the caveat that some of the books may be middle grade and at least one looks like nonfiction) — 7 male, 5 female.

Zoe Marriot has some interesting things to say in response: Women Dominate? In What Universe?

Also buzzing through the YA blogosphere yesterday, an article from Read Now, Sleep Later about perceived stigma around the very label “Young Adult” – YA Shame and Stigma.

I come from comics and from SF/F, so I’m not entirely convinced YA has much of a stigma, or at least not universally. Sales don’t reflect that. Rapid expansion of the genre doesn’t reflect that. And honestly, are there books with NO stigma from anyone? Don’t we all turn up our noses at genres we dislike (or haven’t tried)? We are creatures of habit, and we prejudge things readily on little evidence. My personal stigmatized genres include “books where doggies die” and “adult literature that takes itself way too seriously”. I’m almost certainly missing a lot of great books because of these irrational biases, but what to do? I’m also missing a lot of great books by virtue of not having time to read them.

All right, darlings, take care. Be excellent to each other until I return.


Writing RUSH

If you know me at all, you know I love the band RUSH. I didn’t always; they put something in the water here to make you impress upon the first Canadian music you hear. Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been Bieber.

Anyway, I got their latest album, Clockwork Angels, for my birthday and have found it completely impenetrable. Now, I’m used to a certain amount of this from RUSH. All their songs sound like noise to me at first. This album, though, is requiring more stubbornness than usual.

So when I heard Clockwork Angels was also going to be a novel, I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t decide whether it sounded awesome or vaguely embarrassing. Or, y’know, utterly impenetrable.

Well, having read Anderson’s guest post over at Scalzi’s, I’m feeling somewhat reassured. The author really likes RUSH, anyway — in fact he seems to like a lot of the same prog rock as me. (Now I am vaguely embarrassed, because I actually had dinner with him in San Diego, and I didn’t talk to him at all. In my defense, I was at the other end of a long table, and I was exhausted, but still. I wish I’d made more effort). In fact, I only realized who he was (the writer of all those latter-day Dune novels) as I was leaving (before dessert, because I was exhausted). So: my apologies, Kevin Anderson. I hope we run into each other again sometime; I shall have more to say to you.

I’ll take a look at the book, certainly, but I reckon I should come to better grips with the music first. Still, super fun to read about the role music plays in someone else’s process! And it will be interesting to look for the music in the book.

ETA: thanks to Paige for the link!

ETA2: As my friend Dave astutely points out in the comments, before this album or its novelization, there was a wonderful graphic novel called Clockwork Angels by Lea Hernandez.


I’m trying not to waste time

But that doesn’t mean I can’t waste your time, right? You’re dying to procrastinate, I can tell. Well, I’m here to help, because I’m thoughtful like that!

At my son’s guitar lesson last week, his teacher showed him something called a “step sequencer”. Here’s a website with one you can use. Click on the squares and listen to the interesting results.

This keeps my boy busy for… well, for as long as I’m willing to let him play with it. Which is sometimes, I confess, probably longer than I should. But it’s fascinating, right? No matter what you do, it comes out sounding like music, and that gets one thinking about music. What is music, exactly? Why is this randomness (or not, depending how you approach your note selection) so musical?

Part of the answer is the regular rhythm. Part of it is the fact that they’re using a pentatonic scale, so none of the notes really clash. But part of it is, I think, the tendency of our brains to want to make sense of things, to gravitate toward patterns and find meaning in them.

My son enjoys drawing pictures and writing words with the squares. The result is the Smiley-Face Song, or the Sound of Hello. As intently as he listens, I sometimes wonder whether he’s trying to see if he can tell what the word or picture must be by listening, extrapolating backwards from the sound. I wonder whether that’s even possible.

Did I say I’m trying not to waste time? Apparently I can waste time without even trying!


Petit linkage

  • Fellow writer and internet pal Elizabeth May gives us Five Things to Consider When Creating Realistic Characters.
  • Irish YA author Peadar Ó Guilín is this week’s featured author over at Random Buzzers. His Bone World Trilogy features a cannibal as the main character, which sounds most excellently bizarre to me. The second book is called The Deserter, and I am so desperate to make a pun with the word “dessert” that you see, I’m not even bothering to set up the joke properly, I’m just flinging it out there. Make it yourself. It’s a good one.
  • Here’s a Medieval career planner, which will come in handy once my husband builds a time machine (thanks to Sonia for the link, IIRC). It’s a list of occupations, in fact, but it’s an interesting list and there are lots of jobs that I think should make a comeback somehow. Like “eggler”. Once again, I wish to compose a joke but am not getting very far. A bodger, a fewtrer, and a pavyler walk into a bar…
  • What? Working? Uh. Yes. Yes, I was just about to. Really.

Why yes, I did fall off the face of the earth

But now I’m back, briefly. It’s been a complicated week: Vancouver teachers were on strike for three days, so my boy has been home with me. I’ve been working hard on a super secret project (which may not be super secret in fact, but I’m trying to err on the side of caution these days), and it’s been rough going due to aforementioned boy and the nature of the project. And my own nature, let’s be frank. If you ever need a visual image for “slow and steady”, my picture is probably as good as anything.

Spring break starts next week, which means MORE boy-at-home. We’re travelling for the second week of it, so you may find that posting is light in March and that’s just how it’s gonna be. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; it means I have too much to do and too few brain cells with which to do it.

I leave you with what may very well be the best algorithmic Hungarian folk dancing you’ve ever seen (hat tip to my friend Josh).

Check out their other videos too. There’s nothing like mathematical folk dance! No, really. Nothing is like it.
 


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