it’s almost spring trash day

It’s almost, marginally, spring here. It’s nice. I’ve been pretty much stuck in the house though, dealing with various illnesses, desperately trying to finish various articles for various books, and adjusting to this home office thing, which has its pluses and minuses, and the wrinkles of which I really want to sort out before Patty comes home in about a month. Home. Patty. Good. She’s really awesome, you know.

Astounding actually. She just called me. She’s in Mumbai. She’s not supposed to be in Mumbai. She’s supposed to be in Baroda, having taken an overnight train from Delhi last night. Since the ticket indicated a boarding time and end time, 8:30am, she assumed that time was when she’d arrive in Baroda. Nope, train stopped at Baroda in the middle of the night and she woke up in Mumbai. But, friends from her dig have family there, she’s been well taken care of, and she’ll get on a train to Baroda tomorrow.

If it were me, I’d freak out. But she’s good.

Now, on to stuff….

First thanks for being so totally awesome and engaged with the big post about and the link to the mourning work yesterday. I spend a lot of time having certitude about this stuff and being shameless about this stuff, but it’s also deeply scary, vulnerable space for me, on intellectual and professional levels as well as personal ones.

Next, speaking of Bristol-related stuff, Ika Willis has a great post about the horror of hate speech delivered in a reasonable tone, and that thing where queer people are expected to do hard, unpleasant work that should be unnecessary, for free, to spice up someone else’s “conversation” about hate (now with correct URL, sorry about that). No thanks.

In the department of things that make me uncomfortable, things that also remind me of home (even if I was an interloper, even if I am 10 years older than everyone in this article, even if the name makes me shudder): New York’s newest list of 400 to be on, the Native Society. Mostly this reminds me that I need to decide whether I am going to the Hewitt reunion this year or not (although I certainly won’t make Patty suffer through it again; she can rescue me after).

I’ve decided that to go with my suits and other anachronistic habits, I want some letterpress business cards. Recommendations, anyone?

Today’s crowdfunding link is about bread. Really. Bread. I can’t eat bread, because I have celiac disease, but if I could eat bread, I would eat this bread, so folks — get some bread! (Seriously, once Patty is home I may order some for her).

Can we talk about Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull? Because that is some masterful design work (both makeup and costume). It’s also dark. Powerfully so, in that troublesome way where the bad guys always have the best outfits (see: Jack’s coat = awesome; John Hart’s coat = AWESOME). I’m fascinated, both in fact and fiction, about the marketing of evil, both as evil (as happens with villains in fiction) and as the supposedly right thing that’s actually horrific beyond previous imagining (which is generally the insidious way it goes down in non-fictional life). Fascinating stuff on the screen, even more fascinating, I suspect, when it comes to the reception it’s getting and is going to get (I had a long, enjoyable email thread with Christian yesterday about Bad Things That Will Happen in Fandom Regarding This Character and Why We Should Write a Torchwood Battles the Red Skull Fanfic immediately). Who are the bad guys that keep you awake at night, not because they are too terrifying (and they are), but because they are too fascinating for your comfort?

Finally, there’s this awesome search string that keeps sending people to this journal: “In what ways can we look at fiction as history?” I’m sure there’s some actual scholarship on it out there, but once I crawl out from under all these deadlines, I’m going to take a stab at my own take on it, because I adore the question so much.

On that note, I need to go finish some stuff so Kali and I can get back to our book, which is all about the uncomfortably human lives of some mostly awful (and evil) people, and Erica and I can get back to our musical, which is about some people that aren’t awful at all, but get vilified for the work they do and the concerns with which their lives and bodies provide them.

the activism trap

Being an activist can really suck. Let me show you how.

I’m engaged with anti-bullying efforts for a bunch of reasons. This includes the fact that I was severely bullied as a kid, as a teen, during university, and periodically as an adult on the wonder that is the Internet; that I find working on anti-bullying initiatives healing; and that I believe my way with words and openness can help the cause.

But at core, the reason I want to stop bullying is so that people who are awesome have the space to do awesome stuff. It’s hard to make art, do research, be an awesome friend, teach kids, help animals, strive for political reform, provide awesome customer service or do whatever it is you do if you’re being bullied and recovering from being bullied. The best reason to support anti-bullying is so that more people have the space to be the most awesome versions of themselves they can be.

The thing is, when I spend all my time talking about stopping bullying or anti-gay harassment or sexism or transphobia or whatever thing I feel its critical to speak out about (and feel capable of speaking out about — there are lots of issues I support where it’s probably better for me to let other people speak while I keep learning), I don’t have time to do my awesome stuff. And then it’s a little bit like the bullies have won, because they’ve forced me to abandon my agenda and will for the purpose of responding to their actions and arguments.

This really sucks. And it’s emblematic of something I think most activists face at various times. From feminist advocacy to fighting poverty to stopping racism — when you have to be an activist all the time, it’s easy to lose the benefits you’re supposed to enjoy from that activism helping to make the world better. Balance is key, but, in a cruel world, pretty hard to come by.

Which is why I really want to stop talking about the Buffy thing (here, have a summary from someone who was there and isn’t me), because I feel that particular activism trap closing in around me. But, that said, there are a few remaining things I do want to address.

First, thank you for keeping it civil. While a few comments here have made me angry or upset, and while I disagree with some opinions I’ve seen expressed, no one really crossed the line in discourse here. That’s awesome, and I totally appreciate it.

Next, about that argument where you say, “Well, I want to take this person at her word, but she sounds awfully emotional, and therefore I can’t.” — That argument is a misogynistic rhetorical device that often gets pulled out against women who are upset and not against men who are angry. It’s happened in various branches of this discussion (which is now happening across Whedonesque, several blogs, and Livejournal). It’s an effective rhetorical device due to the way we treat women in this world, but it’s not actually good argumentation. It’s also angry-making. Please knock it off.

Additionally, I am really trying to avoid making a post about the whole “toughen up” thing and why it’s so problematic, as, again, I don’t want to get sucked into the negative self-impact activism trap I described in the opening of this post. However, it’s important to me that you understand the following things: First, there is no universal standard of appropriate emotional feeling; just as the Goblin King asks Sarah in Labyrinth what her basis of comparison is when she declares, “It’s not fair,” I would ask you what yours is when you say someone is over-sensitive. Second, it is my sensitivity that allows me to do what I do for a living — writing stories, examining pop-culture, performing, and eroding the artificial boundaries we’ve set up between scholarship and sentimentality. (A theoretical excess of) feeling, just like anything else, can be a tool, an advantage, and a weapon; it’s certainly one of mine. Trying to stamp it out or devalue it, isn’t just nasty, it’s illogical.

Finally, stop with the “free speech” and “censorship” noises. I’m a trained journalist. I give to the ACLU, and I am, like Rachel Maddow, an absolutist about free speech in the legal sense. Wanting to have as little government regulation of speech as possible is not, however, inconsistent with wanting people not to be egregious to each other; encouraging people to be civil in public; telling people to knock it off when I’m offended; and using the tools I have available to me to manage speech in the online venues that I host. Arguments to the contrary are disingenuous, and beyond this statement, I will not engage them.

What would I love to see going forward? I’d love to see more discussion, in general. Just hearing all these viewpoints (which are not split into two camps, but run a wide gamut) is, I think, valuable to everyone. I’d also like to see, as Chip from Two-minute Time Lord and I discussed late one night at this year’s Gally, con panels that have historically been about fans behaving badly branch out into discussions of how we can make things better.

I would also like to see discussion from activists of all stripes talk on how we can work hard, avoid burnout, and reap the benefits of the change we are trying to create in the world while continuing to be activists. It’s hard stuff, and we’re all still learning.

Now I’m going back to explaining why Sarah Jane Smith’s status as a journalist proves that the Doctor is real.

wizards, witchery, and my desperate need for a haircut

Home again, home again, and back in the office, to do a little bit of work before it’s home to finish a first draft of one of the two major bits of writing I need to finish in the next eight days. Yes, I’m terrified. But I’ll get it done, because this (writing on really tight deadlines) it what I was trained to do.

Those tight deadlines mean that I’m not rushing out to do the thing (other than going to see The Eagle) that I’m dying to do this week, which is cut my hair. If you were at Gally, you might have noticed I was looking quite a bit shaggier than usual. There was a reason for that, and I’m been trying to find a way to explain it without looking like much more of a mad(wo)man than I already am. But, I’ve decided I don’t care, as it’s on point to some of the things I was saying about Doctor Who the other day.

When I first started acting, I had this moment, sitting in a theater watching the credits roll on something or other than there were three directions I would work with, somehow, sometime. This wasn’t just an expression of desire in my mind, but a fact that had simply not yet come into being (remember what I was saying about all times are now?)

Those directors were, and are, Sam Mendes, Todd Haynes, and Baz Luhrmann. Folks that know me know that I got my first screen credit in Revolutionary Road, putting me a 1/3 of the way to this thing I decided on in a moment of sentimentality at a picture I can’t recall (although I am alternately sure it was either Haynes’ Far from Heaven or one of the Lord of the Rings films). That this first screen credit also came to me for dancing, for doing the first thing I was ever good at and the first thing I was ever trained to do, also meant so much to me. The residuals checks aren’t bad either (and conveniently timed! One was in the mailbox when I got home from L.A. last night).

But beyond that, I haven’t really worried about it. Some auditions that come up I want more than others; such is the way of the world. But I’m always busy with something in my many ambitions, even if it’s not acting, and I am largely content. Living in New York gives me a certain sort of out. If it’s not filming here, it’s largely not my problem. If it’s not filming in the U.S., then it’s really not my problem — I don’t have to worry about success or failure; the option, in these circumstances, isn’t even on the table.

And then Baz Luhrmann started making noises about The Great Gatsby and moved to New York, and my brain exploded. Because who mostly gets work in non-contemporary films? That’d be me. And who dances? Surely Gatsby would need historical dance. And hey, I live in New York and always, always get cast high status. I was thrilled; I was terrified; I was, oddly, trapped in Switzerland at the time, moaning at my friends in email about the gossip sheets and everything that I was missing. All I could do was not cut my too-short-for-the-period hair, which has since been going through an awkward stage both in terms of shape and gender.

Gatsby was on, Gatsby was off. Christian was telling me to cut my hair anyway. Everyone else I knew was sort of rolling their eyes but also totally understanding of my need to look right should the opportunity arise; not cutting my hair was nothing compared to that business of running away to Australia to study at NIDA in 2005. Patty, when I called her at her dig site in India, sweetly and dutifully said, “Poor baby,” when I complained about the state of my shagginess.

Then, while I was at Gally, the story broke (again): Gatsby‘s on. And shooting (apparently in 3D, but that’s a subject for another post) in Australia. My first response was to punch the air, because my hair has really, really been driving me ’round the bend. And my second response was to weep. And when I told Marci about it, who said all the right things in that sorry-like-you-say-when-someone-dies way, I said, I guess some relationships are always better with longing and thought both of the celebration of longing that is the Whoniverse (hey, I was at Gally) and of my very weird and difficult and solitary previously mentioned month down in Sydney. I even found myself missing Bondi Beach, which was the one place in my beautiful borrowed city I sort of hated at the time — too West Coast for this New York creature.

Righto. So no more Gatsby fears for me. No more terror of not getting the chance or getting the chance and not being good enough. Now, I just get to cut my hair, look forward to the next picture from one of my favorite directors, and not have to listen to “When I Meet the Wizard” from Wicked on repeat to remind myself how easily the people we admire can let us down just by virtue of being human.

I’m oddly content with that. For now. But I still remember sitting in that theater all those years ago as the credits rolled on some film I’ve misplaced in my head. And it’s with great and wacky relief that I can tell you my certitude hasn’t changed. But, oh man, I am so glad to be able to do something about this crap curling on the back of my neck. Now the only lingering question is what the hell to do about my grey.

But whatever the answer is, it can wait until March 2, after I’ve made my editors happy.

Greetings from sunny L.A. trash day

I’ve had less than six hours of sleep. My voice had already dropped half an octave from overuse and exhaustion. I’m having menstrual pain so bad everything from my ribcage to my ankles hurts. And I really, really miss Patty. On the other hand, I’m at Gallifrey One and I have a pin that says If you meet Ianto Jones on the road, kill him. It’s philosophical and preserving the time-line all at once!

I’m more disconnected from news media than I’ve been in ages. That feels needed and welcome, but also weird. There’s important stuff going on in Bahrain (where doctors are being beaten by authorities for trying to treat injured protesters), Yemen (which is often considered too poor, too tribal, too unmotivated, and too risky to have democracy to garner the coverage it deserves), Iran (where gathering and transmitting news about the scale of the current protests is extremely challenging), the rest of the MENA countries, and Wisconsin. Do me a favor and check out the big news stuff before you play with my links below. Even if you’re no where near any of tose places, this is your world and there is stuff happening in it.

Meanwhile, you may agree or disagree with whether Detroit Needs Robocop, but Detroit is getting Robocop. Lots of people have gotten on board, and the money has been raised.

Also in the realm of crowd funding, a buddy that I know via Gallifrey, Salina, is raising funds on IndieGogo for her film about DADT, Resistance.

Come to think of it, I know a lot of people because of this con. That includes some of the folks who make Yipe!, a pro-quality fanzine about costuming. Get some.

Next, in the department of things I thought EVERYONE on the Internet knew, but chitchat at LobbyCon last night revealed those who had not yet heard the news: Dogs in Elk. Before there was Hyperbole and a Half, there were two dogs stuck in an Elk ribcage and a human about to host a dinner party. Hilarity and less than helpful advice on the Internet ensues.

Finally, in today’s wealth of random, last night I was introduced to multiple mixes? mash-ups? — this is a corner of the media world where I don’t know the right terminology — of Enya and Prodigy. More specifically, “Orinoco Flow” will now be stuck in my head FOREVER. If you Google on this you will find many, many variations on a theme, but I haven’t found the AMAZING one I heard last night to link you to yet (because I can’t remember the URL I was told). But it’s out there, and I’ll get you an update at some point. You should, however, be able to manage some satisfaction on your own.

The Duchess and being mercenary by the year

I have just watched, in the name of research, both Gosford Park and The Duchess. Even as they bracket the time periods which Kali and I are smushing together for the novel, they both speak to it in that they are stories where no one is happy and everyone is constrained by matters of class and gender.

While Gosford Park is, by far, the better film (and I will readily admit I could watch Clive Owen read the phone book), it was The Duchess, which is deeply flawed in its structure (is it about the illicit romance between Georgiana and Gray or is it about the home situation between the Duke, Georgiana and Bess? — the film chooses one, and then when that seems unlikely to be as marketable or as easily a subject for a PG-13 rating, it chooses the other and becomes a bodice ripper before reverting back to its original trajectory), that is sticking with me in a way that is, actually, quite a bit miserable.

This sense of misery is, of course, ludicrous. A film about a vastly confining, misogynistic world I’m perfectly familiar with? Why should I find that troubling, when I not only know a bazillion versions of that story, but am, in fact, often engaged in creating similar stories.

But I suppose this is what is successful about The Duchess and, I suspect, why it was so poorly reviewed — not because of its structural flaws, but because it renders more successfully than many other films the confinement of the women of its story. For the tragedy is not that Georgiana is treated terribly by a man she loves, but merely by a man she is giddy to be chosen by as a child.

It’s the film’s rendering of her feeling of it being some sort of coup that she’s chosen, based essentially on no specificity of her own, to be a Duchess that makes it so effective. Even when I didn’t care about the affair with Gray or lost interest in the not-as-well-rendered-as-it-could-have-been friendship with Bess, I remembered that — those first 15 minutes of the film, that made me so shamefully curious, as I often am, of what it would be like to live in a world where one has but a single, clear, and universally accepted purpose regardless of what you get up to instead.

And yes, yes, I know it would be dreadful. Please don’t give me that obvious lecture. Obviously, it would be stifling. Obviously, I also wouldn’t even be of that class. But I just can’t help but wonder what it would like to have goals simple, clearly-articulated, and pre-chosen for me.

To be honest, I think a lot of women wonder about this; I think we’re often subjected to the suggestion that it’s reasonable for us to doubt the goodness of choice in our lives. And while that suggestion is almost always malicious in its intents, I don’t think the questions the suggestion leads us to ask are inherently bad. I mean, women in Switzerland didn’t even have the national right to vote until the 1970s; the world for my sex can, I think, always be different, in really terrifying ways, in a heartbeat. If it couldn’t, we wouldn’t have all these end of the world films in which women are some sort of chattel within a week and a half of civilization’s breakdowns.

Look, I’m just so fucking scared of medical stuff, you know? And surely there were young women terrified of the idea of childbirth in 1795 and did they just think, they would endure whatever physical miseries were involved with the process so they could have an heir, get a nice check or the house or the piece of jewelry and then be left to their own devices?

I just wonder what it’s like to be so mercenary with one’s body, not one hour or evening at a time (a mode not difficult for modern people to understand, I don’t think), but one year at a time — I mean, a year is an eternity in our digitalness, isn’t it? I have a very good imagination, but that one (marital relations and childbirth out of duty and for the paycheck gift) is truly beyond me, which may be, in fact, why I generally find it easier to write men, at least when working out of the here and now; it is easier for me to pretend that their choices and joys might be things I’m more likely to understand.

all things imperfect and poisonous

Books are dangerous. And that’s a good thing.

I talk a lot about how stories have shaped me, how they have, in their way, saved my life at various times. It’s entirely true, of course, but it’s also a simplification and so much prettier than the truth. Increasingly, I also think it’s a disservice to stories — stories I love and stories I want to tell. We’ll get to why later.

Right now I want you to know that stories have saved my life.

They’ve also made me cry and made me angry. They’ve made me feel alone, ugly, scared and victimized. They’ve made me ill. They’ve made me fall in love. They’ve taught me how to seduce, how to lie, and oddly (and this is totally true) how to ride a horse. They’ve made me victorious and taught me a thousand names for my otherness.

Stories aren’t comfortable — they are what we can be, what we were, what aren’t, what we desire and what we fear. And it should, I think, go without saying that not all stories are for all people and not all people have the same tastes and needs in stories.

Despite the large amount of fan and pro work I’ve done related to the Harry Potter series, I’m not a huge fan of YA. I don’t usually read it unless pressed by those close to me (who are, as a rule, fans). So I don’t really have an obvious personal investment in the controversy regarding Bitch Magazine‘s list of 100 YA Books for the Feminist Reader. I haven’t read most of the books on the list, and I probably never will.

But how the list got put together and how it seems the list got changed, is deeply troubling to me.

Stories, like words, have a great and terrible power. Some of us want stories that show the world at its best and some of it at the worst of its worst. And both of those types of stories, among hundreds of others, can provide the same value and feed the same personal, individual need for various individuals. It troubles me, deeply, that it seems (again, remember, this is Not My Area of Expertise) Bitch decided that some stories that show the way the world can hurt, simply can’t help. Anyone. At all. Ever. Because for some people, not all people, they were harmful.

Here’s the thing. I write stories about terrible people. Kali and I write stories about terrible people in terrible worlds. We write about colonialism. And racism. And there is misogyny in the plot of the book we’re working on so horrible sometimes it wakes me up in the middle of the night. And we write that stuff not because we advocate it, nor because we want to provide a transparent object lesson in its horrors. We write that stuff because we have a story to tell, not about a fantasy world you will long to live in, but one which, like historical reenactments, seems beautiful until you realize how if you were there it would chew you up and spit you out and grind you into the dirt and never respect you for a second. It is the world not as we wish it were, but as we believe it already unfortunately is.

So our thing? That’s not going to be a story for everyone. And, to be frank, I think we might be concerned if it were. But it’s something we find value in working on from our own personal intersectionalities of privileges, marginalizations and experiences — stuff that we certainly have overlap on in some regards, and stuff which we totally don’t in others.

I ultimately can’t tell you if the books that first were and then weren’t on the Bitch list are good or bad books. Or take, as opposed to show, views that can only cause harm. What I can tell you, is that orthodoxy when approaching the complex intersections of art and social justice, can be really harmful to both art and social justice.

I love, for example, C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen. Aside from a fabulously constructed narrative that can’t but appeal to a Cold War baby like me, it has helped me internally address female power, concepts of ownership and loyalty, and the consequences of being smarter than the average bear. It’s also a book that has a lot of profoundly ugly moments surrounding consent and sexuality, and it’s not a book that could have told its stories without those moments.

Too, I think of the film of V for Vendetta. While flawed, I find its rendering of Valerie’s Letter near perfection, and, as such, it is profoundly important to me as a queer person. Unfortunately, that sequence is almost impossible for me to watch. Due to my own medicalized childhood, I find it disturbing and personal to the point of inducing a feeling of nausea in me. It hurts me. It harms me. And I value it desperately.

Clive Barker’s Imajica also comes to mind. It is a book I’ve read a dozen times, but also once threw across the room because a private moment in it so reminded me of a private moment in my own life. It is a talisman to me, this story of a man who has forgotten who he is and a third-gendered creature whose true form can only be seen when observed desired by a third party. But, it’s also a book with a troublesome, at best, central Magical Negro trope (that one may or may not consider to be somewhat mitigated by the author’s personal life) and a pretty significant problem with women.

And then, of course, there’s Ender’s Game and everyone who grew up taking solace in it and then had to confront the reality of the beliefs of the man who created it.

Beautiful stories can be told by ugly people. Ugly stories can teach us beautiful things. And everyone’s mileage varies on everything, all the time. I’m someone who likes stories that jab their thumbs into my wounds; all readers certainly aren’t like that or don’t even necessarily have the luxiry of being like that.

But stories, from all sorts of sources and with all sorts of flaws, have saved my life. Sometimes by teaching me I was a fool. Sometimes by teaching me I was wrong. Sometimes by opening my wounds to get the shrapnel out. Sometimes by disappointing me. Or by shaming me. Sometimes, just by reminding me that I’m still here.

Stories that hurt us, and hurt our peers and groupings and compatriots, in ways that are not useful, in ways that are ignorant, cruel, exploitative, hateful, mean-spirited and just plain careless or lazy, are worth speaking out about, always. But I think it is so important that we remember not only that poison comes, unfortunately, in many forms, but also that some poisons have worth for some people in some circumstances precisely because they are poisonous; someone exactly like you may actually feel totally differently about a story you love or a story you hate or a story that caused you pain to no use or fairness.

This is a post, regrettably but necessarily, without a neat conclusion. It can’t have one, because this is not an argument about what Bitch Magazine should or should not have done or an act of advocating for some idea of what is and isn’t appropriate in either responding to art or in conducting social justice. It can’t be, because I am not only speaking solely for myself, but against the perils of orthodoxy.

Stories are complicated. So are people. Maybe that’s because they’re made up of each other.

news selection, narrative, fiction and non-

I have started, stopped, and restarted this post four times. Basically, all I’m trying to do is talk about Egypt, media, propaganda (as a value-neutral political marketing word), and news selection, about how history isn’t just written by the victors but by the editors.

The problem is that I’m exhausted. That the news hasn’t slowed down enough for me to eat a meal away from a screen (honestly, sometimes as many as three live screens) since the Giffords shooting. And I’ve been on the night-shift for the last week, covering Asia and Europe. Then on Friday at about 3am, I spoke to Patty in India who has no news access there, to tell her Egypt was falling.

Fundamentally, the unifying nature of all the stuff I do is that I’m interested in how we tell stories, whether they be fiction or not fiction. I’m interested in (although not exclusively) the space between what we think we’re talking about and what statistical examination of what we’re saying actually shows we’re talking about. When we talk about the news, we call this agenda-setting theory, although many of its basic principles can also be applied to fiction. Time, however, has a much different function when dealing with fiction over non-fiction because fiction is generally happening in a forever-past that is also a constant-now and non-fiction is generally happening linearly and currently.

When you choose what news to read to garner information about the situation in Egypt, you are performing an editorial function on behalf of yourself and engaging in news selection. When it’s easier for you (if you’re in the US) to access The New York Times vs. Al Jezeera, or you are leery of accessing Al Jezeera because of its association in the US with terrorism (which, if you’ve ever left Al Jezeera on for 24 hours like some of us also do CNN, you’d realize is essentially absurdist), you are being impacted by news selection activities from others that ultimately help dictate your own news selection choices. When you read an article or watch a TV report, no matter where it is, there has been news selection that impacts both the language used in that report, the prominence of the placement of that report in the media in question, and the decision to make that report available at all.

News selection is the central manipulation (again, used here, like propaganda above, as a neutral term) through which we understand the world. But, as viewer, we mostly don’t feel like this is the case. What we don’t see as or don’t personally select, we don’t consider; it is often as if the material we do not select never even existed to be chosen or not. So there is the news we see, and there is nothing. Even if we don’t trust the news we see, our ability to be mindful about what didn’t make the selection available to our personal experience is often incredibly low. That’s why agenda-setting theory is so compelling. That’s why the agenda matters so much.

Fiction can be considered in all the same ways (and on the many more detailed levels that also come into play with news-related agenda setting theory, but I’m not sure I’m getting there in this post). Story selection happens much the same way and is conducted by you, by writers, by editors and then by the journalists and pundits of fiction: critics and fan communities. How much screen time did Jack and Ianto’s relationship get in the first two seasons of Torchwood if we count it scene by scene or statement by statement? How much screen time does it get in fandom if I look at the number of fanfiction stories self-described as focusing on that part of the shows narrative? What does the audience member ultimately see? What was in the story or what they were told (or participated in telling others) was in the story?

It works with anything really. Compare how many statements in the Harry Potter books were meant to showcase that bullying was bad to how many statements showed characters you were supposed to view as heroes engaging in bullying without repercussion (another fun one there is to look at what the films say about tragedy vs. the books solely due to character age in the text vs. casting ages in the films).

Or, take a look at Buffy and Angel, do a gut check, and then see if that matches up with the focus the shows ultimately put on life vs. death. The message you extrapolated might be different than the one you were actively being told depending on where else you were getting information-selection on the two series.

The many iterations of Sherlock Holmes, particularly that of the recent BBC series, Sherlock, provides us with a particularly fun one if we look at, on a scene-by-scene or statement-by-statement bass, statements about character’s sexualities and compare those frequencies and shares to what goes on in fandom. Are the canonical characters that surround Sherlock in the narrative (that is, his fictional audience) queering him? Or is that solely an act of fandom (his non-fictional audience)?

News-selection and salience when compared to audience responses can have predictive qualities regarding media influence. They can also highlight, especially with regard to fiction, what are effectively optical illusions of the soul.

The place where this stuff can, and often does, intersect the most vividly is when we have news rounded up, tightly edited and set to music. It’s like the montages of those who died in the last year we get at the Academy Awards or in that “a look back at the year that was” stuff that airs non-stop between December 27 and January 3 because there’s usually little new news in the world when so many people (at least people with the power and resources to agenda set) are on holiday. These things are news selection on top of news selection: a greatest hits of the agenda, framed in narrative styles we more closely associate with fiction.

Mostly, I think of these things as interstitials and station promos that make me tear up if I watch CNN when I’m feeling particularly fragile. But thanks to the Internet, cheap and relatively easy video editing, and a world in which huge numbers of people outside of agenda-setting institutions (unless you choose to count the Internet as one), finally, have the power to be agenda setters for more than themselves, Tamer Shaaban has made this video about the current situation in Egypt. It is exceptional in its use of image, music, rhythm, and framing to connect the viewer not just to the events, but to a selected emotional state about those events. When I first saw it yesterday, it had 10,000 views. At the time of this posting? Nearly 200,000.

History is a type of story we tell. And it is told not just by the victors, and not just by writers, but also by editors. In the world as it is now, we are all, in one way or another, increasingly capable of being those editors, if only for ourselves. And that experience of the world, and our increased of ability to share that experience of the world, both helps us understand stories as they happen, but can, in fact, also help obscure them.

I can, for example, try to aggregate the facts that seem pressing and relevant to me from multiple broadcasts — which is one form of news-selection — or I can tell you that sometimes it seems that history (by which, of course, I also mean narrative, and mythology) focuses to a point always in certain places, like Berlin. And, this week, like Alexandria.

It’s all true, in its way. But is any of it accurate? If news is arguably a showcase for the public events of the human heart, are facts truly certain or viable? And if fiction showcases the truth of our collective longings, what matters more — the stories we’ve actually seen or the ones we’re convinced we did because they were what we wanted, so much and more than anything?

the summer of no sleep

It is, it seems, a universal constant that only -children seek or long for family additional to what we grew up with. Or so I have always heard. Certainly, my friends who are only-children (and that’s most of them) have long reported to me about longing for a sibling or two or, most particularly a twin. Despite also being an only-child, this has never been a desire I’ve particularly shared. Certainly, now that I’m older and my parents are also older, it would be nice to have someone with the same loyalties to them to share the stresses of their aging; and I make no secret of the fact that a lot of the aggravations of my childhood would be easier to put to rest if only I had someone to compare notes with regarding the indignities of six, ten or twelve. But I don’t, and it’s not a particularly big deal to me. Considering the richness of the fantasy lives I cultivate, this is, I suspect, somewhat notable.

What I do have, however, is a history of longing for creative family. I could blame this on the fact that my parents are both painters, or on the desire for the instant family of high school drama club that I observed but, despite being the in the plays, rarely felt a part of (although I did, that time someone sat at the piano and someone else plopped down at the drums and we all spontaneously sang “Ruby Tuesday” and later, at the cast party that same year, when we kept tormenting this kid named Jonah who was stoned out of his mind by telling him whales were chasing him). I could blame it too, I am sure, on the backstage narratives of so many musical I grew up with, around and in — shows like 42nd Street and Kiss Me Kate. I could also blame it, however, on the summer I only slept four hours a night, every night, because I thought that was how I was going to change my world.

This was the fault, indirectly, of our host over at InsomniBake. She conned me, despite my having thought I wanted nothing to do with it, into watching Moulin Rouge with her one night on DVD (that tango scene is a gateway drug). I dug it, and, because I have a fannish personality, I acquired a lot of info about it, its process and its creators, fast. I loved the idea that the director made it with his wife and that she (the amazing designer, Catherine Martin) was the one who kept winning awards for it. I loved that it was written with the director’s best friend. I loved that it seemed everyone on the team had some backstory, backstage, connection to everyone else. Over all, as a lifestyle choice, I decided it made artistic family seemed like the Best Idea Ever and somehow that never sleeping and making all the art ever was, inexplicably (oh, there’s an explanation, but it’s too absurd to repeat here), the way to go on making my little fantasy a reality.

When I think about it that way, in terms of how little sleep I had at the time, it all makes a lot more sense that, that was how I wound up with the lover in Texas I wrote stories with and who I wanted to move up to NYC to open a restaurant. Now, that didn’t work out by way of a lot of things, including an ill-advised wedding (not mine) and a very long bus trip to Texas (mine). But The Summer of No Sleep was also how I started writing with Kali (which has also been an evolution of relationships, and, in the interest of full disclosure of my pure loser-ish geekery, I will totally admit that I once dragged her to sit behind a table at a casting call with me and called her my designer just so someone could sit there and share with me the horror of what you deal with when you hold an open call in New York).

Patty and I, meanwhile, don’t particularly create art together. Not for other people, anyway. We do proof reading duty and talk ideas through with each other a lot, though, and we certainly do all that day-to-day art stuff that couples do with each other — the “this scarf or this scarf?” question and making up silly little songs for each other and cooking and telling stories in the dark. That stuff is totally art. Big art, sometimes; important art, always, and it’s nice to have art that isn’t for other people. Almost ten years ago in The Summer of No Sleep, I wouldn’t have really gotten how private art would be good for me, but that’s because I was a fool and in the throes of one of my things. The Rach & Patty Show, audience of mostly just us, is divine.

But I, somehow, wound up with collaborators anyway. The dude in Texas is often one of my first readers. Kali and I have a stack of projects we can’t get enough of. Erica, who I knew for two weeks through an academic friend and Inception: The Musical, jumped on the idea of Dogboy & Justine with an enthusiasm I’ll never stop being grateful for. And now, it seems, I’m doing some scholarly work regarding media with a collaborator as well.

When I look back at The Summer of No Sleep, which I do a lot, because it was very well-lit (that apartment was screwy but had great light) and I wasn’t working, so there was a lot of being in the city and thinking about conquering the world, it all seems very strange. Creative partners. Collaborators. Co-authors — all words that have cause to roll off my tongue a lot these days, because they are practical details in necessary professional and social conversations. But in The Summer of No Sleep they were pretensions, fairytales and fantasies, something the people who were there that summer won’t likely ever let me forget.

It’s not something I mind really. Because I still like the stories — the ones belonging to other people, the ones that were make-believe, the ones that didn’t quite happen to me or happen yet (gosh, I still really need to win the lottery so I can have my very own New York City townhouse in which to make things and have parties, ne?), the ones that got me to Australia and back.

That summer of self-imposed insomnia is a good reminder, too, that the only life you can have is your own. That you shouldn’t, as Dov Simens (I should really write about that 48 hours of madness sometime, but short version: thumbs up) says, compare your insides to anyone else’s outsides. And that you really can’t live a story you yourself aren’t writing, start to finish, with as many damn co-conspirators as needed in whatever configuration it takes.

P.S., Never take a bus from New York City to Austin, Texas. Ever.

Black Swan

Black Swan was one of those films I didn’t really want to see, but felt obligated to because of the reception its getting. But as someone who isn’t a horror fan, is/was a dancer and has sex with women, it seemed like a recipe for stuff I don’t care about getting it wrong.

Having seen it today, I’m still pretty ambivalent about it — in fact, I am grateful for how little it spoke to me personally — but I can say this: it didn’t get it wrong. At all.

The necessary full disclosure before I continue this is as follows: I was never a ballet dancer. I was never training to be a ballet dancer, although I did study ballet and do pointe work. My main focus was modern dance, particularly Martha Graham technique, and I was one of those people whose technique and athleticism were not perfect, but oh, I could make you watch me.

Black Swan is a horror film in the tradition of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. It’s about what’s real, external, supernatural horror, and what is a product of the mind. It’s a style of narrative that I understand both the appeal and horror of, but that has little interest for me. Everything I do is about the fine, fine line between fiction and non-fiction and to me what is interesting about liminal spaces isn’t confusion but overlap.

However, Black Swan is also a narrative about ambition, fear, mentorship, the rivalries of women, and what it means to be a dancer, a ballet dancer. And on those points, it nails the story its striving to tell.

The super, super weird thing about being a dancer is that you spend every, single second of the day making your body capable of extraordinary acts of beauty. It becomes a machine in serve to your art. And yet, it is never, ever yours. It is the dance’s, the teacher’s, the choreographer’s, the company’s, the director’s, and that of every single person who pushes you to do what it is a single hair from impossible.

Black Swan gets to that lack of self-ownership fast, and it’s not pleasant to watch. Because Black Swan isn’t about the beauty of submission or the (arguably) necessary brutalization of self in pursuit of high artistic success. It’s about abuse, debasement and the desire to disappear, not just into the work, but from the world. If you give up everything for the work, do you even exist without it?

The film is smart, stunningly so. As Nina seems to be slowly overtaken by the black swan, her skin ripples with goosebumps eager, it seems, to disgorge feathers. If you’ve ever been around a dancer as thin and spare as a ballerina must be, you know their flesh prickles like this easily at the cold — it’s damn hard to stay warm with virtually no body fat. The damage to legs, to feet; the issues of perfection versus desire; the self-abuse in the form of substances, sex, self-injury, and starvation; the acceptance of cycles of abuse, claiming, and disregard from others — if you’ve ever danced the way I danced, you’ve seen that stuff if you haven’t been involved in it yourself.

But here’s the thing — I don’t want to say that every dancer goes through this. I really, really don’t. And perhaps that’s why I’m so surprised that this film is such a success: why aren’t people angrier about this picture? Not of dancers, but of women? Can’t we have powerful female sexuality without it being the end of the world? Or mentors who use instead of elevate? Or women who are not starving, metaphorically or literally for love? Isn’t there any story of female ambition that isn’t about brutal, destructive, grade-school style rivalry? I get that good stories are all about anguish and extremes, but until stories about ambitious women have a narrative other than hate and self-hate, ambitious women are going to have to keep paying prices above and beyond the already terrible prices that the singular, monomaniacal focus that certain types of achievement nearly always require.

I liked this movie well enough. It showed and said true things and was well made. But one of those things is that achievement tends to cost women double. For me, that’s hard to watch.

But perhaps hardest for me to watch was the moment Nina locked herself in the bathroom to call her mother to tell her she’d gotten the part, and she’s whispering and sobbing because everything is different now. As someone who is still a performer and wants and wants and wants, I’ve pre-lived my own such moments in my head a million times. It was dead on. And even having gotten to the end of the film and being damn familiar with its truths, I’m writing this still wanting, still knowing, exactly what I’ll sound like the next time I get chosen.

I do a lot of stuff, in part, because “all I’ve ever wanted” is an idea that terrifies me, even if it’s an emotion I at least often think I feel. If it doesn’t already terrify you, Black Swan will probably fix that.

Really, really

A few days ago I linked to the story of Hadley Marie Nagel, a young woman who is about to come out at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. I posted the link because Ms. Nagel is a part of the world I grew up in, and I spend a decent amount of my time both on-line and off trying to convince people that my childhood really happened.

Not that I was a debutante. I wasn’t. That best that can be said about my breeding is that during an argument during the eighth grade a girl in my class said to me, “You can’t talk to me that way, I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution.” In the world of my childhood, she was absolutely, positively typical, and also completely correct. I did it anyway, of course, but it only served to prove the point. Should you want a shorthand version of my childhood, run out and rent Metropolitan immediately.

At any rate, I posted the article about Ms. Nagel not just to showcase the matter of the apparently secret to most people world of socialite culture, but also to make a drive-by statement about my own over-achieving ways, the hothouse of my childhood, and why I really do tend to feel like whatever I’m doing is not enough.

What absolutely shocked me was the responses — all no doubt well intentioned and sincere — my post received. Many people posited that Ms. Nagel must surely be miserable. Or that she has pursued the intellectual and creative activities she has solely due to parental pressure. People spoke snidely of the way the photographs were staged and told me I was surely happier than her.

And to me, it just seemed to weird, since there isn’t a single line in that article that implies Ms. Nagel is unhappy or is controlled by her mother. I’ve been dwelling on the matter for a few days, and have come to a few conclusions:

First, we never do see articles about the exceptional and varied achievements of young men. Ms. Nagel is, as the article presents it (I don’t know her or her family; I can take only the word of the The New York Times) exceptional, and arguably quite worthy of the relatively fluffy piece in question. However, surely young men like Ms. Nagel exist too. But as a culture we never seem to display them like show ponies, do we?

Second, while I have neither Ms. Nagel’s breeding or wealth, and therefore had somewhat less opportunity that her growing up (although I would argue I was more hampered by social awkwardness and not being P&G pretty because we are a “pretty girls are good girls” society), I’m not that different than Ms. Nagel. That’s sort of a weird thing for me to say, considering I first linked to her story as a way to tell people about how and why I feel inferior.

But the fact remains that I am a relatively successful overachiever. I’ve been in feature films, have a book out, have published essays, fiction and poetry in places of note. Have been and continue to be successful as a scholar despite a lack of training in that regard. Raised $6K to create a musical. Ran away to Australia to study acting. I have sampled and been reasonably competent at a wide range of somewhat obscure or rarefied activities. Let’s also not forget the travel all over the place all the time, often for professional reasons (and if not mine, then my partner’s whose adventures are even wider ranging than my own). Finally, let it be said, that even with its somewhat narrow appeal, I have a remarkable face.

The only reason the people in my journal think I’m different than Ms. Nagel is because in my journal I freak out about stuff and say fuck and worry about the crap anyone worries about. When I write about me, I write about my fear, a lot. When The New York Times wrote about Ms. Nagel, the thesis of the article was different, that’s all. I’m quite sure Ms. Nagel gets scared too; and that’s okay.

And to respond to articles about people who are Ms. Nagels with “Don’t forget she surely has all sorts of worries and insecurities and stresses that aren’t highlighted here” is entirely different from saying she’s miserable, not actually gifted, or controlled by her mother.

My point here is two-fold: Despite how I initially felt in response to the story about Ms. Nagel, I’m pretty awesome (that awesome, in fact, just in my own way), and it is time to stop cutting other people down. Specifically, stop punishing people for achieving more or differently than you and stop punishing women for being exceptional.

Because seriously? I’m sick of it. It doesn’t make people who have done exceptional things undo them. If it does make people who have done exceptional things stop doing them, then shame on you. And it doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t make you bigger. It doesn’t make you get the work done. On the list of things I want to be really good at, making other people feel poorly isn’t one of them, no matter how much I dig JK Rowling’s Severus Snape.

Yes, remembering that significant achievement can be the result of internal or external pressure and bring unhappiness is valuable. But some people do extraordinary things out of joy, boredom, or even reflex; there is a different between inquiring and judging, between cautioning and condemning.

When I was a kid, people bullied me a lot. I was funny-looking, awkward and had a terrible smile. I was too skinny and often assumed to be other than my biological gender. But my mother would always say that the other kids were just mean to me because they were jealous; I thought my mom was a liar.

But to a certain extent, she was right. It galled the other kids that I was good at stuff without effort. It galled the other kids that I’d work hard at some things just to be better than them out of spite. And it galled the other kids that despite all my not off the right menu traits, that I never quite felt sorry enough for myself to stop.

Sadly, I wasn’t just bullied as a kid. I’ve been bullied as an adult, and no where so much as online. I’ve heard I’m not really an actor because I’m an actor. I’ve heard I’m not really a writer, because I’m a writer. I’ve had my photos stolen and emblazoned with ugly model because I used to model for artists and even once appeared on a billboard in New York City. I’m told I’m not really a scholar, because I produce scholarship. I’ve been told I don’t really have a right to speak at conferences, because I speak at conferences. And that no one really likes my work, whatever it is, precisely because sometimes people do really, really like my work.

I am 38-years-old. I’m freakishly accomplished in non-traditional and varied ways. I have supportive friends and an utterly bizarre relationship with the Internet. I am ambitious both because I am still nursing childhood wounds and because I am skilled. Also, it is a reflex — I am bored if I am not.

Bullies are liars.

And parading accomplished girls around like show ponies is obnoxious.

But cutting people down to make yourself or your friends feel better is a societally-induced weakness that often has a remarkable amount to do with misogyny.

I’m going to try to knock that off. So should you.

Ms. Nagel, keep being excellent. You’re too busy for this nonsense. And so am I.