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.

still worried about lunchroom hierarchies after all these years

“You always feel like you are in the wrong place at Davos,
like there is some better meeting going on somewhere
in one of the hotels that you really ought to be at.
Like the real Davos is happening in secret somewhere.”

– Steve Case, founder of AOL

It’s World Economic Forum time again, which means it’s time for the above quote from Steve Case, which I love oh so much. I’ve seen the quote mentioned a lot this year (although it’s from last year, if not earlier) in criticisms of the Davos event, but even without having ever been to Davos, I’ve never really felt like that was the point. Case isn’t complaining about the WEF event. Case is talking about the absurdity of human nature.

I’ve written about this before, in the context of telling you there really is no secret awesome party that you’re missing. I mean, there may be something you’re not invited to or don’t know about that’s all A-list and aspirational in your head, but really, it’s probably just the same as the party you’re at. Same social behaviors, same insecurities, same level of joy and fun and not.

The other thing Case’s quote tells us, though, isn’t just that this feeling never goes away – we are all in junior high forever – but that this feeling may actually get more intense the more successful, the more near the epicenter of supposed cool, we are.

It’s like how you can halve something infinitely, but it will never really be gone. Success is like that in one direction — how sure is anyone of where the top of the mountain is? And insecurity is like that in the other — none of us ever get to be free from all shreds of it all the time.

Currently, I’m in the place I’m often in, in the month before Gallifrey One, a Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles. I’m excited, and I’m full of dread. The Whedonistas launch is rad, and I’ll get to see some friends I only get to see out there, and I have some business to attend to in LA proper (and some non-business, in the form of ElecTRONica, because I am a big screaming nerd).

But I’m also worried I won’t be cool because I’m probably not cosplaying much if at all this year (although Christian’s been informed he can bribe me into my Captain Jack duds with a pin he’s threatening to make up that’s both snarky and zen on the subject of our dear, departed Ianto Jones), am not really doing panels this go ’round, and will be away from the hotel during the event far more than I usually am (it’s not just about In-and-Out Burger anymore!). I’m also worried that — well, I could enumerate it further, but why, when it’s actually so simple? I’m worried I won’t be invited to sit at the cool kids table.

Which gets us back to Steve Case and his comments about Davos. At an event teaming with celebrities, world leaders, and the best of the best in business all in easy arms reach, Steve Case worries about not being cool enough to mingle with the people he’s already mingling with. In regard to a con that’s largely about not creating hierarchy between guests and fans, in a fandom that is known for very significant levels of fan/creator overlap (guess how many current DW writers wrote for DW fanzines in the ’80s) and genuine friendships developing over these supposed lines of demarcation and reverence, I am, apparently, worried about the con not being exactly what it is? I’m worried about me not doing what I’ve always gone there and experienced? I’m worried about not networking with people I want to chat and network with precisely because I’m chatting and networking with those people? What? Time for me to stop being Steve Case.

Because seriously, being Steve Case — normally a pretty good, if slightly weird, aspirational blueprint. Not the guy I would choose as a role model, but I get it certainly. But Steve Case re: Davos? Maybe not so much, although I’m certainly feeling his pain on this one.

Look, the cool party generally isn’t that interesting (or at least not any more interesting than where you are instead). It’s probably happening right where you are, and that’s not just feel good rhetoric. But even if I’m wrong, whatever you do, don’t use the fact that you are having an experience to suddenly become fearful that, that somehow means you’re not having that experience. Because that? Doesn’t make a lot of sense. It also tends to lead to highly tortured sentences.

Meanwhile, I? Cannot wait to get to L.A. It’s snowing here. Again.

truth + fiction doesn’t just = marketing

In the world of fanfiction there’s fictional person fiction (FPF) and real person fiction (RPF). While fanfiction is often viewed with skepticism from people outside of the fan community in general, despite humanity’s long tradition of telling and retelling stories as social currency, RPF is often met, instead, with skepticism from people within the fanfiction community itself, while people outside the community don’t even really seem register it as so specific a category.

And, to be fair, on a pure gut level, sometimes I can find RPF to be really, really weird. But then, I’ve stumbled over stories about a person I went to high school with who is now famous and one about a friend of a friend’s ex that I once had beers with and found to be remarkably unlikeable. RPF, which is arguably about personas and the packaging of fame — when people write RPF they it’s possible (even quite likely) that they aren’t writing about real people’s fictionalized private lives so much as real people’s publicly fictionalized persona’s private lives — sometimes appears to drop under that layer of fictional truth for me, not out of speculation but because Oh my god, I know those people.

I’ve heard all the arguments about the morality or ethics of writing and reading RPF, and it’s not that I don’t think these are fundamentally important conversations on some level (and yes, I’ve thought long and hard about “Well, how would you feel if someone did it to you?” The answer? “Well, like I’d probably have a lot more important things to be doing than reading wank about me on the Internet if I were known enough for that to be going on.”). It’s just that I’m not that interested in those discussions of how not to be an asshole. Not being an asshole is good, but I’m not all that qualified to tell anyone how to do that, despite various attempts I fully admit to having made. Besides, from a thinky thoughts perspective, on this one I’m really, really much more riveted by — and useful to — talking about the critical implications around RPF.

Perhaps the most irritating aspect of RPF-related discussions is the degree to which people dismiss it as, “Oh god, more creepy porn on the Internet.” I think it’s pretty toxic how often both fan community participants and critics dismiss sexualized-content for irrelevancy because it contains sex. Our collective libidos are, among other things, narrative tools, and chucking a lot of fanfiction into the sex bucket and saying it’s not worth looking at from a critical position for that reason isn’t just one of those high-/low- culture false divides moments; it’s a sloppy misuse and abuse of data. The stories people feel compelled to tell and witness and share, whether or not they’re well-written, or whether or not you’re personally interested in them, or whether or not that represent masturbatory material for some people, represent a cultural map that it’s foolish to dismiss (even if I won’t read anything published on fanfiction.net either — I never said I wasn’t a snob).

Now let’s be clear, not all fanfiction, and, I find, particularly not all RPF, is porn. And even when it is, that porn is usually there in service to the idea of the backstage story (which if you’ve been following the development of Dogboy & Justine you know is a particular fascination of mine). And, conversely, not all RPF is fanfiction (e.g., works created on a not-for-profit basis by enthusiasts). Note the erotic anthology StarF*cker, which is fiction about sex and real famous people, but very much not part of the fanfiction ethos. In the less sex, but still definitely RPF department, what do you think Primary Colors was? Or the forthcoming O (not to be confused, amusingly, with The Story Of O)? RPF. Totally, totally RPF.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover how pervasive this trend has become; Steve Erickson, for example, doesn’t just use both historical figures and himself as a fictional characters in his novels, but also included personal encounters with Sally Hemings (a particular obsession of Erickson’s; she shows up in his novels too) in Leap Year, his arguably non-fiction book on the 1988 presidential campaign season. Other examples include the Aaron Sorkin Jed Bartlet advises Obama piece from the last campaign season and an article The New York Times also did on the real people as fictional characters in novels phenomenon, although I’m having trouble finding the link (please leave comment if you’ve got it!).

RPF is a real, saleable thing, both in its smutty and not smutty versions. None of which necessarily makes it less uncomfortable for many readers (or, even, in the abstract for non-readers). Nor should it. Part of the charge of reading RPF, sexualized or not, is, I think, that it is so profoundly unsettling and messes with our boundaries regarding what is real and what is true (two of my favorite categories for making Venn diagrams about stories). Another part of the charge is, I think, the violative nature of reading something and realizing that a particular fantasy, daydream or fear you have harbored is shared, is part of our collective story in the dark. It is the guilty that can bring the pleasure when it comes to RPF.

In the midst of hanging about on Twitter the night Countdown went off the air, there was a tweet saying that AC360 was going to do a bit on the Countdown thing, which got fairly widely misinterpreted as “Olbermann’s going to be interviewed on Cooper’s show.” Which, in the world of the Internet, or at least the people I talk to on the Internet, led me to make a crack about how Olbermann/Cooper would make certain corners of the Internet very happy, which led someone to reply with, “Have you read this?” and a link.

Obviously, I read some RPF. I’ve written some RPF (some of which you’d even be able to track back to me with ease). Some of that I have mixed feelings about. Some of it I don’t. But there’s ton’s of RPF I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole for no other reason than it squicks me. It doesn’t mean the story is morally or ethically wrong (for me or anyone else) or not well-executed; it just means that for whatever reason, sometimes one I can’t even put my finger on, there are some RPF places I don’t want to go unless I have to for some sort of scholarly/critical thingy. For me, pundit slash, as the world of RPF about political talk show hosts is called, is one of those no-go zones for me. I’ve no idea why, but so it is. This surely seems like a perfectly rational choice to many of you.

But I had a headache, and I was in a bad mood, and people on Twitter were like “You have to read this story called ‘The 28th Amendment,'” and I recalled that, that Barack Obama/Rahm Emanuel piece from Yuletide a few years back was one of the smartest meditations on ambition I had ever read, even if I did find parts of the story really, really uncomfortable. So I decided to give the rec from Twitter a go, and that’s how I fell down the rabbit hole of pundit slash on a Friday night, and why I’m writing this post and have a linky or two to share with you now.

One of the biggest problems for me as a (critical) reader of RPF is that I often feel like people who are trying to use RPF for commentary don’t know how to write a story, and people who just want to write a (hot) story, don’t necessarily know how to add criticism into the mix. That both those things should happen in RPF aren’t, of course, anyone’s requirements but my own, but hey, my journal, my pickiness. What’s so remarkable about “The 28th Amendment” (which imagines a The Handmaid’s Tale-esque religious police state in the US under a President Huckabee with our intrepid pundits (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Keith Olbermann and more) on the run), is that it knows how to do both. While I reflexively read it with an editorial eye (and there were things in there I would have changed or didn’t ring plausible for me even in the suspended-disbelief of the narrative, although it’s hard to say whether that was related to personal comfort or actual editorial consideration), the fact is, it was a well-told story that got under my skin for reasons that I am fairly sure were broader than liberal-paranoia and the fact that I read all sorts of stuff that freaks other people out on the Internet all the time.

Maybe, I decided, pundit slash wasn’t totally squicky. Maybe I should read more! So I started digging around on An Archive of Our Own and found a remarkable number of charming fictions about Rachel Maddow being a cool person to have drinks with, a BDSM-AU about various pundits, several high school AUs (a particular favorite of my partner’s), and an essentially general audiences Doctor Who/Rachel Maddow crossover. It’s a beautiful world out there on the Internet. Or something.

One of the views I have particularly little patience for is the idea that fanfiction isn’t real writing, that it is somehow “practice” for the “real” work you are obligated to aspire to do. Sure, writing fanfiction is one way to learn some craft skills, but to me original fiction and fanfiction are profoundly different endeavors that I engage in for profoundly different reasons. To me, fanfiction is something of an acting exercise: that is, how do I execute, in text, on a character whose blueprint has already been provided to me by a writer/director? While original fiction utilizes some of those acting tools, but also the structural components of the writerly and directorial eye. And I think it’s absurd to tell anyone they have to aspire to anything, especially when I’ve had so much experience turning something I love into a job — sometimes it’s still fun when you do that, and, sometimes, it really, really isn’t.

But I do think that people playing in the RPF sandbox — whether they be part of fan communities or not — would benefit from looking at the bigger picture. If you read Primary Colors, it’s absurd to snark on the existence of RPF in fan communities even if you’ve never read fanfiction and never plan to (because, guess what? In a way, other than that money was involved, you already have). And if you’re writing RPF and think it has to stay in the land of fanfiction but wish it didn’t? Well, sometimes it doesn’t have to stay there. And you should know that too (and I say this, particularly, to people writing historical RPF — have you read The Baroque Cycle? History is a playground! Although please, if we can avoid any more plays about six great minds from different time periods having a dinner party in Hell, I would love you forever).

Fiction appeals to many of us, often, because of the pieces with in it that could be or feel true, no matter how impossible or unlikely for us or for anyone. There is a reason, after all, why so many adults confess to still feeling at the back of wardrobes when they encounter them for the door to Narnia. So it makes just as much sense, really, no matter how discomforting it may be, that there is this not insignificant impulse to put not just truth in our fiction, but fiction in our truth. RPF is a corner of both the fanfiction and generalized fiction space that illuminates, with a sometimes queasy-making light, just why we read fiction and just how far away truth can seem.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a killer story sitting on my hard drive about once-was but no-more Ziggy Stardust David Bowie and Lady Gaga and matters of persona, mentorship, love and desire. Anyone want to buy it?

my own special comment

No matter how busy I am in my very hectic life, one of the few schedule things I try to do when Patty is away (when she’s home I certainly have other incentives to be home at a decent hour) is to get home in time to watch Keith Olbermann. I don’t always manage it, but I do try.

So imagine my surprise tonight when I got home ten minutes late for even the end of it to a stack of emails that basically boiled down to OMGWTFBBQ about the news-to-me announcement that tonight was the last edition of Countdown.

To be clear, because it needs to be said so as not to distract from the rest of this post, I didn’t always agree with Olbermann’s positions or the way he framed them. Sometimes, I found myself frustrated with him, both as an audience member and as someone who has worked in and about journalism. But, to be frank, it wasn’t strictly due to journalism that I had such an affection for Countdown. The reasons I did are complicated, personal, and often, a little bit silly.

I’m a lot more hesitant than I used to be to talk online about my education. The discussions tend to make other people angry, and me frustrated. But it suffices to say that I went to private school where an emphasis was put on all forms of communication. I wrote two-hour essay examinations in every subject but mathematics from sixth grade on, and took mandatory classes in subjects like rhetoric and Latin. Because of my education, I learned to speak in very specific ways that were designed to be assertive, excessively nuanced (sometimes for the express purpose of deception), and deeply attuned to cadence.

That mode of both speech and writing has been both my greatest asset and, often, a headache. It is a style that can make people bristle, both because it is sometimes somewhat impenetrable, and because it leaves little room for phrases like “in my opinion.” This education, this adherence to my education, has certainly gotten me into trouble more than once, and part of those occasions have also largely concerned the fact that I come in female form. This combination of gender expectations and personal delivery mechanisms hasn’t always been kind to me, and it is something I am, frankly, unwilling to modulate.

Countdown reliably riveted me because, for good or for ill, and whether or not I agreed him with on any given evening, Olbermann used language on that show in the manner I was taught to aspire to. The program was, especially in his finer “Special Comment” moments, the way I was told as a child the world was supposed to sound. As someone who has struggled with even the benefits of my education and the awkward way they intersected with the reality of the years I spent concurrent to that education in speech therapy, Olbermann’s rants often made me feel as if I am not as wrong to engage with language in the manner that I do, as I have often been encouraged to feel.

Many of the criticisms that seem to be flying about Olbermann with particular frequency in this immediate wake of the demise of Countdown also resonate for me. Olbermann is a celebrity celiac. And while he has noted on-air that he is lucky in that his symptoms are not as severe as many with the disease, and has generally been unspecific about those that he does endure, it is worth noting that my experience of celiac disease has been that I am subject to attacks of temper, cruelty and despair, particularly if I have been exposed to gluten (this is a recognized and common symptom). I spent decades of my life being labeled mercurial, unstable, angry, crazy, and dramatic, and huge swathes of that experience were related to my then-undiagnosed disease. Today, I can recognize the feeling of my mind and temperament being terrifying hijacked by any exposure to one of the world’s most common foods. I have no reason to know, and no comfort in speculating, as to whether Olbermann’s notoriously difficult temperament has any connection to the disease we share in common, but the mere possibility of it has been a private and awkward comfort to me, especially when I consider the more embarrassing and volatile moments of my personal history.

Finally, my affection for Countdown and my respect for Olbermann comes from my queerness. It’s not just that Olbermann did something significant when he delivered Special Comments wherein he, as a self-described straight man, choked up when speaking out about the wrongs of marriage inequality (although, that was pretty awesome). It’s that he has advocated for queer people from a presentation of not just heterosexuality, but of a somewhat classic (and yes, unfortunately at times misogynist) presentation of masculinity. I don’t like that the queer community needs allies that fit that blueprint — it shouldn’t be necessary — but in a world where it is, I’ve been glad that Olbermann has been that ally.

And that gladness has not just been because of Olbermann’s verbal agility, but because, and this is perhaps the silly part (although surely understood in its significance by other gender non-conforming people), he’s been one of my sartorial role models. Once I decided it was okay to present myself as male, masculine and/or in men’s clothing with some regular frequency in my day-to-day life, watching Countdown was a huge part of how I learned men’s style in terms of color, pattern mixing and cut in men’s suits, shirts and ties.

I truly am beside myself for, among other reasons, this loss of my nightly personally-queered fashion fix.

Snow-covered trash day

It’s really hard coming up with random adjectives for the weekly (good kind of) trash day. I just want you to know that. But it did snow here again last night. I don’t know if this is New York’s snowiest winter on record, but it sure does feel like it.

In personal news (let’s face it, it’s all personal news), I got to talk to Patty this week, in an entirely non-emergency situation. She’s doing great, and we’ll get to speak again this weekend. I’m not sure she entirely believes me about the snow, though — the winters she’s been here have been mild (the last bad one she was in Oman) and my capacity for dramatic narrative has never been low.

Last night Kali and I had one of the longest, and probably most hilariously inane, conversations we’ve ever had. I had to, for no discernible reason, know something about the sexual history of our main character, Arkady (whom I’ve written about in passing before, weirdly, in the context of DADT) before the start of the novel. She and I disagreed on a relatively minor point, but I needed to know, I needed us to be in agreement, and I needed to be convinced. 86 emails later, it’s finally okay, and I now know something that will probably never, ever even be mentioned in the book. Art: it’s not about efficiency.

And, on the subject of art, a friend of mine is making fantastical space terrariums with live plants. She says there are more coming soon. Explore the stars… in a jar!

Meanwhile, someone I’ve never met wrote something super sweet about Dogboy & Justine on their LJ today. This is why crowd funding matters for all participants (by the way, at least one of the projects I talked about supporting last week has achieved its funding goal!). I was particularly tickled that she framed her plans in regard to James Marsters. Because of the wonders of the alphabet, when we’ve both done the guest thing at the same con, we’ve tended to wind up right next to each other in the program book. That is, if my buddy Marrus doesn’t get between us. The whole thing always amuses me immeasurably.

And, speaking of cons, if you’ve been poking around at my relatively bare (I’m in scheduling limbo!) appearances page, you know that I’m participating in a book-launch event for Whedonistas at GallifreyOne next month. One of the authors who is supposed to be joining us, Teresa Jusino, is asking for help in getting there, as her original plans didn’t anticipate financial troubles before the trip. This is Teresa’s first easy-to-find hard-copy publication, so this is a pretty big deal for her. Check out her post and her stuff if you get a chance.

Speaking of hard copies, the first installment of Hold Something came, and I was the lucky winner of the bonus item this time. Weirdly, I knew it would be me when I saw Christian’s post, but we have a thing. Not a thing thing, but an affinity thing. Just… it’s a thing! Anyway, I won’t get reading time until this weekend, but it’s gorgeously produced, and I already know that Christian tells stories I want to hear.

On an entirely different note, my former roommate (and one of the people instrumental in getting Patty and I together so swiftly what with her exciting declaration of moving to China) has launched a blog called InsomniBake. She can’t sleep and so documents attempts to make a variety of treats often under weird and unideal conditions. Recipes, midnight musings, successes and failures. Apparently the blog’s pretty hot right now… you know, buzz and all that, but to tell the truth, I’ve not yet found the time to check it out myself, so I’m tasking you all with it to assuage my guilt.

Tonight, some web work and Sherlock analysis and then early to bed, as I’ve got to go to Costco before a script meeting tomorrow.

Finally, a late addition: Apparently, there’s a hawk in the main reading room of the Library of Congress and its somewhat peculiar presence is being blogged. Look, I care. Now you can too.

DVDs as temporal distortion

Yesterday the DVDs arrived; this was the second of three shipments in a massive (and horrifically expensive) order that’s been mostly Doctor Who-related stuff (i.e., Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, the most recent Doctor Who season) for a book chapter I’m writing (although the box I’m still waiting on is the Sherlock DVDs which I need for an essay I’m writing on spec and will eventually find a home for somewhere if not where I’m currently intending it to land).

But don’t you own all that stuff already, Rach?

Actually, not so much. I watched the first two seasons of Torchwood on Netflix and own a couple of episodes for my iPod. I watched Children of Earth through the wonder of somewhat sketchy technological choices. And I fully admit to doing that a lot to get around region-based delays; sometimes because I’m impatient and sometimes because I actually need to see the thing because of a looming deadline and can’t leave it out of work I’m doing just because I’m in the US. I do, however, always buy the material once it becomes available to me, because that’s the ethical thing to do — I earn money from residual payments related to DVD purchases and cable airings of films I’ve been in, and it’s important to me to respect that paycheck for other people; that feeling is, of course, magnified when it’s about properties people I know and like work on (as is the case with things Whoniverse).

But sometimes, I’m just not super-efficient about ordering stuff. I’m waiting for a sale, or I don’t need it for a project right that second, or I want to combine it with a larger order, or whatever. Yesterday, however, the big box came (and there is a surfeit of DVDs in my life right now — Kali bought me The Duchess; SAG just sent me The Social Network and The King’s Speech for awards voting) full of stuff I need to get to much sooner rather than later.

What surprised me was my emotional reaction (beyond I have too much work to do!) to the stuff. Look, to cut to the chase, pulling out those Torchwood DVDs made me really sad for a few moments. Ayup, I’m one of those people. Or maybe not. It depends on which people you are (if you care at all), I think.

Look, I liked Children of Earth (CoE) (and the comment thread here is not for discussing why you did or didn’t like it; if I know you, I already know; if I don’t know you, I know the 20 arguments I’m most likely to hear — do feel free to mention how you felt if you’re posting about how you feel about how you feel about CoE, but let’s not rehash its merits or lack there of today, okay?). A lot. There were places I felt it was flawed; there were narratives I had hoped for or anticipated differently; there were choices I wouldn’t have made, but at the end of the day I liked it. It was satisfying for me (and Day 2 had truly exquisite pacing).

It also knocked me over. It was exhausting — the show itself, but also the hype, the fandom, the five-day grind of it all while being a fan and a fantasist and a critic. It was an experience in real-time that was made for the way in which I try to encounter the world, and which, having had the opportunity to so encounter the world, served as this amazing cautionary tale: liminality can be a real pain in the ass.

Seriously, how do you do criticism when you’re crying? How do you interact with your partner when you are grieving for the loss of phantoms? How do you participate in fandom when you know too much about the nature of production processes to feel comfortable with some of its arguments?

I’ll tell you, over a year later, I still have absolutely no damn idea. What I do know is that the whole CoE experience (It was like a fun park ride! Just… not always very fun.) led me down some really interesting research avenues (that’ll actually be available soon, I just need to make some tweaks and then it’ll be up on Friends of the Text), took me to the UK, was partially responsible for my most recent tattoo (which says Be grand and was acquired 4 hours before I boarded a flight at Heathrow back to New York), and has continued to open up some really exciting professional possibilities for me.

On the other hand, it also led to strained friendships, awkward con moments (John Fay, you’re a class act), a weird ambivalence about cosplay (um, for those who love the coat if not me, I’m not actually sure it’ll be coming to Gally this year), and a probably over-developed concern regarding fandom’s supposed displeasure with my existence. Yay. Or, you know, not. But the CoE experience sticks in my mind perhaps most for its weird You Are Not Alone (Doctor Who joke there, for the uninitiated) quality.

My whole childhood I was told I was wrong, and weird, and probably mentally ill for allowing books to mean so much to me. My father, jokingly, but with what felt like real disapproval to me, said something about my needing an exorcism because of my fondness for The Vampire Lestat. So when people kept saying in the first couple of days after CoE, “I had to keep going into the bathroom at work to cry,” I felt so glad for the tangibility of narrative that was being demonstrated through that grief. Stories suddenly weren’t just one of my vices or a secret society of inappropriate desire amongst my other lonely friends; they were real and shaping us as much as we were shaping them.

Mostly, CoE is a thing that happened long ago and far away now. We were all different people then. I’m busy being, well, busy, and I’m also really excited for the next Torchwood series coming from the Starz/BBC collaboration. But I do miss our silly, cracky show that was sometimes brilliant; I do miss us all tuning it at the same time; and I do miss the possibility I felt in Torchwood back when I wrote a silly letter to The New York Times.

It’s just television. Except when it’s not. Putting those boxes on the shelf made the whole messy, sordid, strange, not always okay for anyone, journey seem small and nearly imagined. It wasn’t, of course, and it’ll all unfurl for me again when I have to watch all three seasons over two days really soon (albeit with a totally different focus that’s on how Whoniverse stories portray and use media and marketing in their narrative constructions).

That’s the wacky thing about the DVDs. By existing in DVD format, a story is strongly designated as a part of the past. So is the story about the story (i.e., release and immediate reception). Yet, DVDs are also a preservation not just of an eternal present, but of the moment before. By being a story you already know, DVDs are also an odd innocence and a temporal distortion. They tell me what I keep telling everyone else: all times are now.

housekeeping on titan

Last night we passed over 10,000 hits on this thing, and it occurs to me there are a few housekeeping items I should deal with (you’ll get a real post about actual possibly interesting things later).

1. Please feel free to comment here. I am okay with off-topic, digressive conversations and love when people who do comment here chat amongst themselves! I ask that you be a little bit careful when I’m talking about stuff involving marginalization, but mostly, despite my ability to crank out endless words about me, I am interested in the way people experience in the world, often particularly if those people aren’t like me. So don’t feel shy!

2. I am okay with anonymous commenting, but I can’t guarantee I will always leave it on. I will act to protect myself from trolls and bullies (as I define them) if need be. And, if you do comment anonymously, can you sign some name or initial or something to your post so I can keep track of different anonymous commenters in the same post? I won’t nuke you if you don’t, but it makes my life easier.

3. Pseudonymous identities are go! If you need to be more than one person here because of pen names, stage names or the fan/pro divide, I’m okay with that too, unless I discover you’re doing it for the express purpose of behaving badly. Don’t cause weird drama here, okay?

4. While my desire to discourage various types of bias is very real, I am also not interested in being a language cop here in part because appropriate language differs based on a wide-variety of circumstances, not all of which I am capable of knowing at all times. Sometimes I will approve comments that may be offensive to some people. Sometimes I’ll let you know I’m uncomfortable with what was said when I let that comment through. Sometimes, I may not have time to or may have not yet found the language in response at the moment you see the item in question. Do not assume my allowing a comment is my approval or endorsement of everything in it.

So, if you see something that bothers you, say something. This includes disagreeing with me or pointing out when you think I’m showing my ass. I promise to listen to you. I can’t promise what happens after that. I am always interested in erring on the side of kindness and clarity, while also feeling like in this space each person who comments here is their own primary editor responsible for the consequences of their words; WordPress gives me the ability to edit your comments — I will not do this, because I don’t want the responsibility or the murkiness.

5. Feel free to link anything you see here wherever you want. Don’t quote me without attribution. Don’t quote commentors without asking for their permission first.

6. If I ask you, in a post, not to do something in comments to that post, come on…. don’t do that thing in comments (we’re going to test this later today — are you ready?). This sound obvious, but seems to be an enticement to people to do that thing (I’ve been guilty of it too on other people’s blogs).

7. Need to ask me something? Comment here or email racheline [at] gmail [dot] com — now and forever.

8. Cool?

when getting healthy means knowing you’re sick

I have celiac disease (note, it’s not Celiac disease or celiac’s disease — it’s not named after a person named Celiac), which is both a big pain in the ass and not a big deal. While it increases my risk of all sorts of illnesses (like epilepsy and various sorts of cancers), it probably won’t kill me. And, as long as I don’t eat anything that contains gluten or has come into contact with it, I feel fine. Living in New York City and in an increasingly gluten-aware society means this not eating gluten thing is pretty easy: I know where to get gluten-free cupcakes (I’ve at least three choices here), gluten-free pizza (six choices not including frozen) and most everything else I could want. Even many of the goodies at my local Costco are labeled gluten-free.

The problem is, that right now, I’m pretty sure I’m eating something that isn’t, because I feel like crap in a very particular way. This is frustrating, not just because I feel like crap, and not just because I’ve been known to yell at other celiacs for thinking every stomach upset they experience is about gluten (maybe you shouldn’t have eaten an entire batch of brownies made with bean flour (I’ve done this; and no matter how good they taste, it’s a bad intestinal choice); or maybe you have a stomach bug; or some other as yet to be diagnosed intolerance — making me a big giant hypocrite as I attempt to figure out where the secret gluten that must be responsible for my current suffering lives), but because I did a big grocery run the other day, and everything I bought was explicitly gluten-free.

Unfortunately, this is no guarantee. There’s been lots of scandals with stuff being labeled gluten-free that wasn’t, either because of poor production practices or outright lies. I’ve had to swear off gluten-free dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for this reason (trivial to you, but devastating to me); and it’s made me double and triple-check packages when stuff has a better texture than I expect, but even labeling is no guarantee.

But gluten-paranoia is sure a lot more pleasant than the possibility that I have some weird unrelated sensitivity to the sun-dried tomatoes in the gluten-free turkey meatballs I bought the other day; the coloring in some gluten-free not-entirely-natural fruit snacks; or the sunflower oil the awesome chips-made-out-of-popcorn are prepared in (and to be frank, I’ve had my suspicions about sunflower oil and me for a while).

Celiac disease doesn’t suck because of the restrictions; the symptoms when you or someone else screws up; or even its ugly metaphorical griefs (I cannot break bread with you). It sucks because of the paranoia — of what other diseases it might give me, and of food, good intentions, and honest labeling. It’s completely exhausting in the way it has forced me to view the world as suspect. Sometimes it seems like everyone, and everything is made of poison; I can’t kiss my girlfriend after she eats a cupcake; I can’t just grab her shampoo in the shower because what it contains oatmeal (gluten-contact issues and issues involving oats vary from celiac to celiac, but that’s a long footnote I don’t feel like explaining right now).

Celiac disease is also completely exhausting in the way it has caused other people to view me as suspect. I am not, for example, a picky eater because I have to know what’s in my food. Nor do I, despite not being Catholic, have much tolerance for the way celiac disease designates the state of my soul as in dire need of scrutiny because of my inability to take some hypothetical-to-me communion. I am also not trying to get attention (a desire for which I, quite obviously, have other courses of action). Nor am I on a diet (as I have to keep explaining to waitstaff when I order a hamburger without the bun and they don’t bring me the fries either!). Nor do I have an eating disorder (thanks, medical professionals who have interpreted symptoms of my disease as such). Nor I am I rejecting your hospitality. Nor am I making crap up to make your day hard.

Believe me, if I wanted to make your day hard, I have many more exciting ways of doing it than not eating bread — which, by the way, I still dream about in detailed nightmares that involve my either being forced to poison myself or my forgetting that I am.

Celiac disease is a big hassle and serious business. With attention to detail and respect from others, it’s also easy to manage. I don’t consider it a disability, except on the days that I have to, because something’s gone wrong and I can’t do what seems like normal life stuff to most other people (get out of bed, not be in pain, think straight, not have weird phantom tingling on my skin, or cope with typical external stimuli like street noise, bright lights, etc.).

There’s nothing I did to make this happen to me. And there’s nothing about it that makes me lucky other than it’s thankfully not something with more serious consequences or something that’s even harder to manage than it already is.

I have no problem with people consuming gluten around me (although keep your crumbs out of my butter or I get fiesty in the bad way), and your apologies are not necessary. All I ask is that you have tolerance when I sometimes, like now, lose my patience with this thing and have to complain or can’t keep my eyes focused on you in a conversation or forget words or can’t leave the house or can’t make myself look attractive because my nutritional uptake is abnormal again. Some days I have no right to the spoon metaphor; sometimes “spoon metaphor” is all I can say to explain to you how bad it is.

Celiac disease is the explanation for decades of emotional and physical misery I experienced without more concern than “she’s just like that.” I’m still just like that. There’s nothing I can do about it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But if I can have a sense of humor, or at least ambivalence, about my condition eight days out of ten, all I can ask is you do the same.

Patty, who is awesome about this (it’s hard to move in with someone with celiac disease when you are as made of pasta as she is), often has to remind me to eat, because I’m one of those people who gets distracted and hyperfocused and forgets to eat when I’m deep in project mode. But sometimes the simple truth is I just don’t want to deal with dinner being a detective novel.

What can you do to be nice to celiacs or at least me? Know what’s in the food you serve. Ask if a menu or type of cuisine is okay before choosing a restaurant. Never assume our food choices are about our weight or that our weight is about any sort of choice at all (celiacs come in all sizes; but most of us, regardless of size, are at a weight impacted by our experience of the disease); don’t get annoyed when we can’t have something you want to give us — we’re always more annoyed than you! And for heaven’s sake, if you don’t want to hear about bodily functions and internal bleeding, don’t ask us about the primary symptoms.

Celiac disease is kind of a weird experience in that there is no cure. For people like me, getting healthy means just finding out that you’re sick. Just because that’s a blessing most days, doesn’t mean we always know how to be happy about it.

“let me but strike the world in a vulnerable spot, and I can take it by storm.”

When Mary MacLane was 19-years-old she wrote a book about her life and got it published. She then became something of a celebrity (the book sold 100,000 copies in its first month of existence) and a scandal and went on to a life as a writer, actor and journalist before she died in 1929.

The book wasn’t about very much, just about being her, and the pain she felt at being alone and stifled and puzzled and bored by other people as she waited for the Devil; he would have grey eyes, she always wrote and make her “his dear little wife.” MacLane’s desire to be small and cherished by a force larger than her own in a world where one didn’t seem likely to exist for her was something that charmed me deeply when I first read it, having never so much felt the feeling of being girls together with someone as I did in response to this desirous author.

The book is, by turns, redundant, self-absorbed, and deeply fascinating. It is, in some ways, blogging before there was blogging. It is deeply aphoristic, and often plagued by that “but what do we care what you ate for lunch” factor that we all often experience on the Internet if we are, in fact, fascinated by the lives of others.

MacLane first crossed my radar when I was just a few years older than the author had been at the time of the book’s writing in 1902. Someone, and I can’t recall who (an ex-boyfriend, I think, but I am not sure — if it’s anyone with whom I am still in touch and you are reading this, please let me know; it’s something I’ve treasured for years), gave it to me as a gift.

It was, in a way, a Illegitimi non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down) gift. Whoever gave it to me was someone I knew through Mindvox (I did not know until just now that it had merited a Wikipedia entry; gosh, that’s awkward), an early high-profile online community that dominated the social life of at least my early to mid-20s. I was well-known on the small site (Who wasn’t? But the fact is I also wound up in at least one major article because of it (in Sassy of all things) and worked for the service for a time). For every person who was engaged with what I wrote there were people who not only found me irritating, but someone who needed to be silenced — through bullying, pranks, and even threats. I was, without a doubt, irritating, confronting and self-absorbed, but on Mindvox, which was littered with a zillion petty and public dramas (many of which, yes, I was involved in), the sin was really that I wasn’t particularly ashamed of this.

Which isn’t to say I was running around with great self-esteem or anything. I wasn’t. But then again, neither was Mary MacLane, who wrote of her genius, her remarkableness, her loneliness and her unlovableness. MacLane, who as the 38-year-old I am now I feel as if I should disavow for her overwrought self-aggrandizement was a lifeline for me. Ironic, perhaps, when in her lifetime MacLane had to respond to accusations that her book had led at least one girl to suicide (a matter on which MacLane declared, “I read of the Kalamazoo girl who killed herself after reading the book. I am not at all surprised. She lived in Kalamazoo, for one thing, and then she read the book.” Although later she also noted that, “It is with pain that I read of the dire effects of my book upon the minds of young girls.”)

MacLane and my relationship with her work, echoes back to the post I made the other day about liminality — MacLane was a real person, but one who was also performing herself (as we all arguably are with different levels of awareness and intentionality). By the experiences I described the other day, her non-fictional status should have made her a harder to achieve imaginary companion and self to me; but, rather, I have to argue that MacLane’s life and mode of living that life only underscore the arguments I make for the use of the fictional/non-fictional dichotomy over the fictional/real dichotomy; that is, if we must have dichotomies at all.

Mary MacLane has long been a quite, distant interest of mine. It takes, generally, too much work to explain to you that her assertion, “I do not see any beauty in self-restraint,” was not something I read as license to my excesses so much as acknowledgment that the world is cruel and hard when it demands secrecy about things common and shameful only because we have made secrets out of them. It takes, generally, more work (and the enduring of more jibes than I prefer) to talk about the truth I find in her thoughts on fame and happiness and the maw within her: “I want fame more than I can tell. But more than I want fame I want happiness.” And it takes wasting a lot of time on assuring people that I don’t think all that of myself, when I am enraptured by the emotional pain she seemed to feel at her own intellect: “I am a genius. Then it amused me to keep saying so, but now it does not. I expected to be happy sometime. Now I know I shall never be.”

Oh, how I wish Mary MacLane had had the Internet! She might not have been so lonely. Strangers would have sent her gifts, and people would have bullied her. Her hypothetical contemporary fate is so remarkably clear in her actual historical experience and narration.

The first complete collection of MacLane’s works, A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life, collecting for the first time MacLane’s complete works, is to be released in September 2011. The book will, no doubt, be met with a certain degree of dismissive criticism — why not just read overwrought blogs on the Internet, after all? But the material is, I suspect, valuable, even if just for how the world doesn’t change very much.

When I first read MacLane, I wondered if I should lament that the Devil I was longing for didn’t have grey eyes. Now, nearly twenty years later, when I consider the hand MacLane held out to me, even if she would have never have meant to, I lament merely that I myself don’t have grey eyes and am, as such, inadequate, no matter how much I claim her as one of my own.

pageants and beauty/gender certification

As I write this, I’ve just gotten myself set up for watching the Miss America pageant, which, I confess, is one of my television highlights of the year. I know that probably sounds weird, and yes, I know lots of reasons why pageants can be and are problematic (fat phobia, racism, and certain types of ableism being obvious and legitimate complaints about Miss America; misogyny in the existence of these things at all also being a more generalized discussion that pageants legitimately provoke), but I was a pageant competitor as a teen, and I find them interesting. I also find them complicated. And this year, Miss America looks like its going to be an intersection between the two for me because of Miss New York‘s platform and because of why I did pageants.

Pageants are, at their heart, a weird sort of public job interview, the job in question being model, spokesmodel or spokesperson for the pageant’s sponsors and agenda issues. Pageants are also agents of extreme normativity (and heteronormativity), to a point that the ideal of femininity idealized and desired by them can seem caricaturish and bizarre (this is less true of a pageant like Miss America than of many smaller and regional pageants that have developed their own standards and looks. If you want to get a sense of this, do some Googling or take a look at a magazine called Pageantry.

My own participating in pageants (I was in the Miss New York State National Teen-Ager Pageant 1987, in addition to some other stuff) sprung from a number of sources, none of which were parental or peer pressure. Rather my parents and peers thought it was weird and inappropriate, not because of the issues I’ve previously identified, but because it wasn’t done — not as a New Yorker and not as someone raised in the class I sort of kind of was.

And I’ll be frank, a great deal of my participation in pageants was about my own insecurities. Some of those were the typical insecurities of a teen girl: I didn’t feel pretty, and I entered pageants in hopes of winning so I could tell my peers they couldn’t tease me for being ugly, because look, there was proof, I wasn’t anything of the sort. But my participating in pageants was also, inextricably, linked to my own sense of non-normativity both as a queer person and a New Yorker.

I grew up in New York City, with parents who are artists, but I would come home from school every day and watch The Brady Bunch and wonder what it was like to be an American — to go to school with boys, to worry about learning how to drive, to care about football, and homecoming. Pageants innately fascinated me because they seemed an element of and gateway to the country I was supposed to be a part of, but everyone always told me I wasn’t.

I also grew up knowing I wasn’t like other people. Strangers would tell my parents what a well-behaved little boy they had, and I was always cast in all the male leads in the school plays (which was sort of awesome; how many girl-born folks do you know who can say they played Ko-ko in The Mikado and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before they were twelve?). Harassment I received at school about my appearance (I was thin to the point of illness (undiagnosed celiac disease), gangly, and sort of awkward) was based around gender and sexuality. Why call me an ugly girl, when it was just easier to say I wasn’t a girl at all?

This stuff bothered me for a few reasons. The first was simply that mean people sucked. The second was that I thought my parents would be angry; they asked me often enough what I had done to make people be so mean to me. The third was that the remarks both felt remarkably true and not. I wanted to be gorgeous in an evening gown and an hourglass figure. But I also wanted to be Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica back when he was a boy (yeah, I like me some bad TV, ok?). I was a boy. I was also a girl. And I was really scared I was ugly either way. Mostly though, I didn’t want people to be mad at me or make it hard for my parents or friends to be around me, because I wasn’t right.

Pageants were a way not just to have my beauty certified, but my femininity. It was a way to hide what I was, and a way to make up for it. And I hoped that being around girls performing girl-ness meant that someone would teach me how to be pretty and sit the right way and say the right things and smile at the right time and be less weird and New York-y.

That didn’t work out for me, not really. I was not a great pageant competitor (although I do have a few sashes and crowns), although I can still do a three-diamond turn. But pageants were the first time I ate McDonald’s and went to Chuck E. Cheese. They were the first job interviews I ever did. And the first time I had to learn how to be photographed or make decisions based, not on who I was, but who I wanted other people to think I was. In other words, pageants gave me some professional skills, taught me how to pitch myself, and also taught me that hiding who and what I was would be hard. It wasn’t in my makeup.

Did I come home from Miss New York National Teen-ager 1987 and come out? No. Officially speaking that didn’t happen until my freshman year of college, after I read Valerie’s Story in V for Vendetta. But pageants let me know, through my failure at them, that I was going to have to. In college, I toyed with trying to do Miss America local pageants and coming out once I won one — would they kick me out for moral turpitude for being queer? They might have, back in 1990 or 1991, but I don’t know.

All of this, however, is why pageants interest me. They are a world both known to me and forbidden to me. They are performative, heteronormative and yet, also, weirdly queer, because who knows what everyone else up there is trying to hide.

This year, the Miss America pageant actually brings my own pageant story full circle in some way: Miss New York’s platform is LGBT equality, because her sister is a lesbian. Miss New York just reached the semi-finals. One day, maybe we’ll have an openly queer Miss America, although with the dwindling viewership of the pageant on television, I don’t necessarily know if it will last long enough to happen.

Right now though, I’m a little bit teary for how scared I was at 13; how angry I was at 19; and how strange the world seems now. Because it’s not just that Miss New York’s platform is that I’m human, it’s that the pageant keeps playing that Pink’s Raise Your Glass. Is it really possible that they actually know that song is about people like me?