Archive for the 'steve' Category

Jun 04 2010

Cancer Chronicles: throwing money at the double standard

With my writerly powers, we will now leap forward in story-time for this post, and talk about an interesting recent household solution.

Post-cancer, the coins of the realm are energy and time spent.  How much time and energy a particular activity takes, and where it intersects with how much you care about said activity, is what determines what you decide to do.  You never, ever again get to have as a remote abstraction the awareness that death awaits around a nearby corner.  Every activity choice carries with it the underlying question, “If the cancer returned tomorrow, how much would I care about having done this activity?”  It forever changes your barometer of “what matters”.

So as my husband takes on a new, out-of-the-home job, we know we have to prioritize adding back in the he-and-I time, once we know a bit more about our new daily activity flow.  Because that’s exactly the sort of thing in a normal life that you wake up months later and realize you’ve totally slacked on, and whether you scramble to fix it depends on how invested each partner is in the status quo, etc.  But married to a cancer survivor, you don’t know if those months slipping away like hourglass sands are .005%, 5%, or 50% of the time you have left with your life-mate.  So we have to take extra steps to make sure the lazy easy habits don’t set in, in the first place: our time together is too fucking precious for that, forever.

Every choice of new activity brings with it similar questions, like returning to school: is putting up with the stress and bullshit of academia worth that much of my time to get the end product?  Or do I re-prioritize those plans to something that I know for sure will bring fulfillment and enjoyment without the accompanying stress?  What are the hobbies or recreational activities that I’d always planned to “get around to someday”, and why are they not just being done?  When the heck is “someday”?  Not to mention the emotional shifts: how invested am I in being angry/upset/resentful or whatever about an interaction, when that takes both time and energy away from the option of doing other things and feeling content or happy?

The most interesting recent manifestation of this process, happened this week as we hired a part-time house assistant.  We’ve also recently hired a part-time personal assistant/financial manager for the DreamCafé, as we’d all rather be working extra hours than balancing the books. Money management stress?  So not worth that time/energy coin.  Less stress will also probably lead to more functionality on the finance front for everyone, bonus!  But back to the house assistant.

In our 21st century enlightened household, though none of us preferred to do so we have nevertheless been operating under a functional gendered double standard for house upkeep and maintenance.  This is not because my housemates are sexist; they are in fact some of the least sexist men I’ve ever met.  However, whether due to geek nature or subtle male privilege, they are much less invested in the upkeep of, and able to more easily block out disruptions in, their immediate environment.  I, whether due to my hyper-awareness of my local environment or my own gendered societal programming on who’s responsible for mess, get driven quite batty if the house reaches a moderate level of mess and clutter and if it gets past that, the chaos will start actively affecting my own ability to get useful work done.  However, being a 21st century feminist sort, my efforts at superwoman status don’t eagerly encompass the traditional women’s duties.  I’d much rather be busting my ass at 18-hour workdays along with the menfolk, and doing any cooking or other chores because it’s my turn or I feel like it, rather than the shit rolling downhill and sticking to me because I notice it fastest or because the other monkeys in the group think it’s my job.

Pre-cancer, we tried various combinations of chore sharing and internal grumpy grumbles on my part for continuing to end up with more of the housework because I cared more about whether or not and how it was done.  (Note: my menfolk are very willing to help out when asked, and over time have voluntarily taken on several chores as regular habits without being asked.  I’m not at all trying to paint them with a “typical male” brush, just attempting to describe actual events and make best guesses as to the whys.)  Post-cancer, I don’t have the time or inclination for either the chores or the grumbles (see life-too-precious comment above).  I’m finding that at my current recovery phase, I have energy for either work or house maintenance but not both. The other two aren’t interested in taking on or keeping the extra chore duties either.  Yet still, the chores need doing.

Enter: a good friend needing a part-time job to fund her own creative pursuits while paying her bills.  Ah ha, my clever brain thinks!  Discussions ensue over several weeks, giving everyone time to find any hiccups in the friends-working-for-friends scenario (not usually the best idea), discussions of job and payment expectations, and extreme openness on my part as to the ultimate purpose: we’re paying for the privilege of removing the household functional double standard — which none of us actually wanted — so that all of us can do more of what we want to do on a daily basis, which is share time together and work our little butts off.  When work equals writing and high level computer geekery, every work day is also play day: one of those secrets to success you can probably find in a self-help book somewhere.

A friend mentioned that having the class privilege to pay for the financial and house assistants might be controversial for some folks, and I suppose I can see that.  Post-cancer, though, I can’t make myself care that much.  We have the opportunity to take a huge load of stress and drudgery off all our plates, to free up more time for us to enjoy just being around each other, which is what we like best to do anyway, and to add to someone else’s self-support.  All I have to be responsible for is overseeing that it all goes the way I prefer the house to function, and I like that kind of overseeing and organizing.  It would seem really dumb not to take that opportunity simply because there are folks in the world who don’t get that choice.  We worked our asses off to get to the place where we can afford to make that choice, and life really is too precious to squander the chance to have quality slack along with our persistent daily work.

Thank you, Nathan and Steve, for freeing me from the chains of the three-shift-woman social standard.  Work and child-rearing are enough shifts for anyone.  In the couple of days since we started this endeavor, I’m already getting much more writing done — I wrote a 3150-story draft from start to finish in 25 hours (with breaks) this week.  And it feels like there’ll be enough time for play and shared time with some of my favorite people daily, along with all the work parts. Post-cancer, that suits me just fine.

Comments and discussion welcome as long as everyone remembers their manners.

8 responses so far

Feb 05 2010

Characterization discussion: Internal Logic

(crossposted from Words Words Words)

Among the many and ongoing interesting discussions at our home, we’ve been talking about the concept we’re calling “internal logic” for a character. Internal logic here means that, among other things: an action that to an outside observer appears irrational, wrong, or evil, from the internal viewpoint of the character will be a justified, logical, and right action to make. It’s a useful thing to examine for most characters, but especially helpful in creating believable antagonists in a story.

Tolkien got around the need to deeply explore this by creating a world where evil really did exist, and some creatures did things because they were bad evil things to do. In this sort of scenario, you don’t have to worry too much about internal consistency for a antagonist’s actions as long as you have the formula “evil is good”. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s many imitators have generally not done as well as he did, and these days most people who encounter the Evil Overlord stereotype are likely to assign a label of “campy” “trite” or “overdone” to whichever story has the latest iteration of the trope.

Another loophole to spending a lot of time with discovering a character’s internal logic is the “Rendezvous with Rama” effect. For those of you who haven’t read or don’t remember the original story *spoiler alert skip to the next paragraph* an alien ship passes through our solar system, refuels from our sun, and departs. We send a ship out from Earth to explore the large alien ship, see lots of really interesting things, and learn nothing much about the aliens who created the ship. It’s the ultimate story in creating aliens with very alien motives that have little to nothing to do with humans except in passing.*end of spoilers*

Similarly, in Steve’s book Issola, the Jenoine are massively powerful and very alien, doing things that from the view of both the reader and the characters are hard to understand. Since that’s rather the point, we don’t really need to understand further about the Jenoine’s internal viewpoint.

With both of these examples, the unfathomability is the point of both the alien ship and the Jenoine. With characters that come closer to human-like actions and understandings, internal logic considerations become more of a factor. The world from the outside-looking-in and the inside-looking-out are often far different for people, and even for non-POV characters you might need to know something about their internal motivations. So how do you depict this?

One of my own characters tends to organize their environment in ways that to my first impressions seem counter-intuitive. It’s not a way that I would organize things, and sometimes doesn’t seem to make logical sense from my perspective. However, when I ask myself “why would [said character] arrange their things in that way?” I nearly always have an answer that comes to mind that makes sense from the viewpoint and life experiences of the character. Even if the internal explanation for the room arrangement doesn’t make it directly onto the written page, the fact that I as the writer understand why the character does a certain thing means that it’s more likely to reflect that knowledge in little bits of characterization throughout the story that will bring that understanding to the reader.

Read the rest of the entry where Steve shares his thoughts over on our household blog, Words Words Words. You can comment either here or there.

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Jan 20 2010

Writer-as-protagonist in story

Steve and I were talking yesterday about his irritation at the “writer as protagonist” that often shows up in fiction. One of the most famous examples of this (and arguably the single biggest reason for the popularity of the trope) is Stephen King. It can be seen in his earlier works such as The Shining or Salem’s Lot, and continues to show up in several of his works throughout his bibliography (The Dark Half, Secret Windows, Lisey’s Story). Dean Koontz, another huge name in the horror genre, has also written stories (such as Lightning or Mr. Murder) which feature a writer in the main character role. Nor is this trend limited to horror; Kurt Vonnegut and Charles de Lint are two of several authors in the sff genre who have placed writer characters in starring story roles. I’m not as well-read in the more literary fiction end of the spectrum, but I’d be very surprised if a similar pattern wasn’t present there as well. (Feel free to mention and discuss other examples in the comments.)

I’m still a bit unclear on exactly why Steve gets so irritated by writer-protagonists — hopefully he’ll clarify his position a bit more in comments, hehe. I remember from our last chat that he feels like having a writer as a protagonist in a story you’re writing creates too many situations where you are tempted to be clever, or clever-seeming, possibly even superseding the priorities of the story. I think he said it’s the difference between an author being clever in how they tell a story, versus using a technique that says “hey, look at me being clever over here”.

I suppose I can see that point; certainly some of the more forgettable stories I’ve read with writers in the lead role felt rather like what Steve describes. On another hand, some of the more interesting examples of the trope do play around with some neat ideas. Koontz’s Odd Thomas books reference the unreliability of a writer narrator throughout the stories, making references to editing and eliding events even as he tells the tale. de Lint uses writer characters as he does other artists and musicians in his Newford stories, where the act of creative generation unlocks hidden magics in the surrounding world. Vonnegut’s writers don’t seem to be able to self-referentially change the story due to their own writing; I get the impression, reading some of his quasi-auto-biographical fiction works, that his characters are often writers because Vonnegut himself is one. However, Vonnegut didn’t always do the writer-character-as-avatar for himself. I’ve read several references to his famous Kilgore Trout being a poke at Theodore Sturgeon, which amuses me to consider.

Looking at King’s extensive bibliography and publishing history, I’m struck with another thought that’s occurred to me before. So many of his writer characters struggle with aspects of their craft–even to several of them blocked on writing, alcoholics, or otherwise engaged in unstable and self-damaging behaviors–which fascinates me when compared with the fact that, since 1974, there has only been one year that King didn’t publish one or more finished pieces. It doesn’t seem from his observable public output that King, the person, suffers from much in the way of writer’s blocks or dangerous instability preventing his writing. Did much of the potential for that self-destruction get sublimated and exorcised into the more troubled writer-protagonists of his stories?

What do you think about this trope of the writer-as-protagonist? Do you like it? Does it irritate you when you encounter it? Are there similar metaphoric parallels in other artistic disciplines, for you other creative types out there? Let’s discuss!

2 responses so far

Jun 24 2009

busy writing (and traveling) bee

Published by under conventions,Editing,steve,Writing

Whew. Back from 4th Street, which was great, of course. I think I talked with others about writing for about 12 hours on Sunday alone, not to mention all the other wonderful conversations with amazing people that happened throughout the con. I didn’t get to attend as many of the panels as I wanted to (in part due to arriving later than planned on Friday night), but I do have some good notes that I hope to share on the panels I did attend.

I got to meet an old friend of Steve’s at lunch after the con on Monday that involved me missing the post-con Fish outing. I really enjoyed seeing Neil and Steve interact with each other; I understand much better now why Steve refers to him as his “evil twin”. The lunch was delicious, the conversation and stories delightful, and Steve got more exercise wandering around the grounds looking at cool plants and animals than he has in a year! We should definitely go on more walks together, that was fun.

Even though I’ve traveled from California to Texas to Minnesota back to Texas all in the past two weeks, I’ve *still* managed to get two short stories viciously dissected and put back together into (hopefully) better stories during that time. The revisions on the latest one were an especially fun editing mini-workshop with Steve and Nathan on Sunday night when we all probably should have been in bed hours earlier. It was intense but really enjoyable and there was only one part that none of us could agree on or easily fix when it was all through. (Nathan, by the way, shows some early signs of developing into an awesome editor.)

And speaking of editors, one of my few epiphanies of the past weekend is that I don’t tend to categorize writers, even those with some measure of public fame, as larger-than-life in my head…but put me around brilliant editors like Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Beth Meacham, Debbie Notkin, Sharyn November (and others I met but didn’t get time to talk with), and internally I turn into a fascinated wide-eyed fan-girl. Hopefully it’s not TOO obvious on the outside…

Okay, back to sending off one of these stories, finishing inputting the edits on the other one before sending it off, and then maybe I can get back to such cat-waxing activities as typing up my 4th street notes. And my main character in the next novel I shall be writing can QUIT hijacking the mental processes already because I won’t write her story until this novel is finished. Back in your box!

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Oct 23 2008

no one escapes the travel crud

Steve and I are both sick, sinus-infection thingys that we almost certainly got while traveling.  At least, I’ll blame the airplane way before I’ll blame Israel, nearly everyone over there looked ridiculously healthy.

Anyway, snotty, feverish, achy, hoping it’ll pass soon, since it’s back to work for me regardless.

Still putting up the business posts over at Words Words Words if you aren’t already following along.

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Oct 08 2008

the writer abroad

Published by under conventions,steve,travel

Tomorrow I leave for my first international and transatlantic plane flight (hopefully not the last!), an event both trepidatious and exciting. I’ll be at ICON, a convention with academic, sff, film, and role-playing aspects. It’s held over several days in Tel Aviv, Israel. You can see the link for the 2008 con here.

I’ll be giving a version of the presentation that Kit O’Connell and I gave in San Francisco a couple of weekends ago on Friday, October 17 at 3pm. Given my topic and that the theme of this year’s convention is “Revolutions” (and I’ll have all the days ahead of time to spread the world subtly), I’m expecting it to be a fairly lively panel. That part, I’m very excited about. Although when I stop to think (thankfully, not much time for that pre-trip), I feel a little like “geez, when I decided to jump in the deep end, no one mentioned it was Lake Baikal!”

Regardless, this convention sounds like exactly what our project needs at this time. What fun! (We’re also making arrangements to be translated into Portuguese; I’m hoping to make a similar connection for Hebrew while in Israel. Anyone with lingual fluency and the time to spare who wants to help with the international saturation elsewhere, contact any of us at the Dream Cafe.)

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Oct 07 2008

Oh the science of it all!

Published by under CC,Kit,mediators,steve,twitterhead

Ah yes, a grand little evening sitting around watching the Mediators break up a drunken conflict. That crazy Starl.

On the creating side, a precise, behind-the-scenes peek at the arduous creative process:

Reesa: Who gets injured?

Steve: I think S.

Kit: I was thinking L.

Reesa: I was thinking S or L.

Steve: I’ll flip you for it; you want to land on your head or your tail?

Kit: Tail.

Reesa: You could flip the dog.

Kit: She wouldn’t cooperate.

Steve: Perfect, here’s a penny.

Reesa: Lost relic of our economy, determine our future.

Steve: Heads it’s L, tails it’s S.

Reesa: Wait, where did it go?

Kit: I heard it hit over there.

Steve: Tails.

Reesa: S then! Ahh, high literary science at work.

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