Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Free speech

Monday, October 15th, 2012

The most succinct phrasing yet, from Feministe’s article on unmasking Reddit creeps:

But “free speech” is not the same as “speech with zero consequences.”

Also: No sympathy here for Michael Brutsch or his many followers.  None at all.

Edit: Alyssa Rosenberg has added an article to the situation on Gawker, a very interesting look back at the Trio in BtVS, and Joss Whedon’s portrayal of the evolution of geek misogyny.

The art of acknowledgment

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

In general, I’m fairly reticent.  More interested in listening than talking. A natural introvert. A wall of calm. People flit in, give me work to do, and flit out (on the best days), and I’m left to my own devices, which works for me. But when I get stressed out, I get a bit grumbly.  Not out loud, usually — I have a bad habit of bottling up until the cranky old bat in me can’t take it anymore and then the snark and vinegar flow like cheap blackberry wine.

Every once in a while, though, I do manage to remember how much more stressful life could be. Sometimes the best peace is actually won by taking a look around and recognizing the efforts of those who support you, inspire you, or just make you laugh. Even better, tell that person what you’re thinking. It can be anything from a simple thank you, to buying them a coffee if they’re having a bad day, to singing their praises to their bosses. It’s easy to forget how much that can mean, and sometimes the effects cascade in unexpected ways.

Today I sent a note to the director of another department to let him know that one of his new developers is actually an outstanding customer service rep for their group. Later, she and few other people in the group actually emailed me to say thank you for making her day — apparently the director really made a big deal about that note. He thanked her for making the department look great, and he copied her other bosses and even his boss. By all accounts, she was thrilled. Which is good! I’m glad she enjoyed the recognition. Meanwhile, I was having twinges of sympathetic embarrassment on her behalf. And then, after I was done with my weird little bout of self-invoked awkwardness, I realized I had a stealth case of warm fuzzies from knowing my quick little email had set off that chain reaction.

We live in a fracturing reality these days, one that seems increasingly isolationist and self-absorbed. We complain much, and do little. It’s too easy to get lost in that, and to dwell on the things that make us bitter and unhappy. Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves to look up every now and then, and to actually make an effort to acknowledge the other lives that intersect with ours. Very often, we would be poorer without them.

Farewell, Borders

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Jason’s post on how the closure of Borders affects Pagan publishers and the availability of metaphysical titles has me in a reflective mood today.

Back in the ’90s, I worked for a small nonfiction book publisher; we specialized in sports and sports psychology titles, and a typical print run was 1,000-2,5000 books per edition, depending on the title. We sold to distributors, bookstores, and individual customers (through catalog sales, and then later, the website).

Of the distributors, Borders was the perpetual thorn in our side; the orders that made us approach the mail or fax with trepidation, significantly more so than any other customer. Ingram had wrangled a much deeper discount, and Baker and Taylor was more scattershot and inconsistent with the titles and numbers they ordered, but Borders … Borders would order five or six cases of a title, distribute them to the stores, and then return the majority to us before their invoice was due 90 days later. And then they would immediately re-order the same title, sometimes before the return had landed in our warehouse. So we would take those same returned books, box them up, and ship them right back. Repeat until the books became unsellable from shipping wear and had to be remaindered.

Mind you, distributors, the big three, anyway, did not pay shipping, so that was our company footing the cost for shipping these titles back and forth every few months.

It was a recurring problem to get actual money out of Borders; they would attempt to write off almost all of their debts with the perpetual return-and-reorder machine. Sometimes they would double-claim return credits, or claim returns we’d never received. When the boss finally sold the company to a larger sports publisher, Borders owed us — if I remember correctly — something like $9,000 in actual funds. They insisted they had $12,000 of outstanding return credit (they did not). I ran the reports and provided all kinds of documentation to the accounts payable office at various levels — several times, in fact. They never once acknowledged receipt of the documentation, even though we had proof they’d received it. And still they refused to pay. I believe they were eventually written off as a bad debt once the company finally changed hands.

When I ran into my former boss a few years later, she said Borders was still sending her notices about twice a year, insisting that the old publishing house owed them that mysterious $12,000. Every time, she would photocopy the original reports and numbers, deny their claim, and insist that they pay the outstanding $9,000. Six months later, she’d receive another notice. We laughed, but it was an exasperated laugh, one punctuated with much eye-rolling.

So, my own feelings on the demise of Borders are a bit of a mixed bag. I loved the brick-and-mortar store. I hated the distributor side of the business. Which was more reflective of the company’s core business practices, I can’t say.

I’ll miss browsing the shelves of an actual bookstore, though, since I despise the new Barnes and Noble location — now that it’s been surgically attached to the patchwork monkey side of the mall, I can’t stand the place.  Granted, it’s probably doing well because it’s the only major bookstore left in the area, as far as I know. There are a few niche shops — a couple of Christian stores, gaming stores, and the like — but nothing like a good general bookstore. I wonder how long B & N’s fortune will last.

Stories that scar

Monday, January 10th, 2011

A brief break while I wait for the other computer to reboot. Again. (Also: Two updates in one day. Huzzah!)

So I was talking to Terling today and he made an off-hand comment about a “cheese doodle fingered basement dweller” that instantly made me think of a story I’d read a magazine years and years ago. It was not a happy thought. Turns out, he’d read the same story, and it had somehow managed to scar both of us enough that it had burned itself into our psyches as a Very Bad Thing.

After a few moments, I managed to remember the name of the story, which I almost never do — especially with my terrible memory and the fact that the story dates from over 20 years ago. So, out of morbid curiosity, I looked it up and found it online almost instantly:

"The Pear-Shaped Man" by George R.R. Martin, Omni, 1987.

I didn’t recall it being a GRRM story, but then, that would have meant little to me, I guess, since I’ve never read anything else by him. I don’t recall specific details of the story, at the moment, just persistently awful and vague impressions of fat, maggoty fingers covered in Cheeto powder, sick obsession, sexual threat, and stealing someone’s life. Even to this day, Cheetos give me a reflexive momentary twinge of uneasiness. Job well done, Mr. Martin.

Wait. Is it just me, or does that sound suspiciously like a MrFenris NPC? Hm.

In any case. Yes, so I would have been, oh, 12 or 13, I guess, when I borrowed the magazine from a friend and read this story on the long bus ride home after school in 1987. We were the last stop, of course, and by the time we got home, the bus was empty except for me, my little brother, and the bus driver. Normally I didn’t mind the ride, since I mostly just read anyway, but I do remember being strangely relieved when we finally escaped the bus and flipped on the TV to watch “Transformers” and “GI Joe” on the obnoxiously fuzzy Chicago station we could only get on cloudy days. At least then I wasn’t alone with that horrid story anymore.

I don’t really remember much else from 1987 except that it was a year full of pre-teen obsession over Lost Boys, Stand By Me, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was also the first year of junior high, and heralded the discovery and devouring of Dragonlance novels, the first and second chronicles of Thomas Covenant (what an ass … I’m still not entirely sure how I made it through six books of that), and Elric and the other eternal champions.

And “The Pear-Shaped Man,” apparently. /shudder

I suppose I’ll have to re-read the actual story at some point. If I’m going to be scarred for life by something, it seems that I should at least know why, right? It is amazing to me, the powerful reactions that a story can evoke, even 20+ years later.

Which makes me wonder: can you think of any similar stories you read ages ago that you can’t quite get out of your head?

A matter of perspective

Monday, January 10th, 2011

We survived the weekend’s snow-dump, although Will did massive amounts of shoveling to dig us out. (Me, less so. He is my Snow Hero!)  Over the course of things, he did have to excavate his car from the main road and ended up sheltering it at his parents’ house while the snow plows did their magic, since there was no way for him to get it back to the garage. It was amazing the difference in the snow amounts between the two counties, I must say: our 2.5+” of snow to their 5 inches or so. Amateurs.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Finished the storyline of Fable III yesterday. All hail the Good Queen and whatnot. It is possible to accomplish all the “good and benevolent” options if you have a treasury bank of $10 mil or so, but the actual ending isn’t all that different. Except people don’t “boo” you when you’re walking down the streets, I guess. I’m happy to see there are more post-storyline quests available. Plus, I still have to find all the darn gnomes and keys.

I will not be commenting on the shooting over the weekend other to say I hope it functions as a wake-up call to the politicos, regardless of whether the shooting was actually politically motivated. We’ve become far too complacent with hate rhetoric and blame rather than compromise and solutions. This is not the America I wish to be.

That is all. Back to your regularly scheduled Monday.

January down

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Well, the deadline is past, anyway. I was nervous because the submissions had gone so well up until about Wednesday last week, when the problem children began to surface — and oh, were there some spectacular ones this time around.

Let’s just say I’m continuously amazed that TPTB are perfectly willing to give some of these people a PhD and send them out into the big bad world with their stamp of approval. We joke that the first test to see whether someone is eligible for graduation ought to be a simple one: following instructions. How do you possibly make it through four years of undergrad and up to eight years of grad school and still not know how to follow directions?

/sigh

My hand is killing me. Far too much PDF viewing, mouse clicking, arrow key pushing and all that fun stuff. I think I’m developing a sensitivity to the Icy Hot adhesive tape I’ve been slapping onto those swollen tendons all week.

On the plus side, I accompanied Mom to her office dinner last night. She works for a surgeon, and his family and her office mates are all pretty cool. The doctor’s toddler grandkids were in attendance, and were scary cute, I have to admit. Also, the pomegranate martinis were as delicious this year as they were last.  Sadly (*cough*) I’m skipping my own office party this week to go gaming. My head may not be in the games so much these days, but still — given a choice?   Story time trumps office politics and Christmas speeches. I just don’t have the patience for the dean’s sermon this year, it turns out.

Mom and I drove past the old St. Joe hospital campus on our way downtown to the dinner last night, and later I borrowed her camera and went back to take pictures. The pavilion where she worked is all but gone, a skeleton of steel girders and wilted sheets of steel that remind me of a strange sort of seaweed hanging from its bones. You can see the ambient glow of the winter night straight through on the other side. Most of the main hospital itself is gone as well, and what’s left looks like the bombed-out set of an apocalyptic zombie flick. I’m just waiting for it to show up in my dreams — I dreamt about the old Studebaker corridor as a setting for years and years when I was a kid. That sort of massive structure urban decay seems to stick with me, for some reason.

A plague of nightmares and half-assed reviews

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The snow began this weekend. What an odd autumn/winter it’s been so far. A very mild October and November, all things considered, and legitimately cold and snowy as soon as December woke up. Somehow it feels like all this lake-effect snow and ice normally holds off until closer to the end of the month.

Had a series of unsettling nightmares this weekend. It’s been a very long time since I’d last had what a normal person would consider a “bad” dream that was worthy of being called a nightmare, let alone a whole set of them.  I’m used to threat dreams — dreams of killers and conflicts, of haunted or broken places and monsters (in all senses of the words), so the usual suspects generally end up being little more than interesting stories, or perhaps vaguely unsettling, at worst. When a dream is bad enough to qualify as a nightmare by my standards, there’s usually also a heavy warning element to it, as if the entire purpose of the dream is to get me to Pay Attention. Oddly, there was no discernible warning this time — at least, not in my dreams. Others in my house were not so lucky.

Also, there was a distinct lack of big black dogs in my nightmares. Somehow I find that more troubling than the dreams themselves, especially given the religious zealotry context of the first one. Where has the guardian gone?

In more useful news, I wrote a review of the last two issues of Sirenia Digest for Flames Rising. Despite being in publishing, slogging through an ungodly number of reviews and discussions during college, etc., I’m honestly not a very good reviewer. I fully admit this. But I do hope that it causes a few readers to check out the digest. I’m still kicking myself for waiting so long to subscribe. Unfortunately, I sent it in too late to feature last week, and this week is zombie week at FR, so I have no idea when it will run.

We went to see Megamind last night. I think that might be the first movie I’ve seen in the theater since the original Paranormal Activity — I honestly can’t recall seeing anything after that, regardless of my best intentions. And Megamind, despite being a Will Ferrell movie, was entertaining and did make me laugh in several places. And then, as soon as we had stepped out of the theater, I realized I’d already forgotten the entire movie.  So make of that what you will — a decent, if momentary, distraction.

I started up Puzzle Quest 2 again, with a different character class. The barbarian spells seem fairly useless so far.  This comes after finishing an unintentionally hilarious, poorly translated DS game called Lux Pain.  (The 6.8 rating on Gamestop is being truly generous.)  It’s a linear “RPG” in the sense that there are occasional dialog options you can choose during your conversations with NPCs, but I’m not sure how much they actually affect the gameplay, if at all. Otherwise, it’s mostly go to X, talk to Y, complete timed task via bizarre game mechanic. The spoken pieces never match the dialog displays, and in fact you’ll get a completely different read on the situation depending on which one you pay attention to — the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I suspect. There are a number of obviously female NPCs who are constantly referred to by male pronouns, as if the translation team for the displayed dialog never actually saw the game or interacted with the translation team for the spoken dialog. And the actual, underlying story still makes no sense even after finishing the game (although there were a few minor bits of coherency I’d totally steal if I were still running games). Ah well. That’s what I get for not looking up reviews before taking a chance on the game, I guess.

Flick and swish

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Yes, I’ve spent the last few nights watching movies 4-6 of the Harry Potter trilogy. It occurred to me that I’d never actually seen the Half-Blood Prince. I was impressed, yes. I wonder if I’ll get around to seeing Deathly Hallows I in the theater? We shall see.

Last night I found out that a good friend has been diagnosed with cancer. We chatted briefly by email, and then Randall posted this cartoon, today:

xkcd: Positive Attitude

I do so despise the positive attitude cults — the ones that say if your illness is getting worse instead of better, it’s your own fault for not believing hard enough, or if you’re poor and unhappy, it’s merely because you haven’t bought into The Secret. Or, you know, maybe you haven’t prayed hard enough, or given enough to the church. It all sounds the same, to me.

I don’t believe in spells or willworking, either. (At least, not like that.) But there is a difference between self-delusion and blaming a victim for an imaginary weakness.

The really damaging thing about these thoughtcults is that there’s already a tendency, especially among women, to mask up and put forth the fake smile so you don’t inconvenience your loved ones, or become a burden to them. I do it, and I know millions of others do too. The problem is, when you’re sick or in pain or scared, that’s when you should be leaning on your friends and family; that’s when they should be there shouldering the burden of support, talking through your fears and worries and irrational reactions, not pretending that everything’s going to be ponies and rainbows.  They should be there to cry with you as well as to laugh and hope. They should be asking the questions that don’t occur to you, and they should be helping you plan for what comes after you’ve beaten the illness — or not.

Like it or not, this is the world we’re given. I’m pretty damn sure my friend will be okay not just because she sucks at being pessimistic, but because she’s tenacious and feisty and she’s approaching her situation realistically.  Forced optimism is a poison. Tempered optimism is a good thing, an empowering thing. It keeps that will to keep fighting afloat. And we’re all going to need that in the months to come.

The sultry south wind

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

There are a handful of DVDs I keep at hand — my “comfort” movies. Some, I’ve seen so many times I can pretty much recite them by heart; some, I only dig out once or twice a year when a particularly black mood settles in.

One of the less frequently viewed movies is a modern fairy tale called Chocolat (2000), starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and a host of other familiar faces. It has no spells or witches or dragons; no fairies or monsters. The magic it does have is mostly in the telling, and it features a Quest that still strikes a nerve 10 years later.

Vianne, the main character, is an independent spirit; she opens a chocolate shop during Lent, she wears brilliant red shoes and dances with river gypsies shunned by the rest of the town. And yet, she is always beckoned by the lure of the clever north wind. It leads her from road to road, from city to city, wandering even as there’s a part of her that desperately wants to belong … somewhere.   It’s unclear from the narration whether the north wind calls to her at whim or only when she’s in danger of settling in one place for too long, but when the beckoning becomes irresistible, and the fight to belong too lonely and wearying, she packs up her daughter and heads to the next town to try again.

The story is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s one that comes to mind now and then, particularly when I’m feeling restless and apprehensive. Vianne can have her clever north wind, though — the south wind is the one that knows how to whisper to me.  Not that I’m in any real danger of packing up and leaving town, not for a good long while, at any rate, but that tug of warm breeze, the scent of southern rain on the wind, it comes with its own kind of restlessness that whines and pricks and boils the blood. Throw in a hazy full moon peeking out behind racing clouds, and I’m at a loss to explain why the whole county isn’t out wandering the backroads all at once.

Last weekend the lure led me to Red Arrow Highway, to antique shops and art galleries and Turkish ispanak. Tonight it was the backroads of my old hometown, warped now by the landscaping for an invasive new highway, and lit by the tacky outdoor Christmas decorations now adorning the utility poles along the highway that passes through the town center.

We had talked earlier today of a dog who delighted in pulling children along on a sled behind her, and it called to mind a blizzard many years ago that shut down our county for a week or so. I remember walking with my mother, pulling our sleds along snowmobile ruts a mile down the country road into that tiny downtown to fetch groceries. Days after the blizzard, the roads had not yet been cleared, and we were out of milk and bread, so to the ancient-of-days Annis Food store we trudged.

One last thing. While I was out, I saw two raccoons, three deer, many cats, and a coyote with eyes that glowed yellow in my headlights. Apparently I wasn’t the only one wind-restless tonight.

New hearing for the WM3

Friday, November 5th, 2010

I’m compelled to pay attention whenever a new development in the West Memphis Three trials wanders into my field of vision. Why? Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly are the same age I am. I never knew them, but I knew people like them. Hell, I was someome like them — even though they were in rural Arkansas, and I was in rural Indiana, we listened to similar music, tended to wear a lot of black, didn’t particularly fit in with the local culture, and hung out with misfits and troublemakers. We could have been friends.

I remember the Satanic Panic period very well. In fact, that looming threat spanned most of my childhood, all the way up through the end of high school. I remember being made to watch horrible documentaries and listen to “expert” guest speakers at my parents’ respective churches (one a rural country church, and the other a slick evangelical faith-healing/demon-banishing operation), about how this terrible plague of Satanism and demonic possession had infiltrated everyday life. Satan was clearly bent on corrupting susceptible kids through TV and music and dabbling in the occult. So of course, we weren’t allowed to watch the Smurfs or the D&D cartoon, or V , or … well, the list goes on. When I was, oh, 10 or so, I think, Dad confiscated all my music and anything remotely relating to dragons, fairies, magic, etc. He was sure those fantasy novels and that dragon keychain were going to lead me into witchcraft, after all, and that would lead to Satanism.

Why? Because that’s what his venom peddlers preached at him, and fear is a powerful weapon.

I remember being called a witch at school and on the bus, even though I was still technically a Christian back then. (Hey, it did mean I got a whole seat to myself on the bus, at least. Eventually I got to share it with a sweet little girl who was being bullied. No one messed with her when she was sitting with the witch.) I remember learning that my boyfriend had been called into the principal’s office because of some vague rumors or accusations that he’d thrown a severed goat’s head onto the windshield of a car or something stupid like that. (Yes, it really was that idiotic.) I think he got suspended, if I recall correctly — but knowing him, that was more so because he found the accusations hilarious and got snarky with the principal. The rumors around school clearly equated his absence with guilt, though.

So anyway, yes. When the WM3 case appears in the news, I pay attention.

The state Supreme Court has ordered a new circuit court evidentiary hearing on Damien Echols’ appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the West Memphis Three case. It issued similar orders for co-defendants Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, both serving life sentences. – wm3org.typepad.com

Yes, that’s right. The Arkansas Supreme Court is granting the WM3 a new hearing that will take into account DNA evidence and evidence of jury misconduct during the trials. I just hope the cases remain at the top level from this point forward, and that Judge Burnett won’t be presiding over the hearing or the new trial it will likely engender. He still seems utterly entrenched in the idea that the police can do no wrong and remains a staunch defender of the assertion that three teenage misfits were “Satanists” who raped and killed three little boys. Despite there being no actual evidence linking them to the crime scene.

Lawyers for Echols argued at a hearing in September that Circuit Court Judge David Burnett should have taken the DNA test results into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant him a new trial; however, in 2008, Burnett rejected Echol’s request for a new trial without ever holding an evidentiary hearing. - CBS News

What’s interesting is that one victim’s mother, and another victim’s biological and adoptive fathers have all expressed their concerns about the handling of the case and the guilt of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly. And even that wasn’t enough to sway the judge.

Here’s hoping that the defending attorneys are convincing enough at the hearing to get new trials for the WM3, and that they’re exonerated this time. The real killer is presumably still out there, after all.

Edit: Jason over at Wild Hunt just posted an excellent summary of the ruling that gives more perspective on the history of the WM3 convictions.