As I mentioned in January, some folks expressed an interest in my New Year's resolution to (mostly) only read books by women. To review, here are my rules for what I can read in 2014:
All books should be written by women, with the following exceptions:
- Books already in progress prior to January 1, 2014 may be finished regardless of the author's gender
- Books in a series I am already reading may be read regardless of the author's gender
- Books needed for a class or specific project may be read regardless of the author's gender
I realized this month I needed rules to accommodate anthologies and books with multiple authors and/or editors:
- Anthologies edited by a woman are acceptable even if the collected authors are not all female, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred
- In the case of multiple authors and editors, a single woman will suffice, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred
So! With that out of the way, here's what I read in February:
Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire
This is the second of the InCryptid books, and pretty much entirely pleasure reading. I don't click with this series as deeply as I do with McGuire's Toby Daye series -- I don't really identify much with Verity Price -- but McGuire does a good job of making the interpersonal relationships interesting to me. Plus, you know, urban cryptids and secret societies. So.
Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach
I actually bought this in around 1999 when I was working for a textbook warehouse. I saw it on the shelf and was so delighted by the title that I knew I needed to read it. It's probably my favorite scholarly analysis of vampires in English-language literature and film, and deals with everything from pre-Stoker (e.g. Polidori and Byron) up through the Reagan years, ending more or less with Near Dark. This was a re-read -- it's relevant to some things I'm working on at the moment -- and very satisfying.
Spooky South, S.E. Schlosser
This is a collection of short folk stories from the Southern US as retold by the author/compiler. Schlosser's a folklorist, and I probably had higher hopes for this one than it was able to deliver, in part because I'd kind of hoped for a bit more context -- think liner notes, if you remember what those were -- when really the Spooky series is kind of like Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark for grown-ups. Lighter than I like, which is less a fault of the book itself than a mismatch of my tastes with the text. Still not a bad value as impulse buys go.
Weaving Memory, Laura Patsouris
My "Not a Book Club" book for February over at The Land, Sea & Sky, and probably not of interest if you're not into the idea of ancestor reverence as a part of one's spiritual path. You can find my full write-up here.
That puts my counts for 2014:
- 12 books finished
- 9 read in their entirety
- 2:10 ratio of men to women
My plan for March is kind of opaque at the moment, but if my latest trip to Village Books is any indication, fiction will be at least half of my reading load.
So it's True/False time in Columbia, and everything is beautiful.
I've got about twelve films on my list this year, the first of which (Jodowrosky's Dune) I caught last night after work. It was, I think, an auspicious start: beautifully made, full of heart, and exactly the thing my heart needed this week. I had to laugh at the timing, too, given that I finished the last Dune book all of a few weeks ago, so the idea was fresh in my mind.
If you want to see a story about what may be the happiest and most influential creative failure ever, go see this. It's apparently going to have relatively wide distribution in coming months.
Tonight is a longer haul, with films at 6, 8, and 10. I follow that up on Saturday and Sunday with four films each day. The range of topics is going to be intense, from particle physics to human trafficking to Nick Cave, so I'm anticipating going into Monday a little bit exhausted and a lot incoherent.
Oh, and very satisfied and happy. Yes.
And now, links:
- 100 LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost
A fantastic post about women who deserve more visibility in history and modern media than they get. Definitely great for starting a list of media to check out if your horizons need some expanding.
- Stanford scientist unveils 50-state plan to transform U.S. to renewable energy
This is not my area of expertise, but it seems to be a fairly comprehensive challenge to status quo. If I were Warren Buffett rich, I'd seriously consider working with this guy on making at least some of this happen.
- Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.
I've spent some time over the last couple of years intentionally making time to learn more about Islam, and I think this woman is a fantastic example of how people within that faith challenge the expectations most of us have based on media coverage of Muslims. High five, awesome Internet stranger!
- Inside Amtrak's (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers
I love this idea like burning, even if I'm not sure it's for me. I'm kind of Internet-dependent when I work, partially because I benefit from additional stimulation when I'm writing, but this also looks like the kind of novel experience that would teach me a lot of interesting things. I like the cut of Amtrak's jib right now. Yes I do.
- Op-ed: Coming Out As An Evangelical Pastor
As someone who lives his life in a lot of fear some days because of the political force of the US Evangelical movement, I hurt when I read this. I hurt for the people who are struggling in these environments, and I hurt because the people who most need to take these words to heart are more likely to ignore them than any other group of people.
- The Blood Harvest
This article about the biomedical industry's harvesting and use of horseshoe crab blood is both mindblowing in its own right and full of sentences I had no reasonable expectation of encountering. Like, this is information I literally could not have known I wanted. Wow.
- Your Spirit Animal Is Here To Take You On Your Vision Quest
This is making the rounds again, and it's both funny and near to my heart in terms of respecting the spiritualities of others.
And now, pants.
Last night I started feeling pretty rough. I chalked it up to the tail end of travel fatigue, popped two Aleve, and went to bed. This morning, I was like, "Man, I'm glad I took that Aleve, because I still feel kind of meh, and this would be so much worse if I hadn't!" and tried going to work. By 11 AM I was back home in my pajamas, trying to stave off chills and aches by curling up with the nearest dog.
And then I fell asleep for most of the day. As one does.
I'm pretty sure this is the non-influenza viral thing my roommates have been passing around since last week, but there's a chance it might be Billie Piper's flu. Or what my friend V had on the last day of Gally. Or something I picked up somewhere else.
I mean, I don't want to have flu -- I'm immunized and everything! -- but come on. It could be Billie Piper's flu!
(Please don't let it be flu.)
And now, links:
Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast
This? Awesome. We never learned about African history in any depth in public school, and I never had an opportunity in college.
How Single Photographs Are Saving The Lives Of Shelter Animals Across The Country
It seems obvious that better photos of shelter animals -- photos that make them seem dynamic, fun, and individual -- would make people more interested in adopting them, but the difference in before v. after is so striking. I'm glad this is a thing that people are doing.
On The Gay Thing
One of Dragon Age's lead developers talks about the challenges inherent in working toward better representation in games without it becoming a Thing. I hadn't realized that anyone on that team was part of the LGBTQ population, but that game (and its sequels) grabbed onto my heart in ways like the anonymous fan commenter's, so it's nice to see a post about it from the development side.
"Tainted Love" played by floppy disk drives, now with Marc Almond vocals
Because sometimes the Internet is magical.
Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the art is both beautiful and alien, thanks to being submerged in a live environment.
Arizona lawmakers pass controversial anti-gay bill
Gee, I can't wait to see what the gays-only drinking fountains, lunch counters, and toilets look like! (Hint: People tried using Christianity to defend racism too. Stop it. Religion isn't a license to treat people badly.)
Floating in Space
Fun with depreciating space suits! Also, kind of scary if seeing something that looks like a human floating around untethered makes you tense.
When I say it's a Thing, I mean to say that it's a significant obstacle to my ability to function. When the volume is high, I kind of explode into a bundle of coping mechanisms, most of which are essentially different flavors of procrastination. If I need to do a task that tenses me up past a certain threshold, I'll do almost any other task instead. This isn't always a bad thing -- I benefit from having an up-to-date to-do list and a clean desk, and would rather be doing something than nothing -- but the problem with running away is that sometimes you end up cornered against a fence.
Those are the times my brain likes to go limp and play dead.
"Task paralysis" isn't quite the right term, though the experience of competing tasks does contribute to the "man, it's so loud in here" effect. It's more like a certain volume kicks my process into a state of full-on tonic immobility, which may or may not be bracketed by distracting numbing/soothing behaviors like rearranging stuff, social networking, tasks I can pretend are useful and important, etc.
Watching myself do this is kind of like watching a mouse trying to scramble its way out of a fishbowl, except that the mouse doesn't exist; it's the fishbowl trying to get out of the fishbowl.
Knowing this happens isn't the same as being able to fix it. Recognize it, yes. Try to hit the reset button, yes. Many days, I keep the volume to a healthy, dull roar and just take a little break now and again to stay oriented. Some days, the best I can do is try to control the damage by channeling things so that I come as close to hitting a target as I can. Other days, I'm hitting the reset button every fifteen minutes because everything -- including things that should help, like lists -- makes things worse.
The best fix I've found for this is probably the least appealing: keep going. It's not the advice I want at my nadir, because when I'm down there all I want is for things to work instead of overwhelming me so much I lose the ability to focus, but it's the only thing I've ever found to work. It might not work the same day -- in fact, it sometimes takes me a few to get back on the horse if things are especially tense in other areas of my life -- but sooner or later the rhythm of things begins to assert itself again. As for motivation, I'm possibly lucky in that I appear to be someone who believes that not trying is at least as bad as failing, only without the potential for success.
(And yes, I can think of scenarios in which a good choice results in something even more catastrophic, but I'm able to do that in almost every single arena of my life because my brain is unpleasant like that. I'm also smart enough to decide to draw a thick line between being kind of neurotic and pessimistic and being profoundly self-destructive. So.)
This week has been interesting. This morning was a multi-reset day. I'm not sure about the rest of my week. I'm hoping the weekend will be kind. Really, as long as I can keep myself from wedging myself under the furniture, I'll call it a win.
I'm traveling at the moment -- or rather I have traveled, and will be here in LA for a couple of days both working (yay, writing and editing!) and playing (yay, Gallifrey One!) until early next week, when I will travel some more -- but my laptop is here. And the Internet is here.
The Internet is always here.
Amusingly, I'm also traveling phoneless. This has been a source of amusement (and logistical trouble) for my friends and I, because while I'm happily doing what I'm doing right now with a technology that didn't exist before I did, the rest of what I'm doing is looking a little bit early 20th Century in terms of interpersonal communications. Given that I've been going without a mobile phone for several months now, some of this is easy for me. On the other hand, conventions are a space in which being able to text the person you're trying to find is Very Helpful Indeed.
It is what it is, and I like interesting experiences. So there's that.
Yesterday was Adventures in Los Angeles With Friends Day, which mainly involved a phenomenal brunch at Basix in West Hollywood, buying macarons and dog toys in Beverly Hills (less expensive than it sounds because I'm clever), and exploring Our Lady of the Angels before hitting Trader Joe's (for groceries) and In-N-Out (for delicious burger goodness and an ill-considered but still delicious milkshake).
So yes. It's been a good trip so far. Yes.
And now, links.
- Old Mexico lives on
Fascinating map from The Economist that demonstrates just how ridiculous the way we construct the concept of "American" as being primarily ethnic Western European is, and the persistence of boundaries even after they've been redrawn.
- Here's the first recorded instance of the F-word in English
Remember, kids: words survive in language because they are useful.
- Florida Ordinance Makes It Illegal For Homeless To Use Blankets
Fuck you, Pensacola.
- "A reason to hang him": how mass surveillance, secret courts, confirmation bias and the FBI can ruin your life
Short version: this is why the Fourth Amendment matters, and why the argument that if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of is wrong.
- 1,000 Bodies Found On University Of Mississippi Land Thought To Be From Old 'Lunatic Asylum'
I confess, I get angry and cynical about stories like this, mostly because of the intersection between our uncomfortable histories in America with regard to the lives and rights of others, the fact that those bad, old ways never quite died out, and my strong distrust in the myth of progress. I want more for someone with the means to come advocate for the dead.
For a week in which I essentially had two weekends -- this week's storm shut things down pretty comprehensively around here for Tuesday and Wednesday -- I feel surprisingly overwhelmed and ready for another weekend.
Like, seriously? How does this happen?
Part of it involves a project is rolling into a more active phase at the same time as some social obligations ramp up. I'm frantically trying to prepare for Gallifrey One, the beginning of the month is the busiest time for my local Grove, and so on. Lots of things going on more or less all at once can be really energizing for me, but the flip side of that is that I wind up really excited and then wonder how to cram all of it into the time allotted.
Given that I didn't feel this way before I went back to my 4 AM wake time, this all suggests that putting myself back on farmer's hours is Super EffectiveTM. The tingle means it's working.
Given that I've been focusing more intensively of late on eating whole foods, I should not be in love with the idea of Soylent. But I am. Not because I look at this and think, "Oh hey, convenient complete nutrition!" but because I look at it and think, "OMG SPACE FOOD SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY."
Share this with all the schools, please
"We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all." People, my heart grew three sizes. Go read this and then go hug a teacher.
Ghosts of Murdered Kings
Look, if I can't link to documentaries about bog bodies, what is the Internet actually for? Gods bless you, PBS.
Compassion, Transformation, and the Power of Community
The Wild Hunt is a site that focuses on Pagan topics, news items, etc. Of late, however, it also seems increasingly focused on how ordinary activism works as enacted by members of that community. Alley Valkyrie's piece about working with the Whoville settlement in Oregon is an incredibly solid look at what works with homlessness and what doesn't in terms of helping to build stability and wellness for those on the fringes, including reducing the amount of time they spend bouncing around in the legal system.
How to: Make a DIY Modern Concrete Fire Pit from Scratch
I see this and think two things. First, that I am not allowed to have this knowledge. Second, that I will never need to buy an outdoor flower pot again.
1980s New Wave Major Arcana
Look, I know I just had a birthday, and that I don't read a lot of tarot these days, but...well, I suspect I know what I'll be spending some money on when I have properly disposable income again this spring.
Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia
"Elena Kostyuchenko knew she would be beaten. It was how hard she went down that surprised her. Not immediately. When the fist connected with her skull, she fell, yes, but then she stood again and raised her rainbow flag. The crowd was silent. Their mouths were open as if screaming, but there was no sound. Her hearing was gone. Then the police grabbed her, and Elena's first gay-pride parade was over."
Too Insane To Ignore: Marjane Satrapi On Her Fascinating Sundance Horror-Comedy 'The Voices'
I have never wanted to see something with Ryan Reynolds in it so badly in my life. This is a very strange feeling indeed.
Living Without Lights (or water, or electricity…)
This was interesting to me for several reasons. While the post itself is mostly just instructive, I found myself thinking about the strange trend of my generation toward extremes of more and less, and how only a portion of us actually choose less, and how uncomfortable the implications of the whole thing are. Like, yes, I am "interested in simplicity" and I sometimes daydream about living in a tiny house. I am also able to say these things because of my privilege as an employed, able-bodied, male-passing, white person with friends kind enough to make him part of their household, not someone experiencing genuine privation in the dead of winter. To some extent we may need to recognize the simplicity movement among people from traditionally privileged groups as possibly being both a symbol and a symptom of increasing inequity.
Meet Terri Conley: The Psychologist With an Alternative Theory of Hookup Culture
"In a series of papers published in 2011 and 2012, Conley’s lab put forth an alternative explanation: Women were passing on sexual advances out of fear of being judged as promiscuous and doubt that a one-night stand with a new partner would be pleasurable. When her researchers controlled for these factors, the casual-sex gender difference evaporated." Fascinating stuff. Her lab is currently researching consensual non-monogamy.
When I posted about my resolution to read (almost) only women in 2014, a handful of folks asked me to share what I read. While I do maintain a Goodreads page, it occurs to me that blogging my progress is probably a lot more interesting and flexible for everyone.
So. Here goes.
This month, I finished three books that I began reading prior to the new year: a general book on fitness, Frank Herbert's Dune, and Tiffany M. Gill's Beauty Shop Politics. Of the three, Gill's book is the only one that would meet the criteria of my challenge, and is also the one that I'd recommend most highly.
The history of beauty culture in the American African American community is not something much discussed, and in particular I don't think I really understood the centrality of it in terms of bolstering the Civil Rights movement and empowering women of color. I can't say as a white guy that I have a bone-deep understanding after reading a book, but this adds context I didn't have before.
Other books I finished in January:
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
This is actually a re-read for me, and enjoyable because while I know the story well, I'd forgotten the particular shape of the original text. I'd also forgotten how much it references the works of others in her personal circle, so those parts of me that delight in minutae got a nice workout.
Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I was aware of the upcoming film for Divergent, and I'd started seeing copies of it floating around in public, so I figured I'd give it a go. I ended up binge reading the whole series. It hits me right in the sci-fi dystopia buttons, and the story is one in which there's a lot of opportunities to think about identity, justice, conformity, courage, bias, etc. The diversity level in the text is middling -- lots of PoC, very limited LGBTQ, good gender variety -- and I kind of want to start watching IMDB to see how badly Hollywood sucks out the good stuff and replaces it with crap. Also, like any trilogy there's a necessary shift in the third book, but I'm still trying to decide how I feel about some of those changes, and if there was a better way to tell that part of the story.
Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
I realized around the late middle of January that I'd enjoy engaging in book club-style behavior with my Pagan studies without going to the trouble of actually starting a book club. Krasskova's book is the one I chose for January. You can find my write-up here.
That puts my counts for 2014:
- 8 books finished
- 5 read in their entirety
- 2:6 ratio of men to women
For February, I'm already working on a good blend of fiction and non-fiction, including another well-loved re-read, and a possible exception to my resolution (under the "required for a project/study" provision). So, uh, stay tuned if you're into that sort of thing.
I enjoy these experiences, even if they're physically miserable. Temporary discomfort is like formal poetry; the constraints make it interesting and force us to approach challenges in novel ways. The level of challenge and contrast between the ordinary and constrained way are part of that. It's like a roller coaster, though I'm not entirely sure if it's more like being one than riding one.
Plus, I lose a lot of my filters -- both for input and output -- when I'm feverish. It's nice to have inexplicable laughing-at-groceries experiences. I feel "fresher" mentally after a couple of days of atypical connections. Sometimes my brain just needs to play without anyone at the helm, I guess.
And now, links.
10 Years Ago, Opportunity Rover Began a 90-Day Mission That Never Ended
Ten years ago, two rovers -- Spirit and Opportunity -- started exploring Mars. They were supposed to last three months. Spirit gave up the ghost in 2011 after spending a few months doing stationary experiments after getting stuck, but Opportunity is still kicking well past it's expiration date. If your heart is not filled with pride and love for these bravest of toasters, I am not sure you are capable of either.
One map sums up the damage caused by the anti-vaccination movement
Here's the thing: even if one believes that vaccines may contain toxic compounds -- a thing that can no doubt be improved -- using them is demonstrably better overall for populations of humans than not using them. And, given that Wakefield's findings have been pretty much debunked at this point, the anti-vacc argument is increasingly weak sauce in the face of the obvious benefits of maintaining herd immunity.
Satanists Blamed For Theft of Pope's Blood
Because, you know, nobody else might really want a memento of Pope John Paul II because human beings love tangible things and tend to collect and like to touch. Nobody could possibly think that stealing a reliquary for sale on the black market might make them a significant amount of money. There's no possible way that anybody, ever, might think to steal something rare and valuable and religiously significant. Except, you know, Satanists. Scary, scary Satanists.
Science Fiction All Genres!
There is a reason this Kickstarter project is nailing its stretch goals, and that reason is that it is awesome. Sweet gods, I need to win the lottery.
The Myth of the Fag Hag and Dirty Secrets of the Gay Male Subculture
One of the many reasons monosexual cisfolk can be difficult to deal with: misogyny in the gay male community. Which, incidentally, tends to drive a lot of transphobia as well.
Green burials reflect a shift to care for the body and soul
I love that green burial is starting to get a toehold in the monotheisms in a visible way. It's actually in my top three preferences in terms of future disposition of my remains -- if I can find a place that will let me include some grave goods, it could beat out alkaline hydrolysis as my #1 and cremation as my #2 -- though I still have a lingering discomfort with the concept of future anthropologists misgendering me. So.
If You Want To Fit In At This Public School Just Become Christian
This kind of thing, incidentally, is why secular public schools are important. By that I don't mean that individuals can't express their faith and that religious topics can't be taught or discussed in history, literature, or cultural studies. They should. What I mean is that students must be allowed to participate and feel safe regardless of their faith, and that educators have a responsibility in their role not to infringe on student's rights to do that. If the teachers in my rural hometown during the 1990s were able to do that for the most part, this school should be able to figure it out. Then again, looking at this map, Louisiana is also in a state that allows public schools to teach creationism. So.
- CHVRCHES covered "Bela Lugosi's Dead"
And I don't hate it. Mostly because I don't expect it to be Bauhaus, and because it does something new with the original instead of trying to imitate it. Your mileage may vary.
- What Kind of Meat is Human Meat?
The answer may surprise you. And possibly make you uncomfortable about veal if you weren't already.
- Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars
The Internet can be a fantastic tool for minorities and others dealing with inequity. On the other hand, we also seem to have a nasty habit of eating our own. This is going to take some work.
Roommate J and I are both home sick today. To give you an idea of how this is going, I offer an extract.
Me: *in kitchen, bursts out laughing*
Me: "Nothing. I'm just...laughing. At groceries."