Posts Tagged ‘narrative’

Vital gender under-class lessons from a sabretoothed squirrel

Just like I enjoyed Twilight while noticing its perturbing elements, I can appreciate the fun animation in Ice Age while REALLY hating the sexist cultural referents its humor depends on. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Here, we have a host of assumptions underlying the narrative of the guy squirrel and the girl squirrel. Which we know is a girl squirrel because it’s wearing blue eyeshadow and acts sexually manipulative. (Hint! Little girls! That’s all you need to become a Woman! Start practicing today!)

The guy squirrel possesses the fruits of his labor, which he has rightly earned and which he needs to survive. The girl squirrel uses a combination of sexual manipulation and faked distress to trick the guy into entering an implied contract to share resources based on love and sex. This would not make sense unless we understood and accepted that the girl is unable to get an acorn through her own labor. The girl then screws the guy out of his earnings. He has been a fool! (Little boys, take note! Don’t let this happen to you! It’s just how girls are!) The end.

Let me unpack it a little bit more for you. Women’s efforts and labor doesn’t actually count. If they do anything, or work at anything, or achieve anything, that can be instantly invalidated by saying they stole that tangible success through sex, ie through a transaction with a man trading the only thing women have of value, which is their sexual availability to men. Or, in this case, to goddamned sabre-toothed cartoon man-squirrels. That’s either just the way girl squirrels are because of their essential nature which results in wry romantic comedy hijinks, OR they’re that way because society has denied them the ability to make a living or if they (barely) have it, the actual credit for making that living is denied them and it must have been due to some man in the background who they’re blowing on the casting couch (or the VC board room, or whatever). Therefore, it makes sense to believe, and to base humor that “we all can understand” on the “fact”, the weird, powerful, and false idea, that there is a huge category of women with no legitimate personal interest in any particular subject who are just looking for some powerful man to fuck in order to access (and steal) his power (though how are they stealing it if they are actually exchanging something of value, ie, sex?) These women are looking to sleep with you, the powerful (!?) man to get a tangible benefit because they can’t (legitimately by your standards) benefit from their own labor. Given the slightest opportunity they will turn on you (the man who has earned everything justly, even if it has been by exploiting others’ labor). Unfortunately there is NO woman so powerful and accomplished that this misogynist patriarchal myth cannot discredit. Go ahead and think of one and let me know if you come up with any answers.

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Camille, with a gun, in pants!

Every time something exploded or there was a clich√© in Quantum of Solace I punched Rook excitedly. He is now black and blue all up one arm. Yay, it was fantastic! Things were totally on fire and going very fast and there was broken glass everywhere and there were lots of guns! That makes it the best movie ever, just like XXX and The Killer and Bullet to the Head and, apparently, the new Vin Diesel movie which from the previews looks like heaven. NOT as heavenly as the Star Trek movie preview though. Holy crap! They seriously aimed that trashtasticness straight into my soul! You didn’t know I had a soul? Well I do, and it has Spock and Kirk in it looking like they’re going to kiss while their spaceship explodes.

Back to Quantum of Solace. The highlight of the whole fucking movie was PANTS. Camille is always whipping a gun or a knife out of somewhere when she’s wearing like 6 inches of fabric. And then finally in the ending scene she is wearing pants and has a big old gun. Thank you god and whatever movie director was like “yanno what it is fucking stupid these tough secret agent movie chicks are always in high heels and an evening gown in the middle of an airplane crash, how about we give her 5 minutes to prepare for going out to shoot this guy in the head on her secret mission and let her put on a pair of fucking pants. Tough ones with pockets in.” THANK YOU.

I will leave the intelligent critiques for later. For now it is all burbling and dreamy looks. Oh, but I did feel that though camera cutting from thing to thing in the action scenes was distracting and annoying, it was not ineptness or cheating but was meant on purpose to disrupt the linear narrative of violence. IN other words it was important that the violence be confusingly nonlinear so you don’t know what what hit what or where that grappling hook came from or where the crane is swinging to on the scaffolding, because it’s important that you be very unsure *what caused what*.

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Garage Sale for Obama

I saw this flyer up on a post outside of the Safeway at 29th and Mission, a garage sale to raise money to give to the Obama campaign.

Garage Sale for Obama

The other day in a friend’s blog I noticed her thinking of saving money for some expensive Fluevog boots, but then she reconsidered and decided to give that money to the campaign instead.

I wear a size eight and covet these boots. How can I justify spending over three hundred dollars (that I could conceivably have in a month or so) on boots when I could give that money to the ” Obama FTW ” fund. Its true…. So maybe no boots for me right now. Woe.

Don’t they both seem like very Gen X middle class fundraising ideas, more than bake sales or auctions or whatever? It struck me as something I’ve never seen before.

Today I did a little housecleaning to get ready for Bork to come visit, finished reading I Am a Cat, thought more about Random Acts of Senseless Violence, had lunch with Bork who is here now, yay! Did a driving lesson with Zond-7 and we drove around Pee’s harbor and Ducktown Marina to look at what it is like to live there. Pee’s Harbor was more posh. Ducktown was more the sort of thing that appeals to me especially “Nancy and Jane’s garden” and how everything is a bit half-assed and jumbledy. Apparently the politics of Ducktown are: the owners are a big fancy trust, and want to sell. the people offering are offering a few million too low. Meanwhile there is Measure You-Know-What that defines that area as open space. How could they evict the people who have lived there for 30 years and have giant floating houses not just little boats on their bit of dock?

Then up to the city – rested – had dinner with vito_excalibur – went to SFinSF and liked nihilistic kid and dlevine’s stories – T.B. was very funny and scatterbrained – had a little of Vito’s whiskey – was in pain – didn’t know what to say to people who congratulated me on my verticality – gave out handfuls of Obama buttons. N.K.’s story was a Raymond Carver – HP Lovecraft mashup with 3 people drinking whiskey in a cave. I am sure Ken H. should read it if he hasn’t already. He must have? He’d like it. I shrieked “Wooooooo!!” way too loud when the chick took a mouthful of whiskey and there was mention of a lantern because I am a gamer and knew what was coming, but then felt silly. Then like 5 minutes later she spewed fiery death over a shoggoth and I was vindicated. At least vito got it. We gave dlevine hell teasing him about how he was flying colors (yay sf hanky code) but guessed his code slightly wrong. NK’s comments during the slightly doofusy “question and answer” period were awesome. Yay for people who make sense and are funny. At one point I just wanted to smack dlevine for his comments on the obviousness of deism and then his attempt at a save in saying some people did not think so but there was always room to change one’s mind. Boooo from the row of atheists! His story rocked – he read Charlie the Purple Giraffe, which I enjoyed. Zond-7 asked how one could sustain this sort of meta narrative for a much longer story which led us to some mention of Don Quixote, She-Hulk, and I brought up The Great Good Thing which while it has some twee elements was well done. Vito had some muttery comments about alternate histories and time travel and the point not being the Twist. I cannot remember the other people’s questions or comments all that well or if I do I will remain mercifully silent because some of them were embarrassingly silly. Saw Rina, J.W., klages, whump, cyn, nk’s friend who i can’t remember but who was introduced charmingly to me as my secret stalker, so I hope she comments somewhere, kate, and a jillion other people. Home, bed, merciful horizontalness, lovely warm electric blanket.

Also watched a ton of Sarah Haskins Target Women – go watch them – they’re great. The cleaning and yogurt ones were the funniest.

Tomorrow will do lots of hard work – Rook and Moomin are out camping for the rpg nerdy beach party – I will meet up later on with them and Bork – I’d like to go to the Emperor Norton party at Borderlands for a bit but it might depend on working on the book and how much I get done.

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Action movie preview rant; racism in Indiana Jones

I went to my friend’s steampunk beach wedding with Rook and Zond-7 and all and sundry!

there is no charge for awesome

Aren’t they cute as hell?

Held a giant chiton (described in post below, but here’s the photo to show how huge it was!)

Went to RoboGames! Drove all over hell and back! Drove to Oakland and hung out with Minnie and Moomin and small Mr. Screamypants!

I saw the Indiana Jones movie, loving it and hating it. I was steeling myself for an inevitable ancient-Harrison-Ford romance with a plucky yet needing to be rescued 24 year old actress, and indeed the movie had all the pain of Smurfette Syndrome, ie, a bunch of male characters of varying kinds and one plucky girl. BUT…. it had the saving grace of having TWO female characters. The plucky girl was older than one would expect from craptastic sexist ageist Hollywood, like actually old enough to have a young adult son, and old enough for it not to be completely stereotypically annoyingly prize-like for her to be involved with Indiana Jones. And she got to kick ass some of the time. The other female character was the totally awesome Evil Psychic Communist in uniform complete with shiny black gloves and obsession with aliens and mind control. She was okay.

There was a really stupid and unnecessary racist bit with the …. clay-covered “naked savages” springing out of the masonry to defend the temple. Why, why, why? Why was that necessary? “Insert mob of non-white naked howling irrational people here.” What??? Why?! Covered in MUD! Wearing GRASS SKIRTS! HOWLING! I believe even ULULATING! Inexplicably kept alive for 5000 years! Fanatically DEVOTED! Mayan, yet Peruvian, yet grass skirt wearing yet wielding BOLAS! Then awe-struck, and bowing to the Artifact! Arrrgh. Rook and I sat there groaning and scoffing. Come on! More skulls, giant insects, sword fights, stone mechanisms rolling shut just a hair too late, waterfalls, yes, Racist Crap no. Anyway!

The pulp-like “ooo mayans” and “ooo nazca lines” and “ooo now we’re in the amazon” was just funny and overblown. I didn’t even get annoyed by it like I did with the weird stuff in Emperor’s New Groove. It was so bad it was hilarious. Same with the “magnetism”!

Back to the villain – I enjoyed the bit where

SPOILER!!!!!

She was going, “I WANT TO KNOW” and staring at the alien skeleton and the aliens began to beam stuff into her head! Yay! I wanted her to know! Go, Hero of the Order of Lenin! Go, psychic scientist crazy woman! My higher level analysis was that her gender was being conflated with communism and the “hive mind” of the aliens. Manliness was the independent thought and maverick status of Indiana Jones and his little rebel boy sidekick. The communist villain spoke at length about her evil plot, which was to gain enormous psychic powers so that everyone in the world’s thoughts would be like hers, they would be taught right thinking, but they wouldn’t know it wasn’t their thoughts. They’d think they were having their own ideas – but it would be communist mind control. Then, she ended up marvelling at the beauty of the alien hive mind, and merging orgasmically with it and squirting up into an interdimensional portal. You can see why I cheered. I don’t think I was meant to and instead it was meant to be punishment or comeuppance and a fit ending. I think also the idea of women in authority, in positions of equality and authority, in communist countries, was mixed up with current (and past) anxieties about feminism, PC-ness, and women’s rights, so that woman in authority = hive mind = evil.

Onward and backward to the previews!

The movie previews promised to be good since they would be action movies. I’m a HUGE sucker for explosions, chases, fights, and other action movie bullshit. Add space battles and I’m extra happy. So, no horrible “romantic comedy” previews I had to suffer through. Instead I got to admire the explosions, while bitching about the Smurfette Syndrome about 5 times in a row. “The Spirit” – Frank Miller movie, made fun of preview already, hilarious voiceover with superhero going “The city screams, she is my mother, she is my lover.” Sooo that makes you a motherfucker then? *sigh* So stupid! So annoying! So unnecessary! Then yet another movie about a Man having Important Man experiences with women as peripheral sex prizes (some movie about a guy living backwards in time. I would prefer they just LEAVE WOMEN COMPLETELY OUT, thanks but no thanks. Give explosions and battles, keep nasssty chips.) Hellboy which looked fucking awesome!!!! Awesome! Hello! Just great! But again, is man having his Man Moments because hollywood if in an action movie has to show how being a Man is all about heroism and heroism is all about being a man! I am so annoyed. I bet if the female characters have any good fighting moments of bravery it will be only because they are defending their man, or their dad, or their brother, or carrying out their father’s last wish, or some other annoying-ass thing whose subtext implies that women only exist in relation to men, especially when they kick ass. Then, Eagle Eye, which looked to be even more of the same. It is all about the profound experience of the lone man who in his lonely way has an Experience. Do I make myself clear, here? Why is this always the plot? It’s like the Joseph Campbell sexist as hell Hero’s Journey just mutated itself into every story possible.

Don’t even get me STARTED on Wall-e. FFS. I mean, I want to see a fucking awesome movie about some robots. In space. Why must it get all messed up with gender stuff? Why not just put some eyelashes and lipstick on that rescue-screamy-flirty-sexy robot girl? WTF with the robot gender roles? You know, if I were a robot, I’d think the nicest bit of would be getting to be ungendered. Like we didn’t go far enough with the movie where all the ants were heterosexual male/female couples (??) and the Bee one, and the one where the (male) cattle had udders? What?

Okay I’m glad I got that off my chest! Otherwise I had an intense few days (and nights) at work, a weekend packed with social events, I am concentrating hard on walking but it’s very hard, and Rook and I gardened a little bit, which was super nice since it’s been so neglected.

I have been noticing how my car is like my spaceship and everywhere I go is like an expensive gravity well. Some places, like the building I work in, or a grocery store, suck you into their enormous gravity well and it is hard to achieve escape velocity. For those, I need the powerful shuttlecraft of my wheelchair. For gas stations, small cafes, and places that can be traversed easily, I can achieve escape velocity handily with only the EVA jetpack of my crutches or cane. You think I am joking about imagining that those annoying slow wheelchair lifts are the airlock? No… I’m really imagining it and enjoying it with a slightly embarrassed smile in case anyone can read my thoughts. I prefer the Belter lifestyle without going near those annoying gravity wells where I am way too heavy, give me the asteroids any day. What this means in practical reality is that I go to the Carl’s Jr. drive through a lot these days.

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Invertebrate rescue and the Rights of Women

Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to meeeeee! Eeeeeeeeeeeepc!!!!

I got a tiny cute little computer for my birthday!

And pancakes and colorful drawings, and everyone being together, and the beach, and seeing the Kung Fu Panda movie (which I wrote up briefly this morning for Body Impolitic), and some fabulous zines, and Flora Tristan‘s The Workers’ Union. (DROOOOOL, I love Flora Tristan so much! I’ve read her Peregrinations of a Pariah and her London travel journal and some of her political writing! But not this, ever. It’s amazing.)

Rook made the pancakes and had also made cookies the night before. After the movie last night we all ran around Yerba Buena Park, went to the MLK waterfall, and it was super nice (but tiring). He and Moomin were doing fake kung fu and then I think for the rest of the evening and the next day they were playing they were superpowered kung fu animals. Rook and Zond-7 and I watched the two newest Doctor Who episodes and they were JUST GREAT and very disturbing.

Today! I almost wimped out on an Expedition. Went anyway.

Went to the beach! Everything on the drive down rt. 1 stunningly beautiful. My favorite tiny beach inside the breakwater! Kids rocketing around! They built a sand castle with me & ran around like wild things. Lucked out no traffic no fog, only a bit windy! Saw many moon jellies, harbor seals sticking up their heads from the water, grebes pelicans cormorants and terns. Rolled & walked rather a long way. (I am exhausted but aside from the pain in my leg am okay, it’s more like regular exercise exhaustion, but I don’t know how much I can do tomorrow physically).

Then when we walked to the point to sit on the wall, we saw a guy surf fishing. He pulled something out of the water with a gaff, inspected it, and threw it down onto the sand. He was far enough away that it was hard to tell what it was. But… it looked like the shape of a giant gumboot chiton and I saw a flash of orange underneath. I didn’t have my crutches (having gone from the path to the wall on Zond-7′s arm) and there was no way I could get to it. “You could find out…” “I won’t know what it is!” “You could bring it to me!” “WHAT!!! Pick it UP???!!!!” I couldn’t believe it when he really picked it up and started bringing it over. I mean, this is a thing pretty much as big as a human liver and kind of the same texture. Or, like, a liver mixed with a smallish nerf football. OMG I started bouncing around and going “YAYYYYYY!!!” Guess what, it was indeed the most humonguous gumboot chiton I have ever seen. It’s my favorite kind! I saw the magnetite-tipped teeth of its radula! and they were super disgustingly creepily awesome! Anyway this thing had to be a foot long! We held it for a while and then Zond-7 was totally a hero and clambered out onto the rocks with it and dramatically threw it into as deep and rocky a spot as he could manage. I’ve never seen one at this beach and it seemed like a sort of fabulous omen for it to be my birthday and that I got to hold my favorite invertebrate.

The beach has become a mixture of sublime and boring, like that Berlioz opera.

I thought about how intensely my perceptions and experience have changed over the course of my life. When I was a kid, I loved the cold. It felt just cold, but not bad. There was an initial shock, then I welcomed the cold and felt like I was made of knives and wind. I’d breathe in the cold, or open myself up to the 50 degree sea water, and expand like the universe, jumping around, body surfing, rolling in the snow, whizzing down a hill on my flying saucer. My lips would turn blue and I’d shiver uncontrollably, and someone would make me come out of the water or into the house or car. But now, there is no way I can enjoy the cold, or even tolerate it without intense pain. I thought of times when I’ve heard people (talking to me, or others) cajoling, persuading, bullying: “Come on! It’s not so cold! You’ll get used to it!” They could say that to me now, and it wouldn’t be true. Likewise, I thought of all the old people who I grew up around, and their constant horror at how cold I must be, and how impossible it was for them to understand that I was not suffering from cold air or water or snow, to the point of complete disrespect of my reported experience. I thought of how many experiences like this there are. Not just cold or heat, but pain, the tastes of food, emotional suffering, oppression, sanity, *reality*. People change over the course of their lives, and know, or should know, that it is possible to perceive the world and experience very differently and that cold DOES feel good, and that also, cold DOES feel bad and terrible, and there is a giant spectrum of true experience. In other words, I marvel that people don’t respect others’ subjectivity or reported experience. How can they not have learned some measure of empathy, merely from the changes they’ve been through in their own lives and the different people they were and are and will be? I said some of this to Zond-7 who replied that people are alienated from their former selves, their younger selves, and instead construct narratives in which they used to be wrong, and now are right. I felt like I was seeing in greater depth how it is that people lose or never develop a sense of that respect and empathy and how related it is (or can be ) to discontinuity of identity and self hate/disrespect. I realized that “self respect” has to include all your selves across time. Zond-7 went on to talk about the evening person (who stays up too late) dissing the morning person (your future self who you are screwing up by staying up too late) so that the morning person (future you) is really angry at past you from the evening before. (Hmm, I am still thinking about that and myself and my issues with health and driving myself too hard.) We made some remarks on how lovely it would have been in a way to have these thoughts in 1789 or something when we could have written “A Treatise on the Unities and Discontinuities of Human Consciousness and the Rational Social Mind” and been studied like geniuses hundreds of years later but instead it will be like “LiveJournal entry, ho hum, 2 comments”. Hahaha! We didn’t mean it and do believe it is a million million times better to have the net and have everyone saying this sort of thing in casual asides to ferment & propagate like letters but more discoverable.

I give you a quote from Flora Tristan, from the chapter “Why I Mention Women” in The Workers’ Union, 1843, the book where she called for an international social justice movement and union to transcend existing governments:

Workers, in 1791, your fathers proclaimed the immortal declaration of the rights of man, and it is to that solemn declaration that today you owe your being free and equal men before the law. May your fathers be honored for this great work! But, proletarians, there remains for you men of 1843 a no less great work to finish. In your turn, emancipate the last slaves still remaining in French society; proclaim the rights of woman, in the same terms your fathers proclaimed yours.
“We, French proletarians, after fifty-three years of experience, recognize that we are duly enlightened and convinced that the neglect and scorn perpetrated upon the natural rights of women are the only cause of unhappiness in the world, and we have resolved to expose her sacred and inalienable rights in a solemn declaration inscribed in our charter. We wish women to be informed of our declaration, so that they will not let themselves be oppressed and degraded any more by man’s injustice and tyranny, and so that men will respect the freedom and equality they enjoy in their wives and mothers.
1. The goal of society necessarily being the common happiness of men and women, the Workers’ Union guarantees them the enjoyment of their rights as working men and women.
2. Their rights include equal admission to the Workers’ Union palaces, whether they be children, or disabled or elderly.
3. Women being man’s equal, we understand that girls will receive as rational, solid, and extensive (though different) an education in moral and professional matters as the boys.
4. As for the disabled and the elderly, in every way, the treatment will be the same for women as for men.

A footnote by the translator, Beverly Livingston, notes that Tristan had read Mary Wollstonecraft but probably not Olympe de Gouges.

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Trashy fic and pulp novels

The other day I heard someone use the word “internets” without irony.

So, on my internets I just read a fabulous fic where the Mary Sue gets pregnant with Peter Pettigrew’s make-out child and what’s her name the Hogwarts school nurse gives her a magic morning after pill. Thank you internets!

Sigoury hated transfiguration like she hated brussle sprouts. With a vengeance. She had an emabarrasing talk with Madam Pompfrey and was given a book on contraceptive spells. She wanted nothing more than to be in her boyfriends arms. Boyfriend. Merlins pants she loved that word like she loved Divinitation. A lot.

Merlins pants I love how little kids write! Go, little kids! Keep at it!

For my more “literary” reading I am totally rolling in space opera pulp fiction. Deathstalker is a juicylicious heap of cliches laid on so thick it’s like first reading Tarzan or Conan books. Everything happens just as you’d think it would. If there’s a moment where it’d be good if a thing walked into the door with a disruptor pistol in its hand, IT WILL, and it will be surrounded by curling mists and street thugs wearing scanty tattered furs. Atmosphere is thick. Nothing really happens for a reason good enough to hold up in narrative court. It’s that way because it plays out well. Like, everyone has space blasters, but they are powered by narrative rechargium or something, so that between shots they take a few minutes to crystal up again. Is there any coherent feeling to why everyone would freaking have uselessanium-rechargium powered guns? Duh of course not! It’s just to give a vague reason for why everyone carries cool giant swords! BLAST BLAST HACK BLEED GACK DIE.

It gets good because it’s so over the top. Its pleasure is a lot like the pleasure of movie cliches that are instantly trite the moment they spring into existence, like the seedy bar in Star Wars full of all the different aliens in the spaceport. Instant cliche!

I like the relentless description of atmospheric battle and how it goes on forever. It is vivid and sort of coloring-book simple the way my imagination was when I was 9 and lying awake in bed at night thinking about spaceships and planetary invasions.

The hatch slid open. Bright crimson light spilled into the airlock along with the heavy humid air of the jungle. It smelled of rotting meat. And then everything in the world tried to get through the hatch at once. There were huge ferocious things with teeth and claws and glaring eyes, fighting each other for the chance to get in. There were smaller things that seemed to be all teeth and claws pouring over the lower edge of the airlock in waves. There were flying things and lashing tendrils of vegetation with vicious spines and barbs, and it all wanted to get in. There were screams and roars and ululating howls, echoing deafeningly in the confined space of the airlock.

A long tentacled thing surged toward Owen, and he shot it automatically. The energy blast hit the beast at point-blank range, and its head exploded, showering him with foul-smelling blood. Something with huge clawed hands and a mouth bigger than Owen’s head hauled the tentacled body out of the way and hurled itself at Owen. He met it with his sword, and more blood spurted as he cut deep into the leathery flesh.

“Shut the hatch!” he screamed. “Shut the bloody hatch!”

Honest to god it was a pleasure to type that.

The alien cities have terribly WRONG geometry described with vague Lovecraftiness. If someone isn’t dealing with a Thing walking in the door with a gun in its tentacle, then they’re sitting there explaining their Evil Plot or their Dark Secret to themselves. Endless dark secrets and intrigues, Things and swords and cyberspace, AIs, rogue hidden planets, the Darkvoid (when I mentioned it to Rook, he snickered and said, “Is that darkvoid as in all one word darkvoid?” and yes it is!) The hacker revolutionary “cyberrats” are inexplicably all teenagers. Clones walk around sort of like synchronized swimmers with a group of their clone-siblings, in matching outfits. There are gladiators. If there is a secret meeting, it’s in a lair in the sewers and they are the exaggerated Ur-sewers of all time. Empresses and aristocrats are unabashedly decadent as they pretty much eat live kittens for breakfast along with glanded drug battle symphonies and the fresh blood of hapless orphans. Espers are neurotic; their heads frequently explode.

The Darkvoid. The darkness beyond the Rim.

Yeah.

I was super happy with the many women characters who were interesting and tough and not described in the common annoying way that makes their main personality trait or characteristic “rapability”. Till about page 200 this pleased me very well. Then it started to wear a bit at the seams. And does not pass Bechdel test. Still! Really not bad at all!

The character names are great too – they are all named things like Jack Random and Captain Silence, Ruby Journey, Kid Death, Valentine Wolfe. I think it’s hilarious.

Last year I tried to get the happy rush that I used to have a s a kid while reading cheesy Michael Moorcock fantasy novels, and I picked up some random Elric book but either his early prose has become unbearable to me or it was just the wrong Elric book for that time of the month, because I couldn’t get past page 10. I wondered if perhaps the innocent pleasures of incredibly cheesy pulp were lost to me forever now that I’m middle aged, jaded, and have had too much grad school. BUT NO. It has all come tearing in through the airlock.

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Magically better: not

When earlier this month I got undiagnosed there was a wave of shock and relief. And then my brain did something like a rewrite of my projected narrative, like “And then I will just work hard and get magically better so fast everyone’s head will spin.” It cheered me up!

That hasn’t happened, and I’m starting to hit a wall where I realize I’m still in pain, and I’m not getting magically better. Going off the baclofen and Lyrica did not free me up to suddenly dance in the streets. I’m walking more, especially around the house, and can do housework with more competence. I can wheel myself about as far as I could last fall. That’s it.

I missed my appointment with the neurologist in part because of scheduling problems but in part because I just Couldn’t Deal With It. It was a relief not to think about things too much in the last few weeks.

Now what? I’m not sure.

I’m so glad I didn’t get any more injections … I’m feeling very skeptical of the trigger point and botox injection routes. The botox thing especially might not be so benign and temporary as it has been presented to me. After the injections into my spine last May, which was very horrible and painful and with lasting painful aftereffects, skepticism is my friend.

By the way! I am enjoying New Mobility magazine. Here is one glossy magazine where I read all the ads — as avidly as I read the articles. And, how fucking important and heartening to see a magazine full of other disabled people, and with bits and pieces of their complicated individual stories, not reduced to a sound bite, not over simplified. But with all the complexities of daily life, of varying pain level and ability and need for help. I noticed Kids on Wheels magazine as well and am going to suggest it to the school district and the local library. It would be very good for able bodied kids to read it and see that things are complicated… and that being disabled does not make other people alien creatures.

My legs are still cramping up or spasming; doing that thing. I don’t know what to call it! And, my foot still drags and my leg goes numb and tingly. I’m doing my stationary-bike pedaling every day a couple of times a day, again. My left upper arm is still doing that thing that I think of as the Perturbing Thing that I Have Never Felt Before. (It’s just not as constant or as bad as it was on the baclofen). My hands are still a bit messed up. Cold is painful and intense for me. I’m starting to think that extreme heat is also not so good; hot baths (that help pain on one level, because they warm me up) and hot tubbing leaves me oddly limp and in a whole different kind of pain.

By evening I’m ready to cry from pain and exhaustion, which probably means I’m pushing myself too hard, living a little too fast, not pacing myself during the day.

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A brief mention of The Orphan’s Tales

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Now that I’ve read book 2, Cities of Coin and Spice I feel comfortable elevating it to my golden bookshelf of great books of all time. It is a classic “Mirror for Princes” or book of moral instruction robed in the most entertaining sugary stories. Beasts and monsters, fantastic quests, myths, and the subtle moving of relationships over time, mix with global politics and the pleasure of creation of worlds, & with a healthy dose of messing gender politics and narrative. It makes everything else look clumsy. I’ve read the Pancatantra, different versions of Kalila and Dimna, the Mahabharata, various translations of 1001 Nights and the Ramayana, all the Icelandic and Norwegian sagas you can think of and more, and a wad of the longer Chinese novels as well. Long, complicated novels with vast arcs of interrelated stories! My obsession! It’s like savoring the endless complexities of a drink of water when you’re dying of thirst. This is a deeply satisfying book. Sugar and good medicine, as a mirror for princesses should be.

I am annoyed at the misunderstanding of it as a collection of fairy tales. You could read it that way… and it could be lovely and satisfying and entertaining that way too.

But damn, the beautiful writing! The sentences that make me swoon, one after the other! The complicated structure! The way so many characters have tendrils into other stories 5 layers deep and 500 pages away! The way that you see the same story from multiple tellings and points of view, not in a bludgeon-you-over-the-head way but sideways so you have to think and remember and look back to figure it out, because an echo has caught your ear or eye.

I’m rereading it for the third time and figuring things out while taking notes. I had to, to figure out whether it was always the Wizard Omir or not in some of the stories, and who everyone was, and when (I am not quite clear on the when of things as the Caliphates are confusing, and Ragnhild and the wars.)

The sources are pleasantly diverse to anyone who loves things to be non-eurocentric. Yes it has central european fairy tale roots, and arab and persian, and norse, and a bit of chineseness and lots of hindu mythological/philosophical/literary sources. WITHOUT BEING STUPID about it. So rare!

You will notice that barely anyone is white and if they are it is a matter of remark that they have sun-colored hair or milk-skin; it is good too to read something where the baseline isn’t white white white.

If I could just point out… what Valente has done is pretty fucking amazing. The Pancatantra for example does nested stories with dazzling splendor and with the beautiful layering of meaning & message that builds up so that by the end you are likely taught some part of the complicated lessons of how it might be wise to treat other people well and behave morally or whatever. But the characters from the Friends book don’t resurface transformed by time and adventures and new relationships in later tales – as they do in The Orphan’s Tales. In My Name is Red, another very lovely but also very maddening-because-so-sexist book of complex nested stories that pack a political punch, the stories are interrelated and from different points of view, unlike the 1001 Nights or older tales, but Valente’s book is actually larger in scope and twice as complicated. She kicks Orhan Pamuk’s ass around the block and back. May I live to see her Nobel Prize… surely she will give a better speech than Lessing’s vague Luddite rant which I can’t snarl about enough…

(What I mean about Pamuk and sexism is just utter awkward blindness, like you’re reading some fabulous lovely book and then realize in midstream or right away if you’re tuned in, that there’s one female character out of a cast of hundreds and she’s THE LAND or THE NATION or something, totally smurfette syndrome, with added annoying nationalism that is also romantic love. Pamuk suffers from it, badly. Valente is the antidote to it – I’ve been waiting all my life to read this.)

Valente deserves world level recognition of these books. I have a lot more to say about this and will be posting something more coherent on the feministsf blog and wiki. My notes while reading developed into a sort of glossary of the characters and some different outlines of events. They’ll have massive spoilers, and are meant for the pleasure of re-reading with increased understanding – not for use while reading the first time unless you want to be a dirty rotten cheater.

And all written with the most beautiful exquisite sense of humor!

All this is mostly about book 1. But my god, in book 2, The book of the storm! The coins! Valente is not fucking around or pulling any punches here.

Could someone please do me a favor and get Peter Beagle to read it just to make him faint with envy and pleasure? Twist his arm, please. I only know him a little and not well enough to persuade him. But well enough to want to give him a present.

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Conversations late at night

The other night on being asked rather late in bed while about to pass out from sleeping pills, “What do you think will be the most amazing thing you’ll see in your lifetime?” I considered a bit, probably going cross-eyed with effort. “Don’t say anything soppy, like… ‘you’.” I would never! Only sometimes! But not to that question. I cast about for nanobots or cyborgian implants or space colonies, believing at least in orbital space station hotels which will be sooner than we think. But no. What it will be is just that things will pass us up. We won’t understand them anymore, or the way people are. It will be people and how they act, and how they are. They’ll be so “continuous partial attention” that we won’t get their art, or what it is that they’re doing that has meaning or how it’s productive. They’ll be like… Have you read Gormglaith?

(Long mad explanation of Gormglaith, each detail more improbable and giggly than the next. They… go around in tights… eating sandwiches… they pee just anywhere… all girls… and there’s sort of houses or shelters and you can just get root beer… and so they’re talking about sandwiches or knitting gauges or land-spirits while shampooing their hair or masturbating and it’s because nothing like that matters, just do whatever… no big deal. (Disbelief but growing, perhaps grudging fascination). The are always talking about spinning and textile sounding things but it turns out they are hacking the DNA, they’re nanobot-hacking land goddess teenagers in wooden clogs and longstockings. And they’re just all bopping around and they seem so free, like people younger than us seem, because we can’t read them, like my friends Kiriko Moth and Jambery who I just sort of run into around town, doing anything, and they seem like they could be those girls eating sandwiches sort of wholesomely, in stockings, while behind their eyes they’re modifying the DNA of praying mantises and juggling ecosystems. You would not quite understand it as a novel but danah boyd would.) That’s right! We won’t understand anything – we won’t understand their narratives – Like the Russian cosmonaut the journalists brought to the dance party at NASA as a set up for oh the noble adventure now dishonored, but the Russian was just like “Is good! Young people! Dancing! A party is good!” and he was refusing to go the road of bemoaning ignorance, no, people don’t have to use things the way that we used them. We won’t be all crusty like Lessing in her crusty speech about those bad Internet people, about it. We’ll try to understand and learn it all, new ways of being, and we’ll fail, but it’ll be so interesting. Exactly!

Oh, and tonight I went to the BlogHer holiday party and saw Deb Roby and Minnie and Squid and Jennyalice and Britt, Sarah Dopp, Karianna, Kaliya, Lisa, Elisa, Jory, Maria Niles, George Kelly, Jeremy Pepper, and a gajilion other people. Minnie had a pirate tiara perched on her blond and blue dreadfalls and a dress with cherries. Deb Roby’s spaghetti strap red velvet top with beads made me think of that Katie Webster song Red Negligee, “You know the ones with the little strings, that kinda, tremble when you walk” She was hot stuff! Jen as usual ended up in my lap. I showed off my new chair and its sparkly front wheels! The lemon drop might not have mixed in an entirely unreactive way with the baclofen, so I felt a bit giggly and euphoric and prone to show my red velvet hot pants…

George Kelly and Jeremy both told me interesting aspects of their personal lives that I hadn’t known before!

My sister was so cool and splendid and funny!

Squid showed some of the Can I Sit With You? books, which are so so so excellent. The stories are addictively good, often in that trainwreck way of gossip – but they’re about us, our real stories, told by us as gossip or as teaching stories to our kids so they know they’re not alone in their social angst in elementary and middle school. The books are great. I bought a bunch to give as presents. Good for middle school or younger kids if you don’t mind it being uncensored. What makes it fun for adults to read is that it functions as years-later healing and perspective.

I didn’t go drinking with my homies, it seemed unwise in general since I was hurting and should lie down, and was only going on the extra kick of baclofen + booze + social adrenalin, plus Zond-7 was feeling ill and really needed to lie down himself. So back instead here to get warm and talk about computery arty history writerly things and watch bits of youtube clips, curled up with plans and memories.

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Diagnosis, sort of

I’d like to just give the short version for now and more diagnosing process will happen later.

I went to a neurologist. Dr. Capybara said I am obvious mid to high spinal cord injury, incomplete and high functioning. Whether it is the old car accident that did some bruising or compression, and it has been periodically aggravated, or whether it is some weird syndrome or degenerative thing, they will tell later, and also more precision about the level, but maybe c6 or upper thoracic, and it is also not necessarily pinpointable like that but is more complicated. So other doctors and ortho people were looking at my lumbar spine and sciatic nerve root and discs and not seeing anything and also noticing that my right leg has amazing muscle tone, and them figuring if i have a disc thing or muscle/ligament injury like a back sprain, I am not getting better fast enough which is somehow my fault. (And they’d do things like reflexes and poking me, and act like I was overreacting and faking pain.) But my leg has (legs have) amazing muscle tone and often so much pain, because they are spastic. As in spasticity. Like, not under my voluntary control. Also, the stuff with my arms that only acts up now and then, is not like RSI or some sort of separate neck thing that flares up, it is the same spinal cord injury. Or lesion. Or whatever it is. Maybe it is MS but maybe not. Whatever.

My assignment is to take these seizure meds at a low dose at night and then increase them slightly every week, and see if that helps the pain. Also I can have baclofen which (unlike regular muscle relaxants) might actually work.

How kind of the neurologist to gently take off my socks for me, completely understanding, and to then put them back on. And to believe in how bad my pain is.

Cold is so bad, mostly because of spasticity. But for years people kept just running blood tests on me and saying I don’t have arthritis so, the pain was… I dunno, just in my head? Or that I should exercise more.

This diagnosis, imprecise as it is, puts a different spin or frame on everything for me. Instead of being sort of a malingerer who doesn’t get better fast enough, I am something like a C6 incomplete para with very high functioning, who got better amazingly and slowly over time.

There is some backstory here:

2007: Day of things breaking This year’s flareup begins, stutteringly
2007: Sciatica pwned! more beginnings of this year, my hopeful feelings
2006: a little babbling while the drugs last In pain, I write a letter to my body, and photograph my uncooperative legs
2006: a little whining about my legs A bit of a flareup in 2006, pain and spasticity
2006: in which I pass the evils of capitalism across generations I describe a flareup in Feb. 2006 and remember the bad times
2006: Now with flames I muse upon my secret past as disabled person (expanded upon in comments)
2005: walkies One of those moments when I was feeling the pain and weakness and getting scared
2005: dyke march report – In which I march on legs, and reminisce about times past, and run into Joi who is also intermittently disabled
2004: giant pathetic rant from 1994 I transcribed a journal entry from a 1994 notebook, interesting
2004: Not at all meaning to be mysterious the story again including the car accident, concussion, original neck/shoulder/arm immobility (worst pain of my life, threw up and passed out), asthma, and degeneration sequence in 1989-1990.

(from 1989) I keep getting worse and worse shoulder and low back problems: same thing, I sneeze, or bend over to tie my shoe, and suddenly I’m sort of frozen in one position and can’t move and am gray and sweating with pain. The doctor gets more and more frowny. X-rays never say anything significant.

I remember these times, which haunt me,

I could no longer raise my arm above my head. Who knows… All sorts of badness then happened… My shoulder got better but my back and leg got worse and then the other leg started just collapsing under me. I would take a step and the leg would just buckle. No idea there. I lost my job.

After collapsing on the campus of DeAnza I ended up in Valley M3dical Center being kicked around from department to department having conversations like this: “I can’t walk, what am I supposed to do? My legs don’t work.” “They look normal on the MRI and the xray. Without a diagnosis, we can’t give you a wheelchair. You can’t get a diagnosis until you see neurology and they don’t have appointments and won’t talk with you until 9 months from now.” “But I CAN’T WALK.”

More detailed backstory, in a coherent narrative, with photos:

*Moody retrospective In which I start to tell the story of wheelchair, crutches, cane, walking and all those fluctuations. With photo of me rollerskating naked down Market Street in 92. I forget, often, that in 90-91 I often couldn’t walk, and doctors were telling me it was because of “referred pain” from pelvic inflammatory disease that mysteriously they could never find any evidence of, or because of internal adhesions and scarring. 1991 was the days of peeing in a bucket because I couldn’t get to the bathroom, and not knowing why, and welfare hospitals who treated me like I was a junkie seeking pain meds. 1990 was when I couldn’t ride my bike anymore, and couldn’t get to work, and many other disastrous things happened.
* Scrabble in the park How I saw mountains for the first time, and hobbled to Vernal Falls. Some horror stories of bad diagnosing from welfare hospital doctors. How bad the pain can get, trying to hold myself up with arms off the seat in the car, because of the vibrations. The feeling I have had for the years of non-disabilty, of effort and bravery and fear.
* Ms. Muscle How I stole a wheelchair.
* Between the post office and cafe Depths of the hard times, 1992 or 93, pain and disability level much worse than I am now. In which going to the cafe, or walking to the mailbox, was the highlight of my day. A lot of days on the porch wrapped in blankets, eating pot pies. I encounter people’s strange, rude, reactions to visible disability.
* All dressed up with someplace to go – babydyke badger with wheelchair, 93-94ish, going to parties and being a wild child no matter what
* Santa Cruz Mountains – 1994-ish. In which I treat my cane as a punk rock fashion accessory
* Growing out my hair – In which I could mostly walk, but sometimes wheelchair. Handrails and bathrooms explained.
* Cactus Club In which I get better slowly in 1996, onward, give away my wheelchair in 97, and limp for years. And then got pregnant 3 times and had Moomin. 2001 onwards, occasional winters on and off crutches.

I think of all the years that I had to explain things at work like why I needed to lie down under my desk, and just get horizontal; or why it was sometimes hard for me to walk across campus and sometimes not. I think of all the countless hours Rook massaged my legs, or that I had to lie down during our role playing games. All that time Rook always accepted me and without question helped me manage pain, ran me hot baths, sometimes would rub my feet for *hours* while gaming or while he watched TV. I worked hard on my own, but he got me through so much of it. All the times when for months I would manage a day, barely, but would come home from work and go to bed at 6pm, and he would deal with all the rest of our life and practical things. (Even when I was “not disabled” these last 7 or 8 years, this would happen.) All the times I was in university classes and would lie down on the floor to take notes and people acted like I was a freak. And I would just have to say, “Well, I have to.”

All the years when I couldn’t explain very well.

It is killing me a bit to think all that time, I was fighting a spinal cord injury, which if it were diagnosed, I would have had a lot of help, and real rehab.

As anyone knows who has not had a diagnosis and then gets one, it is a relief to have an explanation to give. No matter how scary the diagnosis.

I do (as always) feel proud of my years of struggle to get better, and I always respect the hard work that took. In job interviews where they ask what, outside of work, are you most proud of as an achievement, I always say “I was in a wheelchair and used a cane for most of the 90s, and got out of it.”

That sounds wrong in some ways because there is nothing wrong with using the wheelchair. But I am proud that I basically managed my own rehab, consistently, for years.

This post is longer than I meant it to be. I am having trouble processing all of this.

I trust that I will get back to where I was at the beginning of last week, and will be walking with almost normal gait for a block or two, and not constant pain. That is my goal. If I can get from Zond-7′s house to the cafe, and from my house to Hole Foods, then I will be very happy with that level of ability. And then from there I will set my goals further to walk more and more.

For now I would be happy to be able to *wheel* to the Hole Foods, but I can’t yet. I’m going to drive to work today, and ask for help, and lie down on the couch while working, to save my sitting-up time for the evening thing.

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