On books and callout culture

One interesting thing to me about purity culture on tumblr- I know the impulse has been there for a lot of us as we grow, for something that is simple and clearly delineated and clean. But the idea of crusading for that in fandom spaces is baffling to me (oh, I know it’s because it’s where people can feel heard and feel like they have control, but still) because to me fiction is inherently going to be problematic, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Fiction has been shown to improve empathy. But if the fiction you’re used to consuming tends overwhelmingly to portray things in one way and to not challenge empathy – if it’s a series of neverending unproblematic AUs where everyone is Super Woke and never challenged by the behavior of people they hold dear – does that still hold true? It doesn’t challenge a paradigm.

When I was a kid, I read dealing with panic attacks: the series (in Italian, once, because the library was out of English and French), God is dead (with hella underage sex), war crimes with children: series 1war crimes with children: series 2child slavery and business ethics, and this is why we have the FDA, amongst many others. I grew up reading books with age gaps and neglect and abuse. The things I read were frequently upsetting, and challenging, and there was no one to really complain to even if I’d been so inclined because they already existed in indelible physical form and no one had forced me to read them. I just kind of accepted that bad things would happen and people grew through overcoming them. I think that was good for me. I know that what I read encouraged my to be significantly more empathetic than I would have been otherwise.

I don’t want to be one of those people who says ‘fiction was better in my day.’ Because there’s so much diverse, amazing literature being produced these days. I think maybe what I want to say is that, next time you get the impulse to tell the author of a fanwork that they’re disgusting for writing something uncomfortable to you, maybe go read something from a banned books list instead.

Adulting and Mental Load

There is a complaint amongst millennials of the tribulations of ‘adulting’ – often mocked, usually somewhat disparaged even by other millennials. But I think there’s some legitimacy to it – adulting is hard.

Right now, I’m trying to sign over the lease to our old apartment (which requires marketing, budgeting, travel, and keeping on top of correspondence both by email and text), help set up our new place (which involves ideas about aesthetics and use of space, decision making, learning the quirks of a new building, communicating with our landlord, unpacking, and remembering what days the garbage and recycling are picked up), set up a dentist appointment, and acquire a local doctor on top of the usual tasks of housekeeping, like cooking and keeping track of whether we have groceries and cleaning and doing laundry.

But this isn’t meant to just be a laundry list of complaints – I don’t actually in any way resent doing this, because I love our new place and other things need to be done. It’s just that I recently read The Secret History of Wonder Woman and have recently started Silent Spring, and the people who were able to produce remarkable works had someone else to do the housekeeping. Because aside from just the time involved in keeping a house, the brain has to keep ticking, too – keeping track of the last of the milk and whether the laundry needs done and whether one has to get back to someone. That’s the fundamental part of adulting that takes a toll. And, outside of the house, I have a job, and am going to graduate school: I’m trying to both learn and produce things that I consider worthwhile and important.

Which is part of the reason I love living in the future. I don’t have to set an alarm on weekdays: my phone does that automatically. I’ve recently started making profligate use of both Instacart and Amazon’s Subscribe and Save: my time grocery shopping can instead be spent on class reading, and I have no need to remember to keep track of how much Ensure we have left for breakfasts, because starting next month it will arrive without me having to think about it. The joys of paying for a problem to go away are now available even on a graduate student’s stipend (well, and Tristan’s paycheck).

My utility payments are automatic, my rent is paid online, and I can order groceries on an app. Next up, when money permits: a goddamn robot vacuum so I don’t have to think about cleaning the floors.

And now, back to the 54 things on my to do list.

Stealing Freedom

Starting in October of last year, I was invited to be part of a heist.

The context for the terminology is that I’m part of an online community that’s mostly some combination of mentally ill LGBT survivors of various things. The community has collectively facilitated a few cross-country moves to get people out of bad situations, and when it’s adults moving away from other controlling adults we tend to refer to it as stealing the person who’s moving away.

What I was invited to was the careful planning of facilitating someone moving away from their parents as soon as they turned 18. There were 20 people in the group chat working on planning and there was specifically a getaway driver, so: planning a heist.

I didn’t talk much about this in public as it was going on, because while the planning was going on, the person involved was still a minor, and we had major privacy and safety concerns. Afterwards, there were other complications. But I was able to get permission from the most involved people to talk about this, and check in about level of detail to share, because Nick is now an adult. Nick is more of an adult than I am, because my adulthood was just assumed, whereas his was adjudicated in a court of law after his parents perjured themselves and used the legal system as a tool for harassment by trying to obtain guardianship over him and get him declared legally incompetent.

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Your Favorite Subject

Imagine there’s this really cool museum. It has a ton of things you love, and is dedicated to your favorite subject. Part of having all that cool stuff is that it’s a little pricey – let’s say $256* a day. But you think it’s worth it. You get to learn so much!
Then, even better, the museum decides that, since you’ve already studied a lot and know a fair amount about the subject, they’re going to give you a part time job. It doesn’t pay a lot, but it pays the bills, and means that you can spend more of your time studying, as well as contributing to your favorite subject, maybe making it more accessible to other people or expanding a particular exhibit or teaching people about your favorite subject. 
As part of working there, you don’t need to pay $256 a day anymore. Depending how much you already know – how much you can contribute – you pay between $0 and $40 to get in every day. This might mean you won’t have to take out huge loans to be able to study – isn’t that great?
So you get to focus on studying and doing your work, and you’re not getting rich, but you’re not distracted by worry about whether you can afford groceries. It’s a pretty decent setup. Of course, you need to make sure that you pay taxes. Which is fine, because you like stuff like roads and clean tap water. Because you don’t make much, you pay $426 in taxes, which is about 3% of what you make in a year^.
But wait! There’s a proposed simplification to the tax code. That entrance fee you haven’t had to pay in full because you work there? It’s been decided that that’s too complicated. So the new tax code is going to treat it like the museum is paying you more money and then charging you normal admission rates. Because that makes sense, or something. Okay, you say. Shit, you think, and dig out your calculator. Under the new tax plan, you’d pay $3647. That’s 24.6% of what you make in a year – because you don’t actually ever see the entrance fee you don’t pay.
Can you afford that? Can you afford to study a subject you care about and try to contribute to everyone else’s understanding and experience of it? Can you afford graduate education?
*This is what my tuition costs per day of class. I have a Public Service Scholarship for what I’m working on, and I go to a state university. My tuition is cheap.
^Calculations made using the H&R Block tax calculator and my projected taxes based on no deductions and my actual stipend for this year.

Icarus documentary review

Icarus is a hell of a movieI was incredibly excited to see Icarus on Netflix, even before I knew what it was, because, hey, cycling movie! We don’t get nearly enough of those.

And then I read the synopsis. And then an article in The Atlantic. Someone accidentally stumbled into the heart of the Russian doping scandal that almost got all of Russia banned from the Olympics? And it focused on the cycling? Awesome.

Bryan Fogel was the filmmaker, and also a cyclist who wanted to try out doping – to see how people did it, how they beat the testing systems, and how much better he could do in the Haute Route,

Bryan’s first stop was Don Catlin, a prominent anti-doping scientist. Catlin happily talked about things, but didn’t want to get more involved, because his reputation had been so carefully built. So Catlin referred Bryanl to Grigori Rodchenkov. Grigori, a Russian doctor, headed an official anti-doping program – which meant he had a lab. He helped set up a doping program for Bryan that included testosterone and human growth hormone.

Later, Bryan asked why Catlin had referred him to Grigori. Catlin talked very carefully around not outright saying it was because Grigori is wildly amoral.

But that came soon after – Grigori was accused of being behind doping a ton of Russian Olympians.

He was at first dismissive, talking about the World Anti-Doping Agency snooping around, but seemingly largely indifferent and a lot more excited to come visit Bryan in LA. Part of the reason for the trip was so that they could smuggle Bryan’s urine to Russia for testing. Grigori had special bottles. Special bottles specifically for smuggling urine. Parts of Icarus get a little surreal.

Cycling en Haute

They got through to the Haute Route and Bryan’s doped-up performance, cool music making it seem like a cross between an action movie and a heist. And this was before things even really hit the fan. Before Grigori decided to go to the US and expose the whole state-sponsored doping program and talk to the New York Times and the Department of Justice in the same week.

The cycling ends up falling out of the film a bit as they get deeper into scandal, but Icarus is still a fantastic confluence of luck, cycling, journalism and scandal that shows some of the human effort behind the 2016 Rio Olympic outrage.


Recent book habits

It was only this year that I discovered my library’s online presence. I don’t mean the website – I’ve been checking hours and addresses since I was old enough to remember to plan ahead. But my library is hooked up to Overdrive, which means, among other things, a torrent of absolutely free Regency romances right at my fingertips. I read a lot of romance novels.

But then it occurred to me that I could get audiobooks, as well – something to focus on while doing work that doesn’t require all of my attention that isn’t a crime procedural. Though I’m not sure Person of Interest and Burn Notice qualify as crime procedurals, as the protagonists are, technically, usually committing crimes. Still, the point stands.

I made it through one sole audiobook of my usual reading material before I came to the conclusion that never again did I want to hear romance novels narrated. And then it occurred to me – audiobooks are a great way to get through things I might not otherwise have the attention span to get through, because it’s not like I can wander off. The thing is, during this year while I’m not in school,  I don’t want to be completely disengaged from intellectual pursuits. But a JSTOR subscription costs money, yo, and reading modern political coverage mostly just freaks me out. So I read The Sixth Extinction, and that was cool, but I don’t have the motivation to read that kind of thing consistently.

So now I’m pursuing what I tend to think of as improving literature. Not what’s usually considered along those lines, like Stephen Covey, but histories and biographies. Books to improve my understanding of the world. I’ve just finished Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, and I’m really liking how this is working for me.

Women’s March

"We are created equal" sign

This past weekend, I went to the Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve never been particularly reticent about my political beliefs, but this is the first big protest I’ve ever attended. I set up one of the four buses leaving from Madison – though I think we could have easily filled more, especially as the site was extremely optimistic about timing and people wouldn’t have realized they were signing up for 18 hours on a bus each way (my whole body hurts).

“We the people are greater than fear”

When we got there, we were in the RFK Stadium parking lot with what was estimated to be 1800 other buses. The walk to the starting point took a while, and was mostly through suburb, where a lot of houses had signs out front, like the one at left or MLK quotes.

It took me a while to get to the actual march: there was a Starbucks on the way and I needed coffee, and then stayed a while talking to other women who were there for the March. I think at that point I was still a mile from the start point, but at least 90% of the people I saw were there for the March.

A number of people I know showed up for either the March or various sister marches, but I knew a far larger number who didn’t or couldn’t go for reasons of young children or or work or disability or money (did u kno: if you start a Skedaddle route, you get a free ticket). Because I knew a lot of people who couldn’t go, it felt even more important for me to be there; I was going on their behalf. I was going because my four year old cousin deserves a better world than this when she grows up, amongst many other reasons.

You can find all kinds of official coverage of the March – I actually had my tweets included in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage. I also posted a Facebook album of the pictures and video I took and a write-up of my hilariously brief encounter with ‘counter-protesters.’ Because of the plethora of coverage and the fact that I still feel kind of like I rode home under the bus rather than on it, I’m going to keep this short:

The streets ran pink, and loud. It was the biggest post-inauguration protest in history, and no amount of official lies can erase that. The March was very white, but there were women of many backgrounds there, including hijabi sisters with American flags as scarves, because this is their country as much as mine. There were no arrests.

Even better, on the way back, the women on my bus were talking about what’s next: what we’ll do so this really was just a beginning, so that we can reach out and help and make a difference through the next four years.