I 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.
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.
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).
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.
Some parts of Brute Force are funnier if you’re familiar with the rest of Spangler’s work. It’s probably an inevitable part of being the fourth installment in a series that is itself set in the five year gap between two narrative parts of a webcomic. But the thing that struck me and moved me to stop reading and start writing this post was a mention of gardening – any mention of yardwork becomes tragicomic when you’ve read about Spangler’s misadventures in rebuilding the Randall Jarrell house.
I’m reading the first seven chapters of Brute Force early, because I’m a Patreon supporter of Spangler’s. If you’re not familiar with the platform: basically old-school patronage of the arts has met crowdfunding and everyone is winning.
But to Brute Force itself, with no spoilers because the preview isn’t even publicly available yet. The pacing is exactly what I want in a thriller: it starts with a bang and the ball is rolling and it doesn’t stop, picking up pace and urgency even as they need to do large-scale logistical things like meetings and tracking press conferences. Rachel Peng continues to be a fantastic protagonist: she’s a (technically) blind Chinese lesbian, and these are all facts that inform her character without making the story about those facts, making her the kind of representation we so desperately need. She’s smart and goal-oriented and observant while still being a team player in ways more than just the obligatory ones.
Spangler puts a lot of research into her novels. This one is no exception. The hinge point of interest in this one is something I studied some in university, and wow do I appreciate the research. I’m also incredibly excited for the rest of the book at this point – the tension is mounting, and I want to know what happens next.
Brute Force goes on sale November 29th.
So I got massively sidetracked. It still feels like summer, but it’s Labor Day weekend, which means it’s time to admit it’s over. My original summer project list:
- at least one essay as Emah
- finish a fic I deleted
- finish rewriting the werewolf thing
- finish the Regency polyamory
What I ended up doing:
- rough draft of my Statement of Purpose
- write 60,000 words of fiction over 10 different works, none of which are on the above list
- working a lot
- getting my hair dyed pink
The last two had nothing to do with writing, but were significant time sinks. Only one of the projects I was working on was original: the rest were transformative works. I mean, that is a fair chunk of writing and I’m happy to have done it. I’m also really glad I deleted the one work I was planning on finishing, because it had become less than fun and I didn’t give in to the sunk cost fallacy.
My goals for this fall have more to do with grad school and getting options narrowed and essays written, but I think I’m also going to try to get some original fiction in there, when I’m not organizing gift exchanges of fanworks.
I know a couple of people right now who’re moving into either online presence for existing entities or starting a business from scratch. So this is mostly advice geared towards small, creative businesses.
Typos are a thing that can happen to anyone, and I know my spelling consistently trips up on double consonants and basically goes completely to uncapitalized shit in private chats. But spelling is part of communicating clearly to an audience, and I think at this point all browsers have a built-in spellcheck.
Look, the people who say you can’t tell tone over text are lying. Like, maybe they can’t? But all of us do a lot of communicating in text these days, so interpreting tone from text is a skill we’ve picked up. So choosing a tone for communicating on social media and website content is important – do you want to be silly? dry and informative? You’ll obviously want to adapt based on what it is you’re communicating, but deciding on a style and being deliberate about it can make you a more coherent and engaging brand.
Engage on social media
It’s where the people are!
Seriously, you want to control a Facebook page, your Google page if you’re going to be publicly listed as a business, and probably also a Twitter. If you don’t feel like social media is really your thing, you can stop there, and only post updates that you think people will definitely want to know. But if you’re producing any kind of audiovisual content, you probably also want a Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat. If being on social media is going to be a fun part of branding for you, maybe also a Tumblr. There are services, like Buffer and Hootsuite, that let you push to multiple platforms from one place, but that can get kind of complicated. Hashtags on Twitter are part of the body of text and a huge part of joining ongoing conversations; tags on Tumblr are a separate field and commonly a platform for metacommentary. Pushing from a central platform is a great way to streamline getting news out, but not a good way to engage more deeply with a community and join in on things.
Don’t be everything to everyone
People are interested in what you have to offer because it’s unique: diluting that for more ‘mainstream’ appeal just makes you less interesting. The essence of branding is just an extension of being who you already are as either an individual or a group, only more so and in public.
Over the next year, there will be more changes, including applying to and then sorting out the logistics of various graduate programs as well as one of the more important Presidential elections I’ve seen. But the summer stretches out before that, before any decisions need to be made, with only work as a necessary draw on my time.
So I’m going to write. And knit, of course, but that list of projects isn’t relevant here. What I hope to write:
- at least one essay as Emah
- finish Silver In The Sun
- finish rewriting the werewolf thing
- finish the Regency polyamory
There are other things going on in my life right now, but that’s the one singing note of tension that keeps coming back to me. I’m planning to wear a Homestuck shirt tomorrow to campus, and drop everything to look at the finale as soon as I can.
Homestuck, obviously, has been important to me. It won’t stop being a fandom when it’s over, but the impetus for obsessive reflection about what it means to me will be gone – we’ll have the end to talk about, after all.
Homestuck was the first fandom I really got into – I’d read fanfic other places, sort of desultorily because it was free and more about characters I liked. But Homestuck let me reach out and make friendships and talk to people about stories and their nature pretty much as things happened. It was the first really immersive fan experience I’d had, and the first fanfic I wrote. The experience of being in fandom has been a massive and transformative thing for me, letting me connect with a whole bunch of talented, kind new friends.
And fandom has a really interesting relationship with Homestuck – the narrative was originally driven by fan prompts, fans have been involved with art and music and merchandise, and it changed some of how fandom is done. It’s been kind of a wild ride.
Part of the reason it grabbed me so much was that it opened the door to talking about stories with more people in different ways – and to talking about the specifics we look for and the shapes they can take with no interest at all paid to originality, because this was after all transformative works. And one of the conversations that came up around Homestuck, and came up repeatedly, was at the core of Homestuck itself: the ways in which we reach out and connect.
The interpersonal narratives in Homestuck are, at almost every level, about knowing that you are not alone. They myriad ways that’s expressed are a gift in and of itself. And for something that starts with a bunch of isolated kids, it’s a gift seeing them all gain strength from that connection.
It reminds me of what I love about Person of Interest: a repeated refrain of “in the end you’re all alone and no one’s coming to save you,” with the characters then proving over and over with their actions that someone indeed will come to save them. For those characters, the emotional growth is in unlearning their isolation and slowly growing to trust each other, but they’re adults and more jaded and it’s a slower process.
In Homestuck, the kids don’t have quite as engrained in them the idea that they’re alone, and there’s more joy and hope in their learning, and less of a focus on their unlearning. One of the reasons that the fandom is so obsessed with Homestuck is that the very nature of fandom, and particularly Homestuck fandom, means that those people who are caught up in the culture around Homestuck also get to reach out and feel that they are not alone.
Homestuck has brought people together in remarkable ways, and I’m not quite ready for it to be over.
I ask this in full expectation that it’s a universal – I know we watched some in Canada and some in the U.S., and expect that everyone in North America at least had to watch episodes of TV about pregnant teenagers as part of either class or homework at some point.
But that’s not where I meant to start.
I’m taking a class right now called Technology and Social Responsibility. It’s all right up my alley, from the discussion material to the class meetings on Twitter, and it’s made me think about how we establish stakes in issues, and the power stories have. Because this is a university class about technology and social responsibility, we don’t have Degrassi to watch: mostly we read relevant articles, but one session we did have to watch episodes of Black Mirror. I’m not particularly a fan of the show, aside from it’s odd prescience in one incident, because it shows such an unrelentingly bleak view of our future with technology. I’ve found myself making reference to a lot of other novels and TV shows, though, such as Person of Interest and Orphan Black, because they also extrapolate on current issues with technology and IP and ideas of ownership and privacy. And the reason I come back to them is this:
Fiction answers the question “why should I care?” before it even raises the issue it addresses.
Some of the things we’re talking about in Technology and Social Responsibility are easy to think of in the abstract, because so many of the issues sound science fictional and like a future problem, but a lot of the issues we’re talking about, such as if we really own our own DNA and how secure our data is, are things that impact us right now. There are current court cases about these issues, not least the FBI fighting with Apple over whether we’re allowed effective encryption on the devices on which we store our whole lives.
Fiction makes these things real, and immediate, playing out the consequences of treading wrong in a way that’s easier to hold on to than an abstract thought experiment. Fiction allows for exploration of worst-case scenarios without explicit fear-mongering.
And for me, at least, fiction shows me the things I want to work to prevent.