Summer Projects

Tomorrow I take my last two final exams of my college career. Friday, I move. A week after that is Commencement.

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
It’s a short list, but they’re mostly long projects, and it’ll be satisfying to have them done.
What are your writing goals for the summer?

You Are Not Alone

It’s the night before the end of Homestuck.

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.

Fiction As Learning Tool

Do you remember in Health class when you had to watch Degrassi videos?

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.

Intellectual Property and Trolling

The phrase ‘fight like a girl’ is trademarked.

Yep – the phrase used as a title in this comicthis movie, this comedy sketch, this self-defense program, and the song below is trademarked, and not to any of these people.

So who owns it? Well it’s one company – they’re not hard to find, but I’m not linking them, because they try to support a particular thing that I am generally in favor of, but either their lawyer needs to be put back on a leash or they are, corporately speaking, massive dicks.

They’re dicks because they have been suing independent artists using the phrase in their art. By specifically targeting independent artists trying to make a living, they can try to control the proliferation of the phrase while not ending up embroiled in court with people who can actually fight back. Because, realistically, the company in question doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s a common phrase. It’s a phrase that empowers a lot of women! Except, y’know, when a business that purports to support women uses that phrase to attack their ability to sell their art.

It’s an ultimately doomed effort – even Band-Aid ended up changing their jingle to ‘stuck on Band-Aid brand’ because their brand name had become the common name, and Band-Aids aren’t as tied up with feminism and the policing of art as Fight Like A Girl is. So the company is currently trolling, getting themselves more press, and being dicks.

Intellectual property is more complicated than declaring that one owns a segment of language forever, but it’s really difficult for independent artists to get legal fees. As an independent author or artist, you’re a lot more vulnerable. So while legally when nuisance cases like this come up you could fight back, you might not have the resources. It’s deeply frustrating, partly because even if one can dispute a DMCA claim on solid grounds one’s distributors might not want the hassle. I don’t have any kind of easy solution, just a lot of frustration on behalf of my artist friends. Fair Use doesn’t even come into this, as far as I’m aware, because these works have nothing to do with the company that owns the trademark. No one cared about them until they started suing.

So hopefully it’ll die down soon, or there’ll be something class action on behalf of the artists. In the meantime, it’s worth it to know your rights, even if you won’t always be in a position to exercise them.

Fight Like A Girl by LettieBoBettie, from DeviantArt

Genre Fiction and Sexual Violence

One of the interesting contrasts between literary and genre fiction is what we expect from them: literary fiction we expect to give us good writing and interesting narrative devices, genre fiction we expect to give us a particular emotional experience.

With the recent kerfuffle about Game of Thrones and having gone to see Mad Max yesterday, I was thinking more today about the things I want from an experience.

This tweet summarizes a lot of it. I mean, at this point, we all kind of expect a pervasive threat of sexual violence from every shadow in Westeros. And, because I’ve seen other action movies, I was kind of expecting some threat of sexual violence in Mad Max. I was braced for the hit. And then it never came, and it was a gift, and I really love that fucking movie.

I read non-fiction and literary fiction both for school and for my own edification, and I brace in the same way when reading a lot of those. Sexual violence is pervasive in the real world, and so it pervades fiction set in the real world.

Which takes me to the genre fiction I read. I have a friend who, because she’s perfect, heads an email filled with book recommendations as ‘Trash Books!’

They are supernatural romance novels. They’re amazing. It’s great. In every single one, people fall in love in a long-term-monogamy sort of way, kick butt, have magic powers, and maintain healthy friendships. It is the best kind of wish fulfillment.

Also of note is the way it treats sexual violence. Rape still exists, in these worlds, because I tend to read the kind of paranormal romance with high body counts and so other kinds of violence come with that. Of note, though, is that rape attempts are far less frequent than in the real world. In the series I’m reading now, I’m on book 19 and there have been two characters who were raped, of which only one was a perspective character (the other character started a centuries-long war and she was considered justified except when she nearly murdered her kids). There were also three threats that ended in violence. This is significantly lower than anywhere in the real world. Also, anyone who tries to rape a woman ends up dead or severely beaten. It’s very emotionally satisfying.

And it also makes these books kind of reassuring to read: one doesn’t have to be quite so braced against the possibility of an onslaught.

That’s what genre fiction offers. There are other genres, like cozies, where the only thing one has to be braced against are dessert cravings, but these tight genres offer a kind of consistent experience that’s as relaxing as a glass of wine.

Body horror and blenders


Becoming a monster plays into an aspect of horror that I’m very fond of: body horror. Becoming a monster sometimes involves physical changes – shifting, or things under the skin. One of my favorite incarnations is in Homestuck and Homestuck fandom, where there exist Helmsmen: high-powered psychics capable of directing a spaceship with their minds. Mostly they are chained to the ships, stripped of free will, and wired directly into biotechnological interfaces. Fanworks are frequently somewhat horrifying.

Body horror taken to this kind of extreme is its own kind of externalization – of different things for different people. Puberty is generally horrifying, with all of the growing and hormones. For trans* people, who sometimes experience their changing bodies as deeply and irreconcilably wrong, it can be deeply horrifying and an utmost betrayal. Disability, severe injury, and assault can all be traumatic. They can all be body horror, and expressing body horror as a plot device, as a way a character becomes stronger can be ways to explore the more mundane sort of body horror at enough remove that it’s just fascinating. Body horror can also be a way to explore the ways we take – and deal with – damage.

I haven’t generally been fond of the product of writing as therapy, but that has somewhat changed – body horror in particular has let me read stuff that I can relate to – and I’ve also come to a slightly different appreciation of the ways we use our experiences to create art, which is well-articulated in Amanda Palmer’s review of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. I’ve found that I really like when things are fine-ground and spit out as art that’s appreciable in its own right and not just as a reflection of the creator.

Schools of thought

I see two major schools of thought about writing when not on deadline, and I mostly see them dichotomized.

The first is that one must write every day, just plant butt in chair and get words done, get them out. Polish later, but write every day, no matter what. The discipline will mean you produce more and more easily and improve.

The second is to write when you feel like it, and to forgive yourself when you’re not up for it for months on end. I’ve seen it mostly as a reaction to the first one, particularly from the chronically ill. A friend with arthritis goes through periods when writing is physically horribly painful; a friend with depression feels blank and flat and hates everything they force themselves to produce.

And the first is more popular generally, but the existence of the second is incredibly important: especially with mental illness, it’s imperative to acknowledge that sometimes one’s ability will not be the same as a well person, and to not beat oneself up about it.

The dichotomy of the two schools of thought kind of bothers me, in large part because the idea of not writing for months on end makes me feel kind of panicky. I write almost every day, even if it’s just a little, and I write for work, and I write for school. I don’t have a set word count or time. I just leave a story or two that I’m working on open in tabs (I usually only have five or six tabs open). If I have a thought, I’ll go noodle in the document. Progress gets made eventually.

So writing daily – or at least having a constant reminder that I could be writing – is important to me. But not putting a minimum requirement on it is also important. I’m a full time student and paying my own living expenses. During midterms I had an hour-long breakdown over soup one day. I don’t need the stress of a self-imposed writing requirement on top of that.

For me the starting point had to be that it’s okay to try and fail. I can try to write every day, or try to write five thousand words a week: I can set any goal I want, but if I don’t make it, it’s okay. I haven’t failed as a person, I’m not doomed as a writer for my lack of discipline. It’s okay.

I think we have too few messages that it’s okay to fail. So the second school of thought, the idea of forgiving yourself and taking care of your needs first, is desperately important. But it’s not a terrible thing to also go to the first school, and set goals. We just need to be able to get off each other’s – and our own – cases when we don’t meet those goals. Because it’s okay.