April 30 2012

1. It’s the last day of April. I have no idea where the first third of 2012 went. No freakin’ clue.

2. The nice thing about my new work schedule is I get more dishes washed at home before and after my shifts.

3. A couple of the workout books I’ve read strongly recommend foam rollers for post-workout stretching. Anybody use them? Do they do anything useful?

4. This week K has circus dress and tech rehearsals, and then the shows start. Whee!

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April 26 2012

1. So week two of no-weight-lifting proceeds apace. I am whiny and sullen about this, but I am being very careful with my hands and arms, not doing lifting, not doing rowing machine, doing lots of stretches.

Instead of weights I am doing a variety of bodyweight exercises. Supermans, where one lays on the floor on one’s stomach and lifts one’s legs and arms up off the floor. AKA, The Beached Walrus. Inchworms, where one stands, bends over, walks one’s hands out on the floor to a push-up position, does a push-up, walks one’s hands back, and straightens. Wall Sits, where one puts one’s back to a wall and squats with knees bent at a ninety-degree angle — and holds this position until total collapse.

There are a lot of bodyweight exercises that end with “… until you collapse.”

2. My new schedule means I have to get all my cooking done in fewer days. I made bread yesterday, and expect I will spend a number of hours today in the kitchen.

3. My kids coveted the plushie Companion Cube (from the Portal video game) that I got J as a present. So M purchased a talking turret gun, and K bought herself a larger Companion Cube.

This would be school yesterday. With Portal.

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Reviewer recommendation

I don’t read much in the way of book reviews. It’s not that I’m opposed to them, it’s more that time is finite and I don’t get around to it. Yet I value good reviews — see the aforementioned “time is finite.” If I’m going to read something, I want to go in with a reasonable expectation that I will find some value in the text. I want to enjoy it, or have my understanding of the world broadened, or have my feelings challenged in a good way.

I do not want to spend my time reading books that are not going to give me anything I’m looking for.

To that end, I truly appreciate the reviews of my friend Heidi. You can find her reviews here. Heidi does the thing a reviewer needs to do — she gives you the information you need to decide whether or not this is a book you want to read. That may include information about the quality of the writing, the ideas contained therein, the development of the characters, the use or misuse of familiar tropes, the presence of difficult scenes or subjects, or the absence of romantic plots. Heidi understands that sometimes a reader wants a challenge, and sometimes a person might want A Book Just Like The Books I Already Love Except One I Haven’t Read Before. On reading her reviews, I always know what sort I am getting.

I particularly enjoy the closing remarks of the reviews — the Read If You Enjoy sections. For example:

“Read if: You read and loved the first and plan to read the third. You will forgive it for only having two, relatively short, wolfboy sex scenes.

Skip if: you are a patient person. Wait until the third book comes out and read all three at once”

Or:

“Read if: you are a voracious pre-teen reader systematically working your way through the library, you are also studying for the LSAT and need something as a palate cleanser at night.

Skip if: You might get your hopes unreasonably raised by a book named after an interesting historical character, you have limited reading time and like to allot it judiciously.”

Or:

“Read if: you like thinking about the future-that-may-be, you wonder what the nature of humanity is if we don’t have bodies anymore.

Skip if: you are going to feel awkward liking unembodied crustaceans better than humankind’s continual fucking up.”

If you think those are amusing and informative, you will enjoy these reviews.

I don’t always read the books Heidi reviews — that is the entire point. I know, ahead of time, whether I want to spend my time with the work in question. When I do pick up books she has reviewed, I almost always enjoy them.

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April 24 2012

1. Two more great reviews of Chicks Dig Comics

Here’s one at Fangirl Confessions.

And Ruth at CrimeSpree Magazine has some lovely things to say, here.

2. The CONvergence schedule is up! I need to look at that.

3. I’m sending a short story I wrote around to various places for publication. Let me say, I truly and without any sarcasm appreciate quick rejection letters.

4. I may have to quit Fitocracy, which I was loving for a bit. But they redesigned their website and interface, put intrusive ads all over everything, and put all the content on the far right and the ads on the left. I’m not sure I have the patience for hovering lean-power fat-burning supplement ads every time I want to record a workout.

5. K’s cold, it turns out, is pneumonia! A very, very walking level of pneumonia, it seems, because she hasn’t missed anything or really even been that sick. Just a lot of sniffing.

6. Circus dress/tech rehearsals start next week for the spring shows!

7. The washing machine has been broken for a couple of days. The repairperson is coming out today, which is none too soon. J does the laundry in our household, and I believe the maintenance rate requirement is two loads a day, every day. We’re behind, is what I’m saying. Clean clothes reserves are starting to drop.

8. Does anybody have any recommendations for bands/artists who perform traditional Middle Eastern folk music? Recordings of same, you understand. That I can buy on the internets.

9. Today is, I think, going to be a day of working on my breaks at work. In addition to editorial and authorial tasks, there is the self-assigned homework pre-Wiscon — reading articles and books that people are talking about. It’s homework I truly enjoy, and no-one is making me do it but *me*, yet if I want it done I have to do it.

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Chicks Dig Comics discussions and other news

1. In the week since C2E2 the internet has seen a couple mentions of Chicks Dig Comics.

ComicBuzz reviewed the C2E2 panel and book.

Corrina Lawson wrote up the panel for Wired’s GeekDad feature.

Christian Lipski of the Portland Examiner covered the Chicks Dig Comics launch at Bridge City Comics. I, personally, was happy to see the slideshow of event photos, since I was unable to get to Portland.

2. I was grumpy and irritable all weekend. I finally realized it’s probably because I haven’t worked out really hard in over a week. This is due to travel and tendonitis. I am working on finding things I can do that give me the same satisfaction as heavy barbell lifting and jogging. So far … no real luck. But I’m working on it!

3. This week my schedule switches from winter to summer. I am back on five eight-hour days instead of four ten-hour days. I am not keen on this, and look forward to the resumption of my tens in the autumn. I am especially not keen on the fact that I now have two mornings of getting up before five a.m.

4. I like a lot of fictional properties that my family calls Bad Decision Theater. Shows like Game of Thrones, where everyone is being who and what they are, and making terrible decisions as a result. But sometimes I like shows about how good people can be. Flawed, but good.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is one of those shows.

I’m not saying it’s great dramatic theater. The plots are very straightforward. The dialog is reasonably simple. And every character on the show, regardless of depicted color, is white — a point highlighted when the exotic folk-magic-using stranger with an accent is portrayed by a zebra. (Horses are white, zebras are black?)

But MLP:FiM seems determined to show that there are a variety of ways to be a girl or woman and be successful. That there are a variety of ways for women to be friends. That different skills and interests all have value, and that, more importantly, that value is never derived from making others feel small or weak or less.

I’m not saying the show is deep, or not for kids. (Though I do appreciate the adult-aimed pop culture references, such as Sondheim, Andy Warhol, and Galadriel.) But there’s nothing nasty in it, nothing sarcastic or wry or edgy. It’s clean and hopeful, and sometimes that’s the kind of story I like.

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Revisting Pirates

I recently re-watched the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. (I didn’t misspeak, I watched the first three movies that form a trilogy. I’ve seen the fourth, but didn’t include it in this viewing.)

I truly love this series.

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but will — likely with spoilers — mention a few things I appreciate.

1. Almost all the lead characters, with the exception of the trickster, grow and change. The events cause Elizabeth, Norrington, Will, and even Davey Jones to reach outside of their normal limitations and become more than they think they can be.

2. Jack Sparrow does not grow and change. He dies, but he does not change. This is entirely appropriate for a trickster. My kids and I love how reliable he is, once you understand that. Jack Sparrow will always be trying to be captain of the Black Pearl — it’s merely that his methods can be circuitous.

3. The world-building hangs together very well. Some kinds of magic are real, and others used to be real, and the world is in transition from one kind of reality to another. The conflicts in the Pirates movies are conflicts over what the future will become. These are good stakes, urgent and desperate.

4. Elizabeth’s speech to the pirates in At World’s End makes me cry. By the time we get to that moment, the pirates have been positioned on the side of freedom, autonomy, magic, and self-governance. The East India Company has been established as imprisonment and monopoly. I am the product of my culture, and a desperate fight by the outnumbered little-guy for her freedom gets me right here.

Though I do wonder why they named it the East India Company. The West India Company worked in the West Indies, i.e., the Caribbean, and the East India Company worked in India. But none of the FOUR West India Companies were British. Because, frankly, Britain didn’t do very much in the West Indies.

Aaaaannd, here ends my historical quibble. Which, really, zombies, Davey Jones’ Locker, Kraken. I should let it go.

5. I love “Hoist the Colors”.

Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho,
thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

The king and his men
stole the queen from her bed
and bound her in her Bones.
The seas be ours
and by the powers
where we will we’ll roam.

Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

Some men have died
and some are alive
and others sail on the sea
– with the keys to the cage…
and the Devil to pay
we lay to Fiddler’s Green!

The bell has been raised
from it’s watery grave…
Do you hear it’s sepulchral tone?
We are a call to all,
pay head the squall
and turn your sail toward home!

Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

6. I think that what I get from the franchise as a whole is a strong sense of empowerment. The message, the idea, that everyone can come back from horrible setbacks and make another go at life. That while you may not get what you planned for, you can make a new plan — often in the middle of a swordfight or while drowning. That a change in circumstance is not irreversible. Or, if it is, then another option is opened. These are fundamentally hopeful stories, not in a rosy way but in a dirty and stubborn way. Life is rough and hard and painful and filthy, they say, but as long as you are alive you have a chance at something better.

I showed these movies to my kids a few years back. They love them. I approve of this. I approve of them incorporating the indomitable spirit these movies into their view of the world.

Krakens optional.

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April 19 2012

1. Yesterday I:

did four loads of dishes
walked the dog
rode my bike for five minutes
cooked beans for later chili-making
taught school
took out the recycling
got comics
read comics
supervised the kids’ daily chores
answered email
blogged
did various editing-related activities
took K to circus
watched K’s mini-hammock class
explained The Problem of Evil to K
explained Occam’s Razor to M
finished the not-very-good King Arthur movie with Keira Knightly as a Celtic Guenevere.

I’m not sure what today will hold. Likely very similar.

2. M read the JMS trade of Thor yesterday. He liked it. At one point he walked out to the dining room and said, “I think I know who these guys are, but I want to check.” They were The Warriors Three, and I named them for him. A bit later he came out to the table and pointed at a figure. “That’s Heimdall, right?” I assured him it was. He stared for a minute. “I thought Heimdall had dark skin.” I explained that different visions of the story choose to represent the characters differently, and that, yes, in the movie Heimdall has much darker skin. “Okay,” he said, and walked back to the bedroom to finish the comic.

Three cheers for Marvel movies, is all I’m saying. For making Heimdall a person of color, and Nick Fury.

Also, clearly Idris Elba made an impression on my kids. As he should!

3. I woke up this morning and World Fantasy Con is doing something along the lines of banning the sale of items in their Dealer’s Room which are not hi-falutin’ enough. Or something. Cheryl Morgan explains it here.

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Wicked Girls

The album Wicked Girls, by Seanan McGuire and company, has been nominated for a Hugo this year.

The work deserves the nomination.

Wicked Girls is nominated in Best Related Work. It certainly is related. These songs are the stories of women in fantasy, in fairy tale. It takes characters such as Red Riding Hood, Lily Kane, and Wendy and gives them voice.

You could argue that these women already have a voice — that we know their stories. But as the song “Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves” points out, we know their stories in a context the women did not create. Most if not all of these women were, in their original settings, playing out situations they did not set in motion, by rules they could not change, for a very limited set of rewards.

Seanan’s album would like to have a word with you about that. More to the point, the album would like to give those women, those characters, a bit of a microphone from which to explain their position in more depth.

The second song on the album, “Mama Said,” contains the line Don’t be chosen, make the choice to choose. While the narrative is — I suspect, I haven’t asked Seanan — about characters from her InCryptid series of stories, it also strikes me as a not-too-oblique comment on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It’s my understanding that our heroic archetypes must grow and change in order to continue connecting with new generations. When Buffy came on the scene, when Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry rode around on that scooter, to have a woman be chosen for greatness, heroism, and daring was, well, daring. It was a brave choice and it spoke to thousands of people.

But as BtVS itself noticed, being chosen isn’t the same thing as making your own decisions, running your own life. Seanan rightly points out in both “Mama Says” and her InCryptid work that making your choice contains another degree of power and autonomy. Yet “The Ballad of Lily Kane” and “The True Story Here” describe situations in which the choices aren’t very good. Can power and autonomy still exist in such a choice? Can you participate in the system and remain true to your selfhood? Is abdication and refusal to play the only way through? Where does the power lie? Where can a girl be the result of her choosing?

This sort of interrogation is most certainly Hugo-Award-worthy. This is the engagement that makes our beloved fantasy and science fiction world bigger, braver, and stronger for the future. And it’s a good album, besides. Making comparisons to other artists is tricky, because not everyone likes the same things I like. But I found — and this is high compliment — that the lyrics reminded me of a sort of cross between the poetry of John M. Ford and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Bleak and cynical and stupid-stubbornly hopeful, my favorite kind of thing.

If you haven’t heard Wicked Girls yet, I strongly recommend you go buy the album. It is a work of love, passion, and intelligent interrogation well worth your time.

April 17 2012

1. I thought I had lost my glasses yesterday morning. It turns out that if you pack half your things before putting your glasses on, it’s awfully easy to pack them without seeing that you have done so.

For all instances of “you” in that paragraph, substitute “I” or “me”.

But I found them before driving eight hours, so that is good.

2. When I got home, after I snuggled the kids and they climbed all over me like two homesick lemurs on their favorite tree, I stood in the dining room and regaled J with all the moments of the past weekend in which I WAS AWESOME. Because she is my partner, and she listens with interest.

Since, however, my moments of awesome basically amount to, “did what I was supposed to, only spilled lunch on my shirt twice, did not step on small children while navigating the convention floor,” I will not bother you, dear internet, with the details.

3. It’s cold here, dangit! And windy. And really generally unpleasant.

4. I’m out of brain. See y’all tomorrow.

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C2E2 and Chicks Dig Comics

1. The book launch for Chicks Dig Comics went great. The panel was held on Sunday at noon, before an enthusiastic audience.

About that audience, for a moment. About you all. You are the reason for the book. We wanted to make a thing that spoke, in some way, about you. For you, if that’s possible. (It’s not. We can’t speak for you. But we can speak for ourselves, and by extension remind people that you, the women and girls who love comics, are real.) Thank you for your support, your enthusiasm, and … And for being real.

The panel itself was a delight. My thanks to all the participants! Highlights included one panelists discussing her crush on Jughead, and an exploration of the difference between editorial support for change versus institutional resistance to same.

Speaking purely personally, I was honored to be a participant, to share the stage with the amazing women of the panel.

2. The convention itself was a good one. The panel spaces were of a good size, and well-managed. McCormick Center has good parking, good signage, and decent amenities. I also found the main floor to be decent, with lots of space for getting past lines and clogs.

3. It was great to see all my long-distance friends and acquaintances. I’m not going to name everyone, because I am CERTAIN to forget someone. But it was wonderful.

4. I missed my kids so very much. I bought them, um, rather more in the way of presents than they really need.

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