Invalids, Entertainment

27 October 2001

Is it unreasonable of me to be depressed that our newspaper doesn't know the difference between "heroine" and "heroin?"

I'm afraid I'm not very good at acting like an invalid. I feel like as long as I'm physically capable of doing stuff, I should be doing it. Even though I'm a lot more comfortable when I don't overdo. Even though I don't like to hurt. Ah well. I don't want to go more than a few minutes in the car -- every bump in the road is jarring and hurts a lot -- and so we see the hazards of living in Hayward. There's pretty much nothing within a few minutes of our house. No coffeehouse. Maybe one restaurant. I'd like to get out for awhile. We'll see what I can grit my teeth and take. Also, I miss people.

For awhile I was being an idiot about this, until the little interior nagging voice said, "When Mom did this, she was able to --" and then I just stopped. She was able to take prescription drugs for the bronchitis she had at the time, which meant lots of codeine. And she didn't really move off the couch and bed much for a month, most of which she doesn't remember. I don't want codeine, but it was a good reminder that nobody was expecting me to act like I feel great.

My mom was fascinating on codeine. Mostly she just wasn't there. I mean, she was awake sometimes, but she wasn't there. Every night, I'd say, "I'm going to walk the dog over by [some friend's] house," and she'd say, "Ooookay, haaave fun, be back by dark." (I was 13.) So one night I said, "I'm going to go prostitute myself for drug money." And she said, "Ooookay, haaave fun, be back by dark."

The best or worst part about this story is that Mom would like to say it never happened, but she honestly doesn't remember. We watched a lot of movies that month, as a family, because that was about all Mom was up for. But she didn't absorb a lot of any of them. And that was the first time I saw "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

So then, a couple years later, I was having friends over, and we were watching "Holy Grail." And my parents came down to the downstairs family room, where we were watching the movie, bearing trays of nachos and bars and sodas and so on. (They were the Good Snack kind of parents. Still are, actually.) The Castle Anthrax scene was on. The minute they got to the stairs, Mom hissed at Daddy, "What kind of movie are they watching?" He looked at her, confused. "'Holy Grail.' You've watched it with Marissa yourself." "I have not!"

Anyway. Yesterday was kind of a slow work day on the Not The Moose Book, but I feel like I understand the first section much better now than I did. And one has to expect that sometimes the work will go slowly. It can't always be quick and easy and wonderful, not if you're going to do it all the time. I'm not sure I'd want to do it if it was always quick and easy and wonderful. One of the things I love about writing is that it can be hard, genuinely hard for what it is, not hard because you set up a system for which a Hamiltonian is appropriate and are instead trying to use Newtonian equations of motion. Or you've set up a lovely matrix system and are using wave equation solution stuff instead.

Er. Perhaps not my most opaque metaphors, eh? But the point is, in undergrad physics (and, if you go to the wrong grad school, in grad physics, too) a large component of what's hard is hard because you're being asked to use the wrong tool for the job, usually for a reason. There are some things that are just hard, but not that many, not until you're doing really new stuff.

But writing is sometimes just hard all by itself. Sometimes it's hard to figure out how to show how the character is feeling and why she's doing what she's doing, especially when she is Finnish and a witch to boot, and thus not likely to be putting her feelings on direct display. And sometimes it'll take two or three or six edits to make the scene really work. And that's okay. Sometimes better than okay.

I'm glad for Tim that he made his recent sale -- partly just unselfishly glad, a good topper to what sounds like a good week for them, with Heather getting her nifty new job and all. But also partly selfishly glad, because Elysian Fiction looks like a nifty market, and now I know it's there. And it takes all kinds of fantasy, and not just swords and sorcery or dark fantasy or whatever.

This ties in with discussions I've had with Susan and David, separately, this week, and what I mostly want to say is: there is nothing wrong with a story being entertaining. (For the record, neither Susan nor David has claimed that there is. And, in fact, the conversations were only sort of related: one about "literary merit" vs. quality of ideas, and one about what the amazingly vague criteria for the Hugo and Nebula Awards might actually mean.) There are some stories that are just light entertainment, and that's all right. Not everything has to be scary and dark, and not everything has to be deeply fraught with message. And not everything has to fit into a prepackaged subgenre.

I'm a little defensive about this right now because most of my open-the-vein-on-the-page serious writing has been going into the Not The Moose Book. This is likely to be the case for several months now. So when I do short stories, they're more likely to be lighter. More entertaining. Related to brain-sucking performance artists, or perhaps engineers named Orange Dibble. (It's not my fault this person is named Orange Dibble. He's an actual historical figure. But how deeply serious can a story be when its main character is named Orange Dibble?) But it seems that there are a lot more fantasy markets aimed at The Dark. So I'm always happy when a market just wants to publish fantasy, period.

So yesterday I finished Inverted World and read Fugue for a Darkening Island. Which, frankly, seems like what happens when your message backfires and bites you in the butt. The premise is that hordes of starving Africans are landing in England and taking over the place. And I believe that what Christopher Priest was trying to do was to point out the evils of colonialism, and to tell the average Brit that he/she would behave just as the colonized had, if their places were reversed. The main character's name was Whitman, which annoyed me: "Look, he's White Man! How clever and allegorical!"

Thing was, it didn't really read entirely like that. It read a lot like, "Them starving Negroes are on our shores, and they're going to land and take our houses and wimmin!" As an American with awareness of her own country's history, I felt like saying, "Um, aren't they supposed to be Chinese?" Because it read a lot like a Yellow Peril story. A lot like one, in fact, but with the Evil Africans substituted for the Sinister Chinese.


So the danger of the message stick is that when you're beating people with it, it may rebound and smack you in all kinds of places you didn't dream of. Oops. Poor Mr. Priest.

So I've switched over to The Victorian Internet, a book about telegraphy. Much less problematic.

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