Thursday, April 24, 2008

If You Like Beer... writing apparently goes well with Drayman's Porter.

Not being a beer guy, I don't know what this means.

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On Productivity

Now, this was going to just be a comment on Meghan's LJ, but it has some pissant restriction of 4300 characters. Please, people! I can't clear my throat in 4300 characters!

Anyway, Meghan writes in part

So: how do you all develop habits? I need some advice. Is it something you even focus on? Or do you think it's another tool of our time maximizing, hyperproductivity capitalist society? Sometimes I think this -- "productivity" blogs scare the crap out of me, for one. But you need a shitload of discipline, it seems, to live outside the confines of dayjobs, frozen dinners, and the like.

To which I say:

Oh I am totally all about this, as you have probably heard me rant on about. Left to my own devices I am an utterly unstructured sprawl of procrastination and distractable randomness. Only by an enormous bricolage of tricks do I manage to get anything done, and it's still pretty sad the amount of time I waste.

Everyone's suggestions are excellent -- self-forgiveness, doing things in company, applying the leverage of peer pressure to yourself, rewards, metrics, etc.

I don't even try to write, or at least not to first draft, if there are any distractions around -- i.e. if I have internet access or am near undone housework. This is pretty extreme, as it means that I pretty much ONLY write in coffee shops with my non-wireless-enabled Dana or paper (I am the anti-Scalzi).

But I find that if I try to mix things together, that I always have the secret ambition to write, so that anything else I do (housework, playing with the kids, talking to Esther after the kids are in bed, reading) turns into non-writing as opposed to nourishing my soul, and I don't make explicit time for writing that will really happen, and so I am in a perpetual state of should-be-writing-now-but-something-has-come-up and I become crazy frustrated & depressed. Whereas if I have to get to the coffee shop, it means that I am not kidding myself the rest of the time, I can relax and enjoy life, and that I am forced to make the effort of actually building no-kids no-chores no-surfing no-interruptions writing time into my week.

I also know that I won't exercise on my own -- or not more than an every few months occasional "lookit me I actually went to the gym!" This is why playing a team sport is such a huge win. Even though I am small, slow, and started rugby late, and so I look like a thirty-eight-year-old loser creaking and groaning around the field on the second string team with a bunch of eighteen-year-olds so limber they don't need to warm up or stretch, it is totally worth it because I am not constantly fighting my own resistance, but can just go with the herd. Not wanting to let the side down on game day is a much more powerful motivation for me than wanting to stave off heart disease or reduce stress or whatever; however irrational that may be, it's a fact I've come to accept.

I think an inordinate amount about where I park my bike, where I put my wallet, what I keep on what shelf; I am reluctant ever to do things out of order willy-nilly; evalaute changes in routine carefully, and when I come up with some new optimization (like folding up large plastic bags in a pocket of my man-purse so I will actually have them along and avoid buying the 30-cent ones they sell at the supermarket here, or making four pizza doughs at once and storing them in the freezer) I am inordinately happy.

This sounds like my life is one of smooth routine due to natural obsessive-compulsiveness, but in fact it is the opposite, this is all totally unnatural for me, learned with great difficulty, and in fact my life is one of pockets of well-functioning routine sparsely interspersed in a chaos of staying up too late to finish things, forgetting appointments, losing crap, and being caught up in hour-long distractions (often conversations, whether with my kids or in blogland) and forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. You may not be nearly as ADHD-presenting as I, of course. :-)

About your move to NYC, Meghan: I find that on the one hand, every move or even vacation tends to throw my systems into disarray and that it's a big mistake to underestimate the cost -- it takes months, after a move, to get back to a functioning routine -- but that there's also an upside to this, which is that since you have to build everything from scratch, the net cost to implement drastic changes is zero. So moves are a great time to reinvent your life, putting in place new systems you would never have gotten around to in the old life because it would have been way too much work for only a modest change. But many such small changes, implemented when you have to set up again anyway, can together mean a big improvement. So every time we move between continents, my life is chaos for a few months, but in many ways it ends up vastly improved.

Basically my mantra is to set things up so that what is predictable, and the path of least resistance, is the thing I want to have happen. As opposed to counting on any internal willpower or consistency or perspective to be present in me, because generally it won't be.

The question of whether all this is a tool of our time maximizing, hyperproductivity capitalist society is an excellent one. I think to some extent it can feed into or trigger that mentality. But on the other hand, many tools, pace Audre Lorde, can be used agnostic of their origins.

So that a lot of what I focus on, such as minimizing day-job hours so I have more time to have pillow fights and do pretend kung-fu parkour moves across the neighborhood's flower garden, envision "productivity" in a radically different way than standard-issue capitalist culture might enjoin. The idea, after all, is not to produce: the idea is to be; any results you may obtain are secondary to who you get to be. Repurposing productivity tools as being tools often requires lifting them from the contexts they are presented in.

One thing related to that: there are many sub-agencies in my consciousness. Some want to lie on the couch. Some want to write fiction for the fun of it, others in order to be praised. Some want to go hang out with friends. Others want to be left the fsck alone. My task, I have found, is not to impose the will of the more "good, productive, noble" ones on the slacker ones, but rather to broker a compromise so that they are not constantly sabotaging each other. I find this actually increases even traditionally-measured productivity. If I try to only ever write, I find myself cheating on writing time in order to read and play. If I make it my goal to have time to write, to read, and to play, the agencies tend to respect each other much more.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Most and Least Wanted Paintings and Music: Noah's reviews

via Nick, Noah and I perused the survey-generated art.

The Song

Me: Noah, do you like the song?

Noah: Yeah!

Me: Which is your favorite part?

Noah: The one where it says "Christmas". [Later:] I love the wild part.

America's Most and Least Wanted Paintings

Me: Noah, do you like this one or this one better?

Noah: the first one.

Me: Why?

Noah: Because it looks more like it has goats and trees and stuff.

France's Most and Least Wanted Paintings

Me: Noah, do you like this one or this one better?

Noah: the second one.

Me: Why?

Noah: (Pointing to the abstract Christ figure and waving hand) because of this "djlbjlbjjgbllblg"...

Me: Can you elaborate on that?

Noah: Yeah!

Me: Go ahead.

Noah: I don't know what elaborate means.

Me: Well, what does it make you think of?

Noah: A dinosaur.

Holland's Most and Least Wanted Paintings:

Me: Noah, do you like this one or this one better?

Noah: the second one.

Me: Why?

Noah: Because it looks like a pig standing on the table.

Italy's Most and Least Wanted Paintings:

Me: Noah, do you like this one or this one better?

Noah: the second one.

Me: Why?

Noah: Because it's so scary and I like things that are scary.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feminist report card

Some time ago I came across Frank Miller Test. My immediate initial thought was that my story "Droplet" fails it, as pretty much everyone in "Droplet" who is presented as female is not only a (former) sex worker, but in fact an (emancipated) sex robot.

(Since I'm working -- desultorily, at present -- on a sequel to Droplet, I've been thinking about the story a lot, and have come to the conclusion that the way gender is handled in it is all wrong, for the world of the novel, at least. But anyway...)

In the same context I came across the Dykes To Watch Out For Test, which is both broader and more basic in focus, and more stringent.

So I decided to do an analysis of all the stories I've written according to these criteria. The results of the Frank Miller investigation were not too shocking; other than in Droplet, I don't think I've written about any sex workers at all (one almost wonders if there should be another test designed to address the invisibility of, rather than the obsession with, sex work?)

But the Dykes To Watch Out For test results were, intitially, quite shocking. The pull to have men do the talking, the relating, the acting ... or, if a woman is present, to have her be an exceptional exemplar seen primarily in relation to men... is not only strong but invisibly strong, because in casually wondering about my oeuvre, I figured most of my stories would pass -- but that was because, in the context of that particular train of thought, I was thinking naturally of stories that concerned gender -- the other stories that were "just about stuff", and therefore were almost exclusively full of male characters, just as "naturally" were off my radar.

On the other hand, I realized I have a lot of stories that have very few characters or little dialogue -- some, like the Other Cities, The Orange, On the cliff by the river, and The White City, have effectively no dialogue -- so that the Dykes To Watch Out For Test isn't really all that applicable. It's designed for movies, after all -- very few movies have zero dialogue, or only two characters. To deal with this disparity in a statistically honest fashion, I added two other tests: the "inverse-DTWOF" test (two men talk about something other than a woman) and the "a man and a woman talk to each other (about anything)" test.

This allows me to break the bibilography into four categories: Low Dialogue and Heteromemetic stories, in which either no one talks, or it's just a man and a woman talking to each other; Androcentric stories in which boys talk, and girls are largely peripheral; Gynocentric stories which are the reverse; and Ambicentric stories in which there are communications within and between genders.

Story Passes the Frank Miller Test? Passes the Dykes To Watch Out For Test? Passes inverse-DTWOF A man and a woman talk
Low-Dialogue and "Heteromemetic" Stories
The Duck Yes No No Yes
Fig Yes No No Yes
The Blow Yes No Yes
Red Leather Tassels Yes No No Yes
Night Waking Yes No No Yes
One for the Road Yes No No Yes
Orphans Yes No No Yes
Falling Yes No Yes Yes
Androcentric Stories
The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale Yes ??(Depends on Corpse's gender) Yes Yes
The Book of Jashar Yes No Yes Yes
The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario Yes No Yes Yes
Embracing-the-New Yes No Yes No
Biographical Notes... Yes No Yes Yes
A Siege of Cranes Yes No Yes Yes
The House Beyond Your Sky Yes No (unless you count "Mommy, you can hold my teddy bear.") Yes Yes
The King of the Djinn Yes No Yes No
Gynocentric Stories
Droplet No Yes No Yes
The Valley of Giants Yes Yes No No
Start the Clock YesYes Barely (Max's phone call) Yes
Molly and the Red Hat Yes Yes No Yes
Ambicentric Stories
Stray Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sense and Sensibility Yes Yes Yes Yes
True Names Yes ?? ?? ??

While the initial breakdown of eight androcentric stories compared to seven gyno- and ambicentric stories doesn't look so bad, it's actually somewhat worse than that. There aren't any stories where only female characters appear -- the closest is The Valley of Giants, in which the various male characters are unnamed and get no dialogue -- while there are plenty with essentially no women onstage (Embracing-the-New, The King of the Djinn), or with just one woman present, who is invariably in a romantic relationship with one of the (speaking) male characters (The Duck, The Book of Jahsar, The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario, The Blow, Falling); or else where there are several female characters who, however, are really foils, objects of desire, or antagonists for the men -- but don't talk to each other (Biographical Notes..., Red Leather Tassels, The Ant King unless Corpse is female). "True Names" I have generously classed as ambicentric just because the gender system is so weird, but, in fact, if you ignore the pronouns and consider filters (the more disadvantaged of the two genders to which most of the characters belong) as the "females", you're forced to note that two filters never really have a conversation which does not involve a strategy.

The number of actual conversations between adult human women in my oeuvre is shockingly limited... Shar and Narra, the radical grandmothers in Valley of the Giants, the Dashwoods... and Abby and Suze in Start the Clock, if you're willing to consider them adults.

Of course, longer stories are naturally going to have more chances for interaction among all their characters than shorter ones, a progression which is obvious in the chart.

(Anyone else want to subject your stories to the same analysis? We could make a meme of it... :-) )

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Yet More True Names Podcast

Part four (Cory reading) and part five (me reading) of the True Names podcast are up... as is an LJ-style True Names poll inspired by the comments thread here and hosted by my Clarion West '01 buddy, that inimitable bundle of insouciant gamin exuberance which calls itself Ling. Go fill it out!

(In case you missed parts one, two, and three, there they are.)

Update: Annoyingly, you have to have a LiveJournal account to fill out the poll. Anyone know how to fix that?

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Family History Morning

Friday Noah doesn't go to playgroup, so the two of us bum around. We were sitting in front of the computer when I happened to mention that we were Ashkenazi Jews. I don't remember how this came up.

"No," Noah said, "we are Sephardi because we say Shabbat instead of Shabbos."

"Wow," I said, "I can't believe you remembered that from when we talked about it! But actually we are Ashkenazi because our ancestors were Ashkenazi, even though we speak Hebrew with a Sephardi or Mizrachi accent because most Jews switched to that after Israel turned into a country again..."

Noah frowned. I drew a map.

Just in case you wonder what Noah and I are doing all day.

(Also, we cleaned the house! I am ahead of Esther on the chore list, and only 170 or so behind Aviva.)

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

True Names podcast continues

True Names parts two and three available on Cory's podcast.

Let me know what you think.

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