Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

breaking point comes

Doing page proofs late into the night, working in the day, being with family in the day, keeping the lights on, the lawn mowed, the dishes cleaned, and being an artist.

It's too much.

I broke yesterday, nearly falling asleep at one of my jobs. I had to go home early to rest. I still can barely stand up and walk around, I'm so exhausted.

It would be nice if I could get to a point where I wouldn't have to push myself up to the edge of exhaustion every day until I break down. I'm still learning how to be married and be an artist, and it's a challenge when people always have to negotiate space and time, and there's already so much negotiation because bosses want space and time, too. Bill collectors demand their due, always. The only solution that looks viable is to be independently wealthy. I'm working on that, but it is not easy to win the lotteries of life.

I've got a story in the latest Asimov's. "Dolores, Big and Strong" is a good story, I think. Go pick one up today and see if you like it. It's part of a novel I wrote that I have only just begun sending out into the world.

Tell everyone.

We are soil with legs, all of us. What system we build matters. I wonder, constantly, if I am a part of the solution of the world or not. Am I good soil? What do I need to do to be better soil?

The leaves break in the trees. The flowers bloom. Spring is here, and soon there will be peach blossoms, lemons hanging from the trees, and marigolds like sunlight reflected back up to sunlight. Find your peace, out there, in the springtime. Don't work so hard.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Save Creative Types: Raise Minimum Wage

The running joke of the Creative Writing degree, and quite a few other interesting but economically-stunted degrees, is that we are doomed to say "May I take your order please?" for the rest of our career, as if that is some sort of curse or bad thing to happen. The curse isn't that we work retail or food service or anything of the sort. These are actually enjoyable places to work, full of creative people who are fun to be around, with products that we care about. The curse is that we are doomed to live in poverty.

But, that curse that is repeated towards us creative writing majors, is not seen as a symptom of a broken economy. Don't do anything to actually make the low-wage positions anything but a prison of poverty. Just warn people that they are going to get trapped there, and curse them and their life choices and their calling.

It doesn't really matter what degree plan you're talking about, either, if it is not business, finance, nursing, pre-med, etc. If everyone's a lawyer, no one's emptying the trash. changing the lightbulbs, and fixing cars. If everyone's a business-owner, who works at their business? There is nothing wrong with wanting a simple, humble life, working quietly and going home. Treating these nice folks as "takers" or "ignorant" or whatnot is a trend in public political discourse that goes beyond disgusting. If everyone's following the teachings of Rand, we live in a lawless hellhole where even basic services must be acquired by tooth and claw and bone. If we actually follow the teachings of social justice, not everyone needs to own a business, or climb the ranks of middle-management to the top, and the economics of everything isn't more important than the humanity of everything.

This is why art degrees, creative degrees, and all that stuff that is considered "fluff" by the gristmill men, really matter. Education isn't about getting a job. It's about getting a life, finding a place, learning the things that take time and expertise to learn, and pursuing what is interesting. The impoverished hellhole of drudgery following such degrees in the public discourse is not a mark against the education, but against the society such education services.

If we raise the minimum wage, countless artists, authors, musicians, dancers, etc. will directly benefit from the increase. Nobody spends more money on books than writers. Nobody attends more theatre than aspiring actors. Nobody spends more of their precious income on art than artists. Raising the minimum wage raises everyone in the arts, from the struggling writer slinging coffee without a sale to their name, to the billionaire screenwriter that has an even larger audience for their work as more screenwriters have money to spend on movies. Every self-interested creative has a stake in the increase of our field. Raise up the bottom of us, and everyone lifts up.

To be an artist or creative in this country is to accumulate letters after one's name and join the economy from a position of educational authority. (Nevermind that academia, wherein I also currently work, is looking more and more like a shell game with the way student loans work, and administrative salaries work, and poets prop up themselves upon aspiring poets.)

Increase the income of everyone interested in the arts, particularly those at the bottom, and we increase everyone in the arts, and readjust our social values such that saying "May I take your order please?" is not a curse, but a quiet, happy life, wherein one can go home to do their real, meaningful work, without burning everything out onto the altar of art.

It's such a simple plan. And, it would help every single one of us who live the life of the creative professional. Every... Single... One... Of... Us.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fear Death, Fear Meaningless Death, Watch the News

Analysts of media have long tried to come up with some explanation for the fear-mongering success of FoxNews, and the general malaise of an older, angry crowd spurning things like women being awesome in public, and the stories of minority authors or actors. I see the latest, inevitable flare-up in SFWA in very simple terms, related to the way FoxNews toys with the psyche of the elderly and the fearful. 

People who are afraid of death look out at a world that does not resemble their sense of identity, their sense of what things are in their own lives. The things the people were building towards with their own life and work spilled out far beyond their own control in unforeseen and unforeseeable ways. The fear of death they feel means they see the loss of their own identity and place in the world-at-large as a kind of death. To stave off death, assertion comes of their own sense of identity and culture contrary to what is present in the name of preservation or something.

What's truly amazing is that the accusations of PC-policing are very ironic, and the people shouting about it don't see the irony. It is political correctness that allows the angry and the old and the anti-feminist a voice at all when their voices are so angry and toxic. It doesn't really matter if it is FoxNews' Tea Party fanatics or a few crusty, old bearded-men in grey, insular fandom: That there is a voice at all from them in the public sphere with such a toxic message; it is a testament to freedom of speech and PC-policing that such cruel and senseless stupidity is permitted in public spaces.

Fear death, I do. But, I do not presume to think that the world is going to shape itself in my little image. I don't feel the need to push my fear of the loss of my conscious self out onto others, to recreate my own image and self-image over and over in every corner of the nation and oversoul of man.

The parts of us that are eternal are generally not the parts of us that we want to be eternal. 

Genre has entered the mainstream, and it will fade out as the communities of genre disperse with all that hatred in the air, all those angry people shouting at each other. Abandon ship.

Motown is a sound that everyone knows, but it is no longer a movement. It entered the mainstream, and the artists toured the world, got caught in their moment in the light. Then, the energy of Motown dispersed. Artists of subsequent years may fall in and out of the "Motown-sound" but there is nothing new and innovative coming from it that isn't just an occasional influence of subsequent artists. SF looks like it's moving in that direction. Talented authors may pick up the sound of SF for a while, then dance away from it later. It's moving, and mainstream, and the energy that was built up in all those decades is rippling out in a splash. 

Fox continues on, fomenting a rebellion that will never truly come. What good is that soil? What good comes of telling people how awful they are all the time, fomenting all that fear?

The people that built something, once, are angry that they don't own it anymore, perhaps. Generations come. Generations pass. The past, and them that profit from it, are angry that the world is changing. They are angry that their energy is dispersing beyond what they know. The work will always become obscure. The great, heroic things, the glory, the fame, they are just dust passing away. 

We are soil with legs. Be good soil and build good soil. But, we don't control what grows in the field after we fade away. Let the world go when the time comes and find peace.

I'm poking around for publishers on this thing I wrote. I'm not really looking for a genre one. I'm really looking for someone that dances in and out of the genre, out of the mainstream where that outsider energy is building up and building up...

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Power of Brutal Allegory: Dino Buzzati's classic, The Tartar Steppe

Book-machine Larry Nolen recommended a text to me on Twitter (which I'm not on right now until I can work through all the things) and whenever he recommends a book, it is certain to be exceedingly good in many ways. Dino Buzzati's classic is no exception. This little review will include a spoiler-y outline, but it is the sort of book where you get where it's going very early, and it is observing the execution that matters most.

Drogo, a young Lieutenant, at the beginning of what he is convinced will be a brilliant and exciting career, receives his first posting. It is a miserable posting, a backwater fort in the far desert edge of the kingdom. It is where careers get stuck, opportunities dwindle, and everyone knows it. Everyone wants to leave. The fort is an old breastwork, and no one even recalls a time when war was imminent there. The Tartars are a myth, now, and the desert plain is bare along the horizon. Sentries post. Men march in formation. Inspections must be kept on track. Order, always, and military precision to be maintained, and proper rules must be kept. The young officers play chess and talk big of their futures. Drogo has no future. Initially, he almost feigns illness to escape the miserable backwater posting, but changes his mind at the last moment with the rumors that other officers are convinced that the fort, out at the edge of the kingdom, is going to be attacked by these mysterious nomads any day now. War is coming, and the king is foolish to allow the fort to decline so much, say these officers.

Drogo stays. Every opportunity to escape the posting fails. Fate, the indifferent and soulless and strict military system, and his own mistakes pile up until he is abandoned in what amounts to a prison of despair his whole life at the fort. He rises only to second-in-command of a forgotten nowhere place, never marrying, losing touch with all his friends and families. His life is trapped there in a kafkaesque horror that piles misery upon misery, until at last war comes.

When it does, at last arrive, Captain Drogo is a tired old man who had spent his whole life dreaming for one great moment of battle to justify all that time lost, youth wasted, and resentment built up, stubbornly clinging to a single hope of transcendent glory. Instead, he is told that he is too old, and sick. Instead of joining in the battle he had prepared for his whole life, he is moved into a carriage in front of all the new reinforcements: a walk of shame. Alone in a bed in an inn, sick and old with no hope for a better or brighter future, no children or friends or anything at all to demarcate a whole life, he dies alone.

The expression of the allegory is the point, suffering through it alongside him as all his hopes dash. Drogo's story, honestly, feels secondary in the text. He is a cipher of the reader passing through there, while the men around him, from Sergeant Tronk to Captain Ortiz to the military general, himself, far away in the capitol, express their nature upon Drogo, pour their truth and misery and cruelty into him. Do not read the book for Drogo. Read it to see how the soldiers around him, the women, how they look in at him, and what they see, and how it changes what they do.

The allegory of Drogo is very clear. Do not allow life to pass you by. Do not let any youthful dream of glory stunt your development as a fully-realized person. It doesn't really matter what the glory might be. It could be glory from military service, business, policing, etc. It could be a dream of art, of "making it" as an artist. It could be becoming a successful businessman even as fate itself pours down upon your business. It could be anything that leads you astray.

Also, that thing doesn't necessarily need to be rational. The fort is certainly not rational. The hypnotic hold it has on some of the men is widely-discussed. No one understands why they seem to choose the misery there, to stay in one place for so long dreaming of a war that is widely held as a joke. It is a mesmerism, a method that suffering has of beating humans into place. It is not rational. It is never rational.

Focus on humanity, not transcending it.

And, judge for yourself the various people Drogo meets along his miserable path, to see whether characters are truly able to achieve the greatness they desire. At least one young officer might be judged to achieve such greatness, but the general thinks otherwise. Does anyone escape the desolation of the Tartar Steppe? Do any of us escape it?