Thursday, October 20, 2016

October Post

Once again I am not keeping up my blog. We are having a lovely October, bright and clear. The trees are golden. The sky is autumn blue, which is a different color from summer blue or winter blue.

This is from an online discussion of writing as a career and writing as something privileged:

One thing I noticed decades ago is there is a fair amount of good poetry by working people, but not many novels. You can write poetry in your head while on the line or pushing a broom around, then take a bathroom break and write the poem down in the bathroom and put it in your jeans. Harder to do this with a novel. Though I wrote my first novel on the job -- and got fired. I am not into fish meds, so always had a day job, except when I got fired or laid off, which happened fairly often. My work career was working, full or part time, quitting or getting fired, writing full time for a while, then finding another job. About 15 years before I retired, I realized I needed to make more money in order to push up my social security payments. So I worked close to full time for 10 or 15 years. Where did privilege come into this, anyway?

(The reference to fish meds came from a comment by someone else in the discussion. He knew a writer so poor that he could not afford prescription drugs for human beings, so he took drugs that were designed for pet fish.)

I don't see writing as a sign of privilege. Well, it helps to be able to read and write, but literacy is fairly high in the US. I don't think people know what privilege means. "A right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others, a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud, the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society." Writing is not a right or benefit given to some and not to others, and writers are not mostly rich and powerful.

People vary in how much they can handle, how driven they are to write -- and in their objective circumstances. As many people have pointed out, it is difficult and time-consuming to be poor. I feel I could have written more and had more of a career, if I had been more disciplined and energetic. My objective circumstances were not that bad. But having to work did slow my writing down. There was a recent story about a guy in Detroit, who had a job and no car and walked to work -- two hours each way. Do that, and you may not have time to write. Even a ordinary job and access to public transit is tiring. I have written a lot of poetry on buses, but very little fiction.

Most writers I know have a day job or a spouse with a day job. (LeGuin's husband was a tenured professor.) The thing is, even if you are making a living as a writer, it tends to be an erratic living, and it may stop at any time. It helps to have a steady income in the house, and it helps to have health insurance. In addition, someone has put a quarter in me today, the people I know who are making a living are writing 2-3 books a year. The fastest I ever wrote a novel was 18 months. My big novel took me 13 years. Could I have written faster? Yeah, but I would probably have not written the novel I wanted to write.
This is from an online discussion of the money writers make:

The ability to touch people that deeply should count for something. In fact, all of us probably touch some group of people deeply. I'd take more money, if it were offered. But I mostly write to reach out, to communicate, and for self-expression and for the joy one can get from craft.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Should We Complain?

I was reading the Ruthless Culture blog, probably a mistake, since the author ripped one of my stories to pieces a while back. Anyway, there is a discussion of this year's Clarke Awards ongoing among GB critics and writers. Ruthless Culture gave a link to Adam Roberts' blog. I don't know Roberts' work, but he is apparently a very well regarded GB SF writer, who should (many people say) been on the Clarke short list. He wasn't, and he is feeling very frustrated about his writing career.

The question I have, should writers post about their disappointments? There seems to be an unspoken rule that we suck it up and never complain. But this gives other people a very false idea of what it's like to be a writer, and it leaves the majority of writers -- who do not usually have great careers -- feeling like solitary failures. We could have been contenders, and we aren't, and it must be our fault. We didn't work hard enough. Our work wasn't good enough. We couldn't figure out the market. We didn't do a good enough job of selling outselves and our work.

I understand Roberts' frustration. The Goddess knows I often feel frustrated. He has a contract for his next book from Gollanz. He says he's going to make it light and conventional SF. He's tired of trying hard. Of course good writers always say when they are pissed. They usually end by writing the novel they want.

I always feel ishy when I talk about about my frustrations. I should be stronger. I should suffer in silence. Many people have a harder time than I do. I should be lucky I have gotten as far as I have. Eat your dinner. Be glad you have a dinner. Remember the starving people in Asia.

But then I remember the Women's Movement back in the late 60s and early 70s. One of the things that happened in consciousness raising groups is people admitted that they had troubles and frustrated ambitions. Everyone had been pretending that she was fine. Everything was under control. Maybe writers need to do this.

I suspect that Roberts is having a low point and will recover. Though it sounds as if one of the British cons should invite him to be GoH.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Marvel Movies

I am having trouble with current affairs -- the horrible US election campaign, the self destruction of the European Union, the inability of pretty much everyone to deal with global warming, the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places -- so am obsessing about Marvel movies. I did the same thing with the original Star Trek back in 1967-68. What was going on then, I wonder? The war on Vietnam, American cities burning... My escape now is much darker and more violent... MPR is doing the ST prologue -- "to boldly go" -- right now. Gives me chills. Gave me hope. I'm not sure how much hope is in the Marvel movies.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Thinking Out Loud

I have been trying to figure out what I don't like about a lot of contemporary political ideas. This is an ongoing process, and I've written about it before. I am talking about sexism here. I could also be talking racism, with the caveat that racism does not precede capitalism and colonialism. These three come together. I could be talking about class, how the 1% rips off everyone else. I could be talking about all kinds of prejudice and oppression, how they influence and reinforce each other. But let's stick with women.


Sexism is a world system. Men as a group oppress women as a group. This true everywhere, though details vary. There are more and less oppressive societies, societies that allow men to assume female roles and women to assume male roles, societies that allow for more than two sexes. But most women in the world (it seems to me) deal far too much with poverty and violence, work too hard and get too little, especially too little freedom. I don't think we can ignore them. As Solomon Burke sings, "so long as one of us is in chains, none of us is free."

We have to oppose the entire system, and the only way to fight it is to see it as a system. It precedes capitalism, though capitalism has put it to good use. Women are more likely than men to be poor, badly educated, badly paid, abused, enslaved... Some individual woman have always been able to make space for themselves: Elizabeth I and Hatshepsut. (It helps to be royal and lucky enough or ruthless enough to be the heir.) But most cannot. The problem of sexism -- like the problem of capitalism -- cannot be solved by individuals.


The categories that the system uses cannot be waved away. If categories such as male and female are ignored, then it becomes much more difficult to see the oppressive system. This does not mean such categories are real. It means they are real within the system, and system is real. In the same way, in order to see the system of racism, one has to see race as the system defines it.


Solidarity is essential. In order to struggle against sexism, women must recognize their common problems and the strength they have when unified. Sisterhood is powerful. My favorite surly political scientist, Adolph Reed Jr., calls identity politics the neoliberal form of progressive politics, because it focuses on the individual: the struggle of single people to self-actualize and to confront other individuals who are oppressive. This is not enough. People working together must change the world system.


Action is necessary. Words are important, but so are picket lines and demonstrations, passing new laws, electing new governments, changing social structures... Endless arguments about the right names for oppressed groups does not constitute adequate political action, though names do matter. I remember when women made a big deal about not being called girls, and black men made a big deal about not being called boys. But changing names is not enough. If your preferred weapon is words, then write to educate people about the world, humanity's past and what the future might be like. Develop an analysis of the human condition that helps people understand their lives and helps them to change their lives.

Right now I am cheered by Black Lives Matter, the struggle for a $15 minimum wage and the Native American demonstrations against the pipeline which threatens Lakota land and water at Standing Rock. All these people have their bodies on the line.


Obviously people should work on their own lives. There is no reason for you and I to suffer, if we can make personal changes. But that is not politics, and that is not struggling for systematic change. I realize I am arguing with the famous Feminist slogan: the personal is the political. In a sense the slogan is correct. We experience prejudice and oppression personally. But solving your own problems does not solve larger social problems. As far as I know, Elizabeth I did little for women's rights in 16th century England.

Second PS:

This is very much a work in progress. I am thinking out loud. I don't know how to handle gender fluidity, except I think -- at least at present -- fluid people remain within an oppressive system. It's possible that capitalism, a very flexible system, can adjust and come to terms with sexism and racism, homophobia and transphobia while continuing to oppress and exploit most people. But this hasn't happened yet. It's important to remember that any oppressive system needs ways to divide the people who are oppressed and to distract them from the reality of their situation. Prejudice works in the service of oppression.


I have not published for two and half months, and the blog's readership is way, way down. My bad.

What have I done in the intervening time? Gone to the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City. This involved a long, long drive through Iowa, not the most exciting state in the union. Patrick and I did not see much of KC, though we did get to the Nelson Atkins Gallery, an art museum I have been hearing about my entire life. The European galleries were closed for renovation, but we had a nice time in the Chinese galleries. My favorite works were Tang Dynasty tomb figures, especially a wonderful horse, full of energy, and a pudgy Central Asian woman, nursing her baby while on top of a Bactrian camel. I also liked a group of contemporary Chinese paintings. One was a scroll, so big that it went up to a high ceiling. It showed a mountains-and-rivers landscape, done with a brush so wide you could have painted walls with it. Very handsome. There was also a calligraphy scroll, done in the seal script, and -- like the landscape -- larger than traditional works, though not as huge as the landscape. And there were two paintings of stones, that were quite lovely.

The con was fine, though I am too much of an introvert to fully enjoy cons. I did three or four panels and a kaffeklatsch. I didn't go to any parties, since they are too late and too loud. I didn't find out where the official con bar was, till the end of the con, so I never got there. I saw a bunch of friends, bought a couple of books and a scarf. Then Patrick and I drove home through the endless corn fields of Iowa.

Monday, June 20, 2016


We've been having very hot and humid weather with heat advisories, which used to be called livestock warnings when I was a kid, and Minnesota was a farm state. Last night we had thunder and lightning and some rain. North of us there were funnel clouds, one confirmed tornado and hail the size of tennis balls.

Today was bright and coolish, and the next few days are supposed to be pleasant. There's a full moon tonight, not yet visible from our windows. A bunch of stuff I ordered online arrived: three DVDs, tea from Harney and Sons, a new messenger bag and a tote for me, and a Game Developer Barbie for Patrick. The doll is brand new. Patrick thought it was a wonderful idea and wanted it. Barbie is still in her box and hanging on the living room wall. I don't know how long she will stay there. She doesn't entirely match the decor.

Tomorrow I plan to exercise, run errands and maybe get some writing done. Hot weather takes a lot out of me, even when I am mostly inside with air conditioning. Now I feel better.


I really dislike the comments that say, "I love your blog; it's fabulous; and here is a service I offer..." It is preying on the need that most bloggers have for some kind of feedback and even (maybe) emotional support. I delete those comments, of course, but they leave a bad feeling. Someone was trying to con me. I was being offered lying praise.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sticking with Your Raising

A facebook friend suggested that he is intellectually radical, while having a conservative temperament, and he thought I might be the same. (His actual statement was more complex, but this will serve.) I wrote this in response about myself:
This is a complicated topic. I believe this society is badly effed up and needs a radical change, as in it needs to be torn out by the roots and remade. As the old union song says, "We can bring to birth a new world from the the ashes of the old." This is not a belief that I came to through reason. This is the way I was raised. I was also raised to challenge ideas about art, since my father hung out with avant garde artists, who were very interesting people. I grew up in a house of the future, and this is not a metaphor. So what does this make me? Radical or conservative? As far as temperment goes, I'd say I am timid, which is not the same as conservative. (Remember that I grew up in the Midwest in the McCarthy era, which was also the height of the Cold War. That does not lead to a lot of confidence, though it does lead to believing ordinary middle class American life is poised above an abyss, and you cannot trust the neighbors. No wonder I loved SF.)
If you are true to your raising, are you conservative, even if your rising is in many ways radical?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Weather here is gray and very humid. I have two stories and an essay to get out the door. That's it for now.