GOT s7 theories

I’m on the Daenerys + Jon Snow dynastic marriage bandwagon. I think GRRM brought up the big plotline about Targaryen sibling marriages not just to explain the mad king and how Jaime and Cersei justified their relationship, but to lead to a dynastic joining of the North and South through Jon Snow.

I’ve read quite a few theories that Daenerys is going to die horribly, because she’s not the best at ruling, so it’s going to come down to a battle royale between Snow and Daenerys (Ice and Fire –get it?). She lacks certainly lacks the touch of nuance that good rulers need, that’s for sure, but I think she’s learning. I don’t think the show conveys that as well as the books, although the hints are there even in the show.

At the end of season 6, Jon Snow was declared King in the North of House Stark by all the Northern houses pledged to support the Starks, and a warging Bran saw Lyanna on her deathbed beg her brother to take and protect her child, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. So now Jon Snow is King in the North, unofficially recognized as the head of House Stark, and apparently a Targaryen–related to Daenerys with a distant potential claim to the throne himself (presumably something that will be revealed by him riding a dragon–which only Targaryen’s can do–or something).

However, GRRM has also stated in several interviews that ASOIF was inspired by the War of the Roses, with the Lannisters loosely based on the Lancasters and the Starks loosely based on the Yorks. This would make Daenerys Targaryen (often called the Queen across the Sea) analogous, one assumes, to the Henry VII (called the King from across the Sea in his time), who was the last King of England to win his crown in battle.

As it happens, that battle–the Battle of Bosworth–ended 30 years of war between various claimants to the throne. Sound familiar? And, Henry VII solidified his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York, his third cousin. Hmmm.

I also think the North and the Wildings probably represent the Scots and Welsh influence, while the Unsullied, Second Sons, and Dothraki gathered by Daenerys are clearly analogous to the French mercenaries which made up the bulk of Henry VII’s force–which point, once again, to an alliance rather than a showdown, since the Scots, Welsh, and French fought under the same banner (Henry VII’s) at the Battle of Bosworth. One way or another, Daenerys needs to face an army three times the size of her own before she takes the throne and marries Jon Snow.

I don’t think Cersei is going to offer that threat, although I do think Cersei is the season 7 Big Bad. I bet Cersei goes all out trying to coerce and terrorize and threaten an army into creation and in the end Jaime kills her for the same reason he killed the Mad King (to protect the people) and then he kills himself out of grief–or he offers his sword to Daenerys, who refuses it because Cersei did something else super horrific, like ordered all the firstborn children in the kingdom killed in Daenerys’ name or something. A typical Cersei thing, basically, that will absolutely backfire because Cersei thinks she’s a genius political manipulator but she just keeps fucking shit up.

I know Petyr Baelish has his plots and plans regarding Sansa, house Stark, and the Iron Throne, but I don’t think that’s going to work out well for him. He reminds me a bit of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, aka the Kingmaker–a knight who was a relative unknown, rose to great power, had vast wealth and resources in terms of lands, offices, and political influence, and played both sides during the War of the Roses.

I suspect Baelish taught Sansa better than he realizes, and it will be Sansa who manufactures his downfall. His machinations led to her being raped and tortured. He seems to think because she used him to win a battle, he’s won her favor back, but I don’t think he has any idea what kind of steel was forged in the fire he sent her through. He’s going to die, and he won’t even see it coming.

I bet it also keeps building the Night King storyline during season 7, sort of crescendoing it up, but there’s not much to add: He’s a big bad, his army is huge, and no-one really takes that threat seriously–not even the guys who are supposed to be guarding against them, but seem to have forgotten their entire raison d’etre. Probably somewhere in season 7, Bran breaks the Wall like he broke that damn heart tree, and a bunch of white walkers bust through, which is when people will start taking that shit serious.

Season 8 will see the Night King with his massive army marching on Daenerys, and I suppose that’s when the alliance will be proposed from Jon Snow and the North. Or, and this just occurred to me, instead of Cersei dying in season 7, it could be that Jaime betrays her just before the battle with the Night King while Daenerys is negotiating an alliance with Snow–that, actually, as the eve of battle approaches, it appears that Daenerys is outnumbered and outflanked by three armies: Cersei on one side, the Night King on the other, and the Northern/ Stark armies on the other.

But then, in a coup d’etat and stroke of luck, one of her enemies is dispatched by treachery from within and one of her apparent enemies turns ally, which would set her in an ideal position to best neutralize the true threat to the kingdom. Also, GRRM has–although the television series isn’t particularly faithful in reproducing it–written a pretty pro-feminist fantasy series here. Yes, I know there’s rape in the book. Yes, I know there are sex workers. Yes, I know about the objectification and violence toward women.

I also know that–in the books, anyway, and the tv series is (recently) doing better–there multiple plotlines told from the perspectives of women, and every one of those stories is nuanced enough that even when I hate the character (Cersei) there are still moments when I commiserate and sympathize with them–when I understand, for a moment, why they do the things they do. Make the choices they make.

When Cersei-the-mother speaks about her fierce, protective love for her children, I hear her. I wouldn’t, myself, make the choices she makes–but I understand that heart-clench, that need to protect, that drive.

When Cersei-the-woman speaks with fury about the unfair structures of a patriarchal society that prefers her brother over her in inheritance, I hear her, however reluctantly. I may not agree with the decisions she made in light of her rage, but I hear her anger. I understand it.

I dislike Cersei as a character/ person. I think she’s cruel, selfish, short-sighted, and not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. I also think she’s wonderfully written–a complex character, who cannot be distilled down to her bad qualities. She clearly loves her children and family and is loyal to a fault.

Likewise, the “good” girls cannot be distilled down to their good qualities–every character is a complex mix of personality traits. This is true of both the male and female characters, but I love it most in the female characters because it’s so rare to see, especially from a male author–not only are there well-developed female characters who don’t rely on one-note stereotypes, but there are a host of them! An entire cast, a whole range, and they’re equally balanced in amount to the male characters! Many are in leadership roles, or counseling those in leadership roles!

So because GRRM was willing (in the books) to write complex and awesome female characters, and because I strongly suspect he flipped the genders of Henry VII and Elizabeth York to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow/ Stark, I do think Daenerys will end up on the Iron Throne in a dynastic alliance with the King of the North, Jon Snow, as her husband.

Perhaps, given Snow’s aversion to power and the hints near the end of season 6 regarding Daenery’s willingness to share her kingdom, he’ll be less a “King” and more something like a consort to the queen–perhaps the character of Daenerys is inspired by both Henry VII and his famous descendent, Queen Elizabeth the Virgin Queen (though we already know Daenerys is no virgin, we also know she cannot produce an heir and will likely die without issue).

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reading challenge update

In this post back in January, I talked about a reading challenge I rec’d in an email. I was going to update it intermittently through the year. So, the ones in blue are the ones I answered back in January. The ones in bold are the ones I’ve completed since, , and the remainder are to-be-answered.

I haven’t gotten very far because, honestly, I thought just working my way through my usual booklist would hit most of these. I’ve read an average of 5 books a month this year, but … yeah. These are actually weirdly specific criteria, haha.

  1. A book published this year– Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  2. A book you can finish in a day (done — Married with Zombies)
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read (done — Outlander)
  4. A book recommended by your local librarian/ book seller — The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (recommended at a Scholastic Book Fair a few years ago and on my list ever since. Finally read it.)
  5. A book you should have read in school.
  6. A book chosen for you by a spouse/ sibling/ child/ parent — kind of cheating, but we jokingly call DJ my sister-wife, so yeah. She recommended it, I finally read it. The Gunslinger, first Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.
  7. A book published before you were born.
  8. A book that was banned at some point.
  9. A book you previously abandoned. 
  10. A book you own but have never read.
  11. A book that intimidates you.
  12. A book you’ve already read at least once.

Unbook Club & Book Reviews

There’s this local book club I found recently that’s kinda cool. It’s predicated on a neat little idea: Instead of assigning a monthly book that everyone has to read like boring ‘ole homework, everyone who attends just talks really quickly about an interesting book they’ve read that month.

For the most part, it’s cool. There is one attendee who reels off a dizzying list of titles without actually pausing to recommend or review any of them, so it sounds rather more like a checking off an impressive bucket list than talking about an interesting book that caught the eye, but the rest of the attendees confine themselves to one title and a brief overview of the plot in order to entice the rest of us into maybe possibly reading?

In two months time, I’ve already learned about a few new intriguing books and put them on my list:

Other books reviewed by readers have been bumped up on my list, like Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates — it’s been on my to-read list, but knowing what a heavy read it will be, I’ve been putting it off. Now I feel the pressure a little more intensely.

Another book recently reviewed was Inside the Kingdom, by Robert Lacey, a book that apparently covers (in depth) the political intricacies of the Saudi royal family and how they influence international politics. The overall conversation/ review concerning that book got a little ethnocentric/ disturbing to me, especially considering that the reviewer said it only covered the last 30 years or so. It inspired me to look up some longer-term history, as I firmly believe you cannot tell the content of a nations’ character from the last 30 years.

I’m not too familiar with the history of the region, other than knowing that Western governments have felt it their right and duty to meddle in the region since the days of the Crusades, and that we have continued to insert ourselves officiously into their politics throughout the centuries, even when advised against doing so by those who are actuallyon the ground working in the region.

I sometimes wonder if our governments continued interference with politics of the area are now a sort of … guilty conscious, a desire to fix what has been damaged, and a fear of the repercussions if we can’t point to some sort of positive results for all our meddling.

In any case, I found two books I think might be more useful to me than the short-term perspective of Lacey’s work: A History of Saudi Arabiaby Madawi al-Rasheed, and A History of the Middle Eastby Peter Mansfield and Nicolas Pelham. Apparently these two books cover a much broader historical perspective, ranging back almost two centuries between them before coming up to the present-day perspective. So that’s good. It’s important to have a broader historical perspective with these types of things instead of knee-jerk decamping into the hissing hatred of, “Those people are nothing like us; it’s a completely different world!”

Poverty and hunger and religious oppression makes humans do strange things, I think. I think that the type of people who hiss hatred from the comfort of their homes with running water and electricity and plumbed toilets, that poverty stricken illiterate starving families in a war torn region who are swayed by the words of dynamic leaders who promise to stabilize the region and feed their families are nothing like us have, perhaps, forgotten (or never known) the true deprivations of the human spirit. There are some things that are universal … like believing anything, if it will put food in your child’s belly. Like being angry, or too tired to think, if you can’t sleep for your town being bombed and your country’s food supply destabilized.

They’re just like us, deep down. They’re like what we would be if all our comforts and the stability of our society was stripped away, and a foreign government and army came in and started “helping” to stabilize but just made it worse, and our leaders were despotic and took everything away.

Anyway, I digress. Obviously, that kind of upset me, haha. This month, in the Unbook Club e-mail, the organizer mentioned that she personally is trying to do this fun little reading challenge this year, and she included this list. Basically boils down to 12 books for 12 months (which is SO MUCH of an improvement over my massive fail of a reading challenge last year — reading 50 books by authors of color. I think I got to 10. Maybe 15. Holy crap. My problem is that I get stuck on an author and want to read all their books, so I read a whole ton by Octavia Butler, but she did not write 50 books, and then I was in a total sci-fi mood, so I was like, oh, a little Atwood wouldn’t hurt … next thing you know, I’m nose-deep in Atwood and mainlining Max Brooks like he’s cocaine. It’s insane.)

Anywho, this is the challenge:

  1. A book published this year
  2. A book you can finish in a day (done — Married with Zombies)
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read (done — Outlander)
  4. A book recommended by your local librarian/ book seller
  5. A book you should have read in school (thinking Illegal People for this one)
  6. A book chosen for you by a spouse/ sibling/ child/ parent. (better let John or my sil choose — if I let one of my family of origin choose I’ll end up reading the BoM again, lol)
  7. A book published before you were born.
  8. A book that was banned at some point. (I’m thinking The Satanic Versesby Salman Rushdie
  9. A book you previously abandoned. (Working on it — Same Sex Marriages in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell. Its a slog because of those damned footnotes.)
  10. A book you own but have never read. 
  11. A book that intimidates you.
  12. A book you’ve already read at least once.

Obviously, I have some ideas for a few of the books, and I’ll figure out others as I go. I’m excited, I think this could be fun.

 

 

thoughts on accidental racism and passing as “normal”

Someone in my FB feed posted this Sun Magazine article, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” by Ross Gay. It’s a poetic and gripping read; both relatable and thought-provoking.

I especially like his points about how suspicion — of ourselves, of others — taints our daily interactions. He calls it suspicion, I think of it more as the white fear of accidentally appearing discriminatory — the microaggression perceived, rather then intended. What is interesting is that he points out that this suspicion (of self, of others) seems to be pervasive in all interactions, regardless of skin tone.

For example, when we lived in Centralia, there were a series of robberies. During that time, John and I went to the reservation store to buy smokes (because cigs were cheaper at the rez). While we were at the store, John and the cashier were making small talk about the robberies, and John made an off-handed comment about, “Well, what else do you expect around here?”

The cashier slammed the cigarettes and change down on the counter and snapped, “The robberies were committed by white guys.”

John blinked, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, took the smokes, and walked out of the store with me. As we got in the car, he wondered at her sudden bad attitude, and we realized she thought when he said “around here,” he meant specifically the reservation (and the Chehalis tribe residents). In fact, he meant the predominantly poor white tweakers that Centralia is sort of infamous for.

That’s the type of situation I call “accidental racism,” and I believe it occurs because we live in a cultural moment that — as this article explores — perpetuates suspicion of ourselves and others.

I do not have a solution or idea on how to address this. I wouldn’t for a moment even dream of suggesting that people should “just stop being so sensitive.” It is absolutely necessary that we speak out against discriminatory language and behaviors, even the ones that are often performed by rote and not out of a desire to be discriminatory. I mean, if we didn’t point out and object to discriminatory language and behavior, things would be a hell of a lot worse in our society right now.

Btw, I know some people complain about this change in language as too “p.c. (politically correct). I’m always amused by that, because as far as I can see, so-called “p.c.” language is just polite language. It’s a teensy bit like how I don’t see any problem with swearing and I think religious strictures against it are childish and silly … but I am still respectful to my religious friends and family who abhor swearing by choosing to abstain from the language they deem offensive while in their presence.

Anyway, back to accidental discriminations … I may enjoy the privileges society affords cis-gender straight educated white women, but I have also run into my fair share of stereotypes. After all, I am still a woman, and I did grow up diagnosed as having bipolar (and being treated for it).

I’m lucky. All I have to do is cut my hair and shut my mouth, and I start to disappear into the crowd, androgynous and unnoticeable. Small-breasted and short-haired, I am often mistaken for a young man. If I keep quiet and keep my head down, I don’t get hassled for being female, or for being a mental health ally. I can glide through life almost invisible, untouched by the stereotypes that swirl around about women and mental illness. On my motorcycle, with my full-face helmet, gear, and tall frame, I am even more androgynous. I can hide in my blandness, however temporarily, escape the stereotypes that define women and the mentally ill.

I do not wear cultural markers of “otherness” in the texture of my hair and the color of my skin. A cop will not pull me over for being bipolar while driving — a cop will not even realize I am bipolar. I have this respite from the discriminatory beliefs our culture still holds about people like me. Yet the tastes I have had of being stereotypes and “othered” have allowed me the space to imagine and empathize how awful it would be to deal with that every single day; to expect it. To have it be so common that it becomes a default understanding of the world, read even into neutral or benevolent interactions.

More times than I can count, I learned that if I shared my family background with mental illness, I would be told that mental illnesses aren’t real. I would be told to just focus on being happy, to sleep more, to eat right. To go on a strict fruitarian diet. To buy lights that mimic the sun. I would be told that medications and therapy are useless, that it’s all just a state of mind. Implicitly and explicitly, I would be told that mentally ill people are weak and selfish — that my mom, who was the greatest mom ever, was a bad mom. Weak and selfish for having bipolar, for committing suicide, for giving in.

When mom was alive, she told me never to tell anyone I was diagnosed with bipolar. She said people wouldn’t understand. She said they would treat me differently. She was right, but I didn’t care. I figured it was a test. Anyone who learned mental illness ran in my family and shunned me for it wasn’t someone I wanted as a friend anyway.

I didn’t learn to shut my mouth about bipolar until my mom died. I can handle the slings and arrows and suspicions when they’re hurled at me. But there’s no cause, no reason, no heart in speaking ill of my mom. She suffered enough. We suffered enough. There’s no need to hear people call her weak, call her selfish. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She battled bipolar for 20 years. She was amazing.

All I have to do is shut my mouth, and I don’t have to hear it. I listen, I observe, I decide if the person to whom I am speaking is compassionate about mental illness or not, and then I can decide whether or not to risk it. Whether or not opening up will result in being lashed at with idiocy and discrimination, or met with compassion. It’s like my own version of a closet. I pull the door shut time and “pass” as normal for a little bit, just long enough not to deal with uneducated bigots.

But people of color, they don’t have a closet to hide in. They can’t pull down their melanin and shake their hair free of texture in order to slide by uneducated bigots. They have to face it all head on, the bad, the neutral, and the good. And I know I have a hard time reading neutral or well-intended jokes/ sarcasm as harmless or teasing when I’m having a bad day. When my period cramps are acting up, and I’m on edge from noise, and I just want the world to recede for 30 goddamn minutes, but I have to go to the store to get this stupid thing I forgot. I can only imagine what it would be like to be having an already fucking shitty day, and then you go to work and some white guy makes a crack about crime in the neighborhood … yeah. I can see how sometimes when the world sucks balls, miscommunications like that happen, and its no-ones fault.

All I know is that sometimes I spout things without realizing possible alternate interpretations, and that I am grateful when grace and understanding is extended to me — so I feel it is only right that I extend grace and understanding when I speak clumsily or in ignorance and am met with frustration and anger.

Happy New Year!!!

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5 Notable Events of 2014

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  • Kidling (and the family) got a new puppy.
  • I graduated with my BA!
  • Reunited with family!
  • Kidling entered 7th grade.

And the absolute most notable event of 2014 (drumroll, please) …

  • John was promoted to supervisor!

4 New Things I tried

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  • Dip-netting for crab in the Sound.
  • #exercisealifestyle (daily walks)
  • Sewing dolls!
  • Crocheting (not the lovely model — the scarf! I did that!)

3 Favorite Non-Fiction Books

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2 Favorite Fiction Series

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And my absolute number one totally most favoritist part of the year …

Spending it with this guy:

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coming up on the end of the year

This has been an interesting month. John has been promoted, which means his schedule has been upended. This is good (more time with husband!) and bad (less time to write!). Luckily, the good more than outweighs the bad, and I have an amazing son and husband. They’ve done their best to create space for me to write.

In fact, my son and I agreed that on Sundays, we would turn off the tv and gaming systems and focus 100% on reading (him) and writing (me). This last Sunday, I wrote 2000 words. Today I wrote 3000, when my husband left the house for the entire morning to get some shopping done. They’ve both been incredibly considerate and helpful in doing what they can to help me reach my goal of writing and someday publishing a book.

John is helpful in other ways, too — a week or so ago, I was venting about how I’d lost the thread of my story and it had become a dystopian action adventure. I said I needed to backtrack about 25,000 words and start re-writing. He asked why, and I explained that about 25,000 words ago, I had taken a lazy shortcut and said something like,

It didn’t take long to settle into a routine, especially with such familiar work to do. Merci often griped that they weren’t allowed to go on patrol yet, but Bex was secretly relieved at the extra time it meant for research. She managed to wrap up two unsolved cases by the end of Harvest, much to Merci’s amusement.

Obvious shortcut is obvious. With three short sentences, I manage to skip past months of character development and world-building, and my entire plot suffered because of it. I’m not trying to write another futuristic dystopian sci-fi about a corrupt totalitarian government, but by taking that shortcut I ended up having to manufacture action and drama in order to try and flesh out the plot. It jumped from a sci-fi vision of a future with a functioning government worth defending to another generic no-hope post-apocalyptic fiction, all because I got lazy one afternoon.

So I was bemoaning the fact that I would have to backtrack by about 25k words and start over, when my husband made his brilliant suggestion. He said, “Why do you have to start over? Just go back and add in the character and plot development for that time frame, then use what you have for the conflict arc, then wrap it up. You don’t have to tank 25k just because it doesn’t work right now.”

It was perfect advice. Whether or not I end up trashing those 25k words of plot, my husband took the weight of making the decision at this point in the process off my shoulders. My daily writing counts skyrocketed after that — I was trailing down to about 1100 words a day when I was struggling with the realization that I’d lost the plot, but now that I have the story back to where I intended, I’m averaging about 2500 words per writing day. I’m feeling pretty stoked right now.

Aside from writing, life is going well. I’m still walking the dogs every morning and trying to get in regular every-other-day exercises (squats and push-ups). I’ve lost about 15 lbs since I started my #exercisealifestyle goal in September.

My sister in law has inspired me, too, and I’ve begun making homemade yogurt after she posted her results online. We both like canning and home food prep, so it’s pretty cool to follow her recipes and see what she’s trying. It gives me some new ideas. We went shopping together last week and I picked up some kefir grains so I can try that too — I’ve recently realized I’ve developed lactose intolerance as I’ve gotten older.

It’s cool, because I never really liked milk in the first place, but it does mean that I can’t eat cereal or drink milk with cookies/ cake when I wish to. That’s kind of annoying. Also, ice cream appears to be a bad idea. Mostly I’ve dealt with it by … not dealing with it. I and my family have been subjected to my intense gastrointestinal distress the rare times I do drink milk. Then I discovered kefir at the store, and when I realized it was essentially drinkable yogurt, I figured I could make it at home just like I can yogurt. I’m super excited to try this.

I signed up to volunteer at my sons school, too. I did it partly because I want to contribute to the school, and mostly because I felt bad that John is always surrounded by people. As an introvert, I get the necessity of quiet/downtime, and how even when other people are simply being in the same room (or house), there’s still a sense of … personal intrusion. Of expectation. Of needing to be “on” for other people. I get that you can love/ adore someone, and still need space away from them, time to mentally and emotionally recharge.

Recently, I realized that while Kidling and I both get quiet/downtime to mentally and emotionally recharge, John doesn’t. He gets up in the morning, and we’re both here. He goes to work, and is surrounded by his coworkers. He comes home, and both his wife and son are here. All day, every day, people surround him. There is no privacy, no sweet solitude. So I signed up for volunteering at the school to give him at least an hour a week of time alone.

The days are odd and jagged, stops and starts of busy quiet. I will have no plans for days on end, and then abruptly discover I have a full calendar of appointments and social activities. I often whittle away the hours on things like shopping, baking, and writing, and when the sun sets I wonder where the day has gone. I don’t feel particularly productive, yet an assessment of my activities composes a satisfying list of daily accomplishments. Or minutiae. I’m not entirely certain.

For example, today I vacuumed, washed/dried/ folded two loads of laundry, took out the trash, emptied the little box, walked both dogs, took a 2.5 mile walk with my husband, baked a batch of cookies, wrote 3k words, crocheted two rows on an infinity scarf, oversaw Kidling’s homework, and cooked schnitzel and spatzle for dinner. I also plan on making yogurt tonight.

So was this a waste of a day? Minutiae? Or were these necessary and useful activities? I often wonder where the line is. All these activities are rolled into the useful and bland title, of “homemaker,” which calls to mind anti-feminist stay at home moms enjoying leisure hours.

But these activities are also things that are outsourced or abandoned when I was working. When both John and I were employed full time, the daily chores slid. We often debated hiring a weekly housecleaner to handle the chore load while we worked 40+ hours/ week each. Neither of us created homemade meals, either — the closest we came to “homemade” were quickly heated freezer or deli items from Costco, like their pre-made frozen lasagna. Now, I make lasagna from scratch. It saves money and is healthier, but it takes an investment of time and know-how. There is a trade-off to be made.

When I worked full time, my writing and personal interests suffered. Rather than craft homemade gifts and spend time with my son, I came home and napped on the couch while my son played videogames. His homework suffered as both John and I were too distracted by the demands of work and household to maintain a regularly watchful parental eye to keep him on task.

So when I fill my day with these tasks, I am aware that the investment of my time, talent, and skills is saving our household money. I am aware that I am not, in fact, wasting time and filling out days with minutiae. I am aware that if I were to disappear or cease existing tomorrow, somehow that slack would have to be picked up. Perhaps my husband would hire a maid, perhaps he would find another partner. I know I am not useless. I just don’t really get that message from our culture.

In America in the 21st century, the middle-class stay-at-home parent is many things: A status symbol signaling financial stability; almost necessary to the smooth running of the household; a replacement for outsourcing cooking and cleaning. What the middle class stay at home parent is not is valued by our culture. Sure, certain conservative religious factions praise the stay-at-home mother for her fortitude and maternal nature, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not bemoaning a lack of benevolent sexism in the culture at large; I am bemoaning the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is still so often seen as (somehow) a cop-out, a lazy shortcut. I am bemoaning that it isn’t validated and financially reinforced through workers’ rights legislation, targeted tax rebates, and similar measures taken by other developed countries to support families and stay-at-home parents.

what dreams may come

Since Kidlings been back in school, I’ve been focusing on writing a book (finally, ha!). I mean, I’ve known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper that I’m a writer at heart, and that someday I will write a book. It used to be a deeply held dream of mine, a necessity of validation to prove I was “really” a writer.

Then, at some point in the journey of my life and the various sidetracks I ended up on, I realized it doesn’t matter if I am a published author or not. That’s not why I’m a writer. I write because I have to. It’s how I relate to the world; the lens through which I view it. I write because without the written word, the world around me becomes dull and flat and incomprehensible.

Strangely, realizing that I’m not doing this to make tons ‘o money or get published provided me with the freedom to focus on my writing without fear of failure. Unfortunately, the arrival of said freedom pretty much exactly coincided with my time at Evergreen, so it took me another two years or so to find space to write full-time. Right now, if I keep up the pace I’m at, I hope to have the first draft done by late January or early February. Then I need to run some edits and look at releasing an ebook copy by June or July. Maybe I’ll try cold submissions to publishing houses, but I don’t know how valuable that method is anymore.

I found a quote somewhere online that says,

“Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months.”

So I set myself a Jack London-sized goal, with aspirations to meet Stephen King levels of production. There’s just one teensy difference — I only write on days that both John and Kidling are out of the house. So it’s usually just Tues-Fri, when Kidling is at school and John is working. Right now, I’m meeting or exceeding my daily word count goal, which has me stoked.

When I’m not writing, I try to keep myself engaged with the book and the world by sketching. These are three of my characters:

bex Lash Merci

I swear, the drawings look better in person. I think.

characterization and blah de blah

So, I graduated. Well. In a manner of speaking. I went through the graduation ceremony and completed all my credits … but due to unforeseen circumstances (unexpected death), I have not yet received my final evaluation, credits, or diploma. That’s just a paperwork delay though — all the courses are completed and requirements fulfilled. As a result, my days are no longer filled with classes and homework and commutes … which I love.

My son is in school. My husband is at work. And four days a week, I have almost 7 full hours of completely uninterrupted time to write. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are still an utter wash when it comes to having uninterrupted time to focus on writing, but Tuesday through Friday are fantastic.

So I’ve been averaging between 1000 – 1500 words a day on the work in progress. It’s a sci-fi/ futuristic thingy, which has spun me for a bit of a loop in terms of diversity. I was reading something online, I forget where, about diversity in characterization. The problem, of course, is that you can’t simply call Dr. Smith a different name, like Dr. Yu or Dr. Tanaka, because it’s all about social location.

Consider that Dr. Jane Smith, raised in 1940s America would be different from Dr. Jane Smith raised in 1940s England. One would have been raised at a distance from a war that devastated the world, while the other would have been in England during the infamous London Blitz. Consider how changing Jane’s gender to John also changes the dynamics and background of the character; how they would have been raised and the expectations put upon them by society.

Writing Jane or John Smith is still something that comes easily and naturally to me, with minimal research. British Jane likes eggy bread and coffee with milk for breakfast. As an adult, British Jane still remembers the way the wool stockings of her school uniform itched at the back of her knees as she waited on a crowded train platform to be shipped out to the country.

American John doesn’t like to eat breakfast, but his mom used to insist that he eat a bowl of Cheerios every morning. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she would say. His mom was full of sayings like that. He can still remember her carefully counting pennies to purchase war bonds, telling him that a penny saved is a penny earned.

These are historical narratives I was steeped in my entire life. They are the stories of my parents and grandparents, the storybooks of my childhood, and even though John and Jane are not me, they share a cultural background with me. This makes them easier to write, like slipping on a new coat. It’s different, a new color and a cut I don’t usually wear, but it’s still a coat. A coat is a pretty basic garment. Not hard to figure out.

Now, consider that simply shifting the time drastically alters the character background, not even taking into account location and gender and class and education. By bringing Jane or John forward or backward 50 years, their entire upbringing and expectations shift … yet it’s still a basically familiar cultural background to me.

Now add a twist. What if Jane’s last name is Tanaka? How do I write an American Jane Tanaka in the 1940s? She would be in the American Concentration Camps. Is she a first generation Japanese immigrant, or a second-generation one? Does she come from California, which had more intense discrimination, or Washington? Which camp did she stay in? All these factors influence Jane’s experience, background, and character. They change the level of suspicion she was treated with, both by the government and other Japanese Americans. It even changes how long it took her to be released. And on top of that, I need to know the culture of her family, and how it infused her worldview.

Again, to draw comparisons, consider my own background. People look at me and see a white American girl. They do not see the Norwegian flags that were strung on my childhood Christmas tree, or the dirndl or bunad that I used to wear to church for fun. They do not taste the weinerschnitzel and spatzle I ate at family dinners. They do not know that my worldview, my character, my interactions with the world are infused with a deep love and connection with my personal family history.

I speak a little bit of German. Not enough to really converse, but a little bit. My parents lived in Heidelberg for 5 years, and my German accent comes from that area. Apparently, this is subtly different from the dialect/ style of German that is taught in most German courses. If you’re an American, consider the regional linguistic differences between North and South America, or the West and East coasts … it’s not simply accents, but colloquialisms and localized slang. And even though I haven’t been to Germany since I left 4 months after my birth, the little bit of German I know carries the localized accent and slang from my birthplace.

So if I am writing Jane Tanaka, or John Tanaka, I need to figure out things like that. If I write a Jane Smith from London or a John Smith raised in Birmingham, Alabama, I don’t have to think quite so much about their linguistic history and colloquialisms … these speech patterns, while not inherently natural to me, are closely aligned enough with my own experiences that it’s just less challenging to write.

But for the Tanakas, I have to learn enough about Japanese culture and history to write their background, without getting lost and overwhelmed in the research. I need to take into account their social location when I write their characters — how the social structures would shape their personalities, like ivy forms to a wall. Or, perhaps more aptly, how a bonsai tree is shaped by the restrictions of the environment and the needs of the socially powerful (the artist).

Anyway, I guess I’m thinking about all this because … well, because I’m not sure how the setting in my book affects the character building. It’s a diverse cast, but the social location is so entirely different as to render a lot of these concerns as moot. It takes place on a different planet, almost 500 years in the future.

Think about that for a moment. Five hundred years ago, it was 1514. Slavery as we now understand it, with its distinctly racial component, had not yet been invented. A successful colony had not yet been established in the Americas. It would seem, from the present state of research, that the plague which wiped out up to 90% of the Native Americans prior to European colonization had not yet occurred.

In 1514, King Henry the VIII was still married to his first wife. He had not yet split with the Catholic church to create the Church of England. Hell, most of the current map boundaries we think of when we imagine the European countries hadn’t been formalized yet. The world of 1514 was so completely different from our modern world as to be unfathomable. They pretty much did not even speak the same language as us! If time travel became a thing, communication would not be easy or intuitive, and the social mores and expectations were just eons apart from our modern beliefs. If time travel became a thing, we would be further hindered by our mistaken beliefs about the past, especially in regards to race and gender.

So as I write these characters, 500+ years in the future on a different planet altogether, I don’t really consider our current social location in their character development. The ongoing disparate impact of racialized systems of control in the 21st century Western hemisphere is an extremely minimal factor in who they are and how they interact. It is a thread in their shared history that is woven through the tapestry of humanity and influenced their current place, but it’s one of those threads that is worn pale and thin in seeming importance by the winds of time.

The planet these characters live on was colonized roughly 300 years before the start of the book, with a formalized government coming into play within 75 years. This is roughly analogous to the timeline of the colonization of North America and inception of the U.S. government; an intentional parallel. Similar to the myths, imagery, and debates regarding our own (highly documented) national backstory, the everyday lives of my characters are heavily influenced by the founding events of their society.

The thing is, my characters are predominantly people of color in a position of social privilege. This creates a bit of  quandary for me. On the one hand, I strongly believe in the value of a diverse cast of characters for readers to identify with. On the other hand … am I taking the easy route and participating in cultural erasure by creating a situation where the current expectations of discrimination and social privilege are upended? Do the same rules of character development apply in futuristic sci fi?

I dunno. Honestly, I’ll worry about it later, during revisions. Right now, I want to focus on finishing the book. Then revising it and editing it and revising some more. Then submitting the manuscript to publishing houses and dealing with rejections until I can’t anymore, or it’s picked up by someone. If it isn’t picked up, then I plan on revising and editing it some more for self-pubbing.

time for a new e-reader

So … my dogs stepped on my Nook reader, and the screen cracked. It’s past warranty. I have to buy a new reader, and since old readers (of all stripes) can apparently be “blacklisted” by the original owner, I feel like it’s too chancy to buy one second hand from Craigslist or something.

So I’m looking at another ereader from B&N, but I’m kinda underwhelmed by their choice to move away from ereaders and into tablets. I blame the Microsoft/ Nook merger for that shift in priorities. The only e-ink reader currently available from Barnes & Noble is the Glowlight; otherwise it’s all backlit Samsung tablets. If I wanted to read my ebooks on a tablet, I already have a smartphone and tablet. I want an e-ink device.

I actually wanted to buy the Touch this time, as I didn’t use the light feature of the Glowlight as often as I thought I would. I mean, I liked the Glowlight feature, but I’m not sure if I liked it enough to pay $20 extra for it … of course, that’s a moot point, now, since there’s no Touch at all, $99 or otherwise.

So I’m looking at the Kobo Aura H2O right now, and I’m super tempted. It’s only $60 more than the Nook Glowlight, and it not only has the e-ink and glowlight capabilities that I like, it’s waterproof and dustproof. This is like, the e-reader for people who live in the PNW, I swear. Plus, I think I can get it from Powells Books, and I always enjoy supporting independent booksellers.

The Kobo supports epubs, which (of course), is the file format of 99% of my books (I had to buy like 3 books on the Kindle app for college, because the textbooks weren’t available on the Nook ereader, just the web app, which is stupid). It’s apparently still possible to transfer books among epub readers, too.

reassessing my future (again)

So, as anyone who has spoken with me in the past 3 months is aware, I was thinking about giving law school a try. One of the professors (a lawyer and former judge) in my Law and Outlaw class was very insistent that I am an ideal candidate for law school. She really strongly encouraged me. I was a little on the fence, because I’ve heard some rumors about the state of the legal field … but then again, maybe they were exaggerated. And this professor seemed really certain that I would be in the highest percentage of my law class, a contributor to the Law Review, and that I would get a judicial clerkship. It was flattering.

I spoke with a recent law school grad who cast cold water on my budding inclination by telling me the cold hard facts of the matter. Jobs, she said, were thin on the ground. Debts were high. She had a scholarship all through law school, and through her LLM education. She was top of her class, and a contributor to the Law Review. She was everything my professor promised would ensure success, and she was struggling to find work. It sounded grim.

More accurately, I hate being homeless.

But then I had the opportunity to set up a few informational interviews, and after speaking with numerous government employees the State Attorney General’s Office, I decided I’d go for that degree after all.

I figured I’d just get a job with the government, earn some experience as a prosecutor, and have my debt forgiven through the Federal debt forgiveness program tied to public service. Every lawyer and secretary I spoke to assured me it was the quickest route to success, and they should know! They were wrapping up 30+ year careers!

So I purchased some books, began studying for the LSATs, and happily began informing people of my now-arranged future.

Then I read this article by Paul Campos in The Atlantic, titled, “The Law School Scam.” It echoed everything my recent law-school grad friend had been telling me. Kinda freaked me out.

I visited his blog, Inside The Law School Scam, and that sinking sensation in my gut got worse.

I bought his book “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk,” ($4 through the Kindle app, $6 paperback — unfortunately, not available through Nook) today, and read the whole thing in an hour.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Holy shit.

As it turns out, the availability of legal positions has actually been shrinking over the past 30 years (yes, including for lawyers). A lot of stuff lawyers used to do is now done by paralegals or technology, or (even worse for the profession) DIY legal work by those who used to rely on lawyers — for example, when that guy hit John and broke his jaw, and I filed the restraining order request and both parties had to present their sides before the judge? People used to hire lawyers for that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, law school tuition and class size has been increasing, while standards have … dropped somewhat. A little. The ABA holds law school to some basic standards, but the rise of for-profit colleges and their willingness to allow low-LSAT scorers into their ranks has resulted in a correlating decline of LSAT score valuation at nonprofit schools. So, basically, law schools are churning out more grads than there are jobs, and those grads are carrying massive and non-dischargeable debt.

Oh! The debt! Campos explains that really well, too. Those so-called “scholarships” are apparently just higher-tuition students subsidizing the costs of lower tuition students. It’s this whole thing where if the tuition is actually $100,000/year, but half the students are offered a scholarship that allows them to attend for $50,000/year, then the reported “average tuition” would be $75,000/year … but really it varies wildly, and the scholarships are often tied to performance. Plus, the average reported debt the law schools usually quote to potential students doesn’t include the 3-4 years of accrued interest acquired by non-subsidized loans while in school. 

So all that is super duper discouraging on its own, and then you get into the fact that apparently government work — promising both stability, experience, and loan forgiveness — turns out to be incredibly in demand! Starting wages of $60,000 is nothing to shake a finger at when it includes loan forgiveness!

So, to recap: My plan is basically the plan of most potential lawyers, meaning the competition is intense, and most lawyers are unemployed.

New plan, new plan.

Apparently law schools are trying to combat this by trying to claim that a law degree is totally versatile … like, you can be a journalist or a writer or any number of things that don’t require a fucking law degree. Because the only, I repeat only thing you need a law degree for is to practice the law. It’s like getting a medical degree to become an aromatherapist, by all the gods.

At one point in the book, Campos points to a bit of data that compares the graduation/ employment rates of doctors vs. lawyers over the past 30 years, and a depressingly high percentage of bar-accredited lawyers are unemployed — something like 60%, if I recall correctly — but pretty much everyone who studied to become a doctor is currently practicing as a doctor.

Again: DEPRESSING.

Speaking of depression! Campos then cites data that law students and lawyers are more likely than any other profession to develop severe and debilitating depression. I was like, “Pshhh, my daddy was a lawyer, and he’s the happiest man I know.”

Then I read this bit (bolded parts mine).

“Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment.”

Holy shit, sounds like some law offices I’ve worked in.

  • Intensely hierarchical? Check! (One employer paid a BA-toting paralegal more than the HS-diploma-toting but longer-employed paralegal who trained him).
  • Emotionally cold? Oh, ye gods, check. (One of my bosses was worse than Elsa’s emotional breakdown in Frozen.)
  • High-stress environment? Yup. (Let’s just say that after I had a boss who was so bad, that after 8 months dealing with her, I was literally contemplating hanging myself in her office.)

Oh, wait, Campos’ quote continues? Ye gods. Okay, then.

” … in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.”

There is a lawyer/ SBO owner I knew, swear to gods, not exaggerating– she would literally sneer at anyone she considered beneath her, even clients. I do not ever, ever want to be like that. She was, literally, the worst human being I have ever had the misfortune to know– including some seriously fucked up racist misogynistic assholes. I rank her worse than them just because she studied social justice and labor law in law school and still maintained that elitist classism, whereas in my experience, racist misogynistic assholes are (by and large) historically ignorant.

She wasn’t awful out of ignorance, like so many of the racist, classist, sexist idiots I’ve run into over the course of my life. She was awful knowing full well the repercussions of her behavior, and believing that her “superior” education entitled her to treat people like shit.

So, I finished the book, and all information considered … I think I’ll just keep looking for entry-level government work, and take the time to focus on writing while I have it. ‘Cause that shit? Is cray.