Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 07:39 pm
"Post-Binary Gender in SF: Writing Without Revealing Gender" by Alex Dally Macfarlane

Alex says, "I like and dislike this" and gives good reasons why.

But the main reason I'm posting it is that it brought back a high school memory for me. We were assigned to write a short story. I wrote a science fiction story in the first person. The story ended with flirting between my protagonist, who was female, and another character, who was male. I wasn't trying to hide anyone's gender in the story, but the teacher assumed that my protagonist was male and so was "concerned" that I had written a story with Teh Gay in it. When I said that the character was female the teacher said I should make that more clear. I identified as het cis female at the time and I did not understand why the teacher thought my protagonist was male. But apparently characters who don't do explicitly girly things are male by default. Especially if they are in space exploration stories.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 12:13 pm
Recently I read yet another book where the character I most identify with ended up sad and alone after the death of her beloved partner. Reader, I am fucking done with these books. DONE. Done done done.

If you nodded along to Ferrett's post about how the "logic" underpinning all-white and all-male award nomination lists is suspect, then nod along to this. Every time a lesbian dies, every time a wife is widowed, every time a mother grieves the death of her child, every time rape is used to define a woman's character, it serves the story that the author wanted to tell--the story the author chose to tell. And I am no longer content with "it makes sense in the context of the story" as an explanation or an excuse. That "logic" is just as suspect.


Tell stories where it doesn't make sense for her husband or wife to die. Tell stories where her child dying is unfathomable. Tell stories where women live happy fulfilling lives. Tell stories where women find love and don't lose it again. Tell stories where women and their bodies aren't treated like objects.

Tell stories where women are happy, where a woman's happiness makes sense in the context of the story, where a woman's happiness serves the story, where a woman's happiness is integral to the plot. Tell stories where women's hearts and minds and bodies and families and vocations are healthy, and treated with respect by other people.

Tell stories where women are happy.

This should not be such an outrageous suggestion. But take a look at recent SF/F, at the books that get awards, at the books that get talked about, and it is entirely and utterly radical.

Tell stories where women are happy. I dare you. And I'm begging you, please. I can't handle any more unhappy women. I can't. It's why I read romance more than SF/F these days. I don't identify as a woman anymore, but that doesn't stop me from identifying with women, and they are all so sad and I can't do it. Stop showing me how tough and realistic your grimdark is by making the women as miserable as the men. Stop showing me how exciting and dangerous your space adventure is by putting the women through as many trials as the men. I believe you, okay? It's tough and realistic, it's exciting and dangerous, I believe you, you can stop now.

It will be hard the first few times, because it's so alien, this notion of women's happiness. But you'll get used to it, once you can adjust your ideas of what's "logical".

Tell stories where women are happy. Go on. Give it a try.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 01:30 pm

Afternoon RGL crew!

This week's featured article is for the Tap On The Line, a cracking Fuller's pub by Kew Gardens tube station - and when I say 'by', I mean you can read the platform indicators while still in the pub so you know exactly how many minutes you have left to finish your half of Chiswick. That's for northbound trains though - you might need a pair of binoculars to read the southbound platform times (for Richmond only), but if you've acquired mutant eyesight powers from a random outbreak of gamma radiation in Sheen you should be fine.

We have a new article for Cristina's restaurant in Barking, which serves both steak and dishes that are not steak. This might make for a boring venn diagram but the prices are reasonable and the mains are well cooked (desserts perhaps best avoided). Make sure to ask the staff if you want the secret Romanian menu!

Pudding Mill Lane DLR station is temporarily closed while it gathers up its skirts and moves to a shiny new location 100m down the road (opening Monday April 28th).

Finally, some closures of a more permanent nature: Parrilladas Del Sur in Walworth, the Garden Ladder pub in Green Lanes and Chuen Cheng Ku at the very bottom of Wardour Street.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 09:23 am
My new nephew is actually called Edward, and my brother-in-law sent us some photos, which instantly eased my mind. Edward looks very tiny and adorable in that not-quite-finished-baking way that early babies have, and is apparently doing very well (strong, good lungs) but will need some time in an incubator.  I haven't spoken to his mum yet, but b-i-l and m-i-l report her recovering well too.

The photos also show the new parents doing kangaroo care, which I'm taking as a good sign both for baby and of the hospital knowing what they're doing.  No idea yet when they will make it back to the UK.   I was putting aside new-baby things to post up to them in preparation for the birth ... going to hold off on that until we know more.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 03:54 am
Today was a lot better than yesterday. X fought off gluten-poisoning to meet me after work and brave the perfumed chaos of BB&B, and we got curtains and curtain rods and various other useful things. We took a cab over to the new apartment and installed curtains and were happy.

I got some hooks that hang off of cabinet doors (super useful!) and while I was figuring out which doors to put them on, I realized that I hadn't yet had a chance to ask X the all-important question of "which drawer do you assume the silverware is in?".

R: Hey, I have a question for you that I asked Josh already.
X: Yes, I will marry you.
R: *stammers and blushes and grins like a fool for several minutes*

We held each other in our new kitchen and it felt like home, our home, our family home.

And then I asked about the silverware drawer and we both felt (as J had) that it should be one of the middle ones because towels go nearest the sink and cooking utensils go nearest the stove. We all tend to be very in tune around things like that. It makes things so lovely and easy.

Later on, as we were walking back to the old place from the subway:

X: Huh, there was something I was going to ask you...
R: Yes, I will marry you.
X: Well, FINALLY. I've been waiting for ages!

And there you have the difference between the two of us. :) But it's just a different kind of in tune, really. Sappiness and silliness, melody and harmony.

Just five more days.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 01:06 am
Fun things, Apr 17: ...no idea, that was a million years ago
Apr 18: went by the new place after therping and immediately felt less stressed
Apr 19: packing party! and then dinner with J, and another trip to the new place, and watching The Princess Bride with X
Apr 20: another nice dinner out with J, and companionable packing with X
Apr 21: X and I got curtains and other things at BB&B and installed them (except the shower curtain rings, which are too big for the grommets on our shower curtain)

Yes, all the joy in my life right now comes from packing and interior decorating. This will be true for another few weeks at least.

Media log:

33) The Princess Bride. (Movie.) Rewatch, of course. It remains brilliant, but I kept thinking "This scene is better in the book!" and now I want to reread the book. Cary Elwes is so young. I continue to ship Humperdink/Rugen like whoa.

I mean, what is there to say about it, really? We've all seen it a billion times. It's one of the wittiest and most quotable scripts ever written, Wesley castigating Buttercup for marrying someone else after she thought he was dead is kind of tiresome (especially given all his later assertions about true love--if it's Meant to Be and all that, why did he ever doubt her?) but over quickly, the acting is phenomenal even if Mandy Patinkin's broad Spanish accent is cringeworthy these days, and I will always love the fencing scene to tiny little itty bitty pieces. I appreciate Andre the Giant more than ever--his Fezzik is such a wonderful portrayal of a man who's not nearly as short on brains as everyone else thinks he is, and is more bighearted and noble than anyone else imagines, a perfect paladin minus the armor--and Wallace Shawn is incomparable. Carol Kane and Billy Crystal are so splendid that you barely stop to wonder how a couple of Brooklyn Jews ended up working miracles and eating MLTs in Florin. They're all marvelous.

Except, oddly, Robin Wright, who is wooden and one-note throughout. But she's given far less to work with than anyone else in the film; Buttercup really is the dolt that Fezzik is supposed to be, with no redeeming qualities except for her perfect breasts. Note that literally none of the famous quotable lines are hers. She's the straight man for Wesley's wisecracks, and then she sets him up to die away from her because she can't bear him dying in front of her. Inigo immediately knows that the cry of ultimate suffering is Wesley's; Buttercup is baffled by it. Her one shining moment is "You never sent those ships", and that realization is so completely belated that all I could do was roll my eyes. I'm surprised Fezzik remembered to steal a horse for her, given that she's more of a quest object than a person.

Oh well. All the men and Carol Kane are great, anyway.

One intriguing side effect of spending so much time doing literary criticism is that I was totally fascinated by the grandson arguing with the book whenever it diverged from his culturally mediated expectations of a fairy tale. "You got that wrong, grandpa!" He hates "kissing books" but he knows enough about romance conventions to know that Wesley has to get the girl and Humperdink has to die (and he's so mad when his grandfather tells him that Humperdink lives--that's not how it's done!). It's a fascinating little study on how quickly and thoroughly children absorb the tropes we feed them, and it helps to make up for the movie being more of a fawning homage to cliché than a sneaky send-up.

Verdict: The book is better. (Not least because it is much more of a sneaky send-up, including the greatly superior ending.) But the movie is still great.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? I expect we'll wear out the DVD. I plan to read them the book, too. Including the descriptions of the boring parts.

34) My Real Children by Jo Walton. (Book.) NOTE: The following contains spoilers, and also a major spoiler for the Small Change books (Farthing/Ha'Penny/Half a Crown). If you don't want those, stop reading now.

Spoilers ahoy )

Verdict: Annoying verging on upsetting.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? Tolerate. It's not inherently offensive or objectionable. It's just not in any way my thing.
Monday, April 21st, 2014 09:02 pm
"The Confidence Gap" by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

This article infuriates me in a way that many Atlantic articles do, because it frames the issue poorly, contradicts itself, and twists even those facts that it presents as support for its argument.

Why is "Women don't have enough confidence" a better way of framing the issue than "Men don't care enough about failure"? Especially when the writers seem to be unhappy with the evidence that people don't care about competence as much as confidence: "Infuriatingly, a lack of competence doesn’t necessarily have negative consequences."

Why is takeaway message "Women need to to stop thinking so much and just act" when the article also contains this statement: "Most people can spot fake confidence from a mile away"?

A scientist studied how men and women did on a certain test when they were acting on their own, given instructions to try every question, and various other conditions. Women did worse than men when acting on their own because they skipped some questions, scored the same as men when the subjects were told to try every question, and scored lower than men when the subjects were told to rate their confidence before attempting the problem.
Finally, Estes decided to attempt a direct confidence boost. He told some members of the group, completely at random, that they had done very well on the previous test. On the next test they took, those men and women improved their scores dramatically.
...which the authors summarize as "What doomed the women in Estes’s lab was not their actual ability to do well on the tests....What held them back was the choice they made not to try." But nowhere is it suggested that men might be more likely to try because they have received so many other "direct confidence boosts" throughout their lifetimes.
Monday, April 21st, 2014 10:51 pm
... has been mostly spent knocking on people's doors and talking to them, or shoving leaflets through people's doors, all in the name of Lib Demmery. I shall be singing Letterboxes with more than the usual amount of fervour at the next Glee Club, especially given my injuries*.

Today I alone I have knocked on doors in five different wards, and travelled through a further three on my way between the various canvass sessions. This chairing lark is not all just signing stuff and telling people to shut up in meetings, you know. And the thing I love most about it? Apart from the stunning landscape I get to look at pretty much everywhere in this borough, the people are so lovely. Even those against us (and such strange people do apparently exist) are uniformly lovely about it. One of the antis called me "flower" and wished me luck today; you don't GET that in many places.

Props to all those from m'team who have been out doorknocking with me, especially Mick who has been doing it every day like a one-man canvassing machine, and our MEP Rebecca Taylor who has been in the area too. Also Abid and Chris, and Ruth and Margareta, and Janet and Mike, and Mat; and last but by no means least, my lovely Calder Valley PPC Alisdair who has been to NEARLY as many sessions as me.

So yeah, I'm knackered, but happy, having basically spent my entire "holiday" working. If you'd have told me ten years ago that this is what I'd be doing now? I'd have laughed in your face.

*I actually found myself mumbling lines from it, especially from the "should be subject to regu-la-a-ations" verse - e.g. as I knelt down to push something through a low one muttering "all at waist height" etc.
Monday, April 21st, 2014 01:57 pm
So like we're back at home where the air is more friendly after being in the London and coffing a lot

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Monday, April 21st, 2014 02:02 pm
Battle for Bittora is the second book by Anuja Chauhan and I enjoyed it even more than The Zoya Factor.  First because I am a much bigger fan of politics than I am of cricket, and second because I think the writing and plotting have both improved. 

Jinni is a computer animator, designing cartoon germs for toilet cleaner adverts.  She is also the granddaughter of two famous politicians, and when her grandmother comes to ask her to come and campaign for the parliamentary elections, Jinni finds it hard to refuse.

"Oh, I do realise, being grown up now, that it is gruelling and chaotic and horribly stressful, and hearbreaking and possibly heart-attack inducing.  But I also know that the only thing worse than taking part in a Lok Sabha election is not taking part in a Lok Sabha election."

Yep, that sounds familiar. 

Jinni agrees to go and help campaign for her grandmother Pushpa Pande, but then discovers that the party top management want her to fight the seat instead.  And her opponent will be her childhood best friend Zain, descended from the area's former royal family.

What follows is a gripping account of an Indian election campaign.  Now, my knowledge of Indian politics is what I have picked up from reading the Economist.  Even so, I recognise the two very thinly-veiled parties that Jinni and Zain represent.   Some parts of campaigning are familiar to my UK experience (door-knocking, public meetings, attending important local events, dealing with the press, the importance of polling, the need to know where a toilet is at all times) and some are startlingly different (the constituency size, the length of journeys, the atmosphere of meetings, the number of parties, the grinding poverty, the importance of caste, the bribery and financial irregularity). 

The contest between Zain and Jinni rather pointedly puts inherited privilege of one kind (former royal family) up against another (political family).   One of Jinni's support team, Munni, is clearly the better politician - but from a poor family without a famous grandmother, and she rightly gets furious when Jinni makes a big mistake that may waste most of Munni's (and Pushpa's) efforts.  Jinni's friend from work, Rumi, drops in and draws attention to the "poverty tourism" side of Jinni just dropping in on this rural state from her nice job in the capital.  Jinni herself means well, but all too often gets caught up in the Need To Win, though she does also start asking awkward questions, and in one case take personal direct action against something awful.

Overall I do appreciate the way the book sets up stereotypes and then shows It's More Complicated Than That, and does it all with the same humour and exuberance as I loved in The Zoya Factor.  And I would love to see the Enforcer 49 comics, as drawn and written by teenage Zain and Jinni. 

Especially touching is the photograph in the end of the author's notes at the back, of her real-life relatives who inspired the story, the first couple to be elected to India's parliament.

I remain indebted to [personal profile] deepad for introducing me to Anuja Chauhan, and to her Anuja Chauhan Reading Club for the opportunity to read Battle for Bittora.

Monday, April 21st, 2014 10:00 am
Monday, April 21st, 2014 07:50 am
We got a phone call yesterday evening to say that my sister-in-law Lucy had gone into labour.  7 weeks early and while on holiday visiting her dad in France.  They'd got her to hospital in Dijon (which is *not* a trivial journey from where they were staying) and though obviously it was early, the hospital is a good university hospital, and she had family with her.

So we couldn't do much but wait and try not to worry too much.  Dijon is at least 7 hours from here, however one travels, and Lucy is well-provided with people to support her.

In the early hours I got another call, to say that my nibling was safely arrived ("born crying") and all seemed to be well, at least for now.

Meanwhile my two woke me at their usual horribly early hour, and N has a cough and C has school tomorrow.  We await a name for their new cousin, but in the meantime Mustard seems an appropriate nickname.
Monday, April 21st, 2014 02:07 am

Tea and Daniel and Stacy C. came over and packed a ton of book boxes, because they are marvelous people, and now the "how will we pack everything?!" stress is gone because we can clearly pack everything that's left with minimal trouble, but instead there's all the stress of being surrounded by boxes and chaos and tiny ants (we have a bonus! infestation thanks to a hole in the baseboard that we don't have time to patch). I hate it all so much.

This apartment was never really home, not like our place in Inwood was. We always knew it would be temporary, so we overlooked or put up with a lot of things, and now all the cumulative impatience and dissatisfaction is crushing. The physical disarray of moving is crushing. The anxiety--what's going to break? what will we lose? how far will we fall behind our schedule? how much is this all costing us?--is crushing. We're all struggling a lot. I suppose later on I'll be able to look back with intellectual curiosity at the different ways our various neuroses manifest under this sort of pressure, but right now we're all at the emotional level of your average underslept five-year-old and it's kind of awful.

I'm just so glad that no matter how defensive or agitated or scared or sullen or cranky we get, we don't get mean. We're never cruel. We gripe but don't snipe. Some days that's all that saves us.

Today X and I got into a stupid verbal spiral and couldn't pull ourselves out of it, and then J knocked to ask about dinner plans, and we were so happy to be interrupted! We were utterly hating the conversation we were having and didn't want to be having it and couldn't figure out how to stop, and being jarred out of it was a huge relief. It was actually very heartening how glad we were to pull him into the room and talk about dinner and hug one another and let all the rest of it go. We were so eager to stop making one another unhappy. Everything was better after that. Not 100% better, but better.

The stress is making me slightly dizzy all the time. It's not vertigo. I know it's not because whenever I go over to the new place I magically feel better. I'm just lightheaded. But of course I keep checking to see whether it's vertigo.

Tonight I burst into tears and sobbed on X's shoulder, wailing, "I'm homesick! I want to go home!" But by this time next week I will be home, or at least in a place that we can make into a home instead of a place that we're dismantling. And then I hope we will stay there for many many many MANY years. Ideally without any ants.
Sunday, April 20th, 2014 09:58 am
I'm getting it together to open an Etsy shop, but, as I've found on Ebay, fees can eat a lot of the proceeds, so I'm going to be offering selected things here first. If you want anything you can comment with an email address. Comments are screened, but I'm likely to unscreen anything without an email, so let me know if that's not OK. Comments and compliments are always welcome, and won't be taken as a contract to buy!
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Sunday, April 20th, 2014 10:00 am
Sunday, April 20th, 2014 12:23 am
So like the April ones are using the plastic filter - i like the effect a lot but not so much the shape of the edges.

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That's prolly like enuff for now - it's like the middle of the night
Saturday, April 19th, 2014 04:50 pm
Specifically, the new University Sports Centre, which is conveniently located about 5 minutes' cycle ride from my office.  It has a gym with lots of machines, a big free weights room, and a big sports hall.  I've joined on the staff-discounted lowest-rate membership, which gives me entry to the gym from 8am-4pm weekdays and 8am-8pm weekends. I'm pleased to find the centre uses my university card for entry and also for locking/unlocking lockers in the changing rooms.

My plan is to replace my lunchtime runs with a short hard session on the cardio equipment, and my long weekend runs with long easier sessions ditto.  (From Tony's point of view, me cycling off for an hour or two in the gym is not any different to me disappearing on foot for a long run.)

Yesterday afternoon, which had been planned as a long run, I went over and tried out different cardio equipment:
Notes for my reference )