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Posts Tagged ‘in the time of plague’

Sirens postponed

I mentioned some time ago that I was on deck to teach at the Sirens Studio, the workshop preceding the Sirens Conference. Well, like everything else in 2020, this has been disrupted by the pandemic; but unlike many things in 2020, it is not moving online. One of the key aspects of Sirens has always been the cozy feeling of a weekend retreat, and that is not something one can achieve online.

Instead the organizers have chosen to postpone this year’s plans to next year. So yes, I am still planning on teaching a workshop on creating fantasy religions for the Sirens Studio; it will simply happen in 2021 instead.

And with this announcement official, I can also officially say that I will not be attending any in-person conventions in 2020. It simply isn’t safe. I hope to be able to go places next year — ideally sooner than October — but that requires the United States to bring this pandemic under control, to take the measures that are necessary to restrict the spread of covid and return us to a state of normalcy where things like conventions are not recklessly dangerous.

“A Riot Is the Language of the Unheard”

I make my living with words, but some things are so large and so awful, they leave me at a loss. The death of George Floyd, and what’s happened as a result, is one of those things.

But I should try anyway, because from the outside, you can’t tell the difference between silence caused by an inability to articulate, and silence from a lack of care. And even if my words are going to be inadequate, it’s my responsibility — it’s the responsibility of all those who care, but especially white people who care — to say something anyway. Because just sitting here feeling bad about things? Gets precisely jack shit done.

One of the things that really struck me in reading Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race was her metaphor of the abuse victim, replicated on a society-wide scale. It’s easy to look at many things abusers do in isolation and think “well, that wasn’t good, no, but it wasn’t that awful, so why are you making such a big deal out of it?” But looking at them in isolation misses the point. If my husband says something hurtful to me, I can cope because he doesn’t usually say such things, and I know he didn’t mean to hurt me, and I’m confident that when I say “hey, that bothered me,” he’ll listen and apologize and avoid that in the future. In the case of an abuser, though, it’s yet another blow landing atop an existing bruise landing atop deeply-buried scar tissue — and all of that damage is also the abuser’s work.

In this situation, the abuser is society as a whole, white society most particularly, and the victim is marginalized people. Particularly marginalized ethnic groups, but others as well.

Jim Hines posted a good quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., and I’ve taken my lead from him in using part of that quote as the title for this post. What we’re seeing right now is the result of centuries of abuse, and centuries of America — white America — refusing to listen. Of white America making changes here and there, sometimes big ones (abolishing slavery), but more often small, grudging ones . . . or no changes at all. Read Jim’s post for the statistics on what institutionalized prejudice looks like. If you’re white, imagine raising your son knowing there’s a 1 in 1000 chance that he will die at the hands of the police, and ask yourself how okay you’d be with that. Imagine this has been happening to your people for decades, and before that it was Jim Crow, and before that it was slavery. And the genocide of Native Americans and everything else white America has done to people who look different.

Imagine those blows hitting, again, and again, and again, and again, while people around you say “why are you making such a big deal out of this? Why are you angry? If you want to see things change, you should ask politely.” While continuing to ignore the polite requests you’ve been making for years and decades and centuries.

And let’s be clear: if you’re thinking right now “we’ve got to vote Trump out of the White House in November,” you’re not wrong . . . but you are woefully undershooting. We can’t wait five months to start doing something, and we can’t pretend that swapping who’s at the top will be enough to fix things. Change needs to happen everywhere. And it needs to start yesterday. Right now, do you have a little money to spare? Donate to Black Lives Matter, or the NAACP, or the ACLU. Write to your local lawmakers — city, state, and federal — to push for change where you live. Ordinarily I would encourage you to find a local protest and join it, but in these times of plague, I don’t think in-person action is the best idea.

And speak up. Say something. Even if your words are inadequate. What I’ve written here certainly is — but it’s better than writing nothing.

Flights of Foundry!

If you have spare time this upcoming weekend — at pretty much any hour of the day or night, regardless of your time zone — than may I recommend Flights of Foundry? The Dream Foundry, an organization dedicated to helping newcomers in any field of SF/F (not just writing but illustration, comic books, gaming, and more), has organized a virtual convention for this weekend, with presentations, panels, readings, workshops, and kaffeeklatsches. Because this is not solely targeted at North American attendees, they have programming more or less ’round the clock — note that you can set the program to be displayed in your own time zone, for greater convenience. It will be run through GoToWebinar (for the presentations and panels, because that can handle larger groups), Zoom (for the readings and kaffeeklatsches, because it’s better for interactivity), and Discord (for casual hanging out and also submitting audience questions to the panels). My own activities are as follows:

  • Saturday, 10 p.m. UTC/6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Folklore (presentation)
  • Saturday, 11 p.m. UTC/7p.m. Easter/4 p.m. Pacific: Geography, Maps, and SFF (panel with Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis, Henry Lien, K.M. Alexander, and Marie Croke)
  • Sunday/Saturday 5 a.m. UTC/1 a.m. Eastern/10 p.m. Pacific: reading (I will almost certainly read from The Mask of Mirrors!)
  • Sunday, 6 p.m. UTC/2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific: kaffeeklatsch (limited attendance)

Note that while Flights of Foundry is free to attend, it is not free to put on. So if you’re in a position to donate, please do; you’ll have the opportunity during the registration process.

Living Our Best Pajama-Clad High Culture Life

The title of this post comes from my sister, who is the reason I’ve been watching so many operas the last two months.

The Metropolitan Opera was one of the first performance organizations to make shows available online, as part of the efforts to relieve quarantine tedium. Since mid-March, they’ve been streaming one opera each day, drawing from their stable of HD rebroadcasts (usually shown in movie theatres). My sister, being an opera buff, suggested this as a good way to sample the genre — and I was all in favor, since this didn’t mean getting up at an early hour for a cinema screening or wedging myself into the absurdly small seats at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

What I have learned: in direct contrast to my usual taste in movies and TV shows, I could not care less about most of the tragedies . . . but man, bring on the comedies.

This isn’t just because right now I’m more keen on amusing stuff than its depressing counterpart. It’s because I like plot and good dialogue/lyrics, and comedies, by their nature, tend to require more of that than tragedies do, just to make their engines run. Also, I just kind of don’t give a crap about most of the tragic characters? They make bad choices for reasons I don’t find very sympathetic, and then they die. And I’m hit-or-miss on the music itself (which is, after all, the point of opera); I often like the choral pieces, but I’m not hugely fond of the general techniques of operatic singing, so lots of the arias and duets don’t really engage me. Of the tragedies I’ve seen, Carmen tops the list by a mile because its music is so damn good, but the rest . . . eh.

Comedies, though! We’re at a point where I will agree to watch pretty much anything that involves Juan Diego Flórez: I saw two operas with him in a leading role (La Fille du régiment and Il barbiere di Siviglia), and promptly agreed to watch Le Comte Ory without knowing anything more than “the poster shows Juan Diego Flórez in a nun’s habit.” Nor was I disappointed. In fact, if you get a chance to watch it, do; it isn’t Flórez’s most sympathetic character, but on the other hand they took the scene where (by the script) Ory goes to seduce the countess and in the dark is deceived into holding the hand of his page (a trouser role, i.e. a woman playing a male character), and turned it into an unrepentant queer bisexual threesome: Ory unwittingly gets into bed with both countess and page, somehow fails to notice that there’s a second person there as they roll around in various configurations, sees his page when the lights come up, and then promptly shrugs and leaps back into bed with them both, because why not.

What have I seen so far? Prior to quarantine and the Met’s free streams, I’d seen rebroadcasts of The Magic Flute (Mozart) and Tosca (Puccini), and in the SF theatre I saw Manon Lescaut (Puccini), Turandot (Puccini), Carmen (Bizet), Hansel and Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck), and a new modern opera, Dream of the Red Chamber (Bright Sheng). I regret to say that last one was kind of terrible; I could not bring myself to like it no matter how much I wanted to. Since the quarantine began, I’ve watched:

  • La Fille du régiment (Donizetti) — loved it, and kudos to Natalie Dessay for managing to sing like that while also engaging in absurd quantities of physical comedy, including being carried offstage sideways.
  • Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) — I would buy a recording of this staging if it were available for purchase, but it seems not be. Not just fun characters, but really excellent set design and so forth.
  • Le Comte Ory (Rossini) — less of a good plot, but on the other hand, queer bisexual threesome.
  • La Cenerentola (Rossini; also with Flórez) — didn’t like the staging of this one at all, unfortunately. It was mostly just unattractive.
  • Il Trovatore (Verdi) — tragedy. Meh. Good job on the Anvil Chorus, though, and it was nice to see a Korean singer as Manrico.
  • Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) — reasonably good, but it dragged on a bit too long to hold my interest.
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner) — SPEAKING OF DRAGGING ON, GOOD LORD, RICHARD. I actually quite liked this! . . . except it’s literally five hours long. If somebody could figure out how to do an abridged version, I would eat it up with a spoon — because the material is good! I just want less of it.
  • Falstaff (Verdi) — also very fun, and based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. I was dubious at first of the 1950s aesthetic to the staging, but it worked.
  • Les Contes d’Hoffman (Offenbach) — we actually skipped Act 2, because my sister has seen this one and said it was incredibly boring compared to the rest of the opera. (Partly a matter of how it was staged.) I really liked Kate Lindsey as the Muse, and may wind up getting a short story out of it.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart) — an older production (from the late ’90s). This one’s interesting because narratively, it’s a sequel to The Barber of Seville, though Mozart’s opera was written thirty years before Rossini’s. Almaviva is an ass here, but it’s very fun watching the women conspire to trick the men (something it has in common with Falstaff).
  • L’amour de loin (Kaija Saariaho) — this is modern, and by all rights I should not have liked it. The staging is gorgeous, using strings of programmed LEDs to mimic the sea; the music, however, is spectral, which means it’s discarded all your bourgeois notions like “melody” and “rhythm.” But it made pleasant enough background noise, and I appreciated that the characters were, as my sister said, more self-aware than about 95% of opera characters, despite also being on their way to tragedy. Also, this is only the second opera by a female composer that the Met has ever staged, and the previous one was in 1903. So that’s a thing. (Female conductor, too.)

Technically we also watched the first act of Borodin’s Prince Igor, but really we were just waiting for “Polovtsian Dances,” after which we quit out of it. (The plot bored us and the actual dancing was . . . not good?) And we watched the very beginning of Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, just because the staging during the overture was absolutely brilliant: a perfect combination of lighting and wirework to make it look like you were watching pearl divers deep underwater.

Am I a fan of opera now? As a blanket statement, no; the entire swath of tragedy is still mostly uninteresting to me, after an initial sample where I assumed that was what I would like. But I have enjoyed enough of the comedies that I’m more actively interested in watching them, if the chance arises — which it is very likely to do for a while yet. If you want to dabble your toes in the waters of opera without having to leave your couch, this is a good opportunity to do so.

DRIFTWOOD in the New Decameron

When all this quarantine business was just getting started, Maya Chhabra had a very clever idea: just as Boccacio’s Decameron was based around the idea of a group of quarantined people in a time of plague telling stories to entertain each other (think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but in a house), she would start up a charity Patreon for a New Decameron, posting short stories, poems, and novel excerpts from participating writers, with the bulk of the proceeds going to Cittadini del Mondo, a charity running a library and clinic for refugees in Rome.

As of today, those participating writers include me! A selection from Driftwood is the latest installment, and conveniently, you can get 20% off the book if you pre-order.

While I’m here, I’d like to say something else. Right now and in the next few weeks, a lot of areas in the United States are loosening their pandemic restrictions. In far too many places, they’re not doing it because the disease has been confined to a traceable amount, nor because they’ve got sufficient testing to catch and suppress future surges; they’re doing it because, well, we’ve been doing this for a while now, and we’re bored, or because any number of bodies are worth sacrificing on the altar of our economy. If you live in an area where the virus is still a threat, I urge you to remain as locked-down as you can. Both to protect yourself from the people who think this has all been blown out of proportion and it’s “just a bad flu” (or worse, that it’s a politically-motivated conspiracy), and to do what small part you can to blunt the impact of opening up too much too soon. The New Decameron has been running for fifty-four days now; that’s fifty-four days’ worth of content to entertain you at home. After which there are many ebooks and streaming media and other ways to alleviate the boredom. If you’re someone who can’t remain sequestered at home, I hope you’re able to stay safe regardless.

Where I’ve been for the last two months

At home, obviously — like a truly staggering percentage of the planet’s population. But it’s been near-total radio silence around here, apart from links to the weekly Patreon posts, so I figure I should update.

The good news is, the silence has not been due to any sort of illness with me or mine. Instead . . . you know all those people posting about the stuff they’ve finally gotten done around the house or the new bread-baking hobby they’ve picked up? That is not me. Through a confluence of factors (some of which were my fault, some of which weren’t), I got behind on drafting Night Parade — which meant that circa early March, I had to put my head down and start charging ahead at speeds nearly unprecedented in my writing career in order to get it done by deadline. (The only comparable instance even in the running was during my senior year of college, after I turned in my thesis and then a novel fell out of my head in about seven weeks.) We’re talking working at at least 150% my normal pace for weeks on end, with no days off anywhere in there. Oh, and partway through that time I had to drop it for five days so I could copy-edit a 214K-word novel, which is about 200% my normal pace for a task of that kind.

Yyyyyeah. It’s been a busy time around here.

The good news is, Night Parade is done and turned in on time (a day ahead, even!), The Mask of Mirrors is copy-edited, and Tachyon gave me until early May to handle the proofs for Driftwood, because I think the Look of Utter Panic I got when those were sent to me a couple of weeks ago was visible even in email. And we’re all healthy here.

We’ve been weathering lockdown fairly well. I work from home anyway, and so does my husband more days than not; my sister (who lives with us) does not, but she used to, so on a domestic level this is a familiar routine. The big changes for me are that I can’t go to the dojo, and I can’t have in-person gaming. Both of which I miss rather acutely, but I’m not among the people who have had to figure out how to do their job from home while also wrangling kids doing distance learning, etc. We’ve figured out how to make online gaming work about as well as it can — the trick is to reboot our Discord video call every 40 minutes or so, as soon as it starts to get choppy — and over the winter I purchased a folding exercise bike that’s put about 500 miles on the odometer in the last two months, as all three members of our household have been making use of it. I’ve also been doing a lot of online teaching, fitting the already-existing theme of 2020 being the year I teach a lot more than I have lately. I did four of Clarion West’s free one-hour workshops, on a variety of worldbuilding themes, and there’s a plan in progress for a six-hour workshop in the near future — that being another thing that got delayed until early May so my brains wouldn’t liquify and pour out my nose. And I’m working for the Kelly Yang Project, teaching creative writing to a kid in Hong Kong.

Free time? What’s that?

In all seriousness, I have also been giving myself a break with some entertainment. Not a whole lot of reading, simply because my brain’s reaction to text on a page is NO NO MAKE IT GO AWAY, but TV shows, video games, and (most unexpectedly) opera, because the Met has been making one opera available for free every night for weeks now. Maybe look for some posts on those in the upcoming days, as I regenerate my ability to word.

Right now, though, I’m doing my best to take a break.

I know that isolation is hard . . .

. . . but early data shows encouraging signs that it makes a substantial dent in the spread of the virus.

Not just that, but the Washington Post’s outbreak simulator visually demonstrates that a strong “social distancing” policy is the most effective strategy we’ve got.

So keep it up, y’all. I know it’s difficult, and I know there are knock-on problems for the economy and so forth, and none of us really know yet how all of this will end — at what point we’ll be able to go back to normal life. But right now, it’s doing good. It’s saving lives. It’s buying time for us to test antivirals and develop vaccines and manufacture more needed gear like masks, sanitizer, and medical equipment. It is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: flattening the curve, so that the impact of this gets spread out, and we don’t buckle entirely under the hit.

Stay safe, and keep others safe, too.

Need some distraction?

Following in the footsteps of a number of other authors, I’m offering a free ebook to anybody who wants one, because we’re going to need a lot of entertainment in the next few weeks of quarantine. To get one, all you have to do is drop me a line through this form and let me know which book you want EDIT and tell me which format! (Epub, for most readers, or mobi, for Kindle.) Nota bene: I can only provide books that are actually under my control, which is to say, my solo Book View Cafe titles. Those are as follows: