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Posts Tagged ‘ranty’

Moderation in all things

The more time passes, the less patience I have with the notion that “a real writer writes every day.”

Try subbing in some other words there and see how that sentence sounds. “A real teacher teaches every day.” “A real programmer programs every day.” “A real surgeon performs surgery every day.” These are all patently absurd. The teacher, the programmer, and the surgeon are all better at their jobs for not going to work every day. For taking some days off.

I wonder if what’s going on here is a weird collision between the romanticization of ~art~ and the #@$*%! “Protestant work ethic.” On the one hand you have this sense that writing, or any art, is a ~calling~. And if it doesn’t call to you every day, why, then, you’re not a real writer, are you? On the other hand you’ve got Max Weber frowning over your shoulder and questioning whether what you’re doing is Real Work — so you have to silence him by keeping your nose to the grindstone every day, without respite, because otherwise clearly you’re just a good-for-nothing layabout.

(I’d like to pause and appreciate the value of the tilde for indicating a kind of vaporous awe around a word. Italics just don’t convey the same effect, and neither do quotation marks.)

Writing is Real Work. It may be fun work (a thought that would probably horrify the Calvinists Weber had in mind), but it requires effort, concentration, hours of your life. Some days it’s easier than others. But it’s also weird work, in that sometimes the most vitally useful thing you can do is go for a walk or wash some dishes, because while you’re not looking, your brain sneaks off and figures stuff out. When people ask me how many hours I work each day or week, my response is to give them a baffled shrug, because there aren’t clean boundaries around it; I’m definitely working while I’m drafting a story or answering emails or going over page proofs, but I also may be working while I’m vacuuming the rug or brushing my teeth or reading a book. Which means that days in which I’m not at the keyboard may still in some fashion be work days — but thinking of them that way is pernicious. If an idea comes to me, awesome, but in the meanwhile I’m going to have a life.

Because contrary to what corporate America wants us all to believe, we can have lives outside our jobs, and we should. We will not just be better employees for the time off; we’ll be better people, too. And that’s just as true of writers as it is of anybody else.


On the recommendation of several friends, I recently started using Duolingo to study Japanese. The tldr; of my reaction is that Duolingo seems like a great way to practice a language — I’ve been doing at least small amounts of Japanese daily for over two months now, which is more than I’ve managed for years — and an absolutely abysmal way to learn a language.

I don’t know if that’s just because I’m doing Japanese, which, as a non-Indo-European language with a super-complicated writing system, is especially heinous. But I doubt there’s any massive difference with, say, Spanish, unless the format of the lessons is totally different, because Duolingo makes precisely zero attempt to explain anything to the user. (Including how to use the program. Maybe that would be different if I were accessing it via a web browser, but the phone app doesn’t even have a “here’s how Duolingo works” how-to.)

And yes: immersion is a way to learn a language. But immersion requires substantial commitment; five minutes a day with a phone app ain’t gonna get you there. The Japanese lessons do not tell you that there are hiragana, katakana, and kanji, and that kanji can be pronounced multiple different ways. They don’t tell you about -te forms or the difference between polite and plain speech (and they just start randomly salting the latter in eventually, so that somebody not already familiar with that concept will be looking in vain for their です option). They tell you nothing: they just fling sentences at you and assume you’ll figure it out by trial and error.

[EDITED TO ADD: Okay, so it turns out there are profound differences between the mobile app and the website. As in, the website provides short lessons, which are entirely missing from the app. And the website also gives you a way to provide feedback on a sentence or its translation, if you think there’s an error. Which doesn’t remove the problems I discuss below; those things should have been caught before this ever went live. And I am utterly croggled that the app not only doesn’t include more functionality, but doesn’t make it clear to you that there is more functionality available, because in these days of “let’s make everything mobile,” in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that what I’m getting on my phone is what I’d get in my browser. But my overall impression of Duolingo is improved somewhat by knowing that lessons are available if you look in the right place, and that they do have a method of letting you go “omgwtfbbq this is wrong.” Back to the post now.]

But that isn’t what really grates my cheese. No, I have massive issue with the fact that whoever coded this appears to have no fucking clue how Japanese works.

I don’t mean the sentences are ungrammatical — though there are places where I take issue with their translations, especially when they translate one Japanese word with variant English ones, or vice versa, in ways that muddy the distinctions between the words they’re teaching you. No, this has to do with the way the app works, and the way Japanese works, and the flat-out wrong way those two things interface sometimes.

Three pieces of context, for those who aren’t already familiar: first, many of the Duolingo questions operate by giving you a sentence in either English or Japanese, and then asking you to assemble the translation from a set of pre-determined blocks. For example, I might have to select [My] [older] [brother] [is] [tall] to translate the sentence 私の兄はせが高いです. Second, as you can see from my Japanese there, the language does not natively have spaces between words; in fact, determining where to put spaces is not simple, and people don’t agree on how best to do it. And third, for Reasons, the hiragana character は is normally pronounced “ha,” but when it’s being used as a particle — a piece of grammatical equipment — it’s “wa” instead.

So that “there’s no clear system for where to break words” thing? There might not be a right way to do it . . . but boy fucking howdy are there wrong ways.

Early on in using the app, I hit an English sentence I think was something like “The book is here” — 本はここにあります, or in romaji, hon wa koko ni arimasu. Note the は there. So I start assembling the blocks of Japanese, only I can’t find ここ among my options.

Because the blocks it’s offering me are [本] [はこ] [こ] [に] [あり] [ます].

I can accept those last two, because there is (faint) merit in splitting a verb ending off from the verb stem, even if every romanization system I’ve ever seen would write that as “arimasu” rather than “ari masu.” But the beginning of that sentence is flat-out wrong. The app helpfully plays the sound for what you’re selecting, and it read out “hon” followed by “hako” followed by “ko.”

Hako means “box.”

They split the word for “here” in the middle and slapped the particle on the first half of it, turning what should have been “wa koko” into “hako ko.” And this is not the only time they’ve done crap like that. I hit one sentence in a later lesson that used the word 郵便局 (“post office”), only it was written in hiragana, ゆうびんきょく. All well and good — right up until the point where they offered me blocks saying [ゆうびんき] [ょくに行きました]. You can’t do that. Not only does it literally split the word for “post office” in half, it does so in a manner that amounts to [postof] [ficeIwentto]. That ょ can’t start a word, not when it’s shrunk down like that; the whole reason it’s shrunk down is to show that it modifies the preceding character, き. On its own, that one is “ki,” and the other is “yo.” Together, they’re not “kiyo,” they’re “kyo.” Which is a meaningfully different sound — as in you can literally change the meaning of a word by swapping one for the other.

There are lower-grade problems like this all over the Japanese lessons. Because kanji can have multiple pronunciations, 中 can be pronounced both “naka” and “chuu” (among other options) — but when the app asks you to match characters to their pronunciations, the one it provides you is “chuu,” while the voice cheerfully reads out “naka.” Yeah, ’cause that’s not going to confuse the hell out of someone who hasn’t already mastered hiragana and learned about the difference between kun’yomi and on’yomi. If I assemble the phrase for “man” in a sentence, the audio it gives me for 男の人 is “otoko no jin” instead of “otoko no hito” — the exact opposite of the 中 problem, because “naka” is the pronunciation you generally use when that character is on its own, but “jin” is the one you use in a compound word (like “gaijin”). When you put a number with a counter, you get audio like “ichi hon” instead of “ippon,” because that’s how those parts are pronounced separately, and the app doesn’t take into account the fact that together they undergo a sound change.

. . . except it does. That’s what’s so infuriating. Duolingo does a good job of hitting the same material from all the angles; it will give me English and ask me to assemble the Japanese, or the Japanese and ask me to assemble the English, or I’ll have to do listening comprehension and provide either the transcription or the translation. And when what it’s giving me is the Japanese sentence in full, it’s correct. It will say “otoko no hito” rather than “otoko no jin,” and “ippon” instead of “ichi hon.” So they have that audio. But whoever put the Japanese lessons together utterly failed to notice that, oh hey, they kept giving us wrong things whenever they break it up. (A fact that manifests in a small, mildly hilarious way any time you need to put together a negative polite verb, because the final -n is its own block, and the audio pronounces it with the kind of rising intonation you’d use when you’re asking a question — not the way you’d pronounce it as a normal verb ending.)

So basically, I find Duolingo pretty good for studying Japanese because I already know the language. I’m learning new vocabulary and getting lots of practice in things like word order, which is a thing I never really internalized very well — i.e. when you have a complex sentence, what bits of it should go before what other bits. But if you’re trying to learn from it, what it’s providing ranges from “unhelpful” to “straight-up wrong.”

I’ve sent in feedback (once I figured out how to do that; see above re: the app isn’t even helpful in telling you how to use the app), so maybe it’ll be fixed. Right now there’s only one basic Japanese course, and I’ve gone through the first level of all the lessons, so now it’s just rinse and repeat until I internalize some of this stuff. But dear god: if they want to continue with this language, they need to get their grammatical and phonetic house in order, because otherwise it’s going to be a trash fire.

From Zero to DNF in 3.6 Seconds

There’s a book I was almost done with and about to put on my list of Books Read — until it managed to drive me off in no time flat. And I want to post about why.

Content warning for sexual assault, including upon dead bodies. Which right there is the tl;dr of why I stopped reading, but I want to unpack the situation a bit more.


This should haunt them until the end of time.

Last night my temper snapped. I pulled up the website for every single congressional representative from Texas who voted for the atrocity they call a healthcare bill and tweeted at them — I would have emailed, but none of the ones I tried accept emails from non-constituents — telling them that they are unfit to hold public office.

Why Texas? Because I was born and raised there, and still feel ties even though as of last September I’ve lived there less than half my life. It seemed like a good place to start with my rage. I originally meant to keep going, but after tweeting at twenty-four of the two hundred seventeen Republicans who greenlit a bill that might as well be labeled We Don’t Care If You Die, I was too sick at heart to continue.

When I say they are unfit to hold public office, I mean it. They should not be voted out; they should resign before the next election even rolls around. But since I doubt most of them have enough shame left to do the right thing and step down, it’s on the people of this country to make it happen at the next opportunity. Those two hundred seventeen people have completely lost sight of what it is to be an elected official. The ideas of representing their constituents, of serving the public good, of laboring to make our imperfect union a little more perfect? That’s long gone. Some of them have admitted they didn’t even read the bill before they voted in favor of it. The rest apparently read it and were okay with the monstrous cruelty it represents. Because it isn’t about governance anymore; it’s just a great big game of sportsball, and they wanted their side to score some points. They wanted to pass something. Anything. Didn’t even really matter what it was, so long as they could be seen achieving something, marking the world as their own by pissing all over it.

Never let them forget this. Some votes don’t really matter; this one did, even if the bill dies in the Senate as it deserves. This was evil. This is a bill that, if passed, would kill countless Americans, that would make us all sicker and weaker and more vulnerable. And they didn’t care. They cheered it on, because it’s their team, and that’s all that matters anymore.

The list of names is here. I thank the 193 Democrats who voted against it, and the 20 Republicans who appear to still have a conscience or a sense of duty.

The rest of them?

Tie this millstone around their necks, and make them carry it for the rest of their lives. It’s the least they deserve.

Yes, it’s hard. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

Background, for those who don’t follow the SF/F convention scene:

A few years back, Jim Frenkel was banned from Wiscon and lost his job at Tor following complaints of persistent harassment against a number of women. More recently, Odyssey Con decided to install him as their Guest Liaison. When their Guest of Honor, Monica Valentinelli, told them that Frenkel had harassed her in the past and she felt neither comfortable nor safe interacting with him, they blew off her complaint; when she withdrew from the convention, they posted her private emails on their Facebook page without her permission, characterized her behavior as trying to “dictate” who could and could not attend the convention, assured everybody that Frenkel and another named problem are great guys, and swore that they’re totally a safe space and will handle these problems appropriately if and when they arise.

They’ve since taken down the emails and their initial statement, so Damage Control Mode is a go. But it’s too little, too late: it is already abundantly clear that they are not dedicated to dealing with harassment in a professional manner. They don’t understand privacy, safety, or basic common decency.

But there are plenty of other people dissecting the daisy-chain of failures here. I want to talk about something slightly different.

I have, in a non-convention context, dealt with a problem like this. I am on the board of an organization that received complaints of harassing behavior and assault by a member — someone I have known for years. I was not part of the group tasked to investigate the complaints, but I was one of the people who had to decide what to do after we received that group’s findings. I’m the one who wrote the email announcing our decision to the membership at large, hand-carving every word in an attempt to minimize the risk of misunderstanding or unintended implication.

It’s hard. No matter what you do, you’re going to upset somebody — and that includes doing nothing. You have to wade into the muck of information you’d rather not hear, examine your reaction to each and every piece of that information, weigh potential responses and their repercussions, and then figure out how to translate all of that into statements and actions. Then, once you’ve done that, you get to deal with the fallout. From start to finish, the whole process sucks.

Too bad. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

And if you can’t — if your reaction to a complaint is going to be to assume it’s no big deal, to let your gut guide you instead of looking at the evidence, to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la” in the hopes that the problem will go away and trouble you no more — then don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to deal with these things. Because the days when you could just skate along and know the woman (it’s almost always a woman) will slink quietly back into her corner? Those are over. These days, if you do this bad a job of handling a known problem, you can and will be pilloried for it. And you will deserve that pillorying, because resources and guidelines for how to do better are readily available, and it was your decision not to pay attention to them.

Creating a “fun, safe, welcoming, event where fans of all kinds can come together and enjoy themselves” takes work. So do the work. Words alone are not enough.

The New Green Wave

Lives in the Balance

I’ll keep this short and to the point.

The intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act is going to kill people.

It sounds melodramatic — but it’s true. It will leave an estimated 24 million Americans without insurance (compared to the ACA), which will make it extremely difficult for them to afford healthcare. It cripples Medicaid, because poor people don’t deserve to be healthy, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, because children only matter while they’re fetuses — oh wait, insurers wouldn’t be required to cover maternity care, either. Nor birth control. Nor gynecological exams. And we all know what the right wing wants to do to Roe v. Wade. So you’re having that baby whether you like it or not, but don’t expect any support from conception until after your kid has graduated. Guess you should have kept your legs closed, bitch.

Call your elected officials. Call them until you get through, because their lines are swamped, and it may take you a while. Especially if you’re represented by a Republican in either chamber, for the love of god, call them. A number of them are already wavering; they know this is bad. But this isn’t the kind of bad where it’s okay to let it happen and let them reap the consequences later, because for them, the consequences will be that maybe they get voted out of office two or four years down the road. For other people, the consequences will literally be death. They need to hear voices telling them not to do it, before we get that far.

For the sake of the millions of people who will be hurt by this, speak up. Make your voice heard. Make a difference.

World Fantasy 2016

Unless something changes in the next month or so, I will not be attending World Fantasy this year. Here’s some other people giving the background on why:

Sarah Pinsker on the issues with the program
Fox Meadows
Jim Hines
File 770 roundup

And then Darrell Schweitzer doubled down.

World Fantasy has had a number of issues over the years, but this turned out to be the straw that broke my back. As I said in my email to the concom, Schweitzer trumpets the fact that there are “smart and friendly people” at WFC; well, as a smart person, I decline to engage with a program that shows such profound ignorance of the last forty years, and as a friendly person, I decline to support the behavior of someone who doesn’t care how many people he’s alienating. He appears to believe that “PC ignorami” and “outrage junkies” are driving people away from the convention — so the only course of action I can in good conscience follow is to provide a data point in the other direction.

WFC is one of my favorite conventions, but that has more to do with the number of friends I can see there than with the convention itself. If they could update themselves to show any awareness of the genre’s development during my lifetime? That would be excellent. But so long as they’re presenting a program whose genre awareness ends at 1980, and so long as the man in charge of it thinks that women, PoCs, and anybody under the age of fifty is beneath his notice? I decline to join them.

How to bore me in thirty seconds flat

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

Why is this funny?

Mary Robinette Kowal recently had nasal surgery to correct a medical problem. Being who she is (a writer, and therefore professionally interested in just about everything under the sun), she’s been posting pictures of her recovery.

She also posted this.

Here’s the thing. Remember when I fell down the stairs? (It was just three days ago; surely you haven’t forgotten.) Afterward, several friends of ours made similar jokes, about my husband pushing me down the stairs.

Why is it that, any time we hear about or see a woman injured, our minds go immediately to domestic abuse?

And why is it funny?

As Mary says, part (maybe all) of the humor comes from the absurdity of the idea: my husband would never push me down the stairs; her husband would never hit her. Anybody who knows us knows this. But at the same time . . . is it really that absurd? How many instances are there of women being abused by their husbands, when all the friends and neighbors would never dream of him doing such a thing?

It isn’t funny, because it isn’t absurd. Not nearly as much as it should be. It’s reality for far too many women. And making jokes about it — that normalizes the idea. Used to be that you got cartoons about drunk driving, the bartender pouring his customer into his car when he’s had a few too many and waving him off homeward with a cheery grin. Because that was normal. You don’t see those cartoons anymore, do you? We don’t think it’s normal to drive when you’re sauced, and we don’t think it’s funny.

We need the same to be true of domestic abuse.

By all means, joke about me falling down the stairs. Remind me that I can’t fly. Say that however much I don’t want to carry boxes, I should stop at hurling them to the bottom, and not hurl myself with them. That’s fine by me; humor is a good way to deal with a really annoying and painful situation.

But don’t joke about my husband pushing me, or Mary’s husband hitting her.