Interesting Finds

Since it’s summer I decided to keep the list light this month. Enjoy! And try not to melt in this heat.

I shared this on Anxiety Ink too because it needs to be shared everywhere! It can’t be a shock that I’m sex-positive. Or that Kushiel’s Dart has moved up my to-read pile. Bonus: this article starts off quoting one of my favourite writing books, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and one of my favourite sections therein. http://www.tor.com/2017/07/19/kushiels-dart-is-the-sex-positive-fantasy-we-need/

I love the idea of a women’s history museum. This piece features info about a solely American museum, but it’s a start. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/18/carolyn-maloney-womens-history-museum/

This article is rather alarmist but it raises excellent points about branding and Amazon in general. Since Amazon directly affects artists now it seems relevant here. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazon-going-kill-your-brand-job-jr-little?trk=eml-email_feed_ecosystem_digest_01-hero-0-null&midToken=AQHTbzDnBqWmog&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=0dfKthMwwrCDQ1

Follow up to a link I shared a while back about The Man’s Right to Know Act. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/20/turning-the-tables/

A Book with Something to Say: The House of the Scorpion

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of joyless books. They’ve been excellent, thought provoking reads, but they’ve left me a bit saddened and appalled over what humans can do to other humans. Not to mention what humans can do to everything else. I’m not sure how this trend came about, but after my current read I am picking up something fluffy. Very fluffy.

In the midst of these reads, I happened to finish Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own; therein, she mentions that women writers, since that is the focus of the essay, should not strive to write a book that speaks to those who criticise women writers. On page 73 of my version*, and in other parts, Woolf notes that the stories that speak to something more than the story the writer is trying to tell are not nearly as grand as “pure” novels. When writers try to write about something specific, like the treatment of women by men, they lose the art of storytelling.

My Woolf comments may seem like a random aside, but I’ve encountered these thoughts in recent years. On the one side, there are writers who refuse to admit that they have a social responsibility when it comes to their work. On the other side, there are readers who think books about social issues are boring. There’s even an entirely different set of people who think fiction can’t teach them anything.

I call bull on all of them. There are numerous writers who handle major issues adeptly and integrate them into their stories so that some readers don’t even know they’re being educated.

This brings me to Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. This is a book geared towards the 9-12 crowd. It’s a coming of age story about Matteo Alacrán who we meet when he’s three years old and leave when he’s fifteen. It’s a futuristic, science fiction tale. It’s a horrific depiction of human selfishness and cruelty. And it also happens to be a book about sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues that were in serious debate at the time of its writing (2002), specifically cloning, pollution, immigration, and the treatment of migrant workers.

Compared to other books that try to teach, which can be extremely heavy handed, Farmer weaves these issues into her story seamlessly. I recently finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which concerns itself in large part with the issue of global warming. However, the problem came up so often in such a not-so-subtle fashion that I couldn’t help rolling my eyes towards the end. For me, the difference was learning about these sociopolitical issues through Matt’s eyes and ignorance versus having a narrator say it to me repeatedly.

The fact that Farmer writes for kids likely influenced her treatment of the lessons she was trying to impart. There’s a reason people told kids fairy tales to keep them safe. Kids are much better at intuiting the lessons of a story that entertains them than listening to repeated lectures.

As someone interested in science, I usually enjoy stories about cloning. It hit me reading The House of the Scorpion that every book, regardless of genre, that I’ve read that contains clones sees them treated horribly by the rest of humanity. I was young when Dolly the sheep hit the scene and I have no idea what the general response to her existence was. Personally, I have a pretty strong grasp of science, especially genetics, so the idea of cloning doesn’t bother me one bit. I might be an oddity.

In regards to immigration and the treatment of migrant workers, it saddens me that the future Farmer depicts is extremely relevant now fifteen years after her story was published. Anyone who does not believe slave labour exists in this world, or even on our continent, is grossly mistaken.

Overall, as a reader, Farmer’s novel has given me a new appreciation for books that say something. As a writer, I feel educated about dealing with heavy topics now that I’ve read books that handle it well and not-so-well. I highly recommend The House of the Scorpion, but fair warning: It is a difficult read. The pages fly by, but the horror depicted is hard to digest in big chunks.

What’s the last book about a serious topic you enjoyed or felt changed your outlook on something?

 

*Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Annotated by Susan Gubar. Harcourt: NY, 2005.

Taking on a Genre I Never Thought I Would

May has been a trying month for me, for multiple reasons. The week of May 22nd to 26th was especially hard with multiple deadlines that I hit only at the last minute, a too-full social calendar, a bad week of sleep, and the tail end of an illness. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed, I decided I wanted to try my hand at creative nonfiction.

I love the work of Roxanne Gay, and Bad Feminists is one of my favourite books. I’ve always thought memoir would be an interesting genre to write since I do immensely enjoy the occasional memoirs I read. I need to read more memoirs, for the record. In any case, when I think of writing one, these issues come to mind: I’m too young to write a memoir and I do not lead an interesting existence. I really don’t.

However, my mental health issues have reared their heads mightily this year. Just over a month ago I realized I was in a tailspin. Thankfully, I’m on the upswing, but I know I’m still at the delicate stage and I need to be really cognisant of my emotional state and how I’m processing.

For the sake of catharsis and trying to figure out the roots of my bigger issues, I thought writing a collection of personal essays wouldn’t be a bad idea. I started the project…and it’s going to be a much more difficult endeavor than I ever imagined. I joke to friends and colleagues that compared to people who share a lot, I’m not merely a closed book, I’m glued shut. Unsticking myself is excruciating.

Sharing any aspects of myself is difficult for me. I do not like attention on myself. I do not like being opened to scrutiny. I do not like feeling like I am being judged. All of this stems my anxiety. And the best way I know how to deal with those issues is to face them head on.

Another part of the problem is that as a writer I do not know a great deal about writing creative non-fiction. I know enough that a lot of fiction writing elements crossover, but I also know every genre has its own nuances.

I don’t have enough on my plate right now, so I’m starting a massive undertaking. But I’m also excited to learn something new and share what I learn here.

Public Service Announcement: I’m Heading Back to School!

On Friday, the entire story of how I arrived at the point of determining that I need to go back to school will be live on Anxiety Ink. The short version of it is this: I want to acquire new writing skills and eventually find a career that challenges and utilizes those skills. So I have enrolled in a professional writing certificate program specializing in marketing and public relations.

Because I work nearly full time, and I do not want to try to figure out my vacation to do the courses on campus, I am doing distance learning. I’ve never taken any online courses before so this will be interesting in itself.

My first course starts in April and I am so excited.

However, even coming to the point of enrollment, I am floored at the cost. And that’s what I want to touch on a bit today.

Right now, I work at a day job where I make just above minimum wage with a limited amount of hours I’m allowed to work. I’ve made it work, and I am on track to pay off my Canada student loan this year and then my Alberta student loan next year. I graduated in 2013 and gave myself a 5 year window to pay those suckers off.

Now, having done some minor job searching, I’m feeling underpaid and under-challenged, though I realize I’m unqualified as far as being able to head in the career direction I currently want to go in. I don’t mean for this to sound conceited, but there is not much I can’t learn. As long as it doesn’t require advanced physics or neuroscience or a non-Latin alphabet, I can learn it.

Nevertheless, people don’t want to take you on if you don’t have a piece of paper that says you’ve been educated. Because I earned my BA Honours in English, I understand the skills required and acquired in that process. I also know how those skills can be applied to a variety of jobs. Unfortunately, that opinion is in the minority as far as the job market goes.

I don’t regret earning my English degree, though I am wishing I had minored in either business or communications or something else. Anything to show people that I can excel in the workforce. It’s irritating because I can –I’ve been working since I was fourteen– but I can’t find anything long-term to suit my degree.

I love the arts. I will never not admire the arts and what they give society, but those outside of them do not value what they can bring. Heck, I’ve met people inside them who think they’re bunk.

I graduated with an astronomical amount of stress and debit with no career options. I was fortunate enough to find a job close to my house and have parents willing to let me live with them largely cost-free, but I’m ready to move on.

It’s a good thing I am an excellent saver despite my meagre earnings because this certificate is going to cost me upwards of $3500 in the end. Couple that with my outstanding debt at about $12,000, and the price of my education leaves me scratching my head.

It’s unfair, we live in a world that says we need a college education to truly advance and build a worthwhile career, but that doesn’t account for the insane costs that not many of us can handle. I’m in a better position than most, though I don’t come from an affluent family. I’m good with my money, I’m driven, but if something were to happen to one of my parents tomorrow I would have to drop out of this program because that would place an enormous financial burden on my shoulders.

We have to spend money to make money…I’m $30,000 in, where’s my cut?

I value education, I always have. But between the costs of education, the cost of living, and the availability of jobs that will pay me well to use the skills I’ve spent years developing, I’ve got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?