Monsters

raphaelstmichaelIt’s okay to love a monster.  Love them with open eyes.  Love them with a wish for what they could be instead.  Don’t hope they’ll change; they won’t.  Tell them you expect them to.  Tell them you expect it because you love them.  Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about.  Remember that.  You love them. That comes with boundaries.

It’s okay to treasure your monsters.  They stand as a warning, a lesson you can learn through observation instead of practice.  Turn their claws and teeth and spines away from you, and watch them.  Pay attention.  Lessons from monsters aren’t specific. Find the patterns.  Study the systems.  Guard yourself against walking a different, parallel path. Remember, when you can, to be grateful for what you took from their example.

Remember, always, that love can go both ways.

It’s okay to accept a monster.  Embrace their strengths, their goodness.  Show them where they are strong and good.  If you can, cut them free of their patterns.  If you can’t, let it be.  Not all monsters are your monsters. Save your strength for the others. Accept the strength you get from yours.  Learn from your monster how to understand other monsters.  Remember that their wisdom may be false, but it could be a paving stone on the road to yours.

It’s okay to break bread with your monsters.  It’s okay to take the shelter they offer.  It’s okay to bleed when they do.  It’s okay to mourn them.  It’s okay to wish your leash had been stronger, or that you hadn’t needed it.  It’s okay to need them, to accept their love, to hold tight to who they might have been, if they hadn’t been a monster.

It’s okay.

But it’s not required.

Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about. You can let go of the leash and walk away.  Do, if you like.  If you must.  If you are leashed in turn, walk faster.  Pull the monster by the tether they’ve given you.

Remember that the world is kind to monsters. Remember that the world is cruel to them, too.  Remember that there are others who fight monsters and someday, they might come for yours.  Step aside, when the time comes.  You don’t have to watch.  You don’t have to help.  Step aside.  On the subject of your monsters, that will be enough.

Love your monsters.  Slay the rest.

Have fun with your family this weekend.

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On the Baker’s Anniversary of Bree Newsome

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Thirteen months ago today, Bree Newsome scaled a thirty foot pole and removed the “confederate flag.”  A few days later I came across this image, created by timelordj4y.  This image disturbed me.  A lot.

I was born in Virginia.  My whole family is either from there, or has lived there so long they’ve effectively gone native.  The whole family.  On one side they were from North Carolina before they were from Virginia, and in the family history, that feels like an immigration event.  “Virginia” was my cultural and ethnic heritage so thoroughly that school assignments to make a doll dressed in the traditional costume of my country of origin were always…tricky.  We know when more or less which great great great grand whoever came over from where, but there are no ties there.  We functionally sprang up from the ground in a tiny place outside Richmond and any roots older or deeper than that don’t matter, are invisible to us.

Being Virginian means a lot, at least in my family.  For me.  It means being raised to look at Thanksgiving and mutter how they’d done this in Jamestown before a pack of ornery Calvinists decided European protestants weren’t protestant enough for them.  It means understanding that every important thing that happened in this country until the 1870’s was either instigated by a Virginian, successful because of a Virginian, or enabled by the mere presence of Virginia.  It means summers spent visiting battlefields and old mansions and getting quizzed on important historical dates at the dinner table.  History matters. It’s as thick as the air in summer.

About the time I was ten, one of my aunts dug an unexploded shell from the Civil War battle out of her tomato patch.  It’s on display in the family museum with the other artifacts we’ve dug out of that yard.  This isn’t weird.

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But it also means strangers blithely going, “Oh, so not really the South,” when I answer their follow up question about where in the South I’m from.  Then getting uncomfortable when I stare blankly and say, “Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.  Most of the compromises in the constitution around slavery were instigated by a bunch of rich white Virginians.  Summers are hot, and the tea is mostly simple syrup. What standards are you using?”

It means people saying, “You don’t sound like you’re from Virginia,” as if it’s a compliment, then turning around and using y’all because it makes them sound folksy and quaint.

It’s that time somebody asked me if my family kept Klan hoods in their closets instead of skeletons, then acted like I was out of line when I answered with, “Sure, let’s talk about vigilante enforcement of racial disparities.  Is it okay to include sundown towns, states founded on dreams of white utopia, and how the most segregated cities in the country happen to be in the north?  Or is it only okay to talk about racism if we’re going to pretend it’s all lynchings and Jim Crow?”

It’s getting told, before leaving for college, that if you bring a black boy home it’ll kill your grandfather, and wondering whether that’s because he’s Virginian, or because he’s old.

It’s forever being part of the national scapegoat on race issues and on the one hand going, “Uhm, excuse me, but seriously?” and on the other sighing and going, “Yeah.  Yeah, I know.”

It’s seeing bumper stickers that say “The South Will Rise Again,” and for single, hopeful moment, believing it.  Then in the next moment, realizing that what rising would mean to you (education, a wide scale decline in generations of poverty, urban growth, innovation)  is not the same thing it means to somebody who’d display that bumper sticker.

It means that after you’ve spent an afternoon digging through research on the transcontinental railroad, your roommate comes home to a rant about how, if they’d chosen the proposed southern route it would have been faster and cheaper to build, and might well have saved the south.  But the war happened so they didn’t, and that fucking war ruined everything again.

Being Southern is and isn’t very much about that war. A war that my family understands as a thing we had to do, that was complicated and fraught and unnecessary and a part of our heritage.  We were taught to be proud of people on both sides for the good things they did, and critical of both sides for their hypocrisies, sins, and mistakes.  And, this is where we maybe diverge most noticeably from the typical Southern narrative (or maybe we don’t): the North didn’t win so much as the South lost, and the North didn’t beat us so much as we self destructed through stupidity and short-sightedness.  The institution of slavery as practiced in the Americas, particularly in North America, was a departure from other forms of slavery and those departures made it crueler, more divisive, and untenable from a merely pragmatic level: you cannot indefinitely enslave a majority population that has no hope of enfranchisement for itself or its future generations.  There’s no security in that setup, which renders it inherently unstable.

Slavery was idiotic and black people are people and Jim Crow was terrible but there are no black people in Grannie’s church and if I date a black man, I should probably keep it a secret.  None of that is whispered.  It’s not secret or subtle or taboo the way it is in the north.  These truths are self-evident and there is no conflict there.

I’ve been trying to write this, and abandoning it, for thirteen months.  It’s a young white woman from the South spewing a lot of words about how awkward it is to be a young white woman from the South right now.  I’m not getting shot.  I’m not even getting called names.  I can spend thirteen months thinking about a picture that bothered me and trying to find a way to explain why when all that really needs to be said is, “That lady is a badass.  Black lives matter.”

And it’s true.  Bree Newsome is a badass.  Black lives matter.  But that’s a platitude followed by a hashtag and that’s not remotely an adequate encapsulation of my thoughts.

Ieshia Evans

Ieshia Evans, also apparently a badass

That picture is distressing because it exists.  Because it’s powerful.  Because it’s a black woman pulling down a flag that shouldn’t have been flying in the first place; the bulk of its symbolic power dates to the Civil Rights movement, not the Civil War.  My dad is older than the modern trend of flying that flag, and it saw more use in 1961-1963 than it did during the war.  It went up, though.  That’s history.  Southerners don’t argue with history.  They can’t.  It’s in the air.  It’s in their blood.  It’s the conversation at the dinner table.

But an argument with history isn’t required.  Fighting is.  Respecting a fight well fought is.  The flag went up, and once it did, there was nothing we could do to change the fact that it went up.  But it didn’t have to stay.  And it didn’t have to take a black woman reacting to a legacy of dead black men and a country that won’t acknowledge a rot running through the whole of itself to bring it down.

It should have been a white woman.  Or a white man.  Somebody from the South.  Somebody with roots there so deep that they might be able to gesture toward some boat that came over back when Virginia’s border officially stretched to the Pacific stepping up one day to say, “What do y’all think, but maybe we just leave that one off today, hm?”  No fanfare.  No iconic imagery.  Just a moment where instead of repeating history, we acknowledge its power by declining to.

That’s not what happened.  More, I honestly can’t conceive of how it could happen.  Too many people have dug in their heels too far.  My idea of a risen South is not their idea.

That picture is disturbing because it’s the first time I saw a depiction of the “Confederate flag” that inspired hope.  Hope is scary.  It’s dangerous.  It shields you from pragmatic reality and insulates you against learning the lessons you need to learn.  I don’t like it.  I especially don’t like it when running across a new spark of hope reveals that I’ve been holding onto a hope for something else.  Hope that maybe for once the South will pull itself together, put its foot down, and do something that isn’t just beautiful, but bright and just.  That Southern honesty about a national disease means we can be the leaders in the cure.

But here’s the thing I’ve realized in thirteen months of thinking about that image: My premise is wrong.  Bree Newsome is from Charlotte.  The Black Lives Matter movement got its start in Mark Twain’s home state. Martin Luther King Jr. was from Atlanta and did the vast majority of his work in the South.  The South is trying to fix itself.  It’s just not wearing the faces I expect.  I’d find a picture from outside the South with only white faces odd.  In the South, it feels obvious.  That’s a lie.  The South isn’t white. It never has been.  But I’m a white woman from the South whose entire exposure to black culture and black communities came after she left.  I never went back and filled in the gaps.

That picture disturbs me because…it’s exactly what I needed to see, but I hadn’t known that.  One image, and I learned a lot about what where I was blind.

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On Marketing: Don’t.

I run across a lot of people, in my day job and in the writing community, who are stressing about how to best go about marketing.  And I run into a whole lot of other people who are doing it atrociously.  So for everybody looking for the secret to stellar marketing and networking, here it is: Don’t do it.

Don’t hand your business card to everybody you meet.  I know you’ve heard lots of people tell you to do the opposite thing.  They’re wrong.

Don’t talk about your own work on a panel at a convention or conference that isn’t about your own work.

Don’t force a conversation to go somewhere that’ll give you an opening to talk about your product.  Don’t listen to a conversation waiting for the opening where you’ll get to jump in with the thing you want to talk about.

Don’t introduce yourself to a person entirely because you’re hoping to use them for something later.

And for the love of all that is interesting and worthwhile in human interaction, take Dale Carnegie’s ABC (Always Be Closing) and toss it out the window post-haste.

If you do these things everything, including your career, whatever it is, will be better.

You have that?  Read it again.  Understood?  Better read it one more time, just in case.

That’s the 101 lesson.  Because on this topic, unlearning all the bad things everybody has been teaching for decades is actually really, really important.  In fact, go read it again.  Trust me, it’s important.

Alright.  Here’s the 201.

In professional environments, and this includes social environments where you’re marketing or networking, there are two kinds of spaces.  There are “storefronts” and “everywhere else.”  The storefront is where the customer has come to you (or asked you to come to them) and consented to you trying to sell them something.  It’s your listing appointment, or your buyer interview, or your warm body behind the dealer’s table or your website or any number of other places where the potential of a transaction is salient to all involved parties.  At the storefront, and only at the storefront, you may proceed to qualify, pitch, and close your customer.  I have opinions about how you should do that, but this is not that topic.

When you’re in the storefront, go ahead and hand people your business card.  Talk about yourself.  Talk about your product.  Everything you just read five times before getting here?  That’s not about this space.  That’s about the other space, i.e. “everywhere else.”

Your goal, your single, solitary, only goal, when interacting with people in “everywhere else,” is to get them to, happily, intentionally, seek you in a storefront.  Get them to go, “Would you talk to my nephew?  He’s thinking about buying a house.”  Or track you down in the dealer’s room, or look up your website, or whatever.

How do you do that?  You forget your product, your industry, your career, all of it, and you sell you.  You’re a good listener, an interesting conversation partner on whatever the conversation is, you’re friendly, you have a reputation for being helpful.  You show up.  You’re present when you do.  You’re a complete person with a full range of interests and you’re willing to share a part of that with people.

I don’t mean that you have to be a singing, dancing, volunteer machine who invites everybody into every aspect of their personal lives.  In fact, don’t do that unless you actually are a singing, dancing, volunteer machine in which case decorum and restraint are still awesome things you should hang onto.

What I mean is that when you’re at the grocery store and chatting with the check out clerk, ask them about their day, their job, the neighborhood, the weather.  Do not say, “Hi, I’m Anaea Lay and I sell real estate,” or, “I see there’s a magazine rack nearby.  Have you read my book?”  Rules of polite conversation mean it’s very likely they’re going to reciprocate by asking you about you.  Then you get to say, “Oh, me?  I’m in real estate,” or, “I write novels.”  Are they interested?  They’ll probably say so.  If not, ask them something else.

Here’s a secret about people; they tend to be curious.  And then tend to be responsive to genuine friendliness.  Note the use of “genuine.”  That means being friendly within the local conventions of politeness and approachability.  In Seattle that means that public, open weeping in tea shops is common enough that I have my favorites ranked by how often it happens, but you do not ever talk to somebody on the bus or street corner.  The check out clerk at the grocery store?  Might not want to talk.  Don’t make them.  They will remember you if you force them into conversation.  You will never get them to your storefront.

Yes, if you pay for your groceries and walk away without successfully starting a conversation, you have failed in getting them to your storefront.  What you’ve also done is preserve them as a future contact you can try again another time.  Maybe they’ll be more chatty next week.  Or maybe they’re shy and once you’re more familiar they’ll be more willing.  Or maybe they’ll never ever give you the time of day, but if you keep hard selling they’ll warn their co-workers about you and now nobody at the grocery store is going to your store front.  Also, now everybody at the grocery store thinks you’re a dick.  You don’t want that.  I’m friendly with the folk at my grocery store.  They’ve asked me to please do them the favor of taking peppers without paying for them.

Be the guy the grocery store wants stealing peppers from them.

When on my way to a party I didn’t want to go to (remember: show up) I once commented to a companion that it would be successful if I handed out one business card.  “That’s easy,” they said, imagining I could throw a card at the first person I saw and then flee.

“Nope,” I replied.  “I never even pull out my business cards unless somebody asks me for one.”

I have different business cards for the different careers.  I keep a few of each on me.  You’d be surprised how often an event meant for one career becomes an opportunity for a different one.

It’s not that you aren’t ever selling anything in the space that is “everywhere else.”  It’s that what you’re selling is you.  It doesn’t matter whether the person you’re talking to right that moment immediately requests a trip to a store front.  If you think it does, you’re committing the crime of being the desperate salesman.  It’s a fatal crime.  Play the long game.  The person you’re talking to is a full person who knows lots of people and even if they aren’t a viable prospect for you, they could be a source of viable prospects.  You have to be worth it to them, though.

Pushy sales people might be quick results, but they’re burning their long tail.  Modern sales environments require customer satisfaction, personal referrals, and repeat business.  The best thing you can do for your third transaction out with a client is make sure they were happy and deliberate when they wound up in your storefront.  You can repair some of the damage once they’re there, but there’s only so much you can do with that space and time; don’t constrain your opportunities by wasting it on fixing something that wouldn’t have broken if you had more patience.

As a final note, I highly recommend that you study pick-up artistry.  Then test everything you’re thinking of doing against their techniques.  If it’s something a pickup artist would nod sagely about and approve of, skip it.  The premise of pickup artistry is that you don’t want repeat business.  Consequently, their manuals are great catalogs of techniques designed to avoid it.

My Pronouns/Titles Etc.

I recently ran across a reminder that it’s helpful even when straight/cis people identify their preferences because it normalizes the practice which then makes it easier for people who have a harder time with expressing their own preferences.  Then it occurred to me that while I’m not quiet about my preferences, if you don’t know me in person there’s not really any way to know what my preferences are.  So, here they are.

My preferred pronouns are she/her.  Also acceptable: She/Her, they, They.

Miss is my preferred title. I’m not married or permanently committed, have no intention of becoming so, and I like that English lets me signal that.  Ms is acceptable.  Mrs. is slightly vexing when directed at me.

That’s for English.  I vastly prefer Señora to Señorita, possibly because I was Señorita for the first time when I was 13 and knew nothing more than how to say “blue” and count to ten.  I am significantly older/more mature than that person, and her title doesn’t feel right.  That said, I’m not married, so Señorita is technically correct and I’m not going to be upset if that’s what gets used. (Also, I have a policy of not getting upset with the native speakers of languages I’m not a native speaker of over how they use their language at me)

Ma’am and Miss are interchangeable to me.

I will be Queen of the world, not King.  I will be God of the universe, not Goddess.  I am sometimes a civilized creature, but never a lady. Or a gentleman.  When I grow up and become Anander Miaanai, I will be Lord of the Radch.  I’m the Emperor, or the Imperatrix.

I am never, ever a girl.  Or a boy. I was a child, but have thankfully escaped that state.

I am female. Also, scary, spiteful, tired, organized, smug, stubborn, reasonable, and pedantic. The second list is significantly more important.

I am a woman, but only if we must make that salient and, really, I’d rather identify as God-Emperor of the Universe and change the conversation to something interesting, like books.

I’m also straight and polyamorous.  I don’t have boyfriends. Or a husband. I’m un-fond of “significant others.”  I have acquaintances, buddies, pals, friends, good friends, very good friends, best friends, family, and my sister.  You should feel free to refer to any of these people as “Anaea’s [fill in term from previous list]” should you need to define a person based on my relationship with them.  That list is not as hierarchical as it looks and categories are not exclusive.  I will tell you whether I’m sleeping with somebody if you ask. It’s also none of your business unless you’re a person I’m sleeping with.

Also, don’t assume that just because I’m straight that anyone I’m sleeping with identifies as male.  My relationship with an individual does not constrain that individual’s presentation to the rest of the world.

I think that covers everything. Let me know if I missed something and I’ll clarify.

The War on Christmas

The War on Christmas is real, and I am its commanding general.

The move to Seattle was cover for establishing a new forward base to solidify our gains from last year’s success.  The battle has been a long one, but as we get closer to our final target at the north pole, our morale builds and our dedication remains steadfast.

Soon, not this year, but soon, I’ll have that cheery, terrifying head on a pike and display it for all the world to see, and feel safe.  No more constant surveillance, no more annual invasion, no more enforcement of a moral code formulated by the jolly, the optimistic, the naive.

I will drink Santa’s blood and rejoice.  Only then will I have the victory I crave.

“Do you ever have second thoughts?” asked my second in command, Captain-general Morse.

“Never!” I answered, my fist striking the air, my lips curling in a snarl of defiance.

“But, Christmas.  Peace on Earth, good will to men.”

“That’s the problem.  Peace bores me, and the good will thing is a lie.  Christmas is about stress, posturing, and telling other people to be cheerful or else.”

“I thought it was about American consumerism.”

“That too, and it’s spreading to infect other holidays.  It may already be too late to save my precious Halloween.”  At this I shed one, single tear out the corner of my right eye.  Halloween!  My precious, sacrosanct holiday of horror and darkness, mortality and despair.  They make inflatable lawn ornaments for you now and you, too pure and naive to defend yourself, have succumbed.

I rattled my saber, a gift from my sister on the occasion of her wedding, and issued the order for our attack.  At my command, hundreds of dog sleds bearing soldiers of the anti-yule began our charge, bearing down on an encampment of the Claus’s henchmen, his patsy scouts sent out to gather materials and supplies to support his ongoing campaign of terror and oppression.  The first moments of the engagement were bloody, with lives lost on both sides.  More on theirs.  I am a careful general, and I don’t spend my soldier’s lives frivolously.  There are so few of us left who can hold out against our pernicious foe.

Just as our victory appeared certain, reinforcements for the enemy appeared on the hill, their horns blaring across the night with the soul-chillingly mockery of triumph that is the enemy’s trademark.  A moment later I felt the searing punch of a knife sliding between my ribs.  Captain-General Morse had betrayed me.

“Why?” I gasped.

“They promised me a new iPhone.  And I really like gingerbread.”

As I lay here in the Canadian snow, my body heat leaving my body on a rush of blood, I accept that this year brings defeat.  But not final defeat.  We can never be permanently defeated.  Someday I will have the Claus man’s head, and I will free you all.

Someday.

The Rhetoric of N.K. Jemisin’s Wiscon Guest of Honor Speech

It’s no secret that I’m a huge, giant, slobbery fan of N.K. Jemisin.  I’m such a huge fan that I usually get about two sentences in to describing how much I like everything she does and want more from her before a voice that sounds distressingly like Neil Gaiman pops up in the back of my head and goes, “Now, now.  Nora Jemisin is not your bitch.”  And then I whine at the voice and go, “But she’s so good!  Surely I’m entitled to demand more of the good stuff from her.”  The voice is so very polite, and so endearingly English that I bite my tongue and whoever I was talking to wonders why I started stuttering mid-sentence. This is a thing I share so you can guess at some of what was going on in my brain when I approached her the day after her guest of honor speech to ask whether she’d be okay with me analyzing her speech at the rhetorical level.  It was important to me that I ask since 1) Analyzing the rhetoric could be seen as being dismissive of the very important and worthy content 2) I know enough writers to know they trend toward neurosis and having somebody examine how their sausage is made could in some small way contribute to her writing or arguing less which is the opposite of what I’d want and 3) It’s polite and given that she was right there, was easy to do. Things I learned from asking her if she’d mind: 1) No, she doesn’t mind 2) It’s really hard to communicate coherently when you’re having loud arguments with phantom Neil Gaiman in your brain about where the line between gushing fangirl and creepy-entitled-fan is and 3) She probably actually has no idea that I’m the person who wrote a review of her book that consisted mostly of, “I want to eat her liver.”  I’m pretty sure I’m still going to have to answer for that someday. At any rate, I have her blessing, and the rhetoric in that speech is very cool, so here goes the analysis.  The whole speech is here, and you should go there to read it.  I’m going to quote it here extensively, but it’s better if you go read the whole thing on its own, first.

I’m tempted to just stop there, drop the mic, and walk offstage, point made. Chip’s a hard act to follow.

This is the first moment of rhetorical greatness in the speech.  One, it’s a really evocative image.  She doesn’t have to literally walk of the stage to borrow the impact of doing just that, which nicely lures the audience in.  We’re invested in listening to what she says from this point, because she didn’t just walk away, point made.  She’s taking the time to share more, and we want to hear what it is.  But it’s also very generous to the audience, crediting them with knowing and understanding exactly why should could just stop there and walk off.  It’s a signal that she’s assuming we’re peers.  The subtext is very “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” in nature.  Given where the speech goes, building this relationship with the audience is critical.

Like Chip said, this stuff has always been here. It’s just more intense, and more violent, now that the bigots feel threatened.

And it is still here. I’ve come to realize just how premature I was in calling for a reconciliation in the SFF genres last year, when I gave my Guest of Honor speech at the 9th Continuum convention in Australia.

There’s a ton going on here.  One, we’re tying the current situation back to the past, while invoking the authority of somebody external.  That gives legitimacy to the points we’re making about the current situation while bolstering the authority of the peopple we’re citing.  Then we follow that bolstering of authority up with a confession of error.  This is really neat because, set up this way, admitting the error becomes a means of reclaiming a position of strength in the rhetorical space.  You’re swapping out the current, weak position for a new one which as of this moment us unknown but untainted and therefore potentially stronger.  This is what many bad apologies try to do, and they fail becuase that’s the wrong place for this technique.  In a badass call-to-arms, however, it’s great, especially since minor admissions of error are humanizing and endearing, making the speech-giver somebody the crowd is more inclined to follow.

During the month or so that it took SFWA to figure out what it wanted to do with this guy, a SFWA officer sat on the formal complaint I’d submitted because she thought I had “sent it in anger” and that I might not be aware of the consequences of sending something like that to the Board.

The whole paragraph is a beautiful bit of summary, letting the audience know context and history in case they don’t with enough commentary that it’s not a straight-up “As you know, Bob.”  That’s important since it would undermine the assumption of peer-ness established early on and risk being patronizing.  It also does a fantastic job of drawing clear lines between the us and them.  I call out this specific sentence from the whole paragraph because it strikes me as the meatiest.  Before this sentence, the facts could be read as ones of the system working: bigot misbehaves, bigot gets punished, why are y’all upset?  This line torpedoes that possible interpretation while also drawing attention to the fact that while she’s not patronizing us, they patronized her rather ferociously.  The ironic tone taken in the whole paragraph gives “sent it in anger” an extra bite.  Of course she sent it in anger – she’s angry, and behavior like this is exactly why.  That extra bit isn’t something an audience is likely to be consciously aware of, but it gives some extra depth and stimulus for them to hang on to and keeps them engaged and listening.

But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”.

This is straight-up “my problems are your problems, and your problems are my problems.”  Peer-group building.  “Us” reinforcement.  She just co-opted everybody who isn’t a straight white male into her cause.  The “aggressions micor and macro” part is especially critical since it gives permission to everybody who hasn’t received death and rape threats to feel like they belong in that group.  Me, I was doing the, “Er, not really?” until that line.  After that line, well, all the stories I could share are fundamentally boring, but there are plenty.

(Incidentally: Mr. Various Diseases, Mr. Civility, and Misters and Misses Free Speech At All Costs, if you represent the civilization to which I’m supposed to aspire then I am all savage, and damned proud of it. You may collectively kiss my black ass.)

And here, gentlefolk, is the line where I went, “Oh hells yes, am I need to go blog the rhetoric in this speech RIGHT THIS VERy SECOND.”  This line is brilliance laced with crack.

1) It reclaims rhetoric used against her, turns it around, and makes it a bludgeon for counter-attack. Suddenly “half-savage” is so mincing and weak.  It’s a variant on the trick used with the admission of error earlier, but with an added layer of pulling the rung out from under the “them.”  Intead of switching positions from weak to strong, it recharacterizes the position she’s in.

2) You-my constructions reinforce the us-them dynamic she’s building.  Not all speeches need an us-them dynamic, but all calls-to-arms do, and the success of said call depends on how well the lines around us and them are drawn.

3) “Kiss my black ass,” is a cultural cliche.  Everybody, including Hollywood, knows that a mouthy, defiant black American is willing to whip out this particular invitation as needed.  It’s an ethnic middle finger.  Using it here reinforces the power of “all savage.”  It’s an assertion of the ethnic and racial tones, a claiming of ownership over them, and an aggressive declaration that they are, in fact, a strength.  And since she’s drawn her us-them lines very effectively up to here, everybody in the room gets to share in the power of that assertion, whether or not they’re in posession of a black ass to be kissed.

(I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.)

Nice reinforcement of us-them.  It gives the audience permission to not know exactly what she’s talking about after she’s gone through a long list of things that anybody following closely could tie to this or that specific event.  It’s okay that you aren’t following closely – it’s ubiquitous, we all  know that, we’re a team, let’s move along.

Yeine, the protagonist of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, was almost a white man because I listened to some of what these people were saying.

The objective brilliance of this particular line is questionable, but it gut-punched me.  That would have ruined that book, and the thought that it nearly happened fills me with a sort of existential terror that has brain-Gaiman sighing in polite exasperation.  I suspect anybody who loves this book correctly, that is to say the way I love this book, would feel the same way.  Anybody else, this is a wasted line.  But her audience was a convention where she was Guest of Honor – it’s a pretty safe place to make a gamble like this.

For the first time in my life I was diagnosed with high blood pressure earlier this year. It’s back down to normal, now, but bigotry kills, you know.

Our second admission of weakness, a pause in the rising rhetoric of power-claiming.  We’re humanizing again, putting an intimate, tangible face on the violence and consequences of the violence referenced in summary and abstraction so far.  We’re all in this together, we’re all cheering for our speech giver, and look at the sacrifices she’s already made, the personal, specific damage already wrought.  This is critical, because it sets up the need for assistance that justifies the call to arms.

So. If they think we are a threat? Let’s give them a threat. They want to call us savages? Let’s show them exactly what that means.

And from here on we’re in a tumbling, climactic, super-empowering call-to-arms.  There’s no weakness here.  It’s all assertion and instruction. It’s a claim of ability supported by concrete guidelines for how to execute it.  This is where she cashes in on the setup of the earlier speech.  This is where she closes the loops she openened earlier, ties up her loose ends, justifies staying on the stage even though she could have just dropped the mic and walked away.

Fucking fight.

Short, sweet, to the point.  Yes, ma’am.

Review: Under the Skin

I saw this over the weekend, knowing nothing before walking in other than that it had Scarlett Johansen and wasn’t the one of her with the trailer in front of Captain America.  (Man did that movie look good until they explained the premise).  So when it opened with an extended sequence of staring into a light that slowly morphed into an eye I started surprised, then immediately adjusted to “Oh, I’m in an art movie,” mode.  Thanks gratuitous and heavy-handed light-eye imagery!

If you’re looking for a successful attack on traditional story telling technique in film, or a movie carried almost entirely by its images and performances, this is your thing.  It was very well done, and I’m very inclined to pick up the book it was based on, if only to see how that story got told in prose.  (I still haven’t looked up anything about the movie, so all I know about the alleged premise is what the people I went with explained over dinner after)

I spent a good while after the movie pondering it, and did a lot of listening to the six other people I saw it with talk about it – what they liked, what they didn’t like – and by the time I’d polished off the delightful walnut-gorgonzola-cranberry salad concoction I had for dinner, I’d come to a very solid conclusion: It was a really well done movie I did not like at all.

The brilliance of the movie is that it’s very easy to construct a narrative of what happened, and seven people who all saw it can then proceed to argue about what the actual narrative was without any of them being conclusively wrong or right.  I love successful narratives that require their audiences to do some of the heavy lifting.  But what isn’t debatable about what happened are the following: (I’m about to spoiler nearly everything that can be spoilered about the movie)

1) Scarlett Johanson’s character starts of as a non-human, gender-role swapped predator, driving around and picking men without family or connections who are out walking alone at night

2) This ends badly for the men

3) She decides to stop doing the predator thing after encountering a deformed man who is the opposite of the skeevy guys she’s been encountering all film.

4) Experiments with being “normal” or “more human” lead her to spend some time with a genuinely nice guy, but all fail and lead to her freaking out and running away.

5) A lumberjack tries to rape her, realizes she’s not human, then sets her on fire.

6) The end.

Uhm.

It’s possible I’ve never said this before, but I am completely dissatisfied with that unhappy ending.  At the metaphorical/thematic level, it’s asserting that we (maybe just women, maybe everybody) have a choice between being a predator, or being raped and set on fire, a proposition I could spend a great many words taking issue with. At the more concrete, literal level, it seems to be claiming that a creature capable of single-handedly luring men to their demise with phenomenal consistency can’t handle a randy lumberjack and just gets abused and burned alive? The only other woman in the entire movie drowns while trying to rescue her dog, so if it’s trying to present the thematic content as something to then discuss and criticize, the discussion and criticism is completely absent.

I mean, I’m all for setting people on fire as a means of problem solving, especially plot problems, and cinders are a great end point for character development. But this movie didn’t earn it.