Friday, September 13, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Anatomy of a Theft

"I deserve a break; I've been writing all morning. What rewards lie in the kitchen?"

" More tea. Celery. Oh, Claire's ice cream! I love brownie bits. She hasn't even opened it… but didn't she say I could have some? I'll take a scoop."

"There weren't any brownie bits in that scoop. It's not very good chocolate – it probably relies on the brownie bits."

"Yeah, that's better. Shame it's only one big brownie hunk. I guess I could have a proper bowl of it – she did say to help myself. And I've been writing all morning."

"How did I eat half of this thing? I had four spoons at the most. And it's not very good, tastes too much like mocha. Does it say mocha on here anywhere? No, and no, I didn't eat half. It's almost half. I could even it out."

"Evening it out wasn't very much. Oh, there's a brownie bit right on the surface. She won't miss if I just scoop that there…"

"There is much less ice cream in cartons than there was when we were kids. It used to be bigger than my head and we'd eat one thing all weekend. Claire was cheated with this thing. I could really go for more, but shouldn't I save some for her? Yes, I need to write more."

"I just can't write knowing Claire will discover the carton almost empty. It's really worse that she find it that way than not find the carton at all. And today's chapters are so stressful to write. I could take a little break to…"

"No, I haven't seen your ice cream anywhere. What kind did you get?"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why I Didn't Care About 9/11

9/11 is something I revisit frequently because it's the biggest incident of personal apathy in my life. These experiences are frequent, often occuring during tragedy, but there's been no singular moment as big as that one, and no one where my having the wrong reaction was so obvious in the culture. In the years afterward, I wondered if I wasn't sociopathic, but since then I've had dozens if not hundreds of Americans express similar experiences. And so I'd like to revisit that morning with you today.

In my dorm, the girl across the hall was having a fit that morning. She threw a tantrum over something every morning. I'd woken to her tantrums more often than to my alarm clock.

“They blew up the subway!” I heard. I dismissed it. I showered and readied for class – it was my first day of classes at college.

As I pulled on a t-shirt, I checked It was down. That was a first. I didn’t know sites of that size could go down.

I stopped in the Commons building to check my mail.

There was one cable television on campus, stationed in the Commons building across from the mail room. On my way to check my mail, I found the halls clogged with people. I looked over a boy’s shoulder and watched the plane hit the second tower. It was probably a replay.

I couldn’t move. Not for terror or awe, but because that’s what I felt the room wanted. In social situations I’m keenly aware of what I think is acceptable in the group. In seconds I had all the news the TV had to share; people were dead, these buildings were going down. And I was ready to leave, but no one else was. I only knew that walking away would break an unspoken covenant with these stunned strangers. That was my strongest feeling.

“Bullshit,” I heard from my left. “Bullshit. This is why everyone hates America.”

It was the Eastern European accent of one of my few friends. He was a prickly personality. We’d met during a Shakespeare workshop. When I confessed to the work shoppers that I’d taken it because I found his works unbearably stilted and desired understanding, everyone but him stared. He laughed his ass off.

Now he was cursing his ass off in two languages. His face scoured all the silent Americans, seeking argument. Most eyes remained on the TV, but some shifted with indignation. It grew hotter without the temperature going up.

I touched his shoulder. He tensed as though to clock me, but I spoke before he could ball up a hand.

“Why don’t you tell me about this?” I asked. It was all tone; I don’t really know what I meant. I only knew that the attacks on TV were raw voyeurism, and that this was an act of violence I could actually prevent. My tone of voice engaged him enough to follow me into the mail room. There, he was completely unable to articulate what offended him. Something to do with our media and our excessive self-pity. After two minutes of spitting and spinning in place, he departed for class. So did I.

Since then I've thought that if I had been at the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, I would have been furious to help, to run into the buildings and grab someone. It was distance that made my attention useless. Here, I was a little useful. Both the desire to pretend to be solemn for strangers and to save my friend from a fistfight were uses for me. These items I felt things about; the towers meant nothing beyond their effects on people around me, who in turn needed things.

Our first day of classes wound up canceled. I sat in the classroom, greeting my fellow students and letting them know what had happened and where to go for more information. In half an hour, I went to the lawn for the dean’s little speech. I spent hours lending shoulders for people to cry on. I knew enough to get out of the way of kids whose relatives might actually be in those towers, and enough to check up that no more attacks had happened. Once it seemed certain that it had ended with the fourth plane, my mind actually shifted to thoughts that if I could write a book about this fast enough I might ride it to publication. I knew enough to chastise myself for the thought, even though I didn’t feel shame.

There was no fear for myself or country. I knew enough to go stolid when others came around, to mimic being affected, because that's what crowds wanted. I knew enough not to say a lot of things. I wondered if everyone around me was acting, or if the majority possessed empathy I lacked. Was I fundamentally broken? Or were they all going through imitation shock, out of the same social instinct that had kept me glued to the TV room?

Several anniversaries later, I’m still not comfortable with this feature about myself. I've been in this extremely pragmatic and dispassionate head space for break-ups, family tragedies and deaths. For literary rejections and my own body falling apart. In most instances I know enough to do well even when I don't feel empathy or emotional inspiration. 9/11 was simply the biggest example, because it's still this cultural crucible that's supposed to show the best and worst of humanity. I keep hearing it was supposed to.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Oxytocin & Oxycontin

There are many more chemicals in the world than there are letters in the alphabet or syllables in the English language. Certainly many more chemicals than the syllables Hazel knew. She was two weeks too late to realize "oxytocin" and "oxycontin" weren't the same thing.

Oxytocin was a chemical related to love, and particularly the love that formed in a mother towards her child. Too little of it might have explained why Hazel's mother never wanted to talk, never made her lunch, and was so out of patience with her at every question. If there wasn't enough and her mother didn't want her, though, oxycontin didn't fix anything. It only created an addiction that took her further from Hazel.

She hated chemistry ever afterward.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

WorldCon Recap: Special Needs and Accessibility

Apologies for tardiness in wrapping up my WorldCon posts. As I should have expected, by neuromuscular syndrome jumped and mugged me this week, and my spare energy has gone to beginning a certain screenplay. This is my last General Topics post; later this week I hope to transcribe an amazing panel on SpecFic Writers Living in Other Languages, and the story of the worst thing that I've ever done at a con. But for now, some pressing issues, particularly…

This seemed like a much better convention for accessibility than Chicago last year. Crossing a street to get in was much better than jamming everyone through the same couple of elevators and escalators. The Henry Gonzalez Center is a strange complex that demands a proper walkthrough to understand, the building bifurcated by its touristy river, both halves having three floors. Many of the elevators were enough out of the way that able-bodied people wouldn't bogart them as badly as other conventions I've seen. Escalators and staircases were placed more prominently. Visually, the structure reminded people to walk if they could, though still demanded you cross the bridges over the river if you wanted to access the other programming. I know at least two authors who got lost on the wrong side looking for their rooms.

Am I wrong about San Antonio's accessibility? That's something I want to hash out today. My experience isn’t everyone's, and many of the best conversations I had that weekend were about how semi-abled and disabled individuals can be very ignorant about the challenges each other face.

The con also made me wonder how any convention center can be perfectly accessible. If you're semi-abled like myself, then walking across the bridges hour after hour will eventually put you in agony. I never approached Jo Walton because I couldn't force her to stop and stand up another several minutes, and by Saturday night I had excruciating foot pain and leg tremors that I fought to hide.

Need a moment of inspiration? Here's author Michael Underwood signing a steel helmet for charity.
What is an ideally accessible convention center? I'm realizing that I expect to myself suffer at any convention, to have my body turn against me. I am demented enough to expect and accept this, but it ought not be the norm.

Because of my health, I probably won't travel to London for the next WorldCon. However, I may hit Detroit for America's make-up party, DetCon1 or "NASFiC" – the North American Science Fiction Convention. The Detroit managers were very considerate when I raised questions about accessibility and promised twelve elevators linking the three floors of the center as well as prominent escalators and stairs. They also claimed to have done a wheelchair run, though this never guarantees actual comfort.

One member of the committee offered me a spot in charge of special needs accessibility for NASFiC. I don't know if this offer is true, and I don't know if I'm up to such management. I'd rather someone living in Detroit did it so that he/she could visit the site a few times before the event.

However, I definitely will give input to the convention. If you had any special needs problems at WorldCon this year and want to voice them, or want them passed on to people who might act to address those problems at NASFiC, please, voice them in the comments here. I can't promise anything other than that I'll take you seriously. With good luck, we'll turn that into something productive. We're fans of the fantastic; surely we can imagine a more accessible convention.
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