Friday, January 17, 2014

The Post-Net Neutrality Dystopia [NSFW]

I don’t recommend following any of these links. Some aren’t real. Some will get you fired from work.

Little Jamal has pimples and doesn’t like going outside, but he has needs. We all deny what his needs are, but we know them. We know them when he buys aloe lotion and Kleenex. He sure knows them when he tries to load

But it’s a brave new world, and because of his ISP, doesn’t load for him anymore.

So he tries, but it times out too. It’s like they knew his browsing history and torpedoed it. is up, somehow, but has blacked itself out in protest.

Little Jamal pulls up Twitter to complain and ask for links to good skin sites. Because Twitter hasn’t inked a kickback deal with Little Jamal’s ISP, it doesn’t load at all. After two minutes, the Fail Whale mocks his unopened box of Kleenex.

Many of the blocked links have a redirect to the ISP’s homepage, which has shoddy design and unappealing functions, which is why people only wind up there from redirects. It loads really fast, though, with its animated menu of contract options. Little Jamal scrolls around for some function to bitch them out and stumbles upon the bio of the CEO, a 68-year-old woman who smiles fakely.

Little Jamal looks into that JPEG of a smile. It’s Friday night and he doesn’t have anywhere to go, and he has needs. He squints at the JPEG and reaches for the aloe. The ISP has brought this upon our world.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Manly?: Examining Paul S. Kemp's Criteria for "Masculine" Characters

I lied when I wrote that I hadn’t been reading anything while writing We Don’t Always Drown. One of the most interesting things on the web in the last couple weeks was Paul S. Kemp’s attempt to explain why he writes “masculine fiction,” which promptly exploded in a feminist fireball. Kemp is not an author I read frequently, which made his explanations more interesting because they were purely theoretical. They were also grossly gender-prescriptive and problematic.
My idea of a manly character.

Kemp has been taken to task by many writers, including Teresa Frohock and Sam Sykes. Most responses have either been contrasting his ideology with their own fiction, or yelling “Screw you.” Both are understandable responses. But I’d like to break down one specific paragraph from his post, in which Kemp listed criteria for what makes a character “traditionally masculine.” 

So brace yourself for some meat-headedness and follow me to the bold quotes.

 “They answer violence with violence.”
-That sounds like boring storytelling, but is hardly exclusively masculine. I know plenty of women who both respond with and instigate violence. What’s worrisome about this being the first criteria is the possible inference that women have another default – particularly that they may cower and be passive in the face of violence. If that’s your inference, you instantly resent Kemp. I hope, naively, that he means women have a broad range of reactions to violence rather than always punching back, so that some characters in his world are dynamic. But we doubt that’s what he means, right?

“They’re courageous in the face of danger.”
-No feminist is listening to you after this point. If courage in the face of danger is masculine and not human, then some other response is feminine. Even if he didn’t intend it, holy shit does it sound like he means that traditionally women are meek and need saving in the face of danger. Is it true? I don’t know, nor do most of the people who are mad at him right now. Most don’t care because the misogynist inferences are too easy, especially after…

“They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain.”
-A marginally less offensive version of the highly offensive previous item. This one I’ve also never considered masculine because I’ve known so many women who are stoic in the face of challenges. And not to downplay the misogyny of his claim, but it’s also incredibly harmful to a young male reader’s psyche depict men’s default response to pain as stoicism. More of that in the next item.

“They have their emotions mostly in check.”
-This one speaks to me. For my whole life I’ve felt like American culture was telling me to bottle up or strangle my emotions, and that feeling and sharing were privileges for girls and women. “Be a man” means shut off your heart and serve. It’s messaging that screwed me up and several men who have been dear friends of mine, not all of whom are still alive. And thus this is the most troubling item on the list, because it suggests Kemp writes stories endorsing this psychologically scarring horse shit.

“And they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind.”
-Hey, most of us like codes of honor, at least safely removed from our world and cemented in fiction where it never revenge-kills our families. This is the one where I’d need to be a Kemp reader to know what the heck he’s talking about. I hope that he’s not writing stories in which men are the only ones with honor or morality. However, I don’t know a tradition in which women have none of this. Systems that seek to strip it from them, yes, but that’s something grotesque that also deserves ripping apart.

"Thematic elements in a lot of my work that square with this involve the obligations of fatherhood, the depths of friendship between men who’ve faced death together, the bonds of brotherhood (figuratively)."
-If this is what he led with and emphasized, I’d be down. Who would blame any one author for being interested in these themes? That’s half The Iliad right there. But it’s hard to read it as just “my interests” after so much hard gender-prescription in front of it, and Kemp later tries to justify it by saying he believes men should die on ships before women and children, and if that doesn’t convince you, also offers the credentials of being irreligious and a Democrat.

There’s the temptation to yell at Kemp, but there are two sides to this. It’s a great service to see a man name off the things he thinks are expected of him, and Kemp makes it plain in the comments that he feels these sorts of behaviors are expected of a man. The aggravating element is that he’s also endorsing these things, and endorsing them as gendered. Saying women “can” do these things but they are still more masculine is so frustrating that… well, the internet might yell at you for doing it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing a Lot and Reading Nothing

This is going to be a quick post. I wanted to write an essay Saturday afternoon, but I wrote on We Don't Always Drown until evening, and then had to beta read for a friend.

So I intended to write an essay after hitting my word count goal on the novel on Sunday, maybe during the football games. But word count is horse hockey, and I kept writing until I'd finish an arc in the novel around 9:30 PM. Then I needed to find food.

Once the rough draft is done I'll post the breakdown of words-per-day on We Don't Always Drown, but I have never had a book start like this. In five days I've written over 13,000 words. It is the most I've ever gotten out of the beginning of a book. The big cheats are knowing the characters, loving their chatter, and already having the major plotting ready. It's a rush, and I'm blessed with the strength to stay upright and keep working. I don't know how long I can keep it up, and keep expecting to crash. The syndrome always gets its day, you know.

Serious work in books.
The downside is that, besides beta reading and some #fridayflash, I haven't been reading. I'm spending all that literary energy on composition, which can get dangerous. It makes me look forward to #NaNoReMo in March, when we'll all draw our classics from our shelves and do a penance unto the canon.

I rummaged through my book boxes and unearthed most of last year's candidates, as well as a few books that have been around and unread even longer. I don't know why my list is sausage fest after two straight #NaNoReMos of reading women, but it is. I figured I'd share, particularly if anyone has questions or recommendations based on these. I'll open up a proper poll in February. For now, the long list is:

-Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations
-Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita
-Alex Haley’s Roots
-Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
-Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace
-Fyodor Dostoyevksy’s Crime and Punishment
-John Irving's The World According to Garp
-Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities
-Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
-David Foster Wallace's The Infinite Jest
-Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

Any winners?
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